Blindingly obvious

Assume there are infinite universes. You don’t actually have to believe this. Just… imagine. Infinite universes with infinite possibilities. We’ll call it the multiverse.

Let’s imagine we map all the moments in the history of our world to separate universes. So what happened five minutes ago? Different universe. And it might as well be, right? We can’t access the past in any real way other than looking at history and memories.

Take a universe from, say, 500 years ago. It’s not super important when, but a few hundred years seems good for illustrative purposes. It’s quite a bit different. Imagine being able to go from this universe to that universe and have a conversation with a someone. Anyone. Doesn’t matter who.

Think about all the things that are blindingly obvious to you. The earth goes around the sun. Stuff is made of smaller stuff. Time is relative. Democracy is the best form of government. Free speech is sacred. Whatever. Stuff you think is kind of axiomatic. Imagine explaining these things to that someone.

How might that go?

Well, probably not very well. Things aren’t blindingly obvious instantly. In fact they’re not even blindingly obvious from culture to culture in the here and now, especially when you move away from rigorously provable things like “the earth goes around the sun”.

Now imagine someone comes from a future universe to talk to you. They start telling you stuff that seems blindingly obvious to them.

How might that go?

Again, probably not well.

Why is that?

How science is done

We understand how a cookie cooks pretty well. I mean two things by this. One: We understand how to assemble and bake a good cookie. And two: We understand the physical processes that make this happen.

This is how science is done, for the most part.

There are exceptions. Physics and math, for instance, are different. But for the most part science tends to be an evolutionary process. And so it is that a cook, experimenting with different compositions and temperatures, is doing science. Maybe they don’t know that. But they are. Maybe the cookie was invented accidentally, while someone was trying to make something else. Still — science.

We have a perception that science is something we can order, as if from a catalogue, and have delivered, as if off the back of a truck. But it’s not really like that.

Scientists get asked “what’s the point of your research” a lot. There’s no good answer to this question, really. Except maybe to say that we might end up with a better cookie.

Bullet Points for a Wednesday

I haven’t done this in too long. Here goes.

  • We should have a heat map of the places that vaccination denialists live, work, and send their children. Kind of how we have sex offender maps. Then we can choose better where not to live so as to extend our and especially our children’s lifespans. And also there’s less chance of running into them at parties.
  • Facebook and Google operate under the assumption that attaching a real name to something makes it better. This may be the case. Sometimes. But not always. There’s fundamentally a bunch of my life that’s none of your business. In a way, FB and G+ are basically ubergossips, eager to pry into every detail of my life and connect it all together for easy viewing. I don’t like that. What I reveal about myself must be under my own control.
  • Is there a good way around new process drift? I mean, other than nagging or punishment. Let’s say you put a new policy in place and you notice that people are gradually starting to ignore that policy… what do you do? Short of getting up in everyone’s grill about it?
  • The US considers foods and food supplements to be entirely different things. One has stringent controls, the other doesn’t. But why? Both things go into your body. It seems like if it’s illegal for food to be 20% rat anus, supplements should be the same.
  • If you exclude accidental and workplace deaths, the US has the best life expectancy in the world. But it’s only (roughly) a few months higher than other industrialized countries, yet the healthcare costs (roughly) twice as much. Is this a case of a fundamentally broken system? Or is it just that returns diminish when keeping people alive for a long time?
  • If you can’t avoid paying a fee, or the only way to avoid a fee is to do something extraordinarily inconvenient, it’s not a fee. It’s part of the purchase price. When companies (always the worst, most awful companies) like Bell and Ticketmaster include mandatory fees on top of their listed prices, they deserve to be punished. This is the sort of crap that consumer protection legislation was designed for. I’m not saying that we should all go out and burn Bell Canada’s headquarters to the ground (though I’d shed no tears for them if that were to happen)… but…
  • Sometime in the future when Atheism is an actual established religion, Carl Sagan will be one of their arch-saints. In the meantime, can we stop talking about him all the live long day?
  • Are there any lessons we can take from the NSA spying scandals? I think so. One might be that our networks are woefully insecure and absolutely need to be hardened. Another might be that the US won’t abandon their current course easily, and they’ll prosecute and torture anyone who tries to get in the way.
  • How permissible is violence? How you answer this question is probably one of the most important things you’ve never thought of.

Guilt Factories, Part II

A particular guilt factory has set itself up in my head. It’s been there a long time.

We all seem to have it these days.

It’s the cult of more and better. Optimise your time. Get better results. Have better children. Procrastinate less. Make lists. Download an app to make better lists. Download an app that make the app to make better lists better.

Or, to put it another way, if you’re not running after the best, you’re wasting your life. That’s the implication. No one ever says it, but if you’re not working better, if you’re not fine-tuning the afterburners, if you’re not running faster… you’re losing.

Unless you’re hacking yourself, you’re losing. And not just losing at anything: Losing at life.

John Piper wrote a book for the Christ-hacker set called “Don’t Waste Your Life”. I wish I’d never read it.

There’s no way to walk away from that book without two heaping spoonfuls of guilt.

Sure, you’re washed in the blood of the lamb, but don’t dare spend your retirement on a yacht! You could be doing something better.

But then, you could always be doing something better.

Say you’re a missionary. From all appearances your mission isn’t doing that well. Well, if you weigh the spiritual pros and cons, and think about “impact”, you should probably take off. After all, you don’t want to waste your life, right?

Some people can live like this. I can’t. I get exhausted just thinking about it.

I don’t want to optimise my “time management” to “get stuff done”.

I don’t want to look at all the stuff I can’t get done and feel guilty about it.

I don’t want to have to gauge the supposed quality of my life.

Love Is The Evidence

The key apologetic for Christianity—far more important than knowing the right answers to hard questions—is love. Communities of faith that embody the kindness of God in cruciform ‘works of love’ are deeply attractive and are themselves evidence (not proof) of the truth of the gospel.

This quote, and other good stuff, can be found here.

I can’t get this out of head: Cruciform works of love are attractive.

We’ve spend a lot of time recently trying to figure this thing out. The whole church has, Catholics and Protestants alike. How do we make Christianity attractive? How do we stay relevant?

Maybe the real answer to that question isn’t about sound systems, bands, lighting, atmosphere, easy rock tunes, running MMA clubs out of the church basement, or having a Ferris wheel installed in the sanctuary.

Maybe the real answer is a lot harder than that. Maybe the real answer is that nobody likes a bunch of well-dressed jerks. No matter how cool their t-shirts are.

Love, Love, Love

Love is like porn. You know it when you see it.

We’ve spent too much time trying to dissect love. It resists the attempt. It’s complicated, like everything involving human brains.

It’s so complicated that we call the brain the heart. We abstract the organ.

I’ve seen love defined as an action. But it’s not that. I’ve seen love defined as a feeling. It’s not that either.

I’ve seen love defined as a deep-seated affection. That’s closer to the mark, maybe. Or maybe not.

I’ve heard it said, You wouldn’t have done that if you loved me. That might be true. Or it might just be one of those things we say when we’ve already left the room.

It’s hard to be holistic. It’s a stupid word. And there’s a lot of work have a well-rounded view of, well… anything.

Still, it’s worth it. At least I think so. It’s worth escaping the dark, confined spaces of a small opinion.

And it makes it easier to be alive in this world. I’m not judging the quality of your love. I’m not going inside your head with a scalpel and trying figure out if you’ve got just the right mix of action and emotion…

The smaller the view, the smaller the prison.

And you know who ends up there? You do. Not those other people.

That’s a good reason to resist turning love into a cartoon thing. At least, I think so.

Facebook annoyances

I’d make a list, but Buzzfeed probably already did that. So let me say this:

A lot of what people say on Facebook bugs me. Sometimes it’s not even what they say but how they say it.

That’s not strange. We all have that, I think.

What’s strange is some days I find myself going to Facebook just to be annoyed. I know I’ll find something annoying there, eventually. I dig to find it. That’s strange. Who does that? Who puts themselves in that path of that on purpose? Who likes to feel annoyed?

But maybe it’s not that strange. Maybe we all have that.

On being alone.

I’ve had a long and storied love/hate relationship with being alone.

It’s a way to recharge, but after a while it feels… lonely. I’m not sure what the difference between simply being alone and being lonely is, but I think it’s about capability. You can be alone a room away from your friends, or lonely in a crowd of people you don’t know. Stepping across the boundaries of the crowd is a lot different than simply going to another room.

For some people it’s impossible.

But this isn’t about that. This is about your fundamental alone-ness.

That is to say… You are alone. You will always be alone. You, in a certain sense, exist inside your own head. As such the you that isn’t really body can’t reach out and touch other people, or really interface with other people. It’s like a being in a dark room and the only way to communicate is occasional taps of Morse code.

Language is sort of like that. You have a thought, you translate it into language, someone else receives the language and they turn it into their own thought. The reception doesn’t equal the transmission, though. All language ever is a game of broken telephone.

You can spend your entire life communicating with one person and not truly understand them. You can spend all your time trying to build a state machine to fully comprehend them and find you’re missing something.

Or you find that you changed the outcome by measuring it. People are strange that way.

There’s a lot of talk going on about the differences between introverts and extroverts. I see an article or tweet or post about introversion/extroversion at least 3 time a week.

We could talk about how these states aren’t discrete, how *version is a spectrum, but I think we’ve covered that enough.

I just want to say that you’re alone. You are well and truly alone. And your reaction this state of semi-perpetual alone-ness determines your place on the spectrum.

Do you retreat to this experience of alone-ness, or do you retreat from it?

Ambiguity

Ambiguity is difficult.

Something in my brain has to know. It has to absolutely know. Even silly things, stuff that doesn’t matter. That something in my brain wants to take that esoterica and pin it to a card, put the card under glass, and call it finished.

Ambiguity is also about resolution.

You don’t really know what I mean when I say “resolution”. Do you? I can use that word at least two different ways. You could read it either way. Maybe you did, in the beginning, before I reminded you that there’s another way to read “resolution”.

Depending on your personality, it might not be enough to pick one. You’ll want to know what I mean. After all, this is my blog. You’re reading it read my thoughts, not get some reflection on your own.

You want something. You want… resolution. And there it is again, that ambiguity.

I actually chose the word “resolution” because it can mean two things, and I mean both of those things. Sorry if you chose sides. Ambiguity is about resolution in that too much of it stops the resolution of any situation (after all, some things absolutely must be fixed and resolved), but also in that too little reduces the pixel density of your world.

Too much ambiguity and you’re set adrift. Too little and the world becomes a photocopy of itself.

Ambiguity is good. But it’s bad. Just like doubt. And I don’t mean this is a sort of dualistic “find the median between the good and bad” sort of way. As if such a thing is possible. I mean ambiguity is good and bad at the same time. In the same situation. With the same resolution in view.

You might not like that. I don’t. It’s too meta. It’s too self-referential or clever or something else that makes you think this is all just talk.

I also love it, because for me, ambiguity is the wellspring of creativity. The question that can’t or won’t be answered has tension baked in.

It’s accurate, too. Life doesn’t have a Hays Code. The good guys are not good. The bad guys are not bad. There’s a sort of body horror that happens when someone approaches the outer limits of this rule, when they dissolve into a cartoon version of themselves. The good that is too good, the bad that is too bad — both are frightening, in different ways.

The most terrible thing

It might seem that the most terrible thing is to drift quietly into that dark night. To be remembered by very few and only for a short time.

But this is almost certainly your fate. This is how most people end.

So you have a choice. Push back, or accept.

Neither is a guarantee.