Welcome to the October Country

Well, it’s October 1st, the beginning of a new month in 2022, a month initially meant to be the eighth month, based on its name.

I’m at the train station and, it being Saturday, the schedule is different than during the week.  There’s also some question of whether the trains are boarding on the usual side or not.  There’s a displayed “announcement” on the light boards that all trains are boarding on one side at this station until further notice, but it could be something left over from yesterday.  Also, the guard is not aware of anything regarding the change in sides.

Nevertheless, today was a day for ordering the monthly pass on the machines, and the ones on my usual side weren’t even working, so I’m on the other side for the moment, anyway.  I’m going to have to try to be vigilant as the time for my train approaches*.  If I miss one train, the next won’t come for another hour.

It’s hard to be vigilant, though.  I feel absolutely exhausted.  My brain feels like it’s barely running on one cylinder, metaphorically speaking**.  I’m just so very tired.

Thankfully, I can embed below my video, which I did end up posting on my YouTube channel yesterday afternoon, so that can provide some of the content and spare me a little writing today.  I might as well, since what I’ve written so far is about some of the most banal things imaginable.

Just a bit of clarification about the video, in case any is necessary:  Obviously I don’t mean to say there is literally no life in the universe, since that would be a contradiction (If there were literally no life, then I could not be speaking about the fact).

I just have always been irked by people who make the wide-eyed claims that it’s so amazing and quasi-mystical that the constants of nature are so perfectly designed to make life, and that must imply some sacred meaning or purpose to it.  That’s about as idiotic as looking at the location of a speck of dust in the corner of a school gym and saying how amazing it is that all the facts of nature conspired to bring that speck of dust right there at that point…it had to have been part of some greater purpose!  It’s drivel.  Only the case with life is even more unimpressive.

My biggest issue with this is that it leads to a kind of quiescence, an assumption that, if the universe was “designed” just so that life can exist, then life, and particularly intelligent life, must be important, and the universe will somehow arrange things to nurture us and protect us from extinction.  If you think that’s the case, then ask the dinosaurs, or better yet, any of the far greater numbers of life forms that went extinct in the Permian-Triassic “Great Dying”.

Oh, wait, you can’t.  They’re all extinct.

No, the universe is almost completely hostile to life, both in terms of its space and in terms of its time.  We are lucky beyond ordinary imagining, though I tried in the description of the video to give some notion of just how lucky in spatial terms, at least, by noting that life exists in roughly only 1.5 x 10-64 of the universe’s volume.

As far as time goes, well if you’re thinking of humanity alone, based on the time that has elapsed since the “Big Bang”, which may or may not be the literal beginning of our universe, the percentage is tiny enough, and others have demonstrated this handily, as in the “cosmic calendar” that Carl Sagan made famous in Cosmos.  But if you want to count all expected possible future time, well then our existence is some fraction of what could be infinity, which is pretty undefined, but might as well be called zero.  The limit certainly approaches zero as we extend the future further and further.

This is not necessarily a call for people just to give up and say “what the hell”, though you have that option, of course, and it is tempting.  I wanted to note that, if you would like for life to continue, and even to have some lasting, cosmic-scale impact, then you can’t take it for granted.  You need to work at it, and work hard, and work long.  The universe is not trying to kill us (contrary to Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s habitual way of putting it); if it were, we would be dead already.  But the universe is huge, and it does not even have the capacity to care what happens to life, except in the minds of that life itself.

All life is in the situation of a castaway on a desert island—there’s no preexisting infrastructure, there’s no one out there looking out for you or protecting you, or providing your light, your heat, your air-conditioning, your food, your clothes, your shelter, what have you.  If you want any of those things, you’re going to have to make and/or find them for yourself, and you’re going to have to keep doing it, for as long as you actually want them and want to survive.

Without much more ado, here’s the video***.  I forgot to ask when I made the video, but please give a “thumbs up” and subscribe and share if you are at all inclined to do so, for any colorable reason.  And feel free to check out the other stuff on my YouTube channel if it looks interesting to you.  If anyone finds this interesting at all, I’m hoping to make more such videos about topics that interest me, assuming the universe doesn’t eliminate me in the meantime (though it seems likely to do so).  Oh, and please let me know what you think, either in the comments below the video or here.

Thanks.  Here it is:


*Just a slightly later addendum:  They have announced overhead that my train is approaching in 10 minutes, and have confirmed that it is not on its usual side.  So I was right to be proactive.

**Of course, it’s a metaphor.  I don’t honestly think that any of you really believe that my brain is an internal combustion engine of some kind, except in the loosest of possible senses.  Apologies.

***I wore a mask and dark glasses in the video mainly because I don’t like how my face looks—it bears evidence of the many things that have happened to me in the last decade or so.  Maybe no one else can see it but me, but it is what it is.  Anyway, the glasses are awesome, I really like them, and the mask combined with them makes for a good look, I think.  Certainly better than my underlying face, anyway.

This is an untitled blog post…or IS it?

Okay, well, I’m back on the laptop again, today.  I think I did a decent job of gauging how long my post should be yesterday, despite using my phone to write it.  It did seem to take slightly longer to write the same number of words than it would have with the laptop.  It’s just easier to write faster when you’re using a (nearly) full-scale keyboard and more or less all of your fingers instead of your two thumbs to type.

Still, as I think I’ve noted before, I wrote a goodly part of my science fiction novel, Son of Man using a smartphone that was quite a bit smaller than the one I have now, and I think it turned out pretty well.  At least, the feedback I’ve gotten from the few people I know who have read it and who deigned to comment—one of whom has sadly died—was good.

Not much has changed since yesterday, though.  By which I mean I’m not sure why I’m bothering to keep doing this blog.  I don’t think it’s doing me much good.  As anyone reading regularly can probably tell, my mental health doesn’t seem to be improving at all despite the use of this unidirectional “talk therapy”.

I’m a creature of habit, though, so I’ll continue this until…well, until something stops me, or until I stop doing even this little bit of proactive stuff.  I’m sure that will leave the world no poorer.

The hurricane that’s approaching is not supposed to hit this part of Florida, but to make landfall along the central west coast, but it’s still been sloppy and rainy, and a bit windy, these past few days.  Sunday afternoon was sunny and clear, and I went for a long walk near the end of the day, but since then we’ve had wetness.  At least the modest windiness—which may have at least something peripheral to do with the hurricane—makes it feel less muggy.

It’s almost pleasant, and even has a slight autumnal feel to it.  It reminds me vaguely of the times in the year after school had started and as Halloween approached up north, when the leaves would begin changing—something that, alas, doesn’t really happen in south Florida—and you had to wear a light jacket against the breeze, but it wasn’t yet truly cold.

Of course, no jackets are required here in south Florida, unless you’re going to some high end club or restaurant, or unless you’re wearing one to keep off the rain.  But an umbrella works better against the rain here, in my experience, and it doesn’t leave you so sweaty.  However, if you’re riding a motorcycle, a good rain jacket is useful, and rain pants if you have them.  A good helmet is more than adequate to keep your head dry, and even keeps it warm in what passes for cold weather in south Florida*.

Here I go again, talking about the weather.  It’s rather pathetic, I know, I’m sorry.

I guess I could comment on political or scientific stories if you’d prefer.  I don’t know what happened with the NASA probe thing last night, the experiment to try to shift the orbit of an asteroid.  It’s a trial of concept, basically, to tease out the workings of the process of changing the long-term orbit of an asteroid, in case one ever appears to be headed for Earth.

The laws of motion and Newtonian gravity are more than adequate for us to tell well in advance where an object’s orbit will take it—if we know where the object is and how it’s moving—and what sort of change would make it no longer headed to intersect the Earth, if it were otherwise going to do so.  Given enough lead time, even a tiny nudge can be more than adequate to prevent collisions.

Of course, also given enough lead time, a tiny nudge and the same technology could alter the trajectory of a hitherto harmless asteroid and put it in a trajectory to hit the Earth.

Don’t think I haven’t thought about it.  Regrettably, I don’t have the resources to pull off such a scheme.  However, there are now at least a few people in the world who have their own private space programs, some capable of interplanetary travel.  I wouldn’t put it past Elon Musk to steer a modest asteroid toward Earth to cause just massive enough a catastrophe to support his point pushing for human colonization of other planets, as a sort of object lesson.

Okay, well, I don’t really think he would do that.  He has too much to lose, and it could be quite tricky to steer such an asteroid finely, so that it hit where on Earth you wanted it to hit.  But it might be a good way to unify the human race.  I’ve often thought that we need a real supervillain to bring the world together.  I would volunteer, but I don’t think humanity is worth the effort.  I’m more inclined just to steer a whopping BIG asteroid at Earth and do a planetary reset.

I wouldn’t do this for any ideological reason, and certainly not for any religious reason.  I believe the supernatural cannot exist by (my) definition**.  I just think it would be a good test, of sorts.  If humanity were able to come together to prevent the catastrophe, or to at least survive it and rebuild, they would have demonstrated their continuing worthiness.  And if not, well, then not.

Honestly, given the fact that life is more or less inevitably dominated by fear and pain***, I often veer toward anti-natalism, and even pro-mortalism (look them up).  Of course, given that I have children, and they are the most important two facts about the universe to me, by far, I can hardly be said to be a pure pro-mortalist or anti-natalist.  But then, I never claimed to be.

I don’t think it’s usually good to try to define oneself by any “ism”.  It’s vanishingly unlikely that any one given, finite ideology will have come up with reliable, complete, and final answers. regarding much of anything about life.  If it had, I suspect that fact would have become evident, if not obvious, by now.

Knowledge and deep understanding is gained incrementally, not revealed by some “authority”; the universe is extremely complex, at least on scales like the surface of the Earth at this stage of cosmic evolution.  We can’t expect any simple, easy-to-solve equation to describe even the eddies and whorls that take place when milk first begins mixing into coffee, and that’s more or less the stage of the universe we’re in right now (on a much bigger scale than a cup of coffee, obviously).

Okay, well, I don’t know how I got around to those subjects, but I guess that’s the sort of thing that can happen with stream-of-consciousness writing.  At least it wasn’t just a complete rehash of what I wrote yesterday.  Hopefully tomorrow will likewise not be a rehash.  Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow may creep on in this petty pace to the last syllable of recorded time (which record will eventually decay as time goes its interminable way), but each morrow will differ in its details, at least until all things are washed out by entropy.  It’ll be a while—on the mortal scale, anyway—before that happens cosmically.

Keep your eyes peeled and your ears pricked up, though.  It is coming.

Cloudy coffee


*To be fair, if you’re riding at 70+ miles per hour, even a low in the low fifties feels pretty darn cold, but that sort of weather won’t be back for months now, and goodness knows if I’ll ever ride again.

**By which I mean to say, even if there were such things as gods and demons and angels and spirits and so on, if they really existed, then they would in fact be part of nature, and would have a “lawful” existence of some type, and would therefore be natural.  Only imaginary things can be “supernatural”.

***I’m sure I’ve gone into this before.  It is essential for any successfully reproducing organism to have strong senses of pain and fear, to avoid danger and to avoid and seek to mitigate damage.  These must be more immediate and powerful—and potentially more enduring—than any sense of pleasure or joy.  All pleasure and joy must, by nature, be fleeting, or else an organism will not be driven to work to survive, to reproduce as often as feasible.  An organism that feels little to no fear or pain, and that experiences lasting and powerful joy from any given stimulus or circumstance, will live a blissful but short life, and will be outcompeted by fearful, aggressive, and pain-prone creatures.  It would not tend to leave many offspring, all other things being equal.

Just Another Tuesday

It’s Tuesday morning again.  Another Tuesday.  This one is the 20th of September, in case anyone in the future is reading and wants to know what day this post was on, and is not reading this on the site proper, where the date is—I think—displayed above the post.  I’ll assume that anyone who cares about the date and is reading it today already knows what the date is, as well as the year.

There’s nothing really new to report, obviously.  As has been the case for a while now, I haven’t written any new fiction, haven’t done more than pick up a guitar, strum at it, and think about how shitty my playing sounds before putting it back down again.  Standard issue things to do, you know?

It continues to be dreary and rainy around here, though we have it easier than Puerto Rico, where the hurricane has knocked out power for the whole island.  That hurricane is not expected to head toward us at all, though it did just now really start to rain rather heavily.  The train stations are all covered though, so the rain doesn’t matter much unless it becomes quite windy, and right now there’s essentially no wind.

I thought it might rain as I was headed toward the train station—not just because this is south Florida and it’s been raining every day, so why should it stop, but because I could see tall, pillar-like clouds looming, even in the night sky, lit by reflected urban lights below.  They look nifty, but the shape of them, and the updrafts that no doubt exist within them, cooling all that airborne water, make it all but inevitable that rain will fall.

And now, as if conjured, the wind arrives, and speckles of rain are appearing on the screen of my laptop.  At least it’s somewhat refreshing.  If it becomes too prominent, I may have to pause and put the computer away to protect it.  But if that happens, none of you will be able to tell unless I tell you about it.  Weird, huh?  Well, no, not really I guess.  I think that’s just me—I’m the weird thing here.

Anyway, the rain is already slacking off some, and there’s only the tiniest of breezes remaining.  Further bulletins as events warrant.

I suspect that nearly all the noteworthy events in my life have already passed, though.  There’s very little else to say, though that doesn’t seem to stop me from saying it.  I “talk” to all of you, because I seem incapable of talking to anyone else.  That’s my fault, not anyone else’s.  I’m a faulty mechanism, what can I say?  I’m faultier than San Andreas.  I’m buggier than the Amazon rainforest*.  I’m not a very good device.  Not to say that I don’t have some remarkable design features, but none of them are really specific to me; they’re standard in the model.  The ways in which I am not standard seem to be associated with problems, which I guess is often the case.

Or maybe that’s all just egotistical in its own way, even though it’s fundamentally a case of self-loathing.  It’s probably just as arrogant to think that one is exceptionally bad or imperfect as to think that one is exceptionally perfect or good.  But there are more ways to be imperfect than to be perfect.  At least, it seems like that would be the case, though frankly, I’m not even sure what it would mean for a person to be perfect, and I’m not sure that anyone else knows what it means when they say it, either.  People use the word without really thinking about it, though to be fair, I don’t hear people referring to other people as perfect very often, and good on them that they don’t, since I don’t think anyone is perfect by whatever standard you might choose**.

Well, the train just arrived, but like yesterday (which I didn’t mention then) whoever is driving it today stopped way “sooner” than any of the other drivers do, and so I had to follow the other people who hadn’t gotten up off their asses early to wait for it to arrive, as I had, because I try to plan ahead.  Also, someone is sitting in my usual seat, which makes me unreasonably frustrated.  I know I have no claim on any particular seat or anything, but I try to do my stuff consistently so there are fewer surprises with which to deal, but that doesn’t seem to work.

Here’s an aside, though.  This is one of the trains that’s running the automated PA announcement system, which tells you which station you’re approaching and reminds you to check for your belongings before you get up and leave.  Then it says, “Please watch your step while you’re exiting the doors.”

Am I the only person who finds that last sentence irritatingly a-sensical?  “Exiting the doors” seems to imply that you were, until that point, inside the doors!  But no one is inside the doors.  The doors are barely three-dimensional; no ordinary, human-scale organism could actually be inside the doors.  Passengers are inside the train cars, they exit through the doorways, they don’t exit the doors!

If the person who wrote and recorded that announcement—which has annoyed me since the first time I heard it—is out there, can you please just come and kill me?  You’re one of the things that makes this planet so intolerable, and it would be just as well if you could help me leave it, since I’m looking to do that anyway.

I want to say that I feel like I’m losing my mind, but the problem, if anything, is that my grasp of reality is too persistent and consistent.  My weakness, if you will, is my relative inability to delude myself.  I can see the chaos (in the mathematical and poetic senses) for what it is, as well as the infinite stupidity*** of everything out there.

It sometimes seems that I can literally feel the yawning emptiness of the cosmos, but I know that’s an illusion.  I’m no more capable of truly conceiving of the infinite than is any other finite being.  But it does sometimes seem that I can feel it, just vaguely, looming above me and above everything, as well as beneath me, since “above” is a relative measure, and we are surrounded in all directions by mostly empty space.  Sometimes that’s even comforting.  You know, like the song says, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”

I don’t know what point I’m trying to make.  I don’t think there is a point, either to this post, or to anything else.  It’s just another post, just another Tuesday, just another meaningless instantiation of “atoms and the void”, to quote Democritus.

I wonder if that was his real name, “Democritus”?  It seems too coincidental to be what his parents named him.  I know “Plato” was a nickname; I’m not sure about Aristotle.

Oh, well, what does it matter?  He’s dead, and he’s been dead for a couple of thousand years.  I always knew he was smart****.


*Which I like better than the Microsoft rainforest or the Google rainforest.  Ha ha.

**Unless you choose some cheesy standard such as “perfect at being who you are”, but in that case, everyone is perfect, which is just another way of saying that no one is, so it adds nothing.

***No matter how large an intelligence is, as long as it’s not infinite, then its stupidity, or at least its ignorance, is always infinite.  I know, that’s probably an unreasonable standard against which to measure any intelligence or anything else, really, but I never claimed to be trying to be fair, just that I can recognize the endless abyss of lack that lies beyond the realms of anything finite that exists.

****Well, no I didn’t.  I haven’t existed always, for one thing; I’ve only been around for just shy of 53 years, though sometimes it feels like it’s been millennia.  Also, I hadn’t even heard of Democritus for the first ten years or so of my life, not until Carl Sagan talked about him in Cosmos.  So “I always knew” is just flagrantly inaccurate.  It’s a bit like how people say things like, “that email never came”.  I always want to say, “Never?  You waited until the end of time itself, and the email still hadn’t arrived?  I mean, never is a really long time.  If you wait an infinite amount of time, anything possible that can happen will have happened, so it seems truly impossible that the email never arrived.  EVERY email should have arrived if you waited long enough to legitimately use the word ‘never’.”  But I hold my tongue…usually.  It gets my fingers wet, though.

All talk is small—all facts are trivia

Well, it’s Monday morning again, now the 19th of September in 2022, and I’m again at the train station waiting for the train to bring me to work…though before I’m done with this post, I’m sure I’ll already be on the train.  I write pretty fast, but it’s rare that I finish the first draft of any blog post before the train arrives, unless it’s running quite late.

This is the last Monday of summer in 2022, for whatever that’s worth.  It’s still irritatingly hot here in south Florida, and more importantly, it’s muggy and has rained every day.  Yesterday morning there was an absolute torrent for a bit, then it slacked off for a while before sputtering on and off throughout the rest of the day and night.

Yes, I am writing about the weather.  I don’t know if that’s better or worse than talking to someone about the weather.  I’m not much good at small talk, so maybe writing about the weather is better.  It doesn’t make me feel stressed, at least.  Possibly there are people out there who wish that it did, so I wouldn’t write such things.  But, then again, unlike the case with small talk, there is no social pressure for anyone to have to read what I write, so it’s better, ethically, to write nonsense than to talk trivialities, because there’s no pressure on anyone else to go along with it or to respond in kind.

That is one of the issues with small talk, after all.  When someone starts talking to you about something in which you have no interest, or which you find irritating, there’s this weird social impetus at least to give a cursory listen to what they’re saying.  That’s a puzzling social dynamic, when you think about it.  Why do people feel pressure to interact with someone when that other person is not saying anything of interest?

But of course, people do feel that pressure, and so small talkers can impose themselves upon their…well, let’s call them their “victims” for lack of a better word, knowing that the victims will feel the urge to interact politely, even if they have no interest in the conversation.  The only people who would feel comfortable just ignoring the small talker are those who feel no moral or social obligations, who can just go off and ignore the first person with internal impunity, perhaps sadistically to initiate small talk with someone else, solely for the purpose of tormenting them, knowing that others feel the pressure to go along with it.

In other words, small talk rewards sociopaths.

For this, and for many other reasons, we should abolish it.  Also, it makes people like me feel ridiculously awkward, because for me, conversation is something that generally serves a purpose, one related to the subject of the conversation, so engaging in small talk is rather like watching an old-school television tuned to an empty channel and trying to discern what the meaning behind the static might be.

At least a percent or so of that crackling and hissing and “snow” comes from the cosmic microwave background, the leftover heat from the early universe, last propagated when the current cosmos was about 300,000 years old and it finally got cool enough for electrons and protons to bond into atoms, so photons could finally fly freely through space without hitting a stray charged particle every few instants and being scattered.  That’s an interesting fact, unlike most things to do with small talk.

Although, in a sense, the cosmic microwave background and what it implies or that of which it records the evidence, is not much more significant than the weather is.  In fact, on any given day, it’s probably far less crucial than the weather.  It can be useful to know whether to bring an umbrella with one (I always do, anyway), or whether one should bring a jacket (rarely necessary in south Florida in September), or if there’s a hurricane threatening*.

So, if small talk is a way of spreading seemingly trivial, but potentially consequential, bits of information from one person to another, to try to keep the whole group, or “flange”, in a state of preparedness, I guess that could be a good thing.  That is, it would be a good thing if you think it’s a good thing for groups of humans to be mutually connected and better prepared to protect themselves and each other from the elements.

Most days, there are at least a few moments when I would much prefer for a massive storm to come up and blow them all away.  But don’t be misled into thinking that I’m just a misanthrope.  I don’t think other animals, or plants, or fungi (or microbes) are any finer or more innocent or sweet or lovable than humans.  They aren’t.  Indeed, nature does not select for sweetness except as a means to an end.  A baby is sweet and cute because that fact manipulates the nervous system of adults to protect it and care for it.

All life manipulates and exploits and preys on other life in one way or another.  Even photosynthetic organisms compete with other such organisms for light, trying to out-produce and out-reproduce the organisms around them.  Nature, red in tooth and claw has been said to unnecessarily focus on violence as a description of the world, but in fact, it’s overly narrow.  Nature could be accurately described as red in tooth and claw and leaf and branch and fur and feather and shell and stem, and so on.

Even cooperation strategies are mainly ways of forming gangs to outcompete other gangs.  What’s more, they are all vulnerable to the defection of any member of their group—thus the horror of cancer, as individual cells in a body lose their inhibitions and start to reproduce without check, temporarily succeeding but eventually destroying the organism.

So, though there’s nothing inherently evil or wrong with life, from some moral point of view—since morality doesn’t have any meaning without life in the first place—there’s nothing particularly moral or good about life, either.  Life likes life, as a general tendency, and tends to make excuses for itself, which it would, and fair play to it, but it’s just a highly localized, complex epiphenomenon (or set of epiphenomena) that for all we know exists only on the surface of the Earth.

It may legitimately be true that we cannot rule out life existing elsewhere in the cosmos, and it may seem terribly unlikely that the only life in the universe is on Earth, but it’s very tricky to try to extrapolate probability from one solitary instance of a phenomenon.  It’s a pretty undisputable fact that nearly everything we can see in the universe is not hospitable to life as we know it.

Maybe the answer to the Fermi problem is that there is no sign of life outside of Earth because there is no life outside the Earth, and all that one would ever hear, if one were to listen to the cosmos forever, is static.  Not even small talk.  Life on Earth could be the true aberration, an abomination of sorts…except, of course, nature doesn’t do abominations, nature just does whatever it does.

I don’t know what point I’m trying to make with all this.  Maybe there is no point.  Maybe that, in fact, is the point.  Maybe I shouldn’t lament or bemoan small talk, because all talk is small talk when you get right down to it, and every fact is trivia, and all of history is just a “poof” of a random sound taking place in a wasteland…a pebble dislodged by the wind and rolling down a sand dune to rest a little lower than it had been, but without any purpose, without any goal, without any inherent or external meaning.

Anyway, what I’m really trying to get at is, the weather sure has been crappy lately, hasn’t it?


*As far as I know, there isn’t.  Not in the Atlantic, at least, not one that’s going to head toward Florida.  But I haven’t checked the hurricane center since Friday or Saturday, when there was just a tropical storm that was never going to hit us here unless something truly weird happened.

Surprisingly (for me) positive thoughts on a Saturday morning

[Note:  At the bottom of the post, below the footnotes, I’m including a thought that occurred to me between the initial writing and the final editing of this post, but which doesn’t directly relate to the post itself.]

Well, it’s Saturday morning (the 17th of September, a nice prime number), and I’m waiting at the station for the first train of the day, because I woke up before my alarm again and there was no point trying to go back to sleep.  I’m working again today, and I may be working again next Saturday as well, since I don’t know how long the coworker with whom I split Saturdays will be out with his recovery from surgery.

I can’t begrudge him the time off—surgery is no small thing, even if it was “minimally invasive”, to say nothing of the problem that required surgery.  I’ve had major surgery myself, open-heart when I was 18 and back surgery when I was about 35 (hopefully I won’t have another when I’m 53!).  I don’t remember how long my own laminectomy and fusion left me hobbled, because at the time I was already on temporary disability because of the injury, but it wasn’t a minor inconvenience.

That whole process contributed to the eventual catastrophic collapse of the life I had built, partly because I technically have “failed back surgery syndrome”, which means that, despite my back surgery, I still have chronic pain.  I think the term “failed” is a bit uncharitable, though, because my pain was reduced, it just didn’t come close to going away completely.  It’s there every day, and it has been for about 20 years (for those of you doing the math, I had the pain a good three years or so before I had the surgery, and I am currently 52).

Speaking of the collapse of my previous life, and the loss of so many things that were important to me, I sent an email to my son not long ago—I might have mentioned this previously—to the email address he had used the thank me for his last birthday present.  It was basically a long apology for all the things I screwed up with him (and his sister), and a reminder that I love him and always will, and of course that I miss him.  I didn’t know if he even regularly checks that email, so I asked his sister to let him know I had sent it.  He apparently does, and he’s seen it.

I don’t know what he thinks about it, since he hasn’t replied so far.  I don’t know if he ever will.  That’s up to him, which I guess is obvious.  What I mean is, that it wouldn’t be fair or right for me to expect, let alone demand, a reply from him.  I at least know that, if he wants to know what his father has been thinking and doing for the last quite some time, he can always come to this blog and read it.  I don’t know what he would think if he did that, but it is whatever it is.

I’ve always felt—at least, for as long as I’ve seriously thought about such things—that it’s important to remember that children don’t belong to their parents.  Parents belong to their children.  This is so for good, sound, biological reasons, and also for deep moral ones.  A parent can make the decision to have a child—or well, two parents can make that decision.  The child literally has no say in the matter, for the child does not even exist when the decision is made.  They cannot be held morally accountable for anything to do with that decision, and they cannot incur any obligation because of it.  Of course, good parenting and good socialization can mean that a child will be naturally grateful to the parents, and that’s nice when it happens, but it isn’t required.  It cannot, ethically, be required.  It cannot, in good conscience, be demanded.

That reminds me tangentially of the concept creep problem our culture has with the terms, “respect” and with “self-esteem”.  People cannot demand respect.  Respect is in the eye of the beholder.  Courtesy is presumptively expectable, since simple politeness is the lubricant of civilization, but respect can only be freely given if it is to be of any value at all.

Likewise with self-esteem.  It doesn’t make sense to encourage people to have just a general, free-form, positive self-image based on nothing; that leads to narcissism and all the problems it entails.  One should not feel “proud” merely of the fact that one exists.

A student who cannot seem to master math well should not necessarily feel proud of his or her math skills, though if that student has worked hard to learn as much as they can learn, they should feel proud about that!  And that person almost certainly has other strengths and abilities that they can feel good about, and of which they should feel proud.

Hard work is worthy of esteem, and thus of self-esteem.  But I don’t need to esteem my own ability to play basketball, for instance, and I shouldn’t, because I’m terrible at basketball.  On the other hand, I write reasonably well, and I write a lot.  I also have good skills at general mathematics and science, and I am deeply curious about the way the universe works, and have learned a lot about what people know about how it works, and how that knowledge has been gained.  I should feel good about that, at least.  I certainly enjoy it.

“Pride” in general is a tricky concept.  Its legitimacy depends on how one uses it, and what one means by it.  None of us made ourselves, obviously; we operate according to the laws of nature*, and we are shaped by our nature—our genes and other physical factors—and our experience, our background, our society, our upbringing, our education, and so on.  And in a sense, all of these things are also part of “our” nature.

A person may have the tenacity to work hard and improve themselves from an otherwise unpromising-seeming background, but even then, they did not create that tenacity—it was their luck, or their blessing, however you want to characterize it, that they had it.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  Use the assets you have to their best effect.

You can’t use assets you don’t have, after all.  It would be much easier, for instance, for me to get to work in the morning if I could teleport, or even if I could fly.  But I cannot, and there are no reasonable technological solutions to that lack right now, so I just don’t have that ability.  It would be the height of silliness for me to feel proud of myself for my ability to fly, since I cannot.  But I’m glad of my ability to learn and use the public transportation system in south Florida, and I’m grateful that it exists; I admire the people who put it into place, and I esteem the people who keep it running every day.

Maybe gratitude is a better notion and virtue than pride or self-esteem.  I know some religious systems place an emphasis on it, and I think that’s far from a bad thing.  It’s good to be grateful for the inherent and learned abilities that you have, and it makes sense to instantiate that gratitude by using those gifts to the best of your ability.  Otherwise, it’s not very impressive gratitude.

It’s the converse** of the situation in which a person apologizes for something, but keeps up the behavior that led to the apology.  That’s not much of an apology.  I often find myself saying to people, “I don’t need your apology, I want you not to do the thing you’re apologizing for.  If you apologize but keep doing the same thing, the apology is useless, and even insulting.”

Okay, I use words to that effect, adjusted to match the situation.  I hope you get the idea.

These are my thoughts for this Saturday morning, such as they are.  I hope most of you are looking forward to an enjoyable weekend, hopefully with some time spent with family and/or friends.  Be grateful for them, certainly, if you have them around.  No one is guaranteed to have them, and even if there were such a guarantee, with whom would you lodge the complaint if the guarantee were not met?  Feel good about the things you are good at, and feel grateful for the good things you have in the world, and show your esteem and gratitude by doing the best you can with both.

Those are good words, I think, and I’m astonished that I am the one who actually just wrote them.  The trick will be to live up to them!


*And of Nature’s God, if you believe in God, to paraphrase the Declaration of Independence.

**Or maybe the obverse—I’ve never yet been able to get those concepts clearly differentiated in my head.  Neither term may actually be the correct one, come to think of it.

[As noted above, here is my thought below the footnotes:  Is it ever possible for any kind of mind, whether natural or artificial, instantiated in hardware or software or both, to be complex enough to accurately model its own workings in detail?  As it becomes more complex, modeling its own function will also become more complex.  I suspect that this complexity will increase more quickly than the ability of the increasingly complex mind to parse it.]

A soothsayer blogs you beware the Ides of…

Hello, good morning, and welcome to Thursday, the Ides of September.  Actually, I’m not sure it’s technically correct to call it the Ides of September just because it’s the 15th, but it seems a shame for only March to have an Ides, so I’ll give it a go.  I think I’ll look up the formal definition of an “Ides” sometime soon, but right now I’m sitting at the train station with no Wi-Fi access, so it’ll have to wait.

Of course, since this Thursday is the 15th of September, that means next Thursday will be the 22nd of September, which is not only the beginning of Autumn, but is—much more importantly—Bilbo and Frodo Baggins’s birthday.  In The Lord of the Rings, Bilbo made his final departure from the Shire on his birthday, and of course, Frodo began his great journey on the “same” day, years later, after selling Bag End to the Sackville-Bagginses.  It’s an auspicious day.  I ought to do something grand and epic next Thursday, really.  I’m at least tentatively hoping to do so.  I’m not going to let you know what it is, but if I do it, it will become obvious here, I should think.  It will at least be obvious that I’ve done something, though I’m not sure if it will be obvious just what I have done.

In the meantime, I’m still sick with the virus I’ve been fighting, and my chronic pain continues, and I’ve had less than four hours’ sleep, all as per usual.  Fun!

I arrived at the train station this morning to a mildly unnerving sight:  there was no one waiting for the trains on either side of the tracks.  For a moment, I wondered if there had been some national emergency or holiday declared, or if the trains just weren’t running, but all the stairways and elevator ports and payment kiosks were open, and the announcement boards were displaying their repetitive notice that, on Thanksgiving, the Tri-rail system will be operating on a Sunday schedule.  Also, there was a security guy near where I had entered, so I knew it wasn’t as though all life in this area had disappeared*.

What happened, of course, is that I arrived very shortly after the most recent northbound and southbound trains had come and gone, so that anyone waiting for those trains had boarded, and no other people apart from me had yet arrived for the next ones.  This is because I woke up too early again, but didn’t leave the house quite in time to catch the first train of the morning.  Ah, well.  I prefer to ride the same train, and wait on the same bench before doing so, and sit in the same seat on the train, if I can help it, every day.

Speaking of living things (I was, just two paragraphs ago, you can check for yourself), it has been raining steadily and drearily for the last several days and looks to be doing so quite a bit over the next several more days.  Because of this, the access alleyway behind the place where I work is largely flooded—but that has produced at least one good outcome.  Specifically, yesterday morning, when I got to work, I could hear an astonishingly loud bunch of creaking and croaking noises from behind the office (while I was inside!) and I peeked out to confirm that, yes, it was the sound of lots of frogs.  I only actually saw one—it was quite dark—but I heard oodles, and even tried to take a “video” of the noise (I actually hoped but failed, to catch sight of one of the frogs while my video was going).

It’s nice to know that there are frogs about, because it seems like it’s been a long time since I’ve seen any serious number of frogs or toads here in Florida.  When I was a kid, visiting my grandparents, almost every time it rained, loads of the critters would appear, but not in recent years.  I read that there was some international blight that had affected frogs for a while, but maybe it’s run its course.  Probably not.

***

I’ve gotten on the train now, and someone is sitting in my usual seat, someone who doesn’t normally ride this train, or at least doesn’t usually sit in this general seating area.  That’s irritating.  Also, the train stopped at a different spot in the station than usual, which is doubly irritating, since I stand at the platform roughly where the front-most available door lines up starting about five minutes before the train arrives, so I can swiftly hop on the train (well, “hop” is an exaggeration) and get to my seat.  Because it was out of alignment, though, I got caught behind several other people, some of whom were slow-moving.  That was also irritating, but only a bit.  At last they’re people who wait for the train every day, and are familiar sights to me.

Incidentally, another issue with having someone sit in the seat I usually use is that I now have to sit somewhere else, and may be taking a seat that some other regular passenger uses nearly every day.  I don’t like the thought of doing that to someone.  I have a hard enough time justifying my existence at all to myself, and when I inconvenience other people in ways that I don’t like to be inconvenienced, it is rather mortifying.

I’m a weirdo, I know, but I guess I’ve always been a weirdo, and I guess I’ve always been aware of the fact that I’ve always been a weirdo.  I’m not too bothered by being weird; much of the time, “normal” people seem absolutely idiotic.  Why would anyone want to be like most people in the world, even the successful ones?  The things they think are precious, and the things that pass for knowledge to them, and the things they think are useless, I can’t understand, as Steely Dan said.  And I don’t want to understand them.  I don’t think they understand themselves, or each other, most of the time, nor do they stop even to think about trying to do so.  That’s the way it seems, anyway.  It may be that I’m just prejudiced against humans.  Perhaps this is all just sour grapes.

Anyway, that’s about it for today.  No fiction, no music, none of that good stuff going on.  Just drudging through the day-to-day, smelly, moronic, loud, ugly, and in a million other ways unpleasant human world.  I can’t wait to get off this planet.

TTFN

sees her smaller


*There is also the presence of these annoying termites or winged ants that live in this area, and which episodically land on one’s hands or arms or neck or computer, so clearly there are living things here.

Demonstrandum in the middle of nowhere

Good morning, everyone.  It’s Tuesday, the 13th of September, and I’m coming down with something again.  Meaning I think I have some upper respiratory virus, because I started getting mild chills overnight, and a low-grade elevation of my temperature, and my throat has that sore, itchy, irritated feeling that comes with fighting a virus.

I’m assuming it’s a virus—well, not truly assuming; I’m drawing a tentative conclusion based on experience and knowledge.  It doesn’t seem like a bacterial infection, those tend to be more localized, and I don’t think it’s a fungus, since those are rather rare and occur only in specific circumstances…and I’ve never heard of a prion disease that presents in this fashion.  Whereas I’ve had many iterations of “colds” throughout my life, and this feels a lot like most of them.

It doesn’t seem like Covid, but I suppose it could be one of the later variants, tempered down by my already-exposed immune system.  In any case, although I must go to work—that’s why I’m writing this blog post today—I am masking even more thoroughly than usual.

It’s remarkable that the wearing of masks was resisted so much by so many crybaby wusses in America.  People in east Asia have been regularly wearing masks when they get a cold since long before the first SARS virus.  It’s simple courtesy to recognize that, though you may have to go to work because there are people and things depending on you, it’s good to take some minor precautions to decrease the risk of spreading your sickness to the people around you.

I understand the spirit of independence, and I am glad to live in a country where the more common saying is, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease” rather than “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down”.  But it’s not independence or free spiritedness to refuse to take simple, easy precautions to reduce the chance of you spreading a disease to your fellow Americans (as the case may be).  That’s just being a spoiled and entitled ass-wipe.  And the only good thing to do with ass-wipes is to flush them down the toilet.

Anyway, that wasn’t what I was going to write about today.  Actually, I didn’t have anything specific in mind to write about today, which is why I know that wasn’t what I meant to write about today.  Logic.  If there exists no class of things: [Topics considered to write about on Tuesday, September 13th, 2022, AD] then {the inexplicable and inexcusable refusal to use masks when ill} cannot be a member of that class.  Quantum Electro Dynamics*.

Ah, Logic.  Ah, Reason.  Ah, Evidence and Argument.  How I pine for you in the human world.  Of course, I don’t hold it against anyone that they have emotions, even strong ones.  It’s not like people designed themselves, after all, and emotions exist for good, sound biological reasons.  They are the drives, the utility functions, of organismal behavior.  And they served humans well in the ancestral environment, else humans wouldn’t be around.

But reasoning minds have achieved much more; they are much more versatile and powerful, and modern civilization is largely due to their work, though motivated by those underlying emotions and their various, often-conflicting, utility functions.

But you’ve got to tame your elephant, to borrow Jonathan Haidt’s metaphor.  Otherwise it’ll run rampant and trample everything, and it won’t get you anywhere you really want to go, except perhaps by luck.  Train it.  Maintain discipline.  Reward it when it’s good and correct it when it’s not.  Don’t just be the rider of your older brain, be the pilot, be the driver.  It requires effort, obviously, but I think it’s probably worth it.

In other words, what I’m saying is, don’t trust your emotions to guide you—they’re not reliable.  Listen to them, notice them, but don’t trust them.  They developed to help make quick decisions about hunting and gathering, avoiding lions and hyenas, and interacting with a tribe of maybe forty or fifty people at a time.

Every complex animal in the world has emotions of some kind; anyone who doubts that is simply in denial.  Only humans (among species native to the planet) have human-type brains, with big, complex frontal lobes and complex, symbolic language with syntax and grammar and logic and all that jazz (sometimes literally).

But those brains are powerful—again, see Jonathan Haidt’s metaphor of the elephant and the rider.  If they are not managed, they can be horrifically destructive.  And if you get a herd of unmanaged elephant-brains** or brain-elephants, they can do a terrific amount of harm, especially if they’re armed with modern technology (most of which was not made or designed by people with no control over their personal elephants, but is nevertheless available now to the billions of people who could not have made it, and who don’t bother even trying to steer).

Anyway, this has all been meandering and peculiar, I guess.  As I said, I’m a bit under the weather.  It’s annoying to be in south Florida and to be both sweaty and chilly.  I wish I could just lie in bed somewhere, maybe have some Jell-O or something.

I must be feeling sick.  I don’t particularly like Jell-O.  But it is easy on the throat.

I wish I didn’t have to go to work today.  Though it’s not a wish I would waste on a genie if I found a magic lamp.  I’d probably ask for some kind of special, personal powers that I could use to achieve world peace…through my absolute dominion over everyone and everything!  Bwa-ha-haaaa!!

Again, anyway…that’s enough silliness.  I’m really not going anywhere with anything today.  I just wish I could rest for the day, but I can’t, so tough luck.  A person has to do what a person must do; willingly accepted duty, and a reasonable sense of honor, and a general sense of courtesy should guide one in one’s actions, if one wishes to be other than merely a jumped-up monkey throwing feces…or an idiot protesting against a simple health precaution, pretending to take a stand on principle when one is actually simply throwing a tantrum because one doesn’t want to do something sensible and healthful, like take a nap.

Naps are good.  So are masks in the right circumstances.


*Q.E.D. in other words—quod erat demonstrandum, “what was to be demonstrated”.  That’s my little nerdy joke, playing on the earlier nerdy “joke” that was the naming of quantum electrodynamics by physicists, shortening it to QED, because why would you not?

**The elephant is a metaphor of a powerful beast carrying around the conscious mind.  I am not implying that elephants themselves are destructive by nature, though of course, they can be.

Tangents of tangents of tangents, oh my!

It’s Wednesday, the middle of the week based on our usual reckoning of things.  Welcome.

Of course, the universe at large doesn’t give any preference to days of the week, or months, or whatever.  Days, per se, are more or less natural units of time, as are years.  Both are related to regular, physical phenomena in the solar system*.  Now, one could argue that since the moon’s orbit around the Earth is roughly twenty-eight days, that seven days in a week is a sort of natural division, since 28 divided by 4 is seven.  That’s not an unreasonable thought, but it is derivative, unlike the measure of a year or a day.

Of course, rather irritatingly, the days don’t evenly divide into the years, nor do the months (orbits of the moon, which itself isn’t quite an even number of days), which means we have to do all sorts of mucking about with the number of days in months to get a reasonable number of them per year, and only one of them has 28 days, but even that changes every 4 years, except every hundred years when it’s 28 again, except every thousand years when it’s 29 again, and so on.  And then, of course, we have to add and subtract “leap seconds” on an irregular basis to adjust things to keep them consistent, lest the seasons creep steadily in one direction or the other relative to the calendar as the years pass, even as the times of day and night also shift.

If the period of the moon’s orbit around the Earth divided evenly into the orbit of the Earth around the sun; and the length of days on Earth** also evenly divided into the orbit of the Earth around the sun; and if those divided evenly, say, into the orbits of the sun around the center of the Milky Way; and then if the second, as we decided it, turned out to be some round number of oscillations of a cesium atom being pumped by a particular wavelength of light—say 9 billion exactly, when measuring a previously decided interval of one sixtieth of one sixtieth of one twenty-fourth of a day…that would all be quite a collection of coincidences!  That would make me start wondering if the whole thing was designed by someone.  As it is, though, it looks very much like it just all kind of happened, with no inherent direction or purpose or goal.  Which makes more sense of most of human history and the natural world than the alternative does.

It would also be quite a coincidence if, for instance, pi turned out to be 3.141618110112114…or some other regular pattern alone those lines.  Especially if some similar pattern of interest showed up when it was measured using other number bases, like base 2, base 16, whatever.  That would be something.  Or imagine if pi were an exact integer.  Of course it’s hard even to imagine what it could possibly be that could make the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter into an integer, how that could actually be achieved, since the number pi is something born of what appears to be fundamental geometry, constrained by internal logical and physical consistency.

Anyway, the universe looks very much like, as I said yesterday, a spontaneously self-assembled system.  For all we know, it’s just a collection of quantum building blocks of some kind that fall together in a bunch of spin-networks, if that was the right term, to form spacetime that acts like General Relativity when there are enough of them***.

And, maybe the other quantum fields are just emergent phenomena that develop as part of the properties of these conglomerated spin-networks, and the net result of their gross uniformity leads them to mutual repulsion, and then—rather like quarks being forcefully separated leading to formation of new quarks if you could do it, which you can’t—when spin-networks are stretched apart, they simply generate new, connecting networks in between, out of the energy from the tension of their repulsion.  Thus, spacetime can expand forever, generating new space-time as it does, and perhaps the other quantum fields, again, are mere epiphenomena that arise when enough spacetime exists.  And everything else, as we can already tell, is a bunch of epiphenomena overlying, or produced by, that.

Here’s a question that just occurred to me:  If spacetime can be continuously created by stretching of the preexisting network, in response to “dark energy” or “inflaton field” or whatever one might call it, popping little new nuggets of spin networks or whatever spacetime is made of into existence, can it, on the other end of things, be made to disappear?  Can quantum spacetime be unmade as readily as it is made?  I don’t think it would have to happen, say, in the “singularity” at the center of a black hole.  I can see that as potentially being a thin and narrow “tube” of spacetime stretching off and continuing to grow but only in one direction, like the function 1/|x| as it approaches zero, with a finite “volume” perhaps, but an infinite “surface area” that can keep growing indefinitely if spacetime really can just keep reforming itself.  Though maybe, if the chunks are of finite size, the tube can never narrow past some certain minimal “circumference”.  I wonder what the implications of that could be.

But can spacetime ever un-form?  Quarks that could be formed from, for instance, stretching the gluon field between two of them could, in principle, “un-form” if they encountered an anti-quark of the proper character.  They can even decay, I think.  But they wouldn’t simply disappear, they would convert into, presumably, some pair of high-energy photons, and maybe something else, too.  But spacetime itself doesn’t always obey the straightforward law of conservation of energy/mass, as GR has already shown.  Conservation of energy is a property of things within spacetime, and is born of the mathematical symmetry of time translation, as per Emmy Noether’s**** Theorem.  It doesn’t necessarily apply to spacetime itself.  So under what circumstances, if any, could it simply spontaneously disappear, and what affects would that have?

Well, that’s something I’m not going to figure out right here right now, I’m afraid.  But, boy, have I gone off on some tangents!  It’s rather like a moon or a planet suddenly released from the gravitational embrace of that which it orbits, to go off into eternity like a rock from a King David-style sling.  Or like the derivative of any continuous function, or the derivatives of derivative of derivatives, “most” of which end up settling out at some constant, if memory serves (but not the exponential function, ex!).

All this is, apparently, just what happens when one cannot stay asleep after three in the morning and so gets up very early and waits for the first train on Wednesday morning.  One thing leads to another, but with no inherent direction or purpose or goal.  Things just happen.

That sounds familiar.


*The rotation of the Earth and its orbit around the sun, in case you didn’t already know.

**Of course, there are different ways to define a day.  There’s a solar day, which—if memory serves—describes the time it takes for the Earth to turn until the same longitude line (so to speak) is facing the sun, which, because of the motion of the Earth in its orbit, is going to be slightly longer than a sidereal day, which—again, if memory serves—describes when the same longitude line returns to its place relative to the distant, “fixed” stars.  Of course, the stars themselves are not truly fixed, but their angular location changes so slowly that that’s an adjustment that doesn’t have to be made often.  I think there are other day measures, but they aren’t popping into my head right now.

***I realize that this is very loosely a description of loop quantum gravity, and that one prediction of one form of that model predicts that light speed even through a vacuum varies ever so slightly by frequency—and that our best measurements of light from distant quasars and the like seem to disconfirm that prediction.  But I don’t think the jury is completely in on that question.  And maybe that specific form of LQG is not quite correct, or the difference is smaller than expected.  I don’t know the subject well enough to opine.

****Look her up.  Einstein called her a mathematical genius.  Hilbert invited her to teach in the University of Göttingen (fighting against the powers that be that didn’t want a woman professor).  She should be a household name.  Her face should be on currency.  She should be bigger than every TikTok “influencer” combined.  That she is not should bring every human shame.

Chaos surfing is difficult, but it’s the only sport there is

Happy Labor Day to those of my readers who live in the United States.  If any other countries celebrate a similar holiday on the same day, well, happy holiday to you as well.  And to everyone, Happy Monday.

At my office, we’re celebrating workers’ rights by working a half day today, and based on the fact that quite a few other people are at the train station already—though it’s operating today on a weekend schedule—we’re not the only ones.

It’s just another case of competition leading to inadequate equilibria of over-exertion, to the relative detriment of everyone in the system, like trees in a forest having to compete against each other for light, so they all have to keep getting taller, even though it would be saner if they could somehow agree to stay shorter and collect the light of the sun without wasting so many resources on competing with each other.  But they can’t and even if some of them could, they would be vulnerable to any mutant tree that grew taller than the others, and then that one would outcompete and out-reproduce, until all the trees got taller again, until they reached the point where the costs of getting taller were greater than the benefits, on average, and they would level off there, in a state of mutual strain.

Evolution is a bitch goddess, that’s for sure.  But trees are very pretty and majestic, so there are at least minor compensations.

As with trees, human businesses compete with each other, and the ones that stayed open on holidays had advantages over ones that did not, until a great many businesses—ones not constrained by laws forbidding it, otherwise, or union rules and agreements—stayed open on holidays, and ultimately, there are essentially no holidays on which everything is pretty much closed, when everyone stays home with their families.

That’s assuming, of course, that people have families with whom to stay home.  As for me, the only people I really interact with personally anymore are the people at work, so going in to work is my only serious socialization.  When I had my family around, I would have been happy to stay home; my family was probably an equivalent to one of my “special interests”, as they describe it for people with the Syndrome Formerly Known as Asperger’s and related disorders.  Now, though, I mainly just loll about on days when I don’t work.  If I didn’t have my chronic back pain problem, I might feel like doing other things—maybe going to bookstores or something similar.  But as it is, I just try to rest and not pay attention to how utterly empty and pointless my life is.

Hopefully, most of you who are celebrating this holiday are going to spend time with your families and/or friends, maybe having a cookout or something.  That’s the way it was when I was a kid.  Most of the people in my family worked for General Motors and related businesses, so they had the day off, thanks largely to union efforts and the like, such as—I believe—are celebrated by Labor Day.

However, businesses obviously lost money by having their factories idle when they could otherwise be productive, and so once they could transfer at least some of their manufacturing to other countries, they did, and got more work with less cost, and then so did all the other companies, and the equilibrium led to anyone who wanted to stay competitive keeping their businesses open as often as they could for as long as the costs of staying open were lower than the costs of being closed.  And the wheel turned, grinding ordinary lives into powder underneath it.

Okay, that’s a bit melodramatic, but it still does in fact suck.  In the past, there were those who predicted that rising technology would lead to people having more and more leisure time, and yet still being able to produce more than ever in the past.  These people had never studied evolution and natural selection carefully enough, it seems.  Success is always relative to other success in the environment; there’s always an arms race.  Now we work longer hours than ever before, and the most successful people are often the people with the least leisure time as opposed to the other way around.

That’s a bit ironic, I guess.  Success breeds more work rather than less, and the society it creates is so mind-numbing and stressful that hundreds of thousands of people every year die prematurely simply from drug overdoses, because drugs are the only reliable source of any solace or escape many people are able to find.  This is, of course, one of the reasons drugs are illegal; they harm productivity.  Why else would a society be against people doing something to their own bodies, as long as they don’t directly harm others by doing so?  The most popular drug in the world by far—caffeine—increases people’s productivity, at least temporarily, and there is no serious thought of restricting it.

Many of the costs of people’s drug problems are entirely due to the fact that some drugs are illegal.  In many cases, having been convicted of a felony related to drugs makes a person less able to get gainful future employment such as they might otherwise be able to do.  It likewise affects what kind of housing they can get.  And so, far from having “paid their debt to society”, these people never stop paying, for the rest of their foreshortened lives.  Why would one not be willing to risk death by taking unregulated drugs, when life is an empty competition without any good reward even for the most successful?

Then again, life has never really promised any good and lasting reward.  Any creature that found truly lasting satisfaction in a meal, for instance, would live a happy but short and less-reproductive life.  Lions and gazelles don’t have job security, and they don’t get to take vacations from each other.  Every day is a struggle to survive and if possible reproduce, no matter what or who you are.

Economies no more have souls than ecosystems do, because they are both spontaneously self-assembled systems in which whatever survives is just, well, whatever survives and becomes self-sustaining.  They’re conspiracies without conspirators.  There is no master plan behind it all.  Most conspiracies—even ones that would be recognized by all as such—were not nefariously planned by any cabal behind the scenes.  They just happen, and the ones that persist do so because they become self-sustaining, like bureaucracies and governments and businesses and whatnot.

It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that we aren’t able (so far) to throw off such self-created situations.  Each person and thing can only act in response to the vector sum of all the forces acting on it locally.  Even the laws of physics only act locally.  Gravity doesn’t actually reach across the universe; each change in a local bit of the gravitational manifold affects the bit next to it, which affects the bits next to it, and so on, spreading out at the speed of light as it changes.  This is why there are gravitational waves, and why black holes continue to gravitate even though nothing can actually pass through the event horizon outwards.

Likewise, each bit of the electromagnetic field influences the next bit, which influences the next bit, and spreads along, again, at the speed of light.  That speed of propagation can fool people, whose reactions happen at most at a few meters a second, into thinking that things are truly and directly interconnected instantaneously, but they are not.  Every point in spacetime is influenced directly—as far as we know—only by the points immediately around it at any given time.  The universe itself is, in a sense, just a spontaneously self-assembled system, an unplanned conspiracy.

Humans have the advantage of being able to think about such things and their implications more deeply, and a few of them even do so.  But it’s hard for one bit of water in the middle of an ocean to deliberately change the specific configuration of the world’s seas by the effects of what it can do locally.  A butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon Rainforest™ may indeed affect whether a tornado happens somewhere thousands of miles away months later…but the butterfly doesn’t know this, nor does it know how to flap its wings in just the right way at just the right time to cause or prevent any weather formation.  It just flutters around looking for nectar and looking to mate and lay eggs and so on.

Humans are more sophisticated than butterflies, but the equations that govern the interactions of the world are generally higher-order, emergent equations that cannot be solved even in simplified forms, not within the lifetime of the universe.  Only the universe itself has the processing power to compute them, and even it can do so only by enacting them.

And while the Schrodinger equation is, apparently, a linear equation, and remains so in perpetuity, it’s still not readily solvable for anything beyond the simplest of systems.  And anyway, people are not completely sure what it really represents, they just know that it works really well.

Oh, well.  What are you gonna do?  Have a hamburger or a hot dog or some potato salad today with your family if you can.  Give a hug to someone you love and who loves you.  The chaos may be inescapable, but there are still benefits that can be squeezed out of it, if you can learn to surf it for a while.  You might even be able to have fun doing it.

What does the moon think it’s smiling at?

It’s Monday morning again.  This keeps on happening, no matter what we try to do about it.  Somehow, we’ve got to get together as a civilization to end this disastrous, senseless litany of workweek beginnings.

Human civilization is about as likely to be able to do that as it is any more important or “realistic” goals it might want to achieve.

That reminds me—I followed the YouTube channel of that guy who did the video on the strong force (see this post), because I thought he seemed like someone worth checking out.  I was right.  He has another video, not as popular, but which I think is even more thought-provoking.

It’s about seeing our governments as a kind of AI (Artificial Intelligence) which have, as a part of their nature, the same issues we have with AI alignment in general:  that unless we are very careful with what terminal goals we give our AIs, they are likely to find the easiest workarounds—cheats, if you will—to satisfy the letter of their terminal values, because they certainly are not capable of grasping the “spirit” of them unless we are smart enough to give them that nature.  The same is true of governments.  The video maker brings this up as a way of possibly explaining the so-called Fermi Paradox*.  His conjecture is that perhaps all governments in the long run tend to evolve into dystopias, and dystopias are not going to colonize the galaxy, and all alien civilizations that might have done so are stuck in dystopias.

I’ll embed the video here for your delectation.  It’s not as polished and fancy as the one about the strong force, and it has no animations, but I think it’s an original, interesting, and troubling idea.  I’d be curious to know what you all think.

Let’s get back to Monday, though, and what we can do about it.  One possible solution to Mondays would be to develop our technology to the point where we don’t need to work at all, where all our actual goods are produced by robots and AIs and the like, so there’s no longer any need to get up and go to “the office” on Mondays.

I don’t think that’s going to work, so to speak.  There’s the alignment problem mentioned above, of course, but there’s also simply the fact that we don’t work merely for sustenance.  If that were the case, many people in the western world, at least, would only have to work 10 to 15 hours a week, maybe, if that.  Unfortunately, humans are competitive—for individual resources, yes, but also for status, prestige, sex, power, all sorts of other things that will always be, in effect, scarce resources, because success in such things is always relative to other people.  We work longer hours now than people did in the 1950’s, despite all the technological advances we’ve made since then.

Maybe we’re already in a dystopia.  Maybe dystopia is the natural state of human civilization, just as it’s (arguably) the state of all those monstrous, gigantic trees, growing ever taller and taller only because they have to compete against other trees for sunlight.  Humans are, after all, really just souped-up chimpanzees with delusions of grandeur.

Maybe the proverbial “quiet desperation” of daily life is the natural state of humans, because, even when basic and not-so-basic needs are met—food, shelter, water, sanitation, protection from most natural disasters, all that stuff—people always want to do more, to compete for higher social status, bigger houses, sexier mates, more “important” jobs, flashier bling, fancier cars, “better” smartphones.  And, of course, like everything else in the universe, people can only respond to local forces, local incentives, so fixing things that are out of whack but in an equilibrium state (of sorts, anyway) is hard even to get started.

Ah, well.  Life is complicated.  We didn’t make the world, nor did we make civilization; it made itself, as I think I’ve mentioned before.  It’s a spontaneously self-organized system.  We’re ants in ant-holes.  And remember, the queen ant, or queen bee, or queen termite, is no more in charge of the ant hill (or beehive or termite mound) than the Queen of England is actually in charge of running the day-to-day business of Great Britain or the British Commonwealth.

Even Putin isn’t really in charge of the moment to moment happenings in Russia.  He has great influence, of course, but it is tenuous, and it is ephemeral.  When he is gone, Russia will still exist, as it existed after Stalin, after the Tsars, after Genghis Khan, and so on.  Essentially no one who was alive during the reign of Queen Victoria is alive today (no human, anyway—there might be a tortoise or two), and that includes Queen Victoria.  And by the year 2150, unless very surprising things happen with respect to trans-humanism, no one will be alive who was alive during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.  Though she herself is surprisingly durable.

I don’t know what point I’m trying to make.  Maybe I’m trying to make the point that there is no inherent or meta-level point at all, and I’m doing that by not trying to make a coherent point.  That sounds cleverer than I’m likely to be, but maybe my subconscious is smarter and cleverer than I am consciously—well, it almost certainly is those things—and it arranged this on purpose.  I doubt it, but I don’t completely rule it out.

In the meantime, though, remember that Monday is the day of the moon—the moon that was smiling madly but cheerily down at me this morning when I looked up.  It should have looked much the same for anyone else seeing it at that time.  And the moon is pretty cool.  Remember Sting’s description of the moon, by way of Shakespeare, when confronted by a drunk who asked him to describe it:  “My Mistress’s are nothing like the sun.”


*Basically, that our galaxy is at least twice as old as our solar system, and there have been potentially billions of years for other planetary systems somewhere in it to develop first life, then multicellular life, then intelligence, then civilizations, then high technology, and then presumably space-faring civilizations.  Even at a slow rate, any one civilization—and there could have been countless such civilizations, potentially—could have colonized the galaxy by now, or least have produced technology some of the signatures of which we should have been able to detect.  Yet we have found nothing.  So, where is everybody?