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.

As imagination bodies forth the forms of things unknown, the blogger’s pen turns them to shape

Hello and good morning.  As usual, it’s Thursday—well, that’s only usual on one day of the week, but since this is that day of the week, it’s usual on this day—and so it’s time for my weekly blog post.

I’m feeling pretty exhausted today, partly because of a temporary change in work schedule that’s throwing my mental functions into a minor tailspin, and partly because of frustration associated with trying to get feedback and do useful research about my neurophysiology through the advice or input of people with expertise in the matter.  Some of the fault is mine—I have a hard time forcing myself to initiate or undertake most interactions, including contacting and setting up some form of new relationship with a new therapist…or doing therapy at all.

I also get distracted—and I suspect that some of the people I’ve tried to contact have done so as well—by the ongoing issue of my dysthymia/depression, which is certainly troubling, but which is an old companions of mine and unlikely to improve.  But there’s only so much one can get from YouTube videos and reading, whether it’s technical literature or works aimed at laypeople.  And I have a terribly difficult time even contemplating joining online support or discussion groups (or “in person” ones, which seem even more intimidating and disruptive).  I may be stuck.  I feel stuck.  I could really use some help—of various kinds—but the very prospect of seeking it is too daunting and confusing, and it is further hindered by the fact that I feel, deep down, that I don’t really deserve any help of any kind.

On the other hand, work on In the Shade is proceeding reasonably well, as it has been for some time.  I’m doing a nice job trimming it down, at least as far as raw numbers go.  I hope it improves the story; it would be a shame if it made it worse.  In any case, though, I’m more than halfway through the overall editing process, and that’s a good thing.

A thought popped into my head this morning that has popped in many times before, and I’m tempted to send emails or similar to the likes of Brian Greene just to see if he can clarify anything about it.  But I would feel quite cheeky and rather obnoxious to trouble him, even if I could find a way to send him a query.

Roughly and briefly, the thought is related to the ideas of “M Theory”*—which encompasses more “traditional” string theory as I understand it—and the notion that our entire three-dimensional universe might be a “brane” embedded in a higher-dimensional “bulk”, and that we can only experience the three dimensional universe in which we live because we—all the force-carrying particles and matter particles of which we are made—are trapped within the brane, possibly because they are composed of open-ended “strings”.  However—again, if I understand correctly based on the reading I’ve done—the graviton, the hypothetical force-carrying boson of the gravitational force, would be a closed string, and could, if there are branes and a bulk and so on, travel between branes.  The hypothesis has been put forward that this might be part of the reason gravity seems so weak; it is not as narrowly confined dimensionally as the other forces, and so spreads out to a greater degree.

I played with some of these ideas very indirectly in The Chasm and the Collision.

Anyway, my thought was that, perhaps, this could provide the explanation for the apparent existence of “dark matter” which is proposed as the presence of a large amount of mass in the universe that doesn’t interact much with “normal” matter, or with light, but which has gravitational effects measurable in the speed of rotation of galaxies and of the interactions of galactic clusters and so on, and which, based on those various measures, would be about five times as abundant as “normal” matter.  But no one has been able, so far, to detect the presence of any such dark matter particles, which would be presumed to interact at least occasionally with normal matter in some way.

It’s proposed as possible in M Theory that there could be other parallel “three-branes” in the bulk, “next to” ours in higher-dimensional space, analogous to planes or pages that float, aligned but not touching, in three-dimensional space.  If most fermions and bosons are stuck in their branes but gravitons can more or less freely pass between them, and if parallel branes came into existence—in their current states, anyway—roughly at the same time, so to speak, then as those universes expanded and evolved, with initial quantum fluctuations leading to increasing clumping of matter, leading to galaxies, stars, etc., they would have influenced each other’s clumping, and so a galaxy in one brane might well tend to be “near” or roughly lined up with, a galaxy in nearby branes, and so on.  If so, and if gravity can, at least to some degree, pass between branes, then the vector components of such gravity that happens to align with the nearby branes’ dimensions might well be felt as an “extra” gravitational force without any source in detectable matter.

If there are multiple branes in parallel to each other—or perhaps even a limitless stack of them, so to speak—depending on their separation and the degree to which gravity can pass between them, the net effect might well be enough to generate the phenomena we measure as evidence of “dark matter”.  If one were only thinking of, say, a four-dimensional space between the three-branes (with other dimensions curled up small), the force of gravity between matter in them would presumably fall off at a rate of one over the distance cubed, but if there were multiple branes in parallel, and again, if the distance were right and the properties correct, then I don’t see why it couldn’t accumulate to give a net effect greater, on large enough scales, than the apparent impact of gravitating mass within a given brane.

Unfortunately, my math skills are not presently up to the task of even doing a “back of the envelope” calculation about how that might work, though I have tried from time to time.  I also don’t know much of the technical details about string theory/M Theory.  And, of course, the whole theoretical framework is troubled by difficulty creating measurable predictions, at least with current technology.  But…if such parallel branes could in fact account for “dark matter”, they would, if correct, predict that there would be no measurable dark matter particles.  Ever.  And so, of course, the longer we go without being able to find one, the more our Bayesian probability might edge toward the correctness of at least some version of M Theory.  Of course, if dark matter particles are found and have characteristics that explain the phenomena we see, then that would at least disprove my notion, if not all of M Theory.

It’s likely that such a notion is already ruled out by some specifics details that I just don’t know—which must of course be almost all the specifics of M Theory.

Maybe some day I’ll work up the courage to forward some version of this to someone like Brian Greene, or maybe Lisa Randall or Leonard Susskind**.  But probably not.  I have a hard enough time mustering the nerve to talk to anyone regarding my own neurological and psychological health.  And, in any case, those people have enough on their minds.  And I have books to write.  And—unfortunately—miles to go before I sleep.

In the meantime, I hope you all stay well and do your best to take care of yourselves and of those who matter to you—and also, while you’re at it, do your best to avoid causing problems for other people.

TTFN

more branes


*Which is, of course, speculative to say the least, but which is certainly intellectually interesting, and which could, in principle, be a description of the deeper physics of our universe.

**These are the three physicists from whose popular works I’ve learned most of what I “know” about such matters.  I first encountered string theory and M Theory in Stephen Hawking’s book, The Universe in a Nutshell, but alas, no one can get any messages to him anymore—or, at least, we can’t get any messages back.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TTFN

Cloudy coffee


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, enough thought experiments for the moment.

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

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

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

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

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

Not really.  But I do get terribly frustrated.

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

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

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

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

TTFN

Hat for Vagabond

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


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

**Pun not originally intended but embraced when realized.

***Now that’s a horror story!

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.