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.


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’ll read enough, when I do see the very blog indeed where all my sins are writ, and that’s myself.

Hello, good morning, and welcome to another edition of my weekly blog post.  It’s hard to know what to write that I haven’t already written—much of it repeatedly—in previous blog posts, though the details no doubt change from week to week.  But, then again, that’s always an issue with writing, as with storytelling in general, and so on.  Is it ever possible really to write (or otherwise create) anything new?

Well, the “Latin” alphabet alone (adding in the “Arabic” digits from zero to nine) iterated out in any reasonable length produces a trans-astronomical number of possibilities.  Even if we leave out punctuation and spaces and other “special characters”, the number of different things that can be written in just ten spaces is 36 to the tenth power, which is a little more than 3.6 times ten to the fifteenth power*.  To get some sense of the scale of that number, consider that the number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy is on the order of ten to the eleventh power, so the number above is a good ten thousand times larger.  The number of cells in a typical human body is on the order of ten to the thirteenth power, still only a hundredth as large as the number I mentioned.

Mind you, the vast majority of those combinations of characters are going to comprise a real tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing.  But, of course, ten spaces is next to nothing.  So far in this blog post I’ve already used more than 1500 spaces or characters.  Still not counting punctuation et al, taking thirty-six to the 1500th power gives us a truly staggering number:  2.8 times ten to the 2334th power.  To get a scintilla of the idea of the scale of that number, consider that the estimated combined number of protons, neutrons, electrons, and neutrinos in the “visible” universe is only on the order of ten to the 80th or so.  Of course, if you throw photons and gravitons and gluons and W and Z bosons, and whatever comprises “dark matter” and “dark energy” into the mix, that number will surely go up by quite a bit, but not by anything close to two thousand orders of magnitude.  Remember, ten to the 2334th is a one followed by 2334 zeroes (in base ten).  You’d have to multiply ten to the 80th by itself about twenty-nine times (i.e., take it to the 29th power) to reach 10 to the 2334th.

Of course, the vast majority of such combinations will produce nothing even close to coherent writing—or even to the quality of writing I’ve produced here so far (which as of this point has over 2300 characters).  But so what?  It’s a bit like considering all the possibilities of DNA.  Even though the vast majority of possible DNA sequences would not be transcribable into anything like a viable living organism if injected into a typical cell, the subset of potential viable organisms is still staggeringly larger than the number that have ever lived.

Thinking along similar lines, consider the Library of Babel, a notion introduced in a story by Jorge Luis Borges, (and instantiated, more or less, in a brilliant website).  It contains all possible books of, I think, 400-ish pages, using certain layout characteristics, and thus would contain, in principle, everything anyone has ever written or could write (of that size or smaller).  The possibilities are so large as to seem infinite.

“And yet, oh and yet, we all of us spend all our days saying to each other the same things time after weary time:  ‘I love you,’ ‘don’t go in there,’ ‘get out,’ ‘you have no right to say that,’ ‘stop it,’ ‘why should I?’ ‘that hurt,’ ‘help,’ ‘Marjorie is dead.’”**

It’s been said by some that all stories (of relevance to humans) have already been told.  I don’t think that’s quite true, for as we learn and explore and develop new understandings of the universe and new technologies, new stories will become possible that never would have been before.  Nevertheless, most types of stories that would be of interest to humans have probably already been written (or otherwise told) in various forms by numerous authors.  And yet we*** still enjoy both creating and partaking of them.  Indeed, the reading of a new story of a given type—of which one may have read dozens or hundreds of others—can still be one of the greatest pleasures in life (though I’m having a hard time with that lately, to my significant distress, as I’ve mentioned previously).  It’s a bit like all those possible humans, I guess.  They all are much more alike than unalike, as Maya Angelou said, but we can nevertheless tell each one from nearly all the others, usually at a glance, and certainly within a moment.

So it is with stories.  Even within the genre of heroic fantasy, it’s trivial to differentiate Harry Potter from The Lord of the Rings from The Belgariad from The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.  I love them each and all, and I wouldn’t willingly have any of them expunged from reality or memory.  It is, no doubt, likewise with horror, with science fiction, with thrillers, with mysteries, with romantic comedies, and every other genre of story.  Though all have similarities, they are nevertheless distinct, and the possibilities are so immense that they give a better impression of infinity than actual infinity does, though they are, probably, not literally infinite****.

With that in mind, I’ll keep working on The Vagabond, as I have this week, as usual.  I’m about halfway through the last edit; then comes layout and cover design and all that jazz, and then publication.  And thence, on to whatever comes next, such as Dr. Elessar’s Cabinet of Curiosities, which will include House Guest and many other stories.  The possibilities are not easily limited, and so this idiot, at least, will for now keep telling his tales.


Alike unlike

*If, as the fictional (often mad) scientists always say, my calculations are correct.

**This long quote is taken from ‘A Bit of Fry and Laurie’, I think it was the very first episode, but I’m not sure.  You can go and watch it here.

***Humans, for want of a better term.

****During the writing and editing of Unanimity I might have disagreed with this last point.  And, by the way, I took the notion—that the immense-but-finite can give a better impression of infinity than the truly infinite does—from Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

The man that hath no music in himself…is fit for treasons, stratagems and blogs

galileo math

some of Galileo’s figuring

Good morning, all.  It’s Thursday, so—as per usual—it’s time for another weekly blog post.  Here we go!

I’ve had a mildly underproductive editing week, because last Friday, Saturday, and then this Monday, I got wrapped up in completing my latest song, Come Back Again.  If you’re interested, you can listen to it on YouTube, here on my website, or on my Facebook page.  It’s also posted in audio-only format on Iterations of Zero.  If anyone wants, I could send you an mp3 copy; that seems vanishingly unlikely, though.  The only people who seem to listen to my songs are immediate family members and similarly unfortunate, obligated people.  I do think the song is surprisingly decent, considering I did it using only two electric guitars (not at the same time), two smartphone rhythm apps (sampled and altered in various ways), a very cheap desktop keyboard, an actual desktop with smartphone for some of the percussion, and the amazing free audio editing software Audacity.  Oh, and of course, a microphone and voice recording program for the singing.  I suppose you could add pens and paper for writing the words and music.  All in all, not much was needed.

It’s curious that, in order to publish my songs effectively, I need to make “videos” of them, even though the visuals only consist of the icon from my Iterations of Zero website.  I don’t even use the icon from this site, because that’s just my face, and I can’t imagine anyone wanting to look at my face long enough to listen to a song.

It’s interesting, though, that one can readily upload videos to Facebook (and Twitter, I think), but they don’t easily let you share simple audio files.  As a stereotypical standup comedian might say, “What’s that all about?”  It’s a little odd that everyone wants to upload videos and pictures ad infinitum to sites like Facebook and Instagram—as they presume, without any discernable justification, that other people want to look at them—but not audio.  Yet the latter can be appreciated even while commuting, even while driving, as the wonder of audiobooks and podcasts (and radio) demonstrates.

Perhaps I’m just a curmudgeon*, but I feel that most videos shared by ordinary people, and often even by professionals, are just talking faces with nonspecific backgrounds relating matters that could be communicated purely by voice (or—God forbid—the written word!).

Anyway, my song is out there.  As I’ve said before, making and releasing these songs really is a vanity project for me, not just in the egotistical sense of the word, but also in the sense of it being in vain…pointless.  The latter sense of the term applies to me far more often than does the former.  Though I have a reasonably good opinion of my ability to perform tasks of various kinds, and to master subjects with a fair amount of depth, I am not vain in the narcissistic sense about much.  I have no illusions about the importance of anything I do or make or its value to anyone else.  Mostly, I’m just a proverbial Voice Crying Out in the Wilderness ™**.  Or, to be a little less pretentious, I’m a case of “I am, I said,” with not even furniture taking note of the declaration.

Nevertheless, since Tuesday I have returned to my usual schedule of working on Unanimity.  I’ve encountered an interesting place where the way I wrote the book has shifted character times slightly…meaning I had to go back in time from events of an immediately preceding section to catch up with what was happening to other characters.  This is common, of course, since we can’t skip back and forth sentence by sentence to see that one character is doing in “real time” while something is happening to another.

But I think I’m going to have to adjust it.  I think the story will flow better if I take the section in question and transplant it to just before the immediately preceding section.  This is a minor enough change, and I think most authors probably do it often, but it’s interesting to me because I don’t think I’ve ever needed to do it before.  Usually when I write something, it comes out pretty much as the story is “meant” to flow.  Unfortunately, Unanimity is just such a long novel, with so much going on, often to characters in separate locations, that it wasn’t all going to come out quite in optimal order on the first draft.  Not to say it wouldn’t be tolerable in its current form—it would be—but it wouldn’t be ideal, from my point of view.

That’s all probably not interesting to anyone else but me.

Meanwhile, speaking of audio (I was, you can go back and check), I’m “currently” listening to a wonderful book called Infinite Powers:  How Calculus Reveals the Secrets of the Universe.  I highly recommend it.  Seriously.  Even if you’re not a math type person (though I have to admit that I am one, a bit), I think it will give you easy-to-understand but clear and real insights into not just why calculus—and mathematics in general—is so useful to nearly everything of substance in science and technology*** but also why it’s so breathtakingly beautiful that some people are utterly captivated by it and pursue it hour after hour, year after year, even in their spare time.

Galileo famously said that the book of nature is written in the language of mathematics.  And someone else said (I can’t find the credit for the quote), “Physicists defer only to mathematicians, and mathematicians defer only to God.”  We can imagine universes where the charge and mass of an electron are different than they are here, or where coupling constants and the cosmological constant and the ratio of the strength of the gravitational to the electromagnetic force are different—and we can readily imagine life forms whose genetic data isn’t encoded in DNA…but it’s impossible to conceive of a logically consistent universe in which the square root of two is the ratio of two integers, or in which there is a largest prime number.

Maybe God defers to mathematicians.  Or maybe He just is one.

And with that bit of casual blasphemy, I think I’ve done enough damage for this week.  I hope you’re all well, and that you’re enjoying listening to, reading, watching, and doing whatever it is that—when integrated under the curve of your lifespan—makes your existence as joyful and fulfilling as possible.


*There’s no “perhaps” about me being a curmudgeon; the “perhaps” refers to whether I’m merely a curmudgeon, or if there’s more to me than that.  The jury is still out.

**Actually, I’m quite sure that’s not from the book of Proverbs; I think it’s from Isaiah or Ezekiel.  Let me check…
…yes, it’s from Isaiah.

***Which, in the modern world, means pretty much everything, full stop.