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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Cloudy coffee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, enough thought experiments for the moment.

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

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

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

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

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

Not really.  But I do get terribly frustrated.

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

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

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

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


Hat for Vagabond

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

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

**Pun not originally intended but embraced when realized.

***Now that’s a horror story!

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!!


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.