So we profess ourselves to be the slaves of chance, and flies of every wind that blogs

Hello.  Good morning.  It’s Thursday—the first one in March of 2021—and so, of course, it’s time for another of my weekly blog posts.

As is often the case, I have no specific plan about what to write today; it’s very much going to be stream-of-consciousness.  I expect this post will be relatively short, therefore, but I’ve often been wrong in this expectation previously.  We shall see.  Indeed, you can probably already see, since you’re reading the completed product, while I—the writer—will only see it as it takes form, at least in the initial draft.

First, and most important to me, work on The Vagabond continues steadily, and I’m well over halfway through the final edit.  One of the great tragic moments in the book has just occurred, and things are looking very dark indeed for our heroes.  Hopefully, they will find a way to overcome this setback, or one will be provided for them.  You shall have to wait and see, though in a reversal of the situation mentioned above regarding the length of this blog post, I happen already to know the outcome, while the reader can only bite his or her nails* and read on anxiously (when they finally have the published book, that is).

Little new has happened in my personal life otherwise, which is pretty much the way my personal life goes…such as it is.  As usual, I find many of the various deeds of humanity, both globally and locally—down, even, to the people in the office with whom I work—to be often terribly disheartening and discouraging.

Not that things are all bad; obviously that’s not the case.  But the second law of thermodynamics seems always to insist upon making its presence known, and thus it is always easier for things to fall apart than for new things to be built or even for existing things to be maintained.  This is the condition of the universe itself, though ironically it is also the very force that allows life to exist, and which drives all positive process we see.

Were entropy a general constant—as the laws of physics seem strongly to imply that it eventually will be—there would be no change whatsoever, at least no change of any significance.  Life could not exist in a state of pure and total thermal equilibrium, even though its existence is entirely dependent upon the universal mathematical and physical tendency for things to move toward that equilibrium.  This is the curious irony—which might seem paradoxical, though it is not—of the existence of complexity and life.

I think I got the following descriptive and analogous image from Sean Carroll, of a coffee cup with milk being added; it is only during the mixing process when eddies and whirls, clouds and vortices, unpredictable chaotic forms can appear.  It’s only while the drink is mixing that anything interesting, in that sense, occurs.  Once the coffee is well stirred, nothing more of interest will happen**.

Of course, in principle, it is possible for a stirred cup of coffee to unmix spontaneously and separate again into milk and coffee, thence to remix once more.  However, even on so small a scale as a cup of coffee, given the number of molecules involved and the vastly greater number of possible mixed compared to unmixed states, it’s going to take a very long time for that to happen.  Don’t hold your breath.

In fact, though I haven’t worked the specific numbers, I nevertheless feel quite confident that for the coffee cup spontaneously to unmix would take a time vastly greater than the present age of our universe.  The Earth—and any coffee cups resting upon it—will long since have been incinerated by the swelling, dying sun before any such unmixing could happen.  Taking the cup away into interstellar space would only freeze it, significantly slowing any possible unmixing process.  And, of course, coffee left out in the open tends to dry up as the water in it evaporates, and on a far shorter time scale.

Anyway, who’s going to mix and stir a cup of coffee only to leave it sit and wait for the process to reverse itself by random chance?  I don’t know about you, but if I have a nice cup of newly poured and stirred coffee, I tend to start drinking it pretty quickly.

And, also anyway, on time scales such as those involved in local reversal of entropy by spontaneous molecular motion, an astonishing number of events will have happened on the human scale.  Measured in terms of information exchange, it may be that the process of human time is literally speeding up, as computers and the internet and other means of global communication and computation fundamentally accelerate the rate of what’s happening in civilization, though the pace and duration of biological human life does not change nearly as much.

Measured in “flop time”***, as it were, the pace of events really has been, and is, accelerating.  The rate of that acceleration seems unlikely to continue indefinitely, but even if the growth curve levels off somewhat, more “things” can happen in a current decade—let alone a century—than happened throughout most of the first hundred millennia of human existence, at least from the human point of view, which is the only one we have right now.

So, though things do fall apart, and the center indeed cannot hold, it is not merely anarchy that is loosed upon the world.  As Darwin put it, during the process of entropic mixing, when all the interesting stuff happens, and driven by that mixing and that tendency toward increasing entropy, “endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been and are being evolved.”  If only he knew how beautiful and how wonderful and how unpredictable those forms are and may someday be, I think he would have been even more awed than he was.

See, I’m not a complete downer.  At least not all the time.

Well, this post is not much shorter than usual, if at all, but I think I will call things to a close here.  I hope you are all as well as you can be, and are being careful of yourselves and each other, and staying as safe and as healthy as you can.

TTFN

Cloudy coffee


*Or someone else’s if they’re very close friends.

**I’m not counting the drinking part just now.  As far as I know, there’s no one waiting to drink the universe once it’s well mixed and cool enough not to burn the lips and tongue…though that’s an interesting notion.

***I recorded an audio blog about this concept but I haven’t yet posted it to Iterations of Zero.  My apologies.

I could be bounded in a nutshell, and blog myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.

Hello, good morning, and welcome to another Thursday, and thus another edition of my weekly blog.

If I ever become the absolute ruler of the entire human world, I think I might change the name of this day in the English-speaking world from Thursday to Blogsday.  After all, what does this day of the week have to do with the Norse god Thor?  Not much, as far as I can see.  It’s merely an artefact of the past, no more relevant for modern life than the human appendix, though less problematic.  This name change would, of course, be arbitrary in a sense—certainly it would be biased, and would mean little to any who did not write or at least read blogs on Thursdays—but it seems unlikely to cause anyone harm.

Arthur Dent, from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, might even find “Blogsday” refreshing.  He never could get the hang of Thursdays.  Perhaps the name change would give him at least a psychological sense that things were better, and in his case, that could be quite potent.  After all, this is the man who learned how to fly by developing the knack for throwing himself at the ground and missing.  His mindset seems to have impressive consequences.

Of course, those in nations or cultures in which Thor matters could continue to call the day Thursday; I’m not a cruel tyrant, at least not in that way.  And if there are cultures where the days of the week are named sensibly (similar to the modern Japanese way of naming months, which translate roughly as “Month 1, Month 2, Month 3, etc.”), I would be more than delighted for them to continue to use those names.

And, as should go without saying, whatever people call the days of the week in the privacy of their own homes, as consenting adults, is entirely their business.

It seems unlikely, though, that I will ever become lord and master of all humanity, and this is probably a good thing—it certainly is for some humans, I can assure you of that.  But it’s amusing to think about, at least for me, and since I’m the one writing, I can do what I want.  Here in this blog, I am lord and master, at least as much as anyone is of anything, which is not much at all.  Even Genghis Khan, Julius Caesar, and Alexander the Great were never really lords and masters of much.  As witness:  they are all dead, and they have been for quite some time.  We see no evidence that this is likely to change.

Of course, in a universe of infinite spatial expanse with a maximum number of possible quantum states in any given region, there are no doubt places where those three individuals are still* alive—if that’s possible in principle, anyway, and I don’t see why it wouldn’t be—and where they are at least still relatively in charge of their local area.  But that mastery is at least spatially limited, for they are as subject to the laws of physics as everything else is.

Anyway, enough thought experiments for the moment.

It’s been a reasonably productive week, and I’m quite pleased to be able to tell you that I am now on the final run-through of The Vagabond.  I just began it yesterday, so it will be a bit of time before I’m done, and then will come layout and so forth.  I’m still hoping to be able to find that old drawing of mine that I want to use as the basis for the cover.  If I can’t find it, I’ll have to try to reconstruct it in one form or another.  In any case, it’s highly unlikely that the book will be out before the end of February.  It may well be available sometime in March, but I’m not certain.

I’ve been playing around some more with my new microphones, and I’ve recorded several versions of both the guitar parts and the vocals for my “bad covers” of Julia and Blackbird, but I’m not quite satisfied with them.  I think it may be that my voice still has a bit of raspiness left over from Covid.  That didn’t stop me from doing my “bad cover” of Nude, but that song involves a lot of reverb and keyboard sounds and so forth, so I wasn’t as bothered, though my falsetto at the beginning and the end was not as good as I could make it if I recorded it now.

Oh, well, somewhere off in the distant reaches of the universe—if space is infinite—there are an infinite number of versions of me who recorded it both later and better.  But they aren’t particularly useful to me, here.

I also played around this week just recording myself practicing and singing, including doing a quick “demo” of my long-neglected original song Mercury Lamp, hoping to use that process to light a fire** in me about that work.  I also recorded myself playing and singing Karma Police, Polyethylene Parts 1 and 2, Pigs on the Wing Parts 1 and 2, and even Street Spirit (Fade Out), of the guitar part for the latter of which I’m beginning to feel just slightly proud.  One thing I’ve learned through doing this is that, with a metronome going and with my awareness of being recorded, I get very self-conscious, and I don’t play or sing as well as I usually do.  I doubt that this is unusual, but it’s good to learn it about myself, and I plan to do my best to work past it.

I’m tempted to upload some of the audio from those recordings here to my blog, especially the ones for Street Spirit and for Mercury Lamp, but I will hold off for now.  The thought of other people hearing them is both amusing and mortifying, but it’s useful for me to listen, so I can hear all the things I’m screwing up and—hopefully—improve upon them.  I’m also learning the best software to use to record these sessions, given the limitations of my computers.  Audacity, it turns out, is prone to losing data when recording (on my machines, at least) because it’s a big program and records everything as stereo, even though there’s only one mic.  This apparently leads to it getting gummed up after its recorded for a bit, and it can be quite frustrating to have sung and played something only for it to tell you “data has been lost at the indicated locations”.  Of course, those are always the places where I sang and played everything perfectly.

Not really.  But I do get terribly frustrated.

Anyway, that’s just toys and games and self-indulgence.  Writing is what I’m really about, and writing is what I’m doing now.  I haven’t done any Iterations of Zero this week, though maybe—just maybe—I’ll end up posting some of my rough recordings there for fun.  In the meantime, look forward to The Vagabond, and then both to Outlaw’s Mind and to Dr. Elessar’s Cabinet of Curiosities, which will include my long-lost story House Guest.

I honestly feel that, once The Vagabond and House Guest are out there in the world, it will be fine if I die.  Sure, it would be nice to recreate Ends of the Maelstrom, and to do Dark Fairy and the Desperado, and Changeling in a Shadow World, and to write the two remaining books in the saga of Mark Red, in case anyone wants to know what becomes of him, and so on.  But all that is asking quite a lot from the universe, and the prospect of doing them doesn’t feel like adequate motivation, let alone justification, for continuing to bear fardels and to grunt and sweat under a very weary life.

In any case, as the song says, “the losing card I’ll someday lay”, no matter what, unless this is one of those rarefied regions of the multiverse in which I will happen to live forever***.  In this universe, my kids are alive and in reasonably good health, and they’re out there somewhere living promising lives—though I never get to see them—and I’ve written several books, and even learned some guitar and recorded some songs.  And my lost works The Vagabond and House Guest have been found and will almost certainly soon be published.  It seems churlish to consider asking for anything more.

Well…except that I do ask that all of you do your best to stay safe and healthy, and I hope you have as a good a week, and as good a life, as you can.

TTFN

Hat for Vagabond

This is the sort of hat the Vagabond wears; he does NOT wear it to look good.


*Ignoring the fact that, given Special and General Relativity, the notion of simultaneity across such distances is incoherent.

**Pun not originally intended but embraced when realized.

***Now that’s a horror story!

So in the world. ‘Tis furnished well with blogs

wow

Good morning!  Welcome to yet another blog post, since this is yet another Thursday.  They do seem to keep coming and coming, don’t they?  Thursdays, I mean.  Thursdays have been going on for a lot longer than blog posts have been, and they’re likely to continue long after my blog posts have stopped.

Of course, on a cosmic level, the very notion of dividing time into days, each representing roughly a revolution of the Earth on its axis, is highly local and arbitrary.  The naming of days—such as naming one of a continuously repeated seven after a Norse thunder god known to most people nowadays as a character played by Chris Hemsworth—is even more local and arbitrary.

One “day” on Jupiter is only ten hours long, despite the fact that Jupiter’s diameter is ten times as great as the Earth’s.  This rapid revolution contributes to some truly amazing weather patterns on that planet.  A “day” on the moon, on the other hand, is about twenty-eight Earth days long…and there’s no weather there at all.

A day on Mercury, named after the wing-footed messenger god of Greek mythology, is almost sixty Earth days long.  And all these variations are just a few of the ones represented within our solar system, itself a tiny, tiny pixel in our galaxy (a “day” of which is a quarter billion Earth years long), which is in turn just a tiny, tiny splotch among hundreds of billions to about a trillion galaxies in the observable universe.  And that, of course, is only a chunk—miniscule to infinitesimal—of a much larger region of spacetime that seems likely to be infinite.

But don’t worry.  Your personal, day-to-day concerns still really matter.  Sure, they do.

Okay, sorry about that bit of sarcasm.  I’m pretending to be more cynical than I really am.  Your individual, day-to-day concerns do matter, in the only way that anything can matter:  they matter to you.  Meaning, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.  This is good, and can be highly life-affirming, unless you’re one of the unlucky people who feels that they themselves don’t matter, even to themselves.  For such people, the crushing weight of reality can feel at once both infinitely oppressive and at the same time very much worthy of a “meh.”  As a person who writes horror stories, among other things, I can honestly say that this is real horror.

Some horror fiction expresses a sense of being lost and trapped in a hostile and very large universe, which cares about us only as irritating insects, and seeks to crush us as such.  A similar notion is occasionally (metaphorically) invoked even by such science educators as Neil deGrasse Tyson, who has been heard to speak of “all the ways the universe wants to kill us,” or words to that effect.  But of course, this is a highly narcissistic misinterpretation of reality, used only as a figure of speech by Tyson (in order to emphasize certain points) and as a plot conceit for horror.  If the universe really “wanted” to kill us, we would be dead.  Instantly.

The real horror, from the reflexively hubristic, human point of view, is that the universe doesn’t give a tiny little rat’s ass about us.  As far as we know, the only place in the universe that’s even capable of caring about anything at all is in the minds of humans…and perhaps other sentient creatures.  As far as we know, only here on Earth (and in low Earth orbit) does caring exist at all.  Now, depending on the likelihood first of the origin of life, then of multicellular life, then of intelligent life, there may be many other such islands of caring in the universe, and if the universe is infinite in size, simple math reveals that there must be an infinite number of such islands.  But it’s equally simple to see that there is a proportionally larger infinity of places where there’s nothing that cares about anything.  This is far from the worst way things could be.  If there really were a Crimson King, or a Morgoth, or an Azathoth and Nyarlathotep and Cthulhu* out there, we would be in for a much rougher time than we actually experience.

Of course, as physicist and pioneer of quantum computation David Deutsch argues beautifully in his book The Beginning of Infinity, we humans—and our descendants, whether biological or technological or both—have the potential really to become significant on a cosmic scale.  As he also points out, there is no guarantee that we will do so, but there appears to be nothing in the laws of nature that prevents it.  It’s up to us** to decide.

That cosmic importance or lack thereof, however, does not and cannot change what is happening right here, right now, and which seems for the moment so inescapably important:  That it is Thursday, and that I am writing this blog post…and, of course, consequently, that you are reading it.  Nothing can ever actually be more important than “now,” because “now,” ultimately, is all we ever experience.

And now, I leave you with a brief update:  Unanimity proceeds well, shrinking as I edit it much more slowly than it grew as I wrote it, like a volcanic island having sprung forth to be subsequently eroded in the middle of a vast sea of strained and overused similes.  It’s got quite a ways to go before it’s a lush, tropical setting that you’d want to put on your vacation itinerary, but it’s getting there.  If you do visit, I won’t guarantee that it will be a uniformly happy trip—some very bad things indeed do lurk there—but at least it should be interesting.

TTFN


*A curious side-note:  of these three examples of entities from H. P. Lovecraft’s worlds, only Cthulhu appears well-known enough not to be marked for correction by Microsoft Word’s spell-checker.

**And of course, to our continued luck in avoiding cosmic catastrophes that are, for the moment, utterly beyond our power to prevent or avoid.