synthetic zero


January 27, 2007

Waking life is much more like a dream than I think we tend to give it credit for. Even a day passes, and the events of the previous day have faded into phantoms; our memories are not neurological film recorders... they're thin tissues, easily torn, incomplete. We can sit and quietly wait for them to come into focus but they can just as easily elude us, fade, like a dream we knew we had but can't quite grasp.

The other way waking life is like a dream: even seemingly random events can have a strange metaphorical significance, not only because of our projections. Waking reality is structured, for some reason, partially around our perceptions and mythologies. It's as though, while we're projecting our stories onto the world, the world itself starts to act, just a little, like a story, too. The question is, is it the story we think we're living, or it is something very different?

January 26, 2007

Heather Anne sent me this video of a frilled shark... amazing.

January 25, 2007

Japanese culture is based on the principle that both sides in any negotiation attempt to take into account the concerns of the other side (or multiple sides) before they even begin speaking. The negotiation isn't about attempting to take advantage of the other side, but rather to determine, in the shortest time possible, a deal that will most likely maintain harmony in the relationship (and in the larger set of relationships) over the long term. Each side, of course, wants to do well for themselves ... but not too well. This isn't based on altruism, which is something I think people in other cultures fail to perceive.

The problem with this technique is that it only works well when both sides are operating under the same assumptions; misunderstandings happen otherwise, though, usually, not fatal. Usually, it's just a matter of missed opportunities for better results for everyone concerned.

January 24, 2007

If you're resourceful, money is rarely as big a problem as people make it out to be. Yet, for some strange reason, people place far more emphasis on it than other factors which are much more important for long-term personal happiness and satisfaction. Money is just one of many factors, one that is relatively simple to understand. It's a number. Most other things can't be represented by a single number. It takes much more attention to properly manage things that can't be so easily compacted; those things ought to take up far more of our attention than dealing with or worrying about money.

Obsessing about money is like obsessing about how much gas you have in your car. It's clearly necessary to have gas to go, and running out can be problematic, but it's not something that you need to think about constantly, or devote huge amounts of mental effort to. Once you make sure you have enough to live, you should think about something else.

January 23, 2007

If you really pay attention, it is sometimes possible to see into the world of another person, without them having to say anything.

January 22, 2007

Jimmy's in town. He just got married, and his wife currently lives in Marrakesh. He says she used to be very close to her niece, they were inseparable, until one day her niece they lived together, but when her niece made it big, and his wife came home to find her niece had moved out, suddenly, no warning. Now her niece hardly interacts with her family...

January 21, 2007

So many things to catch up on! Taxes, paperwork...

January 18, 2007

Saw Claire Barratt in her last performance in New York, before she leaves, perhaps forever. It's amazing how most of the people who I met in Mott Haven when I first moved here have moved away --- these neighborhoods have a lot of turnover.

January 15, 2007

Leadership is about more than making good decisions. It's about building a team, which requires a lot of counterintuitive moves.

January 12, 2007

It's refreshing to see neocons admitting that the Bush Administration bungled their war; but it's a sad fiction to think this war, at this time, was ever winnable. The war was doomed from the beginning, it was doomed because of the way we went about getting into it, it was doomed due to the sociopolitical bad timing, and for so many other reasons. Sure, it could have gone less spectacularly wrong less spectacularly fast, but there's no way this war would have ever been anything but an unmitigated disaster. The timing was simply wrong for it, but so was the strategy. If you really wanted the Middle East to get democracy, they would have to think it was their idea and they would have to do it, mostly, themselves, with us acting merely in a support role, if any role at all. Because, in the end, in order to get someone to think it was their idea... it has to be true.

January 11, 2007

The smarter among us in America use deception less than, I think, elsewhere in the world, though I don't think we've always been that way. Old movies are filled with tales of shady characters getting by with elaborate cons; sophisticated confidence men fleecing rich marks, and so forth. But these sorts of tales have faded, somewhat --- I mean, yes, in a way, the huge corporate scandals of the last decade are strong evidence that deception remains rife here --- but it's taking a more sophisticated form. The straight con is a total deception; there's no there there, so to speak, whereas with white collar crime, there is an actual company there, and the crime involves fudging the books, rather than creating an illusion out of whole cloth.

The odd thing is, I don't think this is because we Americans have become particularly more virtuous out of a sense of fair play. I think being more honest is actually the result of a long evolution of deception. That is to say; if one is playing a game with other people who are more and more sophisticated, one eventually makes the calculation that deception itself is no longer a winning strategy. Being straightforward (in a perhaps somewhat oblique or slightly misleading way, at times, perhaps -- while keeping true to the spirit, so to speak) becomes the most sophisticated strategy of all.

January 10, 2007

A form of ball lightning finally synthesized in the lab (video unfortunately only seems to work in Windows). I'm not entirely convinced this is the ball lightning people have observed --- it appears to just drop straight to the earth and bounce along the ground, rather than floating in the air as ball lightning is reputed to do... but it's fun that people are investigating this...

A much stranger ball lightning report with a much stranger proposed explanation...

January 9, 2007

Of course, the problem with the idea of cloning (if done to resolve a choice) is that it is a kind of avoidance of death; choice is, in a way, a kind of killing off of one life for another. There is a certain sweetness and melancholy in that; every moment we are surrounded by the ghosts of paths not taken, and that's really an inseparable part of living, not something to regret. Everything new requires death to make space for it, so to speak. Sometimes the newborn and the soon to be dead can meet, and nod quietly to each other, wistfully.

January 8, 2007

Been thinking about clones again. Matthew and I were discussing a hypothetical situation in which someone came across a mutually exclusive choice (two different career paths, two different romantic possibilities, etc.), and they tried to resolve the problem by cloning themselves. He asked, if that were me, how would I resolve the problem of which copy does what? I replied, if it were me, I'd just flip a coin. I'd be happy that both possible lives were being lived; it wouldn't matter to me which individual was doing what.

I suppose it relates to the old question of teleportation --- suppose you could teleport via a machine that made a perfect living copy of you but killed the "original" in the process. Would it make sense to think of the original as having been tragically killed? I don't think so. From my point of view there's no difference between me being "actually" teleported and me being teleported via a machine that could make a perfect copy of me, while killing the original. The question of identity doesn't mean, to me, something that requires physical continuity -- in fact, at least mentally, I don't believe my "self" or consciousness is literally continuous even now; it flickers, morphs, blinks in and out, when I sleep, and even while awake I think the self isn't entirely continuous.

January 7, 2007

Joe Scarborough, conservative supporter of the Iraq war, blasted O'Reilly for being a GOP suck-up on Friday:

I challenge you to debate me anytime, anyplace, anywhere, and find one thing I have said on this program over the past year that is not consistent with the conservative congressman who was against military adventurism when I was in Congress, that was against exploding deficits, that was against reckless spending, and was against turning Congress into the type of swamp that we Republicans have turned it into over the past six years.

That doesn't make me liberal, that makes me conservative. That may make you, though, a suck-up, if you defend the Republicans that have done that to this country and to our party over the past six years.

Fast-forward the video clip to around the 90% mark to see the juiciest bits.

January 6, 2007

Walking around the city today, you could see the spectacle of some people still in thick overcoats, apparently not able to trust it was, in fact, 70 degrees, while others were wearing T-shirts. Many trees were budding. The whole thing felt wrong, disturbing --- this is the warmest prolonged spell of elevated temperature in the winter here in recorded history.

January 5, 2007

It is 63 degrees at night on January 5 in New York. It is predicted to reach 70 tomorrow. Yes, they say it is mostly El Nino ... but we've had many El Nino's before, and this is the warmest winter on record. It's like living in a science fiction movie. It's so warm, it's like a Twilight Zone episode --- frightening.

January 4, 2007

I started to make a book of drawings, stories, and doodles with Katharine today. Four and a half pages so far. It's strangely gratifying to make things with pen and paper.

January 3, 2007

After my childhood, I've never really been much for birthdays or anniversaries; I like to think of every day as an equally important chance to celebrate your life. But, sometimes it's a good idea to make some observance; plus, some people really get into these things --- I don't mind indulging other people's desire for annual celebration.

January 2, 2007

David found the original artist who made this drawing which Karina sent me a while ago; Randall Monroe, who draws xkcd:


January 1, 2007

Do we have free will? It's pretty clear that a lot of what we think we're doing are just stories made up by a conscious mind as justifications for things that are happening mostly outside of our conscious control. We maintain the illusion of control, when in fact we're at the mercy of larger forces: subconscious, physical, etc. The abstract question of free will, per se, doesn't interest me that much, but the question of how we can modulate our own behavior in the absence of very much direct conscious control: that does interest me. I think, first of all, one has to admit that we have very little direct control over ourselves; that in fact what one ought to do first is examine the larger contexts, the flows of psychological and other forces, energies, and patterns, and not so much attempt to directly change them but, instead, gently apply them to themselves; that is, bend, slightly, like surfing, not to stop or control the wave but BE the wave more fully, more completely. This is perhaps the only way to really find a way to make your life "better": by acknowledging how much of it lies in forces that are bigger than anything that can be directly controlled, but not bigger than what can be embodied, in a sense.