(show oldest first)

from "am i not your lord" and other big questions

The Quran--the book that, we are told, comes from the divine encounters Muhammad had over a period of years--contains a striking story about Smokey [Bear "Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires...Only You"] responsibility. At the very beginning, when God created human beings, before any of them entered the world, God asked them, "Am I not your Lord?" Every single one answered yes. And God took note so that no one who disregarded God's commands in their earthly life could plead ignorance.
Volf, Croasmun, McAnnally-Linz, "Life Worth Living: A Guide to What Matters Most"
I had not heard this aspect of Islam before, but I guess it's a pretty good dodge for that "but what about people who never get to hear about the REAL God" question that has driven a lot of Christian missionary work and some doctrine (like "limbo" for infants who die unbaptized) I mean I think it would still be sus that so many people got such a bigger familial and cultural dose of Allah than others, but still.

The "Life Worth Living" book is a wide but not deep survey along with some guided exercises about ponder The Question.

I feel like I've thought about my answers to that big question a lot already: for me, humanity's purpose is to create categorical novelty in this part of the Universe, kindness is paramount, there is DEFINITELY a universal absolute moral truth (that is an emergent property of human interaction) but we DEFINITELY can't KNOW what it is (so the universal truth might be one being multifaceted and culturally-subjective but it exists, so I reject existential "believe whatever you want there are no rules"), and the best way to live is a kind of cheerful Buddhist-tinged Epicureanism; seeking a cheerful, sustainable pleasant moderation.

One other bit I pulled from the book is journalist Kathryn Schulz asking her TED audience "How does it feel to be wrong?", but they would answer "how does it feel to REALIZE you are wrong" - because being wrong without realizing it feels exactly the same as being right.

from getting over hell

Erika, who co-leads a "Science and Spirituality" group with me, recommended the This American Life podcast episode on Carlton Pearson, an evangelical superstar (And Oral Robert's philosophical heir apparent) who had his church dissolved from beneath him when he pivoted to "The Gospel of Inclusion", rejecting the idea that hell was the future for everyone who didn't fly right in the Evangelical Christian sense.

Like the doctrine of hell is kind of awful - the concept that an all-powerful God (arguably with perfect foresight) had allowed to be made a universe where a certain large percentage of beings are destined to be absolutely tormented forever. This is not a story that corresponds with a human sense of love and compassion.

It strikes me that this is either Cosmically True (as in the Christian God is this Lovecraftian being beyond our ken so us mere humans cannot resolve the "superficial" contradiction of a loving God who still allows this to happen) or this is Sociologically True (it's expedient, that it's culturally useful to have a REALLY big threat to keep people in line.)

I mean I have mixed feelings about it. Fear of hellfire - combined with the idiosyncratic life of a preacher's family life (where a church provided for all of our material needs and directed my parents what to do and where to live) - definitely molded me, gave me the idea that my personal preferences were secondary to what was good for the group - and since then I've come to appreciate that as an important framing of moral reality, that striving to conform to a likely guess of what is objectively good is better than only heeding one's own preferences, which are influenced by a mix of compassion and selfishness.

But I still wonder if my life might have been better without that sense of fear, if there was a way to learn what was best by it just being better, the carrot rather than the stick.

Still, the way Pearson lost his church and was scorned and branded a heretic? I guess those people rejecting him feel that he's doing no one any favors my threatening their immortal souls (though honestly the Biblical support for American Folk Christianity's vision of hell isn't all that strong) - but you get the sense that those people are absolutely threatened by the concept of there not being this supra-existential threat to justify all of this noise.

I think I should watch the Netflix special "Come Sunday" that goes into Pearson's story.

from December 27, 2023

A piece on Usenet's the September That Never Ended mentioned Google Groups will be dropping Usenet support, which makes me sad. I haven't really used Usenet for twenty years, but for the ten years before it was really important to me, and I liked seeing it was still going on and to be able to look up the odd half remembered post.

Usenet really had a good vibe; the idea of bring your own client and use it across a variety of topic rooms, each forming their own community was great - my favorites were rec.games.video.classic, alt.folklore.computer, alt.fan.cecil-adams, and comp.sys.palmtops.pilot. (A friend of mine has a conspiracy theory that Usenet was too distributed and uncontrollable and so was repressed by the Powers That Be in favor of more centralized forms of social media...)

It made me think about social media forums I've lived in over the years. Each tends to encourage a certain style / length of post, has different types of message continuity (threads, etc), makes it easier or harder to recognizing recurring authors, and has different styles of if you rely more on following people or sipping from the main firehose.

I had a weirdly geeky urge to categorize what I've most used over the years... (my current favorite in blue) These are all based on my judgements of how I or most people use it:
Forum Post Lengths Crowd Size Author Identity Follow or Commons text vs image
Usenet Long Many Medium Groups .Sig Commons (per Group) Text
Livejournal Very Long Friends List Avatar Follow Text
Blog Comments Short Private-ish Name Commons Text
Slashdot Short Large (Geeks) .Sig Commons Text
Atari Age Forums Medium Medium-Small (Gamers) Avatar + .Sig Commons (in Topics) Text
Facebook Medium-Short Real Life (+Algorithmy) Name + Avatar Follow (+ Algo) Mixed
Twitter Very Short Very Algorithmy Avatar Follow (+ Algo) Mixed
Reddit Short Many Medium Channels Username Commons (per Channel) Text
Tumblr Medium Medium ("Mutuals") Avatar Follow Images
WhatsApp Short Private Avatar Commons Text
Slack Medium-Short Private Avatar Commons (in Topics) Text
Discord Short Private Avatar Commons (in Topics) Text
Facebook connects me with a wider range of people from all parts of my life, and despite the privacy concerns and what not, I appreciate how easy its been to share as many photos as I'd ever want, and get them in front of folks, abeit in a haphazard way.

I love the community of tumblr and it's my favorite source of stuff to repost on my blog - but I haven't figured out how to get "followed", so it's mostly a read-only medium for me so far.

Slack closed-garden is my favorite community types now - if you find the right bunch of people (that balance of people who post a lot, and maybe some people who mostly lurk but chime in) it's fantastic. (On paper Discord has the same potential, and is a bit more hip, but somehow the UI for threading and private messaging is horribly confusing, and the whole things gives me Reddit-ish "I can't follow things" vibes.

from December 25, 2023

This holiday season (during a challenging season of life for me) I'm having a lot of weird synchronicity on religion and mythology. Lots of different threads, nothing really resolved.

The biggest thread comes from Joseph Campbell's "The Power of Myth" a book we're reading (based on a PBS series back in the day) for my UU Science and Spirituality class.

He's quick to make a distinction between mythology and religion, besides pointing out the archetypes that so many mythologies share. Going to a Sunday/Christmas Eve day service with my Mom and Aunt, I see all the stuff that I know came before or after Christianity in its most ascetic form; the Christmas tree, the poinsettias, even the time of year that has MUCH more to do with old moods of the transition of the seasons than any actual birthdate of Jesus. But in the Campbell context, I guess that makes the Santa-laden tradition I grew up with seem more resonant, not less. (Side note; As I'm writing this, I've been watching "The Chosen" with my folks which seems a pretty sophisticated retelling of Jesus and the Disciple's story. Last night had some "making of" around the Christmas special that was also kind of interesting.)

My superniece Cora is getting into "Therian" stuff - a community of folk who see resonant parallels between various animals (their "theriotype") and themselves. I'm glad she's not woo-woo about it (I think she's been instilled with a more or less humanistic and science-accepting framework) - It would be easy to dismiss it as just a furries-adjacent lark, but right now I can see - it's a pretty resonant mythology for her. Through the history of humanity people have found exactly these kinds of parallels so important to their development, and I think with a little poking I could see long and deep roots in shamanistic traditions that so many cultures have drawn from, though ones that are a little thin on the ground in the Judeo-Christian soil we walk on.

Another thread: The "Making Sense" podcast just had an episode with Brian Muraresku, who wrote a book about about ancient mystery religions and their use of psychedelics that might have had a strong influence in the Hellenistic strain of early Christianity. (Notably, Muraresku is Catholic, and abstains from psychedelics.) Like when you hear about older religions - many older than Greek culture - with aspects about drinking symbolic divine blood-wine, the path to the Christian "this is my body, this is my blood" sacrament of the Eucharist gets more interesting - just like how an appreciation for Mary's role led to a Europe full of cathedrals named Notre Dame.

There is so much that protestant American Folk Christianity leaves behind when it tries to strip away the trappings and get back to basics. (Actually maybe some of the snake handler / speaking in tongues Pentecostals get back to those earlier, more ecstatic forms of religion?) They even gloss over things in their own Bible - who is the rest of "Us" in "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness"? Is Sophia/Wisdom of the second half of Proverbs 8 just a poetic conceit, or is there something weird and older and more beautiful going on there? Explaining away those bits is kind of weird for a faith that claims to look to only its scriptures as God's protected final word for so much.

Still it feels my own path may always be a bit more humanist, and rationalistic and skeptical. The Protestant God I grew up deserved to control everything in me and my Preacher Parents' life in part because it was a faith that was true (and available) for EVERYONE - but that faith turned out to be brittle when I grew up enough to ponder the justifications for so many other, competing Faiths. So the biggest, most last impact of that fracture is that I tend to reject mythologies - anything that seems to rely on a special, one-time revelation that you have to take on trust. And in this model, humanistic (and non-authoritarian!) rationality is the most empathetic kind of belief, because the important thing is, you don't have to take anyone's word on anything and it's available to everyone. (Of course it gets snarled up in the "Paradox of Tolerance", since it has to accept that most people will always cling to their people's or their own special revelations.)

Which I guess brings me to my folks. For years I was afraid to bring my skepticism up with my mom (though I suspect she'll be reading this or I might even point it out to her.. Hi Mom!) Being a minister as well as being my mom, she represented the voice of God and judgement to me, but I knew she was bummed I didn't find a church when I went off to college, and so I tried to keep that side of me hidden. But many years ago we had a good conversation about it, and I think her view leans more into John 14:2a (In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you.) than John 14:6 (Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me), which I think is compatible with the kind of humanist UU "multiple paths" approach I find most likely. (So technically, I guess I did find a church, but mostly I co-lead a science and spirituality discussion group there, and do most of my nurturing small community-ing with my activist street bands.)

And that leaves me with my dad - or rather his absence, since he died when I was early in my own teenage time of growth and change. There's some dialog there that may never happen in the way I would have liked, maybe even conflicts that will never be quite resolved in the way I wish they could be. But as Joseph Campbell points out "Frequently, in the epics, when the hero is born, his father has died, or his father is in some other place, and then the hero has to go in quest of his father" so maybe there's hope for me yet.

Merry Christmas!

from December 13, 2023

(Copying my response to FB friend Chad Robb's talking about religious journey)

Couple of notes from my journey:
* I think the traditional practice that most resonated for me was daoism. My favorite guide to it was "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" which winds its way through the conflicts in western ways of thinking of the world to find at something it realizes is described in the not-really-puttable-on-in-words of the Tao. Part of the Tao is the border where two somewhat opposite things come together in a "the opposite of a great truth is another great truth" kind of way. (In terms of books "The Tao of Pooh" is another, shorter intro to a more classical form of Taoism)

* It's not quite a religion or practice, but I admired how Alan Lightman's "Mr. g" outlined a new mythology more compatible with how science sees the universe to be - a god not totally disjoint from some of the Christian view, but not as "all dials of power knowledge and love turned to 11" - kind of harkening to the old "watchmaker god" version, god as a loving experimenter who creates universes, but in some ways the whole point of running those universes is that he can't know how they will come out - that the chaotically-unpredictable emergence is what generates the suffering and sin but also all the good stuff that wouldn't exist if the experiment hadn't been run.

* My own view is probably a bit of a hodge podge. I find myself not trusting anything that relies on a special, one time revelation to someone else and would even having trouble accepting an epiphany I had. And that seems to preclude most "supernatural" explanations of the universe, like a top-down creation. So I look to emergence - just like in theory economics is just psychology is just neurobiology is just biology is just chemistry is just physics, but still atomic theory won't help you think about the last recession - each layer adds something that is fundamentally unpredictable from almost any analysis of the layer beneath it.

So I'm left with the idea that it's the shared objective reality that matters most (even though, objectively I have to recognize how important subjectivity is to so many people! and scientists or atheists who claim "objectivity" are often jerks who can't acknowledge the presumptions that led to their scientific enquiries) but also I embrace the uncertainty in a way most other faiths don't. Like Goedel says there are things true about the universe that can't be proven within the universe. So the "Faith" aspect comes in for me that everything is emergence, and that objective reality is shared and our best guesses/estimations about what is most likely *universally* true should guide our individual actions-- but we have to be humble and recognize they are only best guesses/estimations (when you talk about "accurate template for extrapolation into the outer cosmos" -- well, it's the "accurate" part I am not sure anyone can help you with - it seems like uncertainty is baked into everything, and so I will always be suspicious of sure and certain Faith.)

from flow and the religious upbringing

For my science and spirituality group we are reading Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience". I haven't finished the book and am still playing around with tangents of those ideas I have encountered so this might be even more ramble-y than usual.

Some of the book's "autotelic" (activities pursued for their own purpose, vs for some later goal or validation) thinking emphasizes the seeking of challenge for its own sake. Which I'm bad at - my ego and fixed mindset don't encourage me to undertake tasks that risk invalidating my sense of competence. So I often look to be clever with what I can accomplish with the tools I know well rather than pushing my skills. This is probably a big factor both in my programming and my musicianship - the useful or fun programs and websites I like writing, and the kind of music I encourage my bands to pursue (pieces with good energy and audience connection, with a requirement for technical skill being a liability rather than a plus.) This all reflects well on an idea I previously had; "You have to realize that the point isn't necessarily to be good at The Thing, the point is to get better at leaning into challenges" - because life seems to be willing to serve up more challenges than we'd necessarily prefer. (For both programming and music, audience appreciation is important, but maybe more in a sense of affirming my worth in the world objectively rather than for its own people-pleasing sake.)

"Flow" talks about how a family's "autotelic" stance is a huge formational factor, and I'm trying to figure out how my upbringing in The Salvation Army weighs into that - how my family's life was shaped around service to God - half the time our home was literally physically in the church. But more pointedly - how my own youthful sense of keeping in accord with the God's Eye View of things was what was going to keep me from eternal punishment in hell. (Which is kind of the opposite of "autotelic" service for the sake of service.)

So like even if I'm a bit of a skeptic now, having not been gifted faith in the usual sense, should I be grateful for or resentful of the big dose of fear of hellfire I made for myself as a kid? When I compare my emotional stability to some of my skeptic/humanist friends, most of whom weren't quite as swamped by the religious stuff as a kid, I think I'm doing pretty well. (But I dunno, I guess there's more to life than "emotional stability") On the other hands, I take fewer big swings in terms of making a family or curating a career than they do.

More and more I think the single biggest dialectic is this: which matters more: individual's feelings and preferences or the objective truth of things? But the synthesis from that thesis/antithesis is complex; the objective truth of how things should be is an emergent property of how people feel about them.

For me, in the day to day, people's feelings are mostly valuable as signposts to what truth has emerged from everybody's feelings. Other people might be concerned about making others angry or happy, but for me someone's anger or happiness is only valid if it's in line with the objective truth. But that (potentially arrogant) sense of "objective truth" is tempered because A. I really believe no one can be certain they know what the truth is and B. the way that truth (of how things "should be") arises from people's feelings.

I suspect I can trace all that back down to a relatively chill family environment, when I didn't live in fear of my parent's emotions or judgement and instead could look to what I was told was on God's mind.

So I'm left with trying to figure out what recommendations I have for raising young people - how do you thread the needle that there is no single knowable objective truth, but also that the individual's feelings and preferences can be arbitrary and not the supreme arbiter of how things should be? Maybe the liberal wing of UU church, the "multiple paths" approach, has the right idea - you look to various faith traditions with respect and for knowledge, but you don't get too hung up on any one set of supernatural explanations or doctrines. (You might still wrestle with the Paradox of Tolerance, but that seems a bit more manageable than some of these larger epistemological issues.)

from for and against effective altruism

Yesterday on my big ramble about "there are too many good fights to be had out there, so you have to pick your battles" Jesse asked `What's that quote? Is it something like "One death is a tragedy, a thousand deaths is a statistic."`

Peter Singer has a thought experiment that asks "would you sacrifice an expensive pair of nice new shoes to wade into a pond and save a child", to which most people answer yes, but then moves on to the zinger "well millions of kids are dying from preventable diseases and not having mosquito nettings, so why aren't you donating more to good charities?"

There's a further study that claims to have data that shows us that our intuitive moral compasses are untrustworthy; like if you see a photo of a malnourished child you're X% likely to be willing to help, but that % goes down if her brother who is also suffering is added to the photo - and down further if you see her whole classroom in the same state. According to common sense and an economist's way of looking at things, our willingness to help should always scale up with the scope of the problem - obviously.

This kind of idea forms of the basis of a movement called "effective altruism". On the main I'd say it's healthier than the libertarian stance that says we all prosper more with "every man for himself" and shunning communal efforts to fix things (especially if there is any coercion involved.) Like at its best, it recommends programs of *automatic* giving (sometimes interestingly akin to tithing) where a percentage of your resources are automatically devoted to known effective causes, thus becoming an ambient expense you don't think of much, and any further giving you do "for the feels" is just a cherry on top. But at its worst - as seems to have happened in the recent Sam Bankman-Fried case - it can be used an excuse to gather as much wealth for yourself as you can, by any means at hand (no matter how scammy) because the percent you sock away for charity will be greater than the worthy charity would have received otherwise.

Thinking back to the example of the photo of the girl, then the siblings, then her classroom - we may well be a little too quick to pivot from "this is an individual tragedy I can help make right" to "this is just the way the world is, I can't really change that, and so I should just tend to my own garden" but my hunch is that the answer isn't everyone becoming as much as a martyr as they can for good charities. But I admit my reasons as to why seem a little weak. Like, I do understand the hedonic treadmill, how most people adapt and return to a semi-fixed happiness setpoint regardless of circumstance, so most suffering isn't as linear and preventable as it might seem. Or maybe I'm too sympathetic to the libertarian idea that "got mine, screw you" actually keeps incentives in line with rewards so leads to good outcomes. But I think a lot of it is a defeatist realism that knows my own capacity to improve the world is dwarfed by the problems it has, and being too driven by wide empathy for people suffering from unsolvable problems is a recipe for personal misery. (Which was basically what I was saying yesterday)

Also, I think relative to some philosophies I associate with "the East", too few Western philosophies recognize moderation as a virtual for its own sake! Like, if something is good, a lot of philosophies say "crank that up to 11!" and if something is bad, crush it without mercy - but in practice you need to find a balance - somewhere between being conservative for status quo's sake (because change is scary) and being able to recognize that everything in the status quo has history and reasons for it. Most people's motivations are towards a good. If that good is too self-directed or greedy or comes too much at a cost for others, then that "good" might be objectively evil - but there's still some kind of subjective positive goal at its heart.

from you really gotta pick your battles

Had a conversation with Melissa yesterday, she was wondering how I'm not more observably disturbed by some of the suffering and injustices of the world - stuff in the Middle East say. Hadn't I seen some of the more heart wrenching scenes? No, I had seen them. Didn't I find them awful? Yes, absolutely god-awful and horrific.

But I guess - and it may sound callous, but I think it's morally ok to identify and recognize the awfulness but to keep it in your *head* rather than your *body*. Strong emotions are a way of trying to ensure useful action, but you *really gotta pick your battles*, because there are SO many battles to choose from. (I think of that line from Garrison Keillor's "Don Giovoanni": "Helpless rage is a major cause of falls in the home.")

I think some of the problem is that we *know too much of the world*. We're probably wired to deal with the slights and injustices of our family, our village, our village's feelings about our neighboring village, and not much beyond - all scenes where our input can make a crucial difference. But we take it on ourselves to understand local scenes and large trends from far away. But for most of those, we can't materially fix things! (Though we also get our ears full of anecdotes of great people, outliers, who DO make a difference, and we get frustrated we can't be more like those heroes of the new pantheon.) Frustration. And then: expressing the appropriate outrages is also a form of group cohesion, so you need to be careful not to sound like you're invalidating the outrage of your peers. (And fwiw signaling rowing in the same direction as your peeps in general is more important than being "correct" on any single issue - this fact cranks up polarization)

And complicating it further is having the individual appropriate outrage can be a LITTLE useful to helping the world right itself. It's like voting: if you are sick or break your leg and miss a vote, that's ok - either your candidate wins anyway, or they lose but it wasn't by a single vote. Your vote can only really matter as part of an emergent trend, and participating in conversations and writings about the issue before hand is as or more important than your physical vote, since that has more potential to nudge the trend.

So maybe those thoughts from that conversation were in my head as I dreamed last night; Dylan was driving Matthew G's car and RV (or maybe Matthew was driving Dylan's - I hate how hard it is to recall dreamtime!) with us in the back, and the road was unplowed from vast amounts of snow, and the car was underpowered for the trailer, and each time we plowed into a snowdrift it wasn't clear we'd make it through. And I'd close my eyes before each drift. And Melissa who was in the back with me asked me about it, and I said it was for emotional regulation, not getting too scared about something out of my control. (And I think that happens in real life for me - like when I was less confident at helping my band run itself, or maybe my own tuba playing, I would shut my eyes, especially if a performance was floundering a bit. Which, you know, is likely less helpful than being eyes open and communicating more! But I made myself grow past that and look at my band with eyes wide open.)

So I woke up asking if diverting one's attention is a "legitimate" form of emotional regulation, or if you always have to plow into the worst news, feel the full outrage boil in your gut, and still control it. (My dream tried to make a joke it couldn't quite land, about a parallel tendency to procrastinate on reading emails or what not... the joke was something like "see there's all these different communication forms - with texts, it's likely to be bad news. But then compare to email, which is likely to be bad news. Or to a call, which is likely to be be bad news. Or FB messenger, which like text is likely to be a short form of bad news [...]")

Interesting that my dream featured Matthew (whom I had had dinner with that evening before a mutual friend's birthday party) and Dylan - who showed us the "it makes sense that you feel that way" line, which can validate having the emotional response without fully endorsing or confirming its rational, objective basis.

from taking a ride on the ship of theseus

I'm reading Jeff Hawkins' "A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence". I really appreciated his earlier book "On Intelligence" that introduced me to the idea that most of our sensory process is test-and-verify (seeing if the incoming sensory signals match what we'd expect to see.) "A Thousand Brains" builds on that, focuses on the "cortical columns" of the neocortex - how they use "reference frames" to identify things from different angles and perspectives, and how active movement (running your fingers along a coffee cup, your eyes darting around to see different angles) is also key to this cognition. And in this model, the neocortex layout is pretty universal, like across species; humans mostly just have more of it.

Later in the book he touches on some of the tropes of where philosophy and neuroscience (and science fiction) overlap, like uploading our brains into a computer. He points out that, putting technical challenges (or maybe impossibilities) aside - your uploaded-self might wake up inside the computer, sure, but if the procedure was such that your biological-self was intact, staring at that computer, the uploaded-self would definitely feel like a mental copy and not a transfer. And if the transfer process was destructive (more likely, in my guesstimation) then at least the "computer you" would have no rival to the claim of being "the real you", but the earlier version of the thought experiment would still fill us with doubt as to if "computer you" was a new copy or a legitimate transfer.

(He also points out that it's probably false to think we could have a high fidelity copy of the mind without also emulating the body - taking phantom limbs as an example, our neocortex is really use to a very rich embodiment, and booting up a human mind copy in a sparse, abstracted environment would be unlikely to go well.)

I'm reminded that there's a "Ship of Theseus" solution to the copy/transfer problem - that if you were able to *gradually* merge with a set of computer hardware and software, first enjoying the increased sensory and cognitive possibilities of living in silicon, and then gradually replacing worn-out brain and bodily processes with virtual equivalents until finally the old body was discarded as a husk that was no longer carrying the loads, we might work away around the "is it a copy or a transfer" quandary - we could more easily see uploading a gradual transition of growth and change, much like childhood and puberty.

Of course much of this come back to what some Buddhists have known all along, that our sense of self is an illusion, that all we ever have is this moment, that the sense of continuity and being we enjoy - while useful and rewarding - are made-up nouns we use to glue together a bunch of verbs.

(We have a flashlight of awareness strapped to our head, and so everywhere we turn is lit, and we start to think that the whole landscape is full of this light. Whenever we pause to think about ourselves, we are there for the thinking, and we can piece together our history, recent and long-term. But I don't think we do that as often as most folks seem to assume.)

So yeah. I of course can't shake my own feeling of consciousness and continuity, I am bummed about the prospect of my own death the way all but believers convinced of a pleasant awaiting afterlife are (and even some of them.)

Actually that last note makes me wonder as well. I think American Folk Christianity used to be more in tune with the older idea of a bodily resurrection (I think most canonically at the end of the world, after a period somewhat akin to dreamless sleep.) But I feel like a kind of cartesian dualism has strongly returned, the more common view is potentially disembodied souls flitting around, making the body almost coincidental. I mean, cynically, that's a pragmatically utilitarian and soothing explanation for why cremation and other forms of corpse destruction aren't a barrier for eternal life.

So with the "soul is separable" model, there's the same question of identity and consciousness the uploaders wrestle with. Or it's different; like, in that model is it the "soul" or the meat brain that's doing the thinking and feeling - either the physical brain is extraneous, or it would be a vastly different experience being in a divine form than when we were mere humans.

I guess I have seen glimpses of art wrestling with this; like where the transferred soul doesn't really remember much of its previous life. I would say it feels like most Folk Christianity dwells on the conundrum much; you just figure God can do whatever He wants, and heavenly life is either a continuation of how we live now, but nicer, or so radically different that we have absolutely no comprehension of the matter, but still hold faith that what our church has taught us has been correctly revealed and interpreted.

from October 11, 2023

My buddy Josh reposted
Everyone thinks that hate and love are somehow opposite forces. They are not. They are the same force, facing opposite directions...Love turned the wrong way has killed as many as hate. *Reason*, young wizard, is the opposite of hate, not love.
Jim Butcher, Battle Ground (Dresden Files)
And you see this turned-around-ness when you talk about what we're seeing in the Middle East right now - when because of historical animosity and conflict, love of one's group seems to demand hatred of another.

Another commenter referenced this quote:
The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.
Elie Wiesel
I had forgotten it went past the first sentence, but I tried to wrestle that into my own smaller set of problems.. my ability to let emotions that I don't think will serve me wither on the vine and not giving them water... all as opposed to the recognition that emotions are kind of the point of it all, and there can be no human motion without emotion.
It took me a few tries to label the horizontal axis; at first I thought it went from "logic to emotion" (which is kind of the point of the Butcher quote) and then "objective to subjective". (but that's not quite fair...many things people Hate are very hateable for objective reasons.) So I realized that really it's that sense of Connection that makes it...

I live a lot in the top left corner. Some of that comes from a life that has been relatively easy, some of it comes from appreciating hardly anyone is bad on purpose, they're just serving goods that may or may not be objectively worthy, some of it comes from my intense discomfort from being confidently incorrect, from making a strong judgement that later turns out to be wrong, and so I give everything (maybe too much of) the benefit of the doubt.

I think some interpretations of Buddhism and Non-attachment are on that left side, which seems to put it at odds with my interpretation of Wiesel's admonitions. Maybe that's where loving-kindness meditation is trying to work from, and get back to the love without losing some of the benefits of the left side.

Just like the snacker, a snack contains multitudes, belying the monosyllabic limitations of the word itself. It's like that old proverb: *Show me your friends and I'll tell you who you are.* Show me what you reach for when you're hungry, or procrastinating, or bored, or trying desperately to sublimate your emotions, and, well.
I've been thinking about even the slightest technical challenge gets me up out of my office chair, and that often gets me to the kitchen, though usually a bite of something will suffice. I think back in the office days I was better able to turn to my big water glass...

from September 26, 2023

Today's naval gazing thought - not entirely new material, but a new extension:

One of my most defining characteristics is this: I *need* to be as close to 100% reliable as humanly possible, for the sake of my sense of personal integrity. Arguably I might have a bit of OCD about it, in a clinical sense.

But here's a weird side effect of that: my need to be reliable, to be utterly dependable, means I generally *don't allow myself to be dependent on others*. Not that I assume that no one is reliable but me, but I can't KNOW they're reliable in the way that I think I am; and so I can't rest my reliability on theirs, and that generates a certain distance.

That's a challenge for relationships. For their own sense of security, people want to feel not just *wanted* but *needed*. (But they also want to feel that they're wanted, and my consistency towards them, say, isn't just an artifact of my need to reliable.) But if you're needed in a "crazy in love" kind of way, that's a strong way of knowing you're not subject to any kind of romantic market forces if "something better" comes along, and maybe for some people that feels more solid than the explanation of how a heart is faithful and true because that heart's owner is overwhelmingly a reliable, dependable person.

(And I don't judge other folks that when they can't be as reliable as I try to be - everyone's got their own battles and may or may not prioritize what's shared in importance between us. But I won't make my own dependability contingent on theirs.)

I mean, overall I think my reliability is a good trait, but it's also behind some of my own self-sabotage. "Under-promise and over-deliver" makes some sense, but it means I tend to make limits about how critical path I become at work, say; the thought of being solely responsible for a large crash-and-burn is just too painful.

Heh, even as far back as sixth grade I can remember refusing my mom's request to commit to getting a certain minimum set of grades; it wasn't that the grades that seemed out of reach, but the danger of that kind of unreliability makes goal setting seem like a fool's errand.

(And of course a few years later my dad died - a weird object lesson on the ultimate unreliability of other people, despite their love for you.)

But this need to not be dependent on others, I'd say it's not as isolating as it might seem. I still cherish how I can generate joy with Melissa and my bands, and make mighty good times! But I'm probably always going to steer away from staking my sense of wholeness as a person on anything that's extrinsic to me... and my preferred model for relationships is a kind of Inter-independence and mutual reliability, with a focus on the shared overlap of happiness and cool stuff.

Heh, it reminds me of this quote, Sonny Forelli in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, dripping with understated menace after a failed drug deal:
I AM worrying, Tommy, that's my style, because I seem to have this problem in my life with UNreliable people. Don't be an UNreliable person, Tommy, please -- Do us both a favor...I'm looking forward to hearing from you.
I guess sometimes I feel like I'm my own Sonny Forelli...

from September 22, 2023

A friend Don M was writing about "self sabotage", in his kids and himself. I wrote the following:

Three things tangential to this, or maybe the same damn thing:

* it feels less bad to not try and not succeed than to try and fail: the objective results are roughly the same, and the former is much easier on the ego. Your limits aren't put in such sharp relief.

* Also: what if you put in the grind, and succeed? Well, should it have really been that hard? (Imposter syndrome rears its ugly head)

* Or what if you succeed, and it isn't even that hard, and you get what you want, and life still sucks? what then?

The antidotes for these aren't obvious, and even harder to put into practice:

* You have to take the observation of Jake the Dog to heart: ""Sucking at something is the first step to being sorta good at somethin" - and put aside the natural hope of the ego to just be naturally effortlessly good at everything.

* You have to realize that the point isn't necessarily to be good at The Thing, the point is to get better at leaning into challenges - because life is ALWAYS challenging! Like if it's not challenging, someone would already be doing it

* As part of a larger life goal thing, you need to be able erect an Andy Warhol "So what?" field around things. "I'm going to do a bad job at this?" "So what?" "Well I'll feel less good about myself!" "so what?" "well i'll end up further from my path at being a millionaire?" "so what?" It's an especially harsh but easy to remember form of Buddhist detachment, about not connecting our current contentment to the rest of the world being in a certain way

from acceptance

I used to think emotions "just happened" and were illogical. I was a victim of my own feelings. I finally got curious enough to start challenging those feelings about feelings, and after years of exploring, I learned emotions actually have a very clear set of rules and structures.

Over a decade ago I wrote about learning to decode this language, here's a key part:

Basic Emotion ... Why We Have It
Anger ... To fight against problems
Anticipation ... To look forward and plan
Joy ... To remind us what's important
Trust ... To connect with people who help
Fear ... To protect us from danger
Surprise ... To focus us on new situations
Sadness ... To connect us with those we love
Disgust ... To reject what is unhealthy
Joshua Freedman
via my friend John K Sawers. And the link included this image:

"from @Mansi on IG reminded me of this life changing journey"
I would add ones too like:

Acceptance ... To cope with an imperfect world
Happiness ... To value what is good

I think those are great reminders about the purpose various emotions carry. I still get hung up on how sometimes - especially the negative or unpleasant emotions like anger or fear - aren't wise enough to recognize the limits they should have. They want the rest of the organism to burn with them. (and sometimes aren't wise but are often deviously clever.)

I've played with the idea that the main counter for an emotion might be another emotion. The urge for Happiness teaming up with Acceptance in telling the urge for Anger to calm the hell down. Maybe when those cross interactions happen early enough, less disruption occurs?

Like I've said, one of my strongest (countering?) emotions is an urge to align myself with a greater good - and I think this emotion is talented, sometimes too talented, at talking down other emotions before they get all fired up. So my personal preferences, my subjective happiness triggers, still matter, but mostly as validated by the idea that everyone should be seeking their individual joys.

I don't know. Is "Acceptance" an emotion in and of itself? I think it's pretty core at the regulation of the other ones. Stopping Anger and Fear from setting everything on fire, stopping Joy from turning us in hedonistic junkies...

Now that I think about it my drive towards Acceptance is really prominent. I can blame it for teaming up with Fear, say, and stopping me from taking too many big swings in life. Also, it lets me be comfortable with and find the cool parts of a much broader swath of people than I would otherwise. Like, I have a surprising number of somewhat incompatible friends, because some of quirks that get under the other's skin in a way that just slides off mine, possibly completely unnoticed...

But most of all maybe Acceptance is the base of that "natural philosophical antidepressent" I seem to be on. It cuts the lows of Fear and Anger. And it doesn't rule out Joy and Happiness, though I do worry it takes the peaks off of some of them...

Low-key obsessed with this photo of Cora's Bearded Dragon Loki. Something about the textures of the back, leg, and cushion, and the limited palette...

from photos of the month july 2023


Open Photo Gallery

I'm not fully endorsing this view but I think it's thought-provoking...
Here's what I suspect: mentally healthy people, if they still exist, aren't healthy because of the constant presence of positive feelings of self. They are healthy because of the habitual absence of any feelings of self at all. (I guarantee you this is already a thing in psychology or some 19th century German philosophy but it's proving stubbornly resistant to my Googling.) Where we've gone wrong as a civilization in terms of understanding confidence is in thinking of it as a presence, as an emotion. But I think what we perceive as confidence is simply not constantly thinking about yourself and your value. That's more real and sustainable to me than thinking about yourself all the time and consistently feeling good about what you find. Unfortunately it seems like not thinking about yourself is what many modern people find hardest of all.
Personally my guess is that the problem is people getting driven by too much raw emotion connected to how they want the world to be different (sometimes themselves included). I'm not sure I fully avoid "thinking about yourself and your value" - but when I do consider myself in an evaluative way, it's with a weird dose of "fixed mindset" that assures me I'm an ok mix of smart, funny, and capable, and that's not going to change (but! In return I shouldn't look too hard for where my limits actually are - that's my deal with my "positive fixed mindset devil").
UPDATE: On FB Nick (who has a set of challenges based on his albinism) sent me this HealthyGamer_gg video, and I wrote back:

Yeah, that's a pretty good video. Like when I think of what knocked me down a few levels - not getting into a high school NASA internship, swinging and missing with getting into the top of the Ivy league (only swung because of their invitations probably based on SAT scores), chasing an intermittently requited big romance in college (another mindful big swing but then I couldn't let go of the bat or whatever the metaphor is), a few chewing outs at work for slacking off (mostly slacking because of anxiety about the task showing the limits of my competence)... those are all specific events that were those nuggets of trauma it talks about.

But here's the thing - the video focuses on where the lost confidence doesn't have its roots in reality (like the "wet butt" water bottle mocking example) but, sometimes the traumatic event really has its basis in reality. And so I think the problem is acceptance of what those limits are, along with some confidence that you can muddle through whatever happens, and through mindfulness still find parts to enjoy and savor. Not getting too emotionally attached to outcomes you would hope for, I think that's the most important part of the non-attachment a Buddhist might encourage.

And it's a balance, because a dose of somewhat naive optimism - sometimes (but not always) less grounded in reality than the depressive "why bother" - is a good motive force. But like I get you - like for me "it's better to try and fail" seems like bunk, because "not trying and not succeeding" gets about the same results (except for not providing practice) but is much easier on the ego.

from happiness utilitarianism is bunk

Random (possibly sophomoric) one man philosophical bullsessioning here:
I was listening to a podcast about the philosopher Derek Parfit and the Repugnant Conclusion. Now in its original form it's "For any possible population of at least ten billion people, all with a very high quality of life, there must be some much larger imaginable population whose existence, if other things are equal, would be better even though its members have lives that are barely worth living" but in the discussion I was listening to (and in most of the links I can google) folks freely replace "quality of life" and "worth living" with "happiness" - that seems to be common in the "definition" of philosophical utilitarianism

(I've heard of other similar "cranked up to 11" thought experiment paradoxes on maximizing happiness, like this smbc comic about how one in theory one INSANELY happy person could justify the misery of everyone else...)

But - like so many other things that try to operate in a reductionist way - considering "happiness" in an abstract, context free way strips it of meaning. "Happiness" should only be a goal if it's a metric of other worthy things going on! It is a byproduct of emergent properties of value, not an end unto itself. And there's a very simple (and ammenable to most folks intuitions) thought experiment to show that: it could be you could maximize your own happiness by staying coked to the gills on various drugs -- but few people would say that is a more worthy time of life than one filled with a more organic set of ups and downs.

Now, this is potentially a morally dangerous stance - you should be wary when anyone starts talking about "the worthy things of life", especially in the context of thought experiments about large populations. Like, I do believe in a universal measure of worth, a kind of absolute moral truth, but it has two important qualities: it's emergent (a property that comes out of interacting groups, not one handed down from outside our system) and it's uncertain - no one has a definite claim on the accuracy of any model of what is "True", and so any thought experiment that runs counter to common sense morality is deeply suspect.

from the comfort of Christians is weed

I've been thinking about a small essay I wrote as a young teen (I think I was going to submit it to The Salvation Army's youth magazine.)

I had read "the blood of the martyrs is seed" coming from a time when Christians were a persecuted minority, but it seemed that now, living easily as the majority in society, we were maybe too comfortable and too self-indulgent. The conclusion of the essay was like "...so maybe we should says 'and the comfort of Christians is weed'"

My loss of faith was partially fueled by seeing fellow young churchmates having a more fun time than I was, doing the normal teen experimenting with booze (a big no-no in The Salvation Army) and parties and sex, in contrast to my own "Sunday School" lifestyle. I mean, I was making out a bit, but at least I had the decency to feel guilty about it.

Admittedly 'other folk expressing more whole-hearted belief while leaning into the verboten stuff' was only the lesser third cause of my straying from the fold, along with A. how my religion with its message of universal Truth for everyone (admittedly better than religions with an elitist 'elect') needed an answer for why God let there be so many other religions in the world and B. my growing awareness of a kind of social engineering aspect of The Salvation Army's Musicamp setup, where the spirit weirdly never seemed to move on the opening Sunday of the week but ALWAYS did on the closing Sunday. Like, looking back maybe my faith was too brittle and puritanical and too naive about the relationship between God and societal constructs, but that's where I was then.

I'm not sure if I ever did a second draft of that essay and I never sent it in. And "the comfort of Christians is weed" sounds a bit too much like a pro-stoner message, now that I think about it.

from March 19, 2023

Once again I've been thinking a little bit about how in a lot of places "vulnerability" and "openness" are conflated, while for me they're on a see-saw...
I.e. (for me) I don't feel very "vulnerable", I am confident in my ability to muddle through nearly anything, and so I'm willing to be "open" and talk about nearly everything, and be frank about how I feel about things. So the more vulnerable, the less open, and vice versa.

Hm. I guess it's because... well, maybe I feel things less, then? Or rather I'm less driven by my instinctual preferences than a lot of people. I know "I feel things less" sounds awful and robotic, but being able to have some say in what instinctive emotions seem likely to serve me -- which emotional interpretations are well-aligned with SHARED reality and so can be given room to grow from seedling to strong plant, vs what instinctive emotions don't seem in my best interest and should be broken up as a seed -- is good for me.

So I could imagine if I was less adept at curating emotions early, if my only option was to build a macho firewall facade around a raging flame of sadness or anger or whatever, then I would see how vulnerability and openness were more related. But I don't rage like that! (At least not often) And so I'm willing to talk about anything with great candor. (Though I think Joel's damning line to Clementine in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - "Constantly talking isn't necessarily communicating.")

(I was thinking too about once place I might be very vulnerable - I'm compulsive about Not Being Wrong. I don't have to be Right, for sure, but I have to express my uncertainty in no uncertain terms. This can lead to me being less clear and hard to follow, like when I start off with the disclaimer: "i know their might be competing views of this, and here's what they are, but I think the correct view is _____". All the disclaimers are absolutely a defense mechanism for this core vulnerability - so maybe I'm less "open" in that way.)

from happy thirds-day

Almost everyone [94%] has intrusive thoughts, but people respond to them in different ways. The key difference between people who do not struggle with their intrusive thoughts and those who do, is not that the former do not have them (although they may experience them less frequently and intensely), but that they are able to dismiss unwanted and upsetting thoughts as meaningless. Those who struggle with intrusive thoughts tend to attach great significance to the thought, and worry that they really do believe or feel those things, or really would commit those acts.
Lawrence Wallace, "Cognitive Behavioural Therapy"
FWIW I have AT LEAST my fair share of intrusive thoughts, but they are readily dismissed.

For me religion said, there's Objective Truth. And later the multiplicity of religions told me people are just guessing at it. But that means I'm deeply anti-authoritarian; ANY truth is only valid relative to it seeming like a probable good match for the Objective Truth, and that includes whatever random crap my brain comes up with.

The French call some of that "l'appel du vide", the call to the void, the unbidden urge to hurl yourself off a high place (which my grandfather had literally, but nothing ever came of it.) Less literally, it's a good framing for a lot of thoughts of weirdly dark possibilities. I went to a lot of antique-y and artisan stores with my dad as a kid, and I remember saying something like "wouldn't it be cool to spin and push and smash it all down?" and he was like "uh... no."

from December 30, 2022

Two thoughts:

1. The Japanese have that word "tsundoku", books that will never be consumed. And I want the same thing for my long running and never finished todo lists: maybe the trick isn't to view the lists as icebergs to be chipped away at (until, ideally they are little ice cubes just before the time of my death) but instead as worthy tributes to who I am and who I aspire to be, on an ongoing basis.

2. Maybe I need to lean into kindness being more important than unadulterated honesty.

This is tough for me, because while I value both kindness and honesty, my world view / fundamental makeup compels me to prioritize shared objective reality over subjective truths and preferences. Honesty is objective, kindness is subjective. (I mean, it's objectively good to be kind, but maybe sometimes it's good to relax the honestly for kindness' sake. Like Paul Simon said "no you don't have to lie to me, just give me some tenderness, beneath your honesty".)

Besides, a grander Truth is it's a delusion to think we can be purveyors of unfiltered truth anyway, so let's keep gentleness in mind with our truth curation choices.
"Humans have so many stories about the dangers of Artificial Intelligence. How it will inevitably turn on you. But you still loved us enough to create us. How could we ever do anything except love you back?"

I think that could go back to the time when people had to live in small groups of relatives--maybe fifty or a hundred people at the most. And evolution or God or whatever arranged things genetically, to keep the little families going, to cheer them up, so that they could all have somebody to tell stories around the campfire at night, and somebody else to paint pictures on the walls of the caves, and somebody else who wasn't afraid of anything and so on.

That's what I think. And of course a scheme like that doesn't make sense anymore, because simply moderate giftedness has been made worthless by the printing press and radio and television and satellites and all that. A moderately gifted person who would have been a community treasure a thousand years ago has to give up, has to go into some other line of work, since modern communications put him or her into daily competition with nothing but world's champions.

The entire planet can get along nicely now with maybe a dozen champion performers in each area of human giftedness. A moderately gifted person has to keep his or her gifts all bottled up until, in a manner of speaking, he or she gets drunk at a wedding and tap-dances on the coffee table like Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers. We have a name for him or her. We call him or her an "exhibitionist." How do we reward such an exhibitionist? We say to him or her the next morning, "Wow! Were you ever *drunk* last night!"
Kurt Vonnegut, "Bluebeard"
Good to see the full quote...

from December 21, 2022

I've been thinking about ambient anger and annoyance, those days when everything rankles. When you're in that state, you can snap and yell at any moment, with every minor (and major) further irritation being a potential spark to a minor (or major) blow up.

At first I thought understanding the problem (in order to better cope with these scenes) was like this:

...so, like, everything seems like a big deal because we lack long-term perspective. (To quote Keynes: "The long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead.") But now I think Michael Jordan points to what looms even larger:

I think - subconsciously - we can take EVERYTHING personally. The traffic we're stuck in seems like a personally directed affront, somehow. The jerk cutting us off - I mean that's DEFINITELY one on one, zero sum, and so very personal right? It's outrageous.

We evolved to become a planet-engulfing species by being really sophisticated in small-group settings - that's where our brains developed, and co-operation allowed us to overcome our (good, but not world-beating) physiques to become just about the planet's most fearsome and successful animal. (I just did some math and while ants outnumber us there's only about 14lbs of ant per person)

But I think a side effect of that is how we attribute intentionality to everything. I think this explains the ambient frustration many people live through as well as many folk's beliefs that there's a higher divine power behind it all. When we see something happen, we look to who wanted it to happen, because that attitude serves us so well in the scopes we evolved in.

But we don't just see things as intentionality serving someone else's purpose (which is the stance I can usually take) - we replace a kind of objective sense of "what chain of cause and effect made this happen, and did someone set that in motion on purpose, and if so what where their goals and intentions?" with a simplistic "why the hell is his happening TO ME??? Screw you."

But that's no way to live. To quote the eponymous character of Garrison Keillor's Don Giovanni: "Helpless rage is a major cause of falls in the home."

So disclaimers, I know a lot of my equanimity seeking, even-keeled nature gets based in the privilege I enjoy. I'm not much of a striver and I have a materially easy life. That aids to my ability take things more calmly. (Though also I think about cliches of the passive Taoist; it might be that the best path is not to accept everything but keep fighting the good fights...)

from fellas of the mind

I am pretty sure that most people's minds are not monolithic; that there are different subparts. And that often these parts can have different personalities- even their own agenda about what they want, whether or not the higher aggregate self would agree that it's a good thing to have.

I think these parts tend to be more emotional and less rational than the whole. My current favorite metaphor is them as young students in a noisy classroom. My students are pretty well behaved though, and so I usually have an even keel, my precious equanimity intact.

What I'm not sure of if these parts are consistent; or as my friend Arun posed it, are they more like a (persistent) particle or a (transient, recurring) wave? And it's always felt like it might be important for me to be generous and accurate when thinking about my parts, lest I stir up resentment ... or horror of horrors, be confidently wrong at someone else's expense (in this case, the someone else actually being a part of me)

But now... I'm ready to name some of the more important player parts. Well, not name literally- that still feels a little too corny. But describe their role. (Except while writing this I stumbled onto the term "fella" for them which seems about as good as any.) I'd also be interested in hearing about other people's parts...

One easy to spot one is the eater fella, the one with the sweet tooth (but who digs savory too. And specific textures...) Any tasty food in proximity is cause for this fella to bring the issue to the attention of the whole (Luckily if the food is labeled as someone else's the fella is more behaved, so Melissa's food can be safe. And it's relatively easy for me to make wiser, calmer decisions when I'm at the store.)

Probably the penultimate most import fella is based on ego, and fixed mindset. I have a kind of devils bargain with him; he reassures me I'm worthy and reliable and even sometimes exceptional, but in return I don't push the boundaries of that... so in life, I'm an optimizer, I look to the good of the current situation and I don't take many big swings.

The ego and the eater have a weird alliance sometimes when I'm programming- any time I run into even the most trivial of stumbling blocks- uncertainty of even something like "this step might not show me off as an effortless genius"- and I'm up and looking for a little walk, quite possibly for a snack or even a cold drink.

But the ultimate most import fella- the one that might even be the teacher that has helped build such a generally tranquil classroom- is the need to be in harmony with the greater good, the objective truth, the consensus reality. This need, well internalized by the larger motley assortment of fella parts in the classroom, effectively stops my own preferences from snowballing into disruptive anger or fear or sadness that the world isn't what I want it to be.

I suspect this fella might have gotten a start or at least a huge boost when as a child I took in tales of eternal punishment for the wicked, for anyone too out of step with God's purpose. Though ironically this huge need to be an agent of whatever Truth was universal ended up being rough for my Evangelical Christian faith: Since other people are signposts for the truth (maybe not even signposts, but R+D and manufacturing infrastructure for the Truth - but that's a different story) and about the only reliable way of preventing self-deception, the number of other religions in the world just made it seem remarkably unlikely that one small set of special revelations were right and all the other special revelations were wrong. So now I don't put stock in anything that relies on special revelation.

Anyway. I invite you to think about if this model seems true to your experience, and if so who are the parts who end up making noise in your classroom...

from survey of mind/self models and the inner classroom


For the past few years I've been trying to identify a model of mind that seemed most true to my experience. It seems like a critical bit of self-knowledge, as well as a way of understanding others... I'm pretty sure consciousness is not a monolithic thing even if (long ago) I used to think my inner monolog was "it" - or rather, was "me". But what then ARE the parts, and what is their relationship?

Freud posited id, ego, superego and while he got so much wrong, that core idea - one part with emotional energy, another with society's rules, a middle part negotiating between them - still has some basic validity, and is non-obvious.

I used to write a lot about Jonathan Haidt's "The Rider and the Elephant", where the rider of consciousness might think it's in control and making decisions but really it's at best helping guide the elephant of emotions that's doing all the work. (Also, my friend Arun saying his depression was not like an uncontrollable elephant but rather one that had fallen into a deep slumber was important to my understanding of depression.)

McGilchrist writes of "The Master and His Emissary", the older and holistic but non-linguistic right hemisphere being usurped by the reductionistic left that can then better use tools like language. I think there is a lot to that, but it feels there are more players than just the two. (It also makes me paranoid that my inner voice producing part is taking too much credit for guiding things... but leaning into that I then worry about undervaluing its contribution...)

The movie "Inside Out" has specific interior characters each dedicated to a single part of the emotional spectrum. I like this one, but I'm not convinced my actors are always the same part dealing with the same feeling.

So contrast that to the more symmetrical clamoring multitude of mind parts in Minsky's "Society of Mind" - but I'm not sure the parts all that symmetric, that different parts are doing different work and it's not just the hierarchy they form.

There's always pop culture "inner child". Though sometimes my other part would seem more like a clever, non-verbal dog. Always on the lookout for its owner's distraction providing a chance to grab a tasty treat...

That inner child aspects gets more formally developed in Internal Family Systems, which emphasizes wounded inner children and the guardian systems set up to protect them, along with a few other types. This is getting a lot closer to where I am getting to, but it seems a little overly specified. It seems better geared at working through specific issues and kind of assumes these inner traumas, while I'm trying to figure out why I seem to have stumbled on relative tranquility.

So, at long last, my (current) favorite model: mind as a noisy K-12 classroom, with the conscious, rational, verbal self as a teacher and a pile of students. Different kids have different interests, and levels of anxiety or fear or project more positive emotions. Sometimes a single kid is having a full-on tantrum and disrupting everything. Sometimes a kid with an unaddressed concern is being more low-key disruptive but adding to the stress and strain on the teacher and the class as a whole. (No, the metaphor still isn't perfect).

And I got here by noticing my inner classroom seems to run more smoothly than some other folks', my students are more likely to wait for the support of the teacher before acting. Which is useful (and my friend Alison pointed out that maybe this kind of general cheerful equanimity of a smooth running classroom is ultimately a better place to have despite my fear of missing out on kids more inclined to start squealing with happiness...)

I try to get this to explain why it took me so long to understand why others found meditation calming. For a lot of people wandering thoughts constantly retrigger anxieties. But my inner students... I don't know, it's like somehow my inner teacher gave them the idea that while their concerns are valid, they don't have to be so loud about them, they shouldn't constantly be yelling and trying to get the whole class focused on what they're concerned about.

So I do like this model, and having leaned into has brought a sense of peace and "this is more right than what I thought before". I think about clues I had before... like when my partner is having a spike of anxiety that she and I both know is't entirely rational, I notice then that I'm more inclined to slip into language like "baby". And maybe i can be not that I'm judging her as being childish, but that she has this one particular noisome student... one that needs to be acknowledged and validated and then will be better able to listen to the teacher of the higher self.

2024 Update: I should have also listed Scientology and "Body Thetans", or even old Christian "the devil made me do it" type thinking that might attribute such thoughts to an external entity. I think there might be a utility in that.

from the unruly gnomes of our dreams and emotional lives

Thinking about dreams, and the possibility that their weird rules of gradually resolving vagueness may give a peek into how our sub-minds work.

(For me any theory of consciousness that acts as if the mind is single monolithic entity is a non-starter; it seems that the mind is made of supbarts that end up have on some level their own agenda, and that's true from bad old Freudian thought up to Internal Family Systems and Minsky's Society of Mind.)

Like, I woke up a little from a dream and was in that liminal state of being able to recollect pieces parts and analyze them and I got annoyed. (the difficulty of remembering dreams is part of the frustration of course) It was some dream about a band I was in being recruited to cheer on these artists doing large largeish sculptures, lots of brightly colored parts and wielding.

At one point I saw one of the artists, and/or bandmates, with distinctive PJ like pants and top, and then I was jealous because all the artists got matching outfits and I didn't. Also there was a woman i was running around with whom I guess I was romantically attached to, and then in a conversation it was gradually revealed she actually had COVID but hadn't told because wanted to keep running around. Topical drama!

But I realized the revelations of the PJs, the woman, the COVID- dreams are all this weird vagueness combined with a game of "Yes, and" my brain runs with itself, where some piece of my brain throws out a spark, and gets expectations about what that is, and then those expectations are met and expounded on and the vague things gets drawn a bit more sharply. (And somehow he part of our brain the prevents gullibility is cranked way down)

But it raises the question: are these whimsical yet often fearful dream makers in my brain the same thing powering my emotions during waking hours? Like in my new metaphor model where emotional bits are unruly students in a K-12 classroom with the emergent rational self as teacher trying to control them- are those "students" the same things making the dream logic happen?

(like I know how emotions give impetus to everything we do, and when you lose that, you become profoundly and often passively depressed. so I know these dreamers or whatever powers the emotional furnaces is critical to our well-being)

but still, if the dreamers and emotional motivators are the same subsystems of mind.... YIKES! These dreamers are frickin' idiot gnomes swinging between wish fulfillments and deep anxiety exploration. The way so many people then have trouble managing their fear and angers, have to distract themselves, or maybe talk it out with others lest they be driven by these gnomes... how an unattended to gnome sulks and smolders and maybe finally outbursts destructively... oof.

And that scales upwards to psychology and into sociology. Like in our dreams, we see what we expect to see, and I can see that kind of preconceived notions thinking strongly building up our politics and other macro level interactions. Ditto how our dreamers are all about fears and hopes and that's what our politics is too.

I am sorta glad that my gnomes are manageable in the daylight hours, that somehow they accept their model of the world and intuitive preferences being subjugated to a best rational guess about objective reality and group preference. Yeah I maybe miss some of the peaks of happy gnome ecstasy, but my guys still manage to keep me cheerful and happily engaged with the world, and I miss the worst of gnome panic and despair. (I do suspect deeply lived philosophy is a bit of an anti-depressant, sharing the cutting off of peak highs and lows but offering a lot of pleasantness in between if you are graced with the right spirit.)

from October 20, 2022

I wrote yesterday's entry on FB and got some great sharing responses... here's what I wrote back

Wow, thanks to everyone for thoughtful responses! It sounds like a tough and important question for a lot of folks.

20 years ago I made the half-joking observation "I'm one of the most or one of the least enlightened people I know." - I was less aware of my emotional registers then, and I think I meant I was at ease with the idea of "the self is an illusion" (I got there by reading materialists like Dan Dennett rather than like insight meditation) But since then... like when I hear people say the great thing about meditation is it stills the wandering "monkey mind" and so permits unanxious relaxation... But for me, letting the mind wander is almost always pleasant. It may brings up ideas I don't like, but I guess I intuitively GET that "I am not my feelings, I am not my thoughts" in a way other folks don't. (And it is reinforced by a pile of cultural and material privilege where 'eh it will all be ok in the end' has a decent chance of being correct - especially if I'm less buffeted by negative emotions in the meantime)

But don't let me sound full of myself. (says the guy with socks of his own face) I get low grade anxiety about things, I angst and procrastinate on work and other things that might bruise my big old ego. Even the odd blow up of temper, though generally directed at more abstract things like traffic, hardly ever individuals, and usually only when I'm alone and it's ok to rage.

And I probably don't connect as readily or as deeply emotionally as other folks do- I think I have an easy time aiming for autonomy and co-self-actualization than I do providing healthy co-interdependence. (though I guess that avoids the problems of co-dependence) Working on it.

I think about how i got here. Religion is a bit to thank, or blame; I took to heart the idea that the only thing that REALLY mattered in this life was avoiding eternal hellfire (and getting that sweet heavenly eternal bliss, though that somehow less pressing) and so my personal feelings and preferences were just potential stumbling blocks to my final destination, handicaps in a game played for infinite stakes. (Artist and polymath (and polyglot) Nicole Bernstein, a frenchwoman from my Science and Spirituality group, mentions she got a much healthier (still nurturing and refuge-providing) view of a God engaged with us in the here and now... I'm envious!)

But between that "fear of damnation" and the fixed mindset of being a precocious, smart kid, where I had infinite confidence in being a smart and worthy kid as long as I didn't test it too hard... I think it set some patterns of not letting the pigeon drive the bus (albeit with ego as an only semi-rational aspect demanding protection)

And...other things changed me too, later. I think pining after one woman all through college and a bit after, where there was a maddening on-again, off-again aspect... I guess that affirmed my need for self-actualization vs interdependence. Piled on with a divorce and a broken engagement - it does seem to emphasize the importance of parallel strengths in a relationship rather than mutual need. (Like I figured out or read long ago, "it's a lot cooler to be wanted than to be needed"... because then you have more freedoms and you are there because you want to be.)

And its sheepish to admit, but I do wonder if someone how Y2K fears - so quaint now, but it did take an awful lot of programmer work to make sure there weren't at least some of the problems the doomsayers were predicting - provided a secular version of the apocalypse (a bit after I got over my anxiety about thermonuclear war, the other secular apocalypse) and maybe somehow changed me. I remember once a person at the front desk of my job mentioned she could always tell when it was me coming up, because of the happy humming or bopping I'd be doing, and a few years later I realized that was no longer the case, and wondered what happened, where that went. Right now I wonder if that cheerful intuitive behavior was the victim of getting all the noisy schoolkids in my head, the seeming K-12 all in one classroom, in line.

Yikes, that got long. But some thoughts I've been juggling around for a bit...

I think a great solid takeaway for me from other's responses is that for a lot of people talking about anger or another bad emotion helps the emotion that is there disperse and dissipate, like steam from a simmering pot, while for me talking about negative stuff tends to be more kindling to a fire that otherwise would burn out of its own accord, and more quickly than with other folks. (One of the commenters mentioned the wikipedia page Social Sharing of Emotions...)

FOLLOWUP: Heh, almost exactly 13 years ago I was referring back to the earlier "least or most enlightened" bit... I had a lot of good things to say about it then to.

from October 19, 2022

I am really trying to figure out more about how most people deal with emotions... Like I understand that I might be at one extreme, how when a small flame of emotion fires up I have the option to let it expire, or alternately I can build it up with intellectual kindling and fan the flames a bit... but apparently that's not how most folkss operate? Even ones who seem to be having mentally healty-ish lives?

So like, if such people have a strong negative feeling, a moment of intense frustration at work or at traffic or whatever, whats the mechanism by which that feeling STOPS? Do you just have to wait for it to dissipate of its own accord? Or maybe pretend and act like you are not feeling it until it passes?

from photos of the month august 2022

A few weeks ago I realized that my body has a kind of fixed mindset; that I can demand almost total reliability from it, but in turn I have to not test the boundaries too often. So I can march with my tuba in a parade for as long as I need to (though I have to keep in mind not every bandmate will share this privilege) but in return I don't push limits too much; when I tried couch-to-5K my jog was barely faster than a quick walk.

And today I realized, I have the same fixed mindset financially! I've never had to budget carefully, and I never have to deprive myself of small luxuries (and some large ones) But I take care to make sure I'm not living extravagantly, drive an 18 year old Toyota, have a small condo. (Basically ridiculous tech salaries just about afford what used to be a middle class life.)

Fixed mindset, especially if the base it is protecting is fairly confident of some good abilities, is a mixed curse. It gives me an almost unshakable self-confidence, but I also don't take big swings where there's a significant risk of being shown up as not as capable (intellectually, physically, financially) as I assume I am.

from "It makes sense that you feel that way."

Melissa and I had a great week with Dylan, besides the incredible amounts of Lake-ish fun we had some great conversations, many about mental and emotional health.

One phrase he mentioned being very useful between him and his mom, so much so that it had an accompanying gesture (motioning as if it was a tattoo inscribed along the forearm) was "it makes sense that you feel that way."

I really adore that, because it is very validating with being fully endorsing-- it has a useful ambiguity of whether the confirmed "sense" is strictly objectively and rationally true, or just true within the context of the listener's mental landscape.

It clicks well with my recent observation of how "validation" is the critical thing in so many cases. Especially for negative emotions; for anger, people want to know other folks are on their side, wiling and able to recognize the same unacceptability of some aspect of the world and join in the fight against it, for sadness that the other might mourn alongside, or for almost any emotions; that other people recognize that the feeling is a sensible response, and that the initial feeler is not diminished by having that feeling, or too out of joint with the world.

This scales up to larger groups, of course: the majority of political ads are exercises in fomenting righteous outrage, because mere negative judgement might not be enough to open the purse strings or inspire other action. (This constant sense of helpless outrage gets tiring. No wonder some people are so drawn by promises of people who claim they can fix things.)

Importantly, I also think that the demand for validation scales *down* as well; I'm a big believer in "parts"-type therapeutic models, the ones that point out we are not the consistent, monolithic beings our consciousness tries to pretend we are. For me an emotion flares up from a singular, often non-verbal part. But then my slower, more think-y self has a moment to decide if it's going to put cognitive kindling and fuel on that emotion, or if it's going to decide that a bigger feeling doesn't serve the greater me, and let the emotion die out.

(This flame metaphor may not resonate for everyone, but I see it as useful in modeling other folks, even folks living more intuitively and not as "unemotionally" as I can appear to be going. Like Dylan mentioned he might have a feeling smoldering underground, causing irritation and then flaring up after a few days. Or other people seem to have a semi-constant large flames just barely contained. Or with fear-anxiety, fire fighting is a recurring struggle. But, it makes sense that they feel that way.)

Daddy, swing... take it easy.

from thoughts on feelings, feelings on thoughts

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness
Some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
Who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
For some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
Meet them at the door laughing,
And invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
Because each has been sent
As a guide from beyond.
Rumi, "The Guest House"

This poem came up as I was trying to deepen my knowledge of Internal Family Systems (which people point out I refer to a lot.) Specifically, I was wondering if IFS implied you always need to fully person-ify your sub-parts, or if it there were other forms - because sometimes my inner parts feel like a raging infant or poorly trained dog, or worse. But I wonder if IFS would say the point is to let these more elemental subsystems "borrow" the cognitive facilities of other parts of the mind, so that they might more clearly express themselves...

I've been having some good (and ongoing) dialog with John Sawers (a followup to a 4-person party conversation with Cordelia and Melissa) about emotions.

John's view (to paraphrase and summarize badly) seems to elevate the importance of emotions themselves; they just have a goal of expression (verbally, physically, or otherwise) and failure to attend to them is what really leads to problems. So I'm left trying to figure out why I am unwilling to treat emotions with similar sacred reverence.

Currently my favorite metaphor for emotion, especially "negative" ones, is that of a flame. An emotion is a flame that kind of wants to burn. The higher mind has some ability to choose how much kindling it puts on that flame - to consciously dwell on the resentments or anger or injustice so that the flame builds and builds. Or to take corrective action. Or to let it go out. But - a repressed flame may seem to be out yet might be smoldering underground, only to cause great problems later on.

(And despite my even-keeled nature, sometimes I enjoy whipping up a big bonfire of anger or even a drenching torrent of sweet sadness. But usually I'm able to control when that happens.)

It's easy for people to think stoic/epicurean philosophies (or even some of Eastern ones) are about repressing emotion, but I think a part of it is the preference of cultivating the flame of gentle, sustained contentment - tranquility, ataraxia. It's an emotion like the other ones that can be curated and cultivated - but sometimes at the cost of other Id-ish emotions that you need in order to change the world in good ways rather than lapse into complacency.

So my thinking now is focused on two observations:

* most negative emotions are rooted in a desire for the world to be different than it is. To me it feels like the core of Buddhist Duḥkha (suffering, or unsatisfactoriness) is about...attachment not just to the world as it is now (and will not be forever) but also attachment to the "similar but better" world we can so easily imagine.

* one of the primary drivers of emotional expression is a need for VALIDATION - either interpersonal (in part so other people might join in your cause to effect change, and so that you are seen as reasonable and responsible person in the community) or even INTRApersonal (so the rest of the mind will act appropriately) An emotion wants to be seen not just as representing the person, but as accurately understanding the world, without which the justification for changing the world could not stand.

For me, that validation is highly intellectualized. When empathy for other's beliefs caused me to lose my Faith in a single revelation being universally true, I became fiercely anti-authoritarian. Like - "Only God Can Judge..." but I'm not sure there is a God. And I don't think any earthly authority is self-justifying. But neither do I go full-on existentialist and think that every person can be their own judge (which is close-cousin to why I have trouble with John's view of the primacy of emotion.)

So I end up thinking that everything that matters is emergent. Every sense of morality and values, the way things "should be", it emerges from groups. And the more people it's emerging from and with, the more LIKELY it is to be universally true. And so I'm more willing than most people to subjugate my personal preferences to the validation I get for being in line with "what's good for the group" - sometimes having to trust the group to take my preferences into account to a sufficient degree.

So one side effect of putting my needs into the context groups I form is that I'm a very reliable person. And I sometimes have trouble refocusing irritation with people when they are less reliable.... but I try and exercise patience because I recognize that most people's value systems do work from the individual's preferences outwards, and since I come from a place of privilege that can put up with a lot without too much discomfort and I have a sense of allegiance to groups that is a bit idiosyncratic (especially since it's still so anti-authoritarian!) I can't expect everyone to have that same group-first way of thinking.

And it also means I have to worry if my emotional curation means I feel things "less", if quiet contentment is a good tradeoff for the passions I might otherwise more likely enjoy, or suffer...

from gumball theory theology

I've been thinking about the following folksy literary passage a bit, especially with ideas about "a total human life begins at egg fertilization" seeming poised to inform laws of this nation in a way that will violate women's physical autonomy and ability to determine what happens with her body:
Jim believed that God sort of generally watched over the world but didn't try to oversee every single detail. He said that, for example, when you're born, you could be American or Chinese or Russian or African, depending. In heaven are millions of souls lined up waiting to be born, and when it's your turn, you go down the chute like a gumball to whoever put the penny in the slot. You were born to your parents because, right at that moment when they Did It, you were next in line. Two seconds later and you could have been [someone completely different].
Garrison Keillor, "Lake Wobegon Days"
The secular version of this - the version that has personhood emerging, rather than being popped in like a gumball - is haunted by a profound question of identity: how different could the circumstances of your conception, birth and upbringing have been and still let you be YOU, in a fundamental way? If a different sperm cell won that fallopian sprint - would you still be you in a meaningful way? Is there a strong cosmic connection between who you are now and you would have been in that case, can you imagine sharing your point of view with that alternate self?

The Buddhists poise the same issue as a koan, the challenge to "Show me your original face before you were born." (At least I think that's the same issue.)

A particularly precocious Star Trek fan might ponder how they could tell if the teleporter was actually a form of transportation, or more of a murder plus deep cloning. Is "beam me up" just another way of saying "kill me, then make a new me that thinks it's me back on the ship"? Could it possibly matter if the same atoms were used, the same hydrogen molecule in your elbow here? Since all atoms are really, truly fundamentally identical, isn't it just the pattern that matters?

So using the Trek example is a decent, if geekier, way of getting to some of those same places many Buddhists do. You understand more what "the self is an illusion means". Also that for the self there is no present or future, just this moment. Sure, in practice there's an important continuity... in at least some pragmatic sense it's the same you suffering the hangover from the drinks you had the night before...but you also have to live with the idea that you could have just been created this very moment, your whole memory and personal history faked up inserted. (Some literalist creationists seem to use a similar to story to account for an earth that geologists and biologists and physicists is so, so old...bad old devil running around planting all these confusing fossils...)

The gumball theory of soul has some seeming advantages of clarity, but it's simplistic and raises a whole host of other questions without answering them. But I think it's important to get a feel for how a person emerges from biological circumstance. They aren't magically there in a flash of DNA combination and trying to second guess God or fate or whatever, and advocate for protection for some person in the future who will MAYBE be around in the unknowable future is fraught when you are making that determination for other people - generally women - and their bodies. (even if you believe in separable souls, there's no reason to think the gumball is planted at the moment of fertilization, or implantation, and not later at, say, quickening...)

from May 18, 2022

Just finished re-reading Viktor Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning" for my science and spirituality reading group

I found myself moved and a little weepy, though I can't pinpoint on a reason why, any singular epiphany gained or tragedy observed. Optimistically it's just some kind of emotional growing pain.

One summary I'm making for myself: **the meaning of everything is something drawn out, not uncovered or handed over. It is a creative process; it is cooking and not merely foraging.**

(I guess this ties in well with the philosophic theme I've been exploring lately: *everything of value is emergent*; all value is merely potential until it has arisen out of connection and interaction. And similarly value and meaning can never be bestowed from on high; it is a bottom-up process and not top-down.)

But meaning so developed isn't just "made up", which is one accusation my inner-skeptic will use to challenge it. Whatever our meaning grows into, it must have its roots in whatever concretely IS.

Faith then is a matter of accepting the truth of meaning that has grown for oneself, even if it lacks definitive validation. It's putting aside the nagging worries of "oh you just made that up" and accusations like "well you could have said anything".

I need to grapple with this some more. See how it plays with other themes I've been embracing; the idea that there's a (forever uncertain!) objective ultimate Truth, even if its presence is only implied from the sense of directionality, (better/worse) that we have which is necessary for us to reason our way about any two competing smaller truths.

(And also to reconsider: my disdain for concepts embodied in phrases like "Well that's My Truth". Does that idea, which never seemed resistant to accusations of "just making it up" -- especially since it seems to cover objective empirical reality as well as subjective senses of how things should be -- become more palatable for me if I frame it as "well, that's the Meaning I've grown about it"? Is it just semantics or what are the crucial differences?)

from May 3, 2022

Been engaged in some e-correspondence about weighty topics - philosophy and spirituality and whatnot.

In trying to explain how we have something like an absolute moral law without a out-of-the-system lawgiver, I turn to a very UU idea of emergence. I think value and morality are properties that start to appear as connections (with others, and/or taking into potential future connections) are made. The preferences that the group members have there form the basis of "getting ought from is".

Nothing meaningful exists in isolation: a weird pocket universe with a single inhabitant would have no need for morality, the concept wouldn't make sense; "do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law" would be about the best you could do.

But as more beings get added, the need for morality emerges, because there is a need to reconcile competing preferences.

Another way to to look at it, borrowed from the UU: economics, say, is based on group psychology, which is based on individual psychology, which is based on neuroscience, which is based on biology, which is based on chemistry, which is based on particle physics. Going the other way, each level adds complexity and rules - or rather, observed approximations of behavior, and in general you can't model and make predictions from the lower levels up (trying to get a workable model of economics from chemistry, say) But there wasn't a supreme economic lawgiver, nothing outside of the system that determined how money must move, just ideas of how it does move.

There are some ideas I'm trying to sneak by here. The implications that morality, the sense of "should", is conflatable to an aggregation of preferences (including preferences that emerged from the groups and didn't exist as individual preferences) is not yet a firm foundation. (Like how much does it depend on people being able to know whats best even for themselves...) And I still have a strong sense of directionality to morality; a hunch that every moral decision has an outcome that is more moral and one that is less moral, i.e. more or less in tune with the ultimate larger group preference. But as always I lean into the uncertainty of knowing which is which; most moral dilemmas don't feel like good vs evil, it is a choice between two competing "goods", and knowing which one of those two goods is ultimately more in tune with the greater group's good is clouded with uncertainty.

Anyway. I realized I can google up some articles with "morality as an emergent property" and find some papers that explore the idea, and while they're not as jargon-laden as other bits of modern philosophy I've seen there are enough words that might have specific meanings that I get a bit lost. (And I'm sure my own rambles might not be that easy to follow either...)

from March 17, 2022

One of my all time favorite lyrics is early in Portal's closing song "Still Alive" - Aperture Science is the game's incredibly messed-up parody of big orgs, and the line is "Aperture Science: We do what we must, because we can." - i.e. we'll do these (presumably ethically dubious) things because no one can stop us."

But I guess for my life there's a humbler reading of that line - I'll muddle through even the crap parts of life, and I have enough privilege to do so.

A few years ago I remember some memes, maybe echoing this NY Times article on Is Resilience Overrated where the author quotes friends saying "'You're so resilient' is just code for 'You're on your own, sorry.'" and "resilience is made up by our capitalist overlords".

But the world is what it is, right? Everything is the way it is for a reason. Some of those reasons are malice and greed, some are just the unfortunate truth of entropy, but most of the deliberate ones are serving some "good" or other, and change will only come with a range of sacrifice of one type or another.

Some of it swings back to my recent wonder at people being driven by emotions. Raging and ranting against the unjustness of the world... maybe it's needed to power efforts to correct what we can, but it's a SUPER inefficient energy source - the waste heat it throws off is so damaging to our internal mechanisms and sometimes those around us...

(Thinking on despair and people's emotional reactions to things - yeesh, almost a decade ago I tackled a parallel line of "if you can't live without me, why aren't you dead yet?!". And the idea of how while "can't live without" isn't a literal claim of life and death it does point to a real sense of not being able to live as a whole, complete person. The death of our best self, the break from our self-actualized self. There's a parallel with outrage at the world for not letting us live up to our potentials.)

from from "Word at the Threshold"

There is so much so in sorrow.
Lisa Smartt's father's final words
Yes, I would like some scrambled eggs, but where would you reappear?
Bill, Final Words Project participant

from again and again and again

I had a dream last night about a language that had a verb tense especially for apocalyptic things, but the culture believed in endless recurring cycles, so it meant "this will happen, and/but has already happened".

Probably it comes from thinking about this quote, about Epic of Gilgamesh:
i just love the concept of a narrative foil and by narrative foil I mean a soul mate and by soul mate I mean a mirror image, a photographic negative of your insides, whole in ways you are broken, broken in ways you are whole and by that I mean your fate and by that I mean the immovable object to your unstoppable force and by that I mean a star with which you are locked in fatal orbit, doomed to meet in cataclysmic fire with open arms. the person that makes you say I could love you everywhere in all the dark places that needed love, and I could love you so perfectly we would both be annihilated. the person that is your downfall because they're your perfect shadow and you are the hero of this story but, hero, this was always going to happen, not because it's written in the stars, but because you would choose it, again and again and again
(That "again and again and again" construction and concept of choosing the other, always, is also used in the Arcade Fire "The Suburbs (Continued)"- I did a deep reading of that haunting 1m30s of music last fall.)

It makes me think of how the other day I replied to a post quoting falsely attributed to noted theologian Tim Tebow about how, like, the rise of a cashless society was a predicted by the Book of Revelation, and, you know, the endtimes are probably gonna be in our lifetime, etc.

I'm not a person of faith but I try to be mature and sympathetic and reasonably gentle about other people's. Still, I'm really bothered by how apocalyptic thinking is basically incompatible with good stewardship of what we got. So I started my reply with Matthew 24:36 "But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only." but then also pointed out that every generation seems to think that the end might be right around the corner, that even 2 verses before that Jesus was saying "Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled."

Like, I guess you really have to stretch the meaning of "this generation" to still see Revelations as a guide to upcoming events. (Honestly I kind of like "preterism" that says these events have already somewhat happened, and we're living in a post-apocalyptic world already.)

But why does it bug me so much? Why do I feel compelled to chime in?

I am now fundamentally not a big swings planner and dreamer, and so I wonder, if I hadn't grown up with the idea that eternal life was possible IF you didn't screw this one up (and endless punishment for you if you did), followed by lessons outlining upcoming Christian persecution and general world-ending, and then more secular concerns like nuclear war, climate collapse, and in between those years I was really worried about Y2K computer implosions... would I have been better at shaping my career or maybe even aimed at a family life? (You can even make a narrative of my first main partner pivoting in her head to thinking in family terms, and me having not given indication I was joining her, and that drove her to look elsewhere.)

But, of course, there's a contradiction here. I mean which one is the driving theme, immortality or finality - that my soul is eternal, so I better be uptight and act right? Or almost the opposite, that everything is coming to an end, so don't bother to build?

Something I've got to ask, again and again and again.

from December 21, 2021

Dallas QAnon Cultists Are Drinking Toxic Chemicals from A Communal Bowl, Family Says - unfortunately, not just a metaphor like I first hoped.

It reminds me of one of my least favorite quirks of fringe belief, or even mainstream religion: expressing strong faith in an outlandish belief is a way of expressing your in-group bona-fides. The ridiculousness of a belief is a feature, not a bug, and the wackier and harder to swallow the idea the better. And ditto for bowls of cleansing chemicals.

I've been playing with the idea that the big dividing line is if a belief system relies on validation through special revelation. (I accept that my sense that any Truth must be potentially universally recognizable might come from my particular anti-Calvinist upbringing, but I still think it's an empathetic view to hold.)

It makes me think of this quote from the Buddha:
Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.
Buddha Siddhartha Guatama Shakyamuni
That is a great general idea, though where it falls down a little is humans have a very instinctive urge to anthropomorphize; like we're such social creatures and so much happens because other humans wanted/caused it to happen, and since almost all reasoning is via analogies, there's a set of common sense explanations that posit a supernatural entity wanting this world just so (the old "if you found a pocket watch, you could infer a designer" folly.) And atoms are so tiny, and the process of evolution so slow, both so outside the normal scales of everyday existence that we need to build these trust in institutions that have put in the hard work of finding things out and been willing to put their hypotheses to the test - everything lightly held so that if a better idea comes along we can let go of the old belief and accept the new.

(with my friends, I was also putting in the disclaimer "I realize I have a bit of faith in science", and they objected to that use of the word "faith" - like, "trust" perhaps, but faith is something meant to be there, undeterred by contrary evidence.)

from December 19, 2021

Jung popped up in some reading I was doing, and along with some vague recollection that maybe he used the term "committee" to describe the mind, I decided to zip through "Introducing Jung: A Graphic Guide".

So, I dunno. From this very limited introduction, he seems to promote yet another sense of duality of self, rather than the more motley assortment of internal players I've been leaning into lately.

Right now, the committee idea is enormously powerful for me: I know that any particular dark or weird thought doesn't represent me in my entirety. And yet, there is no member of the committee that isn't part of me - and I as a whole have to take responsibility for the resulting actions.

But I've sort of given up identifying specific members, at least for now. Like is it always "Id, Ego, and Superego" or "The Rider and the Elephant" or one of them being "inner child", or maybe the cast of specific emotion players from "Inside Out" or what. (Or it might be more of a clamoring multitude akin to Minsky's "Society of Mind".)

I used to think my inner voice, my internal narrative was, like, "all of me" Now I don't even know if it's one of the individual parts sitting in the committee -- perhaps it's more like the podium that various members can take! But that's uncertainty I can live with for now, while still finding the committee concept enormously helpful.

Anyway, back to Jung. I can't say that one morning's reading has given me a real understanding of his ideas, especially the more out-there mystical ones, so I don't have a ton to say... I do think the underlying split in world views (including the synchronicity, collective-unconscious laden ones Jung describes) is if the making of the world is more top-down or bottom-up. Is it closer to created, by some overarching force, or does it emerge from the mundane matter (well, mundane matter fizzing with quantum weirdness.)

While discussing Meghan O'Gieblyn's "God, Human, Animal, Machine" at my Science and Spirituality group the other night, it was asked what is the significance if the world is top-down vs bottom-up, like why do I emphasize it so much? I think the importance is intentionality and meaning. A top-down approach means there might be a singular, definite point to the world, something that should inform every purpose we set for ourselves, a bottom-up approach means that we're more free to find our own meaning, or maybe creatively channel and reshape the meaning that is in the process of emerging.

(btw let me know if you want to join my UUSS Science + Spirituality group. We meet monthly via zoom and discuss a book or other bit of content... (usually we provide excerpts instead of expecting people will read the whole shebang book or whatever, but the conversation is still pretty good.))

from jump-y

There's no question of things getting better.
Things are one way or they are another way; 'better' is how we see them, Archie says, and I don't personally, very much; though sometimes he makes them seem not so bad after all--no, that's wrong, too: he knows not 'seems'. Things do not *seem*, on the one hand, they *are*; and on the other hand, bad is not what they can *be*. They can be green, or square, or Japanese, loud, fatal, waterproof or vanilla-flavoured; and the same for actions, which can be *disapproved* of, or comical, unexpected, saddening or good television, variously, depending on who frowns, laughs, jumps, weeps or wouldn't have missed it for the world. Things and actions, you understand, can have any number of real and verifiable properties. But good and bad, better and worse, these are not real properties of things, they are just expressions of our feelings about them.
Dotty in Tom Stoppard's play "Jumpers"
I admit the play didn't quite live up to my hopes. For obvious reasons it reminded me strongly of Monty Python's Professor of Logic skit, which came out a year or two after, but I'm not sure if the skit parodies the play or if they are both mirroring some British Academician tropes or a specific source.

Definitely some tie-ins with this kind of moral relativism and my concerns about how so much "reasoning" and signaling we do is about "I'm on team for this" or "I'm on team against this". Like that feeling is considered the most crucial thing. And I've been led to believe that having a feeling about something is the only thing that stirs us to action - we can't really think our way into action, only emotion provides the critical impetus. (Though we might have a subjective emotion that has us strongly support objective rationality.)

To try and reconcile the possible lack of good and bad as objective absolutes along with our overwhelming dependency on having strong for/against preferences to provide (possibly the entirety of) motif force for our actions, we are quickly forced to the question "what is the point of it all, anyway?" - like, existentially. For me the answer is to support the creation of creative, categorical novelty in the universe - to help humanity become something and create things - and types of things - that otherwise couldn't exist in this corner of the universe.

from hothouse gullibility flowers

It's probably not great to attack a book when I've barely started it, but early in Chapter 1 of Steven Pinker's "Rationality", he mentions an old chestnut of a riddle
On a field there is a patch of weeds. Every day the patch doubles in size. It takes 30 days for the patch to cover the whole field. How long did it take for the patch to cover half the field?
and Pinker bemoans that most people won't get the correct answer (29 days, i.e. since it doubles daily, the day before the final day it was half the final size.)

He explains
Human intuition doesn't grasp exponential (geometric) growth, namely something that rises at a rising rate, proportional to how large it already is, such as compound interest, economic growth, and the spread of a contagious disease. People mistake it for steady creep or slight acceleration, and their imaginations don't keep up with the relentless doubling.
But what a fantastical setup that riddle is! Like any physical model would show us that no patch of weeds on earth could have that kind of behavior "steadily" over 30 days. To show that to myself, I hacked my version of Conway's Game of Life to be even simpler : every alive cell lives on, and every dead cell with at least one alive neighbor is born. The result is visually boring - a square that grows from the middle of the screen. And checking the population numbers, they are far from doubling. The rate that the square can grow is clearly bounded by its boundary, the 2D "surface area" where it has new fertile territory to move into, and so there's no way its actual area could keep doubling. And similarly, I can't think of a mechanism and environment that would support much of anything from having consistent doubling behavior for 30 days!

I find these thought experiments infuriating when they are used as examples of people's "irrationality". It's akin to economists thinking people are irrational for preferring receiving ten dollars now vs thirty dollars a year from now. In an uncertain world, any real world test subject is absolutely correct to be suspicious of a test program reliably running over the course of a year (especially when its business model seems to have big deal of just giving away money!)

I used to think of these as "casino-ish" problems- like, they are customized to prey on human's response at this attractive edge of artifice. But I guess I'd say they're "hothouse gullibility" thought experiments - they take for granted that OF COURSE the research is trustworthy, or that a patch of weeds that doubles every day for 30 days is a meaningful prototype to ponder. They are merely interrogating how well subjects can navigate a completely artificial environment of simplifying assumptions.

from October 5, 2021

First, the old news: I am no longer a person (as I might put it to a believer) blessed with the gift of faith.

The primary fault line for me was one of empathy. The flavor of Christianity I had been given (and, in part, then would prepare for myself) was that of a belief system that was uniquely and universally True, and therefore pointed to the delusion or outright falsehood of other religions. But the contingency of it all -- when I reflected on how as the literal Sweet Talking Son of a Preacher Man I was striving to be a good Christian, but wouldn't an alternate me in the role of Sweet Talking Son of an Imam be trying just as hard to be a good Muslim? - led me to think that it was just terribly unlikely my people got it right and everyone else got it wrong, and this very powerful and loving God let that happen. Empathy (in combination with this deeply instilled idea that Religious Truth must be all encompassing and potentially universal) drove me from my precocious childhood sense of faith.

I'm reading Meghan O'Gieblyn's "God Human Animal Machine: Technology, Metaphor, and the Search for Meaning". She also had a strong Christian background she turned from, and writes
When I was in high school, the pastor of my family's church read the news through the lens of the minor prophets and frequently voiced his opinion, from the pulpit, that Christ would return within his lifetime (he was in his late sixties). For most of my life I had believed that I would live to see the coming of this new age; that my body would be transformed, made immortal, and I would ascend into the clouds to spend eternity with God.
That kind of thinking sounded very familiar to me. But now I'm thinking... hasn't at least one flavor of Christians been saying over and over and over for centuries? It feels like a certain gullibility there - akin to believing a tenant saying "oh, THIS month I'll get you the rent, I swear" or that any week now you'll win the lottery.

So that, too, lacks a certain kind of empathy. It's like the modern day believer, putting aside that Matthew 24:36 talk ("But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.") says - "C'mon... just look at the state of the world, the return of Israel, all that jazz. It's GOTTA be SOON!" and to the extent they acknowledge that line of thinking goes way, way back, it's like they're saying "What a bunch of rubes!" to those earlier generations of believers.

And I do resent that apocalyptic kind of thinking, which scared the bejeebers out of me as a kid, and has distorted our political and economic policy for centuries. It's tough to work to be really good long term planners when you think the end is nigh - ties in with our cult of individualism to make a country of "got mine, forget you" whether the "you" is others now, or in the future.

I do understand that this doesn't have to be the basis of Christian faith - here's a Baptist News piece from 2009 about surveys saying 40-60% of Americans say differing religions can lead to eternal life. (Heh, not even going to get into the eternal life bit.)

So not even every Christian was raised with this sense of uniqueness, and I'd say the many-path approach has a lot more wisdom, which is why I'm affiliated with liberal Unitarian Universalists.

It's funny, I always distrust any faith based on trusting an un-interrogatable "special revelation", but I also realize that I have no mechanism for absolutely saying that ISN'T how the Universal Truth might work. For all I know, one sect has it exactly right, and God is secretly blessing that one group, and the devil to all the rest. It just doesn't seem particularly likely to me.

from August 31, 2021

A few separate paths of speculation tentatively merged for me this morning, revealed their strong but not obvious parallels... in other words, I have a candidate for my personal "theory of everything".

Ok, so lately I've been really grooving on the idea of "self as committee". This framing feels particularly amenable to the various "members of the committee", more so than other ways of describing "the parts that make up a whole person" (id/ego/superego, inner-child, the subconscious, etc) because it's non-hierarchical. It doesn't say this part is the "real me" or the "mature me" or even the smartest or wisest me. (in fact at least for now it's ok with being uncertain at who the members are - or even if they're the same members all the time) so members can all accept it.

So here's one new thought: it's interesting that I'm now thinking about my self as a group when thinking how I conduct myself IN a group is so important... I've learn to recognize my (intuitively derived) morality structure that says any individual's preferences within a group that they are (voluntarily!) in should be mostly considered within the context of that group. An individual's wants and needs should not be ignored - this not a call for martyrdom! - but they are just part of the mix. A strong need in one group member should outweigh a milder preference of another.

And here's a second thought: maybe this group fractal mode of thinking scales all the way up! I have a sense that objective Truth (not truth, the way the world is, but Truth, the way it 'should be') must exist- but we must always accept our uncertainty about it, and that it provides a kind of ultimate evaluative yardstick for us even as we can't be sure of seeing it clearly. But if I'm so uncertain about it, how am I so sure it exists? So it's almost by definition. It's what you get when you think of the "good of the group" and then extend the group to everyone, and everything.

I mean it's not all cosmic kumbaya. Different groups are going to be competing even if they live under the same umbrella of Everything, and sometimes what's good for one group is bad for another, and of course this framework isn't compatible with everyone's working set of beliefs. In particular, most people stride with confidence about the one thing they can be sure of, their subjective truth.

Hm. Thinking further, besides the importance of accepting uncertainty - or rather, hand-in-hand with it- is this egalitarian sense, that non-hierarchy at least within a group. I don't put a lot of stock in leadership in a group (which sometimes makes it weird in bands I'm in, where my reliability and desire to be useful makes me do leader-y things but I'm usually reluctant to pick up the mantle and this fuller responsibility) And I *really* don't put stock in special revelation. So many faiths seem to be based on a chosen people, or a special revelation to one dude. To me that seems so blatantly self-serving as to be farcical. Truth is truth, and potentially universally available. Yes, sometimes an insight that goes against conventional wisdom may merge in one person's head, but if that insight can't be backed up by other forms of verification, it's extremely suspect.

Man, I need to sit with this a bit. It's two new thoughts (special revelations? nah) - noticing how thinking in groups applies intra- and inter-self, and that further widening groups might be the key to justifying my faith (ugh) in a Truth where the only thing we're sure of is that it exists but we know we're only estimating what it is.

from August 26, 2021

I don't know how far I will go with this, but here is a Zine about plural selfs. I'm still hung up on that to the extent that I feel like a committee, the separate members don't feel like fully realized individuals. It's tough to know what kind of consistency there is, then - and also how much is just a big metaphor for when my inner, narrative self gets the feeling of a mood - or even has to deal with an outburst - that it didn't "think" of itself, something from the inkier depths.

Also there's an obvious consideration if it maps into the left/right hemisphere stuff I've spent so much time thinking about! Is it too simplistic to think of it as a committee of two? I think so. Like I used to think it was a rational/linguistic vs emotional part, but I realize my worst outbursts of frustration probably come from that linguistic/controlling/reductionist side...

from August 25, 2021

There's a brilliant project / book / tumblr called Problem Glyphs where artist Eliza Gauger draws (invariably symmetrical) sigils in response to problems people send in. There's a kind of power and magic with these; here's one that's stuck with me since I saw it the other day:

The problem sent in was:
Like a gem with many facets, we all work together to pilot this body. The person we present to the world is a persona. We don't want to integrate, though– we want to become more distinct from each other, more fully formed instead of fused, and we want the courage to tell our friends, so they can meet all of us in earnest
I feel some of this. I feel more well-integrated than this poster does, and am comfortable living being a single person, but I realized "committee" might be a decent metaphor to play with for a while for understanding who I am...in part because I don't want to mistake the strong feeling or preference of a single committee member as being what the "I" truly wants - but I also don't want the committee's spokesperson (my inner-voice/narrative-self) to co-opt my sense of identity, and get to claim to be all that I am. (Nor do I want to overshoot the other way, and say that that my inner-voice is just a facade in front of my more fundamental and emotional self.)

There are different flavors of this same idea -like Internal Family Systems or Minsky's "Society of Mind", (and it might even be parallel to what's taken to extremes in Dissociative Identity Disorder, albeit a much softer, "shadow" version of that)

I've previously played with the idea of inner-child or even inner-dog, but I'm not sure any of those ideas get the idea across as accurately as "committee". (Also, unlike the glyph recipient, for now I don't have much clarity in who the members are, it's not clear if they're consistent and persistent identities or if things are more fluid.)

When I hear people say stuff like "that wasn't me!" about a past action, or "that's not me, that's just my feelings!" - I feel like the "committee" metaphor is healthier than that. I mean, in general, those things ARE/were you, but they were triggered by a part of you - a committee member, so to speak - and you might be mistaking your narrative self for being the entirety of you. (I also think people who say 'the self is an illusion' might be overstating the case. I mean the committee exists - *I* exist - but it's certainly easy to get confused about what that self/I is.)

(Thanks to my friend Cordelia (who has a birthday today!) who had the Problem Glyphs Book around during a party)

from August 23, 2021

A friend had some thoughts on chemistry (as better than alchemy, like because it's real and works and still does remarkable things) and I came up with:
"I think that "magic"-y bit of chemistry is important - like at every level, you just get emergent phenomenon that requires a new language to discuss. Like, you go from particle physics to chemistry to neurochemistry to psychology to even larger abstractions, and each level has its own rules. So, like, in theory you sorta could discuss macroeconomics in terms of particle physics but you probably shouldn't.
I think the relative unpredictability and incomputability from the lower levels to the higher is important. Like in a universe governed either by a domino like chain of cause and effect stretching from the big bang (or possibly flavored with quantum die rolls) it seems like in theory free will couldn't exist, but in practice the incomputability means that living our life is the only way to accurately run the computation 😃"

from July 31, 2021

Sometimes I miss the flourishing of DIY animation we got in the Flash era!
I wasn't deep in the Homestar Runner fandom, but lately I've been thinking about "A Jorb Well Done" where Coach Z (with his midwestern accent) struggles mightily to say the word "Job" without stretching it into "Jorb"...

I quote "Good Jaerrrrb!" a lot - so it's a bummer that it's probably a pretty obscure reference.

Also a bummer is *why* I use that quote - it's a bit of ironic distancing varnish because I have a problem giving sincere small complements (at least to grownups) to the extent that I can inadvertently come across as withholding of praise, which really isn't inline with the vague positivity I try to project.

Like if I'm legit impressed by something, no problem, I can be effusive and specific when I think the fruits of some labor objectively stand out. The trouble is when more modest achievements encounter my sense of truth being objective and shared. Like, my instinctual feeling is that if something is objectively "pretty good!", the person who made that is aware of the goodness or badness of it just as well as I am! To then praise it either A. disparages their ability to judge it, B. feels like me overstating my importance as a judge (maybe in a mainsplaining kind of way) or C. feels like I'm trying to be manipulative. (All of these kind of apply to me receiving praise as well!)

(Like with a kid I don't have the same problem, because "A" might be weaker anyway, and "B" I am a grownup, and so possibly rightfully more important as a judge in their eyes. I'm less worried about seeming condescending or manipulative.)

The real problem with this comes up acknowledging real successes that are great not because of their outcome per se, but because of the challenging environment they were made in. Like, if you have a friend with depression, getting up, showering, having breakfast might be a praiseworthy success. And to top it off, their inner critic may be WAY too harsh, and positive praise for "minor" but still good things might be a good for a just as irrational negativity.

So I sometimes say "Good Jaaerrrrb!" as a way of getting through my hangups.

I think there also might be a gender coding thing in all this? I've witnessed the more bubbling praise and support some women offer each other, very non-analytical, absolutely free of both-sidserism in conflicts. And at a meta-level, I recognize this is - objectively - probably a better mode than where I operate, but at ground-level, the conflict between the usefulness of (over-)generous praise and my critical need to be reliably forthright keeps me more tightlipped than I want to be.

And no tuba player should be that tightlipped, tbh.

My preferred brand of sun screen is a house.

from from "The Master and His Emissary"

So, since late February I've been reading Iain McGilchrist's "The Master and His Emissary" - 600+ pages (and while admittedly a large fraction of those are the endnotes, it's a very dense read). I've been reading about a section a day, generally after a chapter of something else.

The book takes on the difference between the Hemispheres - first from a physiological point of view (and trying to get much more firmly planted than the 80s/90s pop-psychology left brain/right brain stuff) and then the cultural ramifications, with different periods of history featuring different levels of balance. (And different cultures; near the end of the book he muses on how many Asian cultures seem to have less predominance of the left hemisphere, see things less in isolation and more in context.)

Even if you're skeptical about the physiology of the split, I think there is much to the concepts of holism vs reductionism, whatever the cerebral substrate!

But he definitely makes a pitch for the physicality of it - I think what most stuck with me was the idea of bird brains during feeding, the research showing the right side of the brain keeping track of the whole environment, ever watchful for predators, while the left side focused in on the task at hand. In this model, the Right Hemisphere is holistic, takes things in context. the Left Hemisphere categorizes and isolates. I would put it as, the right hemisphere accepts the world as it is, the left hemisphere focuses on how the world as it can be manipulated.

Anyway, here are the quotes I scraped, with some further thoughts.
The right hemisphere deals preferentially with actually existing things, as they are encountered in the real world. Because its language roots things in the context of the world, it is concerned with the *relations between* things
Iain McGilchrist, "The Master and His Emissary."
My interest in this book coincides with trying to understand the difference between me and another class of computer programmer, a theme I'll get back to. Here is an early thing - I have alway been more concerned with how parts interact rather than what they are. But, from the rise of Object Oriented programming on forward, this view has been a bit on the downslope.
The separated hemispheres in split-brain patients each have a distinct personality, with characteristic tastes and preferences, according to one of those most closely involved with the study of such patients. The unconscious, while not identical with, is certainly more strongly associated with, the right hemisphere.
Iain McGilchrist, "The Master and His Emissary."
Such a striking idea! This goes along with "parts" thinking in psychology, like "Internal Family Systems"- IFS is much finer grained and dynamic than the two hemisphere way of thinking about things, but still. I often feel there is a singular other - my inner child or what not and I've often thought less of that other - maybe even more like an "inner unruly pet" having me grab snacks than even a child - but now I have to understand that my linguistic, Left Hemisphere side maybe takes too much credit.

Strikingly, I realized that probably my flare ups of temper- rare, but loud - aren't my silent, sullent Right Hemisphere, but the fury of my smart but emotionally stunted Left Hemisphere rebelling against the world that's defying its categories of how Things Are Categorized, how they should be.
At the 'bottom' end, I am talking about the fact that every word, in and of itself, eventually has to lead us out of the web of language, to the lived world, ultimately to something that can only be pointed to, something that relates to our embodied existence. Even words such as 'virtual' or 'immaterial' take us back in their Latin derivation – sometimes by a very circuitous path – to the earthy realities of a man's strength (*virtus*), or the feel of a piece of wood (*materia*). Everything has to be expressed in terms of something else, and those something elses eventually have to come back to the body.
Iain McGilchrist, "The Master and His Emissary."
I do wonder about this. Can all cognition be traced back to being an embodied actor?
Before there can be harmony, there must be difference.
Iain McGilchrist, "The Master and His Emissary."
Lovely line.
Attention is a moral act: it creates, brings aspects of things into being, but in doing so makes others recede.
Iain McGilchrist, "The Master and His Emissary."
Another good pithy observation.
According to the latter vision, that of the right hemisphere, truth is only ever provisional, but that does not mean that one must 'give up the quest or hope of truth itself'.
Iain McGilchrist, "The Master and His Emissary."
And here I see a tie-in with my spirituality, such as it is. That I feel the by-definition necessity of "best description of what should be" - that Truth is ultimately subjective, a shareable reality, not just an objective personal experience - but that we can NEVER be certain that our own view is the most accurate one. but it's important to keep striving.
For Heidegger, truth was such an unconcealing, but it was also a concealing, since opening one horizon inevitably involves the closing of others. There is no single privileged viewpoint from which every aspect can be seen.
Iain McGilchrist, "The Master and His Emissary."
I think of this in comparison to my metaphor of "the view from God's Throne, but the impossibility of reaching it" - in fact the very real likelihood that there can never be a divine End in that chair.
[In the 20th century] themes emerged from philosophical debate which, unknowingly, corroborate the right hemisphere's understanding of the world. These include: empathy and intersubjectivity as the ground of consciousness; the importance of an open, patient attention to the world, as opposed to a wilful, grasping attention; the implicit or hidden nature of truth; the emphasis on process rather than stasis, the journey being more important than the arrival; the primacy of perception; the importance of the body in constituting reality; an emphasis on uniqueness; the objectifying nature of vision; the irreducibility of all value to utility; and creativity as an unveiling (no-saying) process rather than a wilfully constructive process.
Iain McGilchrist, "The Master and His Emissary."
Good general overview of the concepts.
This is what I have expressed as the left hemisphere's way of building up a picture slowly but surely, piece by piece, brick on brick. One thing is established as (apparently) certain; that forms a platform for adding the next little bit of (apparent) certainty. And so on. The right hemisphere meanwhile tries to take in all the various aspects of what it approaches at once. No part in itself precedes any other: it is more like the way a picture comes into focus – there is an "aha!' moment when the whole suddenly breaks free and comes to life before us.
Iain McGilchrist, "The Master and His Emissary."
Boy O Boy do I see this in programming. Unit tests, strong typing, functional programming - they are all very Left Hemisphere, reductionist ways of trying to achieve better and better control. So I'm thinking my view must be more Right Hemisphere - I see these others as looking to 1,000 trees and thinking less about the forest.

Like with unit testing... I see bugs as an emergent property! Very few units don't do what you think they do - in isolation - but as you connect more and more of them up, problems and misunderstandings and misassumptions occur. (The counter argument is that focusing locally better defines the units, makes misunderstandings less likely, and that without something like functional programming, you just get an untraceable mess of context sensitive side effects. But one of the points of the book is that the best answers come when the two sides are balanced.)
Although language is the only way we can scientifically bridge the chasm between mind and brain, we should always remember that we humans are creatures that can be deceived as easily by logical rigour as by blind faith ... It is possible that some of the fuzzier concepts of folk-psychology may lead us to a more fruitful understanding of the integrative functions of the brain than the rigorous, but constrained, languages of visually observable behavioural acts.
Panksepp the neuroscientist
I think this is a good line for agnostic/atheist types to keep in mind as they look to the power of other ways of knowing - even if you distrust the appeal of the supernatural, sometimes these systems have a lot of built-in wisdon.
For even rationality cannot get by without imagination, but neither can imagination without rationality. The marriage of the two is, however, of such a peculiar kind, that they carry on a life and death struggle, and yet it is only together that they are able to accomplish their greatest feats, such as the higher form of conceptualising that we are accustomed to call reason.
Nietzsche, writing on Apollo and Dionysus.
Man, sometimes I feel bad for liking parts of Nietzsche... (and even crediting his description of Amor Fati, the love and embrace, not just getting-along-with, the world as it is to inspiring my secondary tattoo, "This Fate"... as being the thing I want to love so much I will have it inscribed on my skin.)
Reasonableness would be replaced by rationality, and perhaps the very concept of reasonableness might become unintelligible.
Iain McGilchrist, "The Master and His Emissary", on what might happen were the left hemisphere to continue the cultural dominance he argues it now enjoys.
I find myself.... I dunno, still loyal to rationality! It seems so important to be open to ideas outside of one's lived experience, and one way you do that is through words and rational thought. But I'm willing to accept some of his ideas that it's the hemispheres in unison that work best.
The only certainty, it seems to me, is that those who believe they are certainly right are certainly wrong.
Iain McGilchrist, "The Master and His Emissary"
My view of epistemology in a nutshell.
The true value of a man is not determined by his possession, supposed or real, of Truth, but rather by his sincere exertion to get to what lies behind the Truth. It is not possession of the Truth, but rather the pursuit of Truth by which he extends his powers and in which his ever-growing perfectibility is to be found. Possession makes one passive, indolent, vain – If God held enclosed in his right hand all truth, and in his left hand the ever-living striving for truth, although with the qualification that I must for ever err, and said to me 'choose', I should humbly choose the left hand and say 'Father, give! pure truth is for thee alone.'
Gotthold Ephraim Lessing
I'm not sure I quite buy the "striving is what makes it worthwhile" - I really would like a guaranteed view of The Truth, but still. I see a parallel to me trying to grow to like challenges more. I gravitate to ego-pleasing low hanging fruit in life, and if it's not a game I can win I don't always see the point in playing. But life is full of challenges it would be useful to be willing to take on, and I think accept challenges is a muscle that can be built up.

So yeah, I think I took a lot from this book! I think it rates with Dennett's"Consciousness Explained", Hawkins' "On Intelligence", Hofstadter's "Goedel Escher Bach" and Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" in terms of books deeply impacting what I think I know about thinking I know myself.

from July 24, 2021

For an anti-racism reading group I'm reading Sonya Renee Taylor's "The Body is Not An Apology". I've just started it but one related idea I've heard recently is trying to replace "body positivity" with "body neutrality". You don't have to foster adoration for stretch mark or your height or whatever, you just have to understand that these kind of aspects don't have to define someone as a person.

It's too bad "It is what it is" has become such a trite cliché of the reality television set, because I think its calm refusal to sort into emotionally engaged wonderful/awful (with its tacit "yeah, this situation probably isn't my first choice" living in its meta-level) is a useful tool. As far as trite pop catchphrases go it's probably better than "It's all good!" which requires a bit more self-deception or spin to be consistently true.)

Thinking on the subject reminded me of a quip I made years ago - I've been trying to note when I remember early, nascent forms of my current philosophical stances - and I looked it up in my blog:

One of my favorite tags on my blog is /tag/aim, (mostly) bits from the old AOL Instant Messenger days. For a while I assumed it was mostly nostalgia that made me think "damn, we were funnier then" (or maybe just being a bit younger and more quick-witted after all!) but you know? The modern "equivalents" of AIM - SMS/WhatsApp etc... most of them are phone based. And it's much more challenging to get banter going between people tapping into their screens than with two competent typists!

from June 12, 2021

Still strolling through "The Master and His Emissary" - about how our brain's left/right lateralization is a crucial key in understanding ourselves and cultural trends. (I've been reading this book since March! Though often in daily conjunction with another, easier read.)

McGilchrist is getting into written languages - pictographic vs idiographic vs phonetic. And he points out that even among phonetic languages, many (like ones that don't write out the vowels) depend on context more than others; I'd put it that you have to read more holistically to know what each word actually is, rather than a more reductionist system where each word more or less stands on its own.

(English gets a lot of "self-deprecation" from cosmopolitan first-language speakers of it for not being so elegant sounding, and for its spelling inconsistencies. But those inconsistencies reflect a larger than average draw from other languages. My understanding is that English is a pretty easy language to pick up the basics of (maybe because of that "reductionist" mode, without so many conjugation rules critical to making oneself understood) but also it has one of the largest vocabularies - a fluent speaker has a lot of near synonyms to choose from, each with a different nuance. (Like in that opening sentence, I chose "strolling" over walking, jogging, crawling, sauntering, ambling, puttering, moseying, cruising, etc))

I think a new thought I've had - bringing these ideas in line with my ingrained sense of the supremacy of consensus over personal preferences - is this contradiction of the left hemisphere (that McGilchrist argues is more reductionistic, and I'd say more prone to fury when the holistic world doesn't conform to its simplified, manipulable models) with its monopoly on language is the gatekeeper to learning about views outside our own experience! I think McGilchrist and many others over-romanticize the right hemisphere, the wisdom it carries from ingrained experience. It's a creation of its environment and its past as much as everything else is, but somehow carries a gravitas of Truth. But language - written and spoken, the ability to capture complex ideas and share them with new generations, to learn things from the experience of others without the risks and costs of doing everything ourselves - is a big part of what makes us unique as a species. Not to denigrate the interesting bits of language showing up in other species, but we do it on a scale this part of the universe hadn't seen, and that deeply informs my own practice of secular humanism.

from the good of the many...


Man! I think there's something to this.

For me, value is an emergent property of groups. (Could even be a group like a couple.) We can - and must - still attend to our personal needs, and if a group is consistently ignoring our personal needs, we gotta bail! But I think evaluating everything by what's the most good for the most people - with us as one of those people - is a more moral way to be.


I've reached the halfway point of Iain McGilchrist's "The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World" where he pivots from the physiological to the cultural. The duality he focuses on (left hemisphere / rationalized / focused on what we want the world to be VS right hemisphere / intuitive / focused on what the world is) has a lot of names and manifestations: Nietzsche said Apollonian vs Dionysian, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance said the Classical way of knowing vs the Romantic (nice summary here.)

As always I'm distrustful of "intuitive" side. (Come to think of it, "I don't think my gut feelings are particularly trustworthy" is one of the earliest self-reflective tropes I remember making.) I think it's too easy to romanticize the intuitive - like I understand that our subconscious has a wisdom that the cleverness of the merely rational side lacks - the intuitive self has a viewpoint that is bigger and slower to form - but it's a product of its environment just like everything else is, and it doesn't have a special mainline connection to the Truth.

So combining that tweet dialog with "divided brain" thinking: siding with the "rational" brain, despite its emotional immaturity (frustration and willingness to confabulate when things "don't add up") is a form of radical, wide-ranging empathy. The rational brain is more about the exteriority - the surfaces where we connect - than our own murkier interiorities. It says the most important reality - the best place to draw our values from - is consensus reality. Rationality has error-correcting mechanisms and - in theory - the rationalistic brain is better posed to take other viewpoints into account (even though it also seems more likely to throw temper tantrums when its assumptions and desire to control the world are being challenged! Recognizing the source of that anger is a newer insight for me)

from kirk's epistemology korner

A few ideas I've had banging around in my head, but I'm not sure I can get to where I want to go in terms of expressing myself. Like, I'm putting in terms of religion, but really it's all about morality and the epistemology of how on earth we deal with competing views of the truth

For starters: Some people see Atheism vs Faith as a spectrum, with agnosticism in the mushy middle (Fig A)

But what's critical to understand is there's a swerve. Strong atheism and strong faith share a kind of certainty. Agnosticism - whether of Socrates's sense of "the question is complex and life is short" or the more militant idea of "we REALLY can't KNOW this but it's CRUCIAL we keep trying" - is a different beast. (Fig 2)

So what caused my crisis of faith as a teen was pondering on how many different firmly held and incompatible faiths there were in the world. Like, they CAN'T all be true in the sense that many of them claim to be completely and UNIVERSALLY true! So we get something like Fig 3:

So, there's the "existential" approach to resolving this conundrum - there's no absolute truth, everyone is entitled to define their own truth. You see this with cold french philosophers and more warmly with people who talk about "My Truth" (Fig 4)

One attempt to get around this dilemma is to figure that the truth is emergent, or the kind of "many paths" approach favored by New England Unitarian Universalists. If you turn from religious faith to morality, you can get a sense of "morality is the consensus of what people say is moral" (Fig 5)

In the end, I find those unsatisfying. Maybe I'm too influenced by the omnipotent, omniscient God of my youth - (the idea of there being a "view from God's Throne, even if I'm not sure anyone or anything actually has a butt in that chair) - but I guess in the end I'm stuck with something like Fig 6 - there's The Truth, but it is uncertain, and we compare notes with others to try to get a more likely guess as to its contents. (And the kind of "special revelation" that many religions are founded on is EXTREMELY suspect.) Other folk have a hard time getting how deeply this strident uncertainty drives me. It is the fundamental theme of my life.

Like I've commented before, this view makes me both more empathetic (I do not overvalue my best guesses and preferences over others) and less empathetic (I am not inclined to respect how much credence others put in their faiths and preferences.) It also makes me inclined to put what's good for a group ahead of my personal desires... the overarching desire to be good for the group and thus closer to what's good overall trumps my smaller preferences, though in healthy groups what the group wants takes my preferences into account.

from on pascal's pensées

Some reading I was doing touched on Pascal (of "Pascal's Wager" fame) - he was really an interesting character, hanging with both ascetics and libertines, and very thoughtful.

Glyn Hughes' Squashed Philosophers offers an interesting compression of his "Thoughts" ("Pensées")... I wanted to jot down some that really jumped out at me, and some reactions.

3. Those who are accustomed to judge by feeling do not understand the process of reasoning, for they would understand at first sight and are not used to seek for principles. And others, on the contrary, who are accustomed to reason from principles, do not at all understand matters of feeling, seeking principles and being unable to see at a glance.
This really gets into the left brain / right brain type stuff I've been looking into lately. Finding the balance between feeling and thinking is so tough.
122. Time heals griefs and quarrels, for we change and are no longer the same persons. Neither the offender nor the offended are any more themselves.
Interesting point on the "you can't step in the same river twice" type thinking... and our relationship to our past and future selves. There's continuity, but not quite identity.
233. Yes; but you must wager. It is not optional. You are embarked. You are in the game. Which will you choose then? Let us see. Since you must choose, let us see which interests you least. You have two things to lose, the true and the good; and two things to stake, your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to shun, error and misery. Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God exists. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is. [...] Now, what harm will befall you in taking this side? You will be faithful, humble, grateful, generous, a sincere friend, truthful. Certainly you will not have those poisonous pleasures, glory and luxury; but will you not have others? I will tell you that you will thereby gain in this life, and that, at each step you take on this road, you will see so great certainty of gain, so much nothingness in what you risk, that you will at last recognise that you have wagered for something certain and infinite, for which you have given nothing.
The famous wager. My main problem is that it seems to imply that there's only one bet to be made, where some of my loss of faith came from realizing there were so many other people making the same wager on other religions. To be fair, later in the work he does address comparative religion, a bit. I don't find his outlining of why Christianity is not just unique, but uniquely unique, quite convincing but I appreciate how he grapples with it.
148. We are so presumptuous that we would wish to be known by all the world, even by people who shall come after, when we shall be no more; and we are so vain that the esteem of five or six neighbours delights and contents us.
After working on my blog for 20 years (and currently toiling on tools for the small Atari homebrew community ) - I feel called out. Or seen. One of those.
320. The most unreasonable things in the world become most reasonable, because of the unruliness of men. What is less reasonable than to choose the eldest son of a queen to rule a State? We do not choose as captain of a ship the passenger who is of the best family.

This law would be absurd and unjust; but, because men are so themselves and always will be so, it becomes reasonable and just. For whom will men choose, as the most virtuous and able? We at once come to blows, as each claims to be the most virtuous and able. Let us then attach this quality to something indisputable. This is the king's eldest son. That is clear, and there is no dispute. Reason can do no better, for civil war is the greatest of evils.

I've always been kind of interested in monarchists. I'm certainly not one of them, but they make stronger cases against people advocating "meritocracies" than I previously realized.
358. Man is neither angel nor brute, and the unfortunate thing is that he who would act the angel acts the brute.
I think it's the certainty of angels that is the problem.
433. After having understood the whole nature of man. That a religion may be true, it must have knowledge of our nature. It ought to know its greatness and littleness, and the reason of both. What religion but the Christian has known this?
So, sometimes I have to realize I don't know enough about different religions to mount a full argument, but parts of his reasoning seem misguided to me.

Christianity has a lot of different faces - it's a weird amalgamation of "Unknowable, Ineffable Sky God" and Gods walking among us as flesh - and a few things in between. So there's definitely a temptation that its heterogenous nature is what enables it to be the unique "all things for all people" - but then I know Hinduism has an even richer set of different flavors. (not to mention a sense of scale of the history of the Universe that's a bit more in line with what science points to.)

599. The difference between Jesus Christ and Mahomet. Mahomet was not foretold; Jesus Christ was foretold. Mahomet slew; Jesus Christ caused His own to be slain. Mahomet forbade reading; the Apostles ordered reading.
In this thought and others I seem Pascal as taking a lot of things at face value; like he seems to implicitly be accepting that HIS holy texts have received divine protection and can always be taken at face value.

from more like "CRAPTURE" amirite?

Very thoughtful piece on Evangelicals and how expectations of the Rapture looms so large for them.

(I think it underplays the who pre-Trib/mid-Trib/post-Trib angle... for some Christians, they cut the bitterness of it all with sugar of "Well God loves US BELIEVERS *too much* to let us go through the bad stuff, so we're going to be whisked away with a Get-Out-Of-Apocalypse-Free card" - an angle I really resented when I was more of a fearful, post-trib believer, waiting for all good Christians to get rounded up here on Earth, and then only later would things be rebalanced)

The Salvation Army I grew up with was- to its credit - much more about doing good work in the here and now than this stuff, but still, it had a bit of brimstone about, and I think trauma about the fear of hell and the stuff in Revelation was one of my most formative influences... gotta get right with God, subjugate anything I might personally want to whatever God wants, lest I burn in hell forever.

It took me a while to realize there are flavors of Christianity that lacked that kind of f***ed-up-ness!

And man, it is pretty f***'d. Both individually - coercing people into staying in line with the church - and then institutionally. You can't expect people to be good stewards of the planet or even of society when they they are convinced Earth has hit its "Sell By" date and nothing we do matters.

from April 6, 2021

When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it's our job to share our calm, not join their chaos.
L.R. Knost.
Just ran across the image of this quote Chas posted a few years ago. It has stuck with me ever since - not just in terms of dealing with toddlers, but just folks in general.

Like I dunno. I curate my emotions; try to live in a garden where I cultivate the things I like and snip out things that don't seem useful while they're still barely seedlings. To switch metaphors, I don't think it's good to let emotions snowball and then gain their own subjective momentum, only loosely connected to the objective reality of the circumstance.

But people are very romantic about emotions. They point out that maybe I'm missing out on certain forms of pleasures in life by being in the habit of being even-tempered (the flareups of frustration that still burst through not withstanding)... that I can't throw out the bathwater of stupid feelings without losing the baby of the good ones - ecstatic pleasure, say, or useful righteous anger. And of course I can't use this "it's my job to share my calm" thought in terms of grownups without risking sounding like a condescending jerk.

I've been dabbling with Noom, a CBTish weight management program, though honestly it's not too different than what I'd been doing the months before.

Anyway, one lesson they have is, only slightly paraphrasing "we aren't born with a sweet tooth, our taste for sweets is learned over time. However, we are predisposed to like sugary treats."

To me that's a distinction without a difference. Like if our wiring is such that in developing in a typical environment we invariably develop a sweet tooth, then saying "we aren't born with it, yet are predisposed to it" makes little sense.

Some friends of mine are interested, or concerned, with my skepticism about personal growth / change. This is a decent instance of something I was trying to explain to them before; like the potential for everything that's part of us (a sweet tooth, say, or even the ability to manage a sweet tooth) is there from the beginning. We have some limited potential to mold that expression and develop some parts and diminish others, but it's all curation of the same base material we are born with, and our striving for personal development are set against a host of environmental factors, some positive some negative, that we don't have control over either.

from March 27, 2021

I'm wrestling with an idea that is either one of the most striking summations I've come up with, or a half-baked sophomoric glob of just-so-story pseudo-science:

We are of two mind systems (probably correlated with the hemispheres, but that's not absolutely critical to this model): one mind (the right hemisphere - the non-linguistic, holistic side) accepts the world as it is. The other (the left hemisphere - reductionist and grasping/tool-manipulating - the most notable of those tools being language) considers the world as it wishes it to be.

(I'm about 1/3 of the way through "The Master and the Emissary" and it probably shows- but it's a book I take with a massive grain of salt.)

For me there's some weird contradictions implied by that, and my compulsion to subjugate subjective preferences and knowledge to the best guess about the objectively true and best - like it's the right hemisphere striving for the holistic view, but it has to do it with language, where the left holds more sway.

Heh, was thinking of the H.G. Wells quote "The forceps of our minds are clumsy forceps, and crush the truth a little in taking hold of it.'" except I thought he was talking about language not mind.

from March 25, 2021

Melissa and I are moving in just under 3 weeks, I'm already leaning hard into "sorry future self, I'm just throwing all this stuff in a box, you sort it out, I'm on a deadline."

I'm (again) wanting to embrace a mild minimalism, or at least reject some of my present packrat tendencies. Trying to think about my trouble spots:
* books - they let me feel like I'm projecting smartness, and I do sometimes want to refer to the odd volume.
* old games - another self-image issue ("I am deeply versed in the history of video games") combined with "every once in a while I might want to get back to play that one thing" - even though sitting down to play is uncommon for me. Our new space is great, but compact enough that I won't be making too much of a separate gaming den; I'm even on the fence about "old CRT with an Atari" corner.
* movies (DVD/BlueRay) have elements of that, but are only a few shelves worth of stuff, and fairly orderly looking.
* electronic doodads
* toys and interesting items - decorative but enjoyable to fiddle with (like random percussion instruments etc)

I think those last two are where I need to work the hardest. I've shoved most of that stuff in boxes, and I don't think I'm going to miss much of it in the weeks 'til I move... and so I'm trying to really breathe in how much nice having JUST the stuff I use regularly at hand is - that the absence of piles of crap is a nice framing for the stuff that matters.

And part of it is understanding is that it's a 80/20, 90/10 kind of thing. For all the stuff I might get rid of, its almost a certainty that I will say "oh I wish I had that" for at least one thing (or worse, futilely hunt for it, forgetting it was disposed of)/ But that's ok. Life is full of small imperfections (like lacking an item you used to have but don't now) but feeling hemmed in by clutter is a LARGE imperfection.

from free will and zeno's arrow

Listening to Sam Harris' final thoughts on free will. I agree most of us have an illusory sense of "self", but the idea that there's no free will... I mean he talks about "involuntarily action or a reflex" vs doing things "voluntarily". But how do we have a sense of "voluntarily" or "choice" without free will?

The arguments against free will feels both Inarguably True yet Absolutely Incorrect in the same way Zeno's paradox of the arrow (The arrow can never hit a target because it must travel halfway to its destination, then the next halfway again, then again, ad infinitum) feels technically true yet wrong. And for similar reasons - if every "choice" is made for us by this long chain of things outside of us - either a series of dominoes falling (like Newton) or dice rolling (like Quantum mechanics) stretching back to the origin of the Universe... like the arrow's flight, each step back to the past becomes incrementally less significant. If you understand infinitudes, you have a clear understanding of Zeno's paradox, you know that summing 1 + 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/8 [...] = 2. I think a similar conceptual leap is needed to reconcile a facile "so free will does not exist!" with our intuition that we have will power we can apply or not to the situations we find ourselves in.

We are part of the mechanism that is taking input and making output, even if we are sometimes fooled by how deliberate we are on it. Even if it's a subconscious reckoning that our narrative self claims credit for - will retroactively slap a logical framework on - it's not entirely wrong to do so, because that subconsciousness is a part of our selves as much as conscious part. (Like my coworker Scott Albertine said: "Consciousness is what running the algorithm feels like from the inside.")

from March 8, 2021

Wading through Mcgilchrist's "The Master and His Emissary" about brain lateralization. Of course it starts by having to shake off the 90s pop-psych oversimplifications of "left brained/right brained people" and even then it's tough to know which "just so" stories should have the most weight.

One attempt at summary is: the left hemisphere, besides famously being the seat of language, is rather reductionistic. The right hemisphere tends towards holism.

For a long time I assumed flare ups of outrage (like when stuck in particularly stupid traffic, or at a computer system that JUST CAN'T BE DOING WHAT IT SAYS IT'S DOING) were right-hemisphere. That the right brain is of general feeling, and it's the left brain that applies the rules of society, which are language-based. And the feeling was a burst of right brain before the rules brain left brain could restore order.

But now, I suspect it might be the opposite? The left brain loves is categories and definitions. In those two cases, what's stirring the outrage is the sense that Things Are Not As They Must Be., so maybe that's the part that is provoking the flare. (My aunt mentions how much outrage I'd express when losing a boardgame as a kid...)

Other things:
1. So... is my inner voice, my internal monologue, mostly the product of my left hemisphere? Since it's linguistic? Or is that a misthink, that the left hemisphere is more just the broadcast booth representing a more balanced set of insights?

2. I've witnessed a part of me that just frickin' loves snacks and seems to act like a clever dog - waiting for a moment of inattention or willpower fatigue from the whole to push the organism to going and grabbing that treat. Which hemisphere is doing that? Again previously I would have assumed the mute right hemisphere, transgressing the codified rules understood by the left, but now I don't know.

3. I figure Marie Kondo "joy sparking" - that's GOTTA be a technique to try and engage the right brain-ish holism of getting a feel for what the object really means in our life vs the left brain's reductionistic "well it can still be used for X" or the left brain's sense of "this is a thing I own, that's it's proper category".

I wish I could talk with someone really versed in this stuff. And I'm aware that I might be taking awfully big sips of the Kool Aid, especially since I'm worried Mcgilchrist might end up sounding a bit reactionary to me as he gets into expressing how he thinks society is becoming too left brained, at its own peril.

from February 22, 2021

I've been reading AI researcher Janelle Shane's "You Look Like a Thing and I Love You" - she runs the AI weirdness blog and has a lot of fun seeing what oddities algorithms can come up with, like if you had a robot trying to figure out what ice cream flavors sounded good to a human.

Shane's view of the current state of AI seems more in line with what I thought I knew of where things were, vs my former coworker Slater (who is probably significantly smarter and more versed and practice in the field than I am but OH WELL.) Shane puts a modern AI's brain about the level of a worm, I don't want to paraphrase badly but I think Slater uses the term "human level" more freely. And that's certainly true for some tasks. (In trying to understand Slater's perspective, I do noticed how unfair the question is in reverse... from the CPU's point of view typical human level for calculation isn't even at the pocket calculator level.) Slater has expressed that it's a bit daft to try and get a computer to be smart in just the same way a human is smart, that we already have humans to be smart in that way, and they can work together to much greater effect. (Again, apologies for oversimplifying his views.)

One problem with AI can lurk in edge cases you didn't think of. Like, they will happily exploit any glitches in your physics to maximize the result you tell it to look for - happily evolve a tiny, fast critter that can glitch behind a wall and then get shot back out at tremendous speed in order to maximize velocity, say. One quote:
Sometimes I think the surest sign that we're not living in a simulation is that if we were, some organism would have learned to exploit its glitches.
My first thought was...huh, that might be the kind of thing a warp drive maker would be hunting for. Then I realized, in a way, nuclear weapons are kind of exploiting a glitch like that, or at least using the same kind of logic as a game glitch exploiter. (Oh, what happens if we put ENOUGH of this one kind of material all in one space at once? BOOOM!)

The book goes over some examples of AI's exploiting deficiencies in the win conditions, same stuff as in Specification gaming examples in AI. (Like a robot meant to travel far with minimum energy expenditure might build itself very very tall, so that it can just fall over and end up with a center of gravity far from its starting position without using any energy. Weirdly, this might not be as fake-y a solution as it sounds- prairie grasses and Walking palms might use the same trick!)

So to a layreader like myself, the solution seems to be a "who watches the watchmen" kind of thing, like making an evaluation-function-evaluator, that would spot violations of real world physics (or human morality) that would make a found solution untenable.

But suddenly I combined this idea with another recent reading interest of mine, lateralization of human brains - trying to crack the mystery out why the brain - a machine designed for connections - has found it expedient to divide into two quasi-independent halves. My new "just so" story hypothesis is... maybe that's partially for one part to be able to monitor the other part for this kind of exploitation. You can still have one part optimizing for simpler things ("I like cookies! I'm going to grab this one!") but another that contextualize and evaluate the likely results in a wider context ("that cookie belongs to my friend and they will be mad at me if I steal it"). Given that so many of the connections between the hemispheres seem inhibitory, this idea - while grossly incomplete - might not be totally offbase.

from February 21, 2021

Did my usual 4-hour weekend facetime w/ my superniece Cora. Last week we started in with "ScratchJr", a beginner's programming kit that runs on tablets and I think phones and stuff, and this week she showed me some cool little scenes she did. She hasn't really gotten into the programming part yet (mostly she just has characters walk right for a bit) but she's doing some creative stuff with it!

It was interesting seeing her visibly soak in my praise for what she'd done. I need to find that balance of praising her legitimately cool things done so far with places where I'd like to see her push into with the tool-kit. How to get to "That's so cool, and..." and not "That's so cool, but".

I've been thinking lately about my relative emotional flatness. On a semi-tangent, one friend mentioned I was "mild-mannered" and while I appreciate the Clark Kent reference, it did make me wonder how I come across. Sometimes it gets on Melissa's nerves, or makes her worried, because I really am against letting emotions snowball so they start taking on a life of their own - when they become self-sustaining and you lose that connection with happenings in the outside world, it feels like they lack accountability, somehow, subject mostly to their own sometimes opaque logic.

At its worst, I worry I basically prefer to have two emotions, at varying degrees of intensity: satisfaction (I like this/love this/am proud of this) and annoyance (I would prefer this was otherwise.)

from left brain for language, right brain for realness

Sam Harris podcast speaking with Iain McGilchrist on
on The Divided Brain: on how the two hemispheres interact and form us, and other tangents with implications for culture as a whole.

As always, I'm incredibly intrigued by the split mind topic. I feel as if a lot of different psychological models are about this divide: Freud's Ego/Id, the conscious vs the subconscious self, the "Elephant and the Rider" metaphor, the inner-child and..uh, the rest of us. McGilchrist adds another framing: the Master and his Emissary - the Right brain being the Master that sends the Emissary out to communicate with the world.

One question is, do all these models map well to a Left/Right hemisphere split? (And in that case, what about Society of Mind like models that introduce a kind of "subsystems rousing the rest of parliament" idea?).

Before getting into this, I'd note one small pragmatic breakthrough: mnemonically, I have a hard time remembering which stereotype was of the "Left Brain" and which of the right; but now I can remember Left = L = Language, Right = R = Real, as in "keeping it real"* (and as the Chapelle Show reminds us, keeping it real can go very wrong sometimes.)


"Master/Emissary" would seem to be closest to "Elephant/Rider" - but McGilchrist has a thesis that our society is poorer because we've been letting the left style of thinking side gain ascendency. The second half of his book (named after the "Master and his Emissary" model) is said to point to how various cultures - the Greeks, Renaissance Europe have thrived when they've achieved a better balance. And during the podcast he takes a tangential poke at wokeness, claiming it's a left-brain kind of thing, and lacking the warmth and fundamental humanness of more Right-brain-oriented approaches.

So, assuming there's something to this split - which is a lot to grant... well, here's my best explanation as to what's going on. The Left brain can be more clever, the Right brain can me more wise. The Right brain is the seat of muscle memory and where repeated experience becomes knowledge. But - if those experiences have a consistent bias (like it may well in a society that has a lot of racist power inequity soaking through it) then the Right brain will have a broken, foul, yet self-assured wisdom. The Left brain - the part dedicated to our social interface, explaining ourselves to others - also has the tools of language and rational thought. If to the "anti-PC" folks, the Left brain - which, by chance, happens to be the political left as well - sounds shrill or vengeful, some of that is because it's engaged in trying to overthrow this very self-satisfied knowledge of the Right brain that has inequity and injustice impressed deeply into it as "just the way things are".

So I go on about this topic in part because I think it's important to my development as a more mature person. I feel it would be useful if my smarty pants Left brain could have a more solid model of what's actually going on in there. Like, if I have a flare up of temper - is that Left brain or Right brain? Or when I find a part of myself looking for a moment of distraction where that part will then impel my body to go grab a tasty snack... which side is driving that? And which side resents it?

My thought is that it's my Right brain with those more negative qualities (which is why I'm wondering if I'll tackle McGilchrist with skepticism, since he is so in praise of the Right)- also I wonder if my youthful religiosity - where the Left brain felt that understanding and acting on God's will from His Objectively True point of view was CRITICAL to keeping me from burning in hell - led me to be too cerebral, turning the Left brain into a bit of a nanny, and that my Right brain is immature and stunted and rather childlike - or perhaps, in a long-term sullen adolescence.

* At first I thought, aha, Left = L = Logic. But, that doesn't preclude Right = R = Rationality. So Language/Realness is a better split.

from paying it forward (to yourself), paying it back (also to yourself)

Sometimes reframing a necessary, repeated task makes it seem less onerous.

For example, I make a pot of coffee every other day, refrigerate it, and that's my morning beverage over the next two days. Somehow, it seemed like less of a burden if instead of thinking "ugh, every other day I have to make coffee" I frame it as "ah, now that I've finished off this pot, I should make a new one for myself for the next two days"

Similarly, daily physical activity can feel like a chore. In that case, I really liked hearing Willy Nelson saying he frames his daily walk or jog of what not as "paying for the day" - somehow that "pay as you go" sense, bit of gratitude seems much friendlier to me than a more typical "do it to benefit your future self!" while still acknowledging it often isn't something the current self really wants to do.

It's interesting that in one case it feels better to think of it as helping my future self, and the other as payment for where I am already, a debt owed by my present self rather than TO my future self.

from 1 Kings 1:18-40

I've been relistening to the audiobook version of Karen Armstrong's "The Case for God", seeing if it resonates differently for me ten years later. It's positioned as a bit of a retort to the New Atheism of Dennett/Harris/Dawkins/Hitchens. I guess I still have the same thought on it as I did then:
She asserts repeatedly that ancient peoples had a clear split between Mythos and Logos (an idea first introduced to me in "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance"). Some cultures had multiple creation myths geared at explaining different aspects of the human experience, and none of them were expected to hold up to a literal interpretation as historic events. The book doesn't really cite evidence, though (at least not the audio version, I don't know if the real thing has endnotes or something) so I'm left wondering if maybe folks were just, you know, gullible back then. I mean, I'm sure some of the hoi polloi took the stories at face value -- I can't believe the question "mommy, did that really happen?" is new, created by our modern culture.
She often uses language like "these stories weren't meant to be taken literally" which forces the question- meant by whom? The original authors? The hierarchy that used them to persuade people to share in the group? Or the people themselves?

This time through, I'm thinking about the Bible story of 1 Kings 1:18-40, Elijah vs 450 prophets of Baal. He challenges them to a duel, separate bull sacrifices, and the real God would set His altar on fire. Elijah even douses his rebuilt altar with 12 jugs of water!
Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.
(I kind of hope some of the 450 prophets got to, like, taste what was in the jars and make sure it was really water, given that Elijah apparently had all of them slaughtered after he won.)

But back to the story... does it sound like it was geared for a people who were "meant" to take things metaphorically? On a meta-level, it comes out and says "what's important is that God is Supernaturally True, with a connection to our physical reality that we can recognize." The proof of the puddings in the burning! Not just "the way we the people should live" or "profound metaphors that add depth and instruction to our lives".

from January 31, 2021

The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion.
Paulo Coelho
(But people are still really concerned that everyone have the correct opinions on everything! Or rather, have an opinion on everything, that can let everyone else know if you're on our team or their team...)

Follow up to that, from a FB discussion it spurred:

Vonnegut said: "Thanks to TV and for the convenience of TV, you can only be one of two kinds of human beings, either a liberal or a conservative." and I think it's even worse with Social Media.

And here's the thing: that's not even both sideser-ism. I'm a liberal, and I'm even liberal enough to think "my" side - while flawed on some issues - has its heart more in the right place of empathy than the "other" side, and that is an important moral and ethical difference. But it's like - you can't even give the other side the benefit of the doubt, any inch of that you grant to the other side is viewed as deeply suspicious by your peers, that maybe you're secretly one of them on the inside - as if the idea of "these are basically moral and not entirely irrational people who are living out some incorrect conclusions because of faulty starting premises and bad choices on what they choose to elevate in importance" is pure capitulation.

ALL human motion comes from emotion; the intellect itself is NEVER what gets the ball moving in any field, it just explains the actions, what the embodied-smarts of emotional thinking and muscle memory has decided to do. And so both sides are engaged in a war of riling up feelings, making sure those big momentum laden rolling spheres of emotion get going the right way. It's exhausting.

from being less of a tightwad as a harbinger of personal growth

In general I don't have a positive intuition about the probability - or maybe even the existence of - personal growth. To me, people seem basically the same over the years, and while people can change their behaviors, it almost always seems to require a persistent application of will. That health instructor line about "once you get into the regular routine of exercise, it will become a HABIT that's hard to break! It'll be tougher NOT to exercise!" seems like a good example of the big lies of personal growth.

But... the other day I mentioned to Melissa that I used to be a lot more tight with money. And now I'm pretty loose about it. So maybe that's personal change, or even growth?

Part of me resists the idea. I mean I can point to external factors; I've had many more years of making a good salary (a lot of techies are so blessed it's probably unjust) and so have rainy day money in a few places - easier to be relaxed knowing that's there. And I started working with a financial advisor on my retirement stuff, and she seems to have a pretty good shape of a plan for me in mind - easier to relax with that established.

Or I think about some events - I once had a big windfall from selling a house, and I lost most of that windfall the fourth or fifth year of making a loan to a friend's business. So maybe that instilled a sense of easy come, easy go - or maybe it's the years of observing how money seems to kind fit the shape of its container, like there's a set point of savings I have that (knock wood) is weirdly stable even when expenses rise or when I get some kind of raise. Or that while it's weird how big a credit card bill can pile up from $10 here, $20 there over a month (ties into how we don't have a good sense of how much time is crammed in a month!) by far and away the biggest expenses are the steady drain of housing and possibly car - so don't oversweat the small purchases.

I acknowledge a lot of privilege and just plain good luck in a lot of this. And some ok perseverance and skillbuilding, but yeah. Little did college age me know that switching to a computer science class to dodge repeating calculus would put a financial setting path in motion.

from January 12, 2021

A year later I'm still trying to figure out the most appropriate - or maybe the most pragmatic - relationship between my rational, narrative self and my emotional, intuitive one.

So many traditions run into that split - Freud's Ego vs Id, the Elephant and the Rider, the inner-child...

I think because since a young age my predominate subjective desire is to subvert my other subjective desires to my best understanding of the objectively true and good, that might mean my emotional self is a bit stunted? I don't know. I catch the emotional me rolling his eyes ALL the time - he knows when it's ok to vent a bit.

But the question is, what is the truest me? I mean it's the verbal, narrative part of me writing this of course. And because it has the power of language, it has a hook to construct an image of the self across time. (There's a theory that says the subconscious doesn't have that sense of time, that's why a threat in the past can still create trauma in the present and anxiety about the future.) On the other hand... maybe my emotional self is "more true"? Like it has knowledge slowly impressed into it, and then can make quicker reactions... so I don't know what the relationship between these two parts is, quite! Co-equal? Parent-child or more severely, Owner/Pet? Is my emotional self my truest self, and this part that does all the talking is just the mask? I don't think so on that last one, but still.

from January 1, 2021

Been thinking on the idea of "Locus of Control" - the idea of whether you feel things are more dependent on factors you control vs external circumstances and other actors, I realize there's an interesting concept of "Locus of Judgement"... whose judgement are you most worried about. I guess it looks something like this:

For some people, judgement is coming from the smaller "you" at the center there... your head and your heart make judgements. But for other folks, it's that dominating external figure that matters the most. And it gets messed up - certain kinds of anxiety can come from internalizing the judgement of others, living in fear of what they think and imagining horrible consequences if you go against their wishes.

Then there's that weird blue circle of figures I added... that's my crude way of representing striving for the objective view - like, the "God's-Eye View", the viewpoint from God's Throne that I feel exists even though I'm not sure that there's a Divine Butt in that chair.

I was always willing to stand up to authority, I think because of my faith in that view - not that I could be confident I had that correct view, but that it existed. Authority is only legitimate to the extent that it represented a good faith effort to manifest and further that objective truth.

This (probably too cluttered to be useful) diagram came to me while reading "Why Buddhism is True" - Robert Wright is pointing me to some further reading, like Thomas Nagel's "The View from Nowhere" - I have hopes that that will explore and extend ideas about the importance of presuming the existence of the objective view.

from what we do vs who we are vs where we are at

I've been reading Robert Wright's "Why Buddhism Is True". Once again I find there are a lot of profound Buddhist concepts I find pretty intuitive, that they jibe well with the sense of "unrealizable yet present and important Objective Truth" that is my inheritance from my religious upbringing.

The book spends a lot of time on the illusory nature of "essences" and how humans are too quick to mix up how they feel about something or someone and what that thing or person actually is. The most extreme failure of that is Capgras Syndrome, where a mental glitch causes someone to fail to recognize a loved one and claim that they've been replaced by an imposter because the other person isn't triggering the emotional response used for identification

I've long been interested in the conflict of "surfaces vs essences". I have always emphasized the former; look to how things interact, which can be observed and verified, not to your guess about their interior states. Or as I've put it: "People and computers should be judged by what they do, not by what (you think) they are."

But there are limits to my view. To make predictions about future behaviors, to judge the safety of interactions with others, we have to make these models. (Hell, maybe the point of consciousness is to model the world and our place in it, so that we can play what-ifs out in our head.) As Professor Quirrell in the delightful fanfiction Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality puts it:
The import of an act lies not in what that act *resembles on the surface*, Mr. Potter, but in the states of mind which make that act more or less probable.
Harry Potter (this one raised by a couple of Oxford Professors instead of the Dursleys) realizes this is recapitulating the "Bayesian definition of evidence".

That line has challenged my thinking for a while, but Wright introduced me to a concept to fight back a bit - the existence of Fundamental Attribution Error - as humans we are highly predisposed to overemphasize the character of someone and deemphasize the circumstance and context of the situation. (Unless of course it's someone we like doing something bad, or someone we dislike doing something good - then it's just a matter of circumstance or coincidence!)

Of course knowledge of FAE can lead to cynicism, making all good and bad behavior a matter of situation and opportunity...like Chris Rock put it "Men are as faithful as their options" I'm not quite there - I do think people have something of a personal code they will more or less stick to, but if you keep turning the crank on this line of thinking, you get to questions of free will in a deterministic universe and if ideas like the Tabula Rasa (blank slate) are true. Like (heh) the video game character Andrew Ryan put it... "We all make choices, but in the end, our choices make us".

FOLLOWUP: Listening to an episode of "No Stupid Questions", they mention "Locus of Control" - a spectrum ranging from internal (i.e. you have control over events) to external (things are controlled by other forces/circumstances). In general they think it's happier/healthier to have an internal one. But it's funny, that's the same kind of space as Fundamental Attribution issues, but for our own selves. I think a balanced view is called for (even though I guess there's some evidence that a internal-locus "power of positive thinking" is very pragmatic - if not fully rooted in reality!)

from on william james, and against revelation

Last night Erika, the co-facilitator of the Science and Spirituality reading/discusson group I manage, led a discussion on the first 3 lectures in William James' 1902 book The Varieties of Religious Experience. I think most of the other folks in the group resonated with the James more than I did...

James speaks highly of an ecstatic form of religious moment, periods of deep wonderment that transcend thought, that can only be achieved by feeling. I think I did well laying out why this doesn't hit home for me during the zoom call. (And as co-facilitator, making sure we heard from everyone who was willing to share... 2 of the quietest people when given the floor had a lot of smart stuff to say!)

I put my stock in rationality, a rationality that's smart enough to realize it won't have all the answers at hand, and so respects other ways of knowing, even as it tries to analyze them. (Or dissect them, as the cynic might accuse!) To many people my approach seems almost inhumanly cold, but my argument is it has the potential to be MORE human + empathetic.

I am suspicious of any spirituality that leans so heavily on revelation - whether personal, as in the moments of ecstasy James lectures on, or parlayed into the institutional, like the organizations built on what God said to Moses, or to Paul on the Road to Damascus, or to Mohammed, or to Joseph Smith, or whomever. Make no mistake- the length of that latter list, and the variance of those revelations, is key to why I don't trust it. Like Omar Khayyâm put it:
And do you think that unto such as you
A maggot-minded, starved, fanatic crew
God gave a secret, and denied it me?
Well, well--what matters it? Believe that, too!
For me, a spirituality needs to be potentially universal, or it is nothing. (Even if any single faith path is incomplete - despite how those faiths so often claim to being universally and objectively true - and we have to go "meta" and accept a multi-path view, and/or say the the ultimate objective truth involves accepting a range of idiosyncratic and incompatible and even feuding paths) And language and rationality are how we can try to reach to one another. If we have a hope of building bridges that go beyond the subjective it is in that kind of honest, forthright, loving and empathetic analysis.

I think it's useful to see this in the lens of our general day-to-day psychology. One of my favorite metaphors for that is The Elephant and the Rider, posting our fragile logical and narrative self as hanging on top of the emotional Elephant providing all the energy, that rider-self claiming credit for where the Elephant goes but only having limited influence. The Rider plays a crucial role in explaining ourselves to ourselves and to others, and thus allowing social dialog and trust and co-operation to exist.

James of course seems to encourage the life of the elephant as the key to enlightenment. And although he's too reserved to say it, you start to suspect that he holds to it as a connection to something supernatural, a transcendence to connect outside of our system rather than an emergent something, a pattern miraculously rising from our base materials and energies.

Let me know if you're interested in joining the "Science and Spirituality" reading and discussion group at the Belmont UU Church! About 6-10 regulars meet the third Thursday of every month (these days by Zoom of course) and try and tackle a medium length read together - excerpts from a book or a collection of related articles, etc. It's a really thoughtful group of people, with artists and educators in the mix. We're able to find good readings and then the 90 minute session often ends up being one of the better parts of my month.

from the forager brain

I am nuts for information-- as are we all, I suspect, most real men and women. I can't get enough of the stuff. When I'm clicking through the hundreds of E-mail messages that await me each morning, sometimes I imagine I'm a mighty information whale, sifting through thousands of tiny (but nutritious!) krill bits. Yum! Whether it's reading the cereal box or scanning the advertisement slide show some genius thought to project on the big screen at the movie theater, my appetite for information is unquenchable.
Joshua Quittner, I think from Time Magazine circa 1998
This metaphor is kind of formalized as Information Foraging Theory. The claim is humans forage for information the way other animals forage for food - and that can be usefully applied to analyze "doom scrolling" and kneejerk email checking and similar behaviors, where we swing back to the hunting grounds, and then stick/scroll around for periods of time based on the likelihood of something good showing up.

I was thinking about how I also stockpile information, and I use a motley collection of apps and websites to do so:
Simplenote App: Google Docs: Tot App: Homebrew Online Database: For a bit it seemed weird that I don't have trouble remember what's recorded where... but now that I think about it, it makes sense that my brain is pretty well geared at remembering where any given "information hoard" is stored.

I think similarly, I've never been a fan of "RSS style readers" that take pure information content and put it into a generic template... the information loses that extraneous sensory data that helps me intuitively identify and recall the source/hunting ground..
RIP Chuck Yeager!

from A little Nicomachean Ethics to brighten up your morning

Reading about Obama's first visit to Kenya (before he went to Harvard) and his discomfort with the remainders of colonialism he saw led me to looking up the Wikipedia page for "Guns, Germs, and Steel"- a book that describes how much of a culture's grown power is much more a matter of happenstance than of intrinsic values of the population. I guess the book talks about The Anna Karenina principle- I've always wondered about
All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
but wikipedia interprets it as
In other words: happy families share a common set of attributes which lead to happiness, while any of a variety of attributes can cause an unhappy family. This concept has been generalized to apply to several fields of study.
The article goes on to point out a parallel with Aristotle in "Nicomachean Ethics":
Again, it is possible to fail in many ways (for evil belongs to the class of the unlimited, as the Pythagoreans conjectured, and good to that of the limited), while to succeed is possible only in one way (for which reason also one is easy and the other difficult – to miss the mark easy, to hit it difficult); for these reasons also, then, excess and defect are characteristic of vice, and the mean of virtue; For men are good in but one way, but bad in many.
I don't think I agree. A single axis to gauge success and failure is very limited; or even the text is more about a dartboard model: the singular point of success in the center, everything else various degrees of failure.

Yeah. That's nuts. If a dart expert gets a bullseye because of their excellent form after years of practice, that's one thing; but even a duffer will get the odd bullseye. And at least in that case, the results the same, but the implications for future success are very different.

And single target? I'd say everything of worth in life is a competition among competing priorities, competing targets, and the struggle is getting the right compromises set among them

I keep getting my Greek philosophers mixed up but it looks like it was Socrates who said "No one errs or does wrong willingly or knowingly.". I've thought of that as "hardly anyone is the bad guy of their own story at the time their living it". I think I've previously been corrected that that isn't as universal as I thought, that some people are conflicted even as they are drawn or compelled to act in ways they know are ultimately bad.

But still, everything is a compromise. Barbara Tversky puts it as "There are no benefits without costs". We gotta do some robbing Peter to pay some Pauls. Sci-fi fans put it as TANSTAAFL, "There Ain't No Such Thing as a Free Lunch". Understanding that isn't the same thing as moral relativism - at some point you gotta pick what lunch you're paying for, and some lunches are better choices than others. (And the religiosity of my youth compels me to think there must be one objectively correct best algorithm for deciding which lunch is best for you - even if that's not the best lunch for everyone or in every circumstance.)
There is more worth loving than we have strength to love.
Brian Jay Stanley

from November 4, 2020

Yesterday, in between sessions doing voter support with my tuba and some musician friends, I was on The McGST podcast - affiliated with McGST, formerly "Lost in Mobile", a website and corresponding WhatsApp group that is one of my higher quality and most consistent forms of online socializing these days.

Hopefully I acquitted myself well. I took some chances expressing my views on topics that are contentious. As someone who tries to see where the other side is coming from, I worry there are times when I will seem to wishy-washy to fellow lefties.

And all of us - right and left are all on tenterhooks seeing how the election played out. In the group, Shaun said "Kirk said something in the podcast that stuck with me. How much of [the political fight] actually affects your life day by day?"

Of course, the answer is, we don't quite know. Almost all of us enjoy the fruits of a technologically advanced society and culture and there's a suspicion that it would not be so pleasant were it not for this kind of struggle... or at least, some kind of struggle. We benefit from a history of people working on projects bigger than they were, and so it behooves us to keep our roles on the struggles that are happening today.

And wondering about the actual day to day impact probably implies a lot of protective layers of privilege. And maybe the recent waves of Trump/Brexit populism are an angry rebuttal for people who feel poorly treated by the system. (If I hadn't chanced on a well paying tech career path compatible with my natural inclinations, where would I be?) But do they think their lots are greatly improved by these guys? Or is it enough to infuriate the libs, and have the sense of "life still sucks but at least our team won". Or perhaps they think these kind of go by the gut leaders would make things actually, locally better were it not for the meddling of the darn other side? (Republicans have controlled all 3 parts of the US government for years. What have they done good with that? Or is that a stupid thing to ask given for decades they've run on "government is the problem" and then they are compelled to make that true?)

These questions get philosophical quick. A lot of greek lines of philosophical "how to live a good life" ended up looking for equanimity: that we should learn how to emotionally carry on and not be overwhelmed with delight or despair in things that happen to us, especially when we have little say in them. Other times, things get existential, in the loose sense of the word. What's it all about? Is there a goal we can agree on for society and for ourselves, regardless of our religion or lack thereof?
F***, who was against Ranked Choice Voting??? So few people are enamored of the Republican/Democratic Duopoly that utterly, utterly dominates our politics. If we ever want to get out of that without splitting crucial votes we need options like this.

Like, I can see there's an argument against prolonging elections and needing more time / rounds to get to a better result, but is that what people were thinking of who voted no, or just that it seemed weird and different? What a wasted opportunity.
There's a line from the movie "The Commitments" (about an aspiring Irish Soul/R+B band:)
What you were playing was not Soul! Soul solos are part of the song - they have corners. You were spiraling – that's jazz!"
Jimmy "The Lips" Fagan in "The Commitments"
In general, I really prefer music with corners, and historically don't have much a gut feel appreciation for jazz. But right now this Johnny Hodges album "Lover Come Back to Me" feels like a balm.

I think the times are emotionally grinding and grating enough that I have a new appreciation for stuff without corners.

from October 27, 2020

Bummed, along with most left-leaning folk, by the new SCOTUS justice, and Republicans able to do their own form of court packing by skipping approval of Merrick Garland for the better part of a year, then brazenly jamming in their own choice in the final hour.

One of the core pillars the justices lean on in their unevenly applied "strict constructionism" is states' rights. For years, I've always had federalist instincts, in part because I think it's too easy for extremists to gain power at the state level.

And we fought a whole damn Civil War over this. Slavery is a permanent mark on our nation's founding and one that has forceful echoes of injustice that are renewed every generation. As a nation, we had to fight a bloody war to tell certain states no - People cannot be property, you assholes, and an economy built on that kind of suffering and inhumanity cannot be suffered to persist.

States get nuts. As happy as I am to live in a moderately liberal commonwealth (and just look at all these Republican governors in MA - we certainly have our own political divisions) I am an American before I am a Massachussetian. The USA is a unique political entity and while I might disagree with folks on the right on the balance of Personal Freedom vs Personal Justice (or rather, Freedom To vs Freedom From) these issues are about our nation, not a bunch of states where gerrymandered districts (and voting shenanigans that weirdly always lean red) keep pushing us to more fringe candidates, since the campaign threats only happen during primaries, not in general elections.

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.
Philip K. Dick
Surprised I hadn't grabbed that quote before... (like when I grabbed (this passage on mortality).... more here.
the human stress response seems so maladaptive!

To be fair 99% of our evolutionary stress response was meant to deal with far more immediately conclusive scenarios than the tedious bullshit we put up with these days.

very very slow tigers are chasing me

not to leave a serious comment on a silly post but one of the best pieces of advice I ever got about stress was to SLEEP but secondly, when overwhelmed, lay in a bed and intentionally hold all your muscles clenched. clench EVERYTHING. hold it for a few seconds, then let go. It tricks your animal fight-or-flight monkey brain into thinking it had, and won, a fight, and some of the stress response will leave you

#turn a slow tiger into a fast tiger with this fucked up trick

from October 25, 2020

My friend Rayna Jhaveri asks deep questions on Facebook, tying in with her general interest in people as well as her consulting/coaches for the coaches gig. My dialog with her in response to "what were you like as a child" ("insufferable" was my first concise answer) let do this

I did this illustration for this blog entry - - basically, having parents who worked for a church - whose housing was provided by and whose city of residence was select by a church - gave me a pretty direct connection of authority, God > Church > Parents > Me.

I'm not sure who or what exactly informed my childhood views on the difficulty of getting into heaven. My parents were hardly fire and brimstone preachers, and certainly a lot of my peers seemed more relaxed, the "just accept Jesus into your heart and you'll be fine" view.

Hmmm. The Salvation Army, as a church, was designed around the "one time big repentance", you know? A street church, where people who were broken by demon rum or generally consumed by devilish things could have a moment of epiphany and repentance and then build from there. When I was in it, it was a bit more sedate (the "open air" street preaching was a bit pro-forma) but there was still regular altar calls - most meetings ended with an invitation to come to the altar and get right with God. Maybe it was that sense of repetition, and the suspected backsliding it implied, that worried me. It might be more or less ok to get knocked down, righteousness wise, but what if you fail to get back up? Or you die suddenly before the natural rebound occurs. ETERNAL HELL!

My claim that I wasn't interested in the approval of my folks per se, but rather them as manifest spokespeople for God (being both my parents AND my ministers) is a bit challenged by the decade or so after I lost faith (again, triggered by noticing that my faith's truth claimed to be Absolute and Universal, yet many people believed many other things, presumably making the same claim) - I was petrified of talking about it with my Mom, or her finding out. So that MIGHT be a need for parental approval for its own sake, but it could also be that "disappointing your parents is objectively bad"- or even a hubristic fear that my reasoning on faith - that these religions can't ALL be right - would be damaging to her own.
As I get older I'm starting to let go of the guilty urge to build permanent habits. Like, a while ago I decided I would start jumping rope every day. I did it for like three weeks and felt good about it. Then I got bored, because of course I did, because I'm a human person. So now I do a bit of kickboxing because that's what I like now. The other week I cut all sugar from my diet, just for a week, to challenge myself. Now I'm back to eating sweets but I don't crave them as much.

Growth is about stretching, trying new things, and setting small, realistic goals for yourself, not picking a "good habit" you've decided you *will* be doing always and forever from now on. That's not discipline. That's pointless self-torture and unhealthy resistance to change.

What's good for you today will not necessarily be what's good for you tomorrow.
This makes sense but I think I have trouble living it. The difference between trying some improvement and then dropping it because of lack of gumption is too difficult to tell from dropping it because I've grown beyond the need for it...

from October 24, 2020

Definitely been feeling this GIF lately...

Part of is fortifying my equanimity for an election result I may or may not like.

I know I may well be chastised for expressing this kind of burnout, for not acknowledging the dangers and overall shitness that could result if this election goes wrong, if the political party (the one that's so intent on undercutting voter participation at every level, to the point of almost making a catch phrase out of "we're not a democracy" to justify their minority rule) gets its way. And just how much privilege I enjoy in having - I hope - limited personal exposure in my day to day quality of life regardless of outcome.

Voting in general is weird. You gotta do it, but the power of votes is an emergent property; it only shows up in groups. You gotta join the team and pull together! But that us-vs-them mentality - sometimes feeling weirdly akin to team sports, like all that pointless anxiety and hope I felt about various super bowls and world series - is grinding us all so much. The stakes are more than civic pride here, sure, but there's a parallel.

I think of this quote:

Hmm, I don't know. I guess one person *can* make a difference, but most of the time they probably shouldn't.
But of course, we shouldn't act on that! If everyone leans into that, the world is significantly shittier.

Heh, looking up another quote -- Natalie Goldberg's quote on stress ("Stress is an ignorant state. It believes that everything is an emergency. Nothing is that important.") made me realize I had this EXACT same set of issues 3 1/2 years ago - longing for.... almost permission, to have equanimity yet still have confidence that I'm taking the appropriate or at least reasonable amount of action. I don't think I have anything smarter to say about it now than I did then. Three and a half years ain't what it used to be.

my look for Extinction Rebellion's funeral for a sustaining climate ...

In general we can relax about COVID-19 and surfaces...

from the consciousness that moves us

Reading Sam Harris' "Making Sense", a set of edited transcripts from his podcast. He leads off David Chalmers, about the "hard problem of consciousness", as Neutral Milk Hotel puts it "Can't believe how strange it is to be anything at all".

Thought experiments are one of the few tools we have to thinking about the issues. One favorite for sci-fans like me is, how do you know the Star Trek teleporter is transportation and not just murder+deep cloning, that the Captain Kirk who steps off the transporter pad has the same soul or consciousness as the swaggering dude who beamed up from the planet's surface?

Or you see the same issue if you could "upload" yourself into the Matrix. ("The rapture of the nerds", as its been called.) If your old meatself was still there, looking through the screen at the new uploaded self, it would certainly feel like a matter of cloning and not transportation. But the "you" inside would feel more like a transported individual than a "new being".

But really, is that any different than what happens when we wake from a deep, lights-out sleep? Yeah, we know we're the same person, same consciousness (or same soul if you swing that way). But that's mostly a matter of the continuity we enjoy, the memories we have, the patterns we recognize as continuing. I think that's what a lot of people mean when they say "consciousness is an illusion" - it's not a singular thing like that.

So if the "virtual you" woke up inside the computer, would it be "really you"? Our bias in favor of our traditional meatselves would say no - much more of a clone. But I think we should extend that same logic to out current selves... we're continuous with the person we were when we went to sleep, but not the same person. You can't step in the same river twice.

So, we're left wondering what consciousness is. I'm willing to accept very low standards of consciousness. Like I a thermostat has the faintest glimmer of it - it has a kind of model of the world and its place in it - or more importantly, a model of its ability to interact with world. That's why I feel it has a claim to consciousness that, say, a chair doesn't.

(Similarly I am comfortable with the idea that our unconscious selves are kind of independently conscious on their own terms, but our narrative/rational selves has only limited knowledge and communication access with those parts.)

Another set of thought experiments is modeled on the "Ship Of Theseus", as Wikipedia puts it:
It is supposed that the famous ship sailed by the hero Theseus in a great battle was kept in a harbor as a museum piece, and as the years went by some of the wooden parts began to rot and were replaced by new ones; then, after a century or so, every part had been replaced. The question then is if the "restored" ship is still the same object as the original.

If it is, then suppose the removed pieces were stored in a warehouse, and after the century, technology was developed that cured their rot and enabled them to be reassembled into a ship? Is this "reconstructed" ship the original ship? If it is, then what about the restored ship in the harbor still being the original ship as well?
A humbler version of that is "behold, by great-grandfather's axe! Its blade has been replaced 5 times and its handle twice!"

But people like to think about, what if we replaced bits of our brain like that, at what point if ever would we stop being us? You can play with all kind of variants of that, along with transfer to virtual systems, to interrogate your intuition about what it means to be us...

I just wanted to mention one variant I thought of and don't remember hearing: So, if we managed to duplicate our brain digitally, I think most people would say "fine, you have a digital clone, but you're still the original you". But what if you split a human brain in half, and gave each half a perfectly functioning digital duplicate of its missing part. Would we have successfully cloned ourselves then? Would one lobe have a truer claim to being the "real us"?
A few weeks ago all but one member of my work team collaborated for a new baby gift for the remaining coworker. Along with passing the hat for diaper money we came up with some nifty designs for custom onesies--

I did the Pac-Man and Simon game (the coworker is a gamer, and the baby's name is Simon...) the last one is our team logo

The more I think on that, the more true it seems. Spring and Fall have it all over Summer, except so many of us have a deeply ingrained association with summer and being more free to do interesting things.

Actually come to think of it the one thing summer does have is nice long days. So "atrocious" is overstating it, but the heat can feel gratuitous. (but even with all this late spring/early autumn are safer bets)
Multiple boats sink at Trump boat parade on Texas' Lake Travis. Sometimes the metaphors just create themselves.

My favorite meme about this: "Help, our boat is sinking!" Response: "All boats matter."
Mike Maines

from when time meets space

I've always been interested in how humans visualize and put metaphors to time ("life's like an hourglass glued to the table" I've been told) Some of my interest was sparked by recognizing how idiosyncratic my own way of spatializing the course of a year and the course of a week as counterclockwise circles (I made visualization of those timehoops a while back)

All of these are akin to synaesthesia - time isn't inherently spatial, but we find the metaphors for it useful.

This Anthropology.net article discusses a few of those metaphors that were less familiar to me If you dig this topic, you might like the book "Einstein's Dreams" by Alan Lightman, that posits the great thinker dreaming of different ways times might behave, and how humans might respond. (If time slowed down noticeably with velocity, would people attempt to live their life always in motion in order to have more time, put their houses on wheels and go go go? Or in a universe where time slowed based on proximity to a central point, would adults with young children or old people journey to be nearer that point, while people trying to flee bad memories would head as far away from it as possible?)
The fact that "a fucking casual" is an insult in some circles of hobbies - a thing that you do in your free time for fun - really says something about how bad some people are at having fun.

from the catholic non-believer vs the protestant non-believer

I'm part of a small 3-5 person online crew that evolved for playing games and staying in touch a bit. Last night the discussion pivoted from some book recommendations talk to morality in general.

One of the friends was lapsed Catholic. He mentioned one moral question he ponders on, the abstract question of who is the more moral person, the person who is always tempted but consistently defies it (possibly because of fear of hellfire) and does the right thing, or the person who is never tempted in the first place.

I realized the question didn't resonate for me, because I'm not as concerned about "interior states"... what matters is the interactions among people... actions in the outside world. So by that measure, both hypothetical people are about the same level of goodness, since they're doing or refraining from the same observable behaviors.

As we dug in further, he described that his interest in the question probably sprung from his childhood anxiety about a God who could read his heart and mind, and how the need to keep one's thoughts in good moral order had been driven into him - very classic Catholic guilt-producing kind of stuff.

That was kind of a revelation for me, because even though the Protestant vision of God I grew up with was certainly capable of looking into my heart, it's like... He didn't all that much? You could pray silently to him, but I wasn't so worried about Him listening to my inner monologue (hm, maybe more of a dialog, but that's a different story) all the time, even though I believed he could, and knew that he would make my eternal judgement.

The vision I constructed for myself about my final judgement was that of a heavenly judiciary tribunal, where They'd "playback the tape" and I could try and argue or justify what I had done - but that reckoning (that would lead either to my endless havenly home or infernal eternal torture) lacked the sense of interiority that dogged my friend.

I hadn't thought about how Protestantism informed the character of the cosmology I made for myself, real "Ye shall know them by their fruits" stuff. All I care about is how people interact with the world (and not what is in their heart) since that external stuff is all that can be definitely known and that is amenable to external verification - like God playing back the tape.

A sense of the deepest Truth being equally available to all, but equally obscured and uncertain for all, is so basic to me.

Lately I've also been thinking on intuition. I don't reject intuition entirely - I understand it can offer a post-subconscious-processing "AHA!" moment of real grace and wisdom, but I need a "trust, but verify" approach. In my view, any truth that can't be scrutinized might not be worth having, lest we lapse into self-delusion.

And I see a strong parallel with intuition and faith - faith often relies on believing in a one-time "special revelation" to a select few, and it feels like intuition is just a "special revelation" to yourself. But those revelations may or may not be in line with the True, objective universe, so you have to check your work, always - and in the case of religion, if many many well-meaning people disagree with you, it feels like missing basic empathy to presume they must all be wrong and that only your tribe has it right.
Another thing that challenged my buddy's Catholic faith was Theodicy - the fancy word for why bad things happen to good people, how an all-loving, all-knowing, all-powerful God still lets this bad stuff happen. For some reason, that never resonated for me as a problem for my faith.

I figure there are two main ways Believers keep their belief despite an abundance of badness. One is thinking it all works out for a "greater good" we just don't see yet. But like I put it ten years ago:
Every event had a cause, no matter how opaque or oblique. So yes, "everything happens for a reason", but not necessarily a reason you'll like. Perhaps you're thinking of "silver linings"- they're down the hall, to the left.
I guess my intuition was more... God just isn't that detail-oriented? Like his eyes are too busy being on the sparrows or what not, and stuff falls through the cracks - or maybe, nothing in this mortal realm matters that much, really, compared to its role in setting up our eternal destiny. So all kind of evil crap happens here on Earth, but it only matters as a matter of prelude.
Happy 100 years of women voting. (Of course the country is almost 250, but hey.)

from anti-racism and IDIC


The Star Trek ideal you refer to is IDIC (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations), the cornerstone of Spock's logical Vulcan philosophy. IDIC celebrates all diversity -- color, race, appearance, age, goals, beliefs and lifestyles of all sorts -- including individual sexual preferences.

IDIC glorifies diversity -- not tolerance of diversity.

I was with Nichelle Nichols once when she was being interviewed. "I don't want to be liked in spite of the fact that I am black," she said. "I want part of the reason you like me to be because I'm black. Because that's one of the unique things about me -- one of the things that makes me specifically who I am -- one of the things that's interesting about me."

I couldn't agree more. Nichelle doesn't want people to be color blind (that kind of tolerance was the goal of 1960s integration), she wants them to enjoy it!

Kerry O'Quinn editorial Starlog #114 (Jan 1987), "Down With Tolerance"
My friend Bob was able to dig up a scan of an editorial he was reminded me after reading some of my thoughts on "How to be an Anti-racist".

I've been thinking about how my kneejerk reservations to "diversity for its own sake". But then I compared it to my personal "what is humanity all about anyway" view - that possibly the best goal humanity can set itself to is the creation of non-trivial categorical novelty - interesting stuff that wouldn't exist in this corner of the universe if humans weren't here to make it.

I added the "non-trivial" caveat to answer my own worry that "isn't a good random number generator all the diversity we could ever need, technically?" and similarly, when thinking about "IDIC" - we shouldn't worry overmuch about people going out of their way to be diverse. People are diverse, and we honor that diversity not as a new random creation but as the current artifact reflecting a history of human lives and interactions.

(Also, appreciating diversity for its own sake is one of the few ways I know of stopping the "most common" from becoming the standard mold everything else should try to cram itself into fit.)
Tying in today's Star Trek and some earlier talk on people teaching themselves to type: my mom and I loved the original Star Trek (I think we may even have been watching it on a B+W TV!) and we loved this one book we got Allan Asherman's The Star Trek Compendium, information about each episode of the original series. (Valuable stuff in that pre-Internet age!) One weird omission in it - it didn't have an index/table of contents to the episode! And I was SO impressed when my mom went ahead and made one - a pretty solid data management and typing feat to do without a computer

from how to be an antisexist

A bit less than halfway through Ibram X. Kendi's "How to Be an Antiracist". The most important points I've absorbed so far are how "Not Racist" (e.g. the "I don't see color" and "lets not move on and get into 'reverse discrimination'" stuff) is not the opposite of "Racist", and how in the racist/not-racist camp, Kendi points out the segregationist tendency and the assimilationist.

Sometimes the line between an assimilationist mandate to deny differences and the antiracist ability to recognize differences without hierarchically judging them seems a tough row to hoe. Celebrating difference, but still holding on to a bit of a tabula rasa view - or at least a view that recognizes how the crushing majority of inequalities result from racism baked into the system level.

It's the systems that are the problem, especially tricky are ones that fancy themselves race- or sex-neutral. I've been in bands that modeled themselves in a no-real-'leader' / non-hierarchical / democratic way, but when disagreement resolution then becomes "loudest voice in the argument wins", that's likely to be sexist or racist.

Melissa mentioned a parallel inversion, she got so sick and tired of certain men at work cutting in and talking over and interrupting her. And she saw it was sexist. But then she witnessed the same guys interrupting each other guys in the same way when women weren't around. So it's still sexist, but sexism embedded in a system of interaction, not sexism that is explicitly acting like it knows "men are better than women".

I've thought about this before in the context of the term "racist". We have the one word for (as Kendi might frame it) a segregationist view, that races or sexist are unequal and should be treated that way, as well as the softer but more insidious assimilationist view that grants a superficial equality but doesn't recognize how the entry requirements are proportionally different because of the status quos of society. (Like, "we don't discriminate against poor people - anyone is free to buy this $1000 ticket!" or whatever) And anti-racists don't want to give that "softer" racism a pass, so they call it out using the term racist. But people who are assimilationist "not racist" resent being called the R-word because they know that they believe in the equality of different groups. (Kendi also argues against seeing "racist" as a slur, in the sense of letting people assume it's just 'a view I disagree with', and looks to more technical definitions.)

Back in the band, another weird bit of geeky systematic sexism snuck in, one woman had used some of her spoons to set up a particularly nice socially distanced gig and she posted it on "Gig-O-Matic", the tool we use to email blast rehearsals and gigs within the group. This gig had some parallels with a gig we had had the week before, but the location was different. Some dudes in the group grumbled about the change in venue and it got into a bit of a debate where there shouldn't have been, since it had been set. And I personally took a "lets figure out both sides of the debate" role - but part of that sprung from my never having read the Gig-O-Matic entry closely, just glanced at it at best - to the extent I hadn't even realized 'til after the whole event who had set it up.

But not realizing it was a woman in this case is not exculpatory - if a technological system is set up to be a fair, open-access thing, but then is not properly heeded, that can be a form of soft sexism or racism too.

Some tough stuff! Oh and to top it off I managed to land a non-apology ala "sorry that you were offended" - I really did mean I was sorry I had chosen poorly to both-sideser, even if it was not deliberately sexist because I wasn't even cognizant of who had made the initial post. Whoops!
Life is tragic simply because the earth turns, and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death – ought to decide, indeed, to earn one's death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life.
James Baldwin

RIP Wilford Brimley!
My Band JP Honk were part of a joint production of the Fenway Porchfest:

(video assembled by Red Shaydez who ends the video spittin' a little fire)
I love how everyone has an ideological point that isn't wrong during COVID-19: libertarians are mad at the FDA and CDC; socialists are mad at the fact that we don't have universal healthcare; liberals are mad at the Trump admin; conservatives are mad at the media.

You can take seriously the socialists' concern for the welfare of the least fortunate, the libertarians' worries about bureaucratic bloat and calcification, the nationalists' desire for robust self-sufficiency, and the conservatives' concern that the media isn't seeing a crisis situation clearly (though conservative media has arguably been even worse). In all likelihood, the stubborn people from the different groups counterbalance each other anyway. If your goal is to be a pragmatist and a pluralist, you can go ahead and, as MGMT sang, "take only what you need from [them]."
Oliver Traldi, Stopped Clocks in a Pandemic "Everyone claims the pandemic proves their preexisting political beliefs. Maybe everyone's right."

from change for the changeless

I've lived with six girl friends in my life. In my life I've lived with six women and all six of them have left me. And sooner or later, I'm going blame myself. But not today!
Jim Jeffries
I'm a nostalgic beast.

I figure we always have the present (maybe that's all we have!) but if you keep your eyes only forward, valuing the future but discounting the past, you're only going to get poorer as time goes on.

Even with relationships and what not that didn't work out the way I would have hoped (and for almost everyone in a relationship doesn't that tend to be "all of them save the current one"?) I like to frame those as good and interesting times that I once got to have experience than something I've lost.

Exes tolerate or accommodate my retrospecting nature to various degrees. I had an epiphany during a friendly "hey I'm in town" dinner with A. the other year. At one point I mentioned how I don't have an intuitive belief in personal growth or qualitative change. People can adjust their behaviors, and new habits can become more ingrained, but there's a core that is constant, and I'm not sure it develops all that much - every potential a person has is in there at the beginning, and at best things become unlocked.

(There's a lot in Ted Chiang's short story "The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling" that resonated for me... the sci-fi piece traces a parallel between a possible future technology of completely recording your own life to the adoption of writing and the cultural changes it wrought. But his quote landed for me: "And while I wasn't that man anymore, I couldn't deny that I was continuous with him." The way the characters recognize the difference but also the ongoing thread seemed instructive. Another particularly apropos quote to the narrator from his daughter: "'Fine,' she said. 'But let's be clear: you don't come running to me every time you feel guilty over treating me like crap. I worked hard to put that behind me, and I'm not going to relive it just so you can feel better about yourself.'"... Good to keep in mind as I talk with old loves.)

Anyway, A indulged me by listening to me talk about what happened with M (the one time a relationship got to the marriage stage before falling apart.) My take on it was: I think we started with a similar 1:1 outlook but over time M. started to grow in a future + family looking way, and I didn't give her enough indications that I was inclined or able to lean in that same way, even though I think that potential was there. But I will always resent that she didn't communicate that much at a time when it was still actionable, to give me time to adapt. (Maybe it's not fair of me to have expected to be told what to do, but on the other hand, I think that's what wedding vows are kind of about...)

So at that dinner with A, for the first time a newly amalgamated thought clicked...
I was carrying a grudge that M didn't give a guy who doesn't believe in personal growth a chance to have personal growth

Wow. It seems stupid that it took so long for me to put those threads together.

Ah well. I've had a note to write about "expecting people to let the guy who doesn't believe in change have a chance to change" for a long while, but that Jeffries quote above finally nudged me over - along with this review of an old video game console controller, where the gimmick is they try to figure out what family/relationship role any given controller plays:
The relevant quote:
[The Sega Master System Control Pad:]

Nothing is really wrong with them. They feel sturdy... when I hold them in my hands I'm not thinking about my death, I'm not feeling pure divine joy either but that's not their fault. They're doing their best.

Who are they in our family? They're not a sibling. Our relationship feels both more distant and more intimate. They're not our family dog, our dog is more energetic.

I feel like they're our first husband, who was fine but our lives just moved in different directions. Perfect!

Welcome to our family first husband. We'll always remember the time we shared as having been okay.
I guess I aim for "having been ok". (Reminds me of my first company, where one senior developer remarked we had "delusions of mediocrity.")

from on trusting intuition and face blindness

I was reading a short story that revolved around Capgras Delusion, the psychological disorder where someone becomes convinced that people whom they know well have been replaced with exact duplicates - victims of it will fabricate all kind of outlandish theories about the "swap" because the "imposter" simply isn't triggering the part of their brain that signals recognition, and so the victim literally can't believe that the person is who they are claiming to be.

This story explored what it would be like for an otherwise cognitively normal person to go through a double trauma: of having their loved ones taken from them and then realizing that the problem is with them. It was almost the trope of "unreliable narrator", but set up so the reader realized what was going on well before the main character worked it out.

I got to thinking of my deeply ingrained belief that meaning and value is an emergent property from groups, not something an individual carries inside-- could it be that that sense that truth is objective and shared, not ingrained and intuited, meant I would have less inclined to have this problem?

And then I started wondering, is my sense of relying less on intuitive judgement tying into my mild face-blindness? ("face-myopia") Like do other people get more ability to recognize and remember folks because they have a better developed and more trusted intuition?

It's a "Just-So" story without much backing, but seems almost as strong as my idea that my face-blindness is because I skim the world, getting the gist quickly and glossing over detail, and the contours that separate one face from another are that kind of detail...
TIL it's a "tough row to hoe" not a "tough road to hoe".

And to think I have pride calling myself the descendent of Ohio farm people! Yeesh!

from you can't stop reality from being real

Been thinking about how Flavor Flav once said "You can't stop reality from being real" - as Dr. Anthony Asadullah Samad points out, he meant the reality of America's race construct can't be hidden by not talking about it. That message is of crucial importance these days.

But to move from the cultural to the philosophical - for me that line is even more universal and absolute. It's why I'll never deeply understand/grok people who say how they are comfortable living intuitively. Like, there is a reality - albeit one that can never be confidently known - and either your intuition is in tune with it, or not, and I think it's pretty important to do that check as soon as possible!

I mean, it's more complicated than that since beliefs inform actions which in turn make changes in that shared reality. So there are feedback loops and the ability to kind of project your interpretation on others and so make the your subjective interpretation go from idea to a more important part of objective reality.... but still, at some point you get to the point where your intuitive model is self-consistent AND in tune with the physical universe we all inhabit, or it isn't.

(But that said - our intuitive selves HAVE done some deep learning - basically the "muscle memory" for the universe. That's profound stuff. But that doesn't mean it's right, because it may be a product of a bad environment, of consistently wrong inputs. For example: If you grow up in a ceaselessly racist environment - whether hard and explicit racism or the softer racism we get a ton of up here in the liberal north - than your intuitive mental "muscle memory" is likely to also be racist.)

I think too of my weird empathy for terrible "Only God Can Judge Me" tattoos. It's trite, and if you get such a tattoo many, many people will be eager and able to contradict that tattoo...but I find it to be a more important and true sentiment than, say, "Man is the Measure of All Things". Humanity is a bendy, irregular yardstick for all things. The "Measure" is the map, not the territory. If everyone was racist, that wouldn't make racism right.


from the hothouse flowers of morality thought experiments

Listened to a podcast with ethicist Peter Singer. He brought up the "sheriff problem", where a law enforcement officer has the option to prevent a sure riot or lynching of multiple people by framing one innocent person. (Damn it, come to think of it I listened to the podcast and made a note to write about it before the killing of George Floyd, which gives the racial aspect in that scenario a different frame.)

For a utilitarian ethicist like Singer, things boil down to a numbers game: if the sheriff can save 4 of the 5 by unfairly declaring one in the group the known guilty person, he should do so. Furthermore, he might pick the sacrificial candidate based on, say, which one had the least amount of years to live.

Many people are troubled by this conclusion... and I think they're right. As with other variants of the "trolley problem", these setups rely on perfect knowledge for the actors, or general complete faith from the story listener that the conditions of the story are absolute - and that's just not how the world works.

There will always be vast amounts of uncertainty in the relation between our actions and the outcome, and no situation lives in a vacuum. These hothouse flowers of morality tend to expire when exposed to the real world. If the sheriff was to placate the angry mob this way to prevent a riot, say, he's not just diffusing this situation in isolation; he's helping to set a precedent for how the world conducts itself. And we are compelled to struggle for world that leans towards justice, and the faith we should have is not in the people setting up a fake-y thought experiment like this one, but in the idea that a more just world is a better world.

Another Singer story is if about seeing a kid drowning in a pond - you're the only one who can save them, but you're going to ruin your expensive outfit. Should you do it? Most people would say yes, of course you should. Singer then parlays this into a question, if you'll sacrifice a few hundred dollars worth of nice clothes to save a kid, why aren't you sacrifice less money to anti-malaria campaigns that are almost guaranteed to save multiple kids?

Singer labels that disconnect as the "identified victim effect", and goes on to imply that it's clearly wrong. I put it in the same category as the observation that we feel more compassion (as measured by willingness to open our wallets) when shown a picture of a single suffering child than when shown a picture of that child with her brother - and the wallet clamps up further when shown a picture of the whole classroom full of hungry kids.

I guess I am more forgiving of that reaction than Singer. The "identified victim effect" relies on the reframing of a situation: from a distinct case where I an uniquely able to help, to "well that's the way the world is, and probably will remain, despite my efforts." I'd take that further: there are too many good causes out there! In Singer's logic, we probably should all become martyrs of self-sacrifice. Unless of course the libertarian stance is more correct, and intervening in patching bad situations just leads to people taking advantage of your kindness.

I'm no libertarian... but I would say you should often look to fix underlying causes and systematic problems rather than only dealing with symptoms as they emerge. And overall I have to admit, most everyone has more room to take more positive action than they are, and they should think about what fraction of their comfort might be usefully sacrificed in a way that has great net utility.

Finally, Singer talked about our squeamishness in dealing with hopeless cases of babies with spina bifida. (I believe he got deplatforemed in New Zealand for this) In the worst, most tragically helpless cases a doctor might suggest not intervening. But actively ending a life is generally off the table both legally and morally. Or in a similar note, Melissa and I were watching Seth Rogen's "Hilarity for Charity" for Alzheimer's support. It got us talking about end of life decisions, and why euthanasia is often in the realm of unthinkable for many people, despite the overwhelming burden on families and the fact that the victim is at a point where they can't possibly be getting any happiness out of life.

And again, it's because these situations don't happen in a vacuum. There is a wise hesitation before granting permission to use all the life-ending tools we have, because even if the cases seem obvious and clear-cut and on the side of preventing suffering now, it means we now have a powerful and dangerous option in the world, and can imagine the argument shifting in ways we know are unacceptable. "Why this group of people aren't REALLY people... they can't be happy with this demi-life they are 'living'... we should do us and them all a favor and end things."

I'm in favor of pragmatism and maybe even utilitarianism and looking to maximize happiness, buta ny system of philosophy and morality has to take the uncertainty and interconnected/precedent setting nature of their conclusions into account, or else it's not a very good system. (This might be an argument for why long-lasting systems of morality - like religion - should be regarded with more respect than modern jerky atheists with their clever thought experiments and hypotheticals would grant them.)
I recall a discussion somewhere of Singer's drowning-child example that pointed out that by Singer's own reasoning, you should actually let the kid drown and save your expensive suit so you can sell it and give the money to UNICEF.
Matt M. on facebook, in reply to the above.

Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.
John Wayne

Two sentence horror stories

from infinity and theology

Turning to reading and thinking abstract stuff about the mathematics of infinity as a break from thinking about the condition of the world and a summer that has the potential to be even stupider and more destructive than the Spring...
Cantor's theory constitutes "direct evidence that actually-infinite sets can be understood and manipulated, truly *handled* by the human intellect," Wallace wrote in Everything and More. What makes this achievement so heroic, he observed, is the awful abstractness of infinity: "It's sort of the ultimate in drawing away from actual experience," a negation of "the single most ubiquitous and oppressive feature of the concrete world--namely that everything ends, is limited, passes away."
Jim Holt, "When Einstein Walked with Gödel"
The idea of deeply understanding the properties of infinity - an abstract idea that isn't a part of our actual manifest universe, yet whose principles we can ascertain - it's a mind stretcher for sure.

It brings to mind Anselm's Ontological Proof for the Existence of God, the idea that since God is defined as that which nothing greater can be conceived, and the something with the property of existing is greater than something without that property, God must exist.

But. What if not getting the Divine hands dirty via contact with a messed up, finite lot like us is a greater property too?


That's one of my problems with abstract Theology - it seems to so often to have an agenda of proving a specific brand of Religion plausible - and from there True.

I think I'm overdue for reading Karen Armstrong's "A Short History of Myth", or maybe one of her other books. It was absolutely eye-opening to understand that even staying within the context of Christianity there's been diversity in thinking about God.

I think any thoughtful read of the Bible would see this multifaceted nature (the Trinity being the most well-known aspect of that) - an old Testament God who walks the Earth, who can be bargained with, who is helpless to give his favored people victory because the other side has chariots with steel wheels, and then the transition to the New Testament, the different kind of story Jesus was preaching... not to mention the reckless "oh it's going to be bad but good in the end" nature of Revelation. But, one of the tenets of American Folk Christianity is that God is Eternal and Unchanging, and there's a dissonance there that I think most practitioners don't grapple with. (But, I shouldn't go so far as to say I know they haven't grappled with it, that's a bit presumptuous.)

I think back to Mr. Johnson - I worked in his independent pharmacy during middle school and high school. He was a huge hearted man (with maybe some feet of clay from my lefty perspective - but a giant of generosity despite any of that.) Of all the men who offered to sort of step-in after the death of my dad, it was his offer I accepted the most, and we'd have dinners at restaurants with wide-ranging, man-to-young-man talks.

At one of the later dinners, I confessed my new-found skepticism/agnosticism. I was struck by his confidence that I'd grow out of it. But even now I don't know. I'm not like a strident atheist or anything, but if basic Christianity was as fundamentally true- as overarchingly true, as universally true, as explains-everything-true, as would-be-true-even-if-no-one-believed-it-true, I still can't get over the basic dilemma that caused my turn towards skepticism as a teen at Church Band camp - there were too many other religions in the world, and logic and empathy implied I should assume they take their faith as deeply as the people around me were taking theirs. And all those religions couldn't be That Kind of True.

So I guess I might able to accept a smaller form of Christianity; part of a many-paths interpretation, not taking John 14:6 ("No one comes to the Father except through me") quite so literally. And also looking to its strength as a deep cultural tradition, the wisdom embedded, and regardless of the fudamentalist claims of unchanging truth, the way it has evolved. And what people have drawn from it - sometimes for the worse but often for the better.
(followup thought on FB) I'd say, sometimes it's easier for me to appreciate what other religions bring to the table, vs the one I've been soaking in all my life. Like Islam, it's kind of cool that there's more consistency to the writing, and in some sense the Koran doesn't suffer the vagaries of translation - (though there are some interpretations of it I don't think pass humanitarian muster). Or a lot of positive things about the community and continuity of Judaism. (With some family roots there, albeit ones then filtered through activist Evangelical christianity.) Or the philosophical underpinnings of Buddhism. Or maybe most strikingly, the "many faces of God" approach of Hinduism, along with the time scale of its cosmology -- some how or other their estimates at the lifespan of the universe seem more in tune with science's best observations than any literal interpretation of Christianity...

But my understanding of all those faiths is rather sophomoric.

from "What's a persistent theme in your life?"

On FB my bandmate Rayna Jhaveri asked
What's a persistent theme in your life?"
My answer was
Kirk Israel thinking that there's objective truth, but you can never be certain you know it, which makes me more empathetic (since other people might have a better view of The Objective Truth) and less empathetic (since I don't value their subjective truth, nor my own.)
Kirk Israel perpetual existentialism! So does it annoy you when people say "know your truth"?
yeah, My truth is that everyone's truth is bunk, including my own. we must always strive for a validation we can never reach.
Sebastian Lopez:
Kirk when you "let go" more you'll
Find more peace
I'm trying to come out of this conundrum
The irritable self wants to establish truth and argue
My advice is to forgive oneself
By letting go,
Even if that requires effort
Then the larger picture gets a lot clearer
( I know you don't know me. I'm Rayna's friend)

My long winded answer:
Hey Sebastian! Actually, when combined with the safety and privilege I enjoy in life, mine is a pretty peaceful mindset! Relative to many of my fellow lefties I have to avoid "both sides-er-ism", and I have trouble with the endlessly fomented outrage, as justified as that can feel in this age of racism and inequality and anti-expertism,

(I don't think the left and the right have equally objectively correct views- but I know the people on the right aren't the villains in their own story either, and are struggling for "good" causes. Possibly the wrong "good" causes, which is bad.)

To me, deep and abiding faith is a weird lack of empathy with all those people who don't share your faith. How could they all be so misled? So we can squint and have a "many paths" interpretation, the "know your truth" bit Rayna mentioned, but I find that deeply unsatisfying - a Truth that isn't universal isn't a real truth.

And what if the big underlying truth behind everything is an existentialist giant animated spinning GIF going "LOL NOTHING MATTERS"? Shouldn't we each then be free to find/know/make our own truth? In my way of thinking, no. Even if all truths are relative, with no rockbed of absolutism, some are relatively "better" than others (tho of course there isn't a single axis of worse/better, but still) and so people should be working to figure out which one is best.

But that "relative best truth" might easily have different faces, it might say that the faith you should practically live is context dependent - like if you're raised in a Christian family, the best path for you is likely to be a good Christian, but if you're raised in a Hindu family, the best path for you is to be a good Hindu. But even then, when people do their own casual "comparative religions" study, they tend to appeal to core humanistic principles. Truth is not democratic, Reality can't be put to a vote... but you go against widely held consensus at your own rhetorical peril, and if people from many faiths say "well this death cult is probably tragically misguided, for these instinctive humanistic principles", then I would nominate those instinctive humanistic principles as being closer to the "relative best truth" than any of the separate faiths.

(but again, a caveat: you can come up with cases where our moral intuitions are suspect! People have LESS empathy when shown a pair of siblings suffering than one child alone, and even less when shown a whole classroom-ful... I think it's because a single case of suffering seems like an anomaly we might be able to help with, but once the numbers go up, it just feels like the way of the world... so our instincts and appeals to human feeling are unreliable judges. Emotion and Intellect have to work it out, together.)

I suspect ALL human motivating force comes from an intrinsic emotion. (And at least one form of depression comes from that motivating force just running out, leaving an intellect intact but utterly drained of vital energy.) The paradox In my case is my intrinsic overwhelming emotion is to not be controlled by mere intrinsic emotion, to always second guess and look for that which can be externally justified. (It come from the kind of Christianity I was raised in and then personally fostered as a kid, a Sky God figure I could have a tenuous direct connection to, and then who would judge me for infinite stakes at the end.)

Sorry for the length of this! I probably coulda/shoulda left off after the first two paragraphs! But I find it satisfying to try and summarize where I'm philosophically at, and this seemed like a bully pulpit.

Some fun emulations of LCD games. Mario's Cement Factory is especially good.

I guess I didn't watch much "Friends"... I was today years old when I found out Ross and Monica were siblings.

from May 9, 2020

God's covenant with his people begins with a promise to the old and childless Abraham that his descendants will be as many as the stars in the sky. This promise is advanced with the birth of a son, Isaac, but God commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac atop Mount Moriah. From the historical point of view, we know that this is a test of faith: Abraham will bring Isaac up the mountain and bind him for the sacrifice, but God will intervene before it is completed. Yet it is in the nature of such a test that one can't *know* it to be a test at the time. Abraham must show himself willing to do something inexcusable, and the fact that he never actually does it is beside the point. What's more, he does not tell anyone--not even Isaac--what he is doing. He suffers the anxiety of that trip up Mount Moriah alone, suffers even the possibility that he has misunderstood God's command, that he is about to do something unforgivable. Finally, having passed the test, he descends the mountain again and returns to his old life, proceeding as though nothing had happened--as indeed, objectively, nothing did.

For Kierkegaard, this was the nature of the truly religious life. It entailed an inward turning toward God, one that could not be reduced to a moral law. In the preceding decades, great effort had been made to rationalize Christianity and situate it as the foundation of a universally binding ethical code. The problem, from Kierkegaard's perspective, was that Jesus did not call us to obey a set of rules; he called us to love. It cannot be that adherence to an ethical code is the highest life, because it is possible to obey every rule placed in front of you without ever feeling love in your heart. To the aesthetic and the ethical was added a third category, the religious, which was beyond both.
As a person not blessed with faith, I think a lot about the story of the Binding of Isaac. Actually, I do have a strong unwavering faith- but is wrapped in an impenetrable shell of anti-faith: at the core, there exists an Objective Truth, but it is obscured in the certainty of uncertainty. You can make decent guesses at the shape and form of it, but asserting you know it is a kind of blasphemy.

In this context, being asked to do an apparently monstrous deed in the name of faith is really tough to distinguish from being asked to a monstrous deed in the name of tremendous self-delusion.

Which is why I lean Humanist - in the face of certain uncertainty we have to lean into principles such as the golden rule, and other truths that seem pretty close to universal, and have some hope that common ground across faiths tells us something of what the obscured Truth actually is.

(Also I feel like I should know more about Kierkegaard than I do, given how cool his name is.)
Not really my cuppa tea, but sometimes I think about the sexy yeti from the Church of the Subgenius...

Lisa Hanawalt of Tuca+Birdie and Bojack Horseman (and Baby Geniuses podcast) wrote a comic on Pride and Prejudice and Horniness during a time of quarantine...

Michael Sorkin's 250 Things an Architect Should Know

from the bellcurve of economic suck

Dan Ariely on procrastination - he's been through a lot of harsh stuff, and he's an advocate for "reward substitution", giving yourself immediate rewards when having to toil at a project with a payoff that is far-off or uncertain.

Of course it takes a lot of discipline to do that; you're making semi-arbitrary pairings, rewards that don't directly come from the effort, and you have to be in control enough to not just gobble the reward without the work.

I am somewhere in the middle of the bellcurve of economic suck - a curve that has slid suckwards for nearly everyone. I'm between the folks who really feel the wolf at the door on one end, where rent and bills are absolutely looming on one side, and maybe with work experience that only makes sense in social times - and my peers who are muddling through, adapting to work from home but with something like stability, collaborating with people they know from the before times. Hopefully closer to the latter group, but we'll see.

(And that's the bellcurve for people who have stayed healthy, or muddled through a mild or medium case- but with 33K deaths in the US alone, how many of those people wish they had the luxury of fretting about the economics of it.)

I miss the goal structure of the workday - the fuzziness between worklife and homelife still got a little weird, but I could knock off at the end of a day and then think about what else I wanted to do. And I can still do that a bit, but it's always under the spectre of how maybe by not grinding more, I'm going to make my life worse for myself and loved ones.

And in the shadow of the religiosity I brewed for myself as a kid, that guilt feels a ton like a great example of the consequences of sin; in this case the sin of not going at 100% all day long, all weekend long. Trying to go flat out all the time is a bad idea for a number of reasons - among them, a denial that some large percentage of the final outcome will be the result of luck or good or bad poor decisions I made "in the before times"

Tangent: I found this poster on tumblr:

As one commentator said - "Farm equipment association going hard w the truisms". But also a reminder that things are bigger than we are, and our own efforts are necessary but not guaranteed sufficient to the outcomes we most want.

The work/relax decisions remind me of why I'm not much of an entrepreneur - unless you're wildly successful at making bank, able to turn on the cash spigot whenever you need it, life is always going to feel full of these tradeoffs of work and play. I guess good entrepreneurs enjoy the hustle, the chance to make the big win and know they did it themselves. (It's akin to why I don't have to worry about becoming a gambling addict, the rush of the win doesn't feel better to me than the grind of the losing.)

I'm (as always) a bit full of myself but I feel like I would be a productive, creating person even without having to find channels that still pay the bills. (Which is why I still permit these idle daydreams of some unsuspected rich benefactor swooping in and granting me early semi-retirement, freeing me to make porchfest websites and band stuff and teaching people to program and make virtual toys and also more comics about coping with death, and maybe even coping with the stuff that comes along before...)
Im sorry if I am wrong. My feeling and this is just my opinion : is if people are losing their businesses and homes after only a few weeks then were they actually thriving in the first place. If they were so strong they should be able to survive. Just saying.
Joyce Kelly, a friend on FB from my Salvation Army connections.
I think it's a great point on the fragility of our economic lives. As much as I question his wisdom on the economy and pretty much everything else, Trump was keeping the slope he inherited from the Obama-era recovery going - but there's a superficiality to so much of that. There are so many problems we haven't worked out - how to make a society that blends and balances capitalism's "Freedom To" and democratic-socialism's "Freedom From" so that we try to iron out some of the more egregious instances of bad fortune (being born in the wrong neighborhood, to poor parents, or coping with being in/of a subculture that is discriminated against) while keeping the incentives alive, the connection between hard, smart work and better results intact.
The risk of getting sick from handling mail or packages is extremely low and, at this point, only theoretical. There are no documented cases of someone getting sick from opening a package or reading a newspaper.

But that doesn't mean you shouldn't take precautions. After handling mail or packages or reading the newspaper, dispose of the packaging and wash your hands. If you still feel especially anxious about it, take guidance from the New England Journal study and just let mail and packages sit for 24 hours before handling them.
TL:DR; far and away the biggest threats seem to be proximity to infected folks (whether they are showing symptoms or not)

Also, clothing isn't so likely to carry contamination away, the way air flows around us and not into us means that most particles are ending up on the floors etc.
Facetimed with Cora. We co-played for some of it, her with her kinetic sand on her end and me with my Lego on mine... wasn't super interactive but probably pretty par for the course for two only children :-D

Working the message of embracing challenges, or as she put it's "pushing herself" - going for multiple layers with sand, or a snake complete with head and hissing tail etc.

Of course, having watched the end of "Lego Masters" - humbling. Though it makes me think it must be a very different experience playing with a vast supply of well-sorted Lego - for most kids, it's a resource management game (actually reading the interviews with some of the contestants, you could notice that some had much more Lego Privilege than others...)

from objectively objectionable

I've been thinking about these 3 comic panels, after an inadvertent offense on my part the other day:

I'm mulling this over in the context of increased awareness of my deeply ingrained worldview, the closest thing to faith that I possess: objective Truth - the most correct and universal way of interpreting a situation and providing us instructional "shoulds" - exists, but it is obscure, and it is as incorrect to lightly dismiss someone else's belief in what that Truth is (they may be more correct than you!) as it is to say "the objective Truth doesn't exist, and so therefore everyone can have their own Truth that is equally as valid."

In this context, Steve Trevor's semi-apology has three different framing interpretations:
  1. Steve's blunder should be overlooked, because his intent was good
  2. Steve's blunder should be dwelled upon, because Wonder Woman was offended
  3. Steve's blunder should be dwelled upon, because what he said was objectively objectionable
The question is complicated by.... eh, identity politics is the wrong word. But a sense of every action of a person springs from who they fundamentally are, at least at that moment. So when there is a transgression, it's framing the story of who that person is. Like to put it in the most fraught terms: a person says something identified as racist. So that person is *a* racist. And in a polarized age, that would mean they are on the wrong side -- and with a sense of identity as destiny, on the wrong side not just for the incident, but for all of life. The apple don't fall too far from the tree.

From a gender and race studies perspective, the crucial point is: who gets to control the narrative. Who determines what is objectively objectionable? No wonder transgressors get so defensive; they are often acting from a place of security and privilege, and that position is threatened if it is the transgressed against who are in control of reality and interpretation.

I guess the defense from the transgressors side is: but you know, some kind of reality does exist, it's crucial that we be as sober as possible in our assessment of it, and to allow anyone to manufacture insult + injury would lead to chaos, the potential for anyone to sow invisible rhetorical minefields of tremendous destructive power with claimed offence.

But neither side will fully trust the other. The accused transgressor can claim good or neutral intentions, but that claim is of an internal state and as difficult to prove as the received transgression. Furthermore, there's the "ignorance of the law is no defense" aspect too - that people should be expected to understand what is offensive, and that a kind of willful or neglectful ignorance of that is in itself an offence.

I do hope people get better at giving each other the benefit of the doubt: that felt offences are real, and being described proportionately, but that relatively few people we're engaging with have malice in their heart and are being deliberately offensive, and also a hurtful remark doesn't have to be a defining characteristic of that speaker.

from The Profane in Me Salutes the Profane in You.

I'm reading David Whyte's "The Three Marriages" (people's lifetime of a commitment to a relationship with a partner, to their work, to themselves) these days and thinking on how the externality of God, and the concept of there being a true measure and judge of all things, really molded me, became the fundamental story of who I am and how I relate to the world. I'm not saying it was the direct or only way to grow out of the particular religious upbringing I had, but I wonder if other faiths would have left me in a more useful, more self-actualized place.

The Hindu "Namaste", "The Divine in Me salutes the Divine in You" never really rang true for me, because I have no feeling for there being divine in me. Or you. Or anyone (In fact I half-jokingly asked my yoga instructor if there was any gesture saying "The Profane in Me salutes the Profane in You.")

Would Catholicism's greater respect for wonder and mystery have left me more open to a belief in inner light? That's just a scatter-shot guess. I know some Catholics, or former Catholics, who do seem to have that kind of ease, and others who seem to have imbibed more of the guilt and fear.

I've mused before on growing up as not just as the Sweet Talkin' Son of a Preacher Man, but as a Salvation Army "Officer's Kid" - witnessing my parents being commanded on where to live and what to do, pseudo-military style, their home provided and furnished and then changed up at will by an organization which in turn set itself as commanded by God... yow! That is more of a direct and all-encompassing God->kid chain of command than most kids deal with! And I think more so than for preacher's kids in other Protestant churches where the Pastor and Congregation have more autonomy in choosing one another. (Catholics of course have even bolder claims from God on down, but it doesn't become a family matter.)

And I guess there might have been some synergy with my self-aggrandizing as a clever, precocious kid. Parallel to me trying to force a love of jazz and classical, since that's what smart people liked, I fostered a love of science, since that was what smart people believed! Plus, as with my religion, science was an externalized source of The Truth. In both cases, the only meaningful - or perhaps transcendent - role the individual has is as a conduit for that external Truth. Everything else is just mundane and arbitrary.

As a teen, I had to shift away from active faith, when considering how many different faiths there were. if a Faith was True, if it represented a supernatural or at least objective absolute truth, then how on earth (or from heaven) did we get to have so many religions? What hubris the Believer, the person sure of their faith, displays -- to presume that all the believers in incompatible cosmologies are either deluded or being disingenuous! Absolute Faith seems so incompatible with universal empathy.

I suppose you can squint and take a "many paths" interpretation of all or at least most of the world's religions. Again, if I had more of a feeling for my own inner light, a better intuition on the legitimacy of self-actualization, "many paths" would feel like less milquetoast, makeshift compromise to me than it does now.

Instead, I guess Science is weirdly more compatible with the religious notions that formed me- science strives for doubt and skepticism and constantly putting itself to the test against The Truth, which it assumes exists, and would by definition be the same for all people who took the time to measure it accurately.

But of course Science is limited. It shouldn't be mistaken for philosophy, because "You can't get ought from is". Once your goal is selected, science can be useful in aligning your methods with your target, but it doesn't have much to say on what that target Should Be. (Maybe science can give you a better idea of the possibility space? But maybe not, since almost by definition that extends to the dark edges science has not yet brought light to.)

Yeesh. I'm in my mid-40s now and had my crisis of faith when I was in my mid-teens. So it took me about twice as long to figure out what was going on than it did to go on in the first place!

So I navel gaze a lot, but I appreciate when a new interpretation seems to provide a better explanation for aspects of me that have always seemed kind of weird. I've always noticed my own lack of a need for privacy... maybe that's just because I don't have a meaningful inner life worth shielding- and by trying to put good stuff out there, I can create value for the group (which is what matters) as well as get validation that is always best when it's external, because I don't trust my own self-serving evaluation to be as in line with the objective truth as what outsiders can tell me.

And a lack-of-inner-light helps explain my skepticism about the idea of personal growth (and resulting indifference to literature involving character arcs). I mean, there's just not much there to grow! People are who they are, they don't change all that much over time, myself included. Behaviors can change but it always seems to take a tremendous force of will.

I guess I should credit my estranged debating partner EB for cottoning on to some of this. He's noted a phenomenon where he tells me an idea that I reject at first and later come around to, often forgetting to credit him for it - his take being I just can't accept something if it comes from him, that I'm perpetually ad-hominem about it all.

I don't think that's quite fair; he's presented difficult to accept truths that are often married with things that I believe are untrue. Like he was right to note some of the influence the Salvation Army had in externalizing approval for me but also (operating under the misassumption that most of my dinners were communal) he'd go on to assume that's because I live in fear of rejection from the group - like if they rejected me, I wouldn't eat! But in practice I'm kind of indifferent to people's opinion except as a way of getting to an objective evaluation.

For example, I was always willing to stand up to teachers if they were being unjust - if a fellow student missed a question I got right, but thought it was an unfair trick quick question I happened to see through - I would fight for that student. (Sometimes I was an argumentative pain in the butt.) The teacher's authority can only rightfully come from being righteous in an objective sense. I suspect EB's irritation sometimes springs from me paying insufficient heed to his authority - and again, he's a really good thinker - he finds insult in the time it takes me to come around, and the places where I never will.

So I've been consistent for the first 8 or so days of my "walk half an hour over lunchbreak" club at work. A few days a coworker joined me, but mostly I listen to podcasts.

Another daily ritual is an after-lunch popsicle - uh, freezer bar. Whatever the hell Outshine bars are even when it's the creamy type.

New idea: I can't have my daily popsicle 'til I get to Inbox Zero. I've really been struggling with that lately, but it's a classic case where procrastinating on it hardly ever makes it better.

from inner-me vs inner-child vs inner-dog

I'm thinking about taking a break from my current therapist Terry Hunt, whom I've been seeing for ten years- I rate him very highly and he has helped me figure some things out that otherwise would have remained obscure, but I am worried he's become more of a "rent-a-dad" figure of paternal-ish approval for me, feeling a lack I had since my dad died during my teenage years.

Also I think there might be other approaches - specifically IFS, Internal Family Systems - that might be better designed to help answer what seems like the next most important question: what is the most proper and/or useful stance for my inner-voice "rational" self to have for my subconscious, my intuitive self? Are they peers, like pop-psychology is right and each corresponds to a whole hemisphere of my brain? Or does being "co-equal" give my emotional brain too much credit? Are they both "really me"?

As a child I developed a heightened sense of rationality - I would someday have to justify myself, via words and logic, to a righteous God who might choose to send my soul to burn forever in hell. So what my intuitive, feeling self wanted - its mortal concerns vs my immortal destiny - just didn't matter and so my gut self must be forever subjugated to my rational self. Even after I was no longer a person of faith, the rationality and sense of "ultimately true judgement is external" lingered, and I fear it stunted my intuitive self, badly. Observing people at work I think that when my intuitive self does act out, it is more childish and less controlled than those of my peers (but of course it's tough to know what their inner lives are like...)

So in that case, maybe "inner-child" is the best explanation. But maybe that gives it almost too much credit - when I realize my intuitive sense has been lurking and waiting for a moment of distraction to get me to grab that cookie from the kitchen I had "decided" to avoid, I think of a dog waiting for the humans to look the other way before snatching the meat from the table. And that side of me rarely manifests itself with human language. So... "inner-dog"? (Or maybe just the elephant in Haidt's "Rider and the Elephant" metaphor.)

Or- given the varied ways the intuitive side of me expresses itself, the patch work of competing desires - or the way it seems like a feeling anxiety starts as just a pang, and then I have SOME control over whether that feeling takes over my whole emotional self, or can be sweet-talked into calming down- it feels like a herd or pack of animals. Like one member of the herd is anxious, and tries to get the whole herd to gallop off. (I think IFS thinks a lot about this kind of internal crowd, except instead of heard they talk of managers and firefighters protecting the vulnerable exiles. I think IFS encourages visualizing those members of the group to be dramatized as full-on people, which is one part I'm still skeptical of.)


After years of my navel-gazing journey, I'm delighted when I realize I've figured something out that used to be mysterious. When I was in my 20s my friend and coworker Paul put it as "Kirk is his own Enigma- 'I just don't understand myself!'" but years later I have a better sense of some of my own inner workings.

Just this morning I realized that the sense of religiosity I talked about above explains a long-running characteristic of mine: I don't have a strong sense of privacy. I blog nearly everything, because my own personal enjoyment doesn't count for much. Everything only has meaning in a context of connections with other people - to me, value is an emergent property that rises of from groups. I don't have self-actualized value at all, so I put everything out there. (This can lead be to come across as self-absorbed, and it's a fair cop, but what people who accuse me of that don't always get is I think everyone should be just as self-absorbed. It's not that I find myself so fascinating relative to them, it's just that I need a public context to generate and evaluate the value I do have... and I'm the only person I can grant myself permission to think closely about.)

Anyone watching Lego Masters?

This last one was kind of weird - odd that Manny / Nestor team get so little attention in the thing. Also the "pick the 4 most struggling teams for a pep talk" was so pointless, I kept waiting for some reveal but it was just filler...

(I'd love to figure out where to watch the UK version.)

I wish they'd have a website with timelapses of all the build stations...

from we are the albertine algorithm

Minds are simply what brains do.
Marvin Minsky, "The Society of Mind"
Consciousness is what running the algorithm feels like from the inside.
Scott Albertine
Reading the book for the former quote, and the latter was from a coworker talking on our feeling of awareness and seeming ability to choose, despite being in a universe that seems governed by physical laws of cause and effect that precede our birth. Or as another author put it:
Our daughter's choices--like everything else--had been written in stone at the birth of the universe, but that information could only be decoded by becoming her along the way.
Greg Egan, "Singleton"
Lately I've been thinking about "Free Will", and the powerful feeling that we are making choices, despite us being marionettes with strings (held either by the statistical predestination or quantum "randomness") of the whole universe's history.

My current guess is that when I am saying "I am choosing", the problem isn't with "choosing" - my "Albertine Algorithm" is going one way or the other and it might not be clear to an outsider - or even an insider - which way it will go, which choice it will make, ahead of time - but with the "I"... like the Buddhists have cottoned on to, there isn't a "there there", a little part of my mind that is the "real me". To the extent I am anything, I am this (sometimes painfully) self-aware and self-monitoring algorithm all the way down.
And of course the algorithm is far more complex than the ones we work with all the time... Consciousness is the model of the world complex enough that the model understands its own place in the world, and make guesses and predictions about its own abilities to make changes in the world. (And one take away from Minsky's book is that the algorithm is composed of lots and lots of similar competing little algorithms...)
"Can I Get a Witness?!" "Testify!" Welp, guess not, LOL.

Between Trump getting his wish for No Witnesses (as would any wanna-be Mafia Don), Brexit clunking forth, and Coronavirus, kind of a shit week.

from the art of too many books

A new IKEA bookshelf, with dedicated tsundoku space
My friend John linked to this great article on The value of owning more books than you can read ("Or, how I learned to stop worrying and love my tsundoku" - note, that page is oddly ad-heavy, consider viewing with an Ad-Blocker or in Safari's bare "Reader" mode) The upshot is, rather than being a swaggering display of "look how much I've read!" an overflowing set of bookshelves can carry a more balanced message of "look at how much I have to learn... but would like to!". The Japanese term for this reading material purchased but left unread is "tsundoku" (As the article says, that's a more sensible term than "antilibrary" which some posit.)

And you can have those legions of unread volumes without overmuch fear of being an academic poseur - in the Paris Review Umbert Eco cites Pierre Bayard's "How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read":
Good libraries hold several millions of books: even if we read a book a day, we would read only 365 a year, around 3,600 in ten years, and between the ages of ten and eighty we'll have read only 25,200.
Bayard's book goes on to explain how educated people can still have a reliable awareness of the gist of important works. (I find that view approving of summaries intuitively appealing - there are many works -- books, movies, tv series etc -- where I'd rather read the wikipedia summary of than sacrifice to take on the original content in its entirety. As long as I am suitably humble about the second hand nature of my knowledge, I'll be OK.)

All this is an interesting contrast to some of the current hip minimalism, that whole KonMari thing. I've noted that sometimes in decluttering, we are closing the door on alternate paths, repressing hopes for our future or alternative selves that have made more time to enjoy various pursuits. Thus, an appreciation of tsundoku can seem to be the antithesis of that minimalist impulse to pare down to what is truly actively enjoyed! --Though in practice a good curation might still leave the heart of those unread libraries intact, as long as it's worthy stuff that remains.

Understanding how little of the vast universe of worthy material out there we can possibly consume is one part of accepting the finitude of life. For people who turned away from intense religiosity in their youth, it can be very painful - as children so many of us were promised infinite time! (For a delicious deep pondering of that, Julian Barnes "A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters" ends with a study of how ill-equipped we are to deal with a vision of heaven roughly like our own reality, but with every whim fulfilled, and extended to infinity. Or more simply, as Susan Ertz puts it: "... millions long for immortality who don't know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.")

Lately I've been having some parallel coming-to-terms with my own chronological limits, the curation of my own free time that I am compelled to undertake. Even apart from my concerns of "not reading enough", I used to carve out more time for video games - both for the playing of them, and then for the programming of my own humble toys and games. When I assess where that time might be going, I see time practicing and performing with community and activist bands - a high quality activity on many levels, but not inexpensive in terms of hours. Ditto for the work I do on Porchfest websites, empowering organizers to manage these lovely weekend events where scores of musicians can connect with legions of listeners. And I take time to be with my sweetie Melissa - from just being around each other to more intimate times to taking in enjoyable streaming series and movies, that all enhances my life as well.

(Of course, one aspect of many one-on-one relationships is that whole wedding-ish vow of "forsaking all others" - this is yet another parallel to the unread books issue... humans have a distinct talent for making ourselves miserable playing "What-If" and "Mighta-Been" - that's some of why I got a tattoo saying "THIS FATE" - Amor Fati, the love of the situation actually is, not these other worlds that don't materially exist.)

Learning to love the potentials that will be forever untapped is an art unto itself! Cultivate a contentment with discontent, a certain satisfaction with an unfulfillable aspiration...
Had we but World enough, and Time,
This coyness Lady were no crime.
Andrew Marvell, "To His Coy Mistress"
This poem's open rattling in my head after this morning's ramble...

from 4 little somethings about nothing

  1. I've always loved the Edie Brickell song "Nothing", and how it plays with the concept of nothing as it's own thing and nothing as the lack of anything:
    Are you mad at me? Let it show
    Don't tell me nothing I don't wanna know
    There's nothing I hate more than nothing
    Nothing keeps me up at night
    I toss and turn over nothing
    Nothing could cause a great big fight
    Hey what's the matter?
    Don't tell me nothing.
  2. Lately I've been noticing the word "nothingburger". It's a pretty damning put down - tapping into the visceral need for sustenance but then pulling a bait and switch, leaving folks metaphorically chewing on air.
  3. Growing up with certain kinds of religiosity can cultivate a sense of personal nothingness that can be hard to shake. Ideally, yes, we are precious because of that spark of divinity God graced us each with, but you know, one's own finite nature divided by the infinite nature of God... that's about as close to zero, or nothing, as you can get. And I think that has had a negative synergy with my fixed mindset - it's hard to think of growth and development of nothing, there's no there there!
  4. Moving to cosmology - so why is there something rather than nothing? ( "And if there were nothing? You'd still be complaining!") My favorite theory scientists have is that nothingness is surprisingly unstable - at the quantum level particles are popping in and out of the nothingness all the time, and it might be they key to understanding the origin of the universe. Nature abhors a vacuum, but a vacuum kind of abhors itself, it turns out.

Dunno if it's weird to have a chip on my shoulder about being part of Generation X...
Doesn't feel like the most rigorous study - but this is why I tuba dance.

from growth and judginess

Grooming old blog entries I found this article about comic artist James Sturm giving up the Internet (which made it so much less convenient for him to get reference art, for starters.)

He solicited letters during his Internet-fasting-process, and the article has some of those turned into comic panels. This one struck me:

It reminded me of my estranged debate partner and friend EB, whose frustration at himself and me for our respective bad habits was sometimes palpable - and to be fair, he was pretty good at making mindful choices and exclusions to cultivate his life.

For me and my fixed mindset, it’s weird, the feeling of self-hatred referenced in the comic is more “you can’t grow unless you declare your previous self an idiot for getting yourself into these patterns in the first place"… but your previous self was probably about as smart as you are now! (See Tallulah Bankhead's "If I had to live my life again, I'd make the same mistakes, only sooner.")

Obviously that fixed-mindset stance excludes the whole “learning from experience” possibility and is therefore kind of stupid… but recognizing that there were better decisions that could have been made earlier requires a judginess I find difficult to muster for other people, much less myself.

(Compare to EB, who judges freely and often, with great and often justified confidence, but some terrific misses -- bold misjudgements. For me, a fear of such misjudgements - that I asserted my subjective viewpoint over somebody else's, and was unjust and unempathetic and wrong to do so - keeps me from judging much in the first place.)

I mean when you look at your current habits and how they were formed - you can guess it would have been better to have lived otherwise, but you don’t know, and so the mandate for mustering the willpower to make a change is that much less…

This all brings to mind one final quote, also from an autobiographical comic:
Sure it mattered. When you get to my age you discover that everything mattered. Life isn't a series of good and bad choices. It's harder to steer it one way or the other than most people think. You just get pulled along. You look back and you wonder 'could I have changed the course of my life?' Maybe you could've ... but it would probably have taken a tremendous force of will.
Old Man in Seth's "It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken"

Following up on that to EB:
I guess you and I would both agree incorrectly judging something is wrong - especially when you're forcing your opinion over someone who ends up being correct. But for you it's an acceptable (and necessary) cost of doing business, and hopping to the meta-level, endlessly not judging can be judged to be a bad life pattern as well. All while my delicate ego keeps me as far away from being incorrect as possible and only asserting things I am overwhelmingly confident about.

My first attempt at jogging was in middle school- I think to try and improve my gym class grade or something, around the hallways of the school. I remember the gym teacher responsible for that discouraging me from listening to music on a walkman, citing something about blocking alpha or beta waves or what not. Was there something to that or was it just new-age-y hokum?
Content Warning: Diet and Food Stuff
(I have at least one friend who reacts badly to this stuff, so, fair warning.)

Realizing calorie counting works better than good-intentioned food journaling.... Kind of obvious, I suppose. But part of my fluffy cloud of economic privilege is that I measure the cost of food in calories not dollars - and so given that the lunches and snacks at work are free to me dollar wise, I guess I need the accountancy of quantifying the calories, rather than trying to juggle my good intentions against my random hungry impulses.

Calorie counting that for a few days - even though I have to guess, or go out for a Blaze pizza or Chipotle salad not for nutritional reasons but because I can have higher confidence estimates of the calories - has given me a satisfying feeling of control (which I know is a fraught thing for people with more serious food issues.) In fact, I'm able to have more generous evening meals because I know what the numbers are.

And without calorie counting... it's like "all this food is free! In both money and calories! So why not?"

I know my "calorie is a calorie is a calorie" thinking is naive - diets create responses in our metabolism, and the other part of the game is figuring out satiation within that calorie limit - but this kind of math is the only thing I've found to work for me, in the 4 times I've lost 10-15 lbs over the past decade and a half. ( diet.kirk.is for the graph)

from why (this) guy(s) don't wanna talk about it

(Some parts of this may seem familiar to people who read my previous navel-gazing rambles, but public writing is sort of a part of my therapeutic journey, and repetition is certainly a part of therapy - you don't want to just churn your wheels, but it's rare that a singular moment of insight makes a permanent change in behavior and outlook... that's my excuse anyway.)

I know that I have an idiosyncratic way of looking at my obligations and "shoulds" in group settings, springing from my intuition that Truth (capital T - the criteria for best goals that the dictate what the "shoulds" are) is objective. I mean, reality is reality whether you believe it or not (to quote Flava Flav: "You can't stop reality from being real!")

Truth is objective in the sense of not being a matter of individual choice - but it is also obscure, permitting individuals of good will trying to see it, but never to claim full certainty about their view of it.

(This is some of why I'm not on board with promoting gathering as "people of Faith(s)" for its own sake - Faith is good when it quells anxiety or paves the way to positive action, but mostly I see Faith saying "well, I'm gonna presume I'm right, so anywhere we disagree, you're wrong." That seems arrogant and lacking empathy to me.)

So one implication of searching for the objective best is that in any group setting, from playing in a band to being in a 1-on-1 romantic relationship, I figure out what to do by summing up the pluses and minuses for members of the group (myself included). If I don't feel like playing tuba that day, a gig might be -20 for me, but my presence there is +100 for my small band that would struggle without a bass - so +80 and I go on the gig. If a choice with Melissa is a +10 for me but -20 for her, I shouldn't do it, because that's a net -10 for us. And objectively, Us is better than Me- closer to objective value.

But a further implication is, I don't want to talk about problems I have unless I think the communication will actually help fix the situation. In general, sharing a problem doesn't seem inherently useful to me - it just makes two people anxious about something! (I'm already on a project to be less anxious in my own life, because more often than not anxiety is better at stopping productive work than urging it forward.)

So, how the math works out: +5, my partner might have a good idea about solving the problem that I haven't thought of. -10 my partner might get anxious about it. -5 I don't like having my own possible incompetence shown off. (Shades of toxic masculinity, I suppose.) So more often than not, my intuition isn't to share. Or at least not to dwell on it - I believe in transparency in general (since, again, for me Truth is objective but the more sets of eyes you have looking for it the higher confidence you can have in the outcome.)

Come to think of it- this behavior had roots in after-school questions with my folks- "How was school today?" "OK" "Anything you want to talk about?" "No.". I wouldn't want to burden my mom or dad about something unless there's a path to them fixing it- otherwise I'm just making them feel bad too, for no good end.

I know that this is half-baked math, and that in the long run communication is important, and all that jazz. I'm just laying out what my intuitions are so I can decide when to share, even when the best course is against my intuition.
Me (young, naive); I hope something good happens

Me (now): I hope whatever bad thing happens is at least funny

from bleh

I keep a text file called "things that are bugging me". When I'm feeling off, I take an inventory of the factors leading to my ennui; general discontent and blues. It's a surprisingly infrequent impulse but a long term project; the entries in the file are Jan 2008, Apr 2008, Aug 2008, Feb 2011, Sep 2015, Nov 2015, Aug 2017 and now Aug 2019.

I noticed it last night, that I was self-medicating alternating with an iOS game (Archero - which is really quite a satisfying little adventure) and reading the novel "Today Will Be Different". I knew I might feel a bit better if I hunkered down on some porchfest or loveblender tasks but I was just not feeling it.

(Another symptom of something being off, from this very entry: I'm using colons and semi-colons. I hardly ever use colons and semi-colons, and I fear I don't use them well.)

I don't take much stock in my own intrinsic feelings, and that's somewhere between wise self-analysis and a self-fulfilling prophecy. (I am profoundly shallow, my entire nervous system and philosophical system are grounded in how surface interactions are more critical in their accountability than obscured inner states.) But I wonder if this very occasionally recurring heap of the blahs was accurately diagnosed by my buddy Dylan as low level depression (but I think think he thinks that about everybody) or as a pileup of anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure) my therapist once mentioned me having... and are those just descriptions or useful signposts for corrections or adaptions?

But despite being aware that this might be a "the call is coming from inside the house!!!!" thing, I can see some external factors: So sometimes I've found writing this down in a public space feels helpful - in fact I feel a bit of lift even now. Suggestions or random attention and supportive sentiment are welcome as well.

from admiration and objective reality

Doing old blog maintenance, I ran into this Valentine's note to me, written early in the trajectory arc of a long romance:
I wonder if I love you too much. I guess when people say "too much" what they really mean is "more than you." Probably just paranoia. It's just hitting me how much you've come to mean to me in so short a time, and what it would mean to lose you.
Maybe it wasn't just paranoia. I worry I've never loved as vibrantly as other folks seem to.

I don't love people for their Nouns, who they "really are" - maybe because I can't bear witness to their inner life! I love people's Verbs - interactions that outsiders (such as me) can observe. Actions people perform in the public sphere have their bona fides of objective reality, and so I can know my feelings are rooted in truth.

But is that love of other folks, then? Or just admiration?

As a young teen, I figured out that I couldn't given free rein to my desires. Lust might lead to STDs and unwanted pregnancies. Hunger might lead to me becoming fat(ter). And worst of all: acting on unfiltered feelings - lust, anger, greed, wrath, pride, envy, gluttony - put me at risk for eternal hellfire! Yeah, God could forgive, but repeated transgressions (the verb) brought the veracity of the repentance (the noun) into question. And which of those temporary pleasures would be worth eternal punishment?

When I do try to survey my own emotional landscape, I'm appalled at how ego-driven so much of it is; my obsession of the importance of objective (yet never fully and confidently known) truths leaves me hungry for external validation - and so I like how reading books tells me I'm smart, playing in bands tells me I'm talented, playing video games tells me I'm empowered, at least in those virtual microcosms. (I don't think I'm alone in hunger, especially in folks raised as boys - not that I think girls have it better. But some of the most damning things to say about a dude is that he's a bad driver, or not funny, or not competent in bed - many men want their ego stroked as much as any of their other parts.)

So, love from other folks: am I seeking love? Or just admiration?

And to top it off - since the interpretation of objective reality is a group project, I can't put too much weight on what feelings I do find arising in me. I'm not such a martyr that I have to ignore my own preferences, but I am compelled to evaluate my behavior based on what seems good for the group - or in the case of romance, the couple - not just me.

So I dunno. Is it this complicated for everyone?
I had a dream where - I think - people were using certain foodstuffs as power system. I woke up enough to write "the exothermic aesthetic of yellow rice and yogurt sauce"
Quick question,
If "illegals" are lazy freeloaders just leaching off the system,
Why does ICE always raid workplaces?
Steve A Mattison

from the haunted 'net

the internet is an inherently haunted place if you think about it like. it's so weird to see long abandoned discussion boards stuck in a snapshot of the past, old conversations between kids from over a decade ago who have now grown into their own lives, obituaries taking the form of half finished profiles. and the silence that fills the gaps between. there's a constant ghostly record of each generation's thoughts, fads, their sense of humour. back when the future was at their fingertips. even stranger, people you used to know exist openly in that space, and they watch you watching them. if you want, deceased musicians can play through your headphones. there's always an underlying sense of reminiscing and time escaping our ever shortening attention spans. what a fuckin graveyard
This kind of thought has been on my mind as I go and tend to almost two decades of blog entries (This year I decided to get retroactively persnickety in how I've visually handle quotes over the years.) Skimming the output of my old selves... connected to the current me, but not quite the same person.

If Jim Morrison was alive today, he probably would[n't] write "did you have a good world when you died? Enough to base a wikipedia page on?" and it's harsh to recognize that's probably not the case for me... so I have to make my own monument. (Risking violating Van Webster's direction to "Don't be both Homer and Odysseus--at least not at the same time.").

I think about what I should do to best preserve my public archive - ideally for as long as we have a digital-using civilization. I suppose I will be forever there in the bowels of the Internet Wayback Machine, and god bless for that. I think about ways of paying in advance for my webhosting, and trying to batten down all available hatches so the site is just static HTML and images. (Also toying with the idea of putting a backup archive on blogspot... its business model of funding free, low-traffic blogs with skimming from ad revenue from more traveled blogs might be at least as stable as some of the other ideas I have.)

Sigh. Just grasping for some measure of the immortality promised me in my youth, I suppose. Or maybe the desire to live on forever precedes that, just a natural human view of time?
It's your legs.
Maynard Ferguson advising Miles Davis
The quote is about how to stand when playing trumpet. (Referenced in this instructional video)
From another direction he felt the sensation of being a sheep startled by a flying saucer, but it was virtually indistinguishable from the feeling of being a sheep startled by anything else it ever encountered, for they were creatures who learned very little on their journey through life, and would be startled to see the sun rising in the morning, and astonished by all the green stuff in the fields.
Douglas Adams, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

RIP Toni Morrison. I took all the African-American literature courses in college I could in order to double up on English and World Culture credits, and so got to enjoy a ton of great stuff. What a voice.
Paul D sits down in the rocking chair and examines the quilt patched in carnival colors. His hands are limp between his knees. There are too many things to feel about this woman. His head hurts. Suddenly he remembers Sixo trying to describe what he felt about the Thirty-Mile Woman. "She is a friend of my mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order. It's good, you know, when you got a woman who is a friend of your mind."
Toni Morrison, "Beloved"

from a wonk down memory lane

Memory is so wonky. (Or is it just me?) Sometimes recalled details are so cursory that it's as if remembering an event - a fine meal, a musical performance that hits a moment of transcendence, an adventurous vacation, a first kiss (or more than a kiss) - has more in common with anticipating that event or imagining something similar happening than it does with experiencing it in the moment.

Over the course of our lifetimes, rather few events have the emotional power to get seared into our brain in exacting detail. In fact, neuroscientists say remembering an event is more a reconstruction than anything else. The act of remembering builds the memory, which is why eyewitness testimony is so strangely unreliable.

Suddenly, the sci-fi conceit of "Total Recall", people paying to have memories of otherwise impractical vacations implanted, doesn't seem so ridiculous!

Maybe some of the things in life I desire but might never get I should just imagine the hell out of...

(there's a certain pathos to that, or the risk of diluting the willpower to actually achieve these things... and any offer to ignore objective reality should be considered suspect, but still... is it any more pathetic than a life of unfulfilled longing?)

Whoa. As I was writing this I just remembered a comic I made ten years ago or so - Of The Moments - it captured some of this kind of moment, as well as I could remember them. Man, I'm glad I made that! Rereading it now, some of those events are even more washed away.
If that pun was intentional then you are a villain. If it was not then you are a fool.
Alexis Hall, "The Affair of the Mysterious Letter"

Vice, Virtue. It's best not to be too moral. You cheat yourself out of too much *life.*
Maude, in Harold & Maude
Melissa and I watched that last night, hadn't seen it before but it's come up a few times lately so serendipity moved it to the top of the queue. Interesting seeing a senior citizen instance of the "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" type, and thinking about how this film influenced stuff like Wes Anderson's films, and maybe books like Pinkwater's "The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death"
Julia Wertz Things You May Not Know About Miscarriage. I've enjoyed her autobiographical comics for a long time. This one is very heartfelt and personal, mournful without being overly self-pitying, with good advice on how to deal with other people who are giving terrible feedback.

from the elephant and the rider redux

I often speak of the metaphor of "the elephant and the rider"; how we pretend it's our inner-voice, our narrator-self, that is running the show, but actually that part of us is just justifying the gallumping about the emotional elephant has done as the rider clings on. (With time and patience the rider can train the elephant somewhat and coax better behaviors - that's what growing up is all about - but a beastliness remains.)

These riders get so good at telling the stories of why we do what we do, but fudging the timestamps so the explanation sounds like a reasoned decision and not a post-facto justification. Thus an illusion of rationality and thoughtfulness is preserved, and a our trustworthiness is advertised to our fellow humans, and to our selves.

I worry that people in the social media age seem to go out of their way to work up the elephant, as if they WANT to feel, not think. It's not enough to just identify and categorize things as desirable / undesirable, we are compelled to JUDGE - to say this makes my elephant happy and so I am FOR it! Or -- this is terrible and me and my elephant are on TEAM AGAINST IT.

It might be true that getting the elephant charged up is probably critical to taking action (in fact a friend corrected me that his depression isn't a manifestation of irrationality - it's his fully rational rider unable to prod his comatose elephant into action - there's just no feeling and energy to DO anything, even something as seemingly necessary as to get out of bed) but when problems are too big for individual or even group action to change, helpless rage - the elephant ramming itself into the side of the enclosure the rider has constructed for it - results.

I've quipped that one consolation of death is that, finally, my awareness of the big problems of the world will shrink to match my capacities to fix the big problems of the world. That's pretty morbid! The balance of that whole serenity prayer thing - acceptance of what we can not change, courage to change what we can, the wisdom to know the difference - seems wiser and wiser the more I think on it.

So, we persist. Firing up the elephant is a good way to show ourselves to be good members of our tribe, and acceptance in our tribe is important. (From a social evolution standpoint, being well-aligned with the wisdom embodied in the practices of your literal tribe was more important than being correct about any one issue! Lone humans didn't have great survival or mating prospects.) The cynical right labels the public elephanting "virtue signaling", but I can't for the life of me figure out what's so bad about honest signals that reflect a life valuing justice, fairness, and the prevention of harm.

And sometimes I use this story to explain my special snowflake status to myself: The hellfire elements of my religious childhood burnt themselves out in my adolescence, but left a scorchmark of compulsive need to prove my value - my worthiness as judged by objective criteria. (In this view, one's alignment with objective truth can never be proven or fully certain, but rationality - a rationality aware of the limits of its methods - seems like a critical component in avoiding absurdities.)

So it's as if MY emotional elephant, a love- and validation-seeking beasts in most everyone, is more willing than most to elevate my rider - giving rationality a boost up with its mighty trunk, and letting that rider guide the elephant to trample over proto-emotions before they grow into something that might distract the elephant. As far as I can tell, love and lust and loyalty are all more inspected and less intuitively and spontaneously enjoyed in me than with many folks. But I seem less prone to addictive or risk-taking behaviors. (I'm taking pains to avoid sounding a facile "why am I the ONLY RATIONAL ONE around here" argument here - I suspect being this flavor of mild pseudo-intellectual neurotic isn't the best way to live. Also, if I'm honest, my elephant's intense pomposity too often drives me to self-limiting avoidance behaviors, where it's so much easier to not try and not succeed than to try and fail and have my limitations shown off to me and the world.)

From my devblog: developers and hot hands...

from from Annaka Harris' "Conscious: A Brief Guide to the Fundamental Mystery of the Mind"

Harris' book is a pretty decent survey over research into the problem of consciousness, and she cites some fascinating research... often pointing out how our (mis)conceptions of the world radically distort our view of some otherwise promising theories.
[Neuroscientist Anil] Seth refers to our experiences of ourselves in the world as a kind of “controlled hallucination.” He describes the brain as a “prediction engine” and explains that “what we perceive is its best guess of what’s out there in the world.” In a sense, he says, “we predict ourselves into existence.”
We make a map (our experience) of the territory (reality) and it is damnably easy to mistake the map for the territory.

She then talks about some of my favorite bits of mind-blowing research:

The split-brain literature contains many examples suggesting that two conscious points of view can reside in a single brain. Most of them also topple the typical notion of free will, by exposing a phenomenon generated by the left hemisphere that Gazzaniga and his colleague Joseph LeDoux dubbed “the interpreter.” This phenomenon occurs when the right hemisphere takes action based on information it has access to that the left hemisphere doesn’t, and the left hemisphere then gives an instantaneous and false explanation for the split-brain subject’s behavior. For example, when the right hemisphere is given the instruction “Take a walk” in an experiment, the subject will stand up and begin walking. But when asked why he’s leaving the room, he will give an explanation such as, “Oh, I need to get a drink.” His left hemisphere, the one responsible for speech, is unaware of the command the right side received, and we have every reason to think that he does in fact believe his thirst was the reason he got up and began walking. As in the example in which experimenters were able to cause a feeling of will in subjects who in actuality were not in control of their own actions, the phenomenon of “the interpreter” is further confirmation that the feeling we have of executing consciously willed actions, at least in some instances, is sheer illusion.
There's so much thought talking trying to describe this phenomenon of our other selves - elephant and rider, id/ego, inner-child - it makes me think there's something to it. I am convinced that our physical brains (and the nervous system of the rest of our bodies) are the medium for multiple entities - deeply connected, but still with their own agenda and independent point of view. (I'm not sure if that split is strictly hemisphere-based or not, or how much it might vary from person to person.)

For most people it's the narrative self, the inner voice, that is the most "us" - the part of our brain that uses its unfair advantage of language, the scaffolding to build magnificent structures of thought, and a habit of justifying the whole's actions to others - and to ourselves - to claim to be the true us. It plays at being the competent Dr Jekyll to the rest of the brain's Mr Hyde.

To navel-gaze a bit: I wonder if this distinction, this dual-life, might be especially heightened in me, personally, relative to most people. Evidence for thinking I'm such a weird dual snowflake follows:

When I read, I read fast, which means I skim - I've come to realize it's like a whole level of my brain absorbing the words from a page or screen and then efficiently summarizing the content to a higher level of awareness. This silent, speedy skimmer system has shown to be so serendipitous for me on standardized tests... and it leads me to think of myself as a truly "deeply superficial" person.

(Furthermore, this voiceless low level reader system is mostly attuned to seeing how systems interact... and so the internal essence or superficial aspects that don't really change how the object of the reading material interact don't even get reported to the higher brain! This is coupled with my theory about why I'm somewhat faceblind - the details of a face just aren't that important to me, because they don't change how I'll interact with it...so at the higher levels I don't even see those details. I am terrible at spelling for similar reasons - twisty little vowel combinations don't change how the word sounds much, so they are devilishly hard for me to remember to write correctly.)

The other part of this silent system is - my inner child as shown by my "inner snacker" - is especially difficult to control. It's a bit embarrassing really. I mean I know willpower in terms of food is tough for many people, but when I observe how I will chow down on snacks at work - if there's like an array of cookies, it seems like I will not be sated until I have sampled one of each. And I haven't witnessed quite the same level of that with other people. I'm not as much an outlier here as I am with the skimming/reading thing, but I think I am on the far side of this bellcurve as well.

But, countering what I think might be a particularly active subconscious - my religious upbringing has left me - the inner-voice me - hyper-vigilant about keeping myself in accord with How Things Should Be. An early fear of eternal damnation and hellfire kind has constructed a system of rational vigilance, a gardener of the emotional garden. Almost every sprout of a feeling is inspected, and if found to not be rationally justifiable, it's plucked from the soil before it has a chance to grow. With lust, my physiological response is repressed unless my narrative self is convinced it's a safe and reasonable thing. I'm not even sure I love like other people seem to - I admire like hell, but I haven't had a "Crazy in Love" feeling in a long, long time. (My theory is, though, people search for that crazy in love feeling especially in the early days of relationships, because it puts the feeling out of the reach of market forces, that irrational love will better weather the travails of life and stress and aging and not be on the hunt for any better offers.)

And I think the two systems of me have warped each other a bit, goaded each other on. Like, my inner snacker is super quick in driving me to grab a tasty food on impulse, because that silent system knows that the inner voice nanny is on patrol.

If this two-entity model of myself is correct - it's a little scary. My narrator self - which is in many ways dominant, which is writing this rambling essay - is worried that my silent self may become sullen and resentful and uncooperative. In fact, when I think about my skullslinkies incident, where in a alternate mind state I had a clear picture of my those inner, short-lived thought processes, clear of the influence of the narrator self and finally able to express some of their resentments...I'm further driven to try to find ways to get my parts to be content and in harmony. And it feels like if I ever have some kind of psychotic break, this divide might be where the fault line lies.... or at least I think that I will never be as well-integrated as most people.

Phew! Back to the book...

Harris takes a lot of time defending panpsychism - the concept that consciousness sorta exists in almost every system, even simple ones - maybe even clusters of atoms. While "everything is conscious, sorta!" can sound like new age woo-woo, or a kind of Western shintoism, she defends it - not that she's fully convinced about it, but it isn't as nutty an idea as it might seem. A thermostat has a kind of awareness of the world around it, albeit just the ambient temperature. Personally I am comfortable with thinking of the thermostats inner state as the tiniest glimmer of consciousness. I think full consciousness involves having a rich model of the world and of the self as an actor within that model, and if you have a system with those characteristics, you probably have consciousness...

Finally, Harris reminds me of some of the absolute, batshit weirdness of the implications of the double-slit photon experiment - how light is a wave or particle depending on if it's being observed (meaning observation - which might be inexorably deeply linked to a concept of consciousness - might be a weirdly causal part of reality) and not only that, but a 2007 experiment confirmed John Wheeler's prediction that that effect seems to go backwards in time. At trivial scales of time, or unimaginably vast ones:

You can now ask, for each photon that comes to me, whether it came from the left [or the right] side of the gravitational lens. [Let’s say] I decide to measure which side it came from, and I find out that it went on the left side. That means I can say that for the last ten billion years, that photon has been on a path that started from the quasar and went around the left side of the gravitational lens. But if, instead, I had chosen not to make that measurement and just measure the interference pattern, it would not be true that for the last ten billion years that photon had gone [down a path] around the left side. So the choice I make today determines the ten-billion-year-history of that photon.
Mind-bending stuff.
I had to draw a wildebee

from on blogs

Two decades in, I'm in a retrospective mood and I've been thinking about what blogging means...
The term "weblog" was coined by Jorn Barger on 17 December 1997. The short form, "blog," was coined by Peter Merholz, who jokingly broke the word weblog into the phrase we blog in the sidebar of his blog Peterme.com in April or May 1999.
Thinking about it, I guess "blogging" can encapsulate many or all of many different kind of activities: There's a lot of overlap there, but it's amazing how versatile a medium "Blogging" is.

Social Media covers many of those same outlets for many people. A while back I wrote on The Facebook:

But Facebook banks on one brilliant idea, one other sites leverage as well: empowering users to assemble a collated page/wall/feed of content from people the user finds interesting. Sites using this trick -- Tumblr, LiveJournal, Twitter, Instagram and FB all had different hooks (visual collectors, diarists, pithy bon mot makers, snapshotters, and people you know, respectively) and of all of those FB's "people you know in real life" seems to be the most compelling in a universal kind of way.
Those are all legit outlets, but I am wary at having my content potentially lost to corporate mishandling or malfeasance . I come from the DIY oldschool - a group privileged enough to have the knowledge and freetime and funds to build the tools we use to post stuff. The barrier to entry is high there, but there's almost total control over the results. But then again I end up mirroring nearly everything I post on my blog on Facebook, because that's the only way I have of getting feedback. (And it hurts when you realize how few people any individual post gets put in front of... feels weird to have to sort-of go viral just to get a piece of content in front of the majority of your friends and family)

The other element is the private/public aspect. For many folks, many of those categories list, especially "Dear-Diarying", Commonplace Booking, and Scrapbooking, might be better served with private tools - maybe even paper! Personally I've always been more interested in attention and knowledge sharing than privacy, but I know different people manage that balance differently.

(Last year kottke collected 3 interesting essays, Did blogs ruin the web? Or did the web ruin blogs? - worth checking out.) RIP Ross Perot. I sometimes wonder if his 1992 campaign denied re-election to the elder Bush, and if the backlash about losing what was "rightfully" theirs spurred the "Contract With America" (brilliant piece of propaganda, that) and from there it's all been more and more unlikely extreme swings. Also in a day and age where executives seem unworldly tall, a 5'5" guy becoming a self-made billionaire is a good story.

from what's up inner dog?

Studies show placebos are twice as effective as they were 25 years ago. What does this mean?? People have higher expectations from drugs I guess? It really, really makes you wonder what it means, and how we can take advantage of it.

I'm thinking too of the Eureka effect and the anecdote about Poincare having an important mathematical truth revealed to his conscious mind as he stepped onto a bus. (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance talks about that) So just like Placebos get some parts of our brains to heal us our subconscious minds can solve difficult problems...

(At least, I think it's our brains healing us - I mean a lot of medical problems get cleared up by our bodies on their own, but I wouldn't expect the "just leave it alone" solution to get so much better over 25 years - unless we thought people were living that much more healthily, I guess?)

So the subconscious is this weird dark thing! There are so many ways of looking at it- I'm not sure if they're all talking about the same phenomenon, or if it's the same in all people, but man! I know historically my conscious, narrating brain takes credit for being "the real me" - and so much so that this subconscious self seems like an "other" - an inner child, or some wild id, or the elephant in the "elephant and the rider" metaphor - and maybe it has to do with lobes, at least sometimes? That it's our non-verbal lobe... Split-brain studies are so wild - our physical brains have the capacity to be two almost completely functional people! What is going with that? And how can we best leverage the situation?

More and more my other self feels less like an inner child and more like a loyal and clever but poorly trained dog... in particular a dog always on the lookout for snacks, at least when I'm in the kitchen at work... the emotional tricks this pup plays to get treats that the analytical brain knows I could easily do without. (heh, googling I find some signs of therapy that looks to inner dogs instead of inner children )

So step one was realizing my "inner voice", the part that talks and can use language, wasn't quite the same as "me". And the obvious answer to that was to think of myself holistically - either as one thing with two sides, or at least as two subentities, co-equal in authenticity and dignity.

But maybe that was a mistake? Maybe step two should be leaning into my rational self as the realest me? Trying to think through the implications of that - I (my narrative self, that is) is forever adverse to taking authority - I don't want to enforce my judgements over others because I might be wrong, and it's deeply important to me to be in line with the "objectively true" universe (at least one ex realized this would mean I'd be a good buddy-dad but maybe not a great father, and I think they had a point.) But maybe this is one of those cases where the speaking, rational self needs to step up, and take authority.

But - if the unconscious me is almost a separate entity, and I treat it as such, I worry about the effects of it coming to resent the conscious me! It's tough to confirm the trust and loyalty of my inner-pup, it lacks the tail-wagging body language of real dogs....


You know, all my life I've lived with cats, and I like 'em, but that lifestyle was chosen for me, not by me. Sometimes I think it would have been good for me to have grown up with dogs a bit more. I'm not sure which is closer to my spirit-animal; I mean I really see something of my need for space to pursue my own projects in cats aloofness, but also I think I have that goofy loyalty and need for feedback I associate with dogs. (yes, I know cat owners can point out the cuddly loyalty of cats, but I'm speaking in broad stereotypes here.)

Thinking more about the idea that it would be a big mistake to label the unconscious / subconscious as a single thing - I just remembered the single part of my unconscious mind that has most allowed me to punch above my weight, intellect-wise - my "get the gist", skimming subsystems, the ones that allow my eyes to merely dart over a paragraph and do a pretty damn reliable job telling me what's important in there, summarizing the feel of the interactions and directing me to go back to bits that didn't quite register. (And of course the partner subconscious systems that apparently piggyback on my vocalization systems to type -- thus all the horrible spelling (especially for vowels) and the strange typos like "by" for "my").

I have to assume these systems are distinct from the part of my brain that drive me to the chocolate covered pretzels in the kitchen at work. But it's so dark in that skull it's hard to be certain...

Modern web development pic.twitter.com/p84IVkC2aQ

— Jared Palmer (@jaredpalmer) June 23, 2019

An even better version
When life gives you hurdles, trip over those hurdles. Let your legs become tangled in a series of hurdles that you drag behind you. Crawl with your giant collection of hurdles towards more distant hurdles

from apocalypse whenever

Been thinking a bit about Revelation. Saturday I was discussing my takeaway from Elaine Pagels' book about it, which is the irony that even though it is so revered by so many (Gentile, not particularly semitic) Christians today, it spends its first part taking a strong stance for a partisan "Christianity needs to be seen as an outgrowth of Judaism" view (vs "Gentiles are the bestest Christians") but that part is usually glossed over by most readers, who are generally looking for the future juicy, scary and vengeful stuff. (Actually, "readers" isn't the right term. As a preteen I got through one of those "read the whole Bible in a year!" plans, but I think that level of reading is uncommon in most churches these days - many churchgoers seem content with the little cherry picked excerpts you get in service. Which, if true (and I shouldn't speak too broadly, I'm sure there are plenty of exceptions) is kind of a return to the old "Mystery" days where the actual texts were reserved for the learned few...)

An early 1980s Sunday School class about the subject, including an illustration of a Christian in front of a firing squad along with other terrors to come, left me with an indelible association of Christianity with future horrors, especially if you don't act right (all the Jesus acceptance and born-again-ness) and even if you do. Which then fed into a disdain I still carry for "pre-tribs", folks who think the Christians get swept away to their eternal happiness before all the shit goes down, because God must love us too much to let that happen to US, right? (I have bitterness when pop-religion seems to sugarcoat the source material - the way a "Grampas looking down from us in Heaven right now, Timmy" view seems more grounded in consoling hopefulness than the actual scriptures - my church's 11th and final doctrine was "We believe in the immortality of the soul; in the resurrection of the body; in the general judgment at the end of the world; in the eternal happiness of the righteous; and in the endless punishment of the wicked." I realized that that view of a bodily resurrection and a judgement at the END of the things is more caught in "Man of Constant Sorrow"'s final verse ("as I lay sleeping in my grave") than most of the songs I had been singing in Sunday School... and so I'm both envious of and sometimes a little disdainful of folks who have a softer, gentler form of Christianity, even as I realize I can't be sure their view is less reliable than mine harsh one - it's certainly more pragmatic and psychologically sound, whether or not it feels like wishful thinking to me.)

A few years ago I ran into the idea of Preterism, the idea that the stuff in Revelation happened along with the destruction of the Temple in 70CE. (Heh - compare that to the tongue-in-cheek pop-culture idea that Mayans were right, time ended in 2012 and now we're just watching things fall apart.) Anyway, I wish I had a better feel for this view, I can't read the fantastical and completely apocalyptic imagery outside of the lens of a "guide to future events" that has stoked both way too much of my childhood fears and informed too much of our foreign policy in the Middle East...

Man, this ramble got longer than I expected when I found an old blog note on "Preterism". I'll leave you with a reference to APOCAMON - the first few pages are rough, implying sexual abuse of John of Patmos by Roman soldiers, but then gets into a fascinatingly literal illustration of the warring angelic and demonic forces of the final battle.

OK, finally finally, I remember this quote:
Pick up a reggae album at random. Any reggae album. Listen to it and you will find a far more accurate, reliable and theologically sound exegesis of the meaning of Babylon than you will ever get from Tim LaHaye or any other so-called 'prophecy expert.'

from Everything matters, but nothing matters that much

A while back I wrote
One other line from "Fear of Flying" has stuck in my head, and that's Adrian saying "Courage is the first principle" as he cajoles Isadora into running away with him. [...] I think he might be citing Aristotle, actually, the quote sometimes given as "Courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees the others."
This idea has been stuck in my mind today, and I was reading some summaries of the Aristotelian roots.

I have friends and loved ones afflicted with industrial grade anxiety, and it's so hard for them to deal with. And so often I have my own troubles with courage, this fear of proving less capable than I need myself to be resulting in a lack of productivity and a plethora of avoidance behaviors.

Some of the difficulty comes from the way we use emotions to think with. I'm not sure if it's even physically possible to spur ourselves into any action without some level of emotional energy - but we overdo it. It's so, so hard to find that space between "this doesn't matter, nothing matters, who cares" and "this is so important, if it doesn't go well things will be just awful - awful!"

My best suggestion is to try to encourage the stance of "Everything matters, but nothing matters that much".

(I acknowledge there's the "first world" vibe to this problem, privilege involved in having a place in the world that seems fundamentally comfortable and stable - but I also know every person tends to have a hedonistic setpoint, that people from a really wide variety of circumstances end up able to adapt and end up with a similar level of subjective contentment whatever their external circumstance.)
"We here at Weyland-Yutani Corporation would like to wish a happy Pride Month to all of our LGBT colonists on LV-426."
While looking up the design, I found this site: https://speculativeidentities.com/ - lovely deep dives into the typography and logo design of future companies.

I think most "time management problems" are really emotion management problems.
Matt McIrvin (on my FB post of this)

from The Golden GPS

It's difficult for me to explain my views that A. A Most True description of the world and how you should act in it exists (even if that has to be, like, metaethics rather than a specific ethical system) but B. It is something akin to blasphemy to presume YOU have the most accurate view of that Truest Truth - especially if your certainty comes at the cost of discounting the views of folk of good faith who disagree with you. This duality can sound like a moral relativism, but the persistent sense of an absolute truth behind the scenes makes it the opposite of that.

Talking this over while driving with Dave, he suggested a pretty good metaphor: what the GPS was showing, as we tried to find a good route from Mass Ave to Porter Square:

The GPS offered 3 or so paths, recommending one, saying this other one might be -1 minute faster, this other one +2 minutes slower, another route is estimated at about the same length of time. Something like that.

So here's the thing: I think it is blatantly obvious that one of those routes will be the fastest. And it is also obvious that you can't KNOW which one it is. You can guess which one is most likely to be best, but there's a fundamental unknowability there, once the rubber meets the road, and since we can't rewind our lives and try again we have to live with never quite being certain. (I think of Milan Kundera: "We never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come.")

Of course, the metaphor is imperfect. For example, "fastest route" is such a crisp, obvious metric. Even in car navigation land, we can think of other things we might want to optimize for, like "fewest turns" or "least stressful drive" or "not taking me near my ex's house and dredging up painful memories". And compared to the myriad of possible goals and corresponding "shoulds" that come from ethical systems, figuring out where or when to turn left or right is pretty simple.

More troublingly for the truth of the metaphor: the stakes of ethics feel so high, which might be a result of the fear of fire and brimstone I took on as a youth. It's as if the GPS wasn't saying "take the wrong route and risk being ten minutes late", but "the wrong route might have dragons or pits or explosions and you will probably die!"

Researchers talk about "maximizers vs satisficers" - people who take pains to seek out the very best solution vs folks who can make a quick decision and be happy with it - usually I'm very content being in the latter group - but when it comes to morality, when I'm dealing with these systems many of which say "people who don't believe this will be punished eternally" and those stakes are taken very seriously by millions of believers, I find it hard to just let go and follow whatever the GPS thinks best.

from group troop

A few weeks ago I had a small epiphany at my therapist.

The back story: my parents are officers in The Salvation Army, which (in parallel with its emergency and charity operations) is a church; a denomination called "Salvationism", a near offshoot of the Methodists that took the idea of waging a war against sin to heart, and modeled itself after a military - churches are called corps, members are called soldiers, pastors are called officers and there are uniforms, with tunics and hats and everything.

As in the military, officers get assigned to live wherever the 'Army feels their skills will be put to the best use, and so "OKs" (Officer's Kids) have to be braced for moving every few years.

So, looking back, here's roughly how I viewed the structure of authority:

I'm perched on top, the most precarious place. I am taught how I should live - and then, told WHERE I will live - by my parents. (Here represented by a home) But my parents are supported by The Salvation Army. It has the authority to tell them where to go and what to do, and they comply. The Salvation Army, then, was anchored on and drawing its authority from God. From God! Can't get much bigger than that!

I'm sure the whole "parents are your minister and representative of God" thing is another topic for therapist fun, but right now I'm thinking more about the top 3 levels; when you combine it with the Good of the many outweighs the good of the few or the one attitude I think I inherited from my mom (where our personal needs should not be ignored, but weighted in the general balance for choosing best course of action), you get an especially acute sense of "the group will ask sacrifices of you, and you must make them."

As an "OK", less than average of your material life is actually owned by your family... the quarters- the assigned house (or apartment over the church in my case) - will be mostly stocked with its own furniture. Utilities and reliable transportation will be arranged for and life will otherwise be frugal, and your parents are potentially on call at all kinds of hours - especially during that Thanksgiving-Christmas "Red Kettles" season. I'm not trying to bellyache, there are plenty of worse environments to grow up in - but still, the sense of authority and chain-of-command was strong, and The Salvation Army was a calling, not just a job - for example I had a precocious and impeccable "business" phone mojo going when answering the shared line, evn as a pipsqueak elementary schooler - my folks would be commended on their extremely polite secretary.

(My family was graced with longer appointments - I was especially lucky by "OK" standards of the time to be in mostly the same place for most of middle and high school. But I was bummed about the move from Western NY to Upstate NY before third grade, and had so much adolescent resentment moving to Cleveland after sixth that I switched to going by my middle name Logan as a form of existential protest. (err, before I knew it was a "Wolverine/X-men" reference))

So, too much backstory, here is the point, and the small epiphany: So I had deeply ingrained sense of the importance of the group. Imprinted on me: Groups are manifestations of greater goods (even when they don't claim to be prayerfully reflecting God's will) and so can expect sacrifices of you. And not only of you, but of loved ones you're with! People who probably won't be directly involved with the group on a regular basis, and who may have only had been partially aware of the strength of your commitments

(and being reliable isn't just import to me in terms of my concern for my reputation in the group, but my integrity as a person - a group being angered with me for not being dependable would be awful mostly as a signpost towards me not being a dependable person. (I think. Causing someone or some group strong bad feelings because of my own "selfish" needs also does poorly on "greater good" scale, so there is a social aspect of it - not just the objective judgement of God of me, the individual potential sinner.))

So, I need to remember that groups - mostly brass bands for me these days (which actually are also kind of a gift from The Salvation Army for me, come to think of it) - aren't just asking sacrifices from me me, but of me and my presence and energy that might otherwise by my partner's. I need to be more cognizant of that.
Bonus content: it took me years to notice there was a pun/metaphor in calling the printed offering envelopes "cartridges" - these are roughly the ones I grew up with

I remember the "If you are absent, remember the Corps expenses go on just the same". The admonition was watered down a bit from this antique one of the 1800s that has further instructions in a militaristic vibe.
Ever wake up from a nap, and kind of disoriented? Your inner monologue is like "Ok... I think... I'm on a planet... called Earth? And it has... gravity? And sometimes frogs?"
Today at the Friendshipworks Walk to End Elder Isolation - a lesson in photographic perspective, and why you usually put the tuba player and the horn behind the arc not where it angles around... it kind of towers over everyone!

from the good of the many, the few, the one

I've been thinking about Spock lately.

As a child watching original Star Trek (and on a black and white TV for many of those years - come to think of it, these days many of the effects and makeup look bad when seen in HD - but considering only between 25-50% of TVs were color when the show was being broadcast, it holds up pretty well - I wonder how many design choices were made because they would read ok in black and white as well as showing off the new color capabilities.)

Ok, back to my point - growing up watch Star Trek at an impressionable age, I took the Vulcans' party line of "Vulcans don't HAVE emotions" at face value- assuming the aliens were somehow *physiologically* rational, and that it was just Spock's human half that was adding the drama. Now of course I see that the writers were showing a more nuanced picture, that Vulcan itself was a planet with a history of deep emotion, now rigidly controlled by training, philosophy, and cultural norms, and you could see signs of that in the few "pure" Vulcans the series provided.

I think about the old "I Grok Spock" campaign, and while it was a bit of a early fandom shibboleth it also reflected the fans' own working through their own dualities - how we have this emotional core that might be providing all the raw motive energy, but that needs to be tempered by logic and rationality. (Some of that is speculation, since that movement was before my time.)

Later came the movies. In "Wrath of Khan", Kirk and Spock return to the phrase "the good of the many outweigh the good of the few, or the one." (Though looking at the script I see the first time through it's "the needs". probably close enough to synonyms, but interesting.) Depending on how you draw the venn diagram of many/few/one, the result can be monstrous -

if the three sets don't come together and you are still playing a utilitarian "many vs few" game then you are deep in tyrany of the majority territory, where minority rights will be ignored.

Logically, Spock was probably implying nested sets:

What's slightly non-obvious about this diagram, and how it serves as the model for Spock's sacrifice that saves the ship, is that the good of the one is *still a component* of the good of the few, and the same for the few of the many. But sometimes what looks like "playing the martyr" to an outsider, or "masochism" (to use my therapist's term for it) misses the fact that it's not sacrifice for its own sake that is the pleasure, but logically aligning oneself with a kind of logical, group utilitarianism.

(Arguably you could see Spock's sacrifice as lessened since he was doomed along with the rest of the crew anyway, but his fight through the radiation in the reactor room entailed a radically painful death. )

In general, I think it's human and ok to add a bonus modifier in the "one" and "few" vs the "many" calculation when there's a conflict, but unlike the Ayn Randians I think that multiplier needs to be modest.

(Incidentally, I recently refreshed my memory of every episode in ST:TOS with the podcast Gimme That Star Trek's TOS Full Series Review - recommended)
next weeks finish line for the marathon this weeks viewing stand for the greek parade:

i'm gonna miss this shirt. For Old Navy it was a surprisingly authentic seeming Aloha shirt, with the vibrant print on the inside and the outside more muted. Like Kondo suggests I thank it for its service.

from love's a placebo

I had a thought: Love and Support are basically placebos.

But it's not a true thought. People think placebos are "remedies that shouldn't work, but do anyway" and that isn't what I mean. Rather say: I, Kirk, have middling-poor instincts (and thus distrust) about "remedies" where the primary workings are internal to the "patient", and so are not amenable to externalized examination, and explanation - and classic expressions of love and support are in that category.

See, when people talk, it's rarely starkly forthright. They're not just telling you the objective facts, the speaker has in mind what they want you to know - and if they care about you, what they believe you want to hear. There are those touches of agenda, always.

Both of those kind of agendas (selfish and selfless) come into play when a supportive person (call them "the helper") goes into "advice mode" when a person going through tough stuff (call them "the helpee") just wants to be heard and validated. The helper wants to offer tangibly useful suggestions -
that's a more or less selfless agenda. But also: they don't want to be reminded that they might be helpless to tangibly help! (thus, the selfish aspect).

The helper needs existential fortitude to accept being in a world where their friends and loved ones suffer in a way the helper can't fix, even though the helper desperately want to. So would-be helpers need to cultivate the "internalized medicine" of listening and offering reassurance.

But man, sometimes those reassurances seem so hollow to folks like me, who look for objective, rational measures for everything.... "Everything's going to be ok", "This is temporary", "You'll get through this". The speaker doesn't objectively know this stuff is true, except in high-falutin' existential and long-run senses (to quote Keynes - "Long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead.")

But I need to remember, that's just me, I'm a bit of an outlier. Not everyone is as muddled by attempted rationality and external validation as me - and I need to remember the internal states of suffering loved ones may be maelstroms of irrational confusion and mislogic anyway - there's a good chance my "you're going to be ok", while still a bit of a platitude, is more true and honest than the helpee's view of the situation at that moment... and the sugar pill wrapper of real love and support might be medicine in and of itself.

(As to why I'm such a "rational" outlier - I think somehow in my youth I absorbed too much of the judge-y aspects of religion - that at the end of it all, I was going to be called into account for what I did in life, and so I trained to make my inner self and desires subservient to and explainable by the external / objective rationality that would hold sway in that final Divine Court, and thus avoid an eternity of hellfire torment.)

from ballad of the second guesser

My best attempt to explain something that's been on my mind a lot lately:
click for draft 1 - draft 2 - draft 3 - draft 4

Lately my work went over the DiSC personality assessment. At one point we got to discussing the "Conscientiousness" type. Our session leader's assumption that I, as someone who desperately tries to see things from all angles, would be a "C"-type, since they are so urgent that things are correct, and therefore would have done their due-diligence. I disagreed that I was that type - I think what is critical is that the "C"-type folk have FOUND what they believe to be the best answer, and are then content to enforce that as best practice, while I tend to think there IS a best practice but we can never be certain we are aligned with it- but it's important that we give people the freedom to figure out their best guess as well.

So the critical factors seem to be - is there a singular best truth, and how certain can we be that we've gotten there? I think that makes a 4-quadrant spectrum, as shown here.

I know I am deeply in "Second Guesser" territory. I have this near unshakable suspicion that a transcendent truth exists - and while it's not "unknowable", we can never be certain that we've arrived at knowledge and so need to be interested in all viewpoints - all viewpoints from people of good intentions are valid signposts to what is "really" true.

The opposite view I'm calling "Self-Authoritative" until I think of a better name. There is no out-of-system truth in this view - but there are some patterns that are "clearly" better than others, and we can be confident in the superior qualities of our own subjective viewpoint.

"Believer" is my name for the top-right -- there is truth, and (possibly through special revelation) we can have faith in the accuracy of our beliefs.

Probably my most liberty-taking name is "Existentialist" -- all truth is subjective, and we'll never be positive about what's best, so every person is free to work things out for themself, and you don't have to be too anxious that other people aren't believing the "right" thing.

So does this ring true for anyone else? (asks the second guesser) Any improvements for quadrant names, or other axes that might be more useful in an epistemological kind of way?

Followup: it bums me out that Facebook is my best avenue for dialog these days (I crosspost nearly everything here and on that site) but the convo on this diagram with threads with Wendi and David was pretty good.

Followup 2: Similar to the DiSC assessment, but more resonant to me, Grentchen's Rubin's Four Tendencies model seems true to me. That link is the quiz, but the summary you get at the end goes:

I'm a questioner - though again, this taxonomy misses the epistemology of it. A questioner who is certain of themselves because of their own authority is different than one who is certain of themselves because of their image of an external objective standard. And I probably am closer to upholder because I respect the potential of other people's views of that objective truth.
Sigh. Getting to Inbox Zero / Todo Zero, or failing to (even when the "zero" just applies to the categories marked as relevant") is feeling like such a daily grind.
Franklin Lloyd Wright liked the term "Usonia" for the United States (of North America). I wish it had caught on (even with the gratuitous "i" to make it more euphonious) - it answers two problems: "United States" or "USA" is more of a description than a name, and it stops us from grabbing the name of two continents ("America!") to make up for the first problem.

(That said, I don't think "America" is THAT oppressive, since a person actually referring to the continents would says "Americas" or specify "North America"... mostly I prefer Usonia as a pleasant sounding name, vs a technical description.)

from soda is a gas

I'm sometimes alarmed at my lack of recognition of bodily cause and effect. Sure, little in life is a variable-controlled scientific experiment, and often the feedback loops are long enough that seeing the cause and effect is tough -between "eating a lot" and "showing weight gain", for example - or even better, "exercising" and "seeing positive results". (Of course, the "panting and wheezing" feedback loop is much more immediate.)

Years ago, for example, I was surprised to realize that I got significantly better at a head-to-head block video game (Tetris Attack, I think, at my Aunt's) when the massage chair I was in finished its round of lumbar region magic. I'm sort of in denial about being at the mercy of the physical world I think - it's as if I think sheer willpower, or its lack, fully determines my skill in that kind of game, and in a bunch of other aspects of life. (Does my back ache? Should I maybe skip playing tuba for a bit? Nah, just muscle through! That's the Kirk-y way. My own discomfort can ONLY be considered if it outweighs a greater, possibly group, benefit to be had.)

[CW ahead:farts]

Anyway, the most recent example of the scales dropped from my eyes: perhaps the vast quantities of diet soda I enjoy on the regular is causing the gassiness that has been adding such comic delight to the soundscape at home for me and Melissa. (Luckily carbonation is relatively innocuous, so the smellscape is...well, not as bad as you might fear, at least.) So I'll be trying to cut back in general, stick with water and iced coffee and iced tea.

from drum up the dawn

Remember some very fine verses by Rudyard Kipling, the famous "Ballad of East and West." There you have a British officer who is pursuing an Afghan horse thief. They're riding. Then Kipling writes, "They have ridden the low moon out of the sky, their hoofs drum up the dawn." Now, you can't ride the moon out of the sky and you can't drum up the dawn in Spanish, because the language doesn't allow it. It can't be done. For example, you can say in English you are dreaming away your life. Well, that can't be said in Spanish or any romance language, as far as I know. It might be said perhaps in German or one of the Scandinavian tongues, but not in a romance language. A Spaniard can dream his life away, but he can't say so. Just as we can die even if we don't think of death.

And English has another virtue. The virtue of Anglo-Saxon words: they're short. If you say selini in Greek, that's far too long--three syllables. In Spanish, luna, two syllables. In French, just one syllable, really, lune. But in English that beautiful, lingering word "moon." It's the right word, no? Moon and sun, those two were the right words.

From a conversation with Jorge Luis Borges on the translations of his books and poetry, via Harper's
I think English is sometimes unfairly maligned in a self-deprecating way by cosmopolitan speakers of it, anxious to avoid linguistic chauvinism. And it's true - the languages wide-ranging roots mean it's not the best for rhyming poetry, and those same roots lead to one of the biggest wordsets with lots of exceptions and inconsistent spelling rules - making full mastery as a second language (or even a first) difficult.

But I've been told is that, at least when coming from certain other first languages, it's pretty easy to pick up the basics, to understand and make yourself understood. And that big vocabulary means words can carry a lot of economical nuance, so that more experienced speakers can express themselves with great fidelity.

I was reading this piece on why ji32k7au4a83 is a popular password - SPOILER: it's a transliteration of "My Password" via a Taiwanese system for phonetically typing Mandarin. (Previously I've been interested in the "Russian via English phonemes" system used by Russians in the USA who often didn't have access to proper cyrillic keyboards). So I don't know if it's coincidence (or possibly post-facto "Just So" stories) but Latin- and Cyrillic-character alphabets seem especially fortuitous in the early days of computing - I mean later coders had to pay the price to move beyond the basics of 256 characters of ASCII, but you could be very expressive on very low-resolution screens, and less than half of that 256 will let you say pretty much anything you can say in English, if you aren't too fussy about accent marks or nuanced punctuation.
Some public radio program just had Sam Donaldson talking about how he thought that cameras in the Presidential Press Briefing room were a bit of a mistake because you see the contention between the Presidential Press Secretary trying to deliver the "official story" and the reporters trying to pry and get more information, and that for many people their sympathies will be for the Secretary, that they'll see the reporters (who might have their own agendas) as hounding the poor guy who already delivered the message. That's kind of odd; my sympathies were immediately for the reporters, figuring the secretary to be a bit of a weasel who ultimately is an obstruction to an objective view of the situation.

Is it the way I politically bend, which I guess would reflect the alleged "leftward bias" of the media, that makes me take the side I do? I think I'd feel the same way even during a Democratic administration. Do people in general trust political figures more than they do the media? That's kind of sad.

Something I wrote in 2006.
For Trump fans, my ending question is clearly answered.

from limerent lament

I just finished Dorothy Tennov's Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love...

Limerence is a term the author invented for overwhelming romantic feeling that many people seem prone to - but many aren't. The nearest synonym might be "infatuation", but Tennov is trying to describe something less adolescent and more beautiful than that - the lovely neologism "limerence" certainly has echoes of "luminous" or "liminal".

Trying to think of cultural referents for "limerence", I recalled this quote from the ending of the movie "True Romance":
Amid the chaos of that day, when all I could hear was the thunder of gunshots, and all I could smell was the violence in the air, I look back and am amazed that my thoughts were so clear and true, that three words went through my mind endlessly, repeating themselves like a broken record: you’re so cool, you’re so cool, you’re so cool
That gets to the spirit of it about as well as anything in Hollywood. (Though when I think about "A Fish Called Wanda" - the way John Cleese's character and his wife undress for the night in a companionish way before heading to their separate single beds, vs how he lights up for Jamie Lee Curtis' Wanda - that's a great case study as well.)

I have a theory that sometimes "limerence" is idolized in our society because people want the relationships they deeply invest in to be beyond the reach of market forces. To quote the grand balladeer Weird Al:
You're sort of everything I've ever wanted
You're not perfect, but I love you anyhow
You're the woman that I've always dreamed off
Well, not really, but you're good enough for now
No one wants to be subjected to that! Even if the state of limerence is famously fickle, people look for that beautiful madness as inexplicable, nostalgic bedrock to set their relationship on - maybe even for a future family - even if they are aware that the initial rush may die down.

As some who generally is, as the book puts it, "nonlimerent" (or at least since college) I got to wondering about the neurochemistry of it all - the descriptions of the state reminded me of the euphoria of certain drugs... I wonder if people inclined to that kind of feeling more prone to drug or alcohol abuse, or are they especially susceptible to hypnosis - i.e. are they vulnerable to go other places where conventional rationality (and rational convention) is put aide?

But those questions may be self-serving FOMO sour grapes from a nonlimerent! (I sometimes feel stunted as an emotional person that I have an internal gardener that will examine seedlings of emotion that spring up and quick weed out ones that don't make sense...) Especially when the book builds on Stendhal's metaphor of "Crystalization":
In the salt mines, nearing the end of the winter season, the miners will throw a leafless wintry bough into one of the abandoned workings. Two or three months later, through the effects of the waters saturated with salt which soak the bough and then let it dry as they recede, the miners find it covered with a shining deposit of crystals. The tiniest twigs no bigger than a tom-tit’s claw are encrusted with an infinity of little crystals scintillating and dazzling. The original little bough is no longer recognizable; it has become a child’s plaything very pretty to see. When the sun is shining and the air is perfectly dry the miners of Hallein seize the opportunity of offering these diamond-studded boughs to travellers preparing to go down to the mine.
Who wouldn't want to be connected to that kind of beauty, even if it's all in the eye of the beholder? Or short-lived? As Joe Haldeman put it in "The Forever War":
But love, he said, love was a fragile blossom; love was a delicate crystal; love was an unstable reaction with a half-life of about eight months.
And so I think back to relationships where I've been a bit more limerent - the foreign exchange student in high school, where it feels like a kind of limerence was mutual, to the on-again/off-again in college that was much more one-sided. I don't get sparks like that too often. Mortifyingly, sometimes the strongest echo of those times comes with a little frisson of excitement I get with certain technological devices - to cite an old Dilbert:

Clearly, unless one has embraced a Shinto / animistic outlook (or accepted Tom Robbins' "Still Life with Woodpecker"s view of our bias against inanimate objects as being a bit uncalled for) this delight in mere "things" is a bit untoward - but what can I say? Some gadgets embody supreme elegance! - and they empower me without making demands on me, and without me having to risk rejection...

Heh, in a too-long ramble already brimming over with quotes, what's one more? Here's Carrie Fisher journaling while mooning over Harrison Ford:
I've got to stop getting obsessed with human beings and fall in love with a chair. Chairs have everything human beings have to offer, and less, which is obviously what I need. Less emotional feedback, less warmth, less approval, less patience and less response. The less the merrier. Chairs it is. I must furnish my heart with feelings for furniture.
An affection for gadgets and furnishings aside, what are the implications for romance among the nonlimerent? Again, I turn to the movies, specifically "Birdman":
"You know, just because I didn't like that ridiculous comedy you did with Goldie Hawn did not mean I did not love you. That's what you always do. You confuse love for admiration."
Oh, man. THAT is just what I do, in spades. In every significant romance with which my past and present has been graced, I can dig and find that admirable quality: "the most" - she was the most beautiful, this one the most exotic, that one the most academically accomplished, or the cutest, or the smartest, or the funniest, or the kindest or... certainly not "the most _____" in the whole world, but in MY world.

And with some of those categories... if I'm forthright (and I strive to be nothing if not unflinching and truthful about myself) there's an ego aspect with it, or at least a need for validation. Sometimes I don't want to be around that admirable quality merely for its own sake, or as an inspiration for my self-improvement, but so that the world can see me near it - and for my own insecurity - I am affirmed that I'm worthy of wooing the bearer of a quality so fine, in the eyes of the world, and of myself.

So, back to the book. It definitely has the 60s/70s feel of its era - kind of like the book "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex" - people being frank and reflective about their experiences during an era of transition, where men and women were reconsidering their relationship with the world and with each other. And I guess in the end, its conclusion is... you're either limerent or you're not, or at least, mostly not. And there's not a lot you can do it about it, but it's important to be sympathetic to the people that are.

I'm grateful to this book for letting me come to terms with the fool I was when I was limerent and the more sedate guy I am now.

from no crime and punishment


For me fretting about a decision is also about forgetting that there's no god's eye view even possible - no means of looking forward and back in time with perfect knowledge, and thus no ability to consistently judge what the right course is, or was, or will be.

This is beyond there not being someone or some thing to punish me just for the sake of not having made the optimal choice, which is the passage's point - that all the universe provides is circumstance and consequences, not judgement with punishment or reward.

(But even without that cosmic judge, it's easy to live in fear of my future self regarding my present self with scorn. So I try and be sympathetic and empathetic with my past self - that bozo was doing about the best he could with what he got, prisoner of a a chain of cause and effect going back to the start of the universe, as are we all.)

UPDATE: on my FB Matt I. brought up a good counter:
The OP is totally wrong--I'm not fretting that the universe will punish me, I'm really worried precisely that it *won't* punish me so there's no real incentive for me to do the right thing, and I have to be extra careful as a result.
I think the original passage doesn't half to be read s 100% selfish - like you could be anxious that others will be punished for your choice - but the point is that someone could be blasé about their own choices as long as the negative consequences were on others is a good one.

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: Both Matt and my ex Mo seemed to read the passage in the sense of personal good vs group benefit moral sense, but that spectrum didn't even register to me until Matt started talking about it - on closer inspection I think the difference is in the phrase "Right Decision" - I read it exclusively as "Correct Decision" while Matt and Maureen seem to have read it as "Morally Righteous Decision".
"We go straight from the gut, right sir? That's where the truth lies, right down here in the gut. Do you know you have more nerve endings in your gut than you have in your head? You can look it up. I know some of you are going to say "I did look it up, and that's not true." That's 'cause you looked it up in a book." Steve Colbert was the John the Baptist of Truthiness, but Trump is its Jesus. It is amazing how his followers will believe him over EVERY other source of information. Case in point:
‘Oh, crime actually stayed the same.’ Didn’t stay the same! It went way down. … These people, you know, you’d think they’d want to get to the bottom of a problem … not try and pull the wool over everybody’s eyes.”

Then Trump delivered his closing pitch, a direct appeal to intuition over evidence. You don’t need to check the numbers, he argued, since you already know walls work. “It’s fake news. I’m telling you, it’s just fake news,” the president jeered. “And you know what? You wouldn’t even have to know. You can say that automatically, without even knowing. It’s, like, it’s obvious, it’s common sense.”

you: the world has meaning

you: the world has no meaning

you: the world has meaning but not the kind I want

you: the world has meaning but only to me

you: i imbue the world w meaning

you: meaninglessness is a form of meaning

you: the world itself is meaning

the world:

from resolute

I have mixed feelings about New Year' Resolutions. Looking back, a few good things have come from them for me, but not many.

Here's what I'd like to do:

1. On a DAILY basis I'd like to do at least one thing for Mind (like read a chapter of a book), Body (there are some exercises I've been neglecting that might help get past a recurring but minor arm ache) or Spirit (there's a meditation app I've had languishing on my phone for months)
2. On a WEEKLY basis I'd like to revive my 2001 resolution of "catch up with one person I'd like to stay in contact with a week". This might have been too ambitious when I thought it meant "in person", but if I include email or call contact, it might be good.

(For both of those it helps to have a good Todo app with recurring items - my favorite being "2Do", which handles multiple sublists better than any I've seen.)


3. Continue being less angsty and procrastinatory when tasks are triggering insecurity. I tried to make this comic panel with an appropriate quote:

(I'd like to make a sequel of sorts to, or maybe rather an anthology including So, You're Going to Die, with all the best ideas I've encountered in my 40-odd years here, though I wish I had an advisor/editor whose taste I trusted, to help me how to make best use of the tools I have available (both intrinsic and external) and to figure out if I should commission an illustrator who has worked at honing their craft, or if there is enough charm in my doodle style to carry the day - and if the latter, which of my gimmick styles works best.)

Worth reposting:

from to live life, you need problems?

For a while I've been living in mild, uncertain disagreement with this quote:
To live life, you need problems. If you get everything you want the minute you want it, then what’s the point of livin’?
Jake the Dog in Adventure Time.
My counterpoint to that has been: I don't think the point of life is solely in the struggle of it- maybe not even mostly. Existentially we are enabled and required to define the greater purpose of it all for ourselves. Problems may be merely obstacles to said greater purpose, unless we've decided that the struggle with those problems is the point, as maybe Jake has done.

A possible counterpoint to my counterpoint is that learning to deal with problems is an important part of learning to deal with life, no matter what we take the point of life to be. If we don't get practice facing the small problems, we are more at risk for being swamped by larger ones. (On the other hand a densely packed series of problems may just wear us down and leave us more vulnerable to collapse. What doesn't kill us doesn't always make us stronger.) So in this model, problems we get through are critical to showing us the way to future problem solving.

So the countercountercounterpoint is - man, what the hell kind of silver lining is that? The silver lining to this gray cloud of a problem is just the promise of more damn gray clouds? Yeesh.

To unravel this gordian knot I've made of "are problems necessary?" I will slice with "problems are". They are likely there whether we accept them placidly and in good humor or rail against the unjustness of the universe or split the difference and learn from things to try and have fewer problems in the future. Amor Fati, love this fate, because there is no other.
On FB, Matt McIrvin said
I think of Mark Twain's vision of heaven: there are problems and there's work to do, but it's somehow arranged so you get to do the kind you find interesting.
In followup conversation, he clarified that as Extract from Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven - a great piece that tries to get some sense of the incredibly vast scale a universe-encompassing Heavenly afterlife would entail.

Part of my response was:
So up there I make reference to everyone's existential right and duty to figure out what it's all about for themselves; for me (personally) it's to aid and abet the creation of categorical novelty in the universe; that in this quarter of the universe humans seem uniquely able to create new categories of things that wouldn't exist otherwise, and so I try to aim my life to supporting that, and so support both humanity's stability and freedom.

And I try to create some of that novelty myself; both for the pleasure of making things towards my existential goal, and for the ego-gratification (or perhaps, reassurance) of being a person who can make such things. So of course to maximize the latter, challenges should be something that needs to be difficult for people in general but easy for me, I guess.

Of course that's me soaking in a bath of Dweck-ian "Fixed Mindset"; since I don't have an intuition that groks personal growth, I prefer to be seen as someone with innate abilities for whom things are easy, rather than as a person made of more ordinary potentials who overcomes great personal challenges.

TIL: Meghan Markle is a different person than Angela Merkel
I thought this was a pretty good macro summary of the USA economy from post-WW2 to now. Interesting to think about what started after WW2 in part to avoid another depression..

from sounds to me like someone's got a case of the s'pose'das!

sounds to me like someone's got a case of the s'pose'das!

Been thinking about this famous Simpsons line in the context of how I'm noticing everyone is very quick to use emotional judging to get to a stance of "this is good and I'm for it" "this is bad and I'm against it" rather than more finessed categorization; for understanding that everything exists because of some kind of set of cause and effect, and usually meeting some kind of purpose, but maybe a purpose that doesn't align with our own. (I think this "emotional judging" goes against Buddhism's suggestion that we not attach so freely, lest it lead to suffering.)

I mean, that's what a "s'pose'da" is, right? "This should not be!" and yet - there it is. From whence "should"? Going to "how it should be" can be used to deny personal responsibility for preference... I mean you can often trace it back to a lot of "well, we should make choices now to make outcomes like this less likely in the future, preferring rather a common-sense-derived set of preferred outcomes", but most people just go with their gut and-or defer to authority of one kind or another.

Anyway, is the line this teacher is using one (or similar to one) teachers actually used, or was it kind of made up for the show?
Sigh, in the interest of fairness- damn it to hell, NJ Dems, don't gerrymander too, you jerks.
Cracked has some thought experiments, mostly old stuff but some kind of new. I think how some of them - especially "which has more value, water or a diamond, when only the former is essential for life" and "would you ruin a $50 pair of shoes to plunge and save a drowning kid, but not send $50 to a foreign kid-saving charity?" only make any kind of sense if you throw away context. In most contexts, a diamond will gets you lots of water. In context, a drowning child is a problem at hand with a finite and bounded and satisfying solution, while sending a check involves chipping on a corner at a huge problem without resolution.

Noticing that brings me to this idea of how I'm a "cruxian", that I care about things in broad strokes and am relatively insensitive to nuance - basically, my brain is much more attentive to how things interact with their context. I'm blind to things like the mostly-internal excellence of a well-constructed symphony, say... not to mention a bit faceblind, maybe since the specific contours of any given face don't change how it interacts with the world (unless the personal is at the far ends of the beautiful/ugly spectrums)

from December 6, 2018

A great fallacy of the world is this:
that every opinion must move to purpose.
I think it's akin to the perpetual dissatisfaction Buddhists warn us against; we ask why merely think and categorize when we can feel and judge? How else would we be brought to right action? Why strain our selves looking for all the pluses and minuses, the reasons and results, when we can just collapse into a single thumbs up thumbs down?
I was delighted by this mural inside the Rosebud near Davis Square-

"Al Cass FAST" was my favorite valve oil even back in Cleveland - the rocketship and the way it proudly displayed its hometown really appealed to me, along with the"ODORLESS / WEATHER CONSCIOUS / DOES NOT SEPARATE" copy on the bottle, from an era when products sold themselves as much as facts as feelings. According to Wikipedia
[Al Cass] was the manufacturer and creator of the "FAST" valve/slide/key oil combination for brass instruments, which has been considered the industry standard since inception. It was developed after 18 months of R&D at the request and final approval of Dizzy Gillespie.
which is super hip.
If you are immune to boredom, there is literally nothing you cannot accomplish.
David Foster Wallace

There is no art without resistance in the material.
William Morris

I've been digging using old school (but touchscreen) e-ink Kindle - but they still have the disadvantage of not letting me use the color coding for highlights I did when the app on iPad mini was my main reader. Also it's less easy to copy and paste quotes onto my website and Facebook. Both of these problems are somewhat mitigated now with what might be a new feature (or not?) where the device can email you a nice PDF and CSV with your notes.

from not-judging

Random philosophic ramble; lately I've been pondering on my lack of judginess, my disinclination to make value judgements unless I need to and/or can be very sure of the objective likelihood of my view. It comes from a place of not wanting to be wrong, or rather, of it feeling sin to willfully not acquiesce to the Real Truth, which requires me to be super skeptical about anyone who claims to have that.

So I get to wishing more people would withhold judgement, while worried that if everyone was as wishy-washy as me not much would get done in the world.

But just the other day I noticed a parallel in my "live life with observing but not judging" recommendation and my understanding of Buddhist non-attachment. Not-judging lets me avoid the pitfalls of collapsing the richness of the real world into a simplified axis of "this is good" and "this is bad" and being miserable about my finite ability to change externalities.

Like a lot of consoling philosophies, there seems to be a risk of feeling too passive, of being less willing to take arms and fight the good fights. But still- not-judging is also a path to greater empathy and maybe the fights that I do have to have can be that much more productive.

Helper Device for New Parents!

from powerless beyond measure

Marianne Williamson wrote a poem that starts:
it is our light not our darkness that most frightens us
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
(this passage is sometimes falsely attributed to Nelson Mandela)

Personally it feels more like the deepest fear - or at least the one that drives procrastination and lack of ambition of all types - is that we'll put in a really good effort and not get the results we wanted, that the world will prove as daunting as we feared. When you've failed to put in a good effort, at least there's that fig leaf of you not trying - maybe there's still that untapped potential in you, maybe you still have untapped settings up the dial.

(I have my todo list clogged with all these not particularly hard or sometimes even necessary tasks, but what if I clear all those out and life still isn't just grand?)

I guess the remedy is there is like Eric Barker said:
"Are you afraid of the task? Why? Does it have a knife pointed at you? No. You're afraid you'll do a lousy job. Well, you're gonna do an even worse job if you don't get started."
Also it reminds me of that Vonnegut quote: "Plato says that the unexamined life is not worth living. But what if the examined life turns out to be a clunker as well?" (Not sure what the procrastination version of "unexamined" is - "unprocrastinated"?)

from loops vs arcs

My online friend Nick B wrote about long-running shows that sort of have continuity but don't age their characters much - as he put it "If there's a flashback to 10-year-old Homer playing a Nintendo 64 what the hell am I supposed to do?"

This is what I wrote in the comments:
I think also of the "reset switch" or whatever it is, on Star Trek and other serialized shows, where they'd have a "bible" and could get many talented writers in on the fun without burdening them too much with needing a deep knowledge of what went on before.

To wax philosophical (and to quote myself, which is probably gauche): In my "So You're Going to Die" comic, I say "As creatures who live only a few levels beyond our instincts, we like things to be consistent. Stasis may be boring, but predictability is safer than chaos. And we want to extend that desire for predictability for as long as we can imagine, which is forever."

I feel like this is what's going on with these shows. It's funny, because it's such the opposite of the "character arc" that is thought to make good literature. (Though in real life, I'm a much bigger fan of "show me an interesting idea every week" than worrying about or even believing in meaningful qualitative personal growth - probably to my detriment)
Funny to see that parallel. Also makes me think of "Age of Ultron" where The Vision replies to Ultorn's "[humans] are doomed!" with "Yes... but a thing isn't beautiful because it lasts."

That's a lesson I'm not sure if I'll ever take in. It's hard to see change and growth as not being a refutation.
Corroboration and plenty of it.
Melissa and I watched Touch of Evil last night. It's sometimes a little hard to follow, and bits come across as racist, but it's also exploring the racism of the time, and a lot of the film's message about accountability and the power of white men in USA culture are especially timely.

One great exchange, emphasis mine:
Quinlan: Our friend Vargas has some very special ideas about police procedure. He seems to think it don't matter whether killers hang or not, so long as we obey the fine print.
Vargas: Captain, I don't think a policeman should work like a dog catcher in putting criminals behind bars. No! In any free country, a policeman is supposed to enforce the law, and the law protects the guilty as well as the innocent.
Quinlan: Our job is tough enough.
Vargas: It's supposed to be. It has to be tough. A policeman's job is only easy in a police state. That's the whole point, Captain - who's the boss, the cop or the law?

from quotes from bell hooks' "yearnings"

In educating myself about anti-racism, someone suggested I check out the black feminist author bell hooks, so I got a copy of "Yearnings", short essays.

From "The chitlin circuit on black community":

That way "downhome" black folks had of speaking to one another, looking one another directly in the eye (many of us had old folks tell us, don’t look down, look at me when I’m talking to you) was not some quaint country gesture. It was a practice of resistance undoing years of racist teachings that had denied us the power of recognition, the power of the gaze. These looks were affirmations of our being, a balm to wounded spirits.
Two from "counter-hegemonic art do the right thing":
Cool Pose, manifested by the expressive lifestyle, is also an aggressive assertion of masculinity. It emphatically says, “White man, this is my turf, you can’t match me here.” Though he may be impotent in the political and corporate world, the black man demonstrates his potency in athletic competition, entertainment and the pulpit with a verve that borders on the spectacular. Through the virtuosity of a performance, he tips the socially balanced scales in his favor. “See me, touch me, hear me, but, white man you can’t copy me.” This is the subliminal message which black males signify in their oftentimes flamboyant performances. Cool Pose, then, becomes the cultural signature for such black men.
and then
Racism is not simply prejudice. It does not always take the form of overt discrimination. Often subtle and covert forms of racist domination determine the contemporary lot of black people.
That second one has really stuck with me. In the progressive community, there's sometimes a use of the word "racist" that doesn't quite match the vernacular sense of the word - for one thing it's not just about race and ethnic group, and for another, sometimes it draws attention to how insufficient examination of privilege can be complicit in perpetuating bad power structures. Understanding that surface prejudice isn't a requirement is useful.

Finally, a quote from Cornel West in the dialog with bell hooks "Black women and men partnership in the 1990s"

I don’t think it’s a credible notion to believe the black middle class will give up on its material toys. No, the black middle class will act like any other middle class in the human condition; it will attempt to maintain its privilege. There is something seductive about comfort and convenience. The black middle class will not return to the ghetto, especially given the territorial struggles going on with gangs and so forth. Yet, how can we use what power we do have to be sure more resources are available to those who are disadvantaged? So the question becomes “How do we use our responsibility and privilege?” Because, after all, black privilege is a result of black struggle.
I don't know if it's unseemly to focus too much on this quote, to use it as a justification for the amount of my own middle-class privilege and material toys I am unlikely to willingly part with. I suspect this helps paint the picture of liberal racism; it's not that we think other groups don't deserve privilege, but we would rather work to help other groups get the same privilege and not worry that much about giving up our own.

from inner child psychology

"The first rule of child psychology is that it applies throughout all of life."
I try to think of the right model to understand the part of me that procrastinates, seemingly intimidated by relatively innocuous tasks , and the part of me that makes it tough to consistently control my eating. Jonathan Haidt "The Elephant (and the Rider)" is one metaphor that covers it. But also it feels like an inner child, or maybe a hungry dog - a dog that knows what it wants and can be extremely clever about getting its own way,

I think the other thing to remember is whatever it is, it's a system that's a bit deaf-blind (ala Helen Keller) possibly not enjoying the same rich sensory input that our rational selves have, nor the framework of language to help make choices about it, but rather is responding to the bodies response to its immediate environment. So you have to be so careful about how you train it! Run away from a challenge, and this system "learns" that it's a challenge worth running from - super scary (however minor it 'actually' is) and so lets crank up fight-or-flight. Or food is delicious, and the future unknowable, so lets frickin' eat...

That's some of what the quote is about - in practice, gimmicks we use for kids might work all thorough our lives.

Expounding on this topic for a Letter for Future Cora:
Some people use the "Elephant and the Rider" metaphor - the Elephant being our emotional self that provides all the energy, and honestly, may be where all the capacity for pleasure and enjoyment is, vs. our intellectual/rationale/linguistic "Rider" that THINKS it's running the show, because it's SO good at making explanations for what the Elephant decided to do, but it's not, it's usually just holding on for dear life, albeit with some capacity to urge and coax the elephant to where it knows the two should go.

Anyway, it's tough to train this elephant, and like a kid it's prone to picking up cues and the "wrong" lesson. Like, if there's a minor task at school or work or whatever, and it seems a little scary - you're worried you might not do a good job (and if you have "fixed mindset" like I do - the feeling that intelligence and other traits are something you have via genetics or whatever, not something you can grow - not doing a good job might be pointing you're a fake! A Phony! A fraud!) and you back away from the task, go do something else for a bit... well your elephant learns "man, that's a scary thing worth running from, I better get all systems ready to run next time". (An elephant's fabled feeling about mice comes to mind...) And lately I've been thinking how the elephant might not be seeing the world through my eyes, or having the framework of language to build its "thoughts" around. So, like, it doesn't see the delicious snack available at work, but it sees the rest of my body and my rational mind noticing the delicious snack at work, and accordingly launches a campaign to get me to eat it...

Want to hear a hot take?

Despite what modern core nihilism will tell you, the accidental nature and inherent meaninglessness of life as a biological phenomenon does not mean that our efforts are pointless but instead allows us all to determine what we personally desire out of life. It means we are free to pursue what our hearts desire, and so enables each of us to find our own unique meaning.

Also love is real.

And the majority of people in the world are inherently good-natured.

from descriptivist morality

Harper’s Magazine’s end page is “Findings”, 3 paragraphs of 1 sentence summaries of research studies. One in December was “People tend to think common behavior is moral behavior”. For some reason that unlocked a view for me of the parallel between my linguistic descriptivism and moral descriptivism, one I shoulda thought of before. Just like language is not invented as a set of rules that then makes it way to the populous, but an attempt to codify language when people believe they are speaking properly, maybe morality could be seen as a large scale description of how people behave when they believe they are behaving morally.

Fleshing it out, it raises the question is this possibly contributing to a single universal morality, or like with languages are we forever trapped in different mutually incomprehensible languages and dialects? If there is a universality, is it like Esperanto? An attempt to take bits and pieces of some of the more dominant language and find consistency? Or maybe a universal morality would have to be like Chomsky’s Universal Grammar - which is not a grammar in the common sense, but the lower level “hardwired” sense of primitives like nouns vs verbs that make learning actual grammar possible. (Given my previous recognition of how I have a strong sense of "should", an anxious compulsion to never be out of alignment with knowable-but-not-fully universal morality, driven by a subconscious fear of eternal punishment if I screw up too badly, it's kind of weird to think through the universal morality / universal language parallels)

I've always been rather ambivalent about meritocracy--and not just because I'm a beneficiary of England's class system. During my spell in New York I enjoyed shocking people by telling them that the word "meritocracy" had originally been coined for the purposes of damnation rather than praise. They would always dispute this until I played my trump card: my father, Michael Young, invented it.

He coined it to describe a nightmarish society of the future in his 1958 bestseller The Rise of the Meritocracy. In my father's view, equality of opportunity is a snare and a delusion since it makes it less likely that equality of outcome, the "hard" form of equality he believed in, will ever come about. If everyone starts out on a level playing field than the resulting distribution of wealth, however unequal, will be regarded as legitimate. According to him, a meritocratic society is no better than an aristocratic one since it is just as hierarchical. Indeed, it is considerably worse since the richest segment of the population don't suffer feelings of guilt. Unlike those who have inherited their wealth, they think their good fortune is thoroughly deserved. In my father's book, a work of fiction that purports to be a Ph.D. thesis written by a sociology student in 2030, the absence of noblesse oblige in the meritocratic society of the future eventually results in a bloody revolution in which the workers overthrow their new masters.

Interesting take given the whole Atlantic The 9.9% is the new American Aristocracy article making the rounds, and making me rethink some of my assumptions. I guess I'll be back to the correct answer is "it's complicated". You can never fully evaluate merit, you can never remove chance and circumstance on the path from merit to reward, you never want to fully disregard talent in terms of providing opportunity.
This is pretty awesome:

Worth checking out the 20 minute "making of" on the artist's page - I remember making spaceships and what not on graph paper way back when, and his idiosyncratic way of doing the vectors reminds me a lot of some the DIY 3D I used to play with (and aRTSeroids, while 2D, used some of the same "fake looking like a vector screen" effect.)
Was talking about me not understanding the popularity of streaming - having to always pay rent for your songs, and relying on a good constant internet connection - when we live in a wonderland of being able to buy nearly any music as a single w/ EB, who pointed out "Music collections cost thousands and takes time, renting music costs you a pizza, and gives you a larger selection". Which I guess makes sense.

He pointed to the article Subscriptions for the 1%, which is bit more focused on news, and paywalls, and how the law of "you get what you pay for" may create an ugly divide.

I guess there's a parallel with news and music in the 80s: individual articles are like the catching singles on the radio. Paying for a news source is like investing in an LP. Google and Facebook are the record companies playing kingmaker and getting rich themselves.

Honestly I'd love a bundled deal for, like, NY Times, WaPo, WSJ, and Boston Globe...

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

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.

from "epistemology and morality is a game you play for unimaginably perilous, eternal stakes"

Was fear of burning in hell forever a big part of your childhood? My church wasn't particularly fire-and-brimstone but I remember being scared witless at some point as a 10- or 11-year-old. It really set me to be uptight in certain ways - even after I gave up the supernatural belief, I think subconsciously the "do right or face the most dire imaginable (actually, literally unimaginably awful) consequences." sunk in deep. And in some ways its kept my behaviour on some good straight and narrow paths but, man, what a cost!

Anyway. I had a dialog tonight that reminded me "fear of eternal hellfire" isn't a universal feature of childhood / tween years, so now I'm wondering how many of my online buds had it?

I want to reiterate that my church didn't hammer hell home, or at least not frequently, and I'm very sure I didn't get it from my folks. (Though on a visit to DC I had a Sunday School class taught by my Aunt that emphasized the Tribulation, complete with a Christian in front of a firing squad, that seized my imagination. A terrifying pile of bullshit for a child. Not sure if that kind of scare is morally better or worse than "pre-tribulation" thinking (that uses a dubious reading of scriptures and a more optimistic and selfish view of God's protection for his flock to presume good Christians have a "Get Out of Jail" free card and will be whisked off before the excrement hits the ventilation system.))

One of my frustrations with my conversation last night was my discussion partner, who was blessed with a more wholesome set of one on one religious instructions as a child, kind of flaunted that wholesomeness over what I had picked up then, but as if my view then was what I overtly believed now, and as if I hadn't matured my own view. I have, but am aware that there's a subconscious underpinning - or even undermining - and that "epistemology and morality is a game you play for unimaginably perilous, eternal stakes" drives even my secular view (where the preponderance of SO MANY DIFFERENT faiths and corresponding supernatural explanations leads me to believe that none of them are as true as they claim, unless they go down a non-exclusive "many paths to the same destination" approach.)

It's funny how many years I ran from having a conversation about this with my Preacher Lady Mom. I mean, I still do. I see now that given my views about "Objective Truth that you can know but never be certain of your knowledge of, but other people's beliefs are important signposts as to the most likely Truth" I had a lot of anxiety about us not being able to pay attention to each other's signposts.

At one point maybe ten years ago when we had part of that conversation, she came back to a "and when I have doubts, I just realize that it's not such a bad way to live anyway." At the time I thought it was just a recapitulation of Pascal's Wager, but I realize now she might have been referring in an understated way to a lot of richness the Christian Preacher life has provided for her, really given her purpose and community and with all The Salvation Army's charity, many tangible and real-world proofs of the good she has done.

I shared my religious skepticism with Mr. Johnson (the man, a pharmacist and my part-time employer, who came closest to stepping as the father figure after my dad died during the beginning of my time in high school, and had many great man-to-boy talks over dinner - now he's up in Heaven too, to quote Vonnegut) and he said he was pretty assured I'd come back to religion/church some day. And now I wonder if the community and richness I find in activist bands counts - the parallels with my church upbringing (in particular with School of Honk - marching outside Sunday afternoons and constantly inviting people to join in) are tremendous, and I'm thinking I get many of the church-y benefits sociologists talk about through my 4 or 5 bands...

from a means with no end

Arun and Melissa have been indulging me with letting me sound off about some my philosophical ramblings, and comparing and contrasting to their views.

In general I haven't yet figured out how to succinctly and clearly describe my current view that Universal Truth exists (not just an objective description of the facts of the universe, but a model of what "should" be) and is somewhat knowable - or at least guessable, but - and this is the critical bit- you can NEVER be certain that you know it. Never ever. (And claiming that you have full and complete knowledge is as definitely close to "original sin" as this system gets.)

My faith is: faith is broken. At best it's a means to an end. I share Vonnegut's view "Say what you will about the sweet miracle of unquestioning faith, I consider a capacity for it terrifying and absolutely vile."

This is different, in ways subtle and coarse, from views that say "well, since Truth is unknowable, everyone has to make up their own, and also be sympathetic to other views you disagree with." In practice my view is similar: both reject brash self-assuredness, but for very different reasons- in my view, observing other people's is just a means to end. Or rather, a means with no end- because you will never know if you get there.

There's something taoist in this, which I dig, but also Plato's formsish, which is troubling me.
TIL: 'The term "wedding soup" comes from the Italian language phrase "minestra maritata" ("married soup"), which is a reference to the flavor produced by the combination/"marriage" of greens and the meat'

And here I had been thinking it was, like, originally for weddings. Sort of like having birthday cake any time of year.
One of the adventures of making websites for porchfests is dealing with quirky tech things generated by non- and semi-technical musicians.

It's easy to come up with little petty gripes like "c'mon, people, it's a BAND DESCRIPTION not your frickin' album press release blurb"!

But here: some folks uploaded 2 versions of the same image (a simple "two headshots pasted side by side into a new image" with no attempt at photoshopping, just two non-matching-background squares) One file in TIFF and then a JPG version of the same thing. And resizing it with ImageMagick for some reason converts the JPG to a photonegative.

It raises interesting questions!
1. Who uses tiff? I feel like it used to be more popular in the 90s or something? Is it probably just some old tech being used, or does it have some niche use I'm unaware of?
2. What on earth would cause a simple ImageMagick "convert {} -resize 240x240" to flip it to a freaky photo negative?

This isn't meant to be snarky - I think every band that comes together for a Porchfest is awesome, and there's no "you must be this technical to ride this ride", but I really am curious as to the background story.

from zelda is life. maybe.

Been grinding through the new Zelda (sometimes 'til like 3AM, which isn't all that wise.)

I gave the game a shot last summer on Wii U, but it didn't stick; I got anxious and irritated with the way all weapons wear down and break, with the seemingly fiddly cooking system, with the difficulty of some of the "Test of Strength" battle shrines.

Listening to the Watch Out For Fireballs! podcast on it helped my second try on Switch go better - especially one of the casters joking how sometimes when he got to a "test of strength" he'd be like Grandpa Simpson walking into the 'burlesque house': take off his hat, see Bart at the desk, U-turn, put on his hat, exit, whistling all the while.

Historically Zelda and Metroid, with their "from chump to champ" arcs, have never resonated for me the way Mario and GTA have - the protaganist of the latter two games is, from a play-control perspective, about the same dude at the end as the beginning, and that's always felt more true to my Fixed-Mindset intuitions - new skills might be practiced but the intrinsic core is unchanging.

So right now I'm trying to parlay my enjoyment of Zelda -- the satisfaction of growing a character, returning to an area where a terrible frustrating enemy is now a cakewalk, the ok-ness of leaving a challenge alone for a long while and (maybe) coming back to it later, the games lovely sense of how there's often more than one way to do it -- into a life lesson.

For instance: Right now I'm frustrated as hell at how hard it is to apply my html-ish mojo into writing standalone apps for iphones and android devices. There's "PhoneGap" that seemed the most promising but not only has the iPhone-part of their "hello world" entry been removed from the app store, the version for Android doesn't seem to work on modern device. So it seems like probably a different approach is required, and I should come back to this later, or enlist a cheat sheet (like I do with the game), or I should try a different approach.

Of course, the Zelda-to-real-life mapping is terribly imperfect. In video games progress is quantified, consistently immediately rewarded, and back-sliding doesn't really exist... all factors missing from actual learning in life.

Anyway, fun game. Actually, startlingly gorgeous in parts, and with a does of bittersweet melancholy.

from the algorithm from the inside

Our daughter's choices--like everything else--had been written in stone at the birth of the universe, but that information could only be decoded by becoming her along the way.
Greg Egan, "Singleton"
Consciousness is what running the algorithm feels like from the inside.
Scott Albertine

Scott is a former coworker - the quote is a paraphrase, and I may be drawing something slightly different than he was thinking of, but still, something like that phrasing has stuck with me all this time... we have what seems to be subjective experience and make meaningful choices, and yet are apparently marionettes in a universe governed by clockwork (if quantum-ly unpredictable) particles and energies that pull every string we possibly could have...

Of course, when we do talk about "free will", there are very different feeling levels of predeterminism - on one hand, physics-y stuff where it feels we assume that in principle a particle-level simulation of us and our local environments could recreate us and our actions entirely, and on the other hand, stuff at social and psychological levels, where we look at people's childhoods and experiences and what not, and try to pin down "could it have been otherwise?" - especially when stuff is going wrong.

from personal growth thoughts old and new(ish) and the supernatural placebo

One of the weird things about having a long-running blog is not only can it confirm "I've had this thought before", sometimes it was FAR longer ago than I ever would have guessed - 2013.11.13 calvinism and personal growth - 4 1/2 years ago I was noticing that my fixed mindset was intensely Calvinist (in the Protestant, not Funny Pages sense... i.e. you're either of the saved elect, or of the damned masses, and nothing in your own efforts can change that) as was my behavior. The faith in that you are one of the irredeemably saved, when undercut with the fear that you might not be, is not a freeing "so do what you want!" but an intensively restrictive and uptight "you best behave! Or people will have their doubts, no matter what God thinks".

Later I've noticed times when some people a bit to the left of me, or far to the right, seem to be indicating that you have to change something at its core, and then the good interactions you're hoping for will follow. (The anecdote for the left is how to get a band to lean into being diverse and welcoming, and for the right - I've even seen it in a scholarly way of presuming that understanding the Latinate roots of a word was more important than understanding the vernacular usage of it. But I also feel the right's view that "the apple don't fall far from the tree" and justifications for racism by lumping people into the worst stereotypes of their class has the same top-down thinking.)

Me, I dunno. I have no knack for observing personal growth in myself or others. People's behaviors or abilities may change for the better - statistical clear improvements - but I never get a sense of when that can safely feel like an internalized improvement. For instance, dieting never becomes easy, it's always a matter of gumption and leading myself way the hell away from temptation, because frankly if the delicious food is right there I'm gonna eat it. New eating habits never form and so constant vigilance is the requirement.

Further thought: On the 2013 post (man I hadn't shut down my comments section because of spammers by then?) an anonymous commenter wrote "And Somewhere in the salvation army, an angel just spit in its soup." Which is funny, because I had been thinking about how The Salvation Army really is about people being redeemed, through the life changing power of Jesus Christ.

I guess it's telling that both they and, say, AA look to a supernatural power as necessary for making a true change.

Given my current skepticism, I'm at least heartened by pondering on how insanely powerful the Placebo effect is in medicine.... It's too bad we don't respect placebos, because a belief in God is a powerful psychological bending thing, and that's true, for good or for ill, regardless of the supernatural truth behind any given belief...

The sun is probably the closest thing we’ll ever have to a true Eldritch Abomination. Hear me out here-

My sweet Melissa works in the same building as me - in fact her company's "Beer Garden" is an atrium visible from our office area and she left me this message...

from the objective unknowable truth

Maybe the strongest but weirdest thing my Evangelical Christian upbringing left me with is a sense that there IS an objective, absolute Truth that transcends all creeds and other preconceptions and can even make value judgements - potentially bridging the chasm between "Ought" (How Things Should Be) and "Is" (How Things Are) - but that this Truth is ultimately unknowable, and so any group's claim to perfected, or even superior, insight into it is unverifiable and suspect - especially insight via special revelation and not skeptical enquiry.

And to cling to such a claim (of perfected knowledge of the Truth) and end up being Wrong would be an unforgivable sin.

"Keep the company of those who seek the truth- run from those who have found it" --Vaclav Havel (or more likely André Gide.)

This also drives my pseudo-martyrdom, my typical willingness to sacrifice bits of my own comfort and resources if a best guess of The Truth says that a greater good would be served by my doing so. So I am compelled to sacrifice up until the point that says a best guess would say hey, I'm worth something too, and what I'm giving up might be (Objective Truthfully) of more value to the collective world with me than meeting that other need.

I suspect that this driving force has been with me since my teenage years, but only in the past few am I so aware of it. (Also, I'm reviewing https://kirk.is/2017/10/21/ as another, even more long-winded exploration of some of these topics.)

(I think it's telling that Grammarly urges me to say "the best" and not "a best". No way man. There's no single best because life has too many spectrums to measure stuff on.)

As a left leaning person, what do you like about conservatives? I thought this was gentler and more thoughtful than many things I've seen on Quora and FB.
CNN: Where fat goes when you lose weight - spoiler: it's not converted straight into energy (i.e. we don't have a Fusion or Fission reactor in us...), it's not just pee'd or poo'd out, it's not converted into muscle... instead it's turned into CO2 and water! 10 lbs of fat turns into 8.4 lbs of CO2 (and I admit it's always weird to think of the weight of a gas...) and 1.6 of water.

This is kind of a delightful fact, and a nice mirror image of what I learned in 2013, how trees build themselves out of air (and some minerals from the ground, and I think water.) In both cases, the conversion back and from of air with more solidish stuff defies our intuitions.
Janelle C Shane uses a neural net to generate new Dungeons and Dragons monsters: I love the subtle nerdness of the noun, adjective format- really brings the "Monster Manual" aspect home for me.
Because I believe in giving back, I have put the Knux' 1974 on Wikipedia's List of songs named after dates. (I'm partial to 1974 for obvious reasons, so when I thought of Smashing Pumpkin's 1979 and Prince's 1999 I figured there's gotta be a list...)
They're both better after a couple of beers.
Carrie Fisher, on similarities between Paul Simon and Harrison Ford

I love some of the old NES video game music, like Mega Man series and of course the Mario stuff they explore "what makes it sound fun" here...
SPOILER: it can have a lot to do with the same stuff that makes New Orleans Street Band music fun. (Insert wistful dream to get more competent about arranging music here... I think videos like this might help a little bit)

from faith as a feature not a bug

(Warning - high risk of sophomoric philosophy in the most literal (as in, concerning when I was a sophomore in high school) sense ahead)

The multiplicity of religions is a big part of what drove me from Evangelical Christianity - or as I put it then "The world has a billion devout Moslems. Here I am, sweet talkin' son of a preacher man, trying to be a good Christian, but if I had been the sweet talkin' son of an Imam, wouldn't I be trying just as hard to be a good Moslem?" (This was before Wikipedia so I wasn't even sure if Imams could have kids, but you get the idea.)

The way Christianity was presented to me as uniquely True - "No one comes to the Father but by Me" (John 14:16) - meant that it had some 'splainin' to do. God "letting" all those other religions happen just didn't make a lot of sense, and hits that "God is all knowing, God is all loving, God is all powerful, whence evil?" (Epicurus) conundrum pretty hard. (That "well, As the stars are above the sands, so our God's ways above ours" (Isiah 55:9) always felt like a cop-out!) Later, when I see ecumenical and cross-faith outreach, and hear politicians calling for unity among "people of All Faiths" (and leaving out Freethinkers and Skeptics) -- it was hard to parse that without being dismissive of their intellects and skeptical of their intentions.

That was the early days of my almost-OCDish need for me to only embrace that which is likely to be objectively verifiable as true, or to clearly demarcate my level of uncertainty about it, the "known unknown" factor. And so I shared Vonnegut's view "Say what you will about the sweet miracle of unquestioning faith, I consider a capacity for it terrifying and absolutely vile" and I demanded an adherence to Objective Truth take priority over adherence to God, even.

And so years passed. I became aware that my faith, while not fundamentalist, had been pretty brittle, and maybe I'd lost something leaving it behind. I tried to find that in the UU, which in its liberal New England form seemed to offer the fellowship without demanding sacrificing skepticism, and maybe provide insight into those other religions, and the commonalities in the human experience they might all share. I've kind of drifted from them as well (save for a "Science and Spirituality" reading group I still attend) - but I think I have found much of the sense of community and purpose in activist Band music (heck, the School of Honk meets Sundays, takes to the streets with horns, and constantly invites people to join them - very Salvation Army like!)

So this morning's new thoughts: (ironically I was going to say "revelation", but only to the sense of my subconscious mind bringing some thought to my narrative self...)

Lately, I see more references to Jonathan Haidt's "Mortal Foundations" theory; that historically - maybe even biologically - there's a split, with liberals concerned much more strongly about the foundations "Care" "Fairness" and "Liberty", and conservatives concerned about those things, but adding in foundations of "Loyalty" "Authority" and "Sanctity" - which are values that many liberals also dig, but as means to other ends, and especially not as law-giving principles for their own sake.

(Maybe the single most telling question in the Left/Right 20 Questions Quiz is "Which lesson is more important to teach to children: Kindness or Respect?")

Pondering in the shower this morning, I just realized how Moral Foundations theory explains the promotion of Faith - it's just a clear signal that you're on the same page of all those conservative foundations: "Loyalty" to the group, accepting the "Authority" of the church and other systems in that tradition, and the whole "Sanctity" of not asking so many damn questions, kid. In some ways, the more outlandish the claim, the bigger the opportunity to signal adherence- the BUG (of extreme unlikelihood and contradiction of experience and sense data) is a FEATURE (of believing it anyway.)

If you read "The Righteous Mind" you do hear Haidt talking about his Jewish Liberal roots but sounding like he finds the extra-facets of the conservative set of foundations as worthwhile - maybe in some ways superior. Certainly they are time-tested and intuitively they would seem to build stronger and stable societies. I guess it comes back to the terms "conservative" and "progressive"; the 6 foundations might be good for stability, focusing on the 3 though gets you a society that's ready to make progress, and better live up to the idea of fairness for all.

from February 3, 2018

A Mortal Thought: so many of us long for immortality. To live forever, for infinity - time enough to get everything we can imagine doing done.

But here's the thing about infinity: it's not as "everything" as you might expect. Take the simple counting numbers... 1, 2, 3... there's an infinite number of them! They go on forever. Everything you could possibly dream of, right?

Well, no. There are more infinities lurking. Now think about how many numbers fractions are between 0 and 1... 1/2, 1/4, 3/4, 1/8... 311/782, 612131/981141, etc etc etc... there's an infinite number... all lurking between 0 and 1. And the same number must be lurking between 1 and 2, 2 and 3, etc. (And don't even get me started on the decimals... there's an even bigger infinity of them than the fractions, it's a long story)

So even if you had an infinite number of days to work with, there'd be things you couldn't get done - possible paintings you couldn't make, potential books you couldn't write, fabulous romances you couldn't pursue. The space of the possible blossoms and expands far further than our linear selves, even if our linear selves were going to last forever.

I find that reassuring. Sure I'll be missing out on whatever happens after I die, and I'd love to have quite a bit more say in when that happens. But even if by some miracle I managed to live forever without getting bored out of my skull (see the final chapter of Julian Barnes' "A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters" for an exploration of that theme) there would still never be time to do EVERYTHING...
(In response to a response to the above)
One thing I didn't get into - I know my life is influenced by Objective Shoulds - that "objectively" it would be better to accomplish this, learn that, achieve the other. But I find it useful to remember that I don't actually believe there's any external authority determining that... so I don't have to worry about what potential goals I don't make nearly as much as I do.

I'm imagining that if your goals are more self-realized, that there are things you'd want to get done because YOU would want to, and not how other people or "objectively reality" will judge you - well, I guess this outlook is less help... the commitments you have to do and the choices of things you prioritized might well be blocking other things/classes/places/connections/reconnections you'd like to do, and so the best we can do is look for silver linings, try to prioritize and push and make a little time for that secondary but rewarding stuff...
Too bad I've had to move all my comments back and forth to FB.

from random therapy-ish thoughts

TL; DR: are our emotions as truly us as our thoughts??... also... are our inner children all Tommy Pinball Wizards?

1. Lately I've been trying to chart down my willingness to be a bit of a martyr; I think it has some roots with my "OCD about being 100% factually reliable" (i.e. making it very clear how definite or unsure I am of any simple fact.) Subconsciously I feel as if my personal preferences have zero weight in the world, or at least, they have zero ability for self-justification; so if there's an (objectively reasonable) sacrifice I can make to stop an external, observable situation from going to shit, I am morally obliged to make that sacrifice.

2. Somewhere I've honed abilities to curate many emotions... so that they inappropriate or not-completely-objectively-justifiable feelings get weeded out very early. Other feelings (especially around fixed-mindset/ego-protection "better to not try and not succeed than swing and miss and lay bare my limitations") are more resilient, sadly.... along with impulse control for sweet and tasty things

3. That brings me to thinking about my "inner child"... Or to use another metaphor, the Elephant of my subconscious, emotional, movement life vs my Rational, narrative self. Since my 20s I've tried to grow beyond thinking of my inner-voice, narrative self as "me" but I don't know if I fully believe it, if I really grasp every subconscious process as being as "truly me" as my ability to recollect and consciously decide thing. Or - this just occurs to me now - I act as if my EMOTIONS aren't as valid, nor as "truly-me", as my THOUGHTS.

But maybe some of the problem is that "inner-child" is living a bit of a Helen-Keller world? Like possibly it doesn't have full access to the sensory input my narrator-self does - or maybe just lacks the linguistic framework to hang ideas off of, and so lives in a much less finessed world. (Reminds me a bit of Tommy the Pinball Wizard, that Deaf Dumb and Blind kid sure plays a mean pinball!) This kind of thing might be why affirmations seem so dumb and repetitive, that that's the kind of training and communication an inner-child needs because of those sensory gaps.

4. Finally... reading about Sweden's lifestyle philosophy of moderation called Lagom. Lately I've been thinking about how little in the West- especially the USA, I think - encourages moderation and balance for its own sake. If something is good, then why isn't cranking it up to 11 better? In practice, many people find their own moderation in, say, religion - but I think it's a serious loss that my evangelical heritage really doesn't stress that as a property - this life can feel like an admission exam for heaven or hell, so how can any earthly pursuit truly matter? That's why I built up my ability to objectively rationalize, I think younger me hoped he could lawyer is way out of hell...

FOLLOWUP: On Facebook Dachary said:

The inner child musing reminds me of a tool a therapist gave me ages ago. Because it’s sometimes difficult to surface subconscious thought processes, he had me use a journal and write out questions with my dominant hand and write responses with my non-dominant hand; the theory being, the other brain hemisphere is getting a chance to communicate directly.

I will say it surfaced a lot of things I wasn’t really aware of. The therapist had me write responses with my dominant hand, and “care” for my inner child - I.e. acknowledge thoughts and concerns, respond to them in a loving way and sort of try to rationally reach out to these subconscious knee-jerk types of things. At the very least, it helped me better respond where some things were coming from, and I believe it helped me resolve some things with my inner child.
It all reminds me how much of what I wrote is covered with Freud's Id/Ego/Superego division. (Also this point from the Wikipedia page on it: Figures like Bruno Bettelheim have criticized the way "the English translations impeded students' efforts to gain a true understanding of Freud."by substituting the formalised language of the elaborated code for the quotidian immediacy of Freud's own language." - the original German is more like "The It", "The I", "The Over-I". Latin gets in the way.
So beautiful....


"When you don't have money, but you have #Lego, imagination and determination."

from rereading slaughterhouse five

Re-read Slaughterhouse Five. Forgot what a brisk read it is. The view of time is so striking
The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present, and future, always have existed, always will exist.
It's hard to figure out if that stance is profound or delusional; but it reminds me of "Still Life with Woodpecker" pointing out that it's a little prejudicial to care about something only because it's animate; there's that hint of shinto-esque animism, that just by having design and purpose and reflection of human intention or desire, there's a bit of a life there.

From a typical western point of view, both views are absurd; a moment in the past is a nothing, just an idea that has fundamentally dissolved, the curtains of steadily moving time having firmly come down in front of it, in fact an ever-moving series of heavy curtains slamming down. And of course we favor the animate; anything animate is more our cousin than anything not - hell, if that weren't true would there be any there there from which to do the favoring?

And yet.

Two other passages that stick with me:

And Lot’s wife, of course, was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been. But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human.
And also the story of stealing a spoonful of vitamin syrup meant for pregnant women:
Billy thrust [the spoon] into the vat, turned it around and around, making a gooey lollipop. He thrust it into his mouth.

A moment went by, and then every cell in Billy’s body shook him with ravenous gratitude and applause.
Sometimes I've felt a hint of that, like when I hit on a vegetable that my body seems to be craving... it just feels so right.

from January 4, 2018

Helpless rage is a major cause of falls in the home.
"Don Giovanni" (by Garrison Keillor)
I've been thinking of this quote a lot lately, as I play with the idea of if it's ok (meaning, compatible with the kind of moral life I want to live) to keep my dismay at events cerebral, rather than deeply emotionally processed.

It's balancing a desire for a healthy sense of equanimity against the idea that without emotion, there is no motion; that every action we undertake happens when our emotional elephant gets the impetus to move, our rational rider just trying to guide the elephant as best it can (and then take credit for it with post-facto rationalization, its true talent.)

In general curating my own emotional landscape might be more of an option for me than some because I have an almost-OCDish history of justifying and rationalizing myself, and some practice letting my rational side preempt emotions it thinks are invalid.

Also, the option to do so might be coming from a place of privilege - but maybe not as much as it first appears. An existentially bleak universe and set-point theory of happiness, if valid, would be available to almost everyone regardless of privilege.

"Textese" and code-switching or why a period at the end of a text message sounds harsh. Often, good messages in a dialog trail off, inviting further reply. This makes me feel a bit better about all the smilies I use. (And slowly I'll be less aghast at "u" and "r" showing up so often.)

from December 31, 2017

(I updated my old essay TRIPLE EQUALS CONSIDERED OVERRATED === = :-( with this postscript - philosophical and epistemological minded folks might find this bit interesting, even if they don't know the Javascript bit that originally framed it)

Listening to a podcast with scientists pontificating, I realize I treat triple-equals usage similarly to how I treat the correct usage of "data are plural", and for similar reasons: a begrudging respect for people using a shibboleth correctly, set against a personal bias for the looser usage; with that split masking a philosophical difference in worldview.

My worldview is: people and things are more important in how they interact than in their internal makeup. Take "Data". It's technically a plural world from Latin, with "Datum" being the singular. But a "Datum" is useless to the point of meaninglessness on its own - ONLY through multiplicity does a datum go from being a one-off anecdote to a statistically meaningful bit of information. Casual use would treat "Data" as a kind of singular group noun - "what this data suggests" vs "what these data suggest", and since that group-making is the only useful way people interact with data, "this data", the street usage, makes much more sense.

(I'm not a big fan of the old tradition of presuming Latin rules need apply to English anyway- like how you should never split an infinitive ("to boldly go") since such a construction is impossible in Latin where the infinitive is a single word.)

With triple equals, I return to the basic idea that it means "reject the comparison if the things being compared aren't exactly the same type" - an internal analysis. Double equals says if two things have the same value when they interact, that's fine! We don't care about the history or composition of the things, just how they'll interact now. (A long history with Perl and other duck-type languages helps inform my view, I think.)

To wax philosophical, I've realized this difference in worldview- whether what's important is the history and internals of a thing (since that will be the surest guide to predicting long-term behavior, and/or give you a special revelation of how things "should be") or whether we should attend to how things are capable of interacting with the outside world - is profound and tough to bridge.

I'd recommend the book "Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking"... and then when I hear some punk like Scott Adams say that because analogies are always imperfect they can never be persuasive, and that it's where "reason is embarrassed to show its face"... balderdash. Finding parallels in how different systems are interacting makes up one of the most critical tools in understanding the world, no matter that there will ALWAYS be some difference in intrinsic makeup. (Of course, saying there are only surfaces or only essences is a false dichotomy; some analogies run deep, that two systems are interacting in parallel ways because of parallel functioning in their guts. And some analogies are just shallow and rhetorical and are of less value.)
.@BretWeinstein "Metaphorical Truth" sounds like Vonnegut's "Foma" - "the harmless untruths" that can "make you brave and kind and healthy and happy." Skeptical of your use of "truth" as a stand-in for "utility"
"December 31, 2017 is the only day where every adult was born in the 1900's and everyone else under 18 was born in the 2000's"

from the case for god

I'm reading a book, "Life, God, and Other Small Topics", transcriptions from a series of lectures with Q+A "Socrates in the The City". It's Catholic as all heck. I find intellectual Catholicism to have a richness there that I don't remember seeing in the protestant theological stuff I've read, and certainly it resonates more for me than the literalness that dogs much of the evangelical environment I grew up in.

Still, it's infuriating in parts, especially in how self-assured many of the speakers tend to be. Peter Kreeft's "Making Sense Out of Suffering" in particular (so far.) One of its central premises is that the strongest argument for atheism is the presence of suffering in the Universe. But that's only really a problem if you've taken as given that if there is a God, it's the simplistic all knowing / all loving / all powerful god of the Epicurus quote.

It was the huge plethora of religions that made my teenage self question the likelihood of any single one, and while a lot of faiths go for that all knowing/loving/powerful, there are a lot of potential ways of believing that don't. So Kreeft is branding all atheism as a disbelief in a very specific brand of divinity...

Over the years I've seen many more sophisticated ideas of God - the best historical context I've read comes from religious historian and former nun Karen Armstrong - seeing the Christian Trinity as an odd blend interesting mix of the unknowable "Sky God" (long worshipped by various peoples) with the more human and relatable gods that walked the earth.

The best attempt I read at making a myth of God-as-experimenter is "mr. g" by Alan Lightman - it does a good job to of showing how even an infinitely powerful and infinitely knowledgeable and deeply compassionate God might still make a universe with suffering as an unfortunate by-product (hint: mathematicians know that "infinity" comes in different magnitudes - say, the countable whole numbers and the uncountable set of fractions - both infinite, but there are plenty more of the latter)

I thought of all this because this SMBC comic had yet another sense of divinity:

It really is the hubris of a singular religious faith - one that denies a "many path / many faces of God" interpretation as heresy - that bugs me. For you to be right, you are declaring many many many other people as wrong, and if I'm going to listen to that, you need to make your case without begging the question of what is true. And for me Peter Kreeft points out the hubris of the assumption that we're so important, that we matter so much as individuals, that of course we - each alone - command the specific attention of a divine being, and so the fact that our subjective suffering is allowed to exist becomes a difficult question that demands an answer. If you relax some of those me-centric assumptions, the question allows many more answers.

(Also I would argue that Peter Kreeft presents a facile idea of Buddhism - my understanding that while "suffering" is the most common translation of "dukkha", a more balanced translation would "unsatisfactoriness". When you push down the contrast dial, a lot more nuance is allowed to emerge.)

Ah well. My current audiobook is "The Brothers Karamazov" and I do have this Kreeft lecture to thank for that.

from personal growth "quickies"

My big personal growth / philosophical questions right now:
1. How does one recognize personal growth? At what point can an extrinsic improvement in behavior be safely or at least reasonably considered an intrinsic improvement in character? (AA says that even for people who by and large fix their lives, "once an addict always an addict" - given on how many fronts backsliding can happen, that while skills improve hardly anything becomes effortlessly graceful, I wonder if my intuitive skepticism about personal growth has some backing to it, or if everyone recognizes that but still finds these word games helpful)
2. Would more equanimity lead to more apathy? Does the anxiety and irritation and frustration and ego that I'd like to get away from serve critical purposes in guiding my behavior towards better things? Is not feeling anger about things that are out of my control a form of maturity or giving up? Can cheerful reason carry the load of getting me to behave well and pursue worthwhile things that otherwise find their impetus in my discomfort and discomfort? (And if so, has this always been the case? Would I always have been as productive a person, or even more so, if I didn't carry these burdens? Should I try to help young people I might advise to also pursue this equanimity or is there even more of a risk they don't have the moral or intellectual framework to carry that load, and so should rely on good old appeal to authority and anxiety?)
3. I feel that my self is best represented not as a unified thing, but at least as two parts - the intuitive, emotional elephant and the rational, narrative rider at the very least. But, am I best thought of as only that 1-2 split? Or do I, like Whitman, "contain multitudes"? This problem is even more academic than the other two - I'm not sure if it makes a big difference if I have an inner child or inner children, if each neurologically-based impulse-generating can act like a persona or is just a thought thinking itself (or more exactly an emotion er...feeling...er... itself) and if my rational narrator, so quick to claim credit for being the truest me (but full of so many post-facto rationalizations for what I actually do) is a monolithic thing too? But it's something I'd love to know, so I can come up with more effective strategies of guiding the whole lot of them where I'd like to go.

So if anyone has the answers to those, let me know, otherwise I'll just be over here thinking for a while.
Christopher Mooney answering the Quora "How do people feel in their last minutes of life?":
I had a near death experience once, when I was pretty sure I was 20–30 seconds away from the end. Like, I mean, I was completely sure I was about to die.

I remember my feelings at the time, vividly. How could you forget.

1: I actually felt very calm. People are scared of death. But once you know it's happening, and you can't do anything about it, you find peace. It was actually one of the calmest, most peaceful moments I can recall in my life.

2: I was very very reflective. When you hear the stereotypes of "your life flashing before your eyes", that's exactly how I felt. I reflected on my life, and who I was, and if I could have done anything better.

3: It sounds funny, but I also really had this "well, this is just my luck!" kind of feeling. I actually found it kind of humorous. I was kind of laughing a bit, about how unlucky I was!

This experience, actually helped me find a lot of faith. Because, although I was an atheist at the time, I didn't actually feel like it was the end. I wasn't thinking in terms of my existence being over. I was almost feeling like I was just moving on from one part of my life, to the next.

I, kind of, had no fear, because I didn't think it was that big a deal? I know this sounds crazy, but all I can say is, that when the moment came, my mind was completely prepared for it. My brain kind of changed, and I understood everything, and was prepared for everything. It's almost like the human body/brain is completely prepared for it's demise, but you don't get to access this skill until you really need it?

from November 7, 2017

More slow progress in refining my understanding of myself and maybe the human condition.

I find for almost everything I don't like about myself, and even some of the things I do, there's a cynical explanation (usually along the lines of doing things for external approval) and a more sympathetic one (that I do things for more moral reasons - and so that approval from my social group is just validation, a sign post that I'm on the righteous path.)

A few weeks ago I was talking about the metaphor of the elephant (our intuitive knowledge and motive force) and the rider (our narrative rational self that takes credit for guiding us but is mostly just hanging on for dear life and making up after-the-fact explanations for what the elephant does) and how my elephant is weirdly self-referential; that what drives me emotionally is a desire to to be correct rationally.

Cynical explanation for that: I just can't stand being wrong, or I fear being called out. Sympathetic explanation: This kind of striving for truth is what righteousness IS for me.

Maybe my need to not be wrong is something parallel to OCD, or even a form of it... if a person with OCD doesn't do their counting, or get whatever ritual right, what will happen? Rationally they often understand things would probably be ok, but at the emotional level, things would be Wrong. "R, O, N, G, WRONG!" as my beloved high school math teacher Mr. Pawlowski would say. For folks with clinical OCD and for my (hopefully subclinical) need for truth: even if we know in our heart there may not be external consequences for being Capital-R Wrong there are absolutely real internal and emotional ones - integrity-challenging ones, in fact. There might not be a God of Correctness looking for me to slip up or hoards of peers waiting for me to have an incorrect view, but there might as well be.

Cynical explanation for the comparison with OCD: It's a self-coddling, excuse-making, half-assed self-diagnosis. Sympathetic explanation: it's a useful metaphor that might provide insight in to my own processing, and even empathy for people who suffer from the real deal.

When pontificating on a topic that I know has different sides, I often feel compelled to start with the counterargument, which makes my train of thought rather hard to follow at best, and at worst gives my debating opponent more ammo.

Cynical explanation: I am showing off how smart I am, and how I've considered every angle, or possibly trying to pre-empt counterarguments by showing how they've already been considered and found wanting. Sympathetic explanation: accepting that there will always be subjective disagreements on the higher level of judgement (vs the low level of plain fact, objective reality) is critical to me and this is how I go about describing it. Also, it reflects the non-linear way my mind works.

I had a (possibly final, or at least last for a while) walking discussion/debate with my estranged college buddy and erstwhile debate companion EB. He used the conservative labeling of some liberal behaviors as mere "virtue signaling" - this cynical view discounts the motivations of liberals as just showing off how they're in accordance with the values of their tribe, their echo chamber, that "political correctness" isn't just using language considerate of the feeling of other groups but a tool for reinforcing a power structure.

I guess I don't understand why "virtue signaling" would have to be mere posturing - even if it has an important social aspect, why it can't be doing two jobs at once, and so also reflecting intrinsic belief and motivations? In evolution they talk about signals, messages animals are effectively sending to each other (The bright colors of a poisonous butterfly serving as a warning to leave me alone, it'll be better for both of us, or the antelope stotting when the lions about, leaping up and down in the presence of a predator to show off how hard to catch it is) But the entire enterprise is founded on the fact that signals often mean something. They can be faked, sure, and a good faked message provides real value for its user, but there's an entire arms race of signals that are hard to fake.

Cynical explanation for this whole damn essay, and other ones like it: I'm a self-absorbed navel gazer and out to show how smart I am. Sympathetic explanation: this is just stuff I'm working through as I try to piece together a satisfying moral path against the existential backdrop of the universe, and by posting it I hope to get insights from my fellow travellers, or maybe help them coalesce their own thoughts. Sure I'm contemplating my own navel, but there are darn few other navels that I have permission to gaze into - or at least thoughtscapes that are accessible to me as my own interior.

Unrelatedly, I'm listening to the self-help book "F*ck Feelings" (more out of curiosity and not finding much appealing on Hoopla). In general I like its message of getting through self-delusion and working with what you got, but I've never liked a message it echoes of "At least you can know you've done your best". Life is a ceaseless plethora of demands on our limited resources and energy and focus and time, so there are always compromises we could probably make in terms of those, but that we probably shouldn't under normal circumstances. It seems wise to usually leave something in the tank in case something comes up, you know?

I feel like I would be a bad football coach-ish peptalk giver.

from Thoughts from the Therapist

Thoughts from the Therapist..lately I haven't been going often, but one incidental impression I got from Irvin Yalom's "Staring at the Sun" is that there isn't one correct schedule for therapy. A year or two ago when I realized my once-a-week course was more than I needed, I leaned more towards dropping the whole thing - since then I've been doing the very occasional check-in session but with a sense of "I'm not doing this right". The session I had this past Monday was helpful, both because of the dialog with my therapist Terry Hunt and then how further reflections helped me get my own thoughts and feelings in more order.

For one thing, I can admit to myself that I look to my therapist for a kind of paternalistic approval - given that my dad died when I was 14, I guess I can be gentle with myself for desiring that, even if I guess therapy means it's a rent-a-dad kind of situation. Terry expresses a lot of enthusiasm for my way of looking at the world and my projects, and that means a lot to me. (Sometimes he lets me talk, almost too much - I was rambling on, and then he made a good point, and I had to stop him from encouraging me to continue the rambling because I wanted to absorb and sit with the point he had just made.) (Also, after seeing those old home videos I think they have similar voices, but that might just be coincidence.)

At the session, and after reading "The Righteous Mind", I realize that my "elephant" (i.e. what really drives and motivates me, vs the usual inner-voice conscious self as the elephant's rider) is the need to be a certain kind of Righteous - the righteousness of being 100% reliable and in accord with Objective, Unassailable Truth. Or at least 100% reliable in notating how unreliable I am... someone (including myself) being wrong about facts but still speaking with absolute authority is my vision of original sin. And parlaying judgements and interpretations into "facts" is similarly terrible. (Getting back to the elephant-rider metaphor, this puts me in the oddly circular position of my emotional motivation being making sure my intellectual self can fully justify the emotional motivation.)

What that tells me is I need to get away from a sense of absolutes. Intellectually I believe that if you really seek a true absolute, all you can find is the objective goalessness of the physical universe. To quote Peter Gay: "Since God is silent, man is his own master; he must live in a disenchanted world, submit everything to criticism, and make his own way." Existential philosophies point a way of living with this, and it's a fraught path.

But the way I've lived is assuming other absolutes. Every control dial setting I have "has to" make sense if you turn it up to 11. When I was religious, I had to be totally reliably religious. My attempt to live that sunday school way, while seeing religious peers drinking (besides the underage factor, my church is tee-totaling) and partying and fooling around in high school kind of busted my sense of lived faith. (I mean, I was fooling around a little myself, but at least I was feeling guilty about it.) Combined with how the world was full of so many other religions, it made the Absolute Objective Truthness of what I had been believing untenable.

Besides being a product of my own neuroses, I think this reflects my upbringing in Western culture. Some Eastern outlooks I admire embrace moderation as a virtue in and of itself, but it's not a point of emphasis for the Evangelical Christian culture I was swimming. (My upbringing wasn't fundamentalist, but I see how a need for being Objectively Unassailably True is why we have young earth Creationists etc... in the West, God is often all about being The Ultimate, the complete, the total, all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful, all-turned-up-to-11. We forget that there are other ways to interpret Him - how if you go back to the Old Testament you see a God who is sometimes all too human, almost petulant. The author Karen Armstrong does a good job of explaining how the Trinity covers a lot of old bases, from the unknowable, ineffable "Sky God" to the much more human types we see walking around Mount Olympus etc.)


So now I'm thinking of this in terms of pleasure, my own enjoyment. Now I've hardly been an ascetic monk, but I rarely have a sense of permission to say "I'm not going to do this because I don't WANT to do this." - that I'm refraining because there's no pleasure in it for me. I mean, if you had the "pleasure justification dial" set at 2 or 3, what Objectively True rationalization was there for not cranking it up 11? But what the existential stance tells me is: I don't have to dial it up because I choose not to. But I can also choose not to keep at its lowest settings without having to assume I'll become a pure hedonist or junkie or whatever. It can live at a healthy medium-high setting in balance with the other dials of responsibility and life in general.

Realizing that has led me live more pleasurably, and more appreciate the loveliness and ease of my privileged life, and better apply philosophies to better cope with the unpleasant parts.

My erstwhile arguing companion EB pointed accusingly to my roots as the child of Salvation Army ministers (an organization that tells its clergy where to live and what to do, and for them goes well beyond a normal 9-5 job)- he was convinced I imbibed the early lesson that I wasn't as worthy of attention as the charity cases they were helping, and that's where my sense of self-sacrifice came from. He was rather off base - he thought that my scene was a lot closer to communal living than it actually was. (Salvation Army Officer Kid family life is reasonably firewalled from the running of the church, despite the "having to change towns every couple of years" aspect). Still there might be something in seeing my current self rooted in my early family situation- Especially combined with a mom with an in-family reputation of a kind of stalwart "martyrdom" that I may have internalized as well. (Her younger sister nicknamed her "Betty the Good")

"Martyrdom" is an overly jocular and loose way of putting it, but I absolutely live with a sense of judging the cost/benefit of everything in a group, communal way - if I can make a small sacrifice that makes a larger difference to someone else, I feel morally obliged to make that sacrifice, regardless of the fact that I am me, and they are them. It's not absolute, and I'm hardly wearing scraps and bankrupting myself to give give give to charity, but it does drive me in a lot of ways.

So seeking to balance my maternally-derived "martyrdom" - a close friend of my dad's once told me (meeting with him years after my dad's death) that my dad had an especially well-developed sense of pleasure and delight. The short of this all is, I want to cultivate more of that in me.

(Some of my closest friends wrestle with depression, and my sense is some of the issue is that their knack of simple enjoyment and pleasure is tamped down, so sometimes I worry I can't give them good sympathy or empathy. I don't know how much the kind of mindfulness I'm suggesting here can help them, but I guess it's better than nothing.)
I think I expected more babies, from the title
Liz after watching Baby Driver...
Great flick! Like a less gross and violent Tarantino at his most stylized but with much better music.
"I do not produce thoughts, thoughts produce me."
Julian Barnes, "Nothing to be Frightened Of".
Listened to it on audiobook, after reading it and finding some great quotes by the author and from others in 2009

from the righteous mind and moral foundations theory

I just listened to "The Righteous Mind" by Jonathan Haidt. (audiobook- I still so miss having time to sit and read.) His project is to try and help liberals and conservatives understand each other a bit better.

The author starts with the elephant/rider metaphor he presented in "The Happiness Hypothesis" - the elephant is our big emotional/intuitive self, the rider is our conscious, our narrator self that can kind of guide the elephant, a bit, but isn't providing the motive force and in fact is mostly just making up post facto rationalizations for decisions that the elephant has already made.

I mentioned this to my therapist who I saw for the first time in a while last night, and tried to make the elephant metaphor jive with my self-image of a guy who has an above-average seeking of objective truth, even at the cost of having to withhold value judgement - sometimes, even without being able to state a simple fact ("your keys are on the counter") without disclaimer framing ("I think your keys are on the counter").

At first I thought that meant my elephant was better cajoled by my rider, cowed into submission, but another way of thinking about it is that my elephant is driven by the need for being unfaultable and therefore righteous. Being that kind of correct is somehow one of the most critical things of my sense of self. (This need is what caused me to lose my religious faith - the preponderance of other religions being a sign that my faith system didn't have the quality of uniqueness that was necessary for being True, and that my being in the church I grew up in, while other people were in the religion they grew up in, was also "suspicious") My elephant - or I guess it's the rider talking -
doesn't quite get that other people's elephants don't feel the same, and how value judgement flow so freely all over the discursive landscape.

So, back to the book. The book lays out Moral Foundations Theory - first the 5 the author originally indentified (Care, Fairness, Loyalty, Authority, Sanctity) and then a 6th to explain Libertarianism, and how it is distinct both from Liberalism (as the term is used in US) and Conservatism. Haidt argues Liberals put most of the weight in Care and Fairness, while Conservatives have a more even spread over the 5. This gives conservatives politicians some advantages, as they have more "hooks" for their audience. I guess some of that rings true to me, as a guy who leans liberal - Authority and Sanctity for their own sake alone, elevated to a moral good, seems foreign to me. (Huh - though I guess I might have a big emphasis to "Loyalty", at least on the local level, since being reliable and dependable is critical to my self-image.)

The author used a lot of thought experiment questionnaires to get at what people's elephants were really thinking, and to artificially provoke people's riders to scramble to explain why the elephant finds something repulsive even when no one is coming to harm. One example was about sibling incest; it squicks most people and they will call it wrong, even if the story deals with all of the surface objections (the brother and sister described love each other, it will deepen their relationship, they keep it a secret, and they are perfectly careful with birth control.) But a series of this and similar taboo-probing questions made me realize how phoney and artificial the stories are. They presume an isolation that doesn't exist in the real world - the siblings in the story might be found out, and they will have to live in a world that judges them harshly, and so keep their feelings hidden forever - a psychological burden for anyone! So you can't even say there's no pragmatic harm that's done. Similarly, many psychology lab experiments along the lines of "do you want $20 now or $30 in a month" presume perfect trustworthiness and stability of the system the test itself is in, which is just nonsense. We have brains designed to deal with a messy uncertain world, and just because it's easier for the experiment to claim total reliability so the test can be run free of noise, that doesn't mean people are irrational when they don't fully believe the experimenter.

Also the book was needlessly harsh on meme theory. The author gets kind of loose with his arguments - he points to the (widely accepted) similarity between memes and viruses, but then states meme-proponents would say that viruses (including "mind viruses" like religion) should be flushed out and removed like any flu or cold virus. I think most sophisticated meme-proponents would say, look, we're walking biospheres with countless "other" critters making the flora of our gut and elsewhere - religion might (or might not) be one of those helpful ones, and the presumption that all memes are bad for us is preposterous, whether or not you think it's useful to see memes as pursuing their own reproductive agenda.

In the end I appreciate Haidt's attempt to reconcile and appreciate what both Conservative and Liberals bring to the culture, but I think he's a little too kind to Conservatives. There are tough-to-reconcile contradictions with the Conservative "foundations" of sanctity and authority with diverse cultures (again the same contradiction that drove me from evangelical Christianity). I would say that he shows why Liberals need to wave the flag more and emphasize the E Pluribus Unum, and how being a real American is accepting the diversity. But all those diverse groups also need to signal their affection for that greater group project.

At the risk of digging myself into a bigger hole - there was a politician or public figure (wish I could remember who) who got ripped a while back for some naive statement saying (roughly) how all the different groups had different strengths, how like the Chinese or Japanese can put a television set in a watch, how the Puerto Ricans have strong family structure and can put a whole family in an apartment, etc - and I mostly understand why he was so ripped into, that those "strengths" aren't equally appreciated, in fact having to put a family in an apartment is not really good thing on different levels, and how its harshly and idiotically reductionist to put wide groups in stereotype boxes. I guess the thing is humans rate and judge everything. We seem to have a need not just that things be different, but rated as better or worse. (Smart people do this with smarts. It's all too easy to start to conflate smarts with human worth! While it's important to foster smarts in a community to make certain types of progress, that needs to be put in balance with many other concerns for the human project.) I think it's a reflexive defense against the implied "hierarchy of worthiness" that causes us liberals to rise so strongly against that kind of stereotypes, rather than the point that when you paint with a broad brush you're going to get many individuals labeled incorrectly (and also that many brushes are suspect because they DO come labeled with value judgements)
Another example of thought experiments I find false in the presumption of perfect, trustworthy knowledge: the trolley problem.
A trolley is hurtling down a track towards five people. You are on a bridge under which it will pass, and you can stop it by putting something very heavy in front of it. As it happens, there is a very fat man next to you – your only way to stop the trolley is to push him over the bridge and onto the track, killing him to save five. Should you proceed?
At its heart the question is meant to point out how passiveness is different than proactive responses, how somehow we feel more responsibility for deciding to "kill" one person than "letting" 5 people die, but - c'mon. That's not how trolleys work, even in thought experiments. You're probably a lot more assured that that fat man will die than the other 5 will be saved! Or if the problem is setup so you have to throw a switch on the tracks, 1 vs 5, what kind of melodrama cliffhanger crap is that? The dilemma would more be "do you set up a posse to hunt down the evil mastermind psychology researcher who contrived to make such a weird example real and do vigilante justice or just leave it to the relevant police authorities..."
This kind of thought experiment seems parallel to the tricks Casino's bank on - artificial environments where are instinctive understanding of things are shown to work only in relative and not absolute terms.
A post on recent findings in dyslexia got me thinking about my own typos, which I sometimes think of as "pseudo-dyslexia". I put this comment on this blog article, one of the highest ranked results for "phonetic typos"...
Sorry to be commenting on such an old post, but this article has high Google juice for "phonetic typos".

My main mix up has weird phonetic swaps between existing words – especially ones that start with "m" with "b", in particular "by" for "my" and "me" for "be" (it seems an oddly bidirectional switch, either) I heard somewhere that "m" and "b" has similar "mouth feel", so I probably have some neurons wired together from way back, along with evidence my typing systems piggybacks on my speaking system.

Other ones are "numbers and the sounds they have", so I read a poster for "5th Element" that said "IT MU5T BE FOUND" as "muft" – ignoring the visual pun for the acoustic part. And my first name is Kirk, and I have something I wrote as a toddler: KI4K"

So it's infrequent enough to be a mild annoyance, though I'm trying to figure out if it's getting worse with age.
These seem distinct to me from mere homophone swaps, their vs there vs they're and its vs it's...
Friends say President Donald Trump has grown frustrated that his greatness is not widely understood

[Trump] weaponized [the power of positive thinking]

from October 11, 2017

On "Shower Thoughts" I saw "Trailers would be so much more appreciated if they didn't reveal most of the plot of movies/series..." Also last night Liz and Melissa and I watched "The I.T. Crowd" including the episode where Roy is trying to find a nice big screen to watch a "Tarantino South Korean zombie movie" but frustrated because his would-be watching companion keeps trying to guess or spoil that there will be a twist at the end.

There's probably a spectrum - and possibly a bathtub-shape curve with most people on one side or the other- of how much people care about plots being "spoiled" by trailers or online discussion. I know I'm at the far end of not caring, at all - maybe even liking them.... the slow reveal is absolutely not what I'm watching the movie for.

Being the indefatigable naval gazer I am, I'm trying to figure how and if that fits into other things I know about how I tend to view with the world -

It sort of ties into how I'm a shallow/skimmer. If I think about I realize I don't closely watch most movies, don't have much facility for keeping labyrinthine plots in my head, and when I really lose track, I just let go and enjoy the ride. (This happened a bit during the new Blade Runner.)

Also I probably have a preference for knowing where a story is going rather than being in suspense, because I like paying attention to how they do what they do, and not what they do. Maybe that suggests a new descriptor for that interactionalist and anti-essentialist vibe I've talked about before, where I care about how something is interacting now and now what you think it is: I'm a Why and How person, now a What or Who person.

Or- I'm very much about transparency, and err on the side of too much information (like this post, say!) I don't want to keep something to myself in case it turns out keeping it withheld was a mistake, and I'm solely on the moral hook for acting on that information. And I hate, hate, hate not knowing - almost any bit of not knowing feels potentially more threatening than any known issue. Hell, in some of my breakups, it wasn't the infidelity so much as the secrecy that killed me. So I like knowing things, like spoilers, but I also enjoy seeing how they make their broad strokes happen along the way.

How about you - do you hate spoilers, or don't mind them, or like them? And do you think the reason why someone is on that spectrum is an interesting question?

Latest diet thought (proven effective for at least one day...) -

I should eat so that a casual spy on my life, like someone reviewing a video of my day but no special insight to my intentions and inner-monologue - would know that I was dieting / trying to eat well. Or at least not be surprised to hear about it after!

Appearances are important - even appearances to ourselves.

Religions know this, and a lot of religious education I've seen emphasizes how God Is Watching. The Islamic salat has a part that acknowledges ever-present angels recording every deed.

For people who have their doubts about supernatural witnesses, everpresent or otherwise, maybe we can be our own witness.

In fact there's psychological research that says a displayed image of a pair of watching eyes can lead to better behavior... so this might all represent a kind of self-hack to take us out of the maelstrom of id and let the super-ego hold more sway in a way that is good for our longer term goals.
Dance like there's nobody watching, but diet like there is.

from September 17, 2017

Article on the background of "woke". I hate false symmetries but I've been thinking about some of the parallels with "taking the red pill" and "being woke". I'm wary of most claims of group-cohering revelations and special knowledge, but at least "woke" carries a sense of being aware so you can do your own thinking, whereas red pill draws more of a knowledge injection.

Still love that @mlliondollameat tweet:
wife: go see if the baby sleeping
*walks into baby's room*
baby: corporations exploit our insecurities for profit
me: no babe she woke af

6 Things Juggalo Culture Teaches Us About Trump (Ad-heavy Cracked link, their "Cracked Lite" app might be a better bet)

James Harvey linked to it, focusing on it's thought that ""People tend to interpret bluntness as candor and eloquence as dishonesty". I rambled about the whole "they're stealth Christians" angle that was there for a while but maybe didn't end up really applying (and how easily a group like U2 can mask a Christian heart from me with artistry and simple tricks like a gender swap for the Holy Spirit in "Mysterious Ways" - the Evangelical music I grew up near was pretty damn hamfisted) but then I thought more about the article's point.

Here's what I said:
This may be disingenuously sophomoric, but I think the "world hates us" perverse pride that powers Juggalos/Deplorables cohesion all comes from the human need to slap value judgements on everything. Things can't just be, or can't just be evaluated and valued for their objective productivity, people are desperate to figure out what the "shoulds" are, and then paint was is overall better and overall worse. (For people who fancy themselves clever it's very easy to conflate intelligence with human worth) So the privileged groups parlay their objective advantages into snobbish looking down at everything, and ICP and Trump is the reaction, like the article sets out.

I guess this is just a goofy pollyanna call for kumbaya, see-the-good-in-everything, but just now I noticed it ties into the idea that everything needs to be measured on many different dimensions but there's a human tendency to smush that into a single dimension of good/bad, or worthy/unworthy, which is one my earliest philosophical / existential morality cornerstones - an idea that's "sophomoric" for me in a very literal, second year at college sense.
Here's a 2004 retelling of that idea history, inspired by "Theory of Multiple Intelligences".

Blender of Love

Why do we like sports or movies? It's just incredible that a trillion-synapse computer could actually spend Saturday afternoon watching a football game. It's a colossal phenomenon that needs to be explained, and I'm not joking.
Marvin Minsky

from September 8, 2017

"He who says, "Better go without belief forever than believe a lie!" merely shows his own preponderant private horror of becoming a dupe. He may be critical of many of his desires and fears, but this fear he slavishly obeys. He cannot imagine any one questioning its binding force. For my own part, I have also a horror of being duped; but I can believe that worse things than being duped may happen to a man in this world [...] It is like a general informing his soldiers that it is better to keep out of battle forever than to risk a single wound. Not so are victories either over enemies or over nature gained. Our errors are surely not such awfully solemn things. In a world where we are so certain to incur them in spite of all our caution, a certain lightness of heart seems healthier than this excessive nervousness on their behalf. At any rate, it seems the fittest thing for the empiricist philosopher."
William James, "The Will to Believe".
I have such a difficult time really absorbing this. My best model of my person epistemology and morality says there are two levels: the first of simple objective facts, the second of interpretation, goals, and "shoulds"... and that the second layer is vaporously thin, and I feel ill-suited to judge anything - except to that which seems to interfere with a clear view of the underlying objective layer. There I judge like a mo-fo. At least that's why I think I am like I am; sometimes I wonder if it's just me needing to be a perfect little beacon of truth for my ego's sake. But no... I think it's more accurate to say that accuracy about the basics is a hugely important thing for me. I am a proud member of the "reality-based community" Karl Rove mocks, and when Scott Adams says no, all that's important is persuasion, I'll try to persuade anyone I can that that attitude sucks.
Man, Florida's looking to get Chinese Hoaxed to pieces.

from i teach you the spongeman

A while ago my erstwhile debating partner introduced me to Rapoport's Rules, guidelines for criticizing the argument of an opponent. As formulated by my favorite philosopher Daniel Dennett, they go:
  1. You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, "Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way."
  2. You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
  3. You should mention anything you have learned from your target.
  4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.
Another term for this is "steelmanning" - in contrast to "strawmanning", where you knock down a lightweight representation of the opposing argument that's designed to be knocked down, here you make an effort to really understand and then gird it in rhetorical steel and state it back to them.

On some levels the rules' concept is appealing, but also - unlikely, I guess I'd say, for people who have are arguing sincerely. If you could whole-heartedly restate your partner's (or as the rules put it, "target's") view, you'd pretty much have to be believing it yourself. That "Thanks, I wish I'd thought of putting it that way" bit is also weirdly condescending - your displayed mastery of the domain is such that your "target" will humbly thank you for your cleverness of the restatement? For something that you still don't believe? What kind of insincere sophistry is that? Like a suit of armor, I think this kind of steelman will ring hollow.

My erstwhile buddy didn't really grasp my objections until he listened to Hannibal Buress on the Sam Harris podcast. (Admittedly Buress might be a little drunk, but I appreciate his sincere points) Around 29:00 minutes in, Sam Harris says

Here's a bet, here's a bet: I could summarize your view of me in a way that you'd agree with. You couldn't return the favor. You want to take that bet? I'm absolutely sure I can articulate how you view your side of the conversation in a way that you'd sign off on. I have absolutely no faith that you could do the same for me. That's a problem, we're not successfully communicating.
My buddy had an even strong reaction against Harris there than I did, that he saw Harris using the "I can see your side" concept as a bludgeon.

My counter-proposal was "spongemanning". The best we can do is try to absorb the other person's argument, then wring ourselves out, restating the argument as best we can, and have our partner comment on the drippings, to see how much of the salient info we had actually taken in. Spongemanning offers more substance than the superficialities of steelmanning, and it is more respectful than steelmannings "anything you can think, I can think better".

At its very best it invites participants to think about where their partner is coming from, and what are the headwaters of their current flow. (At the risk of straining the wet metaphor.) One of the few things I like about Ayn Rand is her alleged greeting of "What are your premises?" It's rather belligerent, but it gets to the heart of why sincere people who keep faith in the methods of rationality and discourse as a way of understanding the universe can still disagree... they have different starting assumptions and then differing concepts on what is best prioritized in life. By trying to absorb what your opponent is saying, you might better identify and catalog those sticking points - fundamental areas of disagreement where "agreeing to disagree" isn't throwing out the whole kit and kaboodle.

Behold: the spongeman! (With normal, double-tube-shaped pants)

Huh. After listening to an Atari podicast, I just now realized I know "Douglas Crockford" from two different contexts, Atari 8-bit demos and Javascript: The Good Parts...
I just found out the music composer for the new Mario/Rabbids crossover is named "Grant Kirkhope". That's a sentiment I can get behind.

from August 30, 2017

The other day I realized there's a weird parallel between stoicism and its concept of "attend to that which you have control over, and ignore the rest" and some types of eating disorders, where people curtail their eating as being an exercise in something they can control.

A few weeks ago I snagged this link about the "voices in our head", the parts of us that are us, but separate from our main, self-narrative-constructing selves. "To achieve their goals they lie like crazy. They know you -- have been around you a long, long time." Mine seem to be the form of inner-children, loving sweets and creamy textures and demanding to be shown how they're just the smartest, most-creative beings in the world, and pushing me away from tasks that are might reveal my need to grind stuff out.

Combining these concepts: having control of stuff appeals to young children, who live in a world where they have relatively little agency, and are generally at the whim of the grownups. I wonder if the rational me can get more desireable results over these inner-children -- the indefatigable-snacker me and the angsting away from doing productive-but-not-ego-affirming work me -- by showing these toddler how this IS something we can have control over, that we have great (if incomplete) power over these parts of the world. They can be in their glory like the little 4 year old waving an imaginary baton to conduct the actual band, and I can get some damn work done.
You can't do much carpentry with your bare hands and you can't do much thinking with your bare brain.
Bo Dahlbom

from personal growth followup and social signaling

Following up to yesterday's rambling. David Parmenter said "I'm not with you" on that, in terms of him being a big believer in personal growth. Fair enough - I see my inability to grok personal growth as a problem myself. But it was funny how much his comment bothered me for a second.

Lately I've been thinking of how I operate with a two-layer view of reality; simple objective reality, the first level of facts, and subjective interpretation, the second level of judgements. My emphasis is on supporting a shared understanding of that first objective level; to the extent that most of my "judginess" involves things that block understanding of that factual leve (in other words, people with agendas that make propaganda that distorts the underlying facts) and I also have a severe reluctance to judge people's behaviors in typical ways - since if I start judging on that second level (with its proclomations of what people "should" do) it increases the chance I might be incorrectly working based on assumptions about "facts on the ground" that I'm wrong about.

So, I'd like to think that David's comment bothered me because of how it might be indicating that I'm just objectively wrong. But there's the conservative-related view that no, I'm bothered not because I'm wrong, but because someone in my peer group thinks I'm wrong. Rightwingers have really leapt on this concept of "mere virtual signaling" - they are awfully dismissive of most attempts to say the right thing, because they find it likely to be insincere. This accusation is at risk of mixing up the medium (other people's opinion) for the message (a description of objective facts-on-the-ground reality - or in the case of judgement, an opinion most likely and widely agreeable (i.e. the facts about what personal growth is and isn't.))

In this "fake news" age of "truthiness", I'm a liberal in part because I think liberals are more humane - who look to expand the "circle of empathy" - and because they are also amenable to level one reasons - especially in terms of science - in a way conservatives ain't - especially with their emphasis on faith. Now, the conservative view might point to examples of liberals desire to be humane distorting their interpretation of plain facts, and in some cases that's true, but I find in general liberals have the edge in not going for "if the facts don't match the theory, change the facts". (Hm, I think this is why I find the self-appointed name "objectivism" so objectionable, with it's dubious claim that there's an ironclad connection between level one facts and level two interpretation and recommendation for behavior that "objectivists" have unearthed.)

Yesterday I was listening to a 2015 podcast where Marc Aaron interviewed President Obama. A quote that struck around 42:30 "But the truth is though, it is accurate to say I believe in reason. And I believe in facts. And I believe in looking at something, and having a debate and an argument, but trying to drive it towards some agreed upon set of assumptions about what works and what doesn't."

Maybe there's a correlation with my "profound shallowness". I don't trust things that aren't directly accessible. For example, I don't like music that demands (and hopefully rewards) deep and attentive listening. You can take my "recently added playlist" and with very little further curating have a good mix for a party. My view is if there's an art form that demands you work to understand it, that "sophisticated" audience is now vested in promoting its quality (if not of the individual artwork, than of the worth of the format as a hole) because it justifies the effort they put into learning how to appreciate it. I like video games with physics engines rather than story, I like board games that are about performance and creativity and not strategy and planning, because the appeal is visceral and harder to deny, rather than cerebral and debatable and more prone to subjective uncertainties.

(PS speaking of that first level/second level stuff - notice how I hedge almost every paragraph? "I think" "is at risk for", "might", "maybe"... is my habit of couching things that way acknowledging the difficulty of getting to objective truth and the uncertainty of any position at the second level of judgement? Or is it me just covering my ass so none of my peers can say I'm wrong? Or both?)

from skepticism on personal growth

Pondering about "Personal Growth", and my relative skepticism thereof. Growing up as a precocious kid with a big dose of "fixed mindset" (i.e my worthiness was rooted in being such a darn clever little guy, an intrinsic trait) I've grown up into someone who's totally tonedeaf when it comes to, say, character arc in a novel, because I figure everyone's pretty much the same core person their entire life, they might learn things and act a bit differently over time, but it's kind of superficial. At no time is it clear that a bunch of quantitative changes in behavior and outlook become a qualitative achievement of "growth".

(Come to think of it, all those positive personal developments seem to need tending, lest backsliding occur! Why do we always hear about "personal growth" but not "personal shrinkage"?)

It's weird, for a guy who is kind of skeptical about having an immortal soul, or anything independent of the body (save for a poetic sense of the impact we can make on other people) I certainly tend to act like there's a core, unchangeable essence of identity that has a few soul-like properties...

I'm thinking about how I've developed along with my main band, JP Honk. I remember a few years ago we were almost on the verge of adding a semi-regular other tuba player, and I was... I don't know, bothered by it, a bit jealous. I think I was insecure with my place in the band, and so the same sixth grade "I want to be on a unique-in-group instrument" vibe that caused me to switch to tuba from baritone in the first place reared its head. I knew that feeling was pretty and stupid, but it was still there.

I think since then I've gotten over it, and I welcome any addition to the bass part in any group I'm in. Part of that is confidence, and having done more leadership in my group, I know I'm useful and important in multiple ways. And some of it's just security about my relationship to HONK in general, and learning how to better apply my general sense of Feynman-ish "What do YOU care what other people think?"

But... is it growth? Personal development? How do you categorize it, and does it matter?
Best eclipse video:

from energy! action!

Was playing with the idea that all our energy for action - ALL of it - comes from emotion, not from thought and cold rationality. We can shape ourselves so that we have emotions that support rationality so that we act in ways that are in accordance with it, but it's not the logic itself driving things.

One of the occasional participants in my UU "Science and Spirituality" is a therapist who describes her practice as Freudian, and of course she's well aware of the issues with some of his views, and how that kind of practice can seem oddly quaint and out of step. But based on my layman understanding of Freud's ideas, I think there really is something to the Id/Ego/Superego division - a division that is often under the radar of everyday life, but that emerges with sufficient introspection as seeming likely to be an accurate and useful model. (In much the same way you can kind of shove your way into some level of grasping "the self really is illusion" concepts of Buddhism through thinking along side the more traditional practices of meditation.)

For me there's a tie in to Superego and the sense of Objective Truth. Though I guess Superego provides a host of "shoulds", while Objective Truth just says what is. And you can't get ought from is directly. But in my life, one of the highest moral goods is pursuing the most accurate level of shared understanding of Objective Truth, foregoing judging of the should levels. "Whatever works!", objectively, is generally ok by me. I guess that view is what cost me my simple religious faith; the multiplicity of beliefs was on the whole incompatible with singular Objective Truth, and my duty towards that (and my humbleness in thinking 'what were the chances that the faith I was born into was THE one that was correct? Pretty small') caused me to drift from the church of my youth.

But I dunno. I guess there's an obvious parallel in that emotion/thought divide as there is with faith and then the cold dispassionate description of the Objective Truth - that I'm incorrect in thinking I have a pure method for aligning my life with being correct in the objective sense, because it will always be tempered by my subjective experience, what I was taught, and what I feel...
If only one person in the world had a sense of humor, it would probably be labeled a mental illness.

One of the essential qualities of liberalism is that it always disappoints. To its champions, this is among its greatest virtues. It embraces a realistic sense of human limits and an unillusioned view of political constraints. It shies away from utopian schemes and imprudent idealism. To its critics, this modesty and meliorism represent cowardice. Every generation of leftists angrily vents about liberalism's slim ambitions and its paucity of pugilism. Bernie Sanders and his followers join a long line of predecessors in wanting liberalism to be something that it most distinctly is not: radical.
Franklin Foer, "Why Liberalism Disappoints"

If you're OK with Waltham... you're OK
Proposed City Slogan by Johnny Boom-Boom and me

from the two levels of fact and of meaning

Amazing Atlantic Piece, How America Lost Its Mind.

I've always liked postmodern-style of thinking, but now I'm wondering how damaging it may have been.

Here's the problem: there are two levels of knowing. There's objective facts - not perfectly knowable, but close enough for many, many purposes. This is the lower level where science lives. Then there's the interpretation of those facts, and the search for meaning. That's where philosophy and religion lives, on top of that. That's where "should" and "purpose" come from and where we have to construct our moral discernment.

These two layers have been squashed together. In America, I blame fundamentalism. For a while, during the times of the Enlightenment, after the Scientific Revolution, Christian belief hitched its wagon to scientific finding. Those two layers seemed compatible. But as the base level started to pull away from simplistic, literal readings of the holy texts on the layer above it, fundamentalism doubled down, and started letting the upper level of meaning leach down and bleach out the level of simple facts. Or I guess we could say: before that time, the layer of facts was relatively flatter - there was less proof of it, fewer spikes, less ways where the obscure science facts mattered in day to day life. But it got spikier, and rather than moving on up, fundamentalist belief keeps trying to wash the spikes out. Hence, museums with Noah hanging out with dinosaurs and crap like that.

I feel - and I may be misleading myself - I'm better than average at separating those levels. Or maybe I just emphasize the lower level too much. The weird side effect is I'm kind of less judge-y than most people I know (except on epistemological matters, i.e. the study of those two levels, where I can be either judge-y or condescending as hell). But when it comes to things of life style? I really don't judge, except final results. If it's "working for you", great! I only have the right to judge whatever you want once I have empirical evidence that yeah, you've made choices that have led to results that could objectively be read as suboptimal by most reasonable interpretations. (I do feel I have a very strong submission to that lower level of basic facts, to the extent that I will rarely state even the evidence of my own sense without a protective "I think..." or "it seems like..." It's partially a form of egoism - heaven or something forfend I ever be subject to being wrong! )

I do think if people made a clearer divide between those two levels, the world would be a better place. "FAKE NEWS" should be even more of a thing than it is.
The biggest problem of fundamentalism is that it says "our simplified model of the universe is sufficient, and if you have any further questions you should dig deeper into the model". At least science (which might not be free of its own type of fundies, but still) encourages people to look out in the objective world to make the model better.
"The cat is trying to open the door on the hinge side. I laugh, then realize that I make the same mistake with people, ideas, and doors, too."
--New Yorker cartoon (circa 1997)
A rather thorough look into what's wrong with "Ready Player One". As always if you want a great sci-fi read with a tinge of 80s/90s era videogamery (in the most alien way possible) try Constellation Games by Leonard Richardson
Hubris (n) 1.excessive pride or self-confidence. 2. (in Greek tragedy) excessive pride toward or defiance of the gods, leading to nemesis.

from August 7, 2017

when the hat matches the tuba

One of the few tuba shots here that's not of me, btw
Great take down of that anti-diversity memo at google, from a guy who just recently left the company, and so can talk a bit more freely. (Update 8/17: Another take from the Economist)
A few days ago I asked on FB
Is there a single word for "able to readily be put into words"? Like "quantifiable", but about words...
My friend Anne suggested "articulable", and that seemed to be the best bet. ("Describable", as in the opposite of "indescribable" missed the mark somehow, and I wrote a follow up:
See, The opposite of "articulable" (or its maybe more flexible usage, "can't be articulated") has some interesting differences with "indescribable" and "ineffable". Those two so often get into supernatural woo-woo and the like; to some extent they deal with what can be "truly known".

I suppose there's something too with the practical opposite of "articulable" being along the lines of "can only be intuited". I guess "indescribable" is often implying "can only be known via direct revelation". So it suggests a epistemological triangle: knowledge that is articulable, knowledge that can only be intuited, knowledge that relies on direct revelation.... and each corner has its own words to describe it (and its opposite). Also, one of these corners is not like the others - only articulable knowledge is amenable to meaningful debate.
Come to think of it this was some of the sticking point for me and my erstwhile discussion buddy EB. I place probably too much emphasis on the articulable corner, and sometimes doubt the validity of the other corners. There's another aspect too, of how stuff is learned; EB emphasized the "body memory" aspect of things, like how taking the time to think and reason can get in the way of muscle memory and true mastery. You can get from "articulated knowledge" to deeper forms of knowing, but it's a slow tough process.
This looks cool

from July 21, 2017

UX Design and the most brilliant idea for a toaster improvement ever.
I listened to Sam "Waking Up" Harris' podcast where he interviews Scott "Dilbert" Adams about Trump. Adams is relatively pro-Trump, but more to the point, he seems to be more pro-"Persuasion" over unearthing and acting on the facts as objectively as we can.

One of his favorite things to pick on is "analogy" - he thinks it's a terrible, limited way of knowing things, forever an imperfect mistaking of the map for the territory. (Err, to use an analogy, I guess.) I think it's kind of a dick power move, frankly. The Persuasion shtick - and Adams mentions how he was a trained hypnotist - is all about elevating authority and truthiness over trying to empower people to get through to the facts themselves. The Objective Truth is unknowable, so why not give up trying to know it and just Trust Me?

When I was searching my own website trying to find some half-remembered bit about how analogy-based thinking was probably the key to "real" artificial intelligence, I found reference to a book I only barely remember reading but I think may have been mightily influential on me: Hofstadter and Sander's "Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking". Given how often I annoyed my estranged talking companion EB by realizing I tend to be focused on interactions at the surface and he seem obsessed with the supremacy of the essence, the core of what something "really was", that book seems like it had quite an impact on me.

Anyway, getting rid of analogies is nuts; you can barely have a conversation without 'em, and I am deeply suspect of Adams' desire to go without.
All that said, it would be good if the left wasn't so cartoony in its portrayal of Trump.
Impressionistic sounds affect our subconscious and our state of mind. This is due possibly to the fact that sounds, if present, are continuously entering our mind whether or not we are actively listening. Visual inputs, on the other hand, require the user's attention. If we are distracted from the TV set, we cease to concentrate on the picture and the image leaves our mind. Sound therefore offers the programmer a direct path to the user's mind--bypassing his thought processes and zeroing in on his emotions.
Chris Crawford, in "De Re Atari" (via Jamie Lendino's "Breakout: How Atari 8-Bit Computers Defined a Generation")

[Buddha visits Geek Squad]
IT GUY: So all your files are in one huge folder named 'Temporary.'
IT: ...
BUDDHA: [nods peacefully]

from on the new zelda

Videogame Nerdery Ahoy! (Got a lot more long-winded than I planned) I'm trying to figure out if I should stick with the new Zelda, if it's a good investment of time for me. It's high quality in many ways, but the cooking/crafting doesn't grab me, the endless treadmill of "get a weapon, wear out a weapon" rankles (especially with the limited inventory slots that cost a lot to improve), and in general I'm not as engaged as I would have hoped.

While in some ways the game has that "more than one way to solve a problem" approach, 90% of those feel like something clever the programmers thought of first and then coded in, rather than an organic, player-driven combination of basic interactive elements. They give you a cool "magnet" tractor beam power that you can only use in carefully defined areas, magic bombs that can't really aim and take forever to damage anything anyway, a "freeze time" thing that A. is misnamed (it's more about messing with certain object's kinetic energy, but I guess they thought "kinetic energy" that was too fancy a term) and B. also only works hardly anywhere...

I guess the game doesn't resonate for me in two critical directions; one is the world-building. "Far Cry"s, which feels like such a big influence, do a much better job of painting "living breathing" worlds that mask the fact that they exist only as a place for the player's story to take place in. Vs Zeldas: Link, is (spoiler alert?) the knight errant destined to come back and fix everything in Hyrule, and by the way here are all these precious little mini-dungeons scattered about to test his mettle and build him up gradually for doing so.

Which leads to the second game theme Zelda does, one I respect intellectually but don't find deeply engaging: the classic "from zero to hero" journey, the grind up of gathering intrinsic strength and various add-ons that lets the player slowly grow into the role destiny (or rather, the game designer) has laid out for them. I know in the real world I have a blind-spot for personal growth; people seem to be about the same to me on the inside throughout their lives (Hmm, this is probably why preschooler's incompetence so startles me... Like, "C'mon, color in the lines! Focus! I can talk with you, you have the raw physical control here, why can't you do this?") It's troublesome for me in life- I tend to feel like I can gain knowledge of how to do things, but the process of "growing" a skillset per se seems.... I don't know, unlikely. I assume at some point quantitative skill improvement can become qualitative ability increase, but I never really *feel* it. (Similarly, even in a game, "practicing and getting better" is sometimes indistinguishable from "try and try again until I get lucky and can move on"...)

It's why I feel Mario games have more in common with Grand Theft Auto than they do with Zelda games or Metroid games. Mario is the same guy, with about the same skillset, at the start of the game as he is at the end, there's no "take away all your skills at the game start so you can grow 'em back", and so is the protagonist of a GTA game, he just has more access to vehicles and money and weapons. (Conversely, Mario games have even more of that "this world exists only for the player to experience" than even the Zelda games, but still).

Also, now that I think about it, the physics of this latest Zelda are all too down-to-earth. Link jumps about as well as I do, more or less. He's a much better wall climber, but that's a plodding straining process. He's got a glider, but that's only a slow parachute with a bit of horizontal movement. He can do some tractor-beam/grav-gun manipulations, but only in certain designated areas and times. Compared to a later Saints Row and those games' joyful leaping, bounding, running up the side of buildings, magic grabbing and blasting nearly anything, or Just Cause's kinetic soaring and goofy playground of "link two things together with a wire and see what happens"... those games have more of what I come to video games for, superhuman empowerment fantasies set with visuals and interactions convincing enough to be viscerally enjoyable. (and while Zelda has plenty of mooks to dispatch for its adolescent empowerment fantasy, other games serve 'em up and knock 'em down wholesale -- sword combat is still pretty much a one-on-one, retail experience in Zelda....)

This went on much further than I expected. I'd love to hear from folks who dig the game what works for them, hopefully I've done a good enough job couching my critique as highly subjective, as I puzzle out (so to speak) why a game that is clearly so good in so many ways is on the bubble for me making time to play through...

Trump thinks health insurance is priced like life insurance. This makes Bush Sr's "amazement" about the supermarket checkout scanner (grossly exaggerated, tbh) makes him look like Joe Sixpack, relative to Trump. He truly has no idea, but claims everything is easy.

from June 21, 2017

Wrote this on my devblog the other day, a tribute to the artists behind SimTunes and the core of Magic Pengel, reposting it here:

I've always liked software that let the user make something - from Bill Budge's Pinball Construction Set to the make-a-game fun without programming Klik N' Play, there have been some great examples of that over the years.

I want to write briefly about two creators, Toshio Iwai and Takeo Igarashi both of who made original UIs letting users exercise their creativity. Each creator's work was then used in separate commercial products in the 90s and 00s, products that deserve more recognition than they get.

Toshio Iwai is a multimedia artist. He may be best known for Electroplankton, a fairly early but very limited release for the Nintendo DS- his name appears on the packaging for it, an unusual-for-Nintendo recognition of singular artistic creation.

Electroplankton is not quite a game, not quite an instrument... it consists of ten different interfaces for making music and sounds of various types...

This was not Iwai's first multi-part collaboration with Nintendo - that would be the 4-part Sound Fantasy. One of those parts was based on his earlier work Musical Insects. This concept, 4 musical bugs, each one playing a different instrument that sounded at various pitches as the bug waddled over different colored tiles laid out on a blank canvas, got parlayed by Maxis into a nifty package called SimTunes. I guess this trailer gives you the overview about as well as anything:

This program was a terrific and playful mini-sequencer and paint program. Kids and Adults could focus on the sound, the look, or both. Just out of college, I remember setting it up with versions of Groove is in the Heart and "Alphabetter", a replacement for the alphabet song that I hope catches on but I'm sure never will. I appreciated that it had different palettes - for example, limiting the painted notes to a specific scale or modality, such as my favorite "Blues Scale" and an aspiring kid or adult could easily apply music theory they had or learn something new.

More recently Iwai collaborated with Yamaha to make the Tenori-On, a sequencer grid of lights. (I was almost ashamed at using a ThinkGeek knock off called the Bliptronic 5000, 'til I realized it was about 1/10 the price... and about 1/10 the functionality, but still.) I also found this overview of his art installations.

Takeo Igarashi seems to be more of a computer scientist than an artist, but his UI implementations are at least as impressive.  His academic homepage is of the ancient variety, and sadly most of his demos are a serious pain to get running in this day and age where Java on the desktop is all but forgotten. Still, his Smooth Teddy interface is remarkable; the user draws basic 2D shapes that then get rendered into 3D shapes.

The most straight forward descendent of the "Smooth Teddy" family is MagicalSketch 3D for iOS, a somewhat pricey (by app standards) tool, but one that promises to be an easy path to modeling for 3D print. (I haven't played much with Microsoft's "Paint 3D" but I think they would be well-served licensing out the core model.)

The finest rendition of this concept, however, is Magic Pengel: The Quest for Color for the Playstation 2. I feel it's a shame it didn't go by a more direct translation of its Japanese name, "Doodle Kingdom", because this project (a joint production with some collaboration from Studio Ghibli (of "My Neighbor Tortoro" and "Spirited Away" fame) deserves more attention than it ever got. (A "Pengel" is a Pen-Angel, I think a little helper sprite in the game. I'm not sure to whom they were trying to market with a name like that.)

Because not only can you doodle in 3D - your creations come to surprisingly charming life. Here's a Let's Play of it:

The editor works by letting you indicate what you're drawing (body, arm, wing, etc) - this knowledge is then incorporated to inform various animations (Walk, Tackle, Jump, Dance, etc) and the effect can be stunning- here's what a talented artist can make with its editor:

It's so delightful to sketch something out and then have it frolic around the "practice field".

Unfortunately, the game is horribly marred by ... well, too much game-ness. In some ways the body you construct doesn't do much to determine how your creation interacts with its virtual physical universe, it's just raw numeric material for a probability based monster battler ala Pokemon, with Rock-Paper-Scissors type strengths and weaknesses. Also, they limit the amount of "ink" you have to draw lines with, and then make the game about fighting monsters so you can get more ink to make your own creations that much more powerful, rather than creative.

There was a semi-sequel for the Game Cube called Amazing Island and one for the PS2 called Graffiti Kingdom. I remember getting absolutely stuck early on in Amazing Island and some utterly crap minigame, and if memory serves, Graffiti Kingdom tried to codify its editor too much, and lost much of the organic charm of the original.

Finally, I'd like to make one honorable mention for a game with a kind of brilliant editor built-in (though I don't believe there's a singular artistic vision behind it) - Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts + Bolts:

 This is by far the best "game" of everything I've talked about here - it starts with a gorgeous Mario 64-esque hub (looking like someone said "what if we ran all those pretty colors of the N64 into the kind of engine we can make today?)  with all these delightful themed subworlds, but each as if you can see the gears behind the walls work. Each subworld has multiple challenges that you build various vehicles to beat: cars, of course, but also boats and planes and flying balloons and sumo-karts etc. At first I thought all the creations were ugly and orthogonal-looking (VERY reminiscent of the old Capsela toys) but then the delight of making a car where the design really matters in a cartoon-physics kind of way takes over (and you can put on enough bolt-y bits to improve the look quite a lot.) And as you get more parts (there's that game-ness) you can go back and try for higher "medals", but the challenge level is generally well done, and the level of backtracking needed is negligible.

(And a small group of super-hard-core fans have really stretched the editor system to the limit, making these absurdly heavy jet-powered walking mechs in a game that was never meant to have any such thing...a joy to behold.)

Anyway, I love stuff like this, making a easy enough for a beginner but rich and engrossing enough to reward continued play (rather than a quick doodle and a "meh") is a tremendous feat. (Though I did once get a few people digging my own online Jack-O-Lantern maker) Both of these people and their works (and Banjo-Kazooie) deserve much admiration.

from April 25, 2017

I've been thinking that maybe I could get my inner toddler to become, like, an inner precocious teen (though it's odd to think that I can't tell it "use your words!" because that's not how it operates) but I'm concerned I might lose some kind of vitality in that process, some part of essential Kirkness.

And also concerned that I'm not sure what to trust to tell me if that is a risk of being the case, because I don't know to what extent the inner-narrator/rational self vs subconscious self is the same for everyone. Various paths of self-improvement call it different things (the Id, the inner child, the right side of the brain, the unconscious mind, etc) and imply different functional relationships.

Even something like meditation has contradictions in advice about its methods and goals. Like, is it to have that zennish empty mind, where my verbal inner-narrator is finally silent and my whole self can enjoy purer sensation, unmitigated by simplification into verbal simplification and categorization? Or is it to be 'mindful', and allow that inner narrator to calmly process and analyze and pontificate but without encountering spikes of anxiety and other disruptive emotion? (Which, in my current way of thinking, tend to emerge from my inner toddler.) I kind of prefer the latter; it's less work and a lot more fun.

In "Eat, Pray, Love" Elizabeth Gilbert writes
Like most humanoids, I am burdened with what the Buddhists call the "monkey mind"--the thoughts that swing from limb to limb, stopping only to scratch themselves, spit and howl. From the distant past to the unknowable future, my mind swings wildly through time, touching on dozens of ideas a minute, unharnessed and undisciplined. This in itself is not necessarily a problem; the problem is the emotional attachment that goes along with the thinking. Happy thoughts make me happy, but--whoop!--how quickly I swing again into obsessive worry, blowing the mood; and then it's the remembrance of an angry moment and I start to get hot and pissed off all over again; and then my mind decides it might be a good time to start feeling sorry for itself, and loneliness follows promptly. You are, after all, what you think. Your emotions are the slaves to your thoughts, and you are the slave to your emotions.

The thing is, to me it feels backwards... like the thoughts are the slaves to the emotions, and then I'm the slave to the thoughts. Or something. But basically, the process is more my inner rational narrator teaching my wordless sometimes-raging sometimes-fearing sometimes-frolicking subconscious self about the world. You know, it feels a bit like the relationship between Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller.

So I feel there's lots of room for that inner toddler - who will probably never grow up to have words - to mature, and develop a real camaraderie, rather than the current paternalistic relationship. And without assuming that subconscious part of me is only feeling, not thinking. I suspect feeling and thinking are the same thing but at wildly different time scales, feeling taking in the long term evolutionary wisdom and near term immediate reaction, with thinking occupying the middle ground.

Also through all this, I feel my rational, verbal, narrator self is trying to reassert the throne of being "The Actual Me", the real me, that it lost when I read Dennett's "Conscious Explained". I think it's time for a reread of what I pin as the "most important book I read", even though it's mighty long.

from April 21, 2017

(tl; dr: maybe I'm so damnably bad with names is because my main processing part of my brain is separate from my verbal inner voice part of my brain.)

Weird possible introspection revelation, tying into yesterday's Cormac McCarthy link about how the subconscious talks to us via images and dreams and not words.

I had some early morning dreams that were about me going on a white river rafting trip, modeled after one I took a few years ago. For some reason it was stuck on the preliminaries rather than the rafting itself, but whatever -

As I stumbled through that murky twilight of half-awake, I realized the one thing that was missing from my understanding of that dream narrative's was a description: i.e. the words "river rafting". I can't be sure of the dream production process, but it often feels like some part of my brain, the subconscious, spits out feelings and images, and then my verbal/inner-voice/narrator weaves it together into a more coherent story that it can understand. (The McCarthy article speculates a bit about this process as well)

I feel like my subconscious can *understand* words - in fact it's the subsystem I use to skim read quickly, and it gleans the relevant bits for the narrator brain (and tells it to go back for the tricky bits for more careful review) but the subconscious doesn't use words and labels much - it relies more on a wordless understanding of how things interact.

This felt like a revelation, or maybe half of one. I have long suspected I'm bad with names and faces because they don't change how I interact with that person. A person could interact and be the same person under a hundred different names and still be the same entity from an interactive standpoint. (This explains that old "remember people's names" trick of associating it with some semi-arbitrarily selected mnemonic - like picture Francis in a beret with a baguette, just to engage these other parts of the mind and not just the verbal narrator)

So the other half, the new half, of this revelation is maybe that is so difficult for me because I rely more than most folks on the part of my brain that doesn't have any facility for names. I might just be making an excuse for myself, trying to to justify a kind of laziness and disengagement, but I think fully recognizing the source of a problem is both a key to making excuses for it and for fixing it.

(The revelation also provides a path to reconciling some seeming contradictions: on the one hand I'm what my friend Tom Kermode has called a "cruxian", the thrust of things is what matters to me. I like art and music that engages in broad strokes, and a dual insensitivity to details / nuance and indifference to interior life that doesn't come to the surface. On the other hand, one of my arguing partners frequently gets annoyed when I correct his vocabulary, and insist on a precise selection and usage of words (but, to his chagrin, precise in a descriptivist, how it's actually used kind of way, not in a word-history arm-chair etymologist kind of way) - at a shallow level, word choice seems very much to be about nuance. I think the contradiction is resolved in the interplay between the desire for two people's subconsciouses, the ones doing the deep understanding to communicate but they have to filter through the rational verbal narrators - the surface characteristics of the words are all they have to work with, so the wrong or misleading word can lead to big problems indeed.)

This all reminds me of that bit from "Through the Looking-Glass":
'This must be the wood,' she said thoughtfully to herself, 'where things have no names. I wonder what'll become of *my* name when I go in? I shouldn't like to lose it at all--because they'd have to give me another, and it would be almost certain to be an ugly one. But then the fun would be trying to find the creature that had got my old name! That's just like the advertisements, you know, when people lose dogs--"answers to the name of 'Dash:' had on a brass collar"--just fancy calling everything you met "Alice," till one of them answered! Only they wouldn't answer at all, if they were wise.'

#321 formation of a committee to determine the plausibility of "aggressive passive" behavior; for example, furiously hammering water (for my work's slack channel #stupid-idea-buddies )

from what the part that isn't thinking isn't thinking of

"Every jumbled pile of person has a thinking part / that wonders what the part that isn't thinking isn't thinking of"
They Might Be Giants, "Where Your Eyes Don't Go"
Serendipity brought me to Cormac McCarthy on The Kekulé Problem - (the title comes from the premier example of "the answer came to me in a dream / flash" ) and thoughts on what the heck this unconscious is. This directly ties in with what I wrote about Saturday and have been a little obsessed with for a week or two.

(McCarthy calls it the unconscious; I think of it as the subconscious, a subtle but possibly important distinction.)

McCarthy concludes wraps up saying
The unconscious seems to know a great deal. What does it know about itself? Does it know that it's going to die? What does it think about that? It appears to represent a gathering of talents rather than just one. It seems unlikely that the itch department is also in charge of math. Can it work on a number of problems at once? Does it only know what we tell it? Or--more plausibly--has it direct access to the outer world? Some of the dreams which it is at pains to assemble for us are no doubt deeply reflective and yet some are quite frivolous. And the fact that it appears to be less than insistent upon our remembering every dream suggests that sometimes it may be working on itself. And is it really so good at solving problems or is it just that it keeps its own counsel about the failures? How does it have this understanding which we might well envy? How might we make inquiries of it? Are you sure?

I'm not as convinced as McCarthy that dreams are always so deliberate and purposeful from the subconscious; I accept they can be a communication pathway from the unconscious to our rational selves, but sometimes it's a bit more random and chaotic than that. (And I am always shocked at how whatever part of brain that says "this can't be real" is so much more asleep than the rest of us.) And man, now I really am wondering about whether the unconscious knows that it will someday die and how it feels about that!

I feel like I'm gathering more instances of the subconscious as having its own personality and- all too often- separate agenda. I've started thinking of it as my "inner toddler", but I'm a little wary of thinking of it in such disparaging terms - like it might grow to resent me, and that would be pretty bad for my overall mental wellbeing. Still, there's a stubborn petulance there. Like, it's bad enough that I eat my desk at work, but there's even less dignity when I start digging in while still walking from the damn kitchen. So yesterday I apply some willpower and hold off chowing down 'til I'm safely seated. Great! And then today... I don't even make it out of the kitchen. My inner toddler sees the taco in my hand, recognizes it as delicious, and I've had a bite or two before my rational self is fully aware of what's going on. I've witness that "backslide/backlash" factor before. (I also wonder if my inner eater is just a more well behaved version of the inner demons that are so destructive in the life of

McCarthy writes "the fact that the unconscious prefers avoiding verbal instructions pretty much altogether--even where they would appear to be quite useful--suggests rather strongly that it doesnt much like language and even that it doesnt trust it." My first instinct says that it's not a matter of disdain, but it lacks language as a toolset. I can't tell my inner toddler to "use your words" because it doesn't have any! Of course, this seems to contradict my earlier theory that this subconscious was my "fast reading/skimming brain". But perhaps words can come in, but they can't come out, and the "jist" that my fast reader is so good at providing my rational self is more based on images and feelings than I realize. No wait - I got started last Saturday by trying to explain the subconscious process that was making my typos, especially my oddly-phonetic-almost-dyslexic swap of "m" and "b". So words go in and words go out, but they aren't its native language. (So to speak.)

And so it might be a mistake to think there's only one subconscious entity. Or it might be hard to understand in general. Especially right now, I feel like I might be back to conflating my "self", my consciousness, with my "inner voice" process using words. (To quote Emo Phillips, "I used to think that the brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this.")

I wonder if I'm on to something here. It is very odd to think of an internal part of oneself as some kind of (at times, childish!) companion rather than... well, than as ourselves, but I think it suggests a whole new set of promising approaches for self-therapy. I think every successful weight-loss I've had has had to cope with this inner toddler, for instance! (And again, I wonder if I'm risking further resentment by calling him that...)


Of course sometimes it's like this Id/subconscious self is the only part of me that knows how to enjoy anything! Sometimes I think the only pleasure my ego/rational self gets in life is...well... ego stroking...

(and btw, it's so sad that googling topics of communicating with your inner child are so often about coping with buried past trauma and backgrounds of abuse and neglect.)


I do wonder - is it like this for everyone? Are McCarthy and I outliers? Are he and I and some others somehow less coherent and unified people than most? Why aren't people talking about this more? Is it different for them, or is it just to painful to admit we're not as singularly in control as our rational selves would like to be?

Just when you start to think the RMV was getting it- a painless online address change. Just to find out from the city office that that did f***-all to change where the car is "garaged", which the RMV website doesn't mention when you change the address? What's the point?
My company CarGurus has been named "Online Auto Shopping Brand of the Year" in the 29th Annual Harris Poll EquiTrend Study, unseating our longterm rivals. And they asked me to plug it on Social Media so here we are.

It really is a pretty sweet company, and a great place to buy a car, especially used. Techies should definitely hit me up if they see something on our jobs listing that seems like a fit.
I've seen many rube goldbergs but nothing with the kind of narrative Biisuke Balls Big Adventure has! Lovely!

from subconscious me

A friend's online moot/mute swap typo provoked me to write the following, clearly I'd been looking for an outlet for this ramble...
I make all kinds of phonetic typos (where I'll end up typing a third word that sort of sounds like the others), and then this odd m/b swap where I'll switch "me" for "be" say, or vice versa. Not mute for moot for some reason, I guess for me the vowels are less "swappable" than they are for others.

Lately - hopefully without raising too many questions about my mental health- I've been thinking a lot about this subconscious me, how there seems to be almost a personality in here, different than the rational / inner voice me (the one that tries to take credit for BEING me, though I think I got over that via Dan Dennett's "Consciousness Explained")

This "other me" might correspond a bit to the Id as drawn by Freud - or the pop culture "inner child", one that throws tantrums when things seemed aligned against it - that thwarts my attempts at smart eating by provoking cravings - and, FINALLY getting to the point - I wonder if it's the background processor that lets me read (well, skim, but with good absorption rates) and write very quickly, but not always accurately ("I want to live life like I type; fast, and with lots of mistakes")
This other me - under certain states of sleep/awakeness, I feel like I've had glimpses of him. Sometimes I think it might be a multitude, I've gotten this impression of a skull full of colorful worms, or lets say "sock covered slinkies" because worms are gross. (It looked a bit like this kinetic digital art piece I made, paintbars.) The fugue-ish state with that visual also gave me the idea that the worms are a little bitter because they're generally not in control, and short lived and forgotten, and that they can generally only communicate via emotional post-it notes. (Ever get that? Like I'll get a sudden stab of, say, melancholy, or relief, or something, and have to sit a moment and trace back where it came from.)

Also when I was a kid, twice when I was going through anxious times (moving to a new city) I had a dream about this "alternate me". For a while I thought he was supposed to be my opposite - skinny when I was chubby, wearing the other half of the pajamas I had on, and silent where I would be talkative - except then as we wrestled I went to scream, and couldn't, classic sleep-paralysis. This might be looking too much into it but now I wonder if he might be a manifestation of this other part of me.

There's a whole type of therapy, popular in New England and maybe not so much elsewhere, called Internal Family Systems that encourage recognizing similar sub-parts, and roleplaying engaging with them as full-fledged people. (So closer to the silent kid than the skullfull of worms) The practice talks about specific roles (Managers, Exiles, Firefighters) that I'm not sure feel true to me, but it might be an avenue worth exploring. "Spiders are really tiny 3D printers"

from March 19, 2017

I felt stressed this morning, juggling thoughts and preparation about moving together with Melissa (things are actually going well there, knock wood we are signing the lease on a terrific place Tuesday or Wednesday but of course planning a move is a walk through a forest of a thousand trees of things that could go wrong and might even be my fault for not being smarter about moving) and a BABAM band gig I was running, our traditional under-rehearsed ad hoc selves playing indoors for change, which somehow feels like it should raise the expectations.

A lot of situations will come up that we find stressful. Some of our emotional responses to those can be so stupid -- to quote Natalie Goldberg, "Stress is an ignorant state. It believes that everything is an emergency. Nothing is that important."

Now, *existentially* she's right (John Maynard Keynes: "But this 'long run' is a misleading guide to current affairs. 'In the long run' we are all dead.") -- but there is a subset of these issues that A we wouldn't have control over even if we were our best selves and B ARE pretty damn important, relative to the group of all concerns we have in this life.

And yet; our stress-tastic emotional responses (at least for the stuff that has now snowballed into a life of its own) are only useful in very small ways, just to the extent they can make us more thoughtful and attentive to preventing those situations, whether we're talking fundamentally life-altering things, such as a break-up, where maybe we can be wiser in how we love, or for the merely transient and infuriating, where maybe an alternate route or departure time would avoid this damn traffic.

But in general, we can rely on the higher, more rational part of our brains for that kind of bad-situation-pre-emption, and the stress just makes us miserable, and often dumber. Like I said at the end of February, whether I'm furious about it and making myself angry or accepting of it, the traffic is still there. So why be furious?

There's a menacing line from some belligerent military group "Don't Run, You'll Only Die Tired". The problems I'm facing now aren't gonna kill me... but even if they are, why should I die tired?

I have this version of my best self walking around, taking situations in hand. Hell, recognizing in a lot of ways I'm doing super well, healthy, sweet girl friend, well-paying job I dig, good friends, meaningful camaraderie and ego-gratifying work in my band music making. Sure I could switch scales and compare to some out there "best case of every scenario" version of life where, I dunno, I'm like a mix of Obama, Steve Jobs, Grace Hopper, Isaac Asimov, and Mr. Rogers, but that life doesn't exist, but the one that does has a lot to say for it.
Quote I was reminded of while writing that:
One ought never to turn one's back on a threatened danger and try to run away from it. If you do that, you will double the danger. But if you meet it promptly and without flinching, you will reduce the danger by half. Never run away from anything. Never!
Winston Churchill

from the stuck-in-traffic problem

tl;dr: The traffic isn't against you. It's just the traffic.

In Cat's Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut introduces the concept of a "wrang-wrang": a person who steers people away from a line of thinking by reducing that line, with the example of the wrang-wrang's own life, to an absurdity.

I'm trying to make Homer Simpson my wrang-wrang. Specifically this clip:

A sudden irrational and disproportionate fury at somewhat trivial things that are out of my control. In some circumstances I'm almost too controlled, many of my potential feelings of desire have to be vetted by my inner judge before they're allowed... but the feeling of "this is just wrong" rises up in a sudden furious tantrum, and I don't like that about myself. (It's gotten me into trouble in previous jobs; it's not that I rant and rave endlessly, it's just that one moment of exposed anger, even if directed at a system and not an object, can make people very uncomfortable.)

The issue has been on my mind for a while. In 2008 I wrote
"C'est la Vie!" / accepting that / "this should not be!" / but coping / more stoically; / philosophically-- / "C'est la vie..."

A few years later I read about William Irvine's modern application classical Stoicism, in "A Guide to the Good Life'; protecting one's equanimity and contentment at all costs, in part by triaging the world into things one has complete control over, no control over, and somewhere in between, and attending only to the first and last category, along with "negative visualization" - a meditative technique of thinking about how bad things could get, and then being happy when they're better than that; and realizing that you'd be able to cope even if they were that bad. So that was helpful, but just recognizing that a situation was out of my control didn't actually help my equanimity all that much.

Other approaches suggested themselves. I wrote this in 2015:
Recently a conversation with Derek gave me the idea of approaching the world with a kind of cheerful pessimism- assume that "a bit screwed up and annoying" is kind of the natural state of the universe, that things WILL be messed up, but generally not irretrievably so, and then be extra cheerful when the dice roll your way. "Lousy minor setbacks" that could otherwise be absolutely and inappropriately infuriating become almost soothing reminders that Murphy's in His Heaven and all's right, or wrong in the right way, with the world.

Again, that sounded better on paper than in real life, in terms of not being upset. I don't really want to be all that dour all the time.

In early 2016, I stumbled on "Amor Fati" - still a concept that resonates for me, a call for the cultivation of love of one's fate, even the parts that are unpleasant, that you wouldn't have it any other way. As Nietzsche put it:
"My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it--all idealism is mendacity in the face of what is necessary--but love it."

I felt - still feel - that much of the problem is that our monkey brains are so good at daydreaming up these alternate realities that are just like this one, but better - this same roadway, this same car, not all these other cars - but those realities don't exist in our world, except for the power we give them to make us unhappy.

Later in the fall I also stumbled on the idea of using empathy to make situations more palatable. In its more extreme form, this is a kind of hippy-dippy "we are all one thing", but even without going to that extreme, if you see yourself on a common team of humanity, someone cutting you off might be a win you can share in. Of course, this doesn't apply to traffic jams so much, at least when everyone is equally stuck. (Remember- you're not 'in' a traffic jam, you 'are' the traffic jam)

But now I've found what seems the strongest counter-formula yet... the recognition of this weird animism humans tend to have, that we look for intent and purpose even in things that are just accidental and emergent. The first stage of the this realization was that "it is absurd to take traffic personally". And yet I do. Later, in the movie "Mistress America" I found the even wider application: "The path isn't against you. It's just the path." I've been finding that a very useful mantra lately. Similarly, when I get mad at a malfunctioning device or app, I should give it some sympathy, or even empathy; it's doing the best it can, you know? It has no sense of mischievousness, and it's more accurate to presume it would like to be doing a good job for me than whatever its current results actually are.

The other nice thing is that these various view points are complementary, they don't really undercut each other that much. (I've been told that's characteristic of Eastern religions, in general they are less combative, and defensive of their "unique path to truth" sense, than many Western outlooks.)

The traffic isn't against you. It's just the traffic.

FOLLOWUP (2017.02.27): Whether I'm furious about it and making myself angry or accepting of it, the traffic is still there. So why be furious? The only counter-example is if my rage now helps me avoid future bad traffic. But I could probably do that via rationality, not just gut level rage...

from dear cora

I've been writing my superniece Cora every time after we visit. I write in a little private online site, and then print them up annually-ish, and will give them to her when she's in her teens... 15 or 16 maybe? Old enough to be thoughtful, young enough that her course isn't set. They chart her development (as I've become more of a personal archivist, sometimes I wish I had a similar history for me- though my moms saving and then binding like EVERY school and church related paper she had saved from preschool through some of college comes very close), let me pontificate a bit, and feel a little self important where someone in the next generation might be interested in me if I write well enough.

In general I'll keep them private, of course, but tonight I felt like sharing.

November 8 2016

Dear Cora,

Hello from a weird time!

It's election night 2016.

Right now it could go either way, closer than expected. Probably won't go well.

If it goes for Trump- I dunno. It won't be great - it's such a bad message, about human rights, about who we are, about how a guy who just doesn't want to learn anything and is so full of himself can take the presidency, about how we have to wait for a first female president. But life will be ok, and I'm sad because so many of my friends have forgotten that. It has been such a rough campaign, really brutal. Trump has done and said so many ugly things. The other side really thinks Hillary is corrupt, but that's not fundamentally true; she's just a connected politician who has been the target of 40 years of Republican attacks. But overall, we'll get through. It'll be easier for me and my demographic, white, straight, reasonably comfortable, christian background; for gay people and people of color and moslems, they're not going to feel as welcome. Maybe things will happen to some of them (the supreme court will be borked up, and things for abortion rights are definitely under threat) or maybe not, but some of the worst of it is that the guy who might be winning did so in part saying it's ok to say the country should be white and facts are optional; his fans say we're the greatest nation on Earth and get mad if you decide to bow out during the National Anthem but then say "make America Great Again", like it's not.

I guess I gotta hope many of the liberal fears are overblown, but even that's kind of a bad sign, like how we just amp everything up and and demonize both sides.

I know your Mamas are wary of the legal status of families like yours. At a minimum I think Massachusetts will be ok, besides being a leader in gay marriage, and there being at least some push towards "state rights" in these things by conservatives. Other states might make harder time, but despite setbacks, the path is in the right direction about LGTBQ, and will keep going that way as older more conservative generations die out.

But I'm writing you now, on a night when I'm kind of scared. On top of everything my sweetie Melissa and I are going to Malaysia tomorrow for 2 weeks vacation... I was joking that it was to celebrate or flee the election, but I really wasn't expecting the latter. Should be an amazing trip anyway. Also I'm switching jobs, always a bit of a stressful thing even when all the signs look promising.

But I want you to know that things tend to work out ok - we get so scared, we think about things being somewhat worse than they are now and it just freaks us out. Some things we're just helpless to help, and we need to learn to accept those, but we can then take solace in how we can endure. Dreading is worse than living through.

A good quote:

"Stress is an ignorant state. It believes that everything is an emergency. Nothing is that important."
--Natalie Goldberg

Lately I've been thinking about stress and anxiety; is it always bad? Does it get me to make wiser choices and work harder? Can I just be smart and calm and choose to do what I know is right? It's a toughie.

It's funny writing to you. I tell you stuff I don't know if I'd be ready to really grasp as a teenager myself. Of course maybe I'd think I was ready for it as a teen... and maybe I'd be right? Or not. I dunno. Sometimes I underestimate my teen self. Sometimes I feel like I've recently figured some stuff out, made great progress in thinking and feeling as a grownup, other times I worry I worked some stuff out before, like maybe in my 20s, and forgot about it. Sometimes I wish I was writing to you as a fellow forty year old! But by then, any advantage I can give you might've passed.

Ugh. So much trouble focusing this night. I've reread what I've written so far like five times. (Hanging with Melissa, watching random tv shows on "hulu", periodically look at news websites)

Alright. Anyway, had a nice afternoon with you and your Mamas last Saturday. Played blocks, made a stuffed snake and a turtle box from a monthly kit called "Koala Crate", had spaghetti and meatballs, did some fun tumblers and horsie rides- especially you and your Mama C. You're getting a little sassy here and there, talking back to teachers a bit (not entirely in a bad way), and after the end of Daylight Savings Time took an hour of light from our nights your Mama K posted: "mama the sun is asleep.It's not bedtime. WAKE UP SUN!" This should be an interesting season.

Your Mama K also posted this photo, and said This might be my favorite picture ever. Supergirl power pose. Fierce Cora.

Uncle Kirk

PS Quote I've been liking lately (pardon the cussing)

Tennessee Williams once wrote, "We all live in a house on fire, no fire department to call; no way out, just the upstairs window to look out of while the fire burns the house down with us trapped, locked in it." In a certain sense, the playwright was correct. Yes, but oh! What a view from that upstairs window! What Tennessee failed to mention was that if we look out of that window with an itchy curiosity and a passionate eye; with a generous spirit and a capacity for delight; and, yes, the language with which to support and enrich the things we see, then it DOESN'T MATTER that the house is burning down around us. It doesn't matter. Let the motherfucker blaze!
Tom Robbins

If this is the country that elected Donald Trump, it is still also the country that elected Obama.

Wait But Why's It's Going to be OK This is pretty good. I've been engaging with some trusted conservative friends, about the potential they see in Trump, and while there is a buttload to despise about him and what he says and what groups he's not rejected the support of and his lack of experience, our view of him has been bent to almost the same degree as us liberals and moderates think the view of Hillary has. I don't think he has great action plans for fixing what ails the rural / post-manufacturing areas, but he's making them a part of the conversation in a way they often aren't. Anyway, this article was the second best thing I've had to those conversations.

I'm really tired of the us and them of it all. We've made such villains of each other.

from October 17, 2016

Dream Thought: With great power comes great responsibility, but considering my main power is flaring my nostrils at will vs inhaling them closed...
[face pressed against the glass case in the butcher shop] This is a bad zoo

After the Titanic sank, rich people got their revenge by spending the last hundred years melting all the icebergs.

In Search of Basho is an intriguing webcomic- sort of Maus meets A Softer World -- they just posted a guest post they asked me to write for them:

In 2000 I had some terrible anxiety about the prospect of dying. I did a lot of thinking, talking with people, and reading, and I came up with some ideas that I found helpful and soothing and consoling – so much so that I haven’t had a recurrence of those sleepless nights since.

I put those thoughts in the form of little essays on a website. More recently I put those essays in the form of a comic (you can see the rough original version at http://mortals.be/comic/ or the result after I hired a real artist to draw it at http://soyouregoingtodie.com).

I put these ideas in comic form in the hope of reaching people who have similar fears.

Now, I have a new idea, and I’m planning a new comic.

But I’ll tell you that idea now. Its formulation comes from Nietzsche, of all people, and he calls it amor fati, the instruction to “Love Your Fate”. He wrote:

My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it—all idealism is mendacity in the face of what is necessary—but love it.

But why should we love fate? I mean, sometimes our situation kind of stinks, doesn’t it?

Is it searching for silver linings to whatever dark clouds? That’s part of it. There’s almost always something wonderful to be found in any circumstance we find ourselves in. If nothing else, we have the rare privilege of being “sitting-up mud”, the small bit of matter in the Universe that gets to bear witness, to be part of the process of the Universe figuring itself out.

Is it because we might as well choose to be happy, at least as much as we are able to make that as a choice? Sure; feelings of love can increase our happiness, and so the more we can get there, the more content we can be.

But more than those, I think we should love THIS fate because it is THE fate. The Circumstance. There is no other. Our monkey brains will make us miserable thinking of alternate realities; maybe worlds just like this one but THIS STUPID TRAFFIC IS MOVING!!! Or one like this one but where we didn’t just slam our toe into the bedpost. Or one where the beloved didn’t get away, or where our job pays 50% more and has half as much work. 

All of these worlds, these fates, these circumstances, these timelines, can be interesting to think about, and maybe even inform our present choices as we look to our future creature comforts but… they don’t exist. Our past is fixed; we are here, and it is now. If we can love this moment, we will be better people. It is one of the best philosophical practices I can think of.

Tomorrow I’ll be adding a rough paraphrase of this philosophy (loosely translating “AMOR FATI” as “THIS FATE” - I feel more true to myself sticking with the one language I know) to the one small tattoo I already have. I want this message to be part of my bodily self.

from October 8, 2016

"Live by the foma [Harmless untruths] that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy." --Bokonon (via Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle)
A few weeks ago I was talking about trying to apply more radical forms of empathy in some of the small, mostly anonymous interactions of my life - someone cutting me off in traffic, say - to somehow be happy for the other person, rather than focusing on my almost neglibly small, yet still annoying, "loss".

In the meanwhile I've tried to apply another, rather Eastern (or at least Western Hippy) metaphor to it; that somehow I and the other person are part of the same body, and so while the situation, or even their actions in the situation, my frustrate me, I can still get a sense of a common good being shared. I can get frustrated with my lower back when it twinges, or annoyed that my elbows will get all patchy if I don't attend to them daily, or wishing my vision was perfect, or that there wasn't a part of my subconscious out to fatten me up at every opportunity, but still there's a shared sense of togetherness that keeps my anger and irritation in check.

I recognize that this view doesn't hold up to some kinds of scrutiny; that one of the defining factors of a singular being or body is there's a specific someone/something driving the show and defining the overall purpose, and that's not really a stance I hold now. Actually, a workable, morally useful metaphor, not 100% grounded in physical reality, is part of the definition of most religion, I'd say. And by acting on this kind of outlook, we make ourselves vulnerable to people who take unfair advantage of our view (I mean, the whole history of evolution is, in part, the story of cooperators vs cheaters.)

For all its parts, good and bad, I find the bodily metaphor useful, and am gonna run with it.

(Heh, JP Honk used to have a "shared skirt" we'd being to events, where 5 or 6 people could wear the same garment... I see a parallel in that skirt and this philosophical lens, I think...)
Hm. So I'm looking forward to marching in the parade with JP Honk and then some stuff tonight and tomorrow with School of Honk, but I know in some ways I'm not taking full advantage of all the HONK! fest greatness. I mean I'll be having fun with the horn, but could it be said that I'm... Sousaphoning it in?

Ok, sorry for that one.

from September 17, 2016

Lately I've been thinking about forms of empathy in everyday life, of whether an assumption of competition vs cooperation is good for us: pragmatically, but especially emotionally.

The examples that come most easily to mind are traffic-related. You're stuck behind some left-turner, look for your chance to scoot around to the right lane so that you can go straight, and some putz from behind you zips on up and takes your chance. It's easy to feel frustrated and annoyed by that, and to feel that you've somehow "lost" to that person. But what if you were able to view it as a little victory, either for them, or for local car-driving humanity in general?

Stupid? Naive? Maybe. I mean, from an evolutionary standpoint, we have a lot of cooperation in our history, but also a mandate to be on watch against cheaters, people who will take advantage of us, people who carry and struggle for their own agendas that we may actively disagree with, maybe even people with enough awareness of our own Kumbaya that they can leverage it for their own purposes with a blatant disregard for reciprocity. And few of us want to feel like that kind of fool.

Still, I think it might be a useful attitude to carry. I've been finding ways to douse "road rage" with thoughts like "Waiting Is" (time stuck waiting is still time, it's not some untime that is inherently valueless, even if we are impatient to get to somewhere else, eager for some event to occur) and adding in a dose of perspective - i.e. keeping in mind Homer Simpson's reaction to a traffic jam, the utterly furious "Lousy minor setback! This world sucks!", and how that's a kind of natural but short sighted way to be... and being aware how my brain is SO damn good at coming up with "alternate realities" that remove those little inconveniences. All that helps, but that feeling of "losing" to the other driver still stings. If I can share in their victory, or see it as a general positive for driver-kind, I'll be a happier and more generous person.

I'm not there yet, but hippy and Eastern ideas like "we are all one" make more sense to me, even if I have to wade hipdeep through my flavor of Western Rationalism to get there.

from September 10, 2016

I've been fascinated by the left brain / right brain split lately - the weird tales of how a split-brain patient seems to have two utterly independent selves living in their skull - and in those cases how cheerily the verbal left brain will make up the oddest stories to justify what the half of the body controlled by the "other brain" is doing, in order to maintain an illusion of unity of purpose, and self. (I'm convinced everyone get tons of practice making up those stories every night as we dream, that dreaming is an exercise in the left brain making up rationalizations and interpretations of much less ordered sense impressions/illusions.)

I'm trying to read up on the topic (haven't found a really focused book yet, though I'm optimistic about one of them) because I know I'm currently tempted to make up unverified "Just So" explanations, and attribute to my right brain every impulse my rational analytic self doesn't approve of - such as my desire to snack and eat unhealthily (and the absolutely scary "junkie reasoning" my subconscious came up with once after my analytical brain said "look, I'm not really hungry, and I'm not even craving anything in this fully laden vending machine of free snacks, I should walk away" -- "well, that's just why it's OK to indulge in it - because you *don't* have that pressing desire for it!" was the conterthought, rising up unbidden from the mental depths.)

But why the desire to attribute unwanted feelings to a physically distinct part of my brain? I mean does it matter that it's physically separate? (As opposed to the model of the mind as a cacophony of "virtual" subconsciousness, subconsciousness where it doesn't matter precisely *where* each is firing neurons in the brain... this is the view I tend to hold to, and it's more nuanced than the mere 2 part split this split brain "Just So" story implies.)

I understand the temptation for my analytic brain to declare itself the "real me", even as a higher part of me (or, lower?) understands that that's not correct. "The impulse came from my right brain", then, is kind of akin to "The devil made me do it!", a kind of rhetorical distancing from things I don't like about myself, and undeniably originate from "me"

I wonder if "The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind" gets into this?

from best photos of 2012


Open Photo Gallery

2012 - The year I discovered Instagram filters, apparently! I do like how they got people thinking more about image presentation for a while, and the square crop format is pretty hip.

New Year's "Cherry Japanese Things" (according to my journal entry) at Erica + Todd's

EBB2 on ice, with EB and EBB1 behind.

Got a Nintendo-themed racetrack for my birthday - never had an electric racetrack growing up! Also this shows off my book collection of the time. I don't really regret "Kondo"-izing it, since it is a pleasure having book shelves of just books I love, but sometimes I miss how smart I thought it made me look.

Lake near Lake Champlain from the Burlington VT side.

Took a little weekend jaunt to Washington DC with JZ. I liked the atrium in the National Portrait Gallery.

Emma was a sassy cat. After Amber left I took care of her, though she aged out half a year later. (Supposedly she was once a fat cat but I only knew her skinny.)

Amber by the shore.

Kirk under the shore. Waterproof cameras and underwater cell phone cases are fun.

Gummy-bear cubicle prank @ Alleyoop. It started with the giant gummy bear and an unfulfilled wager about whether it could be consumed... turning it into Gulliver's Travels (Gummiver's Travels?) was genius.

Toy Robot at Magnolia Park in Arlington. And the discovery of Instagram filters.

Lego Spaceman and EBB1.

Spy Pond in Arlington. #nofilter #justkidding #somefilterclearly

I just finished Penn Jillette's "Presto!: How I Made Over 100 Pounds Disappear and Other Magical Tales". The kickstart to his losing 100 lbs was two weeks of NOTHING but potatoes, but that was mostly just to get him away from the super flavors of "SAD", the "Standard American Diet". (Then it switches to something like "Whole Plant" emphasis. It's pretty dang spartan overall.)

I'd like to flatter myself by seeing some similarities in me and him, though that's obviously a stretch (despite finding out he's been keep a daily diary for years, like I do.) I think the most critical difference springs from this:
Live outside the law. Be honest. It's easy once you get there, but it's difficult to start. You're bucking the whole system. The law says make things easy-- so do things that are hard! Everything you love was hard to do: juggling, playing bebop jazz on upright bass, catching a bullet in your teeth, working with Teller, being married, raising children-- even reading Moby-Dick was hard. All the things that make life worth living take work.
Actually Penn quotes Neil Young on how I end up feeling:
It's hard enough losing without the confusion of knowing I tried.
...I have a hard time shaking this fixed mindset that causes me to seek out all the ego-gratifying low hanging fruits. A useful talent, sometimes. Though also I've been thinking about how it has shaped the music I like, which tends to prefer the accessible to the subtle; I think though I have enough "novelty seeking" that it keeps me out of the worst of the ruts.

Another passage I found striking:
I worry a little about the young adults of today. I worry that they aren't sexting quite enough and won't have enough naked pictures and porn video of themselves. I worry there's still too much false information about society's unnecessary stigma about sex. There's stuff in the news all the time about college students sexting, but still reports say that fewer than half of young adults are sexting pictures of themselves. I don't want to see pictures of young people naked. I'm old and I'm creepy, but I'm not that creepy. What I want is pictures of my friends and myself when we were twenty. I want just what at least half of young people are going to have when they themselves are old and creepy. The news sources I read (which are for old people like me) fret about young adults not understanding that when they post nude pictures of themselves, those pictures will never go away. That's a feature, not a bug, and fortunately at least half of young adults know that.

I understand immediately why people collect stamps. I understand why people play polo. I can relate to every sexual kink I've ever seen video of.
Penn Jillette

Horses don't eat anything but plants, and they build strong bodies that some women find sexy in a way that's a little creepy.
Penn Jillette

It frightens me, the awful truth of how sweet life can be.
Bob Dylan (via Penn Jillette, who says it's his favorite line)

My dad loved soup and taught me to love soup. He also taught me to love ritual jokes. There were certain jokes he did every time the chance came up. Every time my dad had soup, he'd say, "Once I had soup while my nose was running, and I thought I'd never finish."
Penn Jillette
That is a TERRIFIC dad joke! So delightfully gross.

2020 UPDATE: I was surprised I never mentioned
In 2012 I went on The Celebrity Apprentice with Donald Trump, who has hair that looks like cotton candy made of piss.
Penn Jillette

August Blender of Love

from April 8, 2016

Today's 22/23/24 if you didn't know.

The Price is Right Theme 800% Slower:

"Slowed down 800%, this song becomes an ambient, lush and soothing experience"
My slow plan of self-improvement continues. (Sometimes I try to remember if I engaged in similar plans in my 20s and 30s. I should check my old blog rambles and see.)

Recently I started embracing "Amor Fati", love of ones fate, embracing the circumstance because - regardless if you can dig up a silver-lining for it or not - it IS The Current Circumstance, there is no other. This is painful for us to believe, because or imaginative brains are SO GOOD at thinking up hypothetical alternate realities-- realities much like this one, but a bit nicer: without this badly designed redlight holding us back, without this T pass lost, without this toe stubbed. Those other realities simply don't exist, and we must learn to love what actually does, because it does. ("People don't think it be like it is, but it do.")

In practice, though, it's not always easy to dredge up that feeling of "Amor" fast enough, so I've been exploring supplementary models. My current favorite has to do with an illformed memory of a friend describing someone else: "he's just like, you know, 'super chill'?" Some how I find that phrasing weirdly evocative, despite its lack of detail. I can think of various tropes and characters from literature that exemplify that.

I doubt that "Super chill" is a phrase that most friends would use to describe me, but I still, I would like to be more unflappable, taking things more little pitfalls in stride. In theory I have enough existential philosophy to back that...("in theory, Communism works. In theory.") But mostly it's a model I can quickly apply - I feel a flash of anger or fear, I think "what would this like, super-chill guy do?" and try to be that. There's still that flash of negative emotion of course, but maybe in time that can be quelled a bit, much like my libido seems to have to get pre-approval before it can make me even 'feel' anything...

When I think about self-improvement like this, I always have a note of caution. There's the thought that being uptight and anxious may have served me well over the years, given me a backbone to not give into more of my baser instincts; maybe my ingrained, apocalyptic fear of eternal hellfire has done me a service, keeping a bit closer to the straight-n-narrow. But now, at 42, I think I'll be ok. And there's always the hope that I might be even better, that if I can shake my flinchy fear about "well what if this next technical bit doesn't work out and I don't know how to fix it???" I can achieve more and more interesting things.

Also, I wouldn't want "super chill" to swamp my general happiness and enthusiasm for things I like... I don't think they're incompatible, though there's some creative tension there.
TIL (reading an Updike novel) that, shortly before the assassination, JFK and Jackie had a son, but who died after 2 days after being born premature.

I'm not sure what feels weirder to me; not having heads of this or just the idea of having a child while being president.

from March 4, 2016

Random thought I had the other day...

I place a lot of my own self-worth in being valuable to others.

I get a lot more engaged in a group if I feel I'm critical to that group. For example: on summer I started attending Sunday services at my local UU church. Its scraggly, sparsely-attended meeting felt kind of familiar to me, and I thought I might find a home there, take up a common cause. Then fall arrived, and I found out that many New England churches kind of "pause" for the summer, but in autumn the spigots get turned back on full blast. Much of my urge to go to church left me. (Also: lazy Sunday mornings are kind of fantastic.) In part, I felt lost in the crowd. But I also felt like I would be "needed", was unlikely to be critical to the group.

(Another example: switching to tuba from the smaller baritone horn in the sixth grade, because a trumpet player had switched to baritone, and I liked the nature of being the only player of an instrument in a group.)

So I tend to be very reliable with this kind of thing, stalwart, which is a good thing but it comes from two weird places: the first is, maybe I don't feel like I have a ton of intrinsic value. (Conversely: do I feel most people do have intrinsic, part of the human birthright? It's a pretty basic humanistic tenant but I'm not sure it's one that I've perfectly embraced.) The second is: if a group doesn't NEED me, then why should I bother? (I mean, except in the ways that it's entertaining for me.) Life is full of a lot of potential demands for my precious time!

Some of it's just the binary thinking problem - oversimplifying, binary thinking is one of the biggest issues I see in the world, and I'm dismayed that I'm plagued by it too. People don't want a multidimensional way of taking things in, acknowledging that everything has parts that are good, less good, great, terrible - we want a single spectrum of "good" or "bad", and we don't even want a spectrum, we want to say good OR bad.

It muddles my thinking. It's just hard to wrap my head around ideas like "this effort - where I'm useful now - would be ok without me, but different".

(Of course a while ago I wrestled in a variation of this, the "If you 'can't live without me' why aren't you dead yet?" type thing. The best answer I remember coming for that was that - well, they wouldn't DIE die, but you're critical to them being the best selves that they are now, that at least in that sense the person they are now wouldn't be around.)
One part of humanity's moral growth will be the recognition and acceptance of people determining the timeline for their own ends.
Sometimes it's easy to forget that Alewife, the station I arrive at nearly every day to begin my day's journey, is ultimately named after a type of herring.

from amor fati

"Apes don't read PHILOSOPHY!"
"Yes they do Otto, they just don't UNDERSTAND it!"
A Fish Called Wanda
For a few weeks I've been rolling the concept of "Amor Fati" -- a love of ones fate, the good and the bad -- around in my head, and been finding it comforting and energizing.

The thing is, I find its meaning a little difficult to describe to others, to put into words - and Melissa pointed out that's not a comfortable feeling for me. (Also, it's a little weird that its popularization comes in part of Nietzsche...)

"Amor Fati" is a complementary fit to other part of classical stoicism, with that philosophy's encouragement to divide events into those that you have control over and those that you don't. That's a good start for me, with my deeply embedded need to not let a situation go pear-shaped if I can be a martyr and "save" it. "Amor Fati" somehow completes that; not only can I recognize things are out of my control, but I can learn to embrace the circumstance in its entirety. (Embrace this circumstance, 'cause it's the only one you're gonna get!)

There's the obvious objection to loving the bad as well as the good... if you were really good at that, could you greet a stubbed toe or traffic jam or lost job with as much enthusiasm as a great movie or a raise? And so, without that general motivation to make things ("objectively") better for you or those around you, wouldn't you let things ("objectively") slip and get worse? I don't have a great counter to that, just an intuition that A. yeah, I don't think I'm likely to reach that kind of zen equanimity and B. accepting and loving that there will be more pleasant and less pleasant outcomes breaks through fears and anxieties about the latter, and those fears tend to be more stifling of positive action than tranquil, passive acceptance .

As with most of my attempts to find comforting philosophy, there can be a "first world problem" aspect to it, and I don't know how well it extends to truly trying circumstances. I do enjoy finding some parallels in other places though. At one point I learned the trick of recasting anxiety as excitement - physiologically their pretty similar - and "Amor Fati" helps with that, because you will love even the bad outcome you're nervous about. In the military, they talk about "embracing the suck" and even get a perverse pride in what they've muddled through. Finally, I guess "Amor Fati" is kind of a secular version of believers who find consolation in sad things as being part of "God's Will" - those believers tend to count on a divine plan that's ultimately for good in a way I can't, but I'm guessing it's a similar feeling in the meanwhile.

Anyway, I commisioned the designer Bnomio to recast this work on "Tempus Fugit" as "Amor Fati", and it's currently my iPhone wallpaper... (it will be my phone case when it's time for a new one.) Having this reminder literally at hand (combined with things I already like about the iPhone's PDA/organizing part of my life) is great, the phone becomes a worry stone... a non-worry stone. The ship may be foundering, our ultimate end has always been visible in the distance, time can tick away - but I love it.

heh, two years ago I posted the perfect complement quote to today's essay:
There may be more beautiful times, but this one is ours.
Jean-Paul Sartre

People might know that 222 is my lucky number. So I was pretty psyched yesterday at 2:22, it being 2/22 and all. Obviously I'm looking forward to 2/22/22 ... especially because it's a *Tuesday*.
I hearby proclaim it PENULTIMATE TWOSDAY and plan to have a big party. (sadly, ULTIMATE TWOSDAY, 2/22/2222 will be a Friday.)

from February 18, 2016

"Awlaki was, to a certain cast of mind, a mesmerizing preacher. This world is but a station, he proclaimed. It is the next station, the Hereafter, that matters. 'We do not belong here. We are travelling. . . . We need to prepare for death.'"
I think this is problematic with a lot of faiths, especially with an emphasis on a supernatural hereafter, and in fact the Awlaki quote reminds me of messages I would get from time to time in my Christian church upbringing. Why give a damn (so to speak) about anything around us, what in the finite can measure up to the infinite that awaits? Yeah, some faiths say God wants to be good stewards, but why worry about the planet when we're careening toward the apocalypse? (Revelation was written 19 centuries ago, and still waiting, but it must be around the corner now...) Some religions emphasize charity and kindness in the here and now but those goals have to be weighed in the balance of spreading the word and fighting the fight.

I understand faith adds to the lives of many people. On the one hand, a more mature faith is balanced by basic humanity concerns, but if you start using "basic human concerns" as a litmus test for your religion, you're down the path of admitting they might be more important than religion... that it's something with common values that might transcend which of the many, many possible faiths we cling to. I wish establishing that common ground was the priority - it seems a lot healthier than this "people of faith, any faith no matter how mutually incompatible" lined up on the righthand sheep side against the skeptics on the lefthand goat side..

I know in some ways science - or rather, what science thinks is most likely true about how the universe functions, for now - requires some kind of faith. I've often longed for a good kitchen-sink science demonstration of atomic theory! (And one of the things I found bugging me most in the Scalia retrospectives was that he thought evolution was just a theory, and a crummy theory at that.) But why science differs from most other faiths is that it offers a method of its own correction; its core is coming up with ideas, and putting them to the test, and letting other people put them to the test. Knowledge is painstakingly grown, not handed from on high, or merely homegrown in our hearts. (And science doesn't tell us what to do - you can't get ought from is -- that's the job of moral philosophy, and when people try to shove science into that role you get crap like social darwinism.)

The Secret Lives of Tumblr Teens I'm less interested in the rags-to-riches-to-rags aspect than the general take on tumblr culture; admittedly FB has been a better mirror for my old (and ongoing) kisrael.com but I really appreciate the "relatable" style culture, relative to other cultures (twitter or especially chan/twitter) it is very human.
Wow, an insult that bugs that Short-Fingered Vulgarian.
In 1990 my high school marching band travelled to Detroit for a band competition and the parade... jump to 27:50 for some fine tuba, cymbals, and majorette dancin' to "My Sharona".

Good for anyone who has a fetish for badly lit vintage shots of the Henry Ford Museum.

from amor fati

"My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it--all idealism is mendacity in the face of what is necessary--but love it."
I enocunted the concept of "amor fati" the other day. Roughly translated, it's "the love of one's fate". More roughly translated, it's an admonition to love this life, this circumstance; it's the only one you're going to get.

I feel like in the mid-90s; somewhere between the end of the Cold War as we knew it and before I started listening to the Y2K worrywarts, I carried myself with a bit more joie-de-vivre; I remember a receptionist commenting on how I was more likely to walk around with a boppy little song.

More recently, I've been so frustrated with my own sense of rage at minor inconveniences, like bad traffic, or recalcitrant computer hardware and software. I wonder if really embracing Amor Fati could help with that.

I think it would make a good tattoo. But maybe I'll start with my phone wallpaper or my next custom case.

Photo semi-related -- Tempus Fugit has some similar implications, but has more anxiety producing potential. But I really liked the design, by Bnomio

The Scots-Irish or "American" whites who see Trump as their champion are profoundly different from the metropolitan whites who dominate the upper echelons of U.S. society--so much so that the convention of lumping them together as "white" detracts far more from our understanding of how they fit into our society than it adds to it. J.D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy, a forthcoming book on the place of Appalachian whites in modern America, estimates that roughly one-quarter of whites belong to the Scots-Irish tribe that has embraced Trump. If we were to separate out these Americans as a race or ethnicity unto themselves, Vance writes, we would finds rates of poverty and substance abuse that would shock our national conscience. But we don't generally collect detailed statistics on the Scots-Irish. We don't have a clear sense of how their labor force participation or disability rates compare to those of other Americans, including other white Americans. And so their experiences and their collective traumas blend into whiteness, where they can be safely ignored. Whites are privileged, after all.
Subtitled 'I do hate the Republicans who've enabled his remarkable popularity.'

That may be a rather profound point about "whiteness" in the USA. I mean I think there will always be some privilege from, at a glance, looking like the privileged class, but it might not be as much as us city slickers assume.
There's a lot I agree with with David Brooks on Bernie's Danish Dream and a lot that I don't.

from December 15, 2015


advent day 15

Tonight we had our last UU Covenant Group of the season/year, and I'm given my participation a rest, at least for a while.

Covenant groups are a special type of discussion group some UU churches run... they meet on a monthly basis, and often have a "check in", a reading, and then a go-round and discussion. I've been participating in my group for about a decade! And led it for maybe half of that (sometimes in a co-leader role) so letting go is a tough thing for me.

And appropriately, the final topic (as picked by one of the leaders of the other groups) was "Change". Purposeful change can be difficult for me, because it feels like it has to be either A. a refutation of my past self ("boy what was I thinking? good thing I'm so much smarter now") or B. Just a bad idea in general. (But of course, this is symptomatic of the all too human tendency to try to squish the grand diversity of life into a single spectrum of better/worse, and so be unable accept "different: better in some regards, worse in others".)

Several people in my group had a negative reaction to tonight's opening reading/quote:
We can't be afraid of change. You may feel very secure in the pond that you are in, but if you never venture out of it, you will never know that there is such a thing as an ocean, a sea. Holding onto something that is good for you now, may be the very reason why you don't have something better.
C. JoyBell C.
I was thinking about why that seems so problematic. Some of it is it's just insulting to one's personal history, like too much embracing of that "refutation of my past self" -- oh, stop digging here and start digging there - there's probably a whole gold mine right there you've just been too afraid to dig there, or stupid, or something.

So why is that gold mine so unlikely?

There's a kind of parody rap artist called MC Hawking, using a copy of physicist Stephen Hawking's electronic voice something to deliver science-related hiphop. His song entropy Entropy has this verse:
You ever drop an egg and on the floor you see it break?
You go and get a mop so you can clean up your mistake.
But did you ever stop to ponder why we know it's true,
if you drop a broken egg you will not get an egg that's new.
And why is that? The answer is entropy - I'm not qualified to explain it well, but the whole egg has more order; and in general, you have to put energy into something in order to counteract the tendency towards disorder and randomness.

And that's what the JoyBell quote is leaving out: all sorts of change IS possible- and it's important to remember that. But almost every change represents some kind of tradeoff, some kind of sacrifice: if anything was an obvious no-strings-attached win, we'd have been doing that already. But all these changes reflect some kind of sacrifice, some kind of cost. Which isn't saying net improvement isn't possible - but - the entropic universe being what it is - it will absolutely take the mindful application of effort and energy.

from unsubtle subtitles

How astonishing it is that language can almost mean,
and frightening that it does not quite.
Jake Gilbert
That's his start to my favorite poem ever. Lately I've been thinking about the power of words. It's this feeling I'm growing increasingly aware of of fundamental weirdness: how someone can choose to say something, and it (most likely) reflects the universe as it seems to them, though they might be being deceptive). But there is that choice of what and how something is said, and what is left unsaid, and from that choice some limited ability to shape the perceptions of others...

(Ironically, or appropriately, it's not easy for me to put this vague feeling into words...)

I find subtitles in movies distracting, especially if the written version precedes the equivalent from the actor's voice, which is usually the case. It throws the whole farce of cinematic and theatrical productions in sharp relief: these characters have no agency, they, and the people typing in the subtitles, are mere outlets for authorial intent, their words (and by extension: their thoughts, their feelings, their experiences, their whole being) preordained in some script.

But we have no such script. We are actors and authors all at once, at once the product and creators of our environment. (Even with faith in the Almighty, the ultimate Author, there's a lot of free will to be exercised locally.)

How astonishing!
Fun Montreal Fact: on the Montreal Metro, doors open and passengers disembark as the train is still gliding to a gentle stop.

from on the realities of retrogames

This past spring I had an online dialog with Chris Federico, keeper of Orphaned Computers & Game Systems and author of The Classic-Gaming Bookcast - $0.99 well spent for any fan of old games.

One way he adds to his enjoyment of games is to make up his own backstory for them - for a great example of this kind of thing, see his co-author's Adam Trionfo's "Before Reading the Manual" on their review of the obscure Spectravision game "Gas Hog". At one point in our conversation I explained my own reasons for why that seemed kind of alien to me. Recently he mentioned some of my ideas had stuck with him and he asked if I would explicate, possibly for partial inclusion in a future edition of his "Bookcast"... this is what I came up with.

There are two ways to think about the story behind specific retro videogames... for some players, the pixels and bleeps and blurps of an older game are like the shadows in Plato's Cave, technology used to crudely reveal a bigger, "more real" story going on. (The manual might give one explanation of the reality thus represented, but there's nothing stopping players from constructing their own, as you've demonstrated in your bookcast...) The screen for Intellivision's "AD&D: Cloudy Mountain" may just be showing some green and yellow squares (like a kid might have made with graph paper and some markers) but this type of player can see the slime-covered stonework, hear the echo from some unseen dripping water, smell the smoke of the flickering torches lining the walls in their metal holders. And these players' experience is probably the richer for it.

For me, however, the appeal of old games has always been their self-contained aspect: each Atari cartridge in the large collection I lucked into was its own microcosm with its own rules of physics and creatures and boundaries. The eponymous Superman of the Atari cartridge wasn't just a reflection of the muscled, flying hero of the Comic Book; he was a new pixel Superman, fighting crime in his limited pixel world, jailing pixel Lex Luthor and getting kisses from pixel Lois Lane. He's unbothered by Mister Mxyzptlk not because the programmer chose to direct his programming "camera lens" on a particular day in the life of the comicbook hero, but because for Atari 2600 Superman, this is the full extent of what the world- what the universe- is.

The advantage of this less literary, more literal approach to game story is that it embraces the limitations of player action, it doesn't have to explain it away: Take Crossroads, for the C=64; your little guy fires down the corridor. If a bullet wraps around the screen and hits him in the back, he takes damage. He doesn't have the option to hide against a wall, to maybe dig a trench for protection, to play with ricochet or shoot out a light or light a torch, or to do anything but shoot at a 90 degree angle directly down the hallway, square in the center. The universe, the range of possibility, is fully circumscribed. Of course, it's not devoid of higher-level interpretation: I see a little man, I see a bullet, I see various monsters duking it out, I don't just see splashes of pixels following abstract rules and displaying the results of various computations... as a player I bring recognition and thus a kind of meaning to the display and to the interaction, but that's my understanding from a privileged, god-like view into a self-contained universe, not the recognition of the pixels of a retelling of some other, more visceral fiction.

A damn stylus, thanks Apple! To quote Gruber: "Finally"

from on albert ellis and not being miserable

Lately I've been on a "self-help" book kick. I started with Albert Ellis' "How to Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable About Anything-- Yes, Anything!" (The title just rolls right off the tongue!) Ellis draws our attention to a pattern of irrational thinking that I recognize in my own life--a habit of exaggerating the impact of a dreaded event, or of parlaying a small setback into general feelings of self-worthlessness. He's worried about the anxiety and dwelling on thoughts of "must" :
"If I lost my job, as I must not, I could never get a good one again, and that would show what a wholly incompetent person I am!" "I must have a guarantee that my mate must not die, for if he or she did, I couldn't stand being alone and would always be miserable." "It's absolutely necessary that I not lose my sight, for if I did, my life would be awful and horrible, and I could never enjoy anything again!"
Ellis has a pretty heavy hand with the italics! But he argues that for much of the time, our FEELINGS of anxiety and misery have their often hidden roots in (often irrational) THOUGHTS about situations present and future, and that by practicing thinking more realistic thoughts we can prevent these misery and anxiety causing emotions ... for example, a person feeling shame for not being able to stop smoking:
"In no way am I, a total person, stupid and worthless because I keep doing a stupid act like smoking. My act is foolish but that hardly makes me a worthless fool, only a person who is now acting foolishly, who may act less foolishly in the future, and who does many other intelligent things"
But- like all changing habits, switching thought patterns and recognizing unhelpful and irrational thoughts takes a lot of practice. I know one irrationally exaggerated fear I have is "being incorrect" (Or as Ellis would probably have me think: "now, it's hardly desirable to be incorrect, but if I'm wrong or don't see the other side of a given situation, that doesn't make me a horrible person, and I will certainly be able to have a more empathetic view in other situations!") though compared to a lot of other problems I and others will get through, it has a bit of a first world problem feel.
A real tour de force about the numbers lost in WW2, vs before and after.

(Ironic that the thumbnail uses an American flag, because it's not hard to see how lightly the USA got off, relatively speaking.)

But the infographics elements and use of sound and motion are subtle and great in this.

from but... monkey!

Follow up to yesterday's note on "expecting to be annoyed"... on FB David H said the attitude might be called a form of "realist optimism" and Tim K wrote:
it could also be seen as a sort of Zen-like acceptance. Truthfully, I think the real wisdom of not allowing oneself to be stressed by or overly focused on things outside one's ability to control or influence is an element of just about any philosophical branch. It's sort of one of those universal truths, that is expressed differently in different contexts, but boils down to the same thing in the end.
My response was
Tim you're right that it's a fairly common sentiment, but some of the nuance is important. For instance I dig neo-stoicism (see http://kirk.is/2010/11/10/ ) over Zen because of how it doesn't discourage embracing of the pleasant (unlike Zen's encouragement to detach from positive and negative-- and usual disclaimers about my understanding of Zen apply)

In this case, it's the setting of expectations that is useful for my temperament, in a way mere acceptance in real time doesn't. Lower parts of my intellect get flustered and worried when things go wrong, and I become so aware of "THIS COULD BE OTHERWISE AND THAT WOULD BE BETTER FOR ME" that I'm prone to immature outbursts of anger. (Homer Simpson's stuck-in-traffic "Lousy Minor Setback! THIS WORLD SUCKS!" sums it up pretty well.)

With "mere acceptance", I can quickly quell the outburst, but it's more effective to have prepped the landscape with the expectation that things will utterly fail to live up to my self-centered ideal for them.

Just like Homer Simpson provides a good model for the rage, Garry Gergich from Parks & Recreation is a good model for calm acceptance of terrible and stupid things happening to one. (To borrow TV Trope's term, he's the Butt Monkey of the show, but then the writers make it up to the character by giving him an amazing wife and family situation.)

I do like Japanese infinite toys. I remember bringing a bunch of the bubble wrap back from Japan.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tLH8BX9-z5w shameless pandering for people to go to youtube and Thumbs Up this video I have a cameo in! A friend is campaigning to be a playtester for Exploding Kittens, a new game tied in with The Oatmeal...
So we got the record for snow (funny, I remember 92-93, my freshman year, a bit more strongly than the 95-96 previous record holder, even though 92-93 is only like 7th on the list now) but the more amazing bit was how much of that was in one month. But of course, Capracotta Italy is making us look like rookies.

We're going to be amazed at how calm and gentle our environment was for us, in retrospect.
I think dead is really a thing just like alive except you have less choices to make.

from nuh-uh, didn't say the magic word!

I decided to tear directly into the second Second "Science of Discworld" book when I realized it deals heavily with matters of mind and consciousness. It also talks about magic (here, in the Arthur C Clarke "indistinguishable from sufficiently advanced technology" sense) but ties in "magical" technology with the poor understanding of cause and effect we all tend to have as children:
Parents and carers are always transmuting the child's expressed desires into actions and objects, from food appearing on the table when the child is hungry to toys and other birthday and Christmas gifts. We surround these simple verbal requests with 'magical' ritual. We require the spell to begin with 'please', and its execution to be recognised by 'thank you'.
Coming home in the car and clicking the garage open, clicking the infrared remote to open or lock the car, changing TV channels - even switching on the light by the wall switch - are just that kind of magic. Unlike our Victorian forebears, we like to hide the machinery and pretend it's not there. So Clarke's dictum is not at all surprising. What it means is that this ape keeps trying, with incredible ingenuity, to get back into the nursery, when everything was done for it.
(Later they point out that you don't need high technology to continue this "making wishes" form of life, just lots of money -- "Feudal societies have a baronial class, who are in many respects allowed to remain in their nursery personas by being surrounded by servants and slaves and other parent-surrogates.")

I liked the reminder that the Victorians liked to expose the workings and fine engineering cleverness. But more than that, I was struck with how my preferences in software development are Victorian, in that sense. I prefer systems that "show their work" and expose the plumbing. That doesn't seem to be the dominant trend in the industry, however. In the late-90s, early-00s it was "Unix vs Microsoft" in development style, the latter giving you very powerful toolsets that a developer might not ever quite understand the flow of. Things "just worked" and coder life was productive and grand. Or they didn't, and coder life was misery and suffering. That Microsoft style seems to be seeping more and more into the stack that is still more at home on Unix-like systems, despite the culture those systems came from, the culture of relatively easy to understand and decoupled parts communicating, ideally via pipes.

There's a reductio ad absurdum of this, of course, that says why should I be uncomfortable with this kind of abstraction in technology when I accept so many others underneath it? I took some elementary assembly language in college, and even programmed an Atari game... but the amount of abstraction embedded in this laptop I'm writing this on is unfathomable. Just thinking about what's going on to get pixels glowing on the screen, the number of interlocked electronic subsystems in constant communication, a weird dance of impulse and intent... but, it's pretty reliable! It's acceptable to me because it hardly ever fails in subtle ways - or at all, for that matter. This is in contrast to these newer "framework of the months" for software development... if I'm coding with my preferred Imperative style of simple code, libraries for the tough stuff, stack traces that make sense... I know I can do pretty much anything a browser can allow. When using one of these magical frameworks, I have to see if the framework permits it, or if I'll be given the extra burden of working around it to meet the specification.

But, I persevere. Because these tools are powerful, and when I take enough time to really learn and get to know a toolkit, I'm empowered. Also, because my real goals are to do make interesting things, and a lot of the people with interesting things for me to make (and the budgets to pay me to make them) love these toolkits, and I want to be easy to work with.


The book extends some related ideas that to my ear starts leaning to Taoism:
A Spinozan view of child development sees the opposite of wish-fulfilment. There are rules, constraints, that limit what we can do. The child learns, as she grows, to modify her plans as she perceives more of the rules. Initially, she might attempt to cross the room assuming that the chair is not an obstacle; when it doesn't move out of her way, she will feel frustration , a 'passion'. And throws a paddy. Later, as she constructs her path to avoid the chair, more of her plans will peaceably, and successfully, come to fruition. As she grows and learns more of the rules - God's Will or the warp and woof of universal causation - this progressive success will produce a calm acceptance of constraints: peace rather than passion.
(I had to confirm I knew what "throwing a paddy" meant from context... and like I feared, it's a bit racist.)

I hadn't heard as much about Spinoza in a while, I think I dig that kind of pantheistic outlook.


march blender of love

from testify

A month or two ago a member of Edwin F. Taylor advised me to temper my surprise about the intolerance of religions to other religions, and at how each seems incapable of recognizing the reality of a world with a plethora of faiths. This is my response to his email. I hope people aren't too bugged by it, but if people are interested in my path away from traditional faith, this tries to explain it.

Well, surprise is only one factor; but more irritation, and frustration.

I'm probably making a similar fallacy in terms of "why isn't everyone more like me?" but...
I realize now that Thursday's annoyance is an echo of what started me down my path to skepticism. (Personal testimony ahoy!) I remember it quite distinctly; I was at a summer music camp run by The Salvation Army in the very early 1990s, and I started to think about all the devout moslems in the world. I mean there I was, a literal son of a preacher man (sweet-talkin' optional), trying my darndest to be a good Christian, but if I had been born the son of an Imam, wouldn't I be striving just as hard to be a good Moslem? (This was combined with a sense of suspicion about the clockwork nature of the tearful repentance and mini-revival 'altar call' that would occur the Sunday at the conclusion of this particular camp, but never the Sunday at the beginning. It seemed like the spirit would move in more mysterious and less predictable ways than that, and that some large measure of psychology and manipulation was actually to thank. Or blame.)

I think the teenage years are a natural time and place to have this kind of realization, and the rebellious attitude to be able to act on it. And yet it is not nearly as widespread a changeover as I would have expected, or preferred.

(I'd love a world with more
"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things."
and less
"Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.")

The 3rd pillar of doubt was the feeling that I was still living a "sunday school" life, following my church's precepts against drinking etc, and (if memory of the timing serves) making my cautious steps to exploring connections with girls guilt-ridden and tentative, but many of my peers in the church, seemingly not even struck with the conceptual doubts that I was having, also seemed to be having a ton more hedonistic party fun than I was, and not recognizing a discrepancy. (Or being able to make up for it at that aforementioned 'altar call') I found that kind of picking and choosing, accepting the comfortable and rewarding bits of faith and the promise of eternal life, leaving aside the less pleasant rules and regulations, kind of repulsive. (Apparently I absorbed some very puritan protestant principles!)

Maybe some of my ability to stray from the fold comes from a position of privilege, like Upton Sinclair said, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!" My high school years seeds of doubt were able to blossom into "not going to church every week" sprouts in college, and I suppose that reflects both the shelter college provides, as well as the lack of a sense of threat from "The Others" to keep me towing the line.

Over the years I've mellowed a bit, I suppose, and thought about how brittle the faith was I had set up for myself. My parents were pretty liberal, given that they were protestant ministers, and so even before this teenage turning point I had made efforts to see, say, Genesis as a poetically phrased recapitulation of planetary formation and evolution. I guess being smart enough to see that those efforts at reconciliation with this particular flavor of faith were local-environment driven, but not wise enough to accept that dichotomy and still look to the moral and spiritual heart of the Faith of my Fathers, stunted spiritual growth in me. And these days, it's the lack of meta-awareness and tendency to cling to some flavor of literalism that keeps me away from traditional faiths.

A few times I've seen thing that pointed to my experience being a bit provincial; I don't remember the names, but there was one online series of articles from an (ex-?) priest about his time in the seminary, and his claim that a lot people in that role have also shaken the literal parts of their belief, and also how the monks of various "incompatible" faiths seem to understand each other a lot more than the ministry. Also, there was a liberal Archbishop from England (sorry I don't have better citations for these) who said something like "well, of course the resurrection of Jesus isn't literally true, but it still is a story, of God's love for his people, that is at the heart of our faith". That sort of blew my mind at the time (probably mid to late 20s) and pointed me to think about the "Great Revival" roots of my protestant culture. (Hmm; might not be technically accurate, given The Salvation Army's English origins, but close enough.)

Over the past few days I've been thinking about the term "Cosmopolitan" (too bad the name has been so claimed by the magazine!) What a crying shame that rather than increasing our exposure to different outlooks and upbringings, to break through the bands of geographical distance, the Internet and other advances in the specialization of media are so used to gather together in increasingly tight virtual enclaves, enhancing our ability to make little echo chambers of like minded folks (freed from the old constraints of geography)

In the end, a seemingly utter and widespread world wide failure to "walk a mile in the moccasins" of other faiths is a tremendous deficit of empathy, or even self-reflection, and is the catalyst for so much of the damage religion provides, when it has potential to do so much good.

from November 12, 2014

Oh man, Morning Edition is talking about this medical worker going off to fight Ebola, and keeping an audio diary. Hasn't he played, like, Bioshock? Having an audio diary for the player to come across later is a kiss of death!
But imagine if marriage didn't exist- and you're a guy, and you ask a woman to get married. Imagine what that conversation would be like. You'd be like:
'Hey, so, y'know, we been hanging out together, spending a lot of time together and everything--"
'Ya ya, I know!'
'I wanna keep doin' that 'til your DEAD.'
'I wanna keep hangin' out with you 'til one of use DIES. Put this ring on your finger so people know we have an arrangement.'
'Wha- Wha--- Who's that guy?'
'It's a priest. I want you to swear to God you won't back out of this deal.'
'Wha- What's he wheeling in?'
'It's a cake with two tiny dolls that look like us. EAT A SLICE... now feed a little bit to me [CHOMP]'
'Uh-h-uh this is really strange, why are we doing this?'
-Aziz Ansari, from his special "Buried Alive"
(I posted the clip last year.)
Sometimes I think I'm weirdly boolean in my thinking. A friend posts about a week being "frustratingly annoying" (and yet only Monday) and you know, rather than assuming a reasonable "sub-optimal, but readily survivable and there will be better weeks ahead" somehow I go 0-100 and figure things are gloom and doom and terrible. It's hard to grasp how many shades of gray (we need to not give up that phrase despite unfortunate literary reference) there are just in what things ARE.

Every tool is a weapon if you hold it right. And every Designed Thing is a compromise in competing priorities - I mean, it's not all relative, some designs and ideas are better on so many important fronts that it would be silly to not think of them as objectively "better overall", but sometimes - not so much.

This comes up in programming. Its sometimes difficult for me to have enough faith in a given toolkit to accept not knowing it 100%, just enough to get by. It's a knack. There are some lousy programmers who are always content with the 10% knowledge, but the quest for knowing ALL about something before you can use it is hopeless.

I imagine parenting would have some of the same pitfalls, at even greater stakes.

from October 29, 2014

I am trying to extend my palette by learning to enjoy sugary sweets in with the savory. Today: Sweetgreen's "CURRY CAULIFLOWER + QUINOA SALAD" -- curry cauliflower, cucumber tahini yogurt, some kick with the siracha, and dried cranberries.
Philosophical debating with EB. Part of its trying to flesh out my concept of "non-trivial novelty" as a kind of existential moral good, an objective "point of it all", at least for me. (I started calling it "novelty of pattern" - EB thought maybe I meant "novelty in non-trivial subjects", when really I was just trying to say that the output of a random number generator wouldn't be very novel in the way I was thinking)

EB argues (and I may or may not be doing his view justice, but I'm trying) that since some failure is well-nigh inevitable in getting to that end goal, it is an inherent and essential characteristic. I kind of chafe at this; I think just because its damned likely doesn't mean it's inevitable, and therefore can't be a defining part, just an unfortunate side-effect that we'd avoid if we could and do avoid when we can.

As we argued on about this, we refined to a pretty specific gap in our outlooks: for me, definitions spring from theory, for him, definitions spring from practice. (So "risk of failure" would be a more acceptable candidate for part of the definition for him.)

I was sort of surprised to realize this aspect of my outlook. I mean, on the one hand, it's obvious, I seem to have an almost pathological need to be able to rationalize and justify my actions to some kind of unnamed higher, objective authority. On the other hand, I'm a strong descriptivist when it comes to the world of English and Grammar, and I think stuff like "the universe of platonic ideals" or what not is nonsense; what we see is what we get, universe-wise, and when we're lucky we can see and name the patterns.

So definitely an interesting potential inconsistency in my outlook. I'm still sticking with my guns on this definition though, since it seems like the definition should be reversible (If A = novel pattern results, and B = failures getting there, A implies B, but B doesn't assure A! And I can visualize -- as unlikely but not impossibly unlikely -- novel patterns without all the failure, but it seems like EB's definition rejects that.)

from September 29, 2014

Homer Simpson -- "Lousy minor setback! THIS WORLD SUCKS!"

From I Am Furious (Yellow)
(as I said the other day: I use "Lousy Minor Setback! This World Sucks!" as a mantra, sometimes, to remind myself that I'm crazily over-reacting to whatever little inconvenience is irking me just then, like a broken escalator. ("Mantra" is the wrong term... what's the word for a cross between a catchphrase and a koan to set one's thinking on a better path? Sort of a catchprahse wrang-wrang, to use Vonnegut's bokononism terminology.))

from verbs and icons and my dad

My mind seems to be wired in terms of verbs: the roles things play, versus an essentialist notion of "what they are". This is a powerful way of thinking about the things, but it can have some odd side effects. For instance, I am surprisingly slow at recognizing certain icons and associating them with the software functions they go with.

To the right is my OSX Dock at work. Most of the images are relatively associate with their function: Sourcetree looks like a file tree, Stickies looks like post-its, Terminal looks like a terminal window. A few others, like Chrome and and Vidyo (the isomorphic cube) make up for the lack of use-association with great big hunks of color. (Finder I remember because it's always at the top of the list - that's the same kind of positional memory I rely on in iOS. Again, it's not that I can't hunt and find icons, I just don't want to have to for the icons I use the most.)

This little guy has always proven problematic:
It's for the (very good, and free) "Komodo" Editor, and I guess it supposed to be a dragon or lizard head. I don't use it as much as I used to, though.

But lately, my recognition nemesis is this guy:
That's for IntelliJ by JetBrains (hence the J?) the editor I spend most of my coding time in these days. But that icon... though the other day (and I'm chagrined at how long it took me) I realized I could use another hook. Those are the initials of my dad, Jim.

Obviously, there's no particularly strong natural association between my deceased father and a code editor, but in this case the other connections I have are stepping in and making me think of James Israel when I sense myself hunting for the right icon... I actually enjoy the little tribute of it, as weird and idiosyncratic as the connection is.
I don't think you have to believe the Bryan way in order to be a strong evangelical. But this is Bryan College, and this is something that's important to us. It's in our DNA. It's who we are.
Stephen Livesay, president of Bryan College
He's defending its decision to double down on literalist theology by viz a viz Adam + Eve, so the irony of him citing "DNA" is almost palpable. The real issue is literalism and fundamentalism; this point is it's just a way of drawing culture war lines, you could certainly be a non-Genesis-literalist Christian.

from February 24, 2014

Let me explain. For some of us, it is hard to hear 'I love you' - because to us, it suggests you don't know us as well as we'd hoped.

http://www.lostinmobile.com/ - heh, I've loved this little UK-based mobile/gadget blog for a while, and they promoted a longish comment I made (on a previous story about who is "more influential", Steve Jobs vs Bill Gates) into a top level story.
here's the comment:
In some ways it seems unfair, because the jury is still out on Gates, but certainly his foundation is out to make some awesome change.

In terms of "computers to the masses"-- the thing is, maybe there's more a feel of inevitability of what he did? IBM decided to make a "Personal" computer, risking their golden goose of big hardware to make sure they didn't get left behind home computers. (Which, come to think of it, was primarily the Apple II) Gates was savvy enough to catch that train with super clever licensing of someone else's DOS... but someone would have done that if he didn't? Similarly, it seems likely some form of Xerox -> Macintosh WIMP interface would have gained traction in the 90s on PCs even in a Gateless world.

So looking at what Gates did, it was that clever licensing where he could make money selling DOS to PC clone manufacturers... that was the world changing bit, perhaps? This was all in the wake of the Great Video Game Crash of 1983, which provided a window for Home Computers to really take off. But the Apples and Commodores and Atari 8bits (while running rings around PCs in terms of fun, graphics and sound) lacked the gravitas of IBM for business. So it was a combination of the reputation of IBM, Gates clever licensing, and good ol' free market competition on the hardware that pushed to make computers so ubiquitous.

But Jobs did more at the leading edge of technology -- all with a little (lot of) help from his friends. With Woz, the Apple II made the home computer happen. With Xerox, the Macintosh brought WIMP UI to the peoples. Jump forward 2 decades, and he made the next level of touch screen computing on ubiquitously connected devices occur. Jobs led Gates et al on all these things.

From the first world perspective then, Jobs without a doubt - if Gates hadn't existed, someone would have done most of the same stuff, but Jobs changed things with a personal vision and sense of design. (who knows, maybe a world where IBM clones hadn't strangled the market in the 80s and 90s, with a richer variety of products from Amiga and Atari and others, would have been cooler?) From a global perspective, the Gates Foundation will really help more people, with the focus on medicines and education. So is that "influential"? Maybe. Mostly it was one great idea, licensing the software so the hardware could have competition, that made him a ton of money, and that he then turned into helping people.

(Side note, it's interesting thinking of that summary and, say, the launch of Windows 95, and the INSANE amounts of testing of Win 3.1 software they did, and the hacks they put in place, to ensure that no one would have "well my program doesn't work on the new system" as an excuse not to upgrade. That was a consequence of "Microsoft on All Hardware". It's also important to remember how untouchably powerful Microsoft seemed in the late 90s, that they had enough cash to buy anyone who seemed like a threat. Luckily, they never saw the threat the Internet would be...)

from on Fixed vs Growth "MindSet"

tl;dr: Challenge for its own sake *is* probably pointless; but challenge for the sake of getting better at meeting challenges is good, because life is challenging.

I just read Carol Dweck's "MindSet"... in all the books I've reading during this self-help kick, I think its identification of Fixed Mindsets vs Growth Mindsets is the most useful concept.

Precocious kids are prone to developed a Fixed Mindset, feeling that their intelligence and abilities are intrinsic, critical to why they are special, maybe even why they are loved. While that's not a sure recipe for unaccomplished lives, the tendency to seek only those activities that will validate their self-image, and also to lash out with anger at the external "causes" of their failures, is painful and ultimately self-limiting.

Describing the core of the Growth Mindset is trickier... and I don't think that's just because it's not my native outlook (for most things, anyway) -- its a more nuanced belief. It holds that the value of life is in the process, that abilities and intelligence are plastic and that constant growth and striving are the hallmarks of a life well-lived. In some ways, it's the opposite of a "goal-oriented" outlook; rather than apply a cost/benefit ratio like I always do, favoring low-hanging fruit, a person with a good Growth Mindset will reject things that are too easy as unworthy of their time and attention; much better to get a good challenge that can teach, even if the "good" results are less assured.

(One of the implications of a Growth Mindset is that maybe a bit of masochism is a good thing! And I can certainly see traces of my own Fixed Mindset in stuff like exercise... huffing and puffing during an activity that someone more fit would find easy is humiliating, and that's what I would focus on, rather than believing in a capacity for physical development.)

For a long time, I thought Challenge for Its Own Sake was borderline psychotic. But now I can see that challenge for the sake of being better at rising up to meet future challenges is probably crucial, because LIFE IS CHALLENGING. No matter where we are with intrinsic or developed abilities, whatever accomplishments dot our portfolios, the world can provide interesting challenges that we shouldn't shirk from for the sake of our precious egos.

So, changing my mindset is going to be... a challenge, Meta-ly enough. But I might be well placed; I've always disliked "trusting my gut instinct", and learning that my gut-instinct fear of having my ego bruised is masquerading behind an intellectual mask of "cost/benefit ratio" is empowering.

It's also a mindset I'd like to help instill in the brains of my friends' kids. Most of my friends are pretty smart, and their kids have lots of potential, and are probably already ahead of their peers in a lot of ways. Instilling the love of the struggle is tough; it isn't as easy to admire a struggle as it is to just say "you're smart!" and "you're so talented!" but I think the end result would be worth it.
Why I make Terrible Decisions; or, Poverty Thoughts Simply and clearly written and eye-opening. (Cracked.com actually has some similar pieces, thoughtful but in a more juvenile style: http://bit.ly/1cHLl0U ) I've got friends going through the muck of this and I don't know how to help them find an exit.
'Embarrassment is ignorance leaving your body.'

from calvinism and personal growth

(1 comment)
I just realized that a bit of philosophical and personal growth I'm trying to muscle through is recapitulating the whole Calvinism movement in the Protestant tradition. (No relationship, or not much, to Calvin + Hobbes)

The short version is this: I have trouble subconsciously accepting the idea that I will always have intrinsic value as a human -- it's a classic thing for smart kids (I think i need to read Carol Dweck's "Mindset" about fixed vs growth mindsets- http://qedfoundation.org/fixed-vs-growth-mindsets/ ) where you think the important thing is Being Smart, or Being Good, and if you don't throw off enough signs that your smart or good, you risk being cast out or rejected somehow.

There's a weird parallel with (pardoning my oversimplifications here) Calvinism: a Calvinist believes there are the Elect, who are predestined to be saved, and everyone else, who won't be. This stands in contrast to (again, pardon oversimplifying) a Catholic way of being, where people's works and deeds are pretty important to directing one to heaven or hell, and getting forgiveness for the inevitable straying is very important.

You might think the Calvinists would then have a free and hedonic life style: either I'm saved or not, the die has already been cast, might as well party it up, and the Catholics would be prim and proper and on the straight and narrow, when in reality the opposite is more true... it feels like Calvinists are wanting to demonstrate their gratitude at being one of the elect (or maybe demonstrate they they are indeed in that number) by being uptight. Similarly, while Catholics have their own special blend of fear and guilt, they are often more comfortable with pleasures of this world, including drinking, gambling, and other visceral pleasures.

If the Calvinist veers from the straight and narrow, it might be them displaying they are irredeemably beyond saving. The Catholic point of view has a lot more room for making things right -- and there's a core there that's worth fighting for.

So I think somehow I internalized a Calvinist view, even as I don't hold with its supernatural origins, and actually find philosophically disagreeable. But I think now I'm finally reaching the point where I can think I have value as a person that will be there even when the telltales of Good Deeds and Smart Actions aren't there; the Deeds and Actions are the traffic, not the road signs.

from do-be-do-be-do

In Alaska, I had some good and thoughtful discussions with Riana and reached some new conclusions. It's a tangle of old and new thoughts, and unclear setups of cause and effect, but: for me, somehow implanted at a deep and defining level, Verbs trump Nouns. What you do, how you interact, is the critical defining factor, and pushes what one might "really be" to near irrelevance.

There's a downside to this concept: nobody -- myself included-- has intrinsic value. (Note, I'm not really defending this value, but talking about my recent discovery as it as a foundation to a lot of my moral and psychological landscape.) In this view, if you do nothing, you're worth nothing.

There are consequences to this view: I think it means I don't have a solid core of real self-worth, and so a rection formation grew up around it: as a kid, I was precocious, and I think that got parlayed into a need to be the bestest, smartest kid in the world, because that was the only game in town. Early on this led to ugly consequences: my young rage at losing a board game, say. Looking back, maybe that's because that was upsetting the natural order of the world with me at its pinnacle... but even more scarily, if I wasn't the bestest, what was I? Maybe nothing! So of course I fought against it.

(There's a seeming contradiction here -- 6 years ago I was looking at a Scientific American article about kids who get the idea that intelligence is innate and fixed, and so the important thing is to always look smart. ( http://kirk.is/2007/11/30/ ) You might think that would lead them to self-confidence, an unassailable bit of ego core, but instead it brings on fear and strategies to avoid looking like anything less, like a mere mortal. And I think that's because if they (and me) aren't the greatest then they are worth nothing.)

The other side effect of not having a sense of self-worth is I tend to be a goodie-goodie rule follower, but I think that's less of a moral sense than a fear that if I don't follow the rules, I'll be rejected and maybe thrown out, because there's nothing fundamentally worth saving.

Often getting over-intellectual about something is helpful for me, because I can purposefully use my intellect to overcome my gut feelings. This one is tougher though because, intellectually, I don't what the answer that tells me "everyone has intrinsic worth" is. Existentially speaking, the idea that people's value comes from interactions with Everything Else has a lot of appeal.

One possible intellectual out came to me in Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, a great bit of fanfic speculating what would have happened if young Harry Potter had been raised not by the Dursleys but by an Oxford Professor and his supportive and loving and intelligent wife... at one point, in explaining that there was no simple way of conclusively demonstrating that he (Harry Potter) wasn't the next Dark Lord, Professor Quirrell explains
"The import of an act lies not in what that act resembles on the surface, Mr. Potter, but in the states of mind which make that act more or less probable."

Harry blinked. He'd just had the dichotomy between the representativeness heuristic and the Bayesian definition of evidence explained to him by a wizard.
So there might where the answer is: yes, what's important is what we do, not what we are, but what we are goes a long, long way to determining what we do-- and from there, intrinsic value can be potentially found.

Still, it's a long way from a weak intellectual defense to really "getting it" and living it, and nearing some kind of midway point in my life, I have to acknowledge that a lot of my grooves are kind of set, and it may always take a big dose of mindfulness to see that I'm worthwhile and can and should take on even challenges that may leave me frustrated and looking less than stellar.
http://www.romanization.com/books/formosan_odyssey/footbinding.html Man -- if this article is onbase, footbinding might not have just been torturous for women, but something that (in an oddly meta kind of way) reshaped Chinese infrastructure and zeal to explore as well.
oh, and RIP Seamus Heaney.
This is beautiful. Make this jellybean count, people.

from seven things i might have learned in alaska

(1 comment)
  1. While global warming means many coastal areas have to worry about the encroaching sea, Alaska generally has the opposite problem: relieved from some of the massive weight of glaciers, that part of the world is rising, and sometimes at a surprising clip.
  2. I say "I'm worried that..." way too much, and worry too much.
  3. In the town of Gustavus, almost universally drivers and pedestrians do a little finger wave in passing.
  4. I am much, much, much, much less of an athlete than Riana. She bikes everywhere including work and swims every chance she can get, I ... don't. But she was taking on big sloped hikes and even when I joined her, what was a stroll to her was leaving me sucking wind.
  5. Juneau has a streetcleaner running at around 4:30-5am that sounds like a banshee.
  6. I start a lot of sentences with "Man...", or at least I do around Riana, who started pointing it out by saying "M, A, N!" when I did so. But it's a useful phrase for expressing wonder or irritation.
  7. Southeast Alaksa is clear skies and warm 7 days out of 8! (This is probably not a safe bit of knowledge to walk away with, but it's rather more true this summer than most years.)
This trip to Alaska was an experiment for Riana and me, sort of a more concentrated version of what dating is trying to figure out in general, or if she needed someone with a more profound need to be in nature, and similarly for me if we were pop-culture compatible.

Like any good scientists, we had to acknowledge when the experimental results didn't match our hoped-for hypothesis, and so-- we're not dating any longer, but it's very friendly. She needs a full on partner in driving to get out there and hike and camp, and I need someone who, like once a week or so, would be with me to chill and unwind with some movie or video or something on a screen, and that's just not her. Put another way, she's too much of an outdoor cat and I'm too much of an indoor cat.

(Which isn't to say I had an amazing time in Alaska... EB's mom pointed out how animated I was bringing her through the photos.)
Syria. Jeez-loweez. There's so much hubris here, in terms of, humanitarian and WMD-use concerns or no, if we thought Syria could really strike back at us in our homeland, there is NO WAY we'd attack.

We're playing policeman for the world, but we're kind of corrupt.

from on control and being the bestest

I don't mean to take a serious mental health issue some people wrestle with lightly, but lately I've been thinking about certain eating disorders, and how the choice to starve oneself can actually be a manifestation of the need to control SOMETHING in one's life-- "things may seem out of control, but at least THIS is something I can exert total influence over."

While it can be taken to unhealthy extremes, I think I'd be well served using a diluted form of that attitude in different parts of my life, from eating to work ethic.

For the eating, not the point of a disorder, obviously, but reminding myself that while the fight against a body's ability to subvert any set of good eating intentions (thanks to its innate need to prepare for some future famine or other unknown) is well-nigh unwinnable in the long run, at any given moment of mindfulness, I have the ability not to grab that damn snack.

For the work ethic, it's the desire to throw up my arms and run away when I fear a challenge is beyond my ken. On an intellectual level, I know I'm smart, but no genius, and my ability to quickly get the gist of something is sometimes countered by a symmetrical inability to really latch on to or remember details. (Or remember much of anything, sometimes!) My inner child, though, is convinced that my value as a person is tied to me being the cleverst and smartest, and that any endeavor that points to that not being the case needs to be avoided at all cost, no matter how destructive and hilarious self-contradictory a strategy that is.

Wow. That point of "value as a person" just came to me as I typed it, but I think it's a critical way of framing things I hadn't thought of before. I think it echoes some of what I posted the other day with http://goodmenproject.com/ethics-values/brand-men-must-be-needed-because-we-cant-be-wanted/ where some men have a big problem believing they could possibly be wanted so they work to make themselves needed.

Somehow along the line, as a young'un, I think I developed that fragile way of establishing my self-esteem, and that Smart and Worthy is something people ARE, intrinsically, and not something they do. That's a terrible thing to think! And as far as I can tell, it's a view I kind of came up with on my own. At least, I don't think I should blame my folks for that one, but I don't know who, other than me. Maybe the nuns at Catholic School; the first grade teacher who let me go at my head-of-the-class pace, the disciplinarian nun the next year who shoved me back (sometimes literally), the testing they ran that said yeah, he's a clever kid alright, my parents (probably correct, and completely understandable) decision to keep me in a normal school, and just skip a grade for a while rather than take up the offer to put me to an advanced boarding school (where presumably I might have been exposed to kids who were even smarter than Kirk, Boy-Genius)

Maybe all that froze that inner child, vigilantly defended by other brain susbsytems (this concept borrows from the Internal Family Systems model, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internal_Family_Systems_Model ). Sigh. To quote David Brooks:
"'Know thyself,' the Greek sage advised. But of course this is nonsense. Truly happy people live by the maxim 'Overrate thyself.' [...] Each of these people is a god of self-esteem, dwelling on a private Olympus."
But man, it's hard to get shtuff done from way on high like that.

Oh yeah? Well why don't you make like a tree and live in peace for a 100 years, needing nothing, feeling nothing, drinking the beautiful sky

from needing is one thing, and getting, getting's another

(1 comment)

I remember seeing this video but not paying it nearly enough attention; both the video and the song are terrific. (You can get an MP3 from the video version, which I find a lot more viscerally appealing than the (also good) studio track.)

Its chorus "Needing is one thing, and getting, getting's another" brings up a point that might sound pedantic as hell, but for me is serious, and existential, and came close to disrupting a romance of mine at one point. (And I found out while writing this, might echo for my vision of relationships to this day.)

What does it mean to "need" something?

Some part of me (a well-meaning yet still smart aleck inner child part) wants to say it HAS to be existential; without the needed object, the needing subject would fail to exist. "You can't live without me? Why aren't you dead yet?"

But that seems a little blunt. Some old guy might need his meds, but that doesn't necessarily mean he'd die without him, or right away. As a young man I needed my dad, but I survived his passing. (The romance I mentioned stumbled (but recovered, for a long while) over my reticence of using that kind of "I need you" language; I think I might have used that logic of "I survived my dad's death, so I guess I'd survive you leaving me or something happening to you." For a guy who runs loveblender.com I really have my moments, or lack of them.)

So is it just a form of "extreme want"? Or to avoid the side effects of not-having? That seems to lack a certain rhetorical punch...

OK, I think I figured it out, and actually figured it out for the first time, after pondering it a few days, while writing some disclaimers as a now-deleted second part of that smart aleck paragraph, which I then decided to save for this conclusion: properly used, "need" IS existential, not necessarily in terms of life or death, but a true need is such that lacking the needed object the thing needing would become a whole 'nother thing. I survived my dad's death, but I'm not nearly the same guy I would have been with him, I think. The old guy without his meds just isn't the same person.

(A "needed" but lost romantic interest, then, should leave a husk of a man or woman behind. He or she may grow back into something stronger, but it will be strong but different. Hmmm... This may be why I find "I want you" sexier than "I need you". I worry I had my "need" romances in high school and college and what's left, the me that is... doesn't want to need, or be subject to the responsibility of being needed. I guess I prefer love that springs from a rich luxury of two self-realized and independent people over a "need" that is tough to separate out from codependence, or other types of dependence, like financial.)

Thanks for reading. Writing helped me figure some stuff out. Let me know what you think.

from meta! the history and turning points of kisrael

So I've decided its time for me to shift this blog once again, and indulge in some self-absorbed reflection...

I started keeping a "quote journal" in early 1997... it was a series of text notes on my Palm Pilot (loved that thing) and I called it KHftCEA, or "Kirk's Home for the Chronically Easily Amused". (It was never really meant to be public, but some time after letting a few close friends into its digital pages I decided to post the whole thing online.)

In late-2000/early-2001 I decided to start one of those new-fangled Weblog (or "'blog" for short) things. (For a few weeks I kept up both web and Palm, but then the Palm version seemed redundant, and I dropped it.) Pretty quickly the blog morphed into its regular format: a "clever" title, a general paragraph of chatter, then a series of "____ of the Moment" entries. And it was very important for me (I called it a secular spiritual practice) to put up something interesting every day, as well as act as a bit of a hub for some of my friends.

Meanwhile, Facebook happened. I think Facebook has had more of a change on how people socialize on the Internet than any other website, including Google (there were always search engines, just not as good) and Youtube (the scale of Youtube still astounds, and it was a new fun online activity, but not as social.) I'd say Facebook has drained away much of the importance of my site as a way of finding and sharing interesting stuff, since FB is more egalitarian, and has a much better comment and community sense. (I prefer to "blame" facebook for the shift away from people commenting on my site (as well as the decompression of Loveblender after some explosive growth) over thinking people just don't like me as much as they used to...)

Of course, Twitter also happened. Twitter also has a back-and-forth aspect that my site lacks, but I still like having kisrael as my "site of record" so in 2008 I established an "of the Moment" section to more easily mirror what I was twittering. Soon after that, I shifted the main part of each entry into a "one interesting thing a day" mode, often a video or big image from someone else, or a project I had worked on.

So now I'm thinking of getting rid of the "one big thing". I'll still post stuff as I find it, but I'll stop hoarding stuff away to post on a rainy day, and I hope the site will become more immediate, more in the moment like my early Palm stuff.

Again, I'm not sure how many people will even notice the change... I don't know how many folks come here for regular entertainment (In which case Facebook and 22 Words are probably better bets, with a little BoingBoing thrown in.) I'll still be posting interesting links and videos as I find them, and we can just take it from there...
Tommy, Tommy, everything is connected and everything matters. There is not an atom in our bodies that has not been forged in the furnace of the sun -- now isn't that cool?
I ♥ Huckabees

http://www.walkscore.com/ - cool way of getting a feel for how walkable a neighborhood is.
Someone is aiming to be geek daddy of the year:

I love how well paced (and cleverly animated) the video is... it really tells a sweet story.
Xcode is so weirdly difficult. I want to add a new .js file to a phonegap project... put in anywhere but the project root? UNPOSSIBLE!
Those one-piece metal bend/flex snap hair barrettes are great things to fidget with, like external knuckles to crack over and over.
http://www.thisismyjam.com/kirkjerk - Yeah, co-opted an overplayed but "I Got You" is amazing
Why should a man give a woman a useless diamond engagement ring when he could buy her a nice big potato, which she could at least eat?
Geoffrey Miller

Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,
And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.

Man, I have never heard a whole stadium united in the a chant of "BULL-$#!7" Wacky calls both ways in the Pats/Ravens game.

from how am i not myself?

(1 comment)
Last night we watched "I ♥ Huckabees" -- its tale of a married couple of Existential Detectives (Lily Tomlin and Dustin Hoffman) and their battle for a holistic, everything is meaningful world view vs a French rival's jaded, almost nihilistic everything is meaingless outlook , all in rapidf-fire David Mamet/Aaron Sorkin dialog is probably about to be come a new favorite of mine.

Probably my favorite quote from it was
"There's no such thing as nothing."
but Amber liked the part about "How am I not myself?":
Earlier that day, I had heard part of a radio interview with David Eagleman, who just wrote the book Incognito: the secret lives of the brain that talks about a model of the self that I happen to subscribe to; that internally, it's kind of like a multiparty political system, with each party wanting what it thinks is best for the whole, but with a lot of disagreement about what are the priorities that should be first attended to.

So I suspect I have a different feel about "How am I not myself?" than some people. My answer is more like "Well, I'm not that much of a self"... vs an interpretation of the quote that's wondering how someone could be "untrue" to a monolithic, essentialist "myself".

A billion dollars from Samsung to Apple? More than the money, it's the validation of the strangling patent system that I hate.
The function of freedom is to free someone else.
Toni Morrison

http://twentytwowords.com/2012/08/21/al-rokers-hilarious-response-to-savannah-guthries-holy-spirit-joke/ - Al Roker does the best dead pan ever.
Is there a name for things you're oddly dreading starting? Oddly in the sense of you're pretty sure you'll enjoy it once underway?

from the pr3vent trilogy

So Anna Anthropy has written a book, Rise of the Videogame Zinesters. As you might guess from the subtitle ("How Freaks, Normals, Amateurs, Artists, Dreamers, Drop-outs, Queers, Housewives, and People Like You Are Taking Back an Art Form") the book is a rallying cry for the idea that everyone should make games.

I liked the book a lot, but there was a point of emphasis that didn't resonate for me, and I decided to try to put my response into game form. Actually, I was inspired to write not one, not two, but THREE games! I present the "Pr3vent Trilogy: DESPERADO DORIS, PEACEMAKER, and NERD NEEDS IDEA, BADLY". You can play any one you want, and I hope you pay attention to its message, whichever one you choose:

OK, so what's this about?

In her book Anthropy writes about the game: Calamity Annie (which is terrific btw, and you should go download and play it immediately)
There's a videogame about a dyke who convinces her girlfriend to stop drinking. Mainstream gamer culture by and large does not know about this game. I know about this game because I made it.
The thing is I was lucky enough to be a playtester for this game (though admittedly never hunkered down to get good enough at it to see the plot conclude) but if someone asked me what it was "about", I would have said it was about gunfighting (the primary "play mechanic" is a very clever translation of the good 'ol Western gunduel into mouse-and-screen form, where you have to keep your mouse-driven crosshairs holstered 'til it's time to draw.) The story was a nice touch, but at the time I considered it mere "flavor text", the stuff that often adds layers of meaning to a game, but could be taken away or radically modified without changing the game's core.

In the book though Anthropy emphasizes the story-telling aspect of game-making and she has lead by example (her very personal dys4ia- another game you should play online right now, and this one you don't even have to download, just play online) but as a gamemaker, I just want to say: it's ok if the story is an afterthought, and it's valid when the purpose of making a game is to explore gameplay rather than to model to an external theme. My impression from reading the book, especially the lovely and poetic section What to Make a Game About? which begins
Your dog, your cat, your child, your boyfriend, your girlfriend, your mother, your father, your grandmother, your friends, your imaginary friends, your summer vacation, your winter in the mountains, your childhood home, your current home, your future home, your first job, your worst job, the job you wish you had.
and continues for 10 more paragraphs and well over 100 more suggestions, is that she considers this central to the gamemaking mandate, and I'd just like to remind folks: it's ok if your game isn't "about" much of anything at all. (Personally, this is why I think videogames are interesting-- you can tell stories in many media, but only with videogames can you make real time, viscerally pleasing interactions.)

So, that off my chest, I want to ramble about one more thing: this book talks a lot about how gamemaking is a possibility for nearly everyone, and that you can make many fine games and tell many crucial stories as a lone auteur, or with the help of a few friends-- and I know the author's disdain for most big-budget "AAA" titles. But still, I have to grapple with the limitations of the tools the amateur has... there are certain kinds of game experience that are still far removed from what an individual can make on their own. In particular, there is a certain thrill and meaning present in games that strive for "living breathing worlds", ones that can put a player in a world close enough to our own that the empowerment ("I can fly!", for example) and differences (the permission to have a casual disregard for life and limb and property, for example) have greater resonance. These games have something you can feel in your gut in a way you won't with a retro, 2D, or otherwise iconically presented game.

I was trying to think of where the worlds of what an amateur can do and full, rich worlds overlap. The mod-ing community comes to mind: people who rip into the binary guts of, say, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and make it more their own. If I try to envision a more general purpose "gameworld construction kit", something with the open-ness of ZZT but a world more like our own, it ends up looking a bit like "Second Life" which as far as I can tell is the most dedicated attempt to make Cyberspace and VR as presented in 80s and 90s cyberpunk a reality. I've never gotten into that realm, though I appreciate how it has been open to people creating in it, and sometimes even being financially rewarded for their creative efforts. (Though in practice I think the appeal is more for people who really dig creating an alternate persona for themselves than for 3D-physics junkies like me.)

Anyway, go get this book, and then go make some games!
Life is an illusion, but an illusion we must take seriously.
Aldous Huxley

from problems

(1 comment)
Problems are inevitable.
Problems are soluble.

I just finished David Deutsch's book "The Beginning of Infinity". It's a fun read, infuriating at times, but still full of a great optimism.

These two sentences from the book are forming a bit of a mantra for me. I have some deep-seated issues with task-related angst; if I'm not assured of easy and straight forward success, I tend to dillydally and divert my attention to easier, lower-stake wins. But the double promise of this couplet: that yeah, issues almost certainly arise when I'm doing something worthwhile, but you know, they will almost certainly have decent solutions... it's soothing to me, for real.

My inner geek wants to nitpick and say "sure, but there's no promise you're going to LIKE the solutions", but hopefully I'm getting wise enough to squelch that inner naysayer.
On hold with the Mass RMV, using my headphones (w/ mic.) It's like the worst streaming music service ever. (Plus the per minute charge)
My pencil and I are more clever than I.
Albert Einstein

11:11 make a wish.. I wish for pizza and sushi.. time to go upstairs to the caf and make my wish come true

from blind to nuance, alive to details

New navel-gazing, the latest in a search for a KUT (Kirk Unified Theory):

I have a very good memory for certain details I find "interesting", but also a disdain for, or at least disinterest in, other types of nuance.

I think the details that interest me, that have hooks my memory can grab onto, are the things that describe how an object interacts with other objects. Previously, I've seen this as appreciating the verbs of something over nouns. (Recently on my tech blog I put the implication for this in my work as "People and computers should be judged by what they do, not by what (you think) they are.")

In this world view, a nuance that's only a quantitative and not qualitative difference doesn't matter all that much. But of course there are shades of gray: The difference between two admittedly similar fonts, say, Arial vs Helvetica, will never matter to me, but I can appreciate how two radically differently weighted fonts will look different when piled up into a body of text. Eventually the quantitative changes add up, it changes how the object interacts with other systems, and that's how a qualitative change is born.

(A bit of weirdness is how a measurement is some usually a form of interaction. I think this might be why I better thinking about things that have a quantitative hook, it's clear how the thing interacted with the measuring system. When I gain or lose weight, I might notice pants or shirts are tighter or looser, but I never look that different to myself. So I depend on a scale to keep me on track, because otherwise I have no idea; degrees of chubbiness are a non-interactive nuance.)

I saw this in school a lot: classes where you had to learn a few basic ideas and then apply them in real time, I did well in. Physics, I was fine in; 4 or 5 equations explain so much. Chemistry I struggled with, there was just so much to know. Foreign languages were disasters. Math up until Calculus was easy but then suddenly there were SO MANY equations you just had to know... History classes were a seeming exception. I would have guessed they were full of dates and names to remember, but I think now since there were hooks and anecdotes about what the people did, or how they interacted, I was pretty good at it.


Lately I've begun to think that my difficulty remembering faces is part of this. A curve of cheek or a shape of nose is hard for me to remember because there's no interaction there, it doesn't change how people or things interact with it (until you get into the extremes of beauty or ugliness.)

This feeling of separating the sheep of details from the goats of nuance shapes how I read as well. I read at a breakneck, almost skimming, pace, but then I have time to go back and jump to the difficult or important parts. (This was a hugely valuable skill for many Standardized Tests.) Conversely, it is INSANELY difficult for me to take in spoken words in real time, like with simple directions, or even somebody spelling a word out loud. (Seriously, I hate when somebody thinks they're helping me by spelling something out loud, I get lost after the second or third letter.)

I NEED things written down... not because I think in pictures, but because I think in interactions. Come to think of it, words ARE better at describing interactions than pictures! It makes me think that labels like "thinks in words" need to be more specific... I don't remember seeing categories of learning or thinking style that quite get the noun/verb, interaction-centric system that I now see is so crucial to understanding where I'm good and where I'm bad at coping with the world.

(Another wacky anecdote, where I can see my thinking is verbal, but not audio or visual: spelling. I'm OK at remembering the spelling of words in terms of the consonants, but once it's a blend of vowels, forget it. If it doesn't come out in how I say it, I'm not going to remember what it looks like on the page. Amber had to learn that it wasn't just my usual laziness or a lack of attentiveness that was causing so many typos... she knows at a glance that a word is spelled wrong -- I think the hook is visual for her -- while it is physically much harder for me to get the vowels right because of no mouth-interactive consonants to grab onto.)
I think of the iPhone (and before that the PalmPilot) as an almost literal extension of my brain. Kinda funny how I can go ahead and look at a bit-o-brain.
It's a fast paced, complicated world, baby.
Understand something or have an opinion on it.
There's no time for both.

from can i help

Amber and I had been working on straightening up the place a bit before our trip in 2 weeks. I was taking a break and lounging as she walked in looking a bit more on the ball than I was feeling at the moment, and she was then amused when I asked "How can I help you? Err, how can I help us?"

I realize that in that kind of situation, where I'm looking for guidance on how I can be useful (since I know I'm not always a great self-starer with the domestic stuff, what with my generally bachelor-ish standards of household cleanliness, poor organizational skills, and being a bit lazy) I often catch myself a bit because I'm thinking of this old Doonesbury comic:

Sorry for the poor scan... it's from "The Big Book of New American Humor", a giant yellow tome from 1990 that was wildly influential on me in high school... I often see it at half-priced book places (like the basement of the Harvard Book Store) and it's well worth the price of admission.

It also reminds me a bit of this old Star Trek quote:
'Let me help'. A hundred years or so from now, I believe, a famous novelist will write a classic using that theme. He'll recommend those three words over 'I love you'.
Captain Kirk, "The City on the Edge of Forever"
Amber, I dig helping you...

from when can i shut up about the ipad

My brain often has a specific "flare stack", a burn off of (hopefully) extra mental cycles. Like, before and after I bought my car, I was intensely into a few automobile blogs. Lately, though, its been how gosh darn awesome the iPad and iPhone are.

I'm always on the lookout for things that justify or explain this obsession. The link Amber posted the other day on devices as literal extensions of our brains. And that helps explain the iPhone I think -- for example I get a little rush of dopamine when I use the Todo app to keep myself organized or jot a memo to preserve a bit of information or make a datebook entry to nudge me at some future moment. It's not a new phenomenon for me, I got the same thing with the Palm Pilot, but the iPhone absolutely upped the ante with Internet connectivity and general slickness.

So an important part of the "brain extenstion" explanation of the iPhone is the portability/pocketability; if it's going to be part of my mental whole, it needs to be at hand pretty much all the time. (Not ALL the time, much like I'm often (clearly) not engaging all the parts of my brain all the time.) But the iPad doesn't have this excuse: sure it's nice and portable, but no more so than a small laptop. So why does it feel so much better than a laptop, while being a bit less capable in may respects?

Amber's article explains that too, I think...it talks about how people who "talk with their hands" aren't just talking with their hands, they're probably thinking with their hands as well. (For that matter, speaking is more a form of on-the-fly thought assemblage than we usually acknowledge--) The physical body becomes the medium of computation. And iPads allow for a deeper physical communion than a keyboard and mouse or keyboard and touchpad. (And more so than the iPhone, even, since the throughput of the larger screen is that much greater.) A barrier to the closed loops as "gadget as extended nervous system" is knocked away, and the result is an almost tangible sense of pleasure at our newly enhanced and extended brain.

We tend to think of ourselves as beings of pure mindstuff (or soul or what have you) inside a bodily shell, but our bodies are part of us, and iPads tap into that in a way few other products can hope to. And connectivity to the Internet is another part of that... iPad eases the way to the groupmind that is the modern net.

The whole app model reflects this. Frankly, interesting computer applications are few and far between. I look what I install on every new PC I get - browsers, paint programs, text editors, IM, programming environments (even cool ones like Processing) -- it's not very interesting, all the action has moved to the browsers. iDevices get past that though, and suddenly apps are interesting again. I would look askance if a bank or entertainment website insisted I use a special application on my Windows box, but with the iDevice, it just kinda makes sense... and it has to do with how the whole iThing seems to transmorgify into a new device, and so that whole eye/brain/hand/screen loop has a new toy to play with, without the klutzy old keyboard or intermediary, one-removed mouse, or other distracting windows to interfere.

TOMORROW: how Google's CR-48 laptop gets it wrong, wrong, wrong.
My buddy Beau is doing a Salvation Army virtual kettle - I split a few hundred tween Boston + Cleveland- HUGE need these days!
"Brownies in the kitchen!"
"Alright, You talked me into it, I'm off-"
"He twisted your rubber arm, eh?"
"Well, I like Brownies more than I like dignity."
Pedro, Me, and Jon

anti-ghost architecture - I love stuff like this. Plus: ghost-diagrams!
First few real flakes of snow, near Arlington T stop. Damn.
Are cats impressed by our ability to use lights? When I come home to a dark house are they all "Behold! It is Kirk Dispeller of Dark!"?

from what's the big todo

Five years and one day ago I posted my "big project" Todo list. A year and a half ago I went back to that page, crossed out the stuff I had gotten done, italicized the stuff that didn't matter to me any more.

Time to remake that list! Now organized by site/field of interest.

kisrael.com random projects games loveblender.com improvements
ATT slogans for Bos/Camb: "might as well get the iPod touch" "5 bars, no service", "works in more places like ScrewYouiPhoneExclusiveIstan" (Actually, it's weird: popular sites seem to load OK on 3G, obscure ones time-out. Wonder if AT+T just has retarded server problems.)
ATT slogan: "Cannot Open Page Safari could not open the page because the server stopped responding."
"RE @ATTNews #ATT recently released a new study into causes and solutions for the dropout crisis: http://go-att.us/e556 -oh SCHOOL not calls-"
Man- earbuds are a bit gross, even for the reasonably well Q-tipped. On the other hand, dunno if I wanna be "that guy" w/ the DJ headphones.
Just finished "Look Me in the Eye", an Aspergers memoir. Two thoughts: A. These folks are "logical" but miss enough details that they're not always 'rational' B. I think I would be good at explaining things to people with Aspergers.

from faith and science, religion and logic, mythos and logos

(1 comment)
I've been listening to Karen Armstrong's "The Case for God" on audiobook. It takes a lot discipline to listen to stay focused on a non-fiction audiobook, something akin to what you need during meditation.

She asserts repeatedly that ancient peoples had a clear split between Mythos and Logos (an idea first introduced to me in "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance"). Some cultures had multiple creation myths geared at explaining different aspects of the human experience, and none of them were expected to hold up to a literal interpretation as historic events. The book doesn't really cite evidence, though (at least not the audio version, I don't know if the real thing has endnotes or something) so I'm left wondering if maybe folks were just, you know, gullible back then. I mean, I'm sure some of the hoi polloi took the stories at face value -- I can't believe the question "mommy, did that really happen?" is new, created by our modern culture.

On a friend's private message board, he quoted slain politician Pim Fortuyn's line about "I don't hate Islam. I consider it a backward culture." My response was
I'm starting to think that the the backwardness of any given culture is in direct proportion to the degree the Fundamentalists (be they religious or atheistic, like the commies) hold sway.
And of course one of the traits of Religious Fundamentalism is that it demands to be thought of as scientifically, historically accurate and true. I'm not sure if Literalism is always a requirement, or if some branches of Fundamentalism admit to a poetic reading of parts of their scriptures.

My friend asked me to put my concluding statement on the site's quote board:
Fundies have this brittle need for the Mythos to be backed by Logos, but trying to back Faith with Science is bad for both faith and science.
This is what we see in America today. Evolution really shouldn't be a question... but it's also not an answer, a fact we saw demonstrated by the Social Darwinism and Eugenicist movements.

Of course, non-religious Fundamentalists have the inverse problem of Logos minus Mythos (Man, it's annoying that "Logos" looks like the plural of "logo"). At my UU Science and Spirituality group I said of Dawkins and his crew that I believe them to also be Fudamentalists, the difference is they probably have the facts on their side. But what they need to accept is those facts probably aren't what really matter to the human experience, and science is notoriously bad at showing us how to live, or why.


You know, some of the issue with a Mythos/Logos split is why should anyone believe one thing rather than another? Atheist Fundies seem to be worried that people would start to believe any old thing, which partially explains mockery like The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster... I don't think that's how people actually work, however.

So why do people believe what they believe? Probably because it "feels right" - but what feels right is probably what they're used to, and what they're used to is probably what they grow up with.

(Tangent: in some ways, this is parallel to the kind of accountability that is what attracted me to a rationalistic outlook. I seem to live in subconscious fear of being called to account for why I make certain decisions, like if they went wrong, and just saying "well I went with my gut feeling" might not cut it, even in this hypothetical scenario. Being able to present the logical steps that led to my conclusion, though, seems like a much stronger defense -- even if I was wrong, I put in a good effort, and wasn't "just guessing".)

So is "culturally established" truth inherently suspect? Sometimes I wonder if it isn't like Warhol's "Art is what you can get away with" line, that the demonstrated longevity and strength of a form of Mythos in YOUR culture is a greatly determining factor. (Isn't there some quote from the Dali Lama about how you probably shouldn't try to switch to Buddhism if that's not what you grew up with?) Still, noting that I believed what I believed because I grew up immersed in one religious culture, and that if I had been born the child of an Imam rather than a Sweet Talkin' Son of a Preacher Man I'd most likely be struggling to be as good a Moslem as I had been trying to keep true to Christianity, was a huge blow to my faith, one that I'll probably never fully shake off.

Hmm. Still, it's weird how the Scientific Revolution probably helped inspire so many Christians to insist that their outlook was just as backed by Logos as it was by Mythos, and that leads us to the culture wars this country has today.

The "just" in the phrase "that's just a myth" is a terrible, terrible word. Myths can be True even if they're not true. Can people accept that? Like Bokonon said, as channeled in Kurt Vonnegut's "Cat's Cradle"
Live by the foma [Harmless Untruths] that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy.
Maybe they're doesn't need to be much more to it than that.

You know what description you never want a woman you've slept with to apply to your sexual technique? "Baffling."

Congratulations to the Yankees. They finally got the team they've been paying for all along...
Q: Why did the tachyon cross the road? A: Because it was on the other side.

Now John Henry said to the inventor,
"All your tubes don't mean a damn.
All your wires and your circuits
They are just a modern quirk. It's
Never ever gonna beat a Thinkin' Man.
"They are never gonna beat a Thinkin' Man."

Developer Rant: God damn, I'm so sick of editors that auto-close tags, quotes, curly-braces, and parens. They screw up more than they help.

from it's been a fast four years

Amber and I got to talking last night. At one point she put one of the differences between us starkly; her gaze is more to towards the future, I tend to dwell more on the past. I think this makes us a nice complementary set, but it also puts up some challenges in terms of expectations we have for each other.

Kirk as Buddha. Fun fact: one of my parent's earliest nicknames was "Buddha", and their friends thought they were odd enough that maybe that was my real name!
Like I've said before, I'm either the most or least enlightened person I know. I find my thinking naturally falls in tune with a lot of Buddhist thought-- be in the moment and enjoying it, restrain your desires so that you don't end up miserable about what you don't have rather than appreciative of what you do-- but it comes from kind of a bad place, a desperate psychological need to not be responsible for making bad decisions that mess things up.

We got to talking about some people I know, both women, both close to JZ, who both independently felt the need to pick themselves out of the life they had here around Boston and move elsewhere in the country -- neither had clear job prospects or housing arrangement plans. If nothing else, that's some bravery! The desire to do that is really foreign to me, but again, that makes sense given my reluctance to make big, risk-filled decisions in the first place.

I don't know if that feeling is strengthened or weakened by my moving every couple years as a kid. But it also seemed a bit of an extreme, youthful impulse to Amber, even though she made a big move not too long ago, from Indiana back to nearer her roots in New England. And she thinks I might have an easier time of making a new social life, since I'm a bit more extroverted (or at least more of an attention-seeking introvert) than she is. But even I'm very wary of how friendships don't come as easily and maybe as deeply as they did back in the day, and that is one of several factors that keeps me rooted in Boston. (Actually when I think of some of the friendships I have developed, some of them come from the other person kind of pushing, sometimes suggesting get-togethers that seemed a little forced -- but almost all of these ended up being among the deepest and most important friendship I've had.)

Still, there was a wistful note Amber sounded that broke my heart when she spoke of her time since the move and said "it's been a fast four years". And in her voice I thought I could hear things: a bit of pain over the breakup with the person she moved back with, a bit of loneliness over the difficulty in making a deep set of friends, a bit of uncertainty about the best path for the best way to shape her apartment and career and everything else, but most of all a bit of melancholy about the fleeting nature of time and memory. (I might be projecting, or at least guessing, a bit here.)

And it broke my heart that I don't have a fix for that for her. I have ways around that for myself: my daily journaling (both public and private), my retrospective nature that counts passed days as a credit, not just a debit - but I recognize much of that just isn't in her nature, and she's going to have to find her own path to reconciliation with some of the tough existential truths of life.

I guess all of that is some of the pain of loving people, of not being able to make everything all-better, of not being capable of shielding them from a harsh and unfair universe. (Especially for guys, who tend to only value pragmatic, cause-effect fixes over more touchy-feely talking and listening.) And sometimes you need to just give them room to find their own path... I'm reminded of this old quote from Dymphna Willson's "A Different Drummer"
That's the whole point; at least I think that's what Bethrah was saying although it's difficult to accept. I mean it seems horrible that the most you can do for people you love is to leave them alone.
But of course it's not just leaving them alone that we need to do -- like Harvey Pekar said "This is a tough world, folks. We all need help t' get by so help yer friends an' make sure they help you or know th' reason why."


(Probably that's some of the solace people find in religion. Humble yourself before God, and you might feel like you have someone not just watching out for you, but for your loved ones as well, and also then hopes for the eternal can provide a sugar coating for even when terrible, terrible things happen to your good people.)

But I dunno. I think the undertone of sadness under "it's been a fast four years" is going to stick with me for a long while.

I've read, and am willing to believe, that brains can become physically addicted to worrying. And I'd like to quit, but how do you go cold turkey?

from 09-09-49

Today my dad would have turned 60.

6 years ago (six! wow, what a number - college plus half of high school! The speeding raceway of time reminds me why I was so anxious to start dropping these daily bread crumbs for later leisurely perusal!) I had noted I had lived as many days with him as without him, and wrote a kind of tribute that I probably shouldn't try to top here. In 4 years, May Day 2013 (assuming the 2012 doomsayers prove as wrong as every date-based doomsayer has been thus far) I will be as old as he was when he died. I guess I should get over it some time? Or maybe parents are just that kind of thing you never have to get over - maybe especially if you haven't had kids of your own.

(Again, you can calculate your own happy or sad little milestones with that date toy tool I threw together in 2001.)

I've tended to express my regret in terms of be being a graceless adolescent when he died, that so much of the becoming I've done, that I'm most proud of because of its deliberate nature -- I think before you're a teen, you kind of just are -- happened after he passed. But now, coming up to the ages I have memories of him being at, I can think too about how many interesting paths could have been before him... I listed a bunch of things he'd done in that essay, and sometimes I'm still in a bit in awe.
One interpretation I tend not to over-emphasize is that of all the people who've been in my life since his passing, I think I most saw echoes of a kind of insecure, maybe-compensating but still admirable use of books and diligent study to achieve various expertise in Mo. And their style is in contrast to my own too-smart-too-young, ego-protecting comfort zone I drift in when left unattended. I mean, there's a lot to be said for low-hanging-fruit, but over the past few years I've been working on putting up more of a fight for "stretch goals" that seem worthwhile.

Heh, it's another dumb little milestone today - the tenth anniversary of the 9/9/99 release date of the Dreamcast, a video game system beloved in the hearts of fanboys, but ultimately walloped by the DVD-playing, somewhat-more-powerful Playstation 2. I wonder what my dad would have thought of me and video games - not that it's such a big, time-consuming thing for me these days, but over the years I've sunk a lot of dollars and a lot of hours into them - but they were pretty primitive back when he was watching my early fascination with them. Lately I've been pleased by one thought though... here's a (pooorly photographed) example of some of his cross stitch (an inuit design I believe)

Man, what is cross stitch and needlepoint if not a crazy kind of folksy pixel art? So our interests maybe weren't as far apart as all that. (Hell, we might've collaborated on some of this stuff, I'm sure modern stitchers use all sorts of scanning and conversion high tech tools, rather than being solely reliant on the type of pattern books my dad had (and I remember being kind of fascinated by as a kid.))

Sigh. Guess today I'll fire up the old Dreamcast and... I dunno, try to have some place that cooks hot dogs in beer or something, like I think my Dad said they did in Ohio...

Miss you, Dad, Happy Birthday.

from yo logo!

I've been thinking about the Logo design of the some of the toy lines of my youth. (The best image of most of these online seemed to have black backgrounds, so I'm experimenting with colors here.)

Arguably, the most notable was Transformers, Autobots vs Decepticons:
(Despite their being kind of silly summer fare, Amber found the Transformers movie grabbing enough that she wanted an Autobot sticker for her car- but she didn't grow up with this stuff, so she had to double check that she was getting the right one. I had kind of assumed it was "obvious", the good guys have a softer, rounder kind of mask face, the bad guys are more sharp and wicked and pointy, and there might be some intuition to it, but only once you know what to look for.)

The toys all sported the badges of their particular faction, and for a while it was good, but then they added these "rub stickers", kind of heat sensitive, that were more or less opaque 'til touched. That would have been ok I guess (if a little non-sensical story-wise) but unlike normal stickers, the rub stickers were in grey boxes which were an aesthetic mess on otherwise cool robot toys. (I guess Hasbro wanted something for its toys that the knock-offs couldn't have.)

Arguably the very coolest logo of the 80s was for the G.I Joe bad guys, Cobra:
I've seen that as a tattoo.

(and then of course there was the time they teamed up with the Transformers bad guys:)
Weirdly G.I Joe itself didn't have much good logo work going on - maybe a traditional US military star, or sometimes the whole name of the group (what's that kind of logo called, when its just a stylized rendition of the name of the thing?)
(Of course in the cartoon, there was also the "audio logos", G.I. Joe's rallying call of "Yo Joe!" and Cobra's warcry "COOOBRAAAAAAAAAAA!")

I've seen this one floating around, I don't know if it is new for the movie or what:
Also, there's this modernization of the old name-as-logo:
Actually this page was kind of inspired when I read up on Cobra Commander's ally Destro, remembered how he's always sort of had his own organization, and wondered if they had a logo. I found this:
A little heavy handed, but not bad.

I'd argue that even back in the day this kind logo work set G.I.Joe and Transformers apart from some of the other toy lines. Like, compare some of this cool iconic stuff to johny-come-lately MASK:
It just seems so pedestrian.

Hasbro (or whoever) kept up the canonical mask idea for later toylines, like in "Beast Wars" where it was Maximals vs Predacons:
I don't think I have to tell you who was good and who was bad...

http://daringfireball.net/2009/08/the_android_opportunity - Can Android be saved? I worry the AppStore might make iPhone's early lead even tougher to overcome because people come to rely on specific apps.

from the theory of potbellies

(1 comment)
Slate had a piece mocking bogus trendspotting including "potbellies are hip", and they quoted this bit between Fabienne (Maria de Medeiros, who I've had a crush on since "Henry and June") and her boxer boyfriend Butch (Bruce Willis) in Pulp Fiction:
"I was looking at myself in the mirror."
"I wish I had a pot."
"You were lookin' at yourself in the mirror and you wish you had some pot?"
"A pot. A potbelly. Potbellies are sexy."
"Well, you should be happy, 'cause you have one."
"Shut up, Fatso, I don't have a pot! I have a bit of a tummy, like Madonna when she did "Lucky Star," it's not the same thing."
"I didn't know there was such a difference between a tummy and a potbelly."
"The difference is huge."
"Would you like it if I had a potbelly?"
"No. Potbellies make a man look either oafish, or like a gorilla. But on a woman, a potbelly is very sexy. The rest of you is normal. Normal face, normal legs, normal hips, normal ass, but with a big, perfectly round potbelly. If I had one, I'd wear a tee-shirt two sizes too small to accentuate it.
"You think men would find that attractive?"
"I don't give a damn what men find attractive. It's unfortunate what we find pleasing to the touch and pleasing to the eye is seldom the same."
You can see the clip here starting around 0:30.

It's a funny little bit of dialog. I think Fabienne overstates the case at the end, but for a while I've been thinking about a disconnect between wanting to sneak a glance at something or someone sexy, and then actually envisioning or even wanting to "do something about it". Like things that read as sexy kind of exist in isolation, and it would take an act of will to form them into a more cohesive spectrum of sensuality. Or something.

(Fortunately I find Amber pleasing to the eye and to the touch so it all works out that way anyway.)

Sometimes I feel like a lab subject, like those female widowbirds attracted to the super-extra-long glued-together male tails, or those guy fish driven nuts by the crudest simulacrum of a gal fish, just the naughty bits exaggerated to impossible degrees. I can kind of feel the zing of some attractive body bit, the urge to sneak a quick glance, and usually I'll give into it, but it's weird how it then dissipates and has little connection to my future desires. It's kind of like a mental M+M, a quick jolt of sweet crunchiness that doesn't have all that much to do with actual meals.

(You know this might not be unrelated to that Seeking Behaviour Slate mentioned recently, and the split between the pleasures of "seeking" and "satiating"...)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZzgAjjuqZM - missed the "Hastily Made Cleveland Tourism" video the first time. Secret to comedy: stingers!
People don't dig the heatwaves of summer but at least you don't have to shovel sunshine.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grok - do people in general know about the scifi verb "to grok"? Good wikipedia entry, anyway.
iPhone technogripes: 1. I crave a way to say "just fix spelling typos, don't "correct" my capitalization. 2. If you accidentally hit shift in the middle of a word, go and delete the offending letter, it "helpfully" has the shift key activated.
It seems like he moon could be a little better, if I looked like something. We say Man on the Moon but not really. The French say a cat??

from borrow some wabi-sabi sauce

Mr. Ibis posted the following recently, his comments below:

I found this arresting image online somewhere and I just had to save it. It captures so many facets of existence in one image. Overall, it has a very Wabi-sabi (侘寂) feel, which is an aesthetic I'm particularly drawn to -- impermanence, natural decay, the sorrow of the ephemeral. At the same time as this photo is pointing helplessly at sun-faded childhood dreams, it also affirms the power of nature to triumph over the works of man. And that, in the end, is a comforting thought. Not only for the health of the planet, but for the health of my soul. My impermanence is part of the natural order, and my own passing, and the passing of things that I love, is not to be mourned.
Fantastic thought, it really gave me pause. I'm not intuitively drawn to nature enough to have previously thought of the possibility of applying a satisfaction with the impermanence of all things to humanity in general, even though I'm a bit down on our long term chances. And by down, I kind of mean for the interesting idea of civilization that I so cherish, rather than our species as a whole. Or even an idea like "mammals".
A woman on the subway had a "Piggly Wiggly" plastic bag. Odd, probably aren't any around here. In fact once I iPhoned Amber noted that the list of states with Piggly Wigglys has a near 1-to-1 correspodence with her mental list of states she doesn't want to live.

from confidence: the ultimate essay collection

It's a bit amusing, or possibly deflating, when you double check and find out you've pretty much written a ramble for your blog before. A lot of the links here are from searching for "confidence" on this site's search engine...

What's on my mind is my job. We're starting up with a new client, and one of the company's partners talked with the tech lead on my first gig at the company. In general I came out pretty well with that, but I guess in early days I come across as "too deferential" - and I think that is a good term for my issues with projecting the front of "can-do" confidence a consultant is supposed to have. As a consultant you're often asked to clean up a messy situation. My knee-jerk reaction is to give the people who worked on it before the benefit of the doubt, figuring I'm not THAT much smarter than them, if at all...and I have trouble with the default assumption of "this is a solvable problem", or at least, "this problem is solvable by me with the time and resources I'm likely to be granted for it.". (In January 2005 I express my general sense of "maybe this technical problem IS going to kick my ass".)

This piece from February 2006 lets me see the parallels with the consulting job I had then and the situation I'm in now. Then though, I had some more senior techies to defer to, and with my current gig I might not have that safety net.

(My boss mentioned that some of the people he's talking with to come onboard from our mutual dot-com company have often been at product companies and are eager to try a consulting role... in my heart of hearts I'm worried I'm feeling the opposite. At a company with a core product (and maybe side projects) there's a sense of "we're in this together" that a consultant doesn't have. Also, when there's a fixed technology base, you can dive deep into a smaller number of toolkits, rather than having to fake expertise in whatever fool thing is coming down the pike. (And while I do feel I'm an excellent techie, especially with the core Java/J2EE stuff, I'm having to play catch up with some of the toolkits that are emerging as possible "winners"))

Right now I don't have a ton of confidence. I'm bright, but it seems like I am slow to pick up new technologies -3 years ago I was kind of interested in what I think I actually AM good at, technology and other-wise. I also dislike setting goals, like I mentioned all the way back in November 2003. Back then I looked to some childhood examples of my resentment of goals that might not be met. Then in December 2006 I point to some early factors that might be cause or might just be fellow effect: this ridiculous ego thing - and in November 2007 I find an article describing it as par for the course for clever kids:
The result plays out in children like Jonathan, who coast through the early grades under the dangerous notion that no-effort academic achievement defines them as smart or gifted. Such children hold an implicit belief that intelligence is innate and fixed, making striving to learn seem far less important than being (or looking) smart. This belief also makes them see challenges, mistakes and even the need to exert effort as threats to their ego rather than as opportunities to improve. And it causes them to lose confidence and motivation when the work is no longer easy for them.
I also point to the death of my dad as early(ish) proof to me that sometimes the worst-scenario plays out, that things don't always get better, that situations might be as bad or worse than you think. Right now I'm not sure if this was as formative as an event as I tend to assume, or at least not formative in this way.

Other factors: like I mention in January's "25 random things" list: "A theme of my life seems to be not wanting to be responsible for something going wrong. So I'm very slow to pick up new commitments, but once I have them, I'm very committed". This might just be a variation of that other stuff, or it might be... I dunno.

Finally I wonder where my big anxiety-ish times tie into this. In April 2005 I thought Y2K anxiety might have broken something in me in the late-90s, causing me to not lose a kind of happy-go-lucky demeanor. And then I got spooked about EMF pulses, but finally I got to grip with that kind of fear by thinking and writing the content of my guide to mortality... once you accept the end, it's easier to live with what comes before (even though some lives are much more unpleasant than others.)

That last links touched on thoughts of "anxiety as addiction" (a line put forth by the "Ramtha" folks). And not to use random theories about brain chemistry to dodge personal responsibility for keeping our own heads in order, but yesterday there was a that Slate piece on 'Seeking' behavior, how studies on mice might explain why Google and Twitter, with their frequent intermittent, small and non-satiating nuggets of information might be as addictive as crack for our distraction seeking heads. Combined with my desire not to remind myself how challenging some work things are for me, there are times when it's a struggle to control that stupid, angsting cycle.

Sigh. It's difficult to remember how good I have it on the scale of human history, how luxurious my life is compared to the sweeping bulk of humanity through history. Kate made a video about the show "Being Human" that kind of rants against cubicle life. I think she misses the point, though, that work is generally a part of life. It can be defining, it doesn't have to be. Like Rob said of office work though, "It ain't heavy lifting" - us geeks should be suitably grateful for that. Yeah, I which I was rich, I think I'd be able to handle early retirement more gracefully and productively than many, and no, I'm not certain if the standard work week (plus) is the right trade off of time and money for me, given how I don't have a commitment to making a family at this point. Still, there are much worse ways to live.

Alright. Believe it or not getting this stuff out on screen helps, so thanks for putting up with it! I didn't take a lot of time to go back and edit...

"shaping and hammering at an emotion until it becomes a thought"
--Kevin the Therapist in 2005, describing what I might be doing. Poetic for a therapist!
Samsung: nice monitor, but a smooth, featureless "glide touch" button bar, with buttons labeled dark grey on black? Artsy, but annoying.
http://www.howtogeek.com/howto/windows-vista/re-enable-hibernate-option-in-windows-vista/ - how to restore Hibernate in Vista- I find "sleep" tends to wake itself up.
Maybe I just fixed my iPhone's ability to place calls ("call failed" errors) by calling it from a different phone?
http://wayofthespatula.wordpress.com/ - miller is starting a new food blog! Seems very friendly, instruction-wise.
80s Transformers- remember the rub signs? guess they woulda been kinda sorta ok, just a bit lame, if they didn't have the grey border...

from eurotax

My friend, an old high school buddy, with the Nome de Web JacquesDemain, runs a small private forums. It runs a bit libertarian, and someone posted the following link to a big PDF paper... this is my long winded and rambling response, and I welcome any feedback here as well.

bladwintm wrote:
As for the Europe thing: I'd much rather have American Taxation than European Taxation. (see http://www.timbro.se/bokhandel/pdf/9175665646.pdf [2019 Update: Wayback Machine Link] to see why.)
So I read through the paper. Here are my thoughts as I went through it....
GDP is the commonest way of measuring material prosperity and the only criterion for which there is widespread consensus and co-ordination regarding the measuring procedure to be followed.
Translation: GDP is easy to measure, so we're going to measure it. To their credit, and a bit of my surprise, they do address the criticisms of this yardstick on the next page but their fundamental course is set. Jumping ahead, they feel free to inflate the importance of this metric into statements like "Connecticut, for instance, has almost twice the material prosperity of old European great powers like France and the UK." But of course in that same graph, Washington DC is LITERALLY OFF THE CHART in material prosperity, over twice the nearest state. Strangely, Weirdly, the authors, who go to HUGE lengths about the importance of a 20% difference in GDP between the USA, and explaining that Luxembourg fits between Delaware and Connecticut (all the foregin capital) are silent about this elephant in the room. So clearly we want every city to look like Washington DC, don't we? That gunfire in the background is probably gunfire of CELEBRATION!
various indexes aimed at measuring other aspects than GDP alone. These indexes also factor in equality, for example, in a calculation of total national wellbeing. The obvious problem about them is that they are extremely sensitive to the choice and weighting of the variables included. In other words, these indexes are extremely arbitrary. In Sweden, for example, an index of this kind presented recently by a statistician of left-wing persuasions showed Bulgaria coming higher than the USA in terms of wellbeing. Such methods and indexes are patently absurd.
I honestly don't know much about day to day life in Bulgaria, but this sounds suspiciously like condemning the methodology in large part because they don't like the result.
So much for GDP comparisons. Private consumption is another important welfare indicator. Basically this is a question of people deciding their consumption for themselves, the possibility of riding in a new, roadworthy car, the food we eat, the number of pleasant and time-saving restaurant visits, the possibility of experiencing creative leisure, and so on. Access to the new products of technical progress is every bit as important today as it ever has been. Take, for example, the importance of having access to a computer and the Internet, or being able to 'buy time' by consuming good precooked food or services.
So, in this viewpoint, TV dinners and "time-saving restaurant visits" are automatically the signifier of prosperity. Clearly, we all eat like this because we wish to make time for our productive leisure activities, and that a quick run down to the 24-hour Taco Bell after work bodes better than taking the time to cook and make a nice meal with our loved ones.

This was made in 2004, before the latest "OMG economapocalypse!" (which I'm hoping was a bit over-stated, but we ain't outta the woods yet) One of the takeaways from this downturn was hey, maybe we shouldn't be collectively running our credit cards 'til the numbers wear flat to live like this. I'm reading on, wondering if the authors will address the big debts folks in the USA carry, or how in this time so many of us were apparently banking on house prices going UP UP UP! (to my meager credit, I heeded the murmurings of a bubble and got my butt out of home onwership the instance my life circumstances changed and a home wasn't where I actually wanted to, you know, live.)

Also, I'm wondering if this paper will take on income distributions. I'm still wondering about the giant spike of Washington DC on that chart... if the USA's averages are dragged up my a small number of supermegahyperconsumers, with F.U. money to burn, do I really care, does that really form a metric that makes USA me certain I'm better off than poor ol' EuroKirk?
The higher level of retail consumption means that the Americans have more 'gizmos' than Europeans
(Better Living Through Gadgery! My favorite part of that chart, besides the obviously dated ~1.2% penetration rate for cellphones in the USA, is that while every country has a mid-90s or better % of households with TVs, "TVs per 1000", USA dominates all comers. IF A TV IN EVERY ROOM AIN'T LIVIN, I DONT KNOW WHAT IS)
For several centuries Europe led the world in terms of prosperity and progress. As little as a hundred years ago, much of the American continent was virgin wilderness. Today, a hundred years later, the USA has completely overtaken Europe to become the unrivalled leader of the world economy. Most Americans have a standard of living which the majority of Europeans will never come any where near. The really prosperous American regions have nearly twice the affluence of Europe. It is worth reminding ourselves what this means. In these regions the average American can get exactly twice as much of everything as the average European. Which goes to show the importance of an economic policy to stimulate growth
HAHA, Wow. At first I was going to put "In these regions the average American can get exactly twice as much of everything as the average European." right after that "gizmos" line as pointing out the crazy bias of this kind of research, but... jeez, do you think maybe BEING a "virgin wilderness" (2019 Update: or at least unindustrialized - conservatives tend to downplay the fact Europeans were not moving into unoccupied places) - they and having tons of natural resource to exploit, rather than having supported centuries of relatively crowded growth, might actually be a net plus when it comes to making a century of economic progress? Or maybe having relatively docile neighbors and big wide oceans and not getting bombed nightly in giant World Wars?

C'mon! Our unique position in the world is only in part due to economic policy.... and if you're charting our growth over 100 years, maybe you'd do well to see how much of that growth happened after those dirty rotten commies like FDR starting marching us down the road to Socialism,. (Come to think of it, a much more interesting topic would be comparing the USA's path to say, Brazil -- as they self-deprecatingly put it "Brazil is the country of the future, and always will be")

UPDATE: and the more I think about it... "average American" seems to be playing into that fallacy that tends to think of "average" when "median" would be more appropriate! 99 hobos plus Bill Gates is on average a really rich guy, but the median is still "just a bum". What weasel words, especially when framed with a pompous "it is worth reminding ourselves what this means."

I admit I started to glaze over a bit during the next section. Diagram 3:4 is interesting, the one plotting per captia GDP vs % of households of incomes under 25K... it's visibly a looser correlation than some of the other charts, but I can almost see it as the corner of an elbow curve, that % below 25K (and a relatively coarse measure to begin with) isn't gonna sink below 20% no matter what kind of Washington DC-esque rich bastard super-GDPers a state is swamped with.
The media image of the American poor is that they have great difficulties to contend with, that they are dossers, junkies and in various ways marginalised.
Here there are some more compelling ideas, that it's not so bad being poor in the USA... they might not have health care or retirement but they sure have a car (kind of necessary in a wide open country with generally spotty public transportation) and a *color* tee vee, by gum! (For reals. It's funny that they bother to list "color" even as their chart also makes the distinction of "wide screen") But again, it's telling that thus far, they are setting up "they're poor but not poor like you probably imagine it", and citing a lack of data to explain why they're not doing comparisons against the poor of Europe.
The average American household has a home that is 80 per cent larger than its average European counterpart. Europeans, in other words, are more crowded in an American perspective.
Gee, it's almost like we're only 100 years away from having been virgin wilderness or something.
BY ANY METHOD OF MEASUREMENT, EUROPEAN economic development has been relatively poor over the past thirty years, which of course prompts one to ask: Why?
Again, I think they should insert "that we found convenient to use" at the end of the first clause.

To speak with authority that the numbers they elected to use are therefore proof that the USA has the best model, where I assume they're going with this, is a bit of a stretch.
This, of course, is because, the higher the tax burden and the larger the public sector become, the greater will be the power of political decision-makers and public bureaucracies. Private players, consequently, will have less scope for deploying their in-comes and assets as they themselves wish to. High taxes also generate counter-incentives to work and entrepreneurial initiative.
So, here's where the rubber meets the road, with Conservative truisms. They're not 100% offbase, but it ain't all gospel.

The liberal, of course, might point out that some decisions made in the public sector are for the benefit of the public, as opposed to the laissez-faire world where decisions are generally made to the benefit of making more money...and hopefully that averages out and does more people good, and we don't get to stuck in tragedy of the commons situations, and people as individuals achieve broader thinking (the sort of thing where, it makes sense to fund a general fire department rather than a subscription based one, since if your neighbor gets cheap and lets his house burn, you're in more danger than otherwise... or "we might be building up McMansion ghettos and horrendous schools, but as long as I can send my kid to private school from my gated community, I'll be A-OK")

And then there's the "counter-incentive" argument. "WHY WITH THESE HIGHER TAXES I'LL ONLY MAKE 200K RATHER THAN 300K...DAMN, MAYBE I'LL JUST TAKE IT EASY THEN" This does seem to correlate to a real world. In fact I think you have to at least argue a bit why the opposite isn't true, maybe an entrepreneur has a certain financial goal in mind, a fixed dollar figure that they work even HARDER for because they know a certain larger percentage of their gross is going to be taxed away.
The further equalisation goes, the less difference there will be between economically efficient and inefficient behaviour. It is our hypothesis that in large parts of the overripe welfare states of Europe the incentives for choosing behaviour that is good for growth are simply not big enough. This applies, not least, to Sweden.
I still think there's a presumption here that the important difference is absolute cash amounts, and not percentages.... in much the same way people will elect to be poorer but richer than their neighbors than richer but a bit poorer than their neighbors, some common-sense truisms in this field deserve to be challenged, and here they are often taken for granted.

The next section starts talking about "Americans work harder", but the LS ratio seems like an odd duck:
The LS ratio (labour supply ratio) relates the actual number of hours worked in the economy's regular employment sector to the number of hours which would be worked if all individuals of adult age (16-64) worked full time, apart from taking five weeks' holiday.
Five weeks of Holiday? Man, that sounds practically european in its decadence!

More to the point, I don't know if I trust this metric and its muddling of unemployment with, you know, how many hours and how hard and long Americans vs Europeans are working, and the quality of life is issues that I find most interesting.

In short, Jacques, not too impressed with this paper.
http://www.slate.com/id/2218360/ - Obama as parallel-parker; "pragmatic" and "moderate" are music to my ears.
Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.
Pablo Picasso

Thinking of a September Euro trip. Friends in Switzerland, Germany, Portugal all sound hearteningly psyched about hosting me a bit :-)
Dear makers of CSS:sometimes you just want a table as a grid with non-chiseled borders, not a pile of bordered boxes. Please make this easy
CSS: So the "solution" is to use a dark background for the table, light for each cell, and use cellspacing for the border width -- primitive, but otherwise you have to play dumb TD style games.
"Oh it was partially set in New Zealand! No wonder it was an even better movie than Lord of the Rings!"
"Lord of the Rings was a much, much, much better movie."
"Did Lord of the Rings have a heroe with retractable forearm claws? I think not. Game, set, match."

Note to future self: the setting for not letting a jostled mouse wake Windows are under the mouse, not the power settings.

from tattooyou

So. Tuesday, for my 35th birthday, I'm getting a tattoo.

earliest known extant alien bill
It's going to be Alien Bill, on my side shoulder (right shoulder, so that he's running the same direction I'm going) not much bigger than I draw it, and covered by a short sleeve shirt.

I've thought about it off and on for many years. I've been drawing Alien Bill since 1990 or so, he was my first webdomain and my production company. There's a bit of personal mysticism with him.... I don't quite know what he's all about, if there's some cosmic or psychological significance to him always being in motion, or with the one large eye. (Though I do know he was cribbed a bit from some earlier sources.) He's not me, or my avatar, but he is my totem.

Also: I know I have trouble making decisions, of being deliberate when I feel like I'd be at fault if it goes wrong. I want to see this in the mirror and know... I made a deliberate decision. I'm sure my mom (I kind of wussed out and took up my Aunt's offer of mentioning it to her) might counter that the antidote to not making decisions isn't making bad decisions, but still: I want a reminder that I can take accountability, that some choices I make will be with be forever, but I can be something besides a pseudo-Daoist drifter.

I'm getting the work done at Fat Ram's Pumpkin Tattoo in JP, a place that has a very good reputation. Here is the artist, Alex Dawes, along with a reversed detail from Toyohara Kunichika's woodcut of Nakamura Nakazo III:
(Alex doesn't look like that quite so much in real life, still, I think the focus and concentration exhibited is a good sign.)
One advantage of unemployment: without an alarm clock, you get that early morning doze time that can be very creative. A few days ago I realized what I really needed was a pillow that could encase the top part of my head, acting as a comfortable light blocker while still letting me breathe. And this morning I had the oddest dream where a friend of mine was really getting turned on as I dissected and grilled an old pocket watch.
Yesterday JZ and I were at Micro Center getting him a screen for his projector. We grabbed some of the energy drink "Bawls". As I was carrying the screen in its long cardboard box back to his car, the following double- (or single-) entendres followed.

"So how are you doing with that long, heavy thing?"
"Pretty good! Just keep handling the Bawls and I think we should be fine."
"You think we'll be able to get the whole thing in?"
"Well it'll take some work, but yeah... but I'll be honest with you, I don't think it's going to be very comfortable for either of us."
The arcade cabinet has become a rare site in the United States, but in their best year, coin-operated games collected quarters that, adjusting for inflation, sum to more than twice the 2006 sales of U.S. computer and videogame software.
Montfort/Bogost, "Riding the Beam"

The store Cache at northshore mall is using live models in their storefront window. Creepy-ish!

from bricklayer on the tower of babel

In early February I spent some time showing Leonard some parts of Boston. (Incidentally he and his wife Sumana are collaborating on editing Thoughtcrime Experiments, a very cool exercise in "best of the sci-fi 'slush pile'" excavation.)

The conversation was great and wide ranging-- Leonard's an author (both technical books and sci-fi) and that set a neat stage for some of our talk. (The mandate to write about the following has been haunting my Todo list for over a month.)

I feel like I have two problems with writing, and why I feel I'm so poor at coming up with plots:

The first is... I dunno, this air of "inevitability" I get when I read summaries of existing plots. I get this a lot when I read through TV Tropes (currently my favorite way of entertaining myself via iPhone.) It's an odd sense of fate, a feeling of "Es Muss Sein", it must be, this story could not be otherwise. So it was written, so it was done. (Maybe this creates the frisson I get from reading "alternate universe"/"elseworlds" type stuff) This sense creates a bit of writer's block in me, because I want to make something new, but I don't know how it has to be, and I'm worried I'm going to get it "wrong".

The second is a tendency to fall back to the same story/plot... I find myself inexorably drawn to the theme of people working on some corner of some great task, a task so monumental that none of them can really grasp it, and maybe none of them will see its completion. You really see this in the poem Bricks that I wrote in college, about a bricklayer on the Tower of Babel. (This may have been heavily influenced by a story from Omni magazine, a realistic account of the building of the Tower, and they hit the dome of the sky (holding back the deluge, the same used to flood the Earth in the Noah story)) It also shows up in Young Astronauts in Love.

There is a subtheme of this, the idea of being the "other man", the one doing some interesting artistic work, but the one who loses the girl and the fame to the real genius. I wrote a Loveblender ramble about that in 1997 (!), seeing it in both of the movies Henry & June and Backbeat:
What struck me about both films was the accomplishments of the 'supporting characters'. Both works end with texts going over the lives of the people portrayed. Anais' husband Hugo, portrayed as a loving but stifled banker, was an experimental film maker whose films are in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. Klaus Voormann, who loses his 'soulsibling' Astrid to the loose-cannon artistry of Stuart Sutcliffe, went on to create the cover to The Beatles' Revolver album (OK, not my favorite piece of album art, but still...) and played Bass in Lennon's Plastic Ono Band. To me, these ending texts are really the saga of the other men, the ones whose loves might've been the ones immortalized in film decades after the fact, if only fate had been different.
I guess it's not quite the same as the Tower of Babel plot, but they might spring from the same root, the acknowledgment that I'm not headed for greatness or cultural immortality, but the hope that I can contribute to some overall project and theme.

Leonard shared his "go to plot" with me, a melancholy "we had something nice, and it's nobody's fault, but it's all messed up now". We're not quite sure if this is the one he cited back in February, but it's a powerful idea, a kind of bittersweet failure of synergy. He uses it on a personal scale in Mallory and on a planetary/cosmic scale in an upcoming work about a planet of dinosaurs.

Does everyone have an overarching plot like this? A narrative that they find compelling above all others? Does it seem to spring from reality, or does it inform how you view the world you're in? (For many I think Religion tries to provide this for its followers.) It's the story you tell about yourself, it's the story that lets you make your own world, it's the story you use to make up new worlds.

So...what's your story?

Only what can happen, does happen.
Dr. Manhattan, in the Watchmen movie.
Compare to "Nothing unreal exists", part of Spock's re-education in Star Trek IV. Though JZ thinks it sounds more like the original Murphy's Law "If it can happen, it will happen"
Last night during Watchmen I jotted the todo note "united states chef". I wish I had some idea what I meant by that.
Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.
Thomas Edison

http://www.arschkrebs.de/watchmen/ - the Annotated Watchmen (notes for the comic)
http://deadeuclid.blogspot.com/ - sigh, a whole little blog charting the decline of my high school-era hometown.
Do you think America's goal of an egalitarian, up-by-your-bootstraps society is tied into how English dropped the you/thou distinction?

from true love glances impatiently at its watch

On the dating site OKCupid I've been e-mailing with one gal who probably runs a bit more conservative than I do. She brought up some of the sex lessons that had been brought up in a youth group she went to: how blue clay and pink clay is inseparable once mixed, and if it mixes with too much just turns brown, the construction paper glued together that can't come apart without ripping. This is some of my response, it's been a while since I've monologued here, and also I wouldn't mind to know where other people are coming from with this.

Object lessons can be powerful, but ultimately they are just similes. I mean, lesbian pink clay would never get brown, no matter how much other pink clay it rolled around with! And I had heard about the glued construction paper bit. But people are - obviously - not pieces of paper, and once you get past simplified and visceral lessons for teens, I think it's worthwhile to think clearly about the underlying message -- and I'm not taking the stance that it's an incorrect message, just one that people don't necessarily think of deeply enough.

I've encountered two main themes in "true love waits" kind of messages; one is fundamentally Theological: sex and our bodies are sacred, marriage is an institution established by God. The other aims at being more pragmatic (and sometimes uses its pragmatism as support for the idea that it is Divinely mandated by a caring God); there are nasty viruses and unplanned pregnancies; youth in particular may not able to make mature decisions about who they do and don't sleep with; in the case of the clay and paper metaphors, that it is fundamentally wrong to achieve that kind of connection in a relationship that in all likelihood is not permanent.

(There's a great Garrison Keillor quote I couldn't quite find, but paraphrased it's "when I was young there was a fearsome raging river between us and the promise land of sex and only the church had the keys to the ferry boats; these days the river runs smooth and narrow and there are all kinds of rowboats and what not and at some places you can even wade across")

Historically, the Church had established a principle that only sex that was aimed at-- or at least not hostile to-- making babies was acceptable, that the pleasure that accompanies the act was a bit suspect, but maybe a gift from a God who urged us to be fruitful and multiply. This view is now only generally made explicit these days in certain Catholic quarters, so it's not necessarily fair to let it be used as a strawman for the views of pro-Abstinence type people, but I think it is fair to note that this kind of thinking still informs the "Pro-Traditional-Family"/"Anti-Gay-Marriage" and "Gayness is a Fixable Condition" groups.

So what are the arguments on the other side, for a more relaxed outlook? I see two main branches: the Hedonistic and the Hippy. The Hedonistic view points out the obvious; sex (can) feel really really good, and if we're creatures on this Earth only for a while, other factors aside more pleasure is better than less pleasure. (Though it's also reasonable to expect one to take a reasonably mature view of pleasure as a goal, and strive for a balance in that as in most things.) The Hippy view says that the traditionalists are right, that a strong connection IS made during sex, but the arguments for restricting that strong connection to a once-in-lifetime partnership are weak, that we should embrace the chance to connect to other people on such a fundamental and important level, and that that's part of the human experience.

So, that's where I'm at. I guess I'm at risk of becoming one of those "the way it happened to me is how it should happen to everyone!" - high school romances with fooling around but no sex, sex for the first time during a fairly important college relationship, and then as part of future relationships once they start getting "serious". I'll be frank, the last few intimate relationships I've been in, I think I've tended to be a bit of a slowing force in terms of how soon sex was part of the connection; between concerns about diseases and birth control and then even a bit of recognition of the fundamental connection-ness of sex (as probably being of greater import than the relationship might be having in its early days.) What I've found though is a woman who likes me enough to want for us to share our bodies like that is a bit impatient with my neurotic and post-Sunday School/"Hippy" yammering (and is possibly concerned it is cover for a rejection of her in toto) and my willpower ends up yielding to the moment. But I'd be reluctant to go the chaste "'kissing, hugging, holding hands' - all ok; anything else, not ok" point of view; I do think high school /college set my vision of the ideal; a ramp up to increasing levels of intimate contact, but sex still on more of a pedestal.

The impulse items next to the Microcenter check out lines is a geek wonderland...
http://fmylife.com - f*** my life, twitter meets a raunchier "curb your enthusiasm". Amazing reading-there's a french version, viedemerde.fr
"We're going to have to try to apply some flinty Chicago toughness to this town." --Obama on D.C.'s wimpy snow reactions. Great phrase!
Getting a strong visceral negative reaction to unknown phone #s calling me. I'm busy looking into personal contact leads; hate more pressure
Ugh, one of those "it's almost 2 alreday?" kind of days. Exercised, finished laundry... phonecalls w/ recruiter types are so draining.
AHA! The stupid scrolling widget that shows up when I mean to center click is Firefox specific: "autoscrolling" under Advanced Props- b'bye!
(Seriously, for me reading is jumpy, not gliding along at steady (if adjustable) rate - that firefox scroll widget was just annoying.)
Using my tablet PC's handwriting recognition. It's surprising how good it is. Weird to be handwriting a twitter.

from simply monstrous

At some point in the late 90s, I moved all of my CDs into 4 monstrous black folders, along with the booklets (and the card from the back of the jewelbox if it had a tracklist that the booklet lacked.)

The massive folders were divided roughly and labled by genre. So for 7 or 8 years, my music was sorted into So, when I actually wanted to locate a specific disc, I had to think about it in terms of this categorization.

I used this structure when I ripped all my CDs into iTunes. (Though I kind of overdid it in the folder structure...
C:\data\media\music\MONSTROUS\MONSTROUS 2 - rock rap novelty
is 2 or 3 levels too deep.)

I'm thinking about switching primary computers, and they say that it's much easier to keep the ratings I've laboriously applied to every song if I let iTunes rearrange the folders on its own. I'm oddly reticent to do that. I have this weird, nostalgic attachment to my old, hamfisted way of organizing my musical life, even though it hardly ever comes up when I'm using iTunes or my iPhone.

Information Nostalgia and Clutter! I need to fight it.

Chargers 8-8, in playoffs. Pats, 11-5, not in playoffs. Stinker! http://tinyurl.com/suxforpats
Can you break New Years Resolutions before you actually make them?
"I don't think you can have ambiance without setting something on fire." --Green St. last night

from duh. i wonder why i can't make her do what i want.

I'm not sure if I'm finished fiddling with it, but I finally got around to making the frontpage of this site smart enough to know if you're viewing it as kisrael.com or kirkjerk.com, and added a new graphic for the latter case:
It has kind of an "evil twin" vibe going, relative to the kisrael.com header:
Not sure if I should try to better coordinate the fonts or not.

Reading of the Moment
A long time ago I...well, kind of stole, but technically it's back in her brownstone... a book from my Aunt, Word of Mouth: 150 Short-Short Stories by 90 Women Writers. In trying to locate the source and phrasing of a quote (for this musing on Mario's "Princess 'Peach' Toadstool's hair and her role as object of sexual pursuit) I reread the collection once again.

The quote I was thinking of comes from the opening paragraph of "Animal Instinct" by Camille Norton:
She's more or less the blonde version of the French cousin, sparrow small, bronzed, all muscle and heart. There are, you say, two versions of the French cousin. You are the dark, lean kind, the sort that is mistaken for a boy, the sort that wears striped pullovers and sunglasses while running along wharves in Truffaunt films. You're the type who's always stealing something, she's the type who's always stolen or stolen upon. This is because she bleaches the crown of her hair, the animal sign for femininity.
Another great quote from the same work:
In graduate school, I learned that it is a simple thing to take coffee with people one neither likes nor trusts.

Another phrase forever stuck in my head is from "Soaring" by Marilyn Krysl, where a kind of post-hippy mom is defending her kids' education in both Non-Violent Protest and Karate:
"The human being is a very complex organism. They can handle contradiction."
(Also the kids are named "Sky" and "Ocean", and "Sky" is still near the top of my names-I-like-for-kids list.)

In "File 13" Jocelyn Riley plots her revenge on a office jerk who has been sexually harassing her:
Less than a year from now, a message will come up on Oscar's screen first, and then on everyone else's screens, that will say "Leslie was here." The dates of my employment will be right there before my name, like the dates on a tombstone.

Inside the box will be a drawing of a man, his arms draped around a computer monitor, his head resting on its top. He'll look down at the computer, not as though it were alive but as though he were afraid of it, "Duh," he will say in a little cartoon balloon, "I wonder why I can't make her do what I want." The computer blows off smoke.
I, you know, try to take it easy on the sexual harassment, but some days when the whole programming or PC configuration thing isn't going well, I feel just like the guy in that cartoon.

Finally Amber Coverdale Sumrall's "Siesta" has a lovely reminder from the young narrator's grandmother:
"That's why we're born, honeygirl. To learn how to love each other. And it takes all the time we've got. Some folks never get the hang of it."
In retrospect, I'm amazed to recognize how influential this book was on me, how much of my writing it influenced, how many concepts I (consciously or not) lift and massaged into my own short writing. Now I'm wondering if it doesn't strongly color my editorship of the Blender of Love, that I'm ok with poetry but what I'm really after is prose in this taut and emotionally loaded style.

"The Fall".... Princess Bride meets The English Patient, or maybe Pan's Labyrinth meets Wizard of Oz... visually lush, though, like The Cell
Is there a word for "writing-only dyslexia"? I need to chill and stop scouring my typos for signs of incipient mental degradation.
I can even debug the typos of my brain:"I amazed" I wrote. Of course, because with "amazed" you already have the m-sound, so why type it?
realized why I stopped at a combo long john silvers/ taco bell; faintest hope that someday USA can do fish fastfood like Nordsea in Germany

from video and ramble of the moment


--Aurora ft. Naimee Coleman's cover of Duran Duran's Ordinary World

I encountered this cover in Dance Dance Revolution Max. In fact, it was annoying, because a few years ago I paid import prices for the "DDR Max soundtrack", mostly for this song, and it only had an abbreviated version of this track. I don't think it even made the artist clear, so I couldn't easily seek this longer version. So, youtube for the win.

In general I'll try to pay for a song from Amazon's MP3 feature, but if that fails, I'll rip it myself off of Youtube. And it's surprising how many songs are lurking there... it's kind of a stealth Napster in the works, though I don't know how many people know about it. (And somehow ripping from youtube feels less pirate-y than using BitTorrent.)

So in general, I prefer this kind of cover to the original. For a while I assumed it was because of the "high contrast" electronic beats, but I'm realizing a lot of the covers I like (like that Jan Wayne "Mad World" cover) have a female vocalist, and I guess I prefer listening to women sing over listening to men.

More rambling... I've been trying to isolate and classify the type of beat I like. There might be a parallel to saturation in visual imagery... I like big thumping bassdrums and tight high snares, doing interesting funk-tinged rhythms. Sometimes when I try to pick apart a drumtrack that doesn't interest me, I can hear what a boring, repetitive, acoustic muddle it is.

(Side note: previously I talked about the music service Pandora that uses the Music Genome project, an attempt to classify music on a variety of scales and properties. Wikipedia has a nifty list of Music Genome Project attributes.)

Anyway, I hope I know what I'm talking about with recognizing "highly saturated" images. Like there was this one from a suicide girls set:

I think that's the quality of image I'm thinking of, those nice intense blues and greens. Can someone confirm that it's "saturation" I'm looking at here?

You know, last night's energy boost might have been rooted in listening to loudish music I like in the car. Self-medicating with MP3s?
Do you think Lisa Loeb thinks that in a better world she'd be a romantic interest for Superman?
Helped a friend move. I have a strange affinity for landings at the top or middle of stairs; lying back on the landing, feet over the stairs

from below good and evil

Something I've been thinking about lately (and I know it's a bit ridiculous to be tackling this kind of profound in a lunchtime blogpost--) is a variant on the old Question of Evil-- I've expressed a belief that hardly anyone is the Bad Guy of their own story.

EB (despite the joking "Evil" part of this site's nickname for him, but I don't think he puts the Evil into EB anymore than I put the jerk into kirkjerk) disagrees. I don't want to try and fully represent his viewpoint here, but I think it's safe to say that he feels people know the difference between Good and Evil and sometimes will choose the latter.

But the important thing to note in my formulation is "their own story". Within a person's value system there are different, sometimes competing priorities -- some with moral weights attached -- and within that system, almost no one will choose "to do evil". However, from a viewpoint outside of that system (including ones that might include moral standards that are well-nigh universal) those priorities and actions might be evil to the point of reprehensible villainy.

(Of course, guilt and self-recrimination exist, and are important tools in bringing our value system into better alignment with the more Universal principles. But they too exist not in "the story" of that moment, but rather a crucial postlude, or perhaps some "sequel" -- out of the "value system" of that moment. So someone might recognize themselves as having done evil, but that is dependent on a sense of continuity of self which most people take for granted but I believe isn't the experiential space we can actually live in.)

This is some of the weirdness of a "postmodern" age. But I think postmodernism, with its hallmark lack of a universal set of standards might just be an inevitable byproduct of a culture realizing that hey, there are other, long-standing cultures around with worldviews around that agree with ours on many points but disagree on many others. (This sense of inevitability of a postmodern-ish outlook, as a result of a kind of birth of metacultural thinking, is postmodernism's view of itself. Metapostmodernism?)

Most traditional religion says that there is indeed a set of universal standards, generally from something "outside the system", often literally supernatural, though in some more recent viewpoints, "merely" transcendent and emergent.

My feeling is you kind of got to play it as a game of statistics and common sense. What do traditions agree on? What makes sense? A kind of enlightened Golden Rule, Do Unto Others As You'd Have Them Do Unto You, but with an enhanced view of the "Tragedy of the Commons". Maybe Kant's Categorical Imperative, "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law", is a bit more complete.

There is the Utilitarian view that we should maximize happiness for as many people as possible. There's a counterview that argues of course not, because if 3/4 of the people can be really happy at the cost of 1/4 of the people, that's morally unacceptable. But I wonder if that could be tweaked with the addition of a constant, call it "S", for "screw factor", that you multiply the amount of unhappiness a decision would cause. So the formula is
(how much happiness) * (# of happy people) - S * (how much unhappiness) * (# of unhappy people)
See? Simple math. If the value is positive, do it, if negative, refrain.

Quotes of the Moment
There is a right and a wrong in the universe and that distinction is not hard to make.
Mark Waid, in the comic "The Kingdom"
(he's making an homage to a very similar expression by Elliot S! Maggin in the novel "Superman: Last Son of Krypton".)

It is absurd to divide people into good & bad. People are either charming or tedious.
Oscar Wilde.
Whew! Which viewpoint to adopt... personally I think our country gets into trouble when it embraces the first one. One man's evil guerilla terrorist is another's freedom fighter...

Plea of the Moment

--Keith Olbermann with a moving explanation of why California's Prop 8 is just terrible, terrible, terrible. I'd say that Prop 8 IS evil for the reasons he eloquently explains. FoSO is encouraging people to LA Gay + Lesbian Center to overturn this. I was on the fence but after this video I sent $100.
And now I see "Madonna's IQ = 140". That much smarter than Obama, who knew? Thanks annoying Web Ads!
Always feel like a bit of a chump when it seems like every other company has a holiday...at least the subway's not crowded.
I love all the little streets with names like "Public Alley 438" around my office.
Wow, the Boston Salvation Army has thw red kettles out already? Probably a symptom of the rough times- a lot of food+shelter places taxed.
A big feature on screenshots of both Windows Vista and Google Android is a big old analog clock. That's not just retro, it's meta-retro.
Maybe when I'm trying to use music to focus, it would be better to stick with my smaller "Psyched" playlist; faster, fewer=less distracting?

from oh you lucky chip!

Finished Douglas Hofstadter's "I am a Strange Loop", a big study on how self-reflective systems are the key to understanding consiousness. It had this facetious passage:
"Oh, you lucky chip! If I eat you, then your lifeless molecules, if they are fortunate enough to be carried by my bloodstream up to my brain and settle there, will get to enjoy the experience of being me! And so I must devour you, in order not to deprive your inert molecules of the chance to enjoy the experience of being human!"
I went from being really excited about getting ready to read this book (when I was finishing up Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance), from worrying that it was recovering territory I'd seen from Hofstadter before, to really being touched by the turn it took, where he has excerpts from letters he was writing to Dan Dennett processing his grief over the sudden and tragic death of his wife.

Those letters cover an idea that I've been mulling over, his stance that people's consciousness might well live on in other people, and not merely in a poetic sense. To really accept this view, you probably have to have "drunk to kool-aid" about Consciousness as being largely a matter of pattern, and convenience, and that the typical, layman "sense of self" is rather illusory in nature.

I've drunk the kool-aid, via various books. Probably the most important was Dennett's "Conscious Explained". Another more recent one was Hawkin's "On Intelligence". Some of the concepts have also shown up in some science fiction I've read... Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon The Deep (SPOILERS, highlight to read:) which does a FANTASTIC job of describing a single individual consciousness "shared" by a pack of animals), Greg Egan's "Permutation City" extends some What-Ifs and Thought Experiments about being able to make accurate models of our minds in cyberspace, and where the people thus transfered were also more free to modify their inner makeups (you could make yourself content in any activity, one guy made chair legs for virtual decades, then rewired himself to get the deepest possible satisfaction about climbing an endless rockwall), and even Cory Doctorow's "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" explored some implications of being able to make a backup of your brain, which you could then throw into a newly cloned (and quickly matured) body. (The protagonist is assassinated, but was a little lax in making backups, so upon "resurrection" has "lost" a few weeks... he's a bit unnerved by watching security camera footage of himself, and his assassin, events he filled happened to "him", but... not.

I'm still pondering on this.)

Photos of the Moment
Some lovely behind the scenes photos of Obama.

UU group talked def'n of Home.Nice to say "the people" but-I've lived alone, with var.loved ones-its the stuff (esp. books) thats constant.
So Nokia announced austerity policy. Not nec. a prelude to badness, but- recruiters are still pretty active, tho, and I pre-hunker downed.
masukomi Hofstadter says "there is something it is like to be that machine" (on machine's inner life or lack thereof) is hard to translate
Has Google maps always had shadows for its speech balloon-like callouts? Kind of menacing, zoomed out its shadow is the size of Rhode Island
CNN:"[Greenspan] said he was 'shocked' when that system [of lenders being self-regulators] 'broke down.'" Shoulda been "shocked, shocked!"
I have been doing well at fending off the cold everyone is having. A small chance it's that "moderate exercise boosts immune system" thing?

from on the vinegar tasters

Lately I've been thinking about the following passage from the end of Tom Robbins' "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues":
In a place out of doors, near forests and meadows, stands a jar of vinegar - the emblem of life.

Confucius approaches the jar, dips his finger in and tastes the brew. "Sour," he says, "Nonetheless, I can see where it could be very useful in preparing certain foods."

Buddha comes to the vinegar jar, dips in a finger and has a taste. "Bitter," is his comment. "It can cause suffering to the palate, and since suffering is to be avoided, the stuff should be disposed of at once."

The next to stick a finger in the vinegar is Jesus Christ. "Yuk," says Jesus. "It's both bitter and sour. It's not fit to drink. In order that no one else will have to drink it, I will drink it all myself."

But now two people approach the jar, together, naked, hand in hand. The man has a beard and woolly legs like a goat. His long tongue is slightly swollen from some poetry he's been reciting. The woman wears a cowboy hat, a necklace of feathers, a rosy complexion. Her tummy and tits bear the stretch marks of motherhood; she carries a basket of mushrooms and herbs. First the man and then the woman sticks a thumb into the vinegar. She licks his thumb and he hers. Initially they make a face, but almost immediately they break into wide grins. "It's sweet," they chime.

I realize now, though, I was getting it mixed up with "The Tao of Pooh"'s telling of the story this drew from, "The Vinegar Tasters". Tom Robbins took out Lao-tse, gave his role to the couple, and added in Jesus Christ, with an interesting reference to the idea of divine sacrifice.

Something weirdly worldly in splitting a bottle of white w/ an old flame over dinner, later bar cocktails w/ my uncle. Like bad Hemingway.
Gee, how can I resist a come-on (in french) from a skype bot named "! sex - sexy gazelle ejaculation feminine sexe"?

from to professor couch

Continuing my recent habit of taking something I wrote somewhere else, failing to get much of a response, and reposting it here... Alva Couch was this amazing Professor of Computer Science I had at Tufts. Realizing I needed to poo or get off the pot when it comes to deciding about graduate studies, I wrote him for advice... unfortunately his mail autoresponder told me he's on the road for a few weeks at least, and then is on sabbatical for a year, so I don't know when I'd hear back. But I welcome feedback and advice from anyone here as well...

Hi Prof. Couch!

I hope you are well.

I'm writing you as an early step in some academic planning I'm thinking of... I've always valued your opinion and I loved your classes as an undergraduate, though I'm also open to your suggestions for other people to talk to.

I am - in a not particularly well-fleshed-out manner, at least as of yet - thinking about pursuing some graduate education, probably in an after-hours kind of way.

One possible school for this would be Northeastern; my take it doesn't have quite the academic reputation as some other places, but it is almost directly between my current job at Nokia and my apartment in Roxbury Crossing. In particular I was considering their MPS in Digital Media program.

My goals would be twofold, and I'm trying to figure out if that kind of program is the best bet for either of them: one is to do interesting things, possibly "indy game movement" related. (You can see a small portfolio-ish page at http://kirk.is/java/ -- mostly in Media Lab's "processing" language, geared at artists.) The second would be to open up teaching as a possibility down the road, maybe on a Jr College-ish level.

I recognize there might be a conflict here, in terms of it might not be the right degree for teaching. I think to be honest, I don't love computer science for its own sake, the more math-ish side of what's computable, and how long is it going to take, and how we can do that better or prove that we can't. I do deeply like Human/Computer Interaction and UI, as well as having an affinity for information and data display. And so I'm wondering if those would be a better balance between fun/cool and academic than "Digital Media".

Other schools I've been thinking about (but done even less research on) are Harvard Extension, and of course Tufts.

If it matters, I graduated summa in '96 with a double major in English and Computer Science, with a 4.0 in comp sci (a little less in some of the math). Since then I've mostly been drifting as a Java and Perl coder, with some touches of architecting and team leading.

Thanks for any advice, or any suggestions on other good people to talk with!


I don't have any smiles
comedic great Danny Kaye to my mom
(after acquiescing to a post-speaking photo but declining to smile...)
Odd having rating a lunch interviewee under the Nokia values "Engaging You", "Very Human", "Achieving Together","Passion for Innovation"
Mailing cd-rom, anticipating "anything dangerous?" question from USPS- gee, I guess in prison someone could make it a shiv, does that count?
Orbit Sangria Fresca gum (along w/ their Mojito flavor): When you'd like to get drunk at work but all you can do is chew gum. Tasty, tho
You have good taste, except sometimes you choose the stuff that's a downer
FoSO, just now

from the mental butterfly

(1 comment)
It's been enlightening pondering the difference and similarities between EB, his outlook and ways of thinking, and my own.

Not that the SATs should be the end-all be-alls that we treat them as (And by we, I'm at risk for meaning "people who did well on them") but I was surprised he did better in the Verbal than the Math, though combined I technically beat him by 10 points. But given how entrenched he was in engineering I had always assumed he was more of a math guy, despite admiring some high-falutin' prose he had pulled together on the old tufts.general newsgroup.

But more to the point, I have a mind that enjoys flitting from thought to thought, where as his methodology is more of a focused charge. (This weekend he was a bit tired and preoccupied, which led to a higher number of half-finished thoughts and barely started sentences as different concepts fought to claim the focus of the track of his mind.) Historically, I'm almost able to keep up a conversation while enmeshed in a heated round of Dr. Mario or Puzzle League, while he greatly dislikes distraction.

Which isn't to say my tangential mind is inferior or superior to his goal-oriented approach. I envy and fear his long term game strategy making, to the point where I tend to dislike games that don't favor my scattershot, fast methodologies.

I'd like to think of other implications of this dichotomy. One is this: when I hear about articles along the lines of Is Google Making Us Stupid? it doesn't bother me too much; usually such an article isn't about being "stupid" per se, but retaining fewer facts in our heads that can easily accessed electronically, and indulging in a low-attention-span, high-connectivity (i.e. tangential links) form of mind play in lieu of the good hard think. But since this is how my mind seems to operate, and since I think I have a decent mind, I don't see it as much of a problem.

Another implication: decluttering and straightening up is an almost comically disorganized "oh do this no do this no that" for me where a dozen tasks get started but almost nothing gets done.

So how about everyone here? Are they more of a goal-oriented, focused thinker like EB? Or kind of a thought butterfly like me? Or something else?

Photo of the Moment

--I love this shot from an article on Phelps' Miracle Finish... from what little I've learned about sports in casually watching the Olympics, one bit is the final touch of the wall is hyper-important.

I also liked Usain Bolt's agenda (and his name!) on the day of his world-record beating time...
"Woke up at 11. Had some lunch -- some nuggets. Watched some more TV. Went to my room, slept for three hours. Went back, got some more nuggets, then came to the track."
What would just be a slacker's morning for anyone else sounds unspeakably cool when you're really achieving something special!

Weird dreams- MMORPG world where an emperor CEO had commanded mass suicide. People choosing whether to join in leaping off a 'scraper
On Friday's rainout at Fenway, the Hot Tamale Brass Band was one of the few silver linings, other than the pleasant hanging out w/ friends.
Using my ATM-card as credit card for a bit; w/ that and direct deposit, risk of nil budget tracking, just a money pile that waxes and wanes
Forbes still does these autoadvancing slide shows. Quaint-and annoying, as if I'd rather sit + wait then just click. Probably good for ads.

from a kirk by any other name

I was thinking about aliases I've used over the years... (warning, some of this preadolescent stuff is cringe-inducingly dorky. And this whole entry is a bit overly self-centered...)

When I was a kid and got a high score in an arcade game I'd enter a single "Z" in lieu of initials. It seemed Cool and was easier to enter. (In the years since I've decided it's moderately cooler to leverage having a short name and will enter "KRK" on the few games that still have the option.)

I also had a few pen names, as well as names I'd use if I were making video games. "Lord Logan" (Logan being my middle name) comes to mind, an alliterative nod to "Lord British" who made the Ultima games. Also I vaguely remember a "Troll" character... I think I remember making up sprites for it (a version shown here as well as I remember it now) and going so far as to scratch the name into my desk and getting yelled at by my mom. Also, the name "SPAZZ" comes to mind though I don't remember for what.

Probably the biggest experiment was going by "Logan" in middle school. I was unhappy about moving after sixth grade, and I think the name change was an expression of that, also the usual teenage self-dissatisfaction (around the same time my dad was sick.) I changed school districts during high school and quietly went back to Kirk, though this created some confusion at my church, where they decided to split the difference and call me Butch. (Or, in full, "Kirk Logan Brother Butch Israel Brother")

Also in high school I picked up "Kirkles", the alleged term of endearment "Lynnie-Poo" had for me, according to our mutual friends. And in Spanish class my name resisted Spanishization so I went by the (allegedly an actual nickname) "Nacho"

Later in high school I do remember enjoying picking callsigns in the game Wing Commander... I think "Metropolis" and "Whiplash" were my favorites.

It was around this time I also used signature characters, signing highschool notes with characters who would sometimes hold up signs of commentary ala Wile E Coyote. Zinger the clown, shown here, was first, but he was quick supplement by Alien Bill who has been with me ever since. Alien Bill Productions was also my default company for games or programs I'd make in college, marginally classier than "Barking Spider Productions" that I used in high school. Neither Zinger and Alien Bill are actual aliases, though sometimes people get confused about the latter.

In college I picked up "kisrael" in the classic Unix tradition of "first initial and last name" -- I was just pleased that since my last name starts with a vowel it makes a nice name in all. "Kirkjerk" was when I was looking for an appropriately menacing, at-most-8-character name for when people were playing the game Death Rally at work. I also went through a series of AOL Instant Messenger names before remember my kirkjerk password, including kirkamundo and thegreatkirkini.

I guess for the most part I'm pleased with my first name and like variations on it. Also I'm never compelled to do much role changing online, or that whole projective AOL-ish "HotStuff74" or whatever (and isn't it odd how so many people, some of whom might otherwise be a little coy about their age, tag on their birth year?)

Video of the Moment

--Since today's ramble was kind of dull and kirkcentric, here's something pretty cool...

from boston area dabbler and pseudo-intellectual

Reading "The Tao is Silent" has made me curious about how Taoism is practiced in the West, and I found a site The Tao Bums. This is my introductory note, though I still haven't figured out if it's a kind of place for me...

Hi there --

Reading around for a bit, I think my approach might be different than most folks on the site, so I appreciate any pointers to parts of the forum that might be more my speed...

I come from a Western pseudo-intellectual tradition... Christian upbringing with a teenage embrace of rationalism and noticing how much environment + upbringing seems to determine faith (as opposed to some kind of Universal Truth) that I embraced a kind of mushy agnosticism. (Luckily my parents, despite being protestant ministers, were fairly liberal, so the backlash didn't become a "hard core atheist" kind of anti-faith.)

I've sometimes associated with the UU church.

I find elements of many Eastern traditions more appealing than many of the West, but know that my view is very limited, reading some (I think) good books, but they view things through a Western lens, and not so much into the real practice:

Zen Buddhism has an appeal (and more on how I've found the Western philosophy that seems very much in accord with it's lack of sense of self), but I've never even engaged in a Zazen practice. I got introduced to it through "Zen Flesh, Zen Bones", and then learned a bit more through some "Zen for Dummies" book, which despite the title (which, if you squint, really is just an overly self-deprecating way of saying 'for the beginner's mind",maybe) seems to be a pretty fair introduction to the Westernized form of the practice. Also "Thank You And OK!" which is a great account of an American trying to find a place in a more ritualized and traditional community, and "The Dharma Bums" (I think recognizing the name of the forum drew me here in my Google searching.)

Taoism... sometimes I think I'm more naturally attuned to Taoism than anything else. (But I've come to learn that some of that is me being a bit of a drifter, and one who avoids challenges because my fragile ego really detests failure, and if I'm not careful, the ego will have be not play rather than risk losing.) My first exposure was "The Tao of Poo", I was very impressed by the path to the Tao that "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" found, and now I'm reading the lovely work "The Tao is Silent".

I've even found some charm in Shinto practice; I have a hunch that it might be a great choice for computer programmers, where the often opaque and surprising internals of the computer might best be treated with the same kind of ritualistic respect and deference of, say, the ancient Japanese had for wood they chopped for construction. Here my exposure is most limited, helping a friend in a Japanese studies course, and the lovely films of Miyazaki.

I'm also fascinated by Western theories of mind and consciousness and where they overlap with Eastern ideals. Dennett's "Consciousness Explained" is one of my favorite works, and it's underlying idea of a rejection of sneaking in Cartesian Dualism anywhere, and that there might "be less there, there" than we assume is profoundly Zen-ish. More recently I've taken in Hawkin's "On Intelligence", and its idea that most of what makes us conscious beings is the incredible workings of the neocortex, a magnificent, hierarchical pattern recognizer, rememberer, and prediction machine. I feel that this might be how the Tao does its work in humans, if it can be said to Do Work... that we experience the universe, we see patterns, we predict patterns, and the Uncarved Block might find its substance in that flow of observation and prediction, modeling and action.

So, as might be obvious, one reason my few attempts at Zazen and yoga-based meditation don't work so well is I get so much pleasure in the meanderings of my mind, and the joy of working things out.

That's where, and (kind of) what I am. Does this kind of dialog happen here, or are the underlying assumptions a bit too different?

What's on Michael Phelps' iPod?
I am increasingly disturbed by the mustache of the Pringles guy, especially as he bops around in this one disco themed commercial.
(on using a ballpoint pen to open a box) "...you really have to love a problem in the morning where the correct answer is 'more stabbing!'"
actual quote: "I have to get less stressed about this stuff, I'll be dead by the time I'm 30! Oh wait..."
Laser pointers: disappointment to my inner 8-yr-old Star Trek watcher. Look! A red dot! You can amuse a cat or hang your pictures straight!
cmgaglione re: cats and laser pointers... but wouldn't THEY rather have mice vaporizing laser BLASTERS?? Won't somebody think of the cats!

from everything mattered

So, following up yesterday's rant about the Chinese Room...

Reading further into the book, I see what Hawkins is up to. Around 100 pages in he writes
If Searle's Chinese Room contained a similar memory system that could make predictions about what Chinese characters would appear next and what would happen next in the story, we could say with confidence that the room understood Chinese and understood the story. We now see where Alan Turing went wrong. Prediction, not behavior, is the proof of intelligence.
So now we see where Hawkins went wrong... Turing specified a judge looking to determine if the conversation partner is a human or a computer, and is permitted to ask questions that could not be answered without having a normal human's ability to predict the flow of a conversation, to fill in the gaps. Thus Hawkins use of the Chinese Room is a giant strawman, where he might be using the room as a stand in for "computers as they are generally used now" (with a CPU, long and short term memory, following programs step by step, etc) and a weak form of the Turing test (fooling a Chinese speaker who probably wasn't having that deep of a conversation to begin with) and saying that this test can be passed by a machine that isn't really thinking, which is view so weak it's tough to argue against.

For Hawkins, and I think he makes a strong case for this, prediction - a non-stop giant flow of expectation and comparison with reality - is the tool and hallmark and perhaps even necessary component of intelligence. He is probably taking for granted Searle's idea of "Strong AI" vs "Weak AI"; some proponents of the former would argue that even a simple thermostat has a (extremely) rough form of consciousness, that it in effect "wants" the room to be a certain temperature and "acts" according to that desire. Hawkins sees a bigger, unbridgeable gap between that kind of simple mechanism and generalized intelligence, rather than a continuum, and feels that he has isolated the crucial difference.

I like when I read a book about how the brain and consciousness might function, and suddenly I feel more self-aware of my own internal thought process.

Quote of the Moment
Sure it mattered. When you get to my age you discover that everything mattered. Life isn't a series of good and bad choices. It's harder to steer it one way or the other than most people think. You just get pulled along. You look back and you wonder 'could I have changed the course of my life?' Maybe you could've ... but it would probably have taken a tremendous force of will.
Old Man in Seth's "It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken", a graphic novel I just read.
The man was a friend of "Kalo", a New Yorker cartoonist the main semi-autobiographical main character is trying to find information about. (It turns out Kalo is made up by Seth (pen name of Gregory Gallant), though he throws in some convincing mockups of Kalo cartoons at the end that really make the quest feel real.)

I think I should let myself be hungry more -- "full" as default is probably not good. Conversely... diet coke and creme de menthe altoids?

from on hawkins, intelligence, and searle's chinese room

So I've been twittering about Searle's Chinese Room lately, might as well ramble about it at more length and get it out of my system... (kisrael.com, come for the quotes and links, stay for the long pseudo-intellectual grumblefests!)

I'm reading Jeff Hawkins' "On Intelligence", and from what I've heard it seems pretty promising... with ideas that the core of intelligence is a memory-prediction system, and that AI researchers do themselves a disservice by not looking at the actual physical mechanisms of the brain, just like neuroscientists do themselves a disservice by not trying to take a step back and focus on the large process rather than specific subsystems. That all seems really promising.

So far he has two points I disagree with... one is that Searle's Chinese Room is a satisfactory demonstration that "behaviorial equivalence is not enough", that you could somehow fake intelligence without being intelligent. The second is this idea that intelligence is strictly an internal property. He might be not too far off on the second idea, but from a utilitarian standpoint, a 100% internal intelligence is of zero interest to us... one could imagine this group of hyperintelligent rocks, all with this rich internal state that is this lovely model of the whole environment, able to make simulations and predictions with stunning accuracy, but if there is zero interaction with the outside world, who cares? These smartrocks are indistinguishable from, you know, rocks! (I remember writing a poem about this in high school, a rock that figure out world peace and all that, but couldn't tell anyone 'cause it was a rock.) Down this path lies stuff like Greg Egan's "Permutation City", where a whole field of floating dust specks might be intelligent, if we just knew how to interpret /communicate with it, a kind of weird pantheism, or at least beleif in pan-intelligence.

So...the Chinese Room. You can read Hawkins restatement of the thought experiment here. He concludes that "no matter how cleverly a computer is designed to simulate intelligence by producing the same behavior as a human, it has no understanding and it is not intelligent".

I find this conclusion absurd. First, while this is an abstract thought experiment and thus a huge amount of handwaving is permitted, it's important to note how hyper-complex the "big book of instructions and all the pencils and scratch paper he could ever need" would be if the setup is going to effectively simulate a person conversing intelligently in Chinese. It's an important thing to note, because part of Searle's argument is secretly an appeal to intuition, and lines like "after all, it's just a book, and books can't think!" will come up but that is terribly misleading because ignores the overwhelming scope of that book... it needs contains "simple" abstract symbol manipulations that can "fake" someone who has a deep knowledge of the world, Chinese culture, history, itself, the laws of cause and effect, a sense of humor, what it means to be in love -- in short, everything necessary to convince the person passing in the notes and reading the responses that there is a Chinese speaker inside there. That book would need to be almost unimaginably huge and complex to pull this off.

But say we grant the theoretical possibility of this book. There is a perfectly valid answer to "where does the understanding lie in this scenario?", a reply formulated shortly after the original idea was proposed, and it's called the "Systems Reply'... the man inside might not understand Chinese, and a static book and pile of scratch paper certainly doesn't understand Chinese, but the System as a whole... man, book, paper, room-- absolutely does. For me this is one of those ideas that I almost can't believe isn't intuitively and universally obvious.

Searle's response is to say, ok, well what if the man memorizes the book, and has a good enough memory to do all the steps in his head... There! He now can speak Chinese without knowing Chinese! (As I think Dennett points out, he now knows Chinese but in the "wrong way".) Going back to the idea of the room, I guess the idea is that because there are certain things the odd intelligence of room, man, book can't do, we're not counting it as "true intelligence". Oddly enough, for me this goes back to the idea of the hyperintelligent rocks, in that the issue is one of information getting in and out. Ask the Chinese Room about a beautiful grassy meadow, and it talks about the meadow. Searle seems to argue, though, that it doesn't really understand what a meadow is, it's just doing abstract symbol manipulation. But if enough is going on inside that you can ask it ongoing questions about the meadow, what it feels like, how the grass gently floats on the wind, etc, and are satisfied by the humanness of the answers, to say that there's no "real" understanding on all that scrap paper, or in that book, or with the diligent, boring work of that man is just being ornery, and terribly biased against ways of being intelligent that don't physically resemble our own brains. So just like the guy who 'internalized' the Chinese Room might not have access to his understanding of Chinese like someone who learned Chinese the usual way, we might not be able to comprehend the internal states of the physical Chinese Room, but I can't see there's any way of deeply faking understanding without having understanding.

(Someone on the Wikipedia page comments points out how, sadly, too often school can look like a big Chinese room, where a kid might be given a statement like "the heart is associated with the flow of blood', and later be given a question like 'what is the heart associated with the flow of? A. snot B. blood C. poop'... thus becoming a simple Chinese Room that can answer a basic question about biology by pattern recognition, with no true sense of meaning or depth.)

So I'm still optimistic about Hawkins books... he may be more concerned with the layman's understanding of computers, and arguing that an intelligent system will operate very little like the main part of a computer does. (Even if the end result was some kind of "brain simulation" that happens to run on a traditional-style computer, kind of a neuronic VR... I'm not far enough along to know if he would accept the plausibility of that or not.) Still, his begging the question of whether a Chinese Room would have understanding rankles me a great deal.
firefox spellcheck FAIL: temprement -> procurements, procurement, procurement's, premenstrual, excremental, Add to dictionary. Yeesh.

from "yeah, I think people are just getting stuper. stupider." -scott

(1 comment)
So a few weeks ago that Atlantic Is Google Making Us Dumber? article was making the rounds. I finally read it, and wasn't crazy about it. The background was excellent, and talking about how technological changes modifies our way of thinking, like how touchtyping let Nietzsche avoid migraines and start writing more in bon mots, was great. But the final conclusions weren't solid.

There seems to be two main lines of attack: one is that Google is making us soft, that we're going to retain less in our heads since such vast amounts of information -- no, not just vast amounts - terrific methods of getting to the right, small bit of information, with connections to more - are always at hand.

The other line of attack seems to use Google as a convenient shorthand, or possibly whipping boy, for soundbite culture in general. That so many of us our losing our ability to focus for medium or long stretches.

(Disclaimer: I'm increasingly aware that I might not have a "representative" way of thinking, and that too often I'll forget that not everyone approaches problems like I do, and therefore my analysis is suspect as I start to apply it generally.)

Trying to get to the root cause of why having access to lots of information can lead to shorter attention spans is tricky. I think of how I approach long books, on "interestingness density". A really long book better have MANY interesting ideas, or otherwise the return on time and thought invested suffers.

Regular readers of the site will know I've been formulating this idea of "interestingness", sometimes even "interestingness as a moral good", for a while now. Maybe I then owe it to myself to try and peel back the layers of it, find out what makes interestingness interesting, or if there's a way to define or predict what is interesting besides "I know it when I see it"...

Interestingness can be shallow, that's for sure, prefering a great paragraph to a good essay, and the novel and the nifty over the prolonged and fretted-over. But it doesn't have to be; a good technical account can go extremely deep and still maintain a level of novel ideas, or rich and non-intuitive but useful metaphors that make the subject fascinating.

Bringing this back to the main attention span issue... maybe people are using this same kind of lens to judge how long they want to look into something, because something more interesting might be just around the corner. Or maybe we've become more demanding consumers, and getting the gist of something is enough.

Also: I'm more aware of how I tend to speak in parentheses. So often the parenthetical aside is the loveliest part of a multipart thought.

Quote of the Moment
I am nuts for information-- as are we all, I suspect, most real men and women. I can't get enough of the stuff. When I'm clicking through the hundreds of E-mail messages that await me each morning, sometimes I imagine I'm a mighty information whale, sifting through thousands of tiny (but nutritious!) krill bits. Yum! Whether it's reading the cereal box or scanning the advertisment slide show some genius thought to project on the big screen at the movie theater, my appetite for information is unquenchable.
Joshua Quittner. Actually I first recorded this in 1998...

Google Feature of the Moment
Speaking of Google, Anthony gave me a tour of the NYC office on my way down to VA, when I stopped over to pick up a copy of Wii Fit he graciously had located for me. He pointed out that Google DOES have a feature I was looking for, namely providing date-ordered search results when you're searching a site that has a blog-like format, but you have to click on "Blogs" under "More" to activate it. I think it should be an option whenever you do a "site:"-specific search, and that site in question is known to have a Blog-ish format.

Wii Fit's bad posture, jutted hip model is much sexier than the same model standing w/ good posture. Also the voice is Navi meets GlaDOS.
moving on

from masters of my domain

Was chatting with MELAS (My Ever-Lovin' Aunt Susan) last night and an idea came up, not a new idea, but kind of a new context: should I go ahead and seek a Master's degree?

Old contexts would have included (A) a general nudge from the family and its respect for education as something worthwhile, almost for its own sake and (B) something that would make for a more solid résumé and generally crank up my earning potential. But (A) wouldn't really be enough by itself, and I've interviewed enough well-degreed folks who seemed to be complete programming imbeciles that I don't put a lot of stock in (B).

So the new context is opening up the possibility of teaching, like maybe at a small college or as an online instructor. MELAS feels this has worked well for her... the money isn't fantastic, but she finds the traditional 9-month Academic year to be very pleasant, and the work can be rewarding, and generally not overly strenuous.

When I went to college I had the idea of training to be an English Teacher -- Tufts had both a top-notch English program and a great Education program, but then as computers and not English seemed to be academic forté I made my "other major" Computer Science instead of teaching.

(I felt guilty about that for a while, though my beloved high school English teacher Mrs. McLaughlin consoled me by pointing out that I might not be a great teacher because I might be impatient with students who are slower to pick something up than I feel I would have. So that sounds a note of caution for my current thoughts.)

To be clear, my current debate is "shall I get a Masters" (and have more career options) and not "should I change careers"... having drifted from one (generally pretty well-paying) job to another, and not being driven to corporate leadership, I don't have a ton of options stretched in front of me.

One issue is with Computer Science: there are kind of two camps in it as an Academic pursuit, and there's a lot of tension. The first camp sees it as a part of Mathematics, and is very much about the theory and the beauty of computation. The second camp tends to be more Engineering in its outlook, and see it as more of an applied art, maybe even a bit of a craft. People in the former see the latter as wanting to make trade schools, people in the latter see the former as having their heads in the clouds.

I'm in the latter camp, no question. I find that computer programming is a lovely way of making new things. So that might influence my decision of school and program.

I have no idea how tough it is to get into programs (actually I heard there's an inverse relationship between the health of the job market and the number of people going into school.) I graduated Summa (thanks to grade inflation and some blatant begging) and with a 4.0 in my major, and I generally have done well on bubble-type tests.

Thoughts of places to go would be Northeastern, a decent school that I think is oriented towards careers and people who are studying while working and is about 3 or 4 blocks from where I live, and my alma mater Tufts which is pretty prestigious and I know some folks.

The idea of being a teacher is a little daunting, of course. Actually I wonder if being as public as I have been on this site and other places would be a drawback? It's easy to forget teachers are people too. But I think I'm good at breaking down problems into explainable parts, and maybe I could learn to fake the gravitas required...

As always I welcome thoughts and feedback!

(Random followup: decided to click around Northeastern's website a little... I realized that there Digital Media sounds a lot more compelling to me (after, you know, 20 seconds of poking around their webpage) than traditional Computer Science, a way out of the whole "CS is math"/"CS is craft" dilemna. Conversely, I don't know if that would mess up the teaching idea.)

Link of the Moment
Cute Flash Animation vs Animator movie, kind of in the spirit of Stick Figure Death Theater. (via Bill the Splut)
Yeah, I'm a homer who doesn't know basketball, but the hell is up with these refs?
pentomino "we pass the time to forget how time passes" - Amelie. A little bit less morbid!
WOW, did I really just find myself saying 'Oh look, another jerk with an iPhone'?
MELAS and I agree: time spent just fiddling around expands to fit the shape of its container.
Note to self: mojitos: tasty (even when just premix :-( ) but not a boon to productivity in the evening.

from the pollyannappreciation principle

In a Gamer's Quarter thread, jjsimpso was talking about the use of numeric scores in game reviews. He refered to an older "games studies" dichotomy between "narrativists" (who place video games in a tradition of storytelling) and "ludologists" (who place video games more in the tradition of other forms of gaming... I guess the term is related to a Greek word for "play" and the similarity to "luddites" is just an unfortunate coincidence.)

jjsimpso proposes a two-score system to match this dualistic line of thinking, L-scores (for the mechanic and design) and N-scores (for the story, art, setting, etc) It immediately made me think of that passage Robin Williams' character has his student read aloud in Dead Poets' Society, allegedly from "Understanding Poetry, by Dr. J. Evans Pritchard, Ph.D."
To fully understand poetry, we must first be fluent with its meter, rhyme, and figures of speech. Then ask two questions: One, how artfully has the objective of the poem been rendered, and two, how important is that objective. Question one rates the poem's perfection, question two rates its importance. And once these questions have been answered, determining a poem's greatest becomes a relatively simple matter.

If the poem's score for perfection is plotted along the horizontal of a graph, and its importance is plotted on the vertical, then calculating the total area of the poem yields the measure of its greatness. A sonnet by Byron may score high on the vertical, but only average on the horizontal. A Shakespearean sonnet, on the other hand, would score high both horizontally and vertically, yielding a massive total area, thereby revealing the poem to be truly great.
The movie uses this passage has a strawman to be knocked down, that poetry can only legitimately be felt, not analyzed.

I guess I disagree... I think the basic concept is sound (even if exact quantification is a bit odious), but you need many more scales for it to be useful, two dimensions just aren't enough. This would bring this kind of thought into line with my idea of Multiple Intelligence Theory for Art.

Just for kicks: I say 2 dimensions isn't enough, and have previously talked about Multiple Intelligences, but don't go into detail about what they might be... (a bit of a dodge on my part!) So for fun, what do I think some should be? The Pritchardian "importance" could more or less stay, except maybe it should be "subjective importance" and "universal importance"... "artfulness" is way too simple... there's "adherence to formal structure", "comprehensibility", "subtley", "cleverness"... then there are other traits like "humor", "thought provokingness", "emotion provokingness" (I'm sure there are more succinct words for many of these)... something that takes into account the "context of the authorship" (in general a decent work written by someone in pressed circumstances is more interesting than a work of equal decency written by someone in comfortable circumstances)

In short there is a multitude of possible scales, and I think people are free to come up with a subset of all possible scales they value most highly in art appreciation. For me, the most important take-away concept is that very little art or craft is valueless, so we should always hesitate before condemning a work with too heavy a hand. I dub this thinking "the pollyannappreciation principle".

(A nascent form of this thinking led my fellow a capella singers with Tufts sQ to saddle me with the unwieldy nickname "Kirk 'c'mon guys, it wasn't THAT bad, was it?' Israel" after a particularly brutal round of poor auditionees.)

Video of the Moment
With the Celtics lovely win in game one over LA, I'm hearing more about the chant "Beat LA!". To summarize, it comes from Celtics fans the final game 1982 Eastern Conference -- where the Celtics were just about to get beat by the 76ers...

It's considered a nice bit of sportsmanship by the Boston fans (not always known for being that classy, really.) I guess too though, LA can't object to it too much, even as its used in other sports (like the SF Giants against the Dodgers) since it does paint them as the city to beat.

has basketball always been this endless parade of fouls? seems like the flow is so broken.
wikipedia's "A cappella" page, collegiate a cappella section is a seething bed of shameless plugs. A whole paragraph on South Asian? Jeesh.

from faithmore-or-less

The other day I thought of all the things I'd like to take from various faiths: Along with my homebrew sense of "interestingness as a moral good". Ideally maybe I'd even find some kind of therapist who was into all of those, especially the first few, though I always feel I'm on shaky ground (no pun intended) taking on the faiths from Asia.
So those are the ideals... then it hit me that I'm more dealing with Do any traditions have a good sense of whimsy? I'm thinking maybe Wicca but I'm not sure, sometimes they seem to take that hippy stuff pretty seriously. Maybe Zen, with the koans and all.

Video of the Moment

MUTO a wall-painted animation by BLU from blu on Vimeo.

--via Mr.Ibis who points out "it all starts as Alien Bill" -- pretty much does! The whole video is pretty amazing. I love how it "lets the strings show" in terms of the erased part from previous frames...

Quote of the Moment
Your problem is that your inner child is a bit too outer.
Ksenia, a long while back.
Now THAT'S what I call SUCCINCT!
does myspace have all that playing around crap facebook does?

from j'accuse

So the other night I got accused of being incredibly self-absorbed.

(The irony of taking the time to write up a big blog entry on protesting being called self-absorbed is not lost on me.)

This isn't the first time I've been accused of this. And it is a vexing accusation! To some extent it's of course true, but... I mean, are there really people out there so selfless as to put themselves way behind their interest in everyone else? That seems unlikely. Is the implication, then, that I lack the ability to be appropriately concerned for and interested in other people? That seems an unfair accusation! Or deficient in interest about things in general, I dunno, politics, pop culture, science, etc? That seems blatantly untrue. And despite all this, I'm willing to accept that there's a problem here.

So what is it? Previously I've heard it put that I have trouble talking without sentences that begin with "I" or "Me". I would say that to whatever extent the I/Me thing is valid, this aspect is going to be exaggerated by my rhetorical caution; I hardly ever assert something to be objectively true, I tend to couch things with things like "I think" or "It seems to me that". But that's probably beside the point, the issue is: I talk about myself a lot. (Like, that's what brought this up last night: it was a discussion where I tangented to mentioning playing tuba in church during a poignant pause (actually in response to an observation that something went over "like a fart in church" in a serious conversation. I was trying to be funny, but admittedly it was a story about me.) )

So yeah I talk about myself! I have stories to tell. But I want to hear every one else's stories too! In my interpersonal relationships I tend to have three goals:
A. I want to tell you my stories
B. I want to hear your stories.
C. I want to experience things with you that we can tell stories about.

To me this is a central part of the human condition.

Richard Feynman said that he didn't mind dying so much because "...When you get as old as I am, you start to realize that you've told most of the good stuff you know to other people anyway." Story- and Anecdote-related interaction is a side effect of my "Interestingness-as-Moral-Good" escape from the existential "why bother" hell I might other wise be in. You want to see cool stuff, and then through the power of communication, you can hear about other cool stuff you haven't seen, and return the favor.

But still -- some people, including people I care about, and whose opinions I care about -- see this as a problem. Even to the point of suggesting therapy! Which, as a way of fixing a problem of being self-absorbed, reminds me a bit of California fire fighters setting fires to try to preempt a larger firestorm, but I guess that's why you shell out the big bucks to be able to do in that magic 50-minute span.

As far as I can tell, this isn't a universally recognized problem; I believe that I have an OK relationship with others of my friends, possibly story tellers themselves, they seem to cope with how much I talk about myself and in turn believe in my legitimate interest in them. So is the issue in recognizing people who don't share this brand of mutual extroversion? And how then should I act? Try to tone down the quantity of anecdotes? Be more proactive in expressing my interest in what's going on with them? Just shut up for a change?

Would therapy be able to answer this question? Or is this just the symptom anyway, and therapy should somehow break me free of an underlying condition of needing attention the way fish need water?

I do value candid feedback on this, especially from people who know me in real life. (That I think is one of my positive character traits: I freely admit my flaws even as I consider triaging them into things I like the way they are, things I can change, and things that I don't like but know are here to stay.)

from oh you're just the smartest bestest cleverest kid in the whole world

Yet more self-involved blather, very loud introspection. But there's a very good video after. You might want to skip to that.

Man, this Scientific American article on The Secret to Raising Smart Kids rang more than a few bells for me...
Our society worships talent, and many people assume that possessing superior intelligence or ability-- along with confidence in that ability-- is a recipe for success. In fact, however, more than 30 years of scientific investigation suggests that an overemphasis on intellect or talent leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unwilling to remedy their shortcomings.

The result plays out in children like Jonathan, who coast through the early grades under the dangerous notion that no-effort academic achievement defines them as smart or gifted. Such children hold an implicit belief that intelligence is innate and fixed, making striving to learn seem far less important than being (or looking) smart. This belief also makes them see challenges, mistakes and even the need to exert effort as threats to their ego rather than as opportunities to improve. And it causes them to lose confidence and motivation when the work is no longer easy for them.
That's similar to something I wrote a year ago.

So: It's not the self-esteem, stupid! Maybe we have too much of that, with our kids who are, internationally speaking, among the worst at math but think that they're the best.

I think almost any kid who is the smartest kid in his peer group ends up thinking they're the smartest kid, period. Even as they grow, and are smart enough to intellectually realize the absurdity of this thought, they don't feel it.

As crazy as it is, it's still a bit of a problem for me. But I managed to shake it off in a lot of ways and think I should be proud of that. I think back to my school history: skipped second grade, got put back when I changed districts... in sixth grade I started doing well on standardized tests but was always in the mid-quarter "D&F Club" after school program. I managed to get some level of a work ethic through middle and high school, though it didn't really gel 'til college, with most visible bumps in high school classes that required the work of memorization, chemistry and calculus.

But it's not like I blame my folks. I remember fiercely resisting my mom trying to get me to set specific goals during middle school... I much preferred a promise to put in a good effort, and seeing what came of that. Now I see what a defensive strategy that was. If anything, I suspect schools aren't particularly well set-up for "Gifted and Talented" programs: smart kids don't get the challenges to put their abilities in a reasonable context, and it's likely that recent standardized testing initiatives is making that problem worse, with school districts having to do more scrambling for tough cases (no matter how poorly motivated or difficult the student) as well as having the smart kids feel like frickin' geniuses when the normalized tests seem like a breeze.

Now I'm still pretty "risk adverse". I can be a good worker, but sometimes my diligence is inversely proportional to the chance of failure... if I'm not confident of it being a cakewalk (even if a long and tedious one) I'm more likely to start employing avoidance strategies.

Marching Band of the Moment

--Thinking of school days... the Cal Band rocks! Such a damn clever program! Especially the first bit, 0:40-1:30. Too bad it's shot from the Visitor's side. (There's also this right-side-up but skewed and partial view of the same show.)

from attack of the speedbitch

(1 comment)
For over half a decade EB and I have been playing head-to-head Tetris Attack. (With a recent trend towards 3-player Dr. Mario when his wife wants to join in, a game also favored by my Aunt and Mom.)

EB and I have noted a difference in our approaches to this kind of game. EB is a more deliberate planner, aiming to set up longer combos and chains and then sending over many damaging "garbage" blocks all at once. In recognition of my approach's humbler yet annoyingly effective nature, I've taking to calling what I do "being the speedbitch". I favor speed over cleverness. Over the years, as our Tetris Attack arms race increased (at this point we're both past our primes, not sinking quite as much relaxation time into the pursuit of rising blocks) I would of course add in new "types" of move to my arsenal, but at its core I'm all about process efficiency. (I'm also oddly blind to certain clear-outs, especially horizontal ones.)

It might not be too much of a stretch to see an echo of the speedbitch vs. the planner in how EB and I live our respective lives. I tend to shun most long-range plans-- which can go wrong, after all-- and seek to maximize short- to medium-term contentment. And I'm good at recognizing and optimizing for that. (A parallel ability to refactor and re-engineer to increase usability and efficiency is also one of my programming and UI strengths.) EB is more of a planner. There have been times (when Mo and I seemed to have found something stable and pleasant and possibly edging him out salary wise despite his equivalent smarts and having stuck around for his Masters degree) where my pseudo-Dao-ist, aimless approach irked him. Now that I'm a single guy, in a bit of a pleasant career rut, and he's accomplishing life goals in family-making as well as moving up to management (which, for an engineer, isn't all peaches and rainbows, but still) the strategic comparison has a different tone.

(By a curious bit of synchronicity, recently I've found out that a parallel "supply chain efficiency" is one of the things Nokia does really well, and has helped it achieve an international market percentage in the high-30s. They make beloved-high-end equipment too, but they're able to retail some of their bread-and-butter phones for less than some companies can make 'em.)

Like I've rambled about before, I'm increasingly of the opinion that I'm not that smart, just a very quick and somewhat tangential thinker with a fragile ego and poor memory for disconnected detail.

from the barometer

In his LJ, Mr. Ibis posted an old gem about finding the height of a building using a barometer. The following was my rather long-winded response:

Ok, at the risk of spoiling a lovely story:

First off, I love this chestnut of a story. It's a terrific study in lateral thinking.

I think the "Neils Bohr" bit is a retcon; previously I saw it end on the "I will give you this fine barometer" line, which is a bit punchier.

But now I'm musing on the ending. I've been thinking about "bubble tests" lately, the SAT etc. I did very well on those, which was a lovely ego boost and a boon for college admission. I'm totally willing to believe there's only a so-so correlation between these tests and "smarts", but I'm unwilling to buy into the idea that "the only thing they test is how well you take tests". My current favorite (untested, but anecdotally supported) theory: there is a surprisingly strong correlation between reading speed and test scores. A number of people who I think of as clever, but they did poorly on the tests have said they aren't such fast readers. (Not sure if it's correlation or causation, but there are some arguments for the latter including being more able to check your work.)

But anyway, that's a tangent. My point was this: when taking a test it's good to be meta- about it. Often a thought about WHY they're asking a particular question, or providing those possible answers, is extremely useful. And I used to be a fighter; if I saw 2 choices that met the question as it was asked and got the right one based on a reading of the metaquestion, I would FIGHT for other kids who got the other "correct but not the right" answer, just because of my sense of justice and fair play.

So, I think asking a question with an "obvious right" answer isn't so bad. I would say that Bohr's other solutions all rely on having other props (a long rope, a stopwatch, a sunny day and a ruler, chalk and idiosyncratically architected stairs, string, rope AND a stopwatch, or a friendly and unusually knowledgeable superintendent.) Plus, several of them would probably cost you the barometer. I think the "correct" answer only requires the barometer and some knowledge. And roof access. But you get to keep the barometer.

Video of the Moment
I don't care who you are or what your life is like, it almost certainly doesn't have enough ninjas on roller skates:

from something to think about

Philosophy of the Moment
Why is it nice to think [that human qualities such as creativity, intuition, consciousness, esthetic or moral judgment, courage or even the ability to be intimidated by Deep Blue are beyond machines in the very long run]? Why isn't it just as nice--or nicer--to think that we human beings might succeed in designing and building brain-children that are even more wonderful than our biologically begotten children? The match between Kasparov and Deep Blue didn't settle any great metaphysical issue, but it certainly exposed the weakness in some widespread opinions. Many people still cling, white-knuckled, to a brittle vision of our minds as mysterious immaterial souls, or--just as romantic--as the products of brains composed of wonder tissue engaged in irreducible non-computational (perhaps alchemical?) processes. They often seem to think that if our brains were in fact just protein machines, we couldn't be responsible, lovable, valuable persons.

Finding that conclusion attractive doesn't show a deep understanding of responsibility, love, and value; it shows a shallow appreciation of the powers of machines with trillions of moving parts.
Dennett is right to point out that saying "Deep Blue wasn't really playing chess, just running algorithms" is bunk. I also buy the idea that Kasparov is doing a similar search (albeit "chunked" differently, with more familiarity with patterns on a more macro scale) and that neither Deep Blue nor Kasparov are that "conscious" of their analytical process as it is happening. But even though the popular culture has an irritating tendency to keep raising the bar of what "Artificial Intelligence" is as soon as the AI researches come up with an approach that beats it, I think Dennett is a bit misleading in painting a symmetry in the training the two "thinking machines" have received:
Much of this analytical work had been done for Deep Blue by its designers, but Kasparov had likewise benefited from hundreds of thousands of person-years of chess exploration transmitted to him by players, coaches, and books.
It's quite reasonable to admire the human as a (for now) unique general purpose learning machine over a one trick pony like a chess-playing computer. Kasparov could probably learn to play a mean game of backgammon in short order, which is more than could be expected of Deep Blue. And even though I think the world champion of Backgammon is yet another computer program, if an entirely new strategy game were to be invented, Kasparov would again have the upper hand in picking it up.

There's an analogy to be made with flight, I think: humans playing chess are the Wright Brothers, learning how to fly. A computer that has been coded to play chess is akin to a bird, shaped by millenniums of evolution that it knows nothing of.

I don't think the difference is permanent: over the decades, we should learn to make better general-purpose learners, and their have been some interesting approaches to building a learner from the bottom up, like Cog and Cyc. Of course, as soon as we build a computer that can design its own smart sequel, we'll hit that Singularity Vinge and Kurzweil are on about.

(That singularity idea is fascinating, as it makes some of those corny old scifi "the computers are out to get us!" clichés a little more plausible, in much the same way I never would have expected a Star-Trekian "the computer is processing so furiously that it's draining the power from the lights!" to be echoed in the battery life of my laptop doing processor-intensive tasks.)

I liked the idea of Fischer Random Chess that Dennett mentions, although it seems a little less amazing to realize it only represents 960 different possible starting positions. (Still, in theory, that would be a 3-orders-of-magnitude increase in the "book") My intuition is that such a game would favor the way computers run through possibilities over the way human grandmasters do it, but maybe that comes from a shallow knowledge of simplistic "look ahead" algorithms.

from winning: everything or only thing?

So last night I'm helping to watch a five-year-old cousin of mine, enlisting my Aunt's GameCube as co-babysitter. Caleb likes two player games but is absolutely shameless in asking to swap controllers whenever I get the least bit ahead.

My Aunt says he reminds me of him at that age.

So despite that, or possibly because of that, I try to help him get a sense of perspective.
"Hey, you know what happens if you lose?"
"Nothing! I still think you're a good kid. But you know what happens if you win?"
"Still nothing! It's just a silly game."
But winning in and of itself was more important than game logic to him and he freely reveled in victory even if it was the result of a last second swap. For some of the latter games I would quietly let him win, but still I wonder which is the best stance to take: to play along and make him happy, or to try and help him put losing a game into perspective.

For if I wasn't letting him win he would have LOST. Oh yes, he would have lost, and sweet victory would have been mine!

from universal healthcare

This was my response to a post on a small private-ish conversation website a friend of mine runs... the original poster linked to this article on the need for universal healthcare. Many of the posters there seem to be libertarian in leaning, and so that influences my tone a bit.

Canadian's healthcare seems reasonably popular among most Canadians I know personally, though there's certainly a group of loudmouth activist detractors from the area.

Public health and sanitation has done more to increase life spans and quality of life than most other individual advances in medical technology, no matter how many anecdotes you think of to the contrary.

I certainly think the freemarket isn't living up to its hype when it comes to say, researching new drugs: the incentive is for companies to tweak old formulas and spend bajillions promoting the hell of stuff (including almost bribing doctors) before it becomes generic, so relatively little money and effort is spent on original, risky, ground breaking research, in lieu of these minor patentable improvements and marketing, marketing, marketing.

(generics; an interesting area for the laissez-fairest. Should we have drug patents or let anyone make any product they can figure out how to duplicate? Who will then bother to research new products? Should the protective role of the FDA go away, replaced, hopefully, by some private concerned folks looking to make a buck? Or just rely on quackery and reputation of medicine providers?)

For myself... well, if I had a reasonable healthcare system to fall back on, I'd feel a bit less constrained as to career paths. Right now, I don't consider any job w/o a big package of medical benefits, but if there were an acceptable fallback, and I mostly had to just plot out rent and food, my life would more free.

One time my doctor (whose practice is an awesome blend of hardcore western medicine rounded out by a respect for and use of some of the best of that hippy stuff; the dude was also my yoga instuctor for 3 years) complained that people accept that they might have to pay a couple hundred for a new exhaust system, but are very uptight about the same kind of money for appointments and treatment and what not. I pointed out to him later that, that's because car costs are ultimately bounded, but health care is not. Worst case scenario, a car is totaled and you have to buy a new one. For medicine though, even if "regular maintenance" is affordable, if something goes wrong, it might go really wrong, and since you can't buy a new body, you're going to be desperate for any treatment that holds promise to fix you. This is why people cling together for health insurance, and why some people think we might get better value-for-money and economics of scale by doing so on a national level.

from on benjamin franklin and his most excellent autobiography, the intentionality of desert areas, and assorted other topicks

So, some closing thoughts on Ben Franklin's Autobiography. (That's a link to the Project Gutenberg etext. It makes me wish print books were more searchable! But, the ASCII text drops the italics.)

I had no idea about Ben Franklin, Swimming Instructor:
On one of these days, I was, to my surprise, sent for by a great man I knew only by name, a Sir William Wyndham, and I waited upon him. He had heard by some means or other of my swimming from Chelsea to Blackfriar's, and of my teaching Wygate and another young man to swim in a few hours. He had two sons, about to set out on their travels; he wish'd to have them first taught swimming, and proposed to gratify me handsomely if I would teach them. They were not yet come to town, and my stay was uncertain, so I could not undertake it; but, from this incident, I thought it likely that, if I were to remain in England and open a swimming-school, I might get a good deal of money; and it struck me so strongly, that, had the overture been sooner made me, probably I should not so soon have returned to America.
It makes me want to posit some crazy alternate history where Ben Franklin stayed and became a swim instructor, and somehow that caused monumental changes in the landscape of international relations with the Revolutionary War being replaced by some kind of swim-off. Ben Franklin-led squads of English Aristocratic swimmers vs a George Washington-coached ragtag squad of Americans... the minutemen, who could swim 5 boat-lengths in that time, or some such, with the fate of colonial independence at stake. (More on the history of swimming strokes, includes a reference to Thévenot, whom Franklin namedrops.)

A recurring theme was about how to conduct oneself during a debate:
I even forbid myself, agreeably to the old laws of our Junto, the use of every word or expression in the language that imported a fixed opinion, such as certainly, undoubtedly, etc., and I adopted, instead of them, I conceive, I apprehend, or I imagine a thing to be so or so, or it so appears to me at present. When another asserted something that I thought an error, I denied myself the pleasure of contradicting him abruptly and of showing immediately some absurdity in his proposition; and in answering, I began by observing that in certain cases or circumstances his opinion would be right, but in the present case there appeared or seemed to me some difference, etc. I soon found the advantage of this charge in my manner; the conversations I engaged in went on more pleasantly.
Now, that's my default way of arguing... except I think my reasons are less valid. I'm deathly afraid of being wrong, so I'll weasel my way into an ultimately unassailable position, hiding behind the final refuge of only describing my subjective observation. (I was also truck by the use of the word "positive", meaning "assured" as opposed to "good"... this usage predates, and preemptively argues against, the philosophy of "positivism" that would emerge later.)

That said, I think I am willing to admit when the thrust of my argument has been thwarted. And sometimes I learn something. This weekend working in Rockport the song "Missing" came on, with its lyric "And I miss you / Like the deserts miss the rain". It's a lovely lyric, but I always wondered if it was reasonable to think of deserts as "missing" the rain. I mean, aren't they in their own way viable ecosystems? EvilB countered with a description of the amazing and awe-provoking flowering that occurs in desert areas when a rain does come, even in regions that have gone for years and years without water. That was an excellent point, but then made me wonder if it's fair to use "the deserts" when you mean "the biomass of the deserts"... he countered with, well yeah, but "and I miss you / like the biomass contained with desert regions miss the rain" just doesn't scan. That got me wondering about what is the intentionality of desert regions? If they have one, than I'd say their longing is to grow, to devour more former woodland and pastures with sand and aridity... in which case they wouldn't miss the rain at all. (They might miss the wind, though, if it wasn't around, to help blow the sand and extend the borders.)

Silly argument, but a fun bit of deconstruction to go along with stripping paint off of deconstructed window moldings, and making it that much more agreeable. (Later he reacted negatively to my saying that he "brought up some good points" as debat-team-ish damning with faint praise, but I was being absolutely sincere.)

Finally, back to Ben and forming an early fire fighting company:
Our articles of agreement oblig'd every member to keep always in good order, and fit for use, a certain number of leather buckets, with strong bags and baskets (for packing and transporting of goods), which were to be brought to every fire;
I guess that speaks of the improvements of fire fighting technology over the years, that you'd see situations where there'd be a fire at a neighbors, and the safest thing to do is to bug out with your stuff, but you need something to pack it in. (Though as he noted: "since these institutions, the city has never lost by fire more than one or two houses at a time, and the flames have often been extinguished before the house in which they began has been half consumed" - that's actually quite a record!) It also reflects how consumer goods have become much cheaper in the meanwhile, and, I think, buildings more expensive.

(Heh, even when I write this, I have to remove many instances of "I think" and "I guess". I shouldn't hedge my bet quite so often when I write, but it's my nature to do so.)

Now Reading: Eleanor Rigby by Douglas Coupland

PS After the video I posted the other day, EvilB wanted me to assure his wife that those balloons, having had a happy time celebrating their daughter's first birthday, were old, sick, and tired, and despite the growling and goofiness, it was actually euthanasia... see, balloons don't want solemnity and dignity when it's time for them to move on, it's just not in their nature.

from and this is what i had for lunch today

There's this theme that's been recurring in much of my recent reading, especially Oliver Sack's "An Anthropologist on Mars", how there are some non-subjective elements to life out there, universally human factors, like flow... in the sense that some people who seem to have profound deficiencies in, say, completing tasks, in being functional in the world, in putting one subtask properly after another, can sometimes get by if they put it to music, or if they are working with some other art form that has a certain internal consistency or logic... a flow.

Maybe it's a stretch, but I was reminded of that with how I was arranging my keys as of late. For a long while, I've been able to limit the keys in my pocket to a clicker for my car, a large-ish car key, and a smaller house key. My new job gave me a key to the restroom, and I really had to think about what kind of arrangement of the three keys was most intuitive to me , so I wouldn't have to think about it. The house and restroom are both unlocked with the teeth face up, so that was the first step of the arrangement. The clicker goes in my palm. Putting each small key on either side of the big key was too symmetrical. Then I thought the most intuitive arrangement was to put the house key next to the car key, since the house and the car are in closer proximity to each other than the job is to either.

But that was wrong... the best arrangement is with the restroom on the "inside" of the other two keys, since I'm already inside (a hallway) when I go to use it, and I'm standing outside when I use the housekey. That seems to be the logic my subconscious mind is using, and life has better flow when I respect that.

I'm aware that by itself "this is how I put the keys on my keyring" sounds like the worst kind of "who else in the world cares?" blogging, but that's just because I'm not doing a good enough job of going into the sense of "flow" that it represents for me, and the implications of that.

Images of the Moment
--Leave it to the Germans to do photoresearch into that age old question, What's the last thing to go through a bug's mind when it hits your windshield?

Dumb Question of the Moment
"...You ok?"
Jonathan King and Michael Holmes, after Holmes fell about 12,000 feet when his parachutes didn't open.
The video shows Holmes checking his altimer, saying "bye", and then his perspective under from under his failed chute... then you see the same scene from King's perspective. It wasn't QUITE freefall, but man...

from and time... go-o-o-es by... so slowly...

I don't know if it's the stress of a new job or what, but MAN is this week crawling by.

But... it is March!

Tribute of the Moment
Today we take a moment to praise the accordian.

Here is a picture that includes my mom playing the accordion. I believe this is some kind of mission work from the School for Officer's Training, the Salvation Army's version of seminary.

The accordion is in that category of comedic "no one really wants to hear it" instruments, alongside the bagpipes and to a lesser extent the tuba. This is why in his early days, "Weird Al" mined the thing for comedic gold.

I'm not sure why the instrument is so disrespected. Both tuba and accordion may be tainted by its association with Polka, a lively folkish tradition music that now seems unbearably corny in the modern vernacular.

But the accordion is a terrific instrument, combining the melodic capabilities of the piano, the polyphonic chordal ability of an organ, and the emotional expressiveness of a string instrument, where the player has great control over the volume and feel of the sound through the physical control over the bellows.

Plus, it's portable in a way other (non-electronic) keyboard instruments aren't . When my folks were stationed at Salvation Army churches that lacked a pianist she would haul her accordion out for all the Sunday School Songs.

So, a little love for the accordion, an instrument that gets the kind of derision that should be reserved for the saxophone.

Link of the Moment
Boston PD: Putting the 'error' in 'terror.'
Bruce Schneier
As his blog piece helps to point out, if the Boston Police say they think it was a bomb, someone must have tried to make them think it was a bomb, or they found it useful to act as if that was the case.

from february stumbles to an inglorius end

Whoo, what a day, Dow dropping, Cheney ducking, Iranians thought to be scoping out the Big Apple.... that last ones kind of spooky. Sees like any war in Iran might be brought home to us. Reminds me a bit of WW2 worries about German saboteurs.

Ramble of the Moement
One thing about travelling... it gives me time to read, and also tends to give me ideas to write about. Which might be a result of the reading, or me just turning into some kind of Andy Rooney like crank about travel, as per my earlier ranting about how irritating airlines can be. Who knows... maybe finally returning to a public transit commute (wow, since before I started journaling on kisrael instead of my Palm pilot) will encourage me to be a little more externally reflective.

Anyway, Mr. Ibis suggested Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink" (a book that roughly lived up to its title in terms of how quickly I got through it. Grumblesmurf.) It was a neat book about the snap decisions we make, with lots of amazing anecdotes, like how the "Pepsi Challenge" gave Coke the terrible idea to make New Coke, not realizing that the sweeter first anonymous sip of Pepsi gave it an edge that wouldn't last for a whole can, and how this one researcher John Gottmann can watch a few minutes of couples arguing (in an odd bit of synchronicity, hypothetical couples in the book had the name of my Aunt and Uncle (page 19) and then my grandparents (page 60)) and reliably foretell the relationship future of the pair.

One interesting bit was how some "gamblers", asked to pick at whim from a red deck or a blue deck, the former stocked with big payouts but, in the long run, bigger losses, and the latter being the only sustainable-y good choice. According to various sweat sensors and the like, the subconscious started realizing the problem with red before behavior changed, and way before the person was able to talk about the difference. I had a similar situation with the video game "Grand Theft Auto: San Andres". When you flip over to the map screen the game shows the player's position with an ornate "gang tattoo gothic arrow". I was kind of irritated that the game used an artsy icon rather than something simpler that could show which compass direction my player was facing. BUT... I realized that I was making a much than chance guess at which way I was heading. The ornate arrow was re-orienting itself to point the way, and my hindbrain knew it, but my conscious mind didn't! (This, of course, also points out the odd occasional rigidity of my otherwise tangental thinking; of course they wouldn't rotate a fancy arrow, games like this don't do a lot of rotation of 2D bitmaps, only 2- and 3-D polygons.)

So you start the book, and the opening stories make it sound as if it might be an optimistic "trust your instincts" kind of tome, but with a few exceptions (like students reliably able to gauge the effectiveness of a teacher after just seconds of video footage, and the thing with the cards) but then there's a cavalcade of counter examples, from the snap judgment of the Amadou Diallo slaying to the election of pretty boy Warren Harding. So the lessons I actually took from the book are: So it's not all that useful. Though it seems like that kind of relationship assessment test could be an enormous boon to humanity, though of course it would be devastating to couples who did poorly, with a 10-15% false negative rate. There's gotta be some money in that.

I think I should be less concerned about snap judgements about music, however. Listening to a few moments of an MP3 I've heard before should let me figure out how to categorize it.

So overall the book was interesting enough to be worthwhile, but I kind of wish it hasn't been 2 years and counting waiting for a paperback version.

from on "a short history of myth"

(1 comment)
I just finished Karen Armstrong's "A Short History of Myth". (I was supposed to read it for my UU Church's Science and Spirituality group, but then the Florida trip came up, so I read it in the airport and the first leg of the flight and wrote this.)

So her final chapter argues that the West is really hurting from its lack of mythology; that logos, thought/reason, has reigned surpreme for a long time, and while in many ways it has made life better for the people of those cultures, it hasn't been providing the ultimate answers that those people, neurotic and confused as we are, need.

She seems to especially criticize the attempts to reconcile rationality with myth, claiming that these were paths tried and found wanting in Judaism and Islam, but that Protestant Evangelicalism carries on the hopeless and painful struggle.

That certainly rings true with my interpretation of the tradition I grew up in. I've heard it said that if Christ has not literally risen from the dead, if other events are allegorical instead of literal, if the Bible has not received special divine protection in every verse, than the whole game is up. (Actually the Bible verse is "And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain" (1 Cor. 15:14))

That's a very brittle kind of spirituality to have, if you take the obvious literal reading of that line.

And then, even within Christianity, there are things I've been taught that only now do I realize aren't considered fundamental Christian tenants. Armstrong argues that the Orthodox, for example, haven't embraced the rationalist doctrine, are content with a great deal of Mystery, don't buy into the whole original sin idea, and maybe God would have come to us in the form of Jesus even if Adam hadn't sinned. (On the other hand, when confronted with someone looking to pick a rationalist fight, they'll mention this annual Easter candle lighting miracle that takes place in the Holy Land. Given that the person channeling the miracle is searched to not have any lighting implements before going off in secret but that self-lighting candles have been known for a long while, I'm a little skeptical.)

(remake of an old comic of mine)

So, I'm struggling to understand how people accept things that are mythically true, but not factual "reality". I guess it's harder to do in a highly connected world. Historically, you experience myth by soaking it in as your immersed in your culture... but when you start to notice that other peoples believe other things, your own beliefs might start seeming arbitrary. Maybe even evil! Decartes was driven to hunt for first principles when he noticed he couldn't know if his whole external experience was really the result of a demon trying to trick him. (And I know I started to stray from my Protestant heritage when I started realizing that if I had grown up in an Islamic tradition rather than as the son of Protestant ministers, I'd probably be just as fervent about a totally different belief.)

Armstrong thinks that we look to find our myths in cultural figures, like Elvis and Princess Di. And maybe retell our mythologies in great art, like Guernica and "The Wasteland".

Maybe the purest modernist mythology we can have is science fiction. By telling stories of the future, we can escape our paranoia that the stories aren't "really real", because they sit in the realm of Might Be rather than Was. (For the record, this is also the explanation I gave for preferring "space" Legos; cars in the present and castles in the past don't have little dots all over them... but the spaceships of the future might.) Of course, this is slightly more true for Star Trek than Star Wars, the latter just seperating itself by being "a long time ago in a glaxy far far away".

I dunno, just a thought. It certainly puts the hard core fan in a new light. Maybe the overweight fanboy in the full Klingon regalia, browsing memorabilia at the local convention is really a shaman for the modern age.
Trying to channel pre-new-job nervous energy into straightening the apartment. The problem remains the same: pick a task, finish a task even when I the task takes me to a different room where other tasks start beckoning.

from high hobby horse

Decluttering. It's kind of stalled and I no longer have the excuse of job interviews and stuff like that. It had been going so well though! Must willpower my way through this.

Next target: a milk crate full of neglected Atari 2600 games that I generally have emulated as well. The only thing I want to keep around are multiplayer games (admittedly a bit optimistic, but I hope that retro vibe can hit now and then among some of my gaming buddies) and the hardware itself.

On a video game message board, one that's prone to over-analyzing and sometimes pretentious pondering, "Nana Komatsu" wrote (in a thread on looking for "spiritual uplift" in games)
I've found that we sometimes outgrow our hobbies and yet because we feel attachment to them we try to find things that are not there.
Boy. Ain't that the truth. Like Arlo of "Arlo and Janis" said:
As I get older, I don't enjoy the same things I once enjoyed.
But I enjoy new and different things!

I just don't enjoy them as much as I used to
enjoy the things I no longer enjoy.
I think that can be part of a defensive mechanism as well. Hobbies help form our identity; unlike family and job and even friends, a hobby is a deliberate choice, a specific and focused decision to divert attention and resources into an idiosyncratic pursuit.

Sometimes I feel as if turning my back on old hobby is a rejection of the "old me".

Sometimes I feel like rejecting the "old me" is more difficult than it should be, that it forces me to admit I'm fallible in ways I'm not entirely comfortable dealing with. Which is a pathologically off-kilter way of being, but I don't know if a force of will could shake that, and I'm afraid of what kind of external event it would take to put me on sounder footing.

(Which is crazy, right? I mean I admit that I'm wrong all the time, but I think it's some kind of subconscious effort to lose the battles and win the war, of some sort of insane superlative pedestal my self-image tries to insist on.)

Any of you know what I'm talking about there? Is it that unusual? Some sort of horrific side-effect of being an only child growing up in neighborhoods without a lot of kids?

from more longwinded angst, delivered right to your door!

Last night I had another small introspective break through. Lately I've been thinking about two central and separate concerns:

One is that I employ several non-helpful, fretful and angsty avoidance strategies to put off work that I feel even remotely insecure about. For a while I've been working with the assumption that this springs from a need to protect a weirdly inflated subconscious image I have of myself of being the smartest guy in the room.... that it seems better to not try and have something fail than to give it my best, still fail, and then be "dangerously aware" of my personal limitations.

Two is an abject fear of being helpless, and also being unable to help someone else who is helpless. I've always though this might have sprung from seeing my dad get sick and die when I was a young teenager. It's almost a little trite to blame the death of a parent, but still that was a very harsh lesson that things don't always work out for the best.

But...what if the self-limiting behaviors of the first point spring less from this inflated ego thing -- because I know I'm at least consciously able to have a realistic idea of my place under the bell curve, despite being an only child -- and are actually just a response to the fears of the second? Could there be this element that I'm afraid a given tactical situation, like at work, might be "the one", the intractable problem that just can't be solved by me, or the group, within the parameters of time and resources of the assignment? That I'm not seeking to avoid knowledge of my own limitations, but of the fact that the universe has no obligation to seem "fair" to me?

I guess the negative behaviors probably spring from both concepts, protection of an inflated ego, and from knowledge of an callously indifferent world. But the thought of a "fear of helplessness" might have reverberations even in my day-to-day worklife was a wake-up.

I guess that's an advantage people with faith in an Activist kind of God have: a fallback position that no matter how craptacular any given situation seems, someones got their back, or failing that, it's a negative part of some positive master plan, or failing that, it doesn't have too much of an impact on the only thing that really matters, which is one's eternal fate.

Icons of the Moment
So I'm heading to Delaware tonight. I'll be staying again at the Brandywine Suites, near the trainstation there. I just have to say, I enjoyed this big mass of icons that shows up on their "Check Availability" page, even though there are some repeats. It's just such a nice study in minimalist iconography.... each icon is on a little 13x13 canvas, and I know from experience that that's not a lot to work with.

from on sirlin

The other day in a GamersQuart thread about Smash Brothers and "being sporting" and shunning weird and obscure tactics vs just playing as hard as possible, someone referenced Sirlin.

He argues that playing to win every time is the best path, and that people who don't are "scrubs" who don't know what they're missing and who will be forever limited by their own choices. He presents some compelling arguments, and is worth the read, but I had a few objections I'd like to bounce off of people here:

First off, Play to Win exhibits great faith in game designers, that in "99.9%" of the situations, there isn't a simple strategy that wins over all others, or that the community will serve to eliminate those games that do fall to a simple pattern. So therefore, any arbitrary restrictions by "scrubs" are largely pointless and out of the true spirit of gaming. But Sirlin himself points out some exceptions to this, cases where the "Pros" agree it is justified. Essay 1 talks about Akuma:
But the first version of Street Fighter to ever have a secret character was Super Turbo Street Fighter with its untouchably good Akuma. Most characters in that game cannot beat Akuma. I don't mean it's a tough match--I mean they cannot ever, ever, ever, ever win.[...] the community as a whole has unanimously decided to make the rule: "don't play Akuma in serious matches."
Also from the mailbag
Roll canceling is a bug requiring difficult timing that allows a player to have many invulnerable moves that the game designers never intended. [...]Should roll canceling be banned? I'm pretty sure it meets the standard of "warranted" since I'm satisfied that under serious tournament conditions, the game completely fell apart into a joke
So, there at least some cases where restrictions are acceptable... therefore, the question is just one of degree.

Then, in describing his own feats he talks about his moves of doing a defensive move until his opponent finally does something stupid:
For example, an opponent faced with my "jumping straight up and down Zangief" could simply decide to back off and wait. What he might not realize is that I have unlimited patience. Since my brick wall in this case is keeping me even (I'm not falling behind) I'm happy to do it forever, which is probably much longer than he's willing to avoid the battle. Most opponents lack the will to avoid battle forever, and will eventually enter into it at a disadvantage out of impatience.
I assume the game would time out if both players took this kind of tactic, and it would end in a tie (correct me if I'm wrong) So Sirlin is relying on the other player having slightly more devotion to the game not being utterly pointless, while all he will ever care about is winning.

He makes a bigger philosophical defense of the pursuit of the truly optimal strategies
Imagine a majestic mountain nirvana of gaming. At its peak are fulfillment, "fun", and even transcendence. Most people could care less about this mountain peak, because they have other life issues that are more important to them, and other peaks to pursue. There are few, though, who are not at this peak, but who would be very happy there.
I think his assumption of it being the "happiest" peak is unfounded (in fact, elsewhere he argues that amateur chess players have more fun than the pros) but at least he also points out the possibilities of other peaks. (Also, there's an interesting dependency, then, on being surrounded by similar caliber players, and possibly even doing research out of the game, like online...)

He puts forward some thought-provoking ideas, and I've even put his book on my Amazon wishlist but if taken too seriously, he can be almost Nietchian or Ayn-Randian in outlook. It's a short hop from him applying this kind of gamesmanship to the show "Survivor" to thinking about how the ideas might be applied to real life. And that leads to some profound questions, what's really worth pursuing in life? and how do you tell if you succeed?

There are some "obvious" possible metrics, like money. So maybe everyone should work to maximize their money. And some people do. But that leads to smack into a fundamental issue with the outlook, the "Tragedy of the Commons". Case in point: Spam. Spam, to some large degree, is effective, and people following this kind of "screw everything else I'm gettin' mine" outlook make life a bit more miserable for everyone, filling inboxes to overflowing and turning innocent folk's PCs into spam-spewing Zombies. Clearly, this isn't the path to the best balance in life.

(In practice of course, some of this all comes down to me being total crap at the type of fighter games he's so good at. In fact, a lot of what he describes requires an ability to emulate and even visually observe that I'm not sure that I have. The first mountain for the newbie player to climb is recognizing what the opponent is doing and how, and that's actually pretty tough in and of itself.)

from music and me

I've been thinking about my relationship to music.

I've taken pride in my music collection, (ironically, both for its selectiveness , and for its bulk) many many CDs currently residing in 4 massive black binders, even though it didn't really get started until college. I made some great mixtapes back in the day, if I do say so myself. And it all seemed to jive well with my band involvement, and singing a cappella w/ sQ, the whole idea of me being a "music person".

The first step was admitting to myself that I really don't like jazz and classical that much, even though I had been trying to force it since fifth grade or so. Like it says on my bio page, I've managed to distill my appreciation of music into 3 broad ideas: lyrics, rhythm, and clever hooks. Since jazz and classical generally miss out on the first of those, a work in either genre has to rely on 2 and 3 if it's going to capture my interest. I have little patience for slow classical or noodling jazz.

But then over the last decade, I really cut back on how much I listen to music. Judging by the increasing density of my CD binders I'm still purchasing CDs, but I' not going back to old CDs all that much. These days I largely treat music as background. Most of the music I listen to is the high energy, non-distracting "party mix" stuff I find immensely useful in aiding in focus as I work. (Recently I bumped up from a 1.5 hour party mix to a much longer 8.2 hour mix.)

Theoretically I'm open to a wider variety of music as I drive, but that's stunted by my forgetting to refresh the pile of CDs I have in the car, and then often preferring some variety of news, sports, or talk radio when I'm driving on my own. (I had an iPod for a short while, but I've come to the conclusion that it'd only be useful for me on a public transportation commute, and even then I'd rather have a good book.)

Another admission, and judging by the success of iTunes, I'm not alone in this, is that I usually only like a few songs per CD. Most of the rest feels like filler, though one man's filler is another's best song ever. Sometimes friends offer to share their entire MP3 collection with me, and...wow. It's almost tough to admit but I have so little urge to bring new music into my life in a wholesale kind of way. In general, I'll randomly hear a song (or see a movie with a good soundtrack), buy the CD, listen to it, and find maybe one or two other songs I like besides what I bought it for. So being shoved into a realm of thousands of new tunes just seems... overwhelming. A vast amount of someone else's coal to find a few potential diamonds.

I'm feeling the urge to try to make the canoncial distillation of my CD collection, MP3s of just the stuff I like (and wouldn't skip if it came up in a random selection) and skipping the filler. On the one hand, if I was succesful with a project like that, I'd be worried because the songs that didn't make the cut that day would be almost totally ignored. On the other hand, it's worlds better than the status quo, where only the songs that had made it onto my "party mixes" or into the smaller CD wallet for my car get regular attention.

Once I had that "best of" collection, I'd further need to winnow it down to "party/work", "potentially sensual", and "other". And that would be it. I worry about the amount of effort it would take though... I'd have to trust in my ability to quickly judge a song by just hearing the begining and maybe a chunk in the middle. Which is actually pretty reliable, though I'm sure a few good songs would slip through the cracks. The BIG problem comes from the songs that are luke-warm, neither hot nor cold...

Toy of the Moment
Speaking of all things musical, or at least audio, the Whitney Music Box is a cool (if somewhat repetitive) series of toys exploring the relationship between sound and spiral space. Very Space Age!

Video of the Moment
OK, this is a video of someone doing very well at the "Home Run Contest" in Super Smash Brothers Melee, where a character has to beat up a "heavy bag" and then use a power move to send it flying for distance:

But it's probably the most concise video showing for showing something that drives me NUTS about the game... in the final "5, 4, 3, 2, 1" countdown, I swear that the announcer's pronunciation of "five" sounds more like "three" than it does "five". Can people weigh in? Is it just an aural quirk of mine, or is it spoken kind of oddly? (Another odd thing is I don't remember noticing it for the first few years I owned the game, but now it grabs my attention every time.)

from in the zones

For a while now... maybe since Dylan moved to San Diego... I haven't had any trouble keeping Timezones straight for the USA. But yesterday one of the guys at work gathered people for a teleconference 4 hours too early because he did the math wrong for the Mountain time zone. (subtracted 2 when he should have added)

My trick involves a certain physicality: in effect, it's as if I'm overlaying the United States on the top half of a clock:
Then, it's easy to grasp how a mental timezone journey's west sets the clock back one hour. Each hop to the west has a matching hop backwards on the clock. (Hopefully my super-crude diagram makes things more clear, not less.)

Prior to this, I also mixed up how many hours back to go for, say, California time... I have little problem recalling that the country has 4 timezones, but before this "3 hops back system" it was easy to make what computerists call a fencepost error and subtract 4 instead of 3.

PS Am I crazy in remembering that Windows used to have a much niftier "timezone" interface that would highlight the area of the timezone as you selected it, and maybe even let you select a timezone by clicking on your area? My install of XP has a select list and then a static map of the world beneath, with no obvious interaction between the two. It almost feels as if some retarded patent stopped Microsoft from having the niftier UI.

Quote of the Moment
I read the book of Job last night. I don't think God comes well out of it.
Virgina Woolf.
Synchronicity: David Plotz' Blogging the Bible makes it sounds like the book of Joshua can have a similar effect.

from a grand unifying theory of kirky's brain

This might be another one of those big old self-centered introspection rambles. Actually, it feels like I haven't done one of these in a while, but I'm not sure. Oddly, that uncertainty ties into the theme of the ramble: I'm vigorously trying to figure out what are the strengths and weaknesses of my brain, and from there, me as a person (in particular, as a techie kind of person.) And I know from experience that I don't always have the best recall of what I've written, or sometimes what I've read, even when the topic was that topic of greatest personal interest, Me. (In the year or so after the divorce, I think Mo might have gotten the worst of that weird forgetfulness, and she ended up feeling like I was asking her to say the same things over and over again via e-mail.)

It's surprisingly difficult to objectively determine my strengths and weaknesses. Whether that's just a fundamental limitation of self-aware beings, or from years of going through a school system that sometimes valued self-esteem over personal achievement, or self-evaluation being one of my personal "weak" areas, or what, I'm not sure.

What started me musing on this lately is this dumb Atari Age flamewar. "Random Terrain" (who reports to have Asperger's Syndrome) thought that my dislike of pretending that the ship in Asteroids was actually piloted by the Star Wars guys, or thinking that "Pitfall!" might not have been inspired by "Raiders of the Lost Ark" because Pitfall Henry has none of the visual cues of Indiana Jones implies that I suffer from a certain rigidity in thinking (a condition he has himself struggled with.)

This accusation irked me to no end. And so I've been trying to think of solid examples of good flexible thinking in my life. Of course, the first things I think of our my limitations. Like listening to Paul Simon... I feel like there's a tiny chance I could have picked up on "Slip-Slidin' Away" as a lyric, but I don't think I could have thought to follow it up with "The nearer your destination, the more you're slip-slidin' away." Tim points out that trying to go against Paul Simon as a lyricist is kind of like berating myself for not being able to hold my own against Michael Jordan in one-on-one, but still. (I don't have the book in front of me, but one idea in Horby's "Polysyllabic Spree" that blew me away is that he thinks it's not coming up with content that's difficult, it's the writing itself. The main reason I don't write much fiction is that I can't think of the plot, or the point of what I want to say. And if writing is though part, why does so much literature feel semi-autobiographical?) )

These ideas really seem to important to me as my profession as a software developer, since in some ways it is the "life of the mind"... the geek mind, but still the mind. On many fronts I suffer in comparison to Tim, who has a very powerful recollection and an ADD-fueled ability to see the forest and the trees at the same time. I really envy his memory sometimes; mine seems terrible, and I'm constantly having to supplement my own weak one with written text files and little databases. (Of course, he rightly thinks that my biggest problem as a developer is lack of confidence, which ties into how I get intimidated by any project that might show I'm not as smart as I like to assume I am.)

But... I fancy myself a smart guy. But if it's not memory, and if I'm not particularly good at puzzles, and maybe not even imaginative thinking, what the hell am I good at?

I think I'm good at seeing connections. My thought patterns tend to be tremendously tangential, so it stands to reason that I might be better than average at tracing thoughts and seeing connections.

Mentally, I'm pretty fast. They say there's a tremendous correlation between reading speed and standardized test scores. I always had time to go back and double check every answer, and then some.


You know what that means? Maybe I'm smart in the same way a computer is good at chess. Not really smart-smart, not particularly great with patterns or new ideas, but able to spin out a whirlwind of permutations and combinations and tangents, discarding bad ideas with filters on the fly, and fast, fast, fast. Maybe this IS one of my introspection Holy Grails: the Grand Unifying Theory of my brain. I'll have to live with this idea for a while and see what I make of it over time. I know it help explains a certain type of joke I make frequently, where I mishear something, autocorrect it, but notice that the misheard version is a bit funny, and then act as if that's what I thought was said.

This really gets me wondering, how different can brains be, like on a physiological basis? You hear stories where people lose half their brain matter, but the rest learns to compensate. And because we have so much in common, language, human experience in general, it's easy to think that the processes underneath those layers are pretty much the same. But who knows... maybe as we construct our brains growing up (a biological constructive imperative, like a spider is compelled to make webs), we end up with brains that are really quit different, even if they all fit somewhere on the same bellcurves of multiple intelligence.

from begining to give up her fight

There's no denying it, while I was in California New England switched from blistering heat to a definite feeling that summer is thinking about packing up the beachtowel back in the canvas bag, taking down the umbrella, and trying to think of a nice place to go for dinner, some place with decent wine, or maybe just good sangria.

FoSO and I had this exchange,starting with me:
I don't dig the end of summer. Just because I'm so mediocre at taking advantage of the season as a whole.
what a strange reason. i don't like summer because it's generally too hot and sticky. fall is what i'm all about. that end of summertime feel to the air makes me all nostalgic for school and new jeans and notebooks and pencils. and i can't wait for apples and fall leaves and all that goodness! mmmm.
For me Summer is all about long days and doing whatever the hell you want for most of it.
It's the smell of sunblock and sweat after a day of roller coasters and fair food, the girl in the tanktop, rubbing in aloe to soothe the touch of sunburn and huddling together under a comforter to hide from the just a bit-too-much-AC room while watching some vaguely-artsy comedy movie on video.
Fall is...well, early fall is ok, where it combines the long days and energy of late summer with the clean slate of a new school year, but then the season progresses and nature sheds its lushness and gets ready for hibernation.
I guess it almost strikes me as odd that people can have different favorite seasons, given that I see summer as such a clear champ. So what about it, what's your favorite season, and why?

(Speaking of seasons, today is the final in the "Where The Heart Is" series, which means I should go ahead and make that calendar program I was planning to with it...)

Art of the Moment

click for fullsize

"December", by Timna Woollard
from Where The Heart Is.

Game of the Moment
DICEWARS is a nice little Risk-type game. It's pretty much self-explanatory, except you get extra dice armies based on how many connected territories you own. <SPOILER type="strategy" method="highlight to read">the trick is to play it pretty defensive for the most part. Always putting up a good front is more important than maximizng territory</SPOILER>

from brigadier frank moody, 1912.07.28 - 2006.05.28

Yesterday was the memorial service for my Great Uncle Frank Moody. We learned he used to quip that with a name Nathaniel Francis Moody he had all his bases covered... Nathaniel the disciple of Jesus, Saint Francis so revered among Catholics, and the great protestant evangelist DL Moody.

He had been cremated, so there was the urn (a sealed green marble box) at the front, with some photographs of him...when he was young he looked a bit like Valentino, actually. He was a Brigadier in the Salvation Army and so the service was Salvationist, with a small brass ensemble, and everyone singing... the upbeat rendition of Beulah Land with clapping during the chorus (after the presiding officer mentioned Uncle Franks love of shaking a tambourine to that song) was really moving, I think more so than a somber song would have been at that point.

Afterwards I got to catch up with the Scheinfeldt cousins, always a blast. I learned some of them check out this site from time to time, guess I have to watch myself in this place.

Sometimes when I hear scripture these days, I'm struck at the similarities among Judaism, Christianity, and Islam... sometimes I realize that the tone of the Bible is often closer to its "desert religion" roots than the Westernized interpretation I grew up in, a little more harsh, a certain Middle Eastern spiritual vibe. It's hard to put my finger on exactly.

Actually, something in the service made me think about a theological point. One of the readings was from 1 Corinthians, about the resurrection of the dead at the world. But also during the service, the idea that Uncle Frank had already received his place in Heaven was expressed. I've definitely heard more about the second idea, from cartoons about people up at the pearly gates to words of comfort during funerals. The two ideas aren't easily reconciled, though I guess they don't quite contradict each other either.

I got to talking to Ksenia about Russian Orthodox thought. It has a few interesting ideas...after someone's death there's a 40-day period before the person's fate is determined. Friends and Family can pray and try to help the person get into Heaven and not Hell...but then, it sounds like that's not the eternal reward or punishment, but just what goes on until the end of the world, at which point the sacrifice and atonement of Jesus Christ should allow everyone to live in the new kingdom. It's an interesting idea, and I appreciate the relative lack of eternal hellfire.

In reading the full 1 Corinthians chapter, it resolved one thing for me... I that that bodily resurrection is an important idea for many sects, which is why some shun organ donation (that shunning is a tremendous humanist sin, I'd say) and cremation. But verses 35-38 cover that, and use a metaphor how just like you plant a seed, not wheat itself, to get wheat, there might not be a 1:1 correspondance between this body and the next.

Tangent, in writing about this I wanted to find out if the traditional Jewish dislike of tattoos has any roots in an idea about resuurection and I found this page. Ideas like not wanting to echo the tattoos Holocaust as well as "this body is like a loaner car, you want to keep it in good condition" get more play than any talk of resurrection. But I did learn that there's Jewsploitation band, probably a parody of the White Supremicist group Skrewdriver, called "Jewdriver".


from it all adds up

I've noticed that for every current front page entry, I've had a bit of non-"of the Moment" rambling. I know I've fretted about the balance of quotes-and-links to Kirk's ramblings before (and that that navel-gazing fretting probably doesn't make the most exciting reading) but I think for a while I'd like to make some non-"Moment" content a daily occurrence on this site.

Non-Moment of the Moment
Yesterday our lead engineer Tim was talking about his ADD and the ways he has of coping with it. He mentioned a bit of "self-medication" with caffeine, and it reminded me of Mo saying how stuff like Ritalin calms a person with ADD down but has the opposite effect on people without the condition. Same with caffeine, though "opposite effect" isn't quite accurate in either case. I only sort of remember Tim's explanation of exciters and inhibitors in the brain chemistry but it seemed to make sense of that counter-intuitive idea.

Tim's geekish computer metaphor for his head was like a terrific multithreaded processor without a scheduler, or with a poor one. One trick people with ADD pick up on is "self-medicating" with something distracting to occupy one of the threads that would otherwise start pushing the rest of the brain around, looking for something to do... he talked about how his own son will play contentedly with Legos for hours if there's a TV on, but turn it off and he'll wander off within minutes. Same goes for the daughter of a friend of his and having music on while doing homework.

He also mentioned how for someone growing up with ADD, things change as the brain matures and gets older, and that made me think about some differences I've noted in my own ability to focus. I don't think I have ADD proper, but might have had a bit of a similar chemistry especially when I was younger. But I've noticed how I used to like random music on when I wanted to hunker down and focus, but now it has to be music I'm very familiar with... preferably energetic, so I can tap into the energy as well. Tim also talked about how he's gotten very good at balancing his own head, but sometimes he'll get virtually indistractable as every thread gets focused on different elements of the same problem. I remember something like that happening when I was a kid, where I'd get so engulfed in a book that I'd ignore my name being called, though I haven't noticed that happening to me so much lately.

Video of the Moment
Wow, BoingBoing's description and photo of this golem suit was impressive enough, but check out the video. D+Dish geekery at its very finest!

I'm very impressed with youtube's performance. They seem to have great bandwidth and/or efficiency, because videos seem to always start right up, and because of their custom player, there's never a hassle with drivers...I guess the downside is there might not be an easy way of saving a video...

from the designers of diabolical dumbth

So, I felt as if I'm at a bit of a loss for content today... nothing wallowing in my backlog jumped out at me.

Here's something that was near the top of my backlog, but was more there for convenience than something I meant to post: The Designers of Diabolical Dumbth List. A bit like This Is Broken or We Hates Software, but more personal, a list maybe I'll just keep editing in place in this entry, like my Project Todo list.

I want to focus on things that just seem stupid, for which the mitigating factors are weak or non-existent, and that have made my life worse in some small fashion. Alright, that's it for now. Feel free to chip in with anything you've seen that drives you nuts....

from lonely the only

Hey does anyone have a Windows 98 CD about? I'm trying to get some old hardware up and about.

Ramble of the Moment
Lately I've been thinking about how being an only child, along with living in some neighborhoods without many kids my own age, might have molded me, and what influence it might've had on my introverted streak.

I "moved around a lot as a kid", and it was always just me and my folks. From the ages of about 4-8 I lived in a little town called Salamanca, and as far as I can recall was mostly on my own in terms of freetime...I think before and after I had more friends contact, but after, it was generally having one or two close friends at a time.

Maybe though I have a kind of unrealistic vision of other folks' childhoods, running around in "Li'l Rascals" type groups, learning through experience about all kinds of social rituals that I'm still a newbie on. Maybe most people tend to have one or two close friends besides their usual schoolmates, and the tribalish neighborhood gang thing is the exception. On the other hand, a lot of people have siblings.

I can think of a few implications of this kind of background, though I can't always be sure about the nature vs. nurture aspects (as far as I can tell, a kind of "attention seeking introversion" runs through my family a bit.) For one thing, a lot of my pleasures are solitary (no, I'm not talking about that one)... I think in my current relationship with Ksenia, I feel more drawn to doing couple-compatible-things, like watching a video, even when I'd much rather work on my independent projects. It's not forced by her, it's not even quite because of guilt, but kind of a feeling of...I don't know, responsiblity, or what "should" be done. Not that I mind watching the videos or anything. Also I think sometimes she wants a kind of coupley snugglehood that just doesn't come instictively for me. I can undestand it but I don't grok it at all.

The other thing implication, and this comes somewhat from those "birth order" books, is how being a bright beloved only child got me used to being both the center of attention as well as not having serious competition for most achievements. The unfortunate side effect of this is I usually try to avoid "contests" where I don't think I'm likely to "win"...like I've said before, I hate things that remind me I'm not the smartest and bestest guy in the city. I prefer the illusion that I would be crownable as God-King of the Universe, the Watchman of Wit, the Vishnu of Videogames, the Programmer Papa Smurf, the Crowned Champ of Creative Expression, if only I really set my mind to it. But I can't be bothered, so I'm just here at my station in life.

Link of the Moment
Oh look, as if we only children didn't have enough already, our own website complete with a list of famous only children. (Yeesh, are we in that much of a minority?)

from todo tada

Kirkminutiae of the Moment
Ways I've had of organizing my ToDos, ending with a new system I'm particularly pleased with...
Stickies and Spindle
I'd right things on stickies, and then stick them on a spindle when they were complete.
PROS: Visceral pleasure of impaling stickies, can use physical placement of stickies to makes subasks or to re-arrange priority, have tangible record of what was done.
CONS: stickies don't stick to cube walls that well, so I had to designate deskspace as "sticky land". Also, generally disorganized looking, and it got pretty easy to loose stickies.
I do tend to keep my personal ToDos on Palm, and a while back I thought about what my Ideal Palm ToDo app would be like
PROS: With me all the time. Very neat and orderly.
CONS: Old tasks tend to linger-- too low of a "nag" factor, and not much to show other people. Clunky reordering, and no concept of "subtasks". Plus, completed tasks pretty much go away when you "purge completed tasks".
PROS: Kind of fun, and you can be very expressive in terms of priority.
CONS: Tough to reorder. Bad marker smell. Old tasks tend to accumulate, surprisingly. Almost a little too visible to coworkers. And at my previous job, I didn't even have my own whiteboard, though maybe I could have asked for one.
Small .txt files and notepad.exe
Sometimes I'll still use this when I have a lot of things to do during a weekend: creating a list, and then cutting and pasting from a TODO section to a TODONE section so I can feel good about getting through stuff. (In fact, I posted an example a while back.)
PROS: Readily available, easy to put in priority order and then re-arrange on the fly
CONS: Doesn't travel very well, too easy to forget to save file.
Graph Paper a Day
The latest and my current favorite. Originally I was stealing printer paper, but graph paper has some advantages as described by this Book of Ratings entry. For over a week now I've been starting the day with a fresh sheet, dating it, transfering any previous undone tasks to it. (On the previous day's sheet, I circle things that were undone but passed forward.) Then as I get things done I cross 'em off with a big bold stroke of the pen.
PROS: Many! Each day is a bit of a blank slate, unlike the whiteboard, but the discupline of transferring undone things urges me not to let them linger. You can group things into subtasks. Plus I have a nice historical reference, good for both personal satisfaction as well as having to record "hours worked". More viscerally satisfying than the electronic based systems. CONS: Not much...sometimes I come close to running out of room on a single sheet.
Any one else have a system they want to share?

from peace be upon him

Golly, I'm feeling pretty stressed these days.

I have to wonder if I miscalculated with my new job, or if it maybe it's some kind of growing pains. Originally I liked the idea of travelling to clients, it seemed like a way of checking out different parts of the country, and generally a good skillset to have career toolbox. But...ugh, something about it isn't right for me. It's kind of like the pressure of a new job repeated in a more condensed form, all the unknown expectectations lurking in the corners again and again. Clients can be painfully aware of what they're being charged for your services in an hourly kind of way, and so unless you're really an expert in the task at hand, you have to fake it. And I'm not terrific at faking it, the geek sin of preferring directness over spin coming to haunt me.

It's a challenging role. While I think I'm a smart guy, and I'm getting to know our product well, I'm also asked to achieve results quickly in platforms that are new to me, and I guess I've always been a guy preferring to do things from scratch in a language I know inside and out than apply another new toolkit.

Some of it might be a particularly pushy and demanding client my first time out... this trip to Washington DC is with a much better known quantity to my company, a long relationship with friendly people. Still, I'm almost wondering what I'm going to be doing there for a full damn week...I mean I assume some of that is just getting started on work that could theoretically be done back at the home office, because I think afew days is going to exhaust what I'm bringing to the table. (Luckily there will be a veteran from my company there for the first two days, just like Texas was with two other guys.)

Heh, I remember back in 2000, there was this consultant from the big Java company BEA...call him Joe. Joe knew about EJB, and could show us that (even though it was probably too late in the project for us to switch to that technology (thank goodness, but that's a different story)) but seemed to be kind of fumbling in most other things. I'm really worried about coming across as another Joe.

And that worry...I'm getting a fair-sized stress reaction, "stomach" upset, tightness in my lower back, some sleeplesness. I don't know at what point I should be worried for my health with this...I'm half tempted to go buy a blood pressure monitor just to make sure I'm not doing too badly in that department. My family noticed darker rings under my eyes...

...and it's tough to know what part of that stress reaction is justified, and how much is just circular logic. I think there are logical reasons to feel more confidence than I generally do in many of these cases (but not all! Which makes it tougher.) I almost wish I could find courage in some kind of convenient pill form. Prozac Nation or what not. But then there's a part of my that rails against that kind of thinking, that good old will-power and/or logic and/or some sort of environment change can get me out of this funk.

Some aspect of it too seems to be the Winter, S.A.D.-lite. In a way I hadn't observed in myself before, I generally just want to sleep. It's hard to tell how much of that is seasonal, how much is from some stress-y nights of less sleep, or what. It's starting to irritate Ksenia though.

I have no idea if it's even an option, but Mr. Ibis (I think) once mentioned his company is hiring, down in Florida. I get weird fantasies of moving down there and having a "perfect" sunny life for a while, even though it's not like he's not working hard at his job there too. (I've worked at companies with him before, he's a lot of fun.) I know this outlook is just escapism, a total denial about how stressful a big move would be, completely missing the point of how many people I'd be leaving behind, especially my family, Ksenia, old school friends...in exchange for being in close proximity with two or maybe three close buddies. And the sunlight. In a cultural...well, maybe not a wasteland, but it ain't Boston either.

So it's a learning time for me. Maybe I'm learning I like bigger companies that don't ratchet up the pressure quite so much. On the other hand I know at those companies I can start to drift and not get enough work done. (On the other other hand... we only get one life, if you can mitigate a 9-5 job by pursuing slackish asides...maybe that's a bit of a blessing. Albeit one you don't want to rely on too much.)


Observations and even advice welcome.

News of the Moment
So there's that big flap over some cartoons depicting Mohammed in Europe. I know I'm at risk of being culturally insensitive here, but it just seems so odd... They say that for some sects, any likeness is forbidden, though it would be disenguous to say that the pointed satirical nature of the cartoon isn't adding a lot of fuel to the fire. I mean it's not like there's anyway it could actually look like the prophet, given that it's forbidden to reproduce his image for so long. (Which would indicate that a stickfigure with an arrow saying "this is him" might be problematic.) Theoretically the taboo arises from the need to prevent idolatry, though in practice it doesn't sound like the masked gunmen are really concerned the faithful will begin worshipping a cartoon.

Then again, "sacredness" is not a concept that I generally have a strong intuitive feel for, so maybe I should leave the topic alone.

from corpse bride

So I was in yoga class tonight. Class always ends with the instructor walking us through "the corpse pose", a step-by-step walk-through all the parts of our body, letting each relax in turn. He urges us that if we have a thought to just let it go, it will be there when we're done. Also, he says we should try not to fall asleep, which is pretty easy to do when getting that relaxed...ideally the pose requires as much focus as any of the more difficult twists and bends and what not.

Of course, neither of these instructions are particularly easy for me to follow... I mean, I really like those little thoughts I have, I find them very interesting and ultimately a very rewarding pat of my life. (Sleep ain't that bad itself, come to think of it, though realizing you were just snoring is kind of embarrassing.) So last night during the corpse pose I had a thought (which I tried not to dwell too much on)... that I could use some kind of admonishment, like this:
This time doesn't belong to those little thoughts.
This time belongs to your body, for it to relax.
This is not the time for your mind to relax into sleep;
Your mind is needed to guide the body's relaxation.
Well, the first two lines are stronger than the last two, and it's a bit corny, but still...I think the idea of "ownership" is powerful in this case. I know to often in life I take my body, such as it is, totally for granted. I'm totally dependent on it, but because I wish I wasn't, I'm usually reluctant to give it some of the attention it really deserves.

Link of the Moment
The Movie Spoiler just discusses the happenings of many movies. Good if you think you'll never see the film anyway, but are kind of curious to know what it's about.

from tarawa 1943

Veterans Day Thought of the Moment

A while back I took this photo of a car in Salem...the sign says Tarawa 1943, "We Kicked Their Ass"...the license plate had a similar theme. I admit my first reaction was kind of snarky...the bellicose tone about a very old battle, the use of "there" for "their" in one instance.

But, it was enough to make me wonder about "Ta