motto lotto

Saturday, July 31, 2010

seek and ye shan't find

This thread on atheism/agnosticism produced this gem (from the commenter's thesis).
In Life on the Mississippi, Mark Twain poignantly describes the dilemma that occurs when we defer to rational, utilitarian thinking alone. In doing so he simultaneously lends credibility to other ways of learning, experiencing, and knowing. Ways which he apparently comes to esteem as equal, if not superior.

“Now when I had mastered the language of this water and had come to know every trifling feature that bordered the great river as familiarly as I knew the letters of the alphabet, I had made a valuable acquisition. But I had lost something too. I had lost something which could never be restored to me while I lived. All the grace, the beauty, the poetry, had gone out of the majestic river…All the value any feature of it had for me now was the amount of usefulness it could furnish toward compassing the safe piloting of a steamboat. [Speaking of his pity for doctors in this regard he continues,]…doesn’t he sometimes wonder whether he has gained most or lost most by learning his trade?”

When Joshu asks Nansen, “What is the Way?” Nansen replies “Ordinary mind is the Way.” “Shall I seek after it?” Joshu inquires. To this Nansen responds, “If you try for it, you will become separated from it.” Confused, Joshu persists, “How can I know the Way unless I try for it?” Nansen’s response is full of intrigue. He says, “The Way is not a matter of knowing or not knowing. Knowing is a delusion, not knowing is confusion.” He concludes by explaining that the Way is vast and boundless as space itself and that it cannot be talked about in terms of right and wrong; that the Way is an experience rather than a conceptual understanding—an understanding that somehow lies beyond right and wrong.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

she barely knew me yet had the audacity to call me eccentrically abstemious

The world is more addictive than it was 40 years ago. And unless the forms of technological progress that produced these things are subject to different laws than technological progress in general, the world will get more addictive in the next 40 years than it did in the last 40.

The next 40 years will bring us some wonderful things. I don't mean to imply they're all to be avoided. Alcohol is a dangerous drug, but I'd rather live in a world with wine than one without. Most people can coexist with alcohol; but you have to be careful. More things we like will mean more things we have to be careful about.

Most people won't, unfortunately. Which means that as the world becomes more addictive, the two senses in which one can live a normal life will be driven ever further apart. One sense of "normal" is statistically normal: what everyone else does. The other is the sense we mean when we talk about the normal operating range of a piece of machinery: what works best.

These two senses are already quite far apart. Already someone trying to live well would seem eccentrically abstemious in most of the US. That phenomenon is only going to become more pronounced. You can probably take it as a rule of thumb from now on that if people don't think you're weird, you're living badly.

The Acceleration of Addiction Paul Graham

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

complicated relationship with religion

"growth path"
These thoughts are pretty incomplete but if I wait until I find them satisfying I'll probably never post them. I'll start with a few snippets from that David Foster Wallace article I posted a bit ago:
The only thing that's capital-T True is that you get to decide how you're going to try to see it. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't. You get to decide what to worship...

Because here's something else that's true. In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship -- be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles -- is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things -- if they are where you tap real meaning in life -- then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already -- it's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power -- you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart -- you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.

Look, the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious. They are default-settings. They're the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that's what you're doing. And the world will not discourage you from operating on your default-settings, because the world of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom to be lords of our own tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation.
By denying religion I don't thereby embrace the "values of this world". I often find the "values of this world" as annoying as religion's values and I generally think of religion's values as also the values of "the crowd". The values of the crowd need the values of other crowds. Balance of powers and all that.

It used to be that all education was dictated by or associated with the church. Some Oxford dons led me to believe the first separation of Church and state in regard to education came with Henry VIII (something about funding coming directly from the monarchy, they had a lot of positive things to say about ol' Henry). But we're still in danger of homogeny in regard to education. The state is also an agent of homogeny. Homogeny is at odds with freedom (and imagination -- viva Orwell/Huxley).

I'm a believer in external reinforcers and religions are what exists.

I'm more of a fan of the imitation of Christ (minus the bloody end) than following Christ. Why does the latter often preclude the former? The fear-driven life?

We were involved with religion because we are on a growth path and it was part of that path. The path went through religion but I don't deny that religion took us further along that path. If we remained in religion we would stagnate.

Monday, July 26, 2010

interesting short critique of Kierkegaard


Ladies and Gentlemen of A.D. 2088:

i don't think that guy is gonna make it
Our century hasn't been as free with words of wisdom as some others, I think, because we were the first to get reliable information about the human situation: how many of us there were, how much food we could raise or gather, how fast we were reproducing, what made us sick, what made us die, how much damage we were doing to the air and water and topsoil on which most life forms depended, how violent and heartless nature can be, and on and on. Who could wax wise with so much bad news pouring in?

For me, the most paralyzing news was that Nature was no conservationist. It needed no help from us in taking the planet apart and putting it back together some different way, not necessarily improving it from the viewpoint of living things. It set fire to forests with lightning bolts. It paved vast tracts of arable land with lava, which could no more support life than big-city parking lots. It had in the past sent glaciers down from the North Pole to grind up major portions of Asia, Europe, and North America. Nor was there any reason to think that it wouldn't do that again someday. At this very moment it is turning African farms to deserts, and can be expected to heave up tidal waves or shower down white-hot boulders from outer space at any time. It has not only exterminated exquisitely evolved species in a twinkling, but drained oceans and drowned continents as well. If people think Nature is their friend, then they sure don't need an enemy.

And here is a crazy idea I would like to try on you: Is it possible that we aimed rockets with hydrogen bomb warheads at each other, all set to go, in order to take our minds off the deeper problem--how cruelly Nature can be expected to treat us, Nature being Nature, in the by-and-by?

Now that we can discuss the mess we are in with some precision, I hope you have stopped choosing abysmally ignorant optimists for positions of leadership. They were useful only so long as nobody had a clue as to what was really going on--during the past seven million years or so. In my time they have been catastrophic as heads of sophisticated institutions with real work to do.

The sort of leaders we need now are not those who promise ultimate victory over Nature through perseverance in living as we do right now, but those with the courage and intelligence to present to the world what appears to be Nature's stern but reasonable surrender terms:
  1. Reduce and stabilize your population.
  2. Stop poisoning the air, the water and the topsoil.
  3. Stop preparing for war and start dealing with your real problems
  4. Teach your kids, and yourselves, too, while you're at it, how to inhabit a small planet without helping to kill it.
  5. Stop thinking science can fix anything if you give it a trillion dollars.
  6. Stop thinking your grandchildren will be OK no matter how wasteful or destructive you may be, since they can go to a nice new planet on a spaceship. That is really mean, and stupid.
  7. And so on. Or else.
Am I too pessimistic about life a hundred years from now? Maybe I have spent too much time with scientists and not enough time with speechwriters for politicians.

Kurt Vonnegut Fates Worse Than Death

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Dave Chappelle

Dave Chappelle on Inside the Actor's Studio is worth watching. The google video version I linked to is low quality; I watched it on DVD. He discusses the "Season three turbulence" (as wikipedia calls it) which takes him on an extended discussion of fame, money, happiness and so on.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

the nursing home

I might have mentioned earlier on this blog that my grandma is suffering from dementia. Recently her condition has been deteriorating quickly and my family has decided to move her into an assisted care facility. My parents have been going the extra mile taking care of her in their home (my mom's a nurse) but she frequently wakes up at night and stays up for hours, tries to wander off. Often they'll take her somewhere and she'll refuse to get out of the car (also for hours). She'll say she wants to go to mass and that she needs to get home to take care of her mother. She seems to change the time period she's living in (mentally) frequently.

Anyhow, when I was a kid, my mom and I lived with an old lady for a while. Her name was Adelaide Bartlett. Once she got a bit older she also had to move into a nursing home. We used to give her rides to church quite a bit during that time. What I mainly remember is her wanting to die and asking why God hadn't taken her. Her conversation was singularly focused on that theme. When she died, I inherited a few of her things, mostly antique trinkets. Among the things was this poem. Adelaide, unlike my grandma, remained lucid until the end. She probably wrote this not long after she first entered the nursing home (since it doesn't overly emphasize the "I want to die" theme).
The Nursing Home

The nursing home is a
place to retreat
And all our lives
are in defeat

So often we just sit and wait
Wondering what will be our fate

The workers there are
too few, the best they can
we hope they do.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

wake the sleepers?

Imagine an iron house without windows, absolutely indestructible, with many people fast asleep inside who will soon die of suffocation. But you know since they will die in their sleep, they will not feel the pain of death. Now if you cry aloud to waken a few of the lighter sleepers, making those unfortunate few suffer the agony of irrevocable death, do you think you are doing them a good turn?

Lu Xun
via Alexis Ohanian

Saturday, July 10, 2010


I suppose it's only natural for us to be more lenient towards our ingroup than outgroups but I still find this phenomena frustrating.

For philosophers or rationals (or whatever you want to call crazy people like me) we tend to expect others to be similarly rational. But since so many are ignorant or irrational, those within our ingroup often get a free pass.

So, to be consistent we could be equally hard on those within our ingroup but this move isn't very human because we are the anomaly here and it's a move toward isolation and consequent loneliness.

The alternate move is to lend your sympathies to irrationality in outgroups in the same way you lend them to your ingroup. This is the move I attempt to make as it seems most fit for this more heterogeneous world and it matches my Whitmanesque desires for world travelling.

Note that this meditation doesn't speak at all to lenience toward other rationals. I prefer a bit of contention in that ingroup.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

july 4, 2010

Spent a bit of time walking Sophie and writing.

Watched the fireworks with friends on the bayfront.

Ran into a random commie at the end of the night at the bar. He didn't know much about communism. He said he bought the shirt from urban outfitters in 2003 or so.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

some say the opposite of love is not hate but indifference

Of the gods I ask only to be ignored.
Without good or bad luck, I'll be free,
Like the wind that's the life
Of the air, which is nothing.
Hatred and love both seek us out;
Both oppress us, each in its own way.
Those to whom the gods
Grant nothing are free.

Ricardo Reis (Fernando Pessoa)

Ricardo Reis begs to differ.