Welcome to the October Country

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks.  Here it is:


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

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

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

This is an untitled blog post…or IS it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cloudy coffee


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

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

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

All talk is small—all facts are trivia

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

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

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

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

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

In other words, small talk rewards sociopaths.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Surprisingly (for me) positive thoughts on a Saturday morning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Expression of depression as “indicator lights” for the state of a complex system

It’s Saturday, but I’m not in the park, and it’s definitely not the 4th of July.  It’s actually the 10th of September.  Oh, and this is 2022 AD (or CE).

I don’t think yesterday’s post was very well-received.  It was probably too dreary for most readers.  This is often the case when a relatively healthy person encounters the thoughts of one who suffers from depression.

I remember it being said in medical school that depression is, in a certain sense, contagious.  That’s not meant literally, of course, but it makes the point that, when interacting with someone who is depressed, one tends to feel one’s own mood pulled down.  In fact, it can sometimes be a diagnostic aid; even if the person to whom you’re speaking isn’t openly declaring depression, if you find yourself feeling depressed yourself after speaking with them*, they may be depressed in some clinically significant sense.

So, if people feel down after reading my writing, I apologize.  I don’t mean to bring anyone else into the fold, so to speak, or worsen the mental situation of someone who is already struggling.  There is a very small proportion of people in the world I think could be improved—from a societal standpoint anyway—by being depressed.

But it is true that, when I’ve read popular works about depression, and about the experience of depression, I don’t tend to get a strong sense of what the writers were feeling when depressed.  Most of the time, the works are written well after the particular bout of depression, and it can be hard to recreate the moods and thoughts that the condition engenders when one is not mired in it.  Just as one who is depressed can feel that the depression has always existed and always will, when one is out of depression it can (apparently) be hard to reenter the worldview that it entails.

Some of this is probably defensive.  Who, having successfully gotten past depression, would want to relive the experience?  I’d hazard a guess that the answer is “no one”.

I remember a time when, briefly, my (now-ex) wife went through a period of reactive depression near the end of a pregnancy, and shortly after it.  This is not an uncommon occurrence, though thankfully most women are spared.  Anyway, at the time, she said that she would never get angry with me when I was depressed again, that she understood now how terrible it was and how difficult, and how it’s not simply a matter of attitude or choice to feel it or not.  I’m quite sure that she meant it with all her heart.  Thankfully, her experience was short-lived, it responded to treatment and time rather rapidly, and she returned to her usual, extremely formidable and impressive self.  But she also lost at least some of her sense of empathy for the depression, unfortunately.

That’s okay.  I like her better when she’s healthy and joyful and fierce.

My personality—and probably my undiagnosed ASD, which contributes to the fact that I can’t convey emotion well, and have a hard time seeking or accepting emotional support—and the sheer persistence of the problem make me hard to bear for anyone, for very long, I think.  It makes me hard to bear even for me.  The advent of my chronic pain, and its affect on my ability to work well**, contributed to that difficulty mightily.

But maybe someone someday will find my musings when I’m depressed useful for at least getting into the mindset of someone suffering from depression.  Maybe not.  I think my thoughts are far from typical even for the depressed, though my tone is probably pretty “normal” for someone with longstanding chronic depression.  Maybe my words will be useful for people studying depression in adults with undiagnosed autism spectrum disorder, which I’m almost certain I have, having studied it now for a while since the possibility first revealed itself.

As a bit of a tangent, it’s rather frustrating to me that I recently saw a very good video that discussed the fact that it seems depression was never caused directly by a deficiency of serotonin, a so-called chemical imbalance.  The maker of this video clearly knows it was never this simple, but there is a popular notion that such a thing is the case, and that has always irritated me.  The brain is not some stew made of a big collection of ingredients cooking together in the skull, which doesn’t come out well if a particular ingredient is missing or is present in too-great quantities.

The brain is a huge and unimaginably complex information-processing system, immensely parallel in its structure, with a staggering amount of feedback and crossover between subunits of the system; even each individual neuron of the hundred billion-ish present is more complicated than one can readily grasp.  It has more in common with a vast weather pattern of sorts, influenced by both local and global environmental factors but also internally influenced by other parts of itself, so that some patterns become self-sustaining and destructive, like a hurricane in the mind that feeds and strengthens itself when conditions are right, and which cannot easily just be broken once it has formed.

So, serotonin was never some mere quantity that was deficient, like iron deficiency leading to anemia.  The nerve cells that signal using serotonin manufacture that neurotransmitter themselves.  It’s simply that part of depression is instantiated (in many) in the underactivity or poor responsiveness of certain parts of the brain that signal via serotonin, and increasing the activity in those regions can sometimes decrease the tendency of the system as a whole to get into the self-reinforcing state that depression is.

It’s rather like the notion that we could, for instance, decrease the likelihood of hurricanes by decreasing the amount of moisture in the local atmosphere.  It’s not that hurricanes are simply caused by high humidity, but just that the high humidity contributes to their production, and decreasing it could, in principle, decrease the likelihood of hurricane formation, or at least decrease their strength and thus their destructive effects.

I don’t want to push the metaphor too far, since the brain is obviously different from weather—for one thing, it is far more meticulous, precise, and in some senses (but not all) more complex and constrained.  There are roughly a quadrillion synapses in a typical brain, but it’s not just the number that really makes the difference, anymore than one can just randomly wire up a hundred billion transistors and make a supercomputer.  Weather is a bit more free form, though it involves a great many more atoms interacting than any one brain.  But analogies can point out similarities at different levels of various systems, and more usefully, they can help try to convey something of the sense, if not the specifics, of an idea.

But depression is a dangerous storm of the mind indeed; it’s frequently a terminal illness.  And one cannot simply slap a hurricane and yell “Snap out of it!” and expect it to have any effect at all.  We understand the nature of autism spectrum disorders even more poorly than we understand mood disorders—trust me, I’ve looked for good neuroscientific, neuroanatomical, structural, and functional investigations of the disorders without much satisfaction so far.  The interaction of mood disorders with ASDs is probably just going to make things still more complicated.  Unfortunately, the only computer with the processing power adequate to modeling the processes so far is reality itself, but we can’t just lift up the hood or look at the source code or whatever metaphor you want to use for that.  We have to figure it out as it goes along.

For that reason, it may not be such a bad thing for me to share my thoughts, however dismal they are and however gloomy and dispirited they may make my readers feel, when I’m in the throes of my malfunctions.  Think of them as indicator lights, or pressure gauges, or even a Windows™ Control Panel readout from the system.  At least they might give some insight into what the system is doing at that time, or what state it’s in.  It won’t necessarily allow one to prevent total system crash; some systems just have too many faults and bugs to keep running.  But maybe at least from an eventual mortality and morbidity conference point of view, they might be useful.

It would be nice to be useful.


*Assuming you weren’t already.

**As an aside, when I was in practice, I also found that I had great difficulty charting using Dictaphones or their equivalents.  This is partly because it was not at all how I charted during training, but I suspect it’s more related to my ASD.  I can write extemporaneously quite well, or at least quite handily, as these blog posts demonstrate, but speaking aloud as a matter of keeping records such as “SOAP notes” is very uncomfortable and even feels physically blocked at times.  Between that and my chronic pain, I had more than one occasion of getting far behind on charting, which caused frustration for my colleagues and my spouse alike.  I’m not lazy.  Not by a long shot.  I think it really was mainly an Asperger’s thing, but at the time I just hated myself for being so weak; I was motivated to do it, but just couldn’t seem to carry it off without it feeling like torture.

Tangents of tangents of tangents, oh my!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That sounds familiar.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It blinded me…with science!

It’s Saturday morning, and I’m at the train station quite a bit too early for the first northbound train of the day.  I woke up much earlier yet, quite a bit earlier than I would need to wake up to get even to the train I usually take in the morning during the week.  Yet the office opens for business an hour later on Saturdays than during the week, so there’s no office-related reason for me to get up or leave so early.  I just can’t seem to sleep all the way through the night.

This morning, I woke up at about 2:30 am, and I couldn’t get back to sleep after that.  This isn’t unusual.  I do go to bed relatively early—starting to wrap things up about 9 pm, most nights—because even if I don’t get to sleep early, I still tend to wake up early, so if I want to get at least some sleep, I need to go to bed early.  Then I can wind down and relax a bit, watch a few videos I’ve seen before*, and hopefully drop off before eleven.

Last night I was able to do that, but I woke up unable to relax again, so I decided to watch a video I had marked for myself to check out.  It’s about the basic math and ideas regarding the strong nuclear force and “color” charge, as it relates to spin, and to regular charge, and to the Pauli exclusion principle.

It sounds dense, I know, but it’s actually quite fun—I’ll embed the video below, because I think anyone interested in such things might enjoy it.  The guy speaking just obviously loves his subject, and even gets transported with delight in explaining the analogy to the way our eyes process “real” color out in the world, and how color television and monitors work.  This analogy is, evidently, why physicists used the term “color” to describe the interactions in the strong nuclear force, which has nothing to do with actual colors as we normally use the term.

There are some vectors and ket notation stuff in the video, but it’s not really necessary to understand it specifically.  The presenter does a good job of conveying the gist, and it’s quite wonderful.  After watching it, I felt that I understood the strong force significantly better than I had before, and that’s one of those rare, reliable good feelings.

I often wish I had stuck with my original intent to go into Physics as a career.  Unfortunately, my path was derailed when I was found to have a congenital heart defect** that had to be surgically corrected.  Heart-lung bypass, such as happens when one has open-heart surgery, has cerebral effects because of the “unnatural” way the brain is perfused with blood during the process, and it often causes transient cognitive deficits.

This is not the only cerebral dysfunction that can manifest.   I realized only in retrospect that I had another one as well—for the first few hours after I awakened from my surgery, I was blind.  At the time I just assumed something was covering my eyes, in addition to the ventilator in my mouth, the three chest tubes, the straps holding both of my wrists, and the more-than-one IV line I had.  I didn’t think much of the blindness because I had other things on my mind.  It was very painful to have open-heart surgery, surprisingly enough.

Anyway, being 18 years old at the time, I recovered from a lot of the other stuff pretty quickly.  But I had a a temporary cognitive deficit.  It was not enough to make me need to take a year off college or anything—it never would have occurred to me even to consider such a show of “weakness”.  I did, however, find the calculus and physics classes in second year as a physics major too difficult to keep up with, and that was frustrating.

It was not helped by the fact that I had been triggered—again, not at all an unusual effect of heart-lung bypass—to have a significant exacerbation of my dysthymia into what was probably my first real, full-blown bout of major depression.

Faced with my difficulties, and at that time thinking I would be in the Navy after college anyway, I had to switch majors to English.  This is not a horrible thing, obviously.  I love English—the language and the literature in general—and I love to read, and obviously I’m a writer.  My overall GPA did, however, go down slightly compared to Physics (not counting the first semester after my surgery), and it turns out this was probably at least partly due to my other ASD.  I had a terrible time in those small-group classes because I did not know when to comment, when to ask questions, or even where people were getting their thoughts and ideas about the various things we were reading.  I liked the stories, and I liked wordplay and intricate language, but the process of discussion and interpretation and interaction about it all was thoroughly puzzling to me.  And needless to say, writing essays that would please the professors was a tall order; I had no idea what they might want.

Obviously I got through the rest of college, though not without lots of heart-rending things happening—personal, familial, career-wise, psychiatric/psychological, physical***—and found myself deciding to go to medical school because I had to do something, I had relevant personal experience, and I love Biology almost as much as Physics.  Medicine was a career in which I could do a lot of good, and it was basically zero risk.

By “zero risk” I mean, I knew that I could get into and pass medical school.  The sorts of things required are right in my wheelhouse:  standardized tests, Chemistry, Biology, dealing with things other people think are “gross”, remembering and understanding complex systems and their interactions—things with actual, concrete answers.  And I’m actually pretty good at caring for other people.  It’s not that it wasn’t hard work, don’t get me wrong.  But it was work I knew that I could do, unlike—for instance—understanding what I should write to get an A on an essay about The Faerie Queene.

Of course, had I not gone into medicine, other things would not have happened that have been thoroughly catastrophic for my life, from which I have not even come close to recovering.  But I cannot and will not ever truly regret anything that happened before the birth of children, so I don’t truly regret not going into Physics as a career.

But it would be nice to have someone around in my actual life with whom I could have conversations about stuff that really interests me, apart from stories, which I seem to have lost my knack for enjoying.  At best, I can sometimes tell the other people around me about some interesting fact or concept, and sometimes they’ll appreciate how cool it is, but then that’s that.  Anyway, I seem to have lost most, if not all, of the social skills I’d had in the past, so it’s hard even to imagine seeking out someplace to interact with such people.

Oh, well.  No one (with authority to do so) ever promised that life would be satisfying, and many smart people have reckoned that life is inherently unsatisfying, so I have no one but myself with whom to lodge any complaints.  The universe is the way it is.  We were not asked for input when it came into existence, and we do not have veto power over any of the facts of nature.

I won’t endorse the old tee-shirt slogan, “There is no gravity—the Earth sucks”.  But I will rather cheerily say, “There is no gravity—the universe is just warped.”  It’s a nerd joke I came up with myself (though others probably have done so also), and so I like it.  It’s also, basically, true.


*I watch previously seen ones so that I don’t get engaged in thinking about new things too late at night, because that can keep me up even more than usual.

**An atrial septal defect, shortened to ASD, but not to be confused with the more commonly seen modern acronym for Autism Spectrum Disorder, which I seem also to have.  So, interestingly, I was born with two ASDs, one discovered at age 18 and surgically corrected, the other discovered or realized (by me, anyway) when I was just over 50, and it cannot be corrected, per se.  I’ve done a literature search and skimmed through some papers, and it seems there is a higher incidence of such cardiac defects in people with Autism Spectrum Disorders, but the reason for the correlation is not at all clear.

***No one goes through open heart surgery without some physical sequelae.

You pick the space and I’ll choose the time, and I’ll climb the hole in my own way*

It’s Tuesday now, the day that Professor Coyne, aka PCC(E), over at Why Evolution Is True calls “the cruelest day”.  I’m not sure the origin of that expression; as far as I can recall, his website is the first place I encountered it, but I like it.

It’s not the beginning of the week, which has a certain hectic energy at least, with everyone in a kind of recovery from their—hopefully restful—weekend.  It’s not “hump day”, which many people call Wednesday, when things are starting to coast toward the end.  And, of course, it’s not its counterpart:  Thursday, which is a day on which anticipation of the coming weekend can energize one for the day’s work.  And, quite obviously, it’s not Friday, when those who are on a 5-day-a-week schedule are effectively already beginning their weekend**.  Tuesday is the day with the least to make it stand out.  Which, of course, makes it stand out.

Also, as the Beatles pointed out, and as I often note, Tuesday afternoon is never-ending.  And, if time were to be truly continuous and infinitely divisible, then one could effectively make Tuesday afternoon never-ending in a Zeno’s Paradox sort of way, just by subdividing the time in between each moment as each moment passed.

Or, of course, one could fall through the event horizon of a black hole.  To distant observers, that fall would indeed seem to be never-ending (though before too long the image of the faller would redshift into invisibility).  And for the person falling, the end would come rather quickly.  Assuming that person survived the gravitational tides, according to General Relativity, time literally comes to an end in the singularity of a black hole.

Though I always picture the heart of a black hole a bit more like one of those “Gabriel’s Horn” shapes in mathematics, which has an infinite surface area but a finite volume.  Of course, I don’t have the skills and expertise to work the equations of GR, but it feels to me that, if spacetime is endlessly flexible****, then there need never be a true “end” to time; it could just stretch longer and thinner always, infinite in “surface” but finite in “volume”.

I know that’s all a bit esoteric, and I’m sure my understanding is incomplete.  If there are any theoretical physicists specializing in GR reading this who can help me think more clearly about black holes and singularities and why it would be necessary for time to completely end if spacetime were continuous rather than simply to stretch—making a mathematical singularity, but not literally an end—then please do let me now.

I realize that there may be concepts that can only be dealt with rigorously using the mathematics, but on the other hand, clearly the mathematics is translatable into “ordinary language” at some level, or no one would ever be able to teach it or learn it.  And I have at least a bit of mathematical background, though I haven’t formally studied how to do the matrices and whatnot involved in GR.  Still, Einstein himself didn’t know how to do it when he came up with the initial ideas, so he had to learn it and then work with it, but he had the ideas first.

I don’t have his brilliance, obviously—which is certainly not an insult—but if there’s a way to demonstrate why time literally ends at a singularity***** rather than simply stretching out into an endless tube, with shrinking cross-section (in higher-dimensions) but ever-expanding “area” (again, in higher dimensions), I’d like to know.  I mean, according to the whole Dark Energy paradigm, the expansion of spacetime is accelerating now and there’s no theoretical limit to how much it can expand, which seems to mean, at some level, that it has infinite stretchability.

Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that spacetime can continue to be created between any two points that are stretching apart, somewhat—but not quite—analogous to the way in which if you try to separate two bound quarks, all you do is create two new partner quarks with the energy you’ve put in to try to stretch them so now you’ve got two pairs of inseparable quarks.  Neener neener neener.

Anyway, I know that Penrose and Hawking developed their singularity theorems for black holes and those are accepted by physicists and mathematicians throughout the world.  They are/were brilliant people, there’s no doubt about that.  But does the theorem mean that spacetime literally vanishes at some literally infinitely dense point in the middle of a black hole—which strikes me as implausible given the stretchy-stretchy nature of spacetime—or is it a singularity more in the pure mathematical sense like the function 1/x as x approaches zero?

Enquiring minds want to know.

Wow, that wasn’t at all where I thought I was going when I started this post today, but those random, drunken walks can, at times, at least lead past interesting scenery.  No one would be likely to argue that a black hole doesn’t necessarily belong in a wasteland; in a sense, it is the ultimate wasteland, at least this side of the heat death of the universe.  But it is interesting, topographically (and topologically, to a novice such as I), and though it would be nice to be able to enjoy such scenery with company who would appreciate it in a similar fashion to the way I do, well…one has no “right” to such a thing and no good reason to expect it.  It’s lonely, but at least the wasteland has places of beauty.

And if one gets tired of walking, and/or one is curious enough to see where it leads, one can always just jump into that black hole.


*This is a slightly altered line from the Pink Floyd song Fearless, off their excellent album Meddle.

**Some of us work every other Saturday, of course, and when you have no life, like I have no life, a weekend is not something to which to look forward, except for the chance to rest one’s back.  I don’t really do anything for fun, have no friends with whom I spend time, no places that I go for entertainment or for shopping or whatever.  All such things are too tainted by memories of loss, and anxiety, and the feeling of not belonging on this planet.  My life is more or less a wasteland.  But I can’t see any way out of it (other than the obvious), and I can’t even really tell if I’m just walking in circles within it.  I think I’m walking in random patterns, like a “drunkard’s walk” (though I rarely drink).  And, of course, in a random walk or drunkard’s walk, one will eventually get arbitrarily far away from one’s origin point (though the average location will be the origin, interestingly), but the distance between one and the origin increases—I think, if memory serves—only logarithmically.  And I suspect that the exit from the wasteland is very far away, if it exists at all (other than, as I say, the obvious).  Oh, well.  Life promises one thing and one thing only; anything else is just luck***.

***A footnote within a footnote, just to note the mildly amusing fact that, so far, my footnote is longer than the main text of this post.

****A big “if”, of course.  It doesn’t seem to jibe with quantum mechanics, apparently, but we have no convincing theory of quantum gravity to settle the issue.  I’m so frustrated.

*****Again, according to General Relativity—I know it’s thought not to be the correct picture in such extreme circumstances, because of the uncertainty principle, among other things.

You Were and Have Been Warned

Well, as I warned you would happen, it’s Saturday, and I’m doing a blog post, because I work today.  And, as I also warned you, I did in fact post my video The Superman Neutrino Hypothesis to YouTube yesterday afternoon, and I’ll embed it here, below this sentence.

As you’ll see when you watch it (or have seen, if you’ve already watched it), it’s just a bit of meandering, rather silly stuff, with me applying scientifically valid physical thoughts and questions (and making a few arithmetic errors along the way) to the nature of a comic book hero—the most archetypal comic book hero, though never one of my personal favorites—whose powers have always been rather puzzling to me.

Not that such puzzlement is surprising or unusual.  There’s no good explanation for most of the many powers superheroes have.  I think the closest I’ve seen to someone trying to give a “mundane” physical explanation for a superpower was when, in the first Spider-Man movie, they zoomed in on Peter Parker’s fingers and we saw squillions of tiny little gripping projections growing out of his fingers.  Presumably the same thing was happening with his toes.

But then, if that’s the explanation for his ability to stick to and climb walls, how does it work when he’s wearing gloves and boots?  Did he somehow design a special fabric so fine and porous that it would let this “stickiness” come through, undiminished?  How in the world did a teenager from Queens, however brilliant he might be, come up with such a thing?

At least Sam Raimi had the sense not to have Peter Parker just invent his webbing—which would be an almost Nobel-worthy breakthrough in materials science and engineering and possibly condensed matter physics—in his little house in a poor neighborhood in Queens.  Then again, Raimi still had to make the webbing come from Peter’s wrists, for valid, story-based reasons, but that fact is rather odd.  No spider secretes web from near the ends of its legs, but rather from glands in its posterior (or “abdomen”).

If Peter had developed a more natural bodily location for the production of his webbing, that would have made for an awkward superhero, huh?  Raimi was probably right not to do that.

Anyway, that’s pretty much all I have to talk about for today.  This is quite a departure for me in terms of post length, and I don’t know if people in general will be happy or disappointed that it’s so comparatively short.  It doesn’t matter much, either way, though.  I’m just not interested in writing much, today.  I’m not interested in doing much.  My back and legs have been acting up even worse than usual these past several days, and that’s saying something.  In addition, and possibly exacerbated by that pain, I’m almost always stressed out, whether at work or at the house or even during my commute, though the latter is perhaps the least stressful time.

It really gets old.  I’ve got to do something about all this; it’s just not worth the effort to keep going, especially when there’s really nothing at all to which to look forward.  My “epic quest” looks harder to carry out when my pain is so severe, though I’m trying to find ways to counter that.  Otherwise, I feel like just giving up on it, and on everything else, and just shutting down the game.

I guess we’ll see what happens.