This tempest will not give me leave to ponder on blogs would hurt me more

Okay, well, hello and good morning, everyone—everyone who’s reading this, anyway.  It’s Thursday again, and so it’s time for my weekly blog post.  It’s March, also, but I don’t think there’s any such thing as “Marchly” blog posts.  March is the month in which Spring begins (in the northern hemisphere), so that’s nice.  It is if you like Spring, anyway, and most people do…for good, sound, biological reasons.

I’ve been slightly less productive on Outlaw’s Mind this week than I was last week, having written only a little over 4000 words this week…4153, to be exact.  This is mainly because I didn’t work last Saturday, so I didn’t write anything in the morning that day.  It turns out I’ve been writing about a thousand words a day, lately (plus some additional fractional number on average, which can’t apply to real words per se, so I won’t figure it exactly…readers can feel free to do the division for themselves if they like).

The story is progressing nicely.  Or, rather, it’s progressing well.  It’s not very “nice” right now; in fact, Timothy is going through what will probably end up being the worst thing to happen to him so far.  That’s the way it goes with stories; you have to torment the protagonist.  Ease and comfort don’t exactly make for gripping reading, unfortunately.

It’s probably a universal fact of life—again, for good, sound, biological reasons—that fear and suffering and discomfort are much more engaging than any achieved joy or experienced satisfaction.  The Buddhists are probably right, that life is fundamentally characterized by suffering, and it’s not unreasonable just to want to get off the ride—by meditation or by other means.

Though, of course, there is in most creatures most of the time a terribly strong drive not to get off the ride—yet again, for good, sound, biological reasons.  That’s even without Hamlet’s lamented dread of what dreams may come.  Even if you’re convinced that the reason no traveler ever returns from the bourne of that undiscovered country is that there’s no place from which to return and there’s no one to do the returning once you go there—and certainly no suffering—nevertheless the dread of it remains, as does the addictive clinging to the maladaptive habit that is life.  It’s terribly frustrating.

I’m being slightly melodramatic here.  I apologize.  I’m frustrated by a great many things—stupidity (my own and that of others), events in the outside world, events in my life, events in my inside world, the nature of my inside world, and so on—and this blog is pretty much my only venue for expressing those frustrations.  It’s not like I can talk to anyone about them.

I mean, it’s physically possible to talk about them, don’t get me wrong, but physical possibility is not a dispositive fact.  After all, it’s physically possible for a person to run full tilt at a brick wall and quantum tunnel through it.  But that’s so improbable that you’re probably waaaaay more likely to win every lottery in the world on the same day…without even playing any of them deliberately*.  But, in principle, it could happen the next time you don’t look where you’re going.

If such tunneling became, somehow, much more likely, perhaps because some omnipotent being had tweaked the nature of quantum interactions, I suspect that the universe as we know it would fall apart.  For one thing, fusion reactions would happen way too easily (I think) if tunneling were so much more likely, and maybe every form of “ordinary” matter would accumulate locally into massive atomic nuclei—little bits of neutron-star matter everywhere, accompanied by all the local equivalents of supernova explosions that would happen as protons converted into neutrons, and positrons and neutrinos went flying everywhere…dogs and cats living together…mass hysteria!  But, again, this is just speculation and silliness.  The point is, there are easier ways to get through walls.

Actually, I don’t think that was the point.  Oh, well.

Anyway—as you could probably guess—I have a very difficult time having normal conversations.  I have a pretty difficult time having even abnormal conversations.  So please forgive me if I express myself here, at least a little bit.  You’re the one reading it.  No one’s forcing you to do so**.

I did post the third part of Outlaw’s Mind here earlier this week, and if you’re reading it, I hope you’re enjoying it.  I guess I’ll probably continue to post it for now.  It astonishes me that I ever thought this was going to be a short story, or even just a novella.

I’m trying to force myself to read fiction again, so I’ve again gotten the Kindle versions of a few “light novels”, such as are popular—so I gather—with young people in Japan.  They tend to be short books, which helps, but they’re often too short…they’re almost always serial stories, and that gets frustrating, because there’s no resolution in any given volume.  It’s also somewhat dispiriting to get to the end of a story, or the end of a volume, anyway, and have to face the fact that, no, I’m not some Japanese high school student who has friends and romances and interactions and peculiar occurrences in his or her life.  I’m just still me, which is surely not something for which anyone would wish.

Oh, well, whataya gonna do?  I hope you’re all doing well, and feeling well, and minimizing your suffering and all that stuff.  If so, keep it up.

TTFN

stormy road


*I haven’t worked the numbers at all—I’m not sure how one would even determine the odds of accidentally winning lotteries without having deliberately played them, and I don’t have the necessary skills to calculate the rough rates of macroscopic quantum tunneling, though that, at least, can be done—so I may be wrong about the comparison.  But I don’t think I am.

**I hope.  Please, if someone is threatening you or otherwise coercing you to read my blog, try to find a way to alert the “authorities”, or leave a message in the comments below.  It doesn’t have to be an obvious message, in case you’re being monitored.  Goodness knows I’ve sent coded messages in blog posts, apparently ones that are so obscure that no one even notices that they exist, like last week.

OK…

OK…

Imagine a story about someone who is trapped in some infernal prison.  It’s not a prison with walls, necessarily, but is instead a prison of the mind, perhaps, and that person is trying to get messages out, calling—begging—for help to get free.  But the messages are “coded”.  The person is allowed to communicate with the outside world, but the jailer is watching and reading all outgoing correspondence and doesn’t want the person to receive any help, even if there is anyone out there who might help him—which is not at all clear.

So, the prisoner is forced to send out these coded messages, without a code key, in hopes that people will recognize them as what they are—as attempts to beg for help.  But every response the resident gets simply makes clear that the others outside don’t get it.  They just see the messages as stories, as hypotheticals, as songs…whatever.  They’re not getting the message.  He’s had to be too subtle, and the message is not getting across because he’s had to be too subtle.

Now, take a step back—or perhaps take a step forward, or a step inward—and we realize this story is not actually a story of a person imprisoned by someone else, but that the person who imprisons him is himself.  He hates himself too much to think that he deserves help, and he hates the prospect of openly asking for help, feeling that he has no right to help from anyone—and so it is he himself who is keeping himself in prison—he himself who is forcing himself to send out only coded messages in a subtle way, and he himself who is responsible for just how much people don’t get the point of his requests for help.  Or perhaps they simply agree that he does not deserve to receive help, the prisoner and the one who imprisons him, both of whom are the same person.

People grow more and more resigned—or gleeful or whatever—knowing that the prisoner will never escape, that no one will ever come to help, that there is only one way out, and in the long run, that will be the way he must take, to the horror or perhaps to the glee of those in the outside world.

Now, imagine that this isn’t the story at all, but is something happening in the real world, at this time, in the present moment, as we speak, as we write, as we read.  Is such a thing possible?

Will the prisoner ever receive the help that he needs to escape?  Because it is not possible for him to escape on his own.

And these external manners of lament are merely shadows to the unseen grief that blogs with silence in the tortured soul.

Hello, good morning, and again, Happy New Year.  It’s Thursday‒the first one in 2022‒and so it’s time for my first blog post of the year.

There’s really not much to report this week.  The pandemic continues‒and when I say this, I’m referring both to the literal one and to the pandemic of human stupidity.  The latter seems unassailable even in the face of the deaths of millions of people, more or less at random, due to an infectious disease against which science (and those who use it) has been providing astonishing and unprecedented weapons which many more millions (particularly in the US, it seems) eschew because of numerous examples of misguided, often magical-thinking nonsense fueled by that bane of QI contestants: General Ignorance.

The thing about ignorance in the modern age, especially in America, is that it’s frequently willful ignorance.  There’s no shame in being ignorant, per se.  There exist an infinite number of facts about which we all are and always will remain ignorant.  But, to use a perhaps tired metaphor, though the ocean of ignorance is endless, it is possible for us to expand the island of our personal and collective knowledge.

Lately, however, it feels as though most people in America would rather drown.  If this were a literal urge, I could sympathize with them*.  Unfortunately, it’s merely figurative and unrecognized, and it leads to appalling facts such as that the per capita number of deaths from Covid-19 in the US is more than three times the global per capita deaths number**.  This in a country that likes to imagine itself the greatest nation the world has ever known.  Unfortunately, although aspirational greatness‒the desire and the will to be and to achieve great things‒can motivate actual improvement, and sometimes even greatness, unfortunately, once you decide you just are great, without having to do any more personally to earn or maintain the designation, you’re at serious risk of going the way of the Roman Empire and countless other such self-satisfied civilizations.

Oh, well.  These things happen.

I have continued rereading Outlaw’s Mind as it is so far, but I’m not finished and so haven’t yet started writing anything new on it again.  It’s a good story, I think, and I enjoy reading it, but then again, I wrote it.  Who knows if anyone else will ever read it?  Much of the time‒a growing fraction thereof, in fact‒I don’t hope to live to complete it.  To be honest, I often didn’t hope to live to see 2022.  But here it is.

Oh, well.  These things, as I said, do happen.

I’ve been thinking a bit about the Bystander Effect, partly because of a book I recently read‒Rationality, by Steven Pinker‒and partly because of personal reflection.  For those unfamiliar, the Bystander Effect is that circumstance in which a person is ill or injured, or being attacked, or something along those lines, and there are many people around them who could, in principle, help them…and no one intervenes because of the diffusion of responsibility, though if there were merely one or two people nearby, they would likely do something.

The Internet and the Worldwide Web seem to be “places” where a person could surely, if they needed help, reach some person, somewhere, who could and would help them.  But it is, ironically, home to possibly the greatest instantiation of the Bystander Effect ever seen, for each individual knows that there are, potentially, millions of other bystanders, and what’s more, they are all effectively anonymous each to all or nearly all the others.  It’s a place where a person can be truly, abysmally alone despite being in the largest crowd that has ever existed.  It’s the ultimate example of somewhere one can shout, or even scream, at the top of one’s figurative lungs, all while surrounded by countless other people, and yet, no one seems to hear.

What’s the difference between billions of voices all talking without speaking and hearing without listening, and silence?  Silence is at least peaceful.

Where, oh where is Sailor Saturn when you need her?  Oh, yeah, right, she’s in a fictional universe.  What a pity.  Well, they say when you want something done to your satisfaction, you should do it yourself.

Anyway, let’s hope this coming year regresses to the mean a bit, assuming we’re measuring our mean of year quality using the last decade and a half (or better yet the Nineties).  Of course, taking in the whole span of human existence, during most of which life was proverbially nasty, brutish, and short, the overall mean quality of years is probably way below even this pandemic year.  So, maybe what’s happening now is not an outlier in the negative direction which general tendencies will tend to correct back upward, but rather this is the correction, and the progress of civilization has been the extraordinary, truly aberrant, outlier.  Maybe our success is not truly a sign of any real progress within human and civilizational character, and unless improvement is deliberately, persistently, and intelligently and rationally pursued, regression to the mean will happen.

The cosmic mean, by the way, is about six protons per cubic meter***, at a temperature of only roughly 2.7 degrees Kelvin above absolute zero, and it’s getting colder and less dense every instant, approaching absolute zero asymptotically.  It’s cold****, and it’s lonely*****, but at least it’s peaceful…and it’s silent.

TTFN

mouthless emoji


*And the deep ocean is a good place to be buried, all other things being equal, since it makes for an excellent carbon sink, especially if you’re interred near a subduction zone.

**Based on the best numbers available to me.

***Which is about the atomic mass of lithium, interestingly enough.  Unfortunately, even if it were all, actually lithium, which is not the case, there wouldn’t be enough nearby to treat your bipolar disorder before you asphyxiate.

****But it probably wouldn’t feel very cold, because there’s no direct conduction of heat away from a warm surface like a human body.  Space is an excellent insulator; all your heat would only gradually be lost by radiation, contrary to what one sees in some movies when people like the Ebony Maw get sucked into space through holes in spaceship hulls.

*****But at least it’s not ironically lonely, like the “alone in a crowd” situation.

I wrote a post on Iterations of Zero

I haven’t written anything on Outlaw’s Mind this week so far, because what’s the point of that or anything else, after all?  But this morning I got an idea in my head that I decided to write an IoZ post about, and so I did that in the time in which I usually would have written fiction.  Here’s the first few paragraphs of it, followed by a link to the remainder of the post, in case you’re interested:

To really know you’ve created the best possible universe, you’d have to create them all

I was on my way into work this morning and started thinking about a curious question.

You may be aware of the area of theological inquiry called theodicy*. It deals with the “problem of evil”, though I’m sure that’s an oversimplification. In other words, it deals with the issue that, if God exists, and is infinitely powerful, and is omnibenevolent and omnipresent and omni-whatnot, then why is there evil?

We can leave aside arguments based on notions of free will and just desserts; bad things happen to “good” people in the world, whether through the actions of “evil” people or simply through the operations of the forces of nature. Think of childhood cancers and the like, and indeed, most childhood diseases prior to the modern era, as well as the fact that many children, through no fault of their own, are born to parents who are idiots (this probably describes all children, including mine).

One potential solution to the “problem of evil” is the notion that, despite appearances, the universe in which we live is the best possible one there can be. This idea is caricatured by Voltaire in the form of Dr. Pangloss, but it’s a serious point that is seriously made, and there is a certain logic to it. The notion is that, if things were changed, locally, to make some particular situation better, it would overall make more things worse, by whatever criteria you might happen to choose, and so every bad thing that happens, though it may not have any local good to it, is nevertheless necessary to minimize the evil, or maximize the good, of the universe, by whatever measure happens to be used by the one doing the parsing…presumably, God.

But how would such a God know what the best possible universe was? Such a being is assumed to have infinite intelligence**, as well as infinite power and awareness. We could, perhaps, describe it as a sort of “computer” that is infinite in all dimensions (perhaps an infinite number of them) and with limitless processing power, constrained only to the degree that it does not lead to paradoxes and contradictions, since we must assume—or I do, at least—that logic would apply even to an omnipotent being. Even God cannot actually make two plus two equal five without changing definitions, in which case it hasn’t actually been done.

To see the rest, follow this link.

But modest doubt is called the beacon of the wise, the tent that searches to th’ bottom of the blog.

Okay, well, hello and good morning as always.  It’s Thursday, June 10, 2021, and it’s time for another of my weekly blog posts.  I’m a bit under the weather—some low-level gastrointestinal bug has troubled me for the last three days—so I intend to keep this comparatively short.  However, I have long experience of such intentions going astray, like so many of the best laid plans of mice and men.

It feels, at first thought, that the plans of mice ought to go astray more often than those of men, but perhaps the plans of mice, if there can honestly be said to be such things*, are more constrained and simpler than those of “men” and so may have fewer contingent and unpredictable aspects.

Who knows?

It’s been a reasonably productive week.  I’ve finished In the Shade, as I think I might have mentioned last week, and I’ve been working on the initial editing run-through, which is now all but done.  This is only the first edit, of course; there will be many passes to follow before I consider the story fit enough to publish.  I’m being particularly assertive about reducing the story’s word count.  I obviously don’t want to take out anything that I think adds to the tale, and certainly nothing essential.  Nevertheless, I do tend to run off at the keyboard, so it’s useful to be hard on myself.  I enjoy writing words and conveying thoughts in written form, so I sometimes do too much.

This might come across as egotistical, as a sense of loving to “hear myself talk” so to speak, but I think that would be a mischaracterization.  My writing certainly doesn’t make me feel proud of myself, or that I’m particularly special, nor does it produce or reflect some narcissistic self-love.  Self-love is not one of my noteworthy attributes.

Indeed, I’ve often thought of depression (and dysthymia) as a sort of deficiency in the ability to delude oneself (positively) about one’s nature and abilities.  According to at least some studies of which I’ve heard, people with a tendency toward depression rate themselves more realistically on self-assessment tests of certain kinds, as opposed to their peers, who tend to overrate their own relative abilities.  This can be comically stated as a situation in which most people tend to rate themselves as above average, which is often declared to be mathematically impossible.  However, if by “average” most people refer to the arithmetic mean, it is possible for most people to be above average, if those people are only modestly above average and the others are well below it.  Such a circumstance is pretty unlikely, but it’s not a mathematical impossibility.  However, if one is referring to the median as the “average” then, by definition, it is impossible for most people to be above average.

I’ve recently read a book called On Being Certain, by Robert A. Burton, M.D., and he makes some interesting points about how the nature of being certain is related mainly to a feeling of being right, an emotion, produced in the limbic system, not actually to a process of thought or the conclusion of a logical train of argument.  That feeling—that sense of knowing, of revelation, of being convinced of something—can even happen spontaneously in certain kinds of seizures, and in certain psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia.  As a feeling, it can’t readily be overcome in the same way that a logical conclusion can be abandoned if the flaws in the logic are demonstrated.  But only such emotions, not mere logical conclusions, prod us to action.  In reading the book, I realized that another possible aspect of the disease states of depression/dysthymia involve, at least in my case, a deficiency of this feeling**.

There are very few things I feel certain enough of not to allow myself to entertain significant doubt.  There have been times when I’ve even doubted the conclusion of the cogito ergo sum—though you would think that, by doubting it, I’m demonstrating its truth.  But part of me thinks that if there’s a supernatural being (or a civilization of machines, a la The Matrix) that can simulate all the external facts of reality, then why could they not be “simulating” my very experience of thought?  As an author, I’ve created many characters who, within their stories, would certainly think that they are thinking; my readers can read those thoughts from the characters’ points of view.  Yet, those thoughts are artificial, in the strict sense of being brought about by external artifice—in this case, mine.

So, this combination of deficiency at positive self-delusion, coupled with a sincere doubt about one’s ability to be certain of nearly anything can engender an exhausting enervation, the deterioration of motivation, and a broad sense of pointlessness.  At least it leads to the avoidance of dogma, and I think that’s a good thing.  I think the world as a whole would have far fewer large-scale problems if more people could feel less certainty and more doubt.

But it would be nice to be able just to feel good about myself and my right to exist, however unjustified such a feeling might be.  It might be nice to feel that I—or anyone—deserves to be happy, even though that’s an incoherent notion.  Unfortunately, on those rare occasions in which I’ve felt a strong degree of certainty about myself or my conclusions, or about my value or values, it’s frequently been disastrous.  So also for humanity at large, I think.

And here I’ve gone and not written a short post, as should come as no surprise to anyone.  I really do need to try to get some of these thoughts out in Iterations of Zero on a regular basis, so I can spare hapless readers of this blog from the ordeal of such topics.  I haven’t given up on that notion, at least, which is rare enough for me.

TTFN

doubt


*And why not?  Mice surely have at least some rudimentary conceptions of courses of action to take and expectations of likely outcomes of those courses of action.  They are certainly not simple automata.

**He points out how this deficiency is prevalent or evident in OCD, for instance, as in cases where a person simply cannot feel convinced that they really did lock the door or turn the oven off, say, and so can become paralyzed by unreasonable doubts.  I don’t have OCD, but I certainly have some of those attributes.  As I leave the house in the morning, I check my pockets multiple times to be sure that, yes, I really do have my keys, and my phone, and my wallet, all of which I have already checked, and which I always bring with me.  I simply don’t trust my memory, nor my habits—I’m too well aware of how malleable memory is, and how fragile habits can be.  This does mean that I almost never forget to bring any of these items, but I also never can seem to embrace the conclusion that I should be able to trust myself not to forget them—and so every day involves that feeling of not being certain at all.

To-day, to-day, unhappy day, too late, o’erthrows thy joys, friends, fortune and thy blog

Hello and good morning.  Welcome to Thursday, and to another edition of my blog post.  It’s the last Thursday in April of 2021.  This day of this month will never come again.

Of course, we could say that about any given date, or hour, or moment—that’s the nature of time.  We may, in some future epoch, decide to restart our dating system, and so we might eventually come to a day the designation of which would match this one, but it would obviously not actually be the same day.

If there is some external meta-time, in which higher-dimensional organisms can replay our time and lives at will—perhaps like Kurt Vonnegut’s Tralfamadorians—they might be able to look at any of our given moments or days over and over again, just as we can re-watch a movie as often as we may like on anything from VHS to DVD to blu-Ray to digital download—or even on old-fashioned film.  For the characters in the story, however—as for us if we were “looked at” earlier in our time—the events are always identical.

Each moment of the story is the same moment, no matter how often you see or read it.  The characters don’t change, their experience, if you will, doesn’t change, and they have no ability to recall previous viewings or readings.  Each time you rewind, you undo whatever developments might be coming.  A character in a film—or in a novel—who comes to a tragic end that “could have been” avoided cannot learn from that tragedy, cannot do things differently the next time you read the story or watch the video.

There is a sense in which, according to most interpretations of General Relativity, every moment in spacetime is “permanent”, but it doesn’t help us as individuals living in time.  If, after the moment of our death, we immediately simply re-begin at the beginning of our life, there will be no memory of having lived “before”.  Indeed, the very concept would make no sense.

And, of course, as even the MCU recognizes, at least at some level, if you could “go back in time” and change things, you wouldn’t literally be changing the past, you would simply be creating a new sequence, which would now be your local future.

It’s an interesting notion to write a sci-fi/fantasy, or perhaps horror, story in which a person reads a book over and over, or perhaps watches a movie over and over, and finds that the characters are learning, in a sense, from the mistakes they made “later” in the story.  Perhaps there could be a character with precognition, or some other form of metacognition, that allows her or him vaguely to recall particularly horrible events from “previous” iterations of the story, and so be inclined to change them on another go-round.

A simpler version of such a notion has been dealt with often in science fiction—in such movies, for instance, as Edge of Tomorrow, based on the story All You Need Is Kill.  But in that story, Tom Cruise’s character (or Keiji Kiriya in the book) gains the ability not merely to return to an earlier time, but to remember clearly, in an “ordinary” sense, what he’s gone through before, every time he dies.  So, it’s not quite the same.  Ironically, the course of the stories, including the time repeats, are the same each time you watch or read it.

Anyway, that’s all a digression.

It’s been a peculiar week—in this, it’s not unusual.  Perhaps one might say that a week in which nothing that feels peculiar happens would be quite unusual, though we might not notice it as such.  As I think I said previously, I got distracted last week by playing with video, and playing on video, a bit, so I didn’t write as quickly or as much as I might have in the morning.  This week, I did better.  In fact, on Tuesday morning—I wish I knew why—I went into afterburner mode, so to speak, and in only an hour wrote 2968 words on my new story!  This is first draft, of course, but still, it was coming out in a gusher.

Then, Tuesday night, I got a flat tire on the way home, and after taking the train the rest of the way that night, I had to come out with my housemate early on Wednesday morning so he could fix it (he has the proper tools), which quite obviously set my schedule back quite a bit.  Nevertheless, I still wrote exactly 1400 words yesterday, still leaving me time to diddle around on the guitar before I needed to start getting the office ready for the day.

If the rule of 10,000 hours’ work needed to become an expert at something holds—and it does seem to be a pretty good rough rule*—it would take me almost 47 years to become an expert guitar player at the rate I “practice”.  I could shorten it, obviously, if I put more time in each day, but that’s difficult.  And I certainly don’t want to live 47 more years.  I don’t even want to have lived as long as I already have!

Oh, well.  I can’t change my past—and I maintain that I would not change anything prior to September 13, 2001, for any reason**—but perhaps I can learn from it.  Indeed, one cannot ever learn from anything but the past, since the present*** is always already happening.  And, unless one falls into the singularity of a black hole, it presumably always will be.

So, the final take-away from this week’s blog post is, “stay away from singularities”.  And in other ways as well, stay safe and healthy if you can, and try to be happy, at least occasionally.

TTFN

time machine


*I once did the math and realized that, during internship and residency, I had literally worked about 10,000 hours in three years.

**That’s my daughter’s birthdate.  I suppose I might be willing to change things on or just before September 11, 2001—it might be worth it to avoid the 9-11 attack and the subsequent/consequent wars; I cannot easily imagine any realistic way in which those two days would have a detrimental effect on my daughter’s birth.  Of course, if this were a “monkey’s paw” type story, there would be such a way, and being a pessimist, I would still be quite nervous.  But I probably would bite the bullet and do it, given the extremely low probability of a bad perinatal outcome.  Goodness knows I would change many things that I’ve done since then.  But if I were told to choose between 9-11 and something bad happening to my daughter or preventing her birth…I’d probably just have to accept 9-11 happening.  That’s easy enough to say, though, since 9-11 did happen, and I already know and have internalized it, sadly enough.  Hindsight is 20/20, but it’s also biased, since we become inured to what’s already happened…even horrible, horrible things.

***Locally speaking, anyway.  In General Relativity, there is no sensible notion of any universal “now”.  Time is always local.  It makes some sense if you think about it.  I can’t say that this address on West Hillsboro Boulevard in Deerfield Beach is in some sense located everywhere, or even anywhere else, and likewise, I can’t say that the moment I’m presently experiencing is happening anywhere else right now.

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.

TTFN

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.

Yet, do thy worst, old Time; despite thy wrong, My love shall in my blog ever live young.

It’s Thursday again, and thus, it’s time for another of my weekly blog posts.  I would like to say, “Hello and good morning,” to all my readers, even though you may not be reading this in the morning.  (I switched up my usual starting order to keep things fresh for those who read my blog regularly, and for me as well.  It’s not much variety, but it doesn’t take much to break up minor monotony.)

Speaking of things that might seem as though they would be monotonous, but which somehow are not, the editing of The Vagabond is proceeding well.  I said last week that I was only twenty or so pages from the end of the latest run-through, and I’m now well into the next.  I’ll be more than halfway to the end of my usual, rather laborious process, by the time I finish this current iteration, and getting past the halfway point is always a good feeling.

Unless you count life itself, I suppose.  For most people, realizing that they are already (probably) halfway through their lives is a somewhat troubling thought.  Sometimes it’s a very troubling thought.  One readily sympathizes with their angst, particularly when one realizes that, as we grow older, our subjective sense is that time passes much more quickly.  Much of our perception of time is dependent on how much of it we’ve already experienced, so the years before us seem far less substantial than those that came before.  I can remember, when I was much younger, that being told that it was twenty minutes until dinner time felt like an almost unendurable wait.  And if it was still an hour before dinner?  It was hard not to think that I would surely starve to death.

But though I can recall the fact that I felt that way, I can’t recall the feeling itself.  Twenty minutes now feels like an eye-blink, and an hour is barely enough to get anything useful done at all, unless one applies that hour daily.  Pink Floyd captured this nicely and concisely in their song, Time:  “Every year is getting shorter/ never seem to find the time / plans that either come to naught / or half a page of scribbled lines,” as well as, “And you run and you run to catch up with the sun, but it’s sinking / racing around to come up behind you again. / The sun is the same in a relative way, but you’re older / shorter of breath and one day closer to death”.

Of course, everything is a matter of scale and comparison.  Over the course of a single day, the sun may not change in a relative way, but it is older, and though its “lifespan” is measured in billions of years, it is finite.  Likewise, on even larger scales, our universe itself has a limited lifespan, enforced by the laws of nature and the inexorable tendency for entropy to increase.  There are some very good recent popular science books that deal with this, and I personally recommend two of them:  Until the End of Time, by Brian Greene, and The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking), by Katie Mack.  Both authors are working scientists who know their subject well.  Mack’s book is slightly more playful but is nonetheless clear and informative.  Greene, as usual, gets slightly deeper, but his love of the subject is unmistakable and contagious.  He uses a wonderful metaphor to try to convey the vastness of the time scales he’s discussing, asking the reader to imagine an Empire State Building in which each subsequent floor represents ten time as many years as the floor below.  The top floor is a lot of years later than the bottom floor.

And yet, as Carl Sagan first told me (and a lot of other people) in the ninth chapter/episode of Cosmos, “The Lives of the Stars”, neither a googol nor even a googolplex is any closer to infinity than is the number one.  Even the lifespan of our universe is just an eyeblink from a certain point of view*.  Of course, there may exist some grander arena, a metaverse, which is truly eternal and infinite in all possible dimensions.  I suspect that this is the case, mainly because I find it harder to conceptualize an end of actuality (What’s there at the end?  How does it know where to end?  What could it even mean for there to be nothing beyond it?) than an infinite regress.  But reality isn’t constrained by the failures of my imagination (thankfully) so that’s just a strong intuition or prediction or supposition.  I make no claim to final knowledge.

Anyway, what was I talking about again?  Oh, yeah, the changing subjective sense of time over a human lifespan.  The fact that our own sense of time changes so drastically (in a seemingly logarithmic way) over the course of our lives can lead one—or at least me—to wonder what the subjective experience of time would be for a being, like one of Tolkien’s elves, who lives a very long time, or forever.  It’s more or less pointless to think too precisely about the latter, because forever never happens, or at least it never finishes happening.  But a being that lives for many thousands or millions of years would eventually, I imagine, come to see even the rising and falling of nations as no more momentous than, say, the life of an adult mayfly, or the brief growth, sporulation, and then shriveling of toadstools after a rain.

I think it can be useful to imagine such perspectives, though I’ve found few authors who have tried really to get into the mindset of such possible characters.  Still, to see things from the long view can help us keep our own concerns in perspective.  Our petty differences can be seen to be all the pettier, our urgent ideological divisions not much deeper or more consequential than changes in fashion, and the experiences of our lives both less cataclysmic and at the same time more precious and beautiful.

With that thought, I’ll close by sharing with you a picture that I encountered on Jerry Coyne’s website, taken and shared by one of his many readers.  It’s a photograph, edited in camera** only, by Joseph Routon, who said that I was free to share it if I wanted.  I think it’s beautiful and brilliant, and I like his title for it:  Life is beautiful!  Wear a Mask!!

TTFN

Life is Beautiful! Wear a Mask!!


*In fact, if I recall correctly, in Roger Penrose’s book The Large, the Small, and the Human Mind he points out that, taken from the scale of the Planck time, and the time scale of subatomic processes, the lifespan of a human is comparable to the lifespan of our universe itself.  Now that’s thought-provoking.  I was so pleased when they gave him the Nobel Prize this year.

**I mean that in the literal sense, not that it took place in a judge’s private quarters, without the press or the public present…though I in fact doubt that there were any members of the press around when he did it.

Were such things here as we do blog about? Or have we eaten on the insane root that takes the reason prisoner?

Hello and good morning, everyone.  It’s Thursday again—a week before Thanksgiving in the US—and thus it’s time for another of my weekly blog posts.  Given the upcoming holiday, I probably won’t be putting out a blog post next week, but it’s possible that I will.  That will be a decision for the Robert of Thursday, November 26, 2020, and I’m not him yet.

It’s been a somewhat tumultuous week, locally at least, for me.  Business has been slow, and there’s been a relatively high degree of absenteeism at work.  I think both facts are largely due to the current chaos in the social and political climate.  Much of the chaos ought to be unnecessary, but many things in the world are not as they “ought” to be, whatever you think that “ought” entails.

At least one person in my office has come down with Covid-19, confirmed by testing and highly specific symptoms, though thankfully it was/is a mild case.  Also, my housemate appears to have come down with it.  He’s got some flu-like symptoms and whatnot, but again, it doesn’t seem to be a severe case.  I, on the other hand, despite the fact that I am a wistful admirer—and even occasionally a stalker—of my own mortality, feel pretty much fine, or at least as well as usual.  My comparative health may be due in part to the fact that I am the only person in my office who consistently wears a mask*, and as a trained physician, I tend to wash my hands frequently and thoroughly.  I am, in addition, both voluntarily and involuntarily, a dab hand at social distancing.

Nonetheless, I did get myself tested yesterday morning, and I’ll have the results within a few days.  Then I’ll know whether I feel basically fine because I am one of the low-to-no symptom people with the virus, or whether it’s because I don’t have it (yet).  Whatever my attitude toward my own health and well-being, knowledge is generally preferable to ignorance.  Ignorance can only be bliss if there are no potential threats in one’s environment that knowledge could allow one to prepare against (whatever might be the nature of such threats or of that which is being threatened).  And, of course, without knowledge, one cannot know whether there are such threats…though a good starting assumption seems to be that, yes, there are.  There always are.

Existence wends a narrow path through phase space, with the infinitely high walls of reality on either side.  If you don’t do your best to steer your course in parallel with reality’s general direction, sooner or later you will collide with it.  And when you collide with reality, reality always wins.  That’s one of the ways you know that it’s reality; it doesn’t change to suit your convenience, your preference, or your beliefs.

Anyway, things in the world right now, both locally and globally, are certainly apt for a writer of horror fiction**.  Given that, it should be no surprise that The Vagabond is going well, and the editing process is achieving at least some of its goal, which is to improve the quality of the written work.  I’m still enjoying the story, and I feel more and more again that it really is my book, which at first it almost didn’t seem to be, since I had first written it so long ago.

It’s amusing to be editing a story in which the characters have to worry about missing phone calls because they’re away from their apartments, and in which they need to seek out pay phones or campus phones to call each other.  It’s likewise amusing to have characters learn of dire events in their world by reading a daily newspaper, since their TV is only inconsistently operational, and they don’t have cable.

Were such things really here as we do speak about?  Yes, it seems they were.  Reading my own story brings many memories rather vividly back to my mind.  Maybe it will do so for you if and when you get a chance to read it.  I hope so.  It feels a bit odd to think of the late-eighties/early-nineties as simpler times (they were quite chaotic for me, frankly), but as a matter of the creation and processing of information in human society, they certainly were.  The rate at which “stuff” happens has increased roughly in accord with Moore’s Law, though much of that stuff is effectively noise.  I suspect the overall signal-to-noise ratio in society has diminished significantly over time, but whether the signal has gone down enough no longer to be growing exponentially***, or even linearly, is a question about which I don’t have a strong sense of the right answer.

And with that flagrant declaration of my own ignorance, I’ll draw this meandering blog post to a close, which probably won’t disappoint you.  I hope you all do your best to stay well, both physically and mentally.  Keep reading, of course, and try to keep your spirits up.

TTFN

Narrow maze


*Because, after all, the masks do more to protect others from oneself than oneself from others, and whatever my own willingness to embrace a potentially life-threatening disease, I do not have the right to enforce that upon others.  This is a point that frustrates, disgusts, and angers me at those around me a lot of the time.  I have deep contempt for their irrational selfishness and willingness to endanger others needlessly, which they disguise as a declaration of freedom or some other political or philosophical ideal—at least to themselves—but which in fact appears to be simply the expression of laziness…and of intellectual and moral cowardice.

**Not that it’s the only thing I write, but I do tend to turn and return to it a lot.

***Even if it’s slower than Moore’s Law, it could still be growing exponentially, just with a longer doubling time.  Or it could be growing linearly, or staying constant, or decreasing linearly, or even falling off exponentially, though the latter seems unlikely.

But when the blast of war blogs in our ears, then imitate the action of the tiger

Hello and good morning, everyone.  It’s raining here in south Florida; I got more soaking wet on the way to work today than I have at times when swimming in the ocean.

Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but at least when you’re swimming in the ocean, you plan on getting wet, you expect to get wet, and your clothes—such as they are—are made for getting wet and for drying off quickly.  This is not the case for work clothes, even when one works in a fairly casual office.  This weather almost makes me wish that there were a 24-hour curfew in place that restricted people even from going to work, but no such luck.  I was allowed to go to work even at the height of the Covid-19 lockdown, which has apparently passed, and I’m certainly allowed to work now.

In America at least, news of the pandemic has been all but superseded by news of various protests, some of which have turned violent, over the murder of George Floyd.  Both topics seem particularly good at bringing out human stupidity, which is never a tall order, but there is more unified sentiment—where I work, anyway—about the latter story.  Everyone here thinks the cops involved need to go to prison, but that violent protests and especially looting are idiotic, counterproductive, and are probably (mostly) not being done by legitimate protestors.  As for me, I can at least sympathize with occasional, directed violence in such matters.  Peaceful protest is ideal when it works, when you’re dealing with people of conscience and appealing to their better natures, but it wouldn’t have worked against the Nazis, or against Genghis Khan, or against the Roman Empire, and it wouldn’t work in North Korea.  Random violence, however, that hurts one’s own neighbors or other innocent people, seems thoughtless and pointless at best, and looting seems simply opportunistic and despicable.

All right, enough politics, if that’s what that was.  On to more auspicious matters.

This week, I have finally begun the last edit, layout, preparation, etc. of Unanimity.  I expect that, with the finish line in sight, I’ll probably accelerate work on it somewhat, perhaps pushing back my music…though I did make a post on Iterations of Zero this week with embedded videos of my five original songs that are on YouTube, as well as a few comments about them. Check out that post if you’re interested; I’d love to know what people think of the songs.  I’ve also recorded another audio blog for IoZ, but that’s still being edited—those take longer to polish than do written blog entries, though they’re certainly easier to initiate.

As you may know, I’m chronically conflicted about the whole podcast/audio versus writing of thoughts and commentary.  Writing is more efficient for storage and dissemination of information—compare the size of a word-processor document with even a compressed audio file—but there is a certain nuance of expression as well as a greater spontaneity that can be achieved in audio.  As I admit right at the beginning of the new recording, this audio blog post is not intended to be uplifting.  Neither is it meant to be down-pushing (if that’s a term).  It’s instead meant to be a rebellion of sorts against the notion that we all must try always to be positive and optimistic and upbeat and inspirational.

If you need to be inspired—if you need to be “motivated”—to get your work done, I think you’ve already failed.  Motivation—in the modern, self-help sense, not in the basic, fundamental meaning of the word (which is fine)—is a bit like the notions of heroism and leadership.  These are concepts that come into play only when you’re already far from optimal circumstances.  We should all aspire to achieve a world in which there is no need for leaders or for heroes, and to strive to reach a state in our own character in which “motivation” is irrelevant.

No one feels “motivated” every day, but if you want to earn a living, you need to go to work whether you feel “motivated” or not.  The tiger that won’t hunt until and unless it’s “inspired” by something is a tiger that’s got a good chance of dying.  Or perhaps a better animal for that analogy would be the squirrel.  Squirrels keep gathering nuts (and maybe other foods, I’m no expert on squirrel diets) even when they have enough for their immediate needs—even when they don’t feel particularly hungry—because, as they apparently say in Game of Thrones, “Winter is coming.”*

To quote Christian Mihai, “The work that you do when you don’t want to is the work that most defines you.” Maybe this is just a different kind of motivation, a more long-term motivation that evaluates the area under the curve of one’s success and happiness, and not merely its moment to moment y-value.  That kind of motivation—or drive, perhaps, would be the better term—seems perfectly fine to me.  But if you have to get jazzed up to get out of bed and get moving, then you’re careening toward failure, because no one can feel jazzed up every day, not even someone in the upside of a bipolar cycle.

I’m not sure how I got onto that subject, but anyway, I’m happy at least to know that my own personal commitment to working on my fiction five to six mornings every week continues to deliver results.  It’s a lesson I learned fromthe King himself, and it’s paid off already in all my published books and stories.  And soon, I’ll release my own megalithic horror novel that matches in size even Stephen King’s longest work.

I would be delighted if Unanimity is read and enjoyed by even a fraction of as many people as have enjoyed any of King’s works, of course.  But if even one person reads it and likes it, that’s a huge reward.  And even if no one does, well—I still know that I’ve written it, and I like it.  If I didn’t like it, it really wouldn’t matter all that much if everyone else in the world loved it.  I can only be inside my own head.

TTFN


*I’ve neither watched nor read any of the GoT stories.  This fact surprises even me.  It’s not a matter of stubborn contrarianism or protest; I see nothing wrong with people loving the stories or the series.  I simply haven’t been interested.  These are the types of entertainment that I tend to want to enjoy with someone—not just anyone, to paraphrase John Lennon—and I simply have no one with whom I’m interested in sharing such entertainment.  More’s the pity, but there it is, and other such long-in-the-tooth clichés.