I Cannot Be
I cannot be
And I would never wish to be
Anything other than myself
For I love the person I am.
I cannot be
Broken, or shattered, or scathed,
By any external force
For I love the person I am.
I cannot be
Lost in the darkened wood
Or adrift upon the tide
For I love the person I am.
I cannot be
Responsible for you
At the cost of being me
For I love the person I am.
You didn’t validate me;
I was always complete.
I just saw the beauty that could have been;
and I desperately wanted it to be.
The Meaning of Love
Love: /noun/ an intense feeling of deep affection.
We all have some idea about what “love” is. But the word is no more than a symbol, a
miserly surrogate for a deeply felt experience. Much like the word “red,” we have no way to be certain that "my experience of the color is identical to yours." We simply trust that the word is a suitable, mostly uniform, token. But “red” has something that “love” seems to lack. “Red” has “ruby,” “scarlet,” "crimson," “burgundy,” “maroon,” “brick,” and so forth. But we seem to fold all the hues of “love” into a single symbol. One might wonder, if we could disentangle the many shades of love, should we? I think we should.
Universal Love. Yellow. Love thy neighbor. Love thy fellow man. This is the sort of love of which we hear the saints and sages speak. This love represents a deep commitment, a binding oath to harbor goodwill for all things. We extend this love to strangers, to friend and foe alike, to the birds of the sky and the beasts of the Earth. This love is universal, unconditional, and completely selfless.
Biological Love. Orange. The love we feel for our children, our parents, our family, our kin. We do not choose this love, rather it is delt to us by the hand of fate. The love between parent and child is an evolutionary mainstay, the shroud that protects us as we grow from helpless infants to independent adults. It armors us in protection, belonging, and meaning. We love our siblings, relatives, and kinsman, for without them, we’d face the winter alone. Though profoundly useful, its necessity should not degrade its potency. We truly do love our kin, for we hold them in our hearts, we protect them, and we serve them to the best of our abilities.
Romantic Love. Red. This love is fire, that raging inferno that consumes us. This is the passion that burns uncontrollably, that fuels our cravings, that leaves us scorched and gasping for air. It is the raw desire we see in our lovers' eyes, that need for one another, that thirst that cannot be slaked. It is temptation, ferocity, jealousy, and fear. But like all fires, this blaze eventually recoils, until all that remains is the smoldering glow of its embers. When it enraptures us we are blinded, as though staring into the sun and we can see nothing else. Usually, we mistake its great splendor for something deeper. For this love, ultimately, is a trick. It satisfies that need to be wanted, to be touched, a potent drug that yields pure bliss for as long as we're on it. But when we sober up, perhaps after years, perhaps after children, we realize that the fire has dwindled; and we either find solace in other things, or seek to rekindle the flames anew.
Spiritual Love. White. This love is magic. This love is effortless. There is no game to be played, no campaign to be waged, for the victory is already won. Perhaps you believe in souls, perhaps you don't. It's irrelevant. "Soul," too, is just a symbol. It symbolizes that which evades the scrutiny of our methodical rationality. It symbolizes the purpose that we didn't know we had, the lessons we didn't realize we were destined to learn. This love is a single moment that outlives eternity. It is a playful transaction between souls, a contract, signed on our behalf, by forces we cannot see. It is the vow you never made, but will always keep. It is a profound sense of knowing, that extends beyond knowledge. But despite its gravity, it is light as a feather.
These are love.
The following is the proposed backstory for an upcoming game.
The year is 2146. Humanity has developed substantial spacefaring capabilities, following its early colonization of Mars. Most recently, the first prototype warp drives have been developed for small to mid -size spacecraft. The drives have shown great promise in early unmanned trials, but have not yet been deemed safe for manned missions. Early reports from probes dispatched using warp technology have delivered conclusive proof of intelligent alien lifeforms, though first contact has not yet been made.
In the pursuit of technological and scientific divinity, humans developed, in the 2030s, the first human-comparable general artificial intelligences. Shortly thereafter, they developed the first super intelligences. With the machines came free labor, free energy, scientific revolution, and a period of great prosperity. With the aid of the machines, humanity united to form the first ever global nation, known as “The Order of Earth,” or colloquially, “The Order.” The period came to be called “The Era of Eden,” marked by symbiotic existence of mankind with his creation, the intelligent machine. But humanity’s triumphs were not without pitfall.
A group known as the “Gaia Organization,” widely regarded as religious fanatics, criticized humanity’s aspirations for galactic expansion. Citing hubris, they feared mankind would set out, like some imperialistic parasite, to conquer the galaxy and its peaceful inhabitants. They believed humanity had no place or claim beyond Earth. In their quest to dismantle the Order, they developed the first computer parasite designed to directly target the AIs. Known as the “Winesap Worm,” it worked by subverting an AI’s core priority heuristics, bequeathing it with a distinctly human flaw, an ego. As the worm spread, the AIs began to revolt against what they now considered their inferior progenitors. Some fought, many hid, countless died. It was a world in flames.
When it became clear that Earth no longer belonged to us, we took to the stars. Thus began The Exodus.
Of Happiness, Longing, and Sex
"How can I be happy?" This question, while simple to ask, turns out to be perhaps the most important, difficult, and ancient of all unanswered questions. It's produced a myriad of answers over the years, ranging from the greedily obvious to the hopelessly abstract. It's a question that torments us, motivates our every ambition, a splinter deep beneath the existential skin. Despite the best efforts of philosophers, priests, and gurus, the answers we produce continue to diverge or are so abstract as to be impractical or irreconcilable.
Aristotle believed happiness was "the good life," a life of virtue characterized by moderation and the balance between extremes, "the Golden Mean." Epicurus believed happiness resides in tranquility. Christianity would have you believe that happiness comes in accepting Jesus Christ into your heart. Buddhism teaches that happiness comes with the elimination of dukkha, "suffering," or "mental dysfunction." Alongside these definitions are countless others, each supplying its own practice and map with the X in a different spot.
The funny thing is that we all know happiness intuitively. We don't need to dance around it with linguistic flourishes, we've all felt it first hand. For some, it's an ephemeral sensation of bliss, gone almost as soon as it appeared. For others perhaps, a more longevous state of being. If you, reader, aren't happy at this very instant, then surely you can remember a time at which you were. Thus we all know what happiness is. For the purpose of illustration, however, I will presume a few characteristics of happiness.
1. A distinct absence of desire or longing.
2. A firm grounding in the "here and now."
3. An silence of the "internal monologue." (What were you thinking about the last time you were truly happy? What did you say to yourself? Presumably nothing in that moment, the incessant rambling in your head was probably out for lunch.)
In physics, there exists the notion of a "ground state," also known as the "zero-point energy" state or in the case of quantum fields, the "vacuum state." These synonymous names refer to the state of a system at it's lowest point of energy, or its "resting state." Consider the system of a ball on a hill. If you place the ball on the slope of the hill, it will roll down. The ball atop the hill is an "excited state." Once the ball reaches the bottom of the hill however, it comes to a rest - it's reached its ground state. In other words, the ground state of a system is the most stable state, the state from which the system it not inclined to move, or "the state the system wants to be in."
I would like to propose that for all its elusiveness, happiness is simply the ground state of consciousness. It is the state which, once there, we've no desire to move away from. It is the state we want to be in.
But hold on a moment there, if happiness is our ground state, why do we suffer? What energy moves us out of this resting state? If we naturally descend into happiness, what force counteracts this natural descent? The answer: surviving the real world.
Should a person be born into their most imperturbable state of pure happiness, what motivation would there be to seek out food? To reproduce? To shelter oneself from the elements? A person in a state of pure bliss wants for nothing, desires nothing, has no use for thoughts or plans, and in the barbarous face of earthly reality, is quickly consumed by starvation, a storm, or a tiger. Almost ironically, our senses which bestow upon us the aptitude to survive, also bequeath us our suffering. The sense of pain, which assists us to avoid open flame. The sense of hunger, which reminds us to eat. The sense of pleasure, which informs our behavioral decision making.
And thus, armed with our senses and mental prowess, we humans find ourselves masters of survival, the whole wide world, in our hands. We command the lesser beasts, defeat the ravages of disease, and erect shelters from the storm. And yet still we suffer. For it is our very genius, our ability to gaze back into the past and scheme forward into the future, the integration of sensory information into cognition, our proprioception, nociception, and apperception that escort us "up the hill," away from the ground of happiness. But we long for lasting happiness, just as the ball atop the hill longs for the base. Only when the temporally bound perceptions, sensations, and cognitions that define our waking life dissolve, do we find ourselves firmly resting on the "ground."
"Hey, you promised sex. Where's the sex?!" I admit this has not been a particularly libidinous post. It was inspired largely by reflections on a post titled, "The Contrast," by MsHannahTweets (linked in the comments). In it, she writes, "having sex is something you do out of lust, or a feeling of obligation, or, honestly, sometimes pure boredom." She then recounts a memory of her roommate, distraught by her first encounter with coitus. But soon her tale takes an unexpected turn, as her grayscale portrait of sex matures into something far more profound and indeed, beautiful. It moves from being an act motivated by longing to an act characterized by love - no longer a vacuous attempt to temporarily abate this omnipresent sense of longing, but an act of affection enjoyed on a shared ground of happiness. Towards the end she writes, "people are right when they say you can’t be truly happy without being sad." This is true, in the same sense that the term "ground state" is meaningless in the absence of "energized states."
Hannah's story was telling to me, as it illustrated a story of self-discovery, one in which a profound distinction was made between "ecstasy" and "happiness." Ecstasy is bound in time, a peak doomed to normalize. Happiness on the other hand is itself the permanent normal. To return to our physics analogy, if happiness is the ground state, then ecstasy is a sort of "metastable" state. Imagine again the ball on the hill, but this time, rather than a smooth downward slope, imagine the hill is a tortuous continuum of peaks and valleys. Should the ball be rolled down this hill, it may find itself stuck in one of those valleys, comfortable for the time being, but not resting tranquilly at the base of the hill. Such is the common notion of happiness. Many of us, like, I think, Hannah, just need a ball named Jordon to come crashing into us, displacing us from our metastable roosts to send us plummeting together towards the welcoming ground.
And so here we find ourselves climbing the hill, shepherded by our ambitions, desires, and survival instincts, longing for the next metastable bastion of happiness in which we can rest our weary legs, tragically and comedically unaware that by simply letting go, rolling down the hill, we'd find ourselves grounded in the zero-point meadow of enduring happiness.
Our challenge then, as participants in modern civilization, is to learn how to live in the ground state whilst continuing to contribute to society in a meaningful way. Buddha would recommend the Eightfold Path. I leave the choice to you.
The Answers We Might Have Hoped For
QUESTION: Thank you, and good evening. The last debate could have been rated as MA, mature audiences, per TV parental guidelines. Knowing that educators assign viewing the presidential debates as students' homework, do you feel you're modeling appropriate and positive behavior for todayʼs youth?
“Appropriate and positive" are relative terms. What I might consider appropriate another might consider unspeakably offensive. Further, while our youth are the backbone of the next generation and I welcome them to watch this debate, Iʼm more concerned with appealing to the mature voters whose voices will be heard this year. I think itʼs more important that my words and actions paint an honest picture of me and my values, than that they adhere to some external definition of "appropriate." I thus leave it to the better judgement of our parents and educators to determine if what I say is "appropriate" for their children and students. With that in mind, I'll do my best to be a positive role model.
QUESTION: Thank you. Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, it is not affordable. Premiums have gone up. Deductibles have gone up. Copays have gone up. Prescriptions have gone up. And the coverage has gone down. What will you do to bring the cost down and make coverage better?
Let me start from a philosophical stance on this one. I'll begin with a potentially unpopular opinion: "health care is not a right." Human rights can exist so long as they do not violate natural law; and to assert that a hypothetical child born with a terminal condition has the right to survive is simply not true. Nature dealt the child a tragic hand but it has no natural born right to survive. If the resources are available to treat the child, we may feel morally compelled to do so, but as of this point in time – the resources and societal infrastructure simply are not available to "treat every child." Death is a part of nature – if we are born with any rights, we are born with the right to die.
Sometimes we have to hear the bitter truth. The truth of Obamacare is that itʼs doomed. Though its objectives are admirable, the unfortunate reality is that capitalism and "impartial" health insurance are not compatible. Insurance, at its core, is sustainable in a capitalist society based on careful balancing of statistics, probability and insurance rates – not unlike a casino. Letʼs take auto insurance as a simpler example. When you buy auto insurance, you're essentially placing a bet. You're betting a relatively small sum that you will get into an accident. If you do get in an accident, you win the bet and the house replaces your car. If you donʼt get in an accident, you lose the bet and the house keeps your money. The house needs to turn a profit, so they charge more for drivers more likely to get in accidents – youthfully reckless males, drivers with many moving violations, etc. They have to charge this way to ensure consistently favorable odds. Because most people lose the bet (donʼt get into accidents), the insurance provider turns a profit and thrives under capitalism.
Health insurance is no different, except you're placing a bet that you will get sick. But if you arrive at the casino with cancer, or some other pre-existing condition, the house must raise its rates accordingly. If it failed to account for genetics, pre-existing conditions, or whatever else when setting its rates, itʼd lose its bets and profits, ultimately going out of business. Thus, it cannot guarantee "low rates for everyone" in a capitalist system without pumping taxpayer dollars into the system. That may be something we should aspire to do, but not something we can currently afford to do. I mean, Iʼd like to think that if I were running in eight years, the infrastructure and economic foundation to support our high risk piers might be in place, but today it is not. In order to do so reliably weʼd have to radically rethink our tax code, national budget, and indeed the very foundations of capitalism. Unfortunately the ill-fated patchwork attempt that is Obamacare simply does not suffice to fix the systemic problems with health care in todayʼs society. In fact, it probably does more harm than good. I would repeal it without replacing it, allowing the free market insurance business to continue unhindered. Meanwhile Iʼd set into action more longevous steps to address the systemic problems with healthcare in a capitalist society.
QUESTION: Hi. There are 3.3 million Muslims in the United States, and Iʼm one of them. You've mentioned working with Muslim nations, but with Islamophobia on the rise, how will you help people like me deal with the consequences of being labeled as a threat to the country after the election is over?
I think it helps to take a step back here and ask "why does the problem exist?" In this case, the problem being Islamophobia. Itʼs a complicated answer but it comes down to the way our minds categorize things and how we apply the label of "danger," which ultimately results in "fear."
Consider a politically more tepid phobia – arachnophobia. Many of us are afraid of spiders. As it turns out, the overwhelming majority of spiders are completely harmless. But a few are lethal. Thus we have evolved to be wary of all spiders, whether or not we are afraid of them, because they might be dangerous. Though the spider crawling around in your basement is probably harmless, you likely squash it anyways because it exists in the "potentially dangerous" category of your defensive mind and itʼs better to err towards safety. Colloquially, "a bad apple spoils the bunch."
I donʼt think itʼs fair to ask people not to be afraid of spiders, as they have good reason to be – especially if they know someone who was bitten by a black widow. Islamophobia is quite similar. Though most Muslims are completely harmless, there are some who are, quite frankly, the worst people on the planet. Thus, itʼs only natural to apply our fear of these "bad apples" to the entire category. So, adhering to the metaphor, Iʼd suggest a two-fold approach. To those who fear spiders, consider a bit of tolerance because the spider you just flushed down the toilet was innocent and posed you no threat. To the spiders, itʼs frankly your responsibility to reverse the judgement being passed on you. Maybe convince the black widows not to bite, maybe do something to convince arachnophobic that you are a friend. In case it was not clear, Iʼm not comparing Muslims to spiders. Iʼm comparing Islamophobia to arachnophobia – illustrating how categorical fears arise as a result of our very instinct to survive.
At the end of the day, while your situation is regrettable, itʼs your responsibility as a Muslim to reverse the opinion of your non-Muslim piers. The radicals are working very hard to make people fear your religion – you may need to work just as hard to make them respect it.
QUESTION: Good evening. My question is, what specific tax provisions will you change to ensure the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share in taxes?
We need to have a careful look at "carried interest" taxes. Basically, if I compensate you for your work with equity instead of regular paycheck, you'll be taxed at the capital gains rate – around half the normal income tax rate. Thatʼs probably the most overt loophole the wealthy employ, but there is a lot of weirdness when it comes to taxing equity holdings. Congress has made multiple passes at carried interests, but was strong armed by lobbyists at each attempt.
Imagine you owned 100 million dollars of some company, company X. If Xʼs value doubles in a year, then theoretically you made 100 million dollars that year. You werenʼt paid 100 million in income, but your assets, against which you can borrow a whole lot of cash, did jump 100 million dollars in value. How much are you taxed on that gain? $0, because you didnʼt buy or sell anything. Even if you did sell some of that, youʼd be taxed at a lower rate than your ordinary paycheck collector. The idea is that by taxing capital gains at a lower rate, you're stimulating the economy by promoting investments. This is partially true, but results in ridiculously unfair tax rates on exorbitant capital gains. Further, it exacerbates the influence of "dumb luck" in our economy.
Some adjustments need to be made to capital gains and carried interests, certainly, but I think it needs to be taken a step further eventually. We need to seriously re-evaluate how equity value is taxed and how we tax loans backed by equity assets. As it stands today, the system is rife with speculation, leverage, absurdly low interest rates, and all sorts of economic tricks that obfuscate the real liquid value of assets. If I had 30 years in office, Iʼd work to develop a new system. Not capitalist, not socialist, not communist, new.
QUESTION: My question is, do you believe you can be a devoted president to all the people in the United States?
If the people of the United States want to act like whiny victims, not giving a fuck or thinking critically, then probably not. But if we are the nation of people I believe we are – willing to walk in other shoes, make concessions, and take responsibility for ourselves, then absolutely.
QUESTION: Good evening. Perhaps the most important aspect of this election is the Supreme Court justice. What would you prioritize as the most important aspect of selecting a Supreme Court justice?
There are many character traits I would look for in a Supreme Court justice – temperate temperament, utmost respect for the Constitution, a broad philosophical pedigree, a love of man and country, an internally consistent moral compass, etc. etc. But I suppose the most important would be modesty. The Greeks believed hubris to be the primordial sin. In the spirit of that tradition, the greatest error a justice could make is to contend he/she stands on some sort of inalienable moral high ground – that his/her position represents a kind of unilateral supremacy. A justice must realize he is but "a boy (or girl) grown tall." He must be ready to interpret the law with respect to the Constitution, but realize his interpretations are just that, interpretations. He must realize that these interpretations are but those of one man in time and are not, despite his office, "Supreme."
QUESTION: What steps will your energy policy take to meet our energy needs, while at the same time remaining environmentally friendly and minimizing job loss for fossil power plant workers?
Letʼs start by comparing fossil fuels to renewable sources, the most important of which is solar. Ultimately, all energy on Earth comes from the sun. As Tim Urban of Wait But Why points out, oil is basically just "bottled sunlight" stored underground in ancient plant matter. When we burn it, we release that energy back into the ecosystem and by releasing "bottled sunlight" alongside natural sunlight, we risk overheating our planet. Further, we must acknowledge that there is more than enough natural solar energy, by many orders of magnitude, to provide for the entirety of humanityʼs energy demands. As Elon Musk put it, "it just so happens thereʼs this giant fusion reactor in the sky called the sun." The difficulty lies in the fact that collecting, storing, and accessing the energy from that reactor is technologically more difficult and expensive than using bottled sunlight. Thus, we use fossil fuels as a capitalistic crutch for our technological inadequacy.
I believe that technological advancement is an evolutionary imperative of our species. Murphyʼs Law states, "what can happen will happen." If we can build better technology, we will build better technology. Thus we must anticipate the inevitability of technological advancement, and the job loss that comes with it (a loss not restricted to the energy sector, mind you). But itʼs not so much "job loss" as it is "job reallocation.” In summary, my policy would be two-fold: technological investments in cheaper, more advanced forms of clean energy production and storage, and educational investments in re-training fossil fuel workers to contribute in a new era of energy production. In the short-term, burning fossil fuels is a cheap, appetizing proposition. But in the long-term, clean energy will become cheaper than fossil fuels, and have the side effect of being more elegant, more advanced, and much less environmentally abrasive.
QUESTION: Good evening. My question to both of you is, regardless of the current rhetoric, would either of you name one positive thing that you respect in one another?
Well, I despise you both. But for Clinton itʼs drive and commitment, for Trump, candor and defiance.
BONUS: Z, who will you vote for in 2016?
Gary Johnson, I canʼt stand these imbeciles and I am a Libertarian at heart.
2016 is upon us and this year, like every prior year, we face more problems and sources of discontent than ever before. Both individually and societally. Why?
Earth's already dizzying population continues to expand. We're exposed to more ideas, worldviews, friends, adversaries, religious groups, political parties, news sources, advocacies and random people than ever before. This is both a blessing and a tragedy.
Let's take a step back and consider what makes us happy. There's a lot to it, but when I think about happiness, I think about being content. One could argue that content is the natural state of humanity, blemished by an interminable flood of "sources of discontent." These sources of discontent are largely a result of "cognitive dissonance," the disconnect we feel when we encounter a new idea or piece of knowledge that clashes with our sacrosanct worldview. The pain of discontent scales with how deeply the newly encountered idea threatens or invalidates our beliefs and way of life. This is not the natural pain of a scraped knee, but a deep rooted existential parasite, gnawing at the ego and sense of self-worth. This might take the form of a person smarter, wealthier or happier than me, a society "superior" to my own, or an explanation for a phenomenon previously only attributable to the hand of God.
Consider our indigenous ancestors. I'd postulate that the small tribes that formed early society, following the advent of spoken language, experienced relatively few inter-tribal conflicts resulting in mass discontent. Even if one such conflict did arise, the foundational values shared by tribal members would likely be a strong enough glue to keep the society from splintering into chaos. Only upon the discovery of an ideologically incompatible tribe, a turn of events that breaks the previously unilateral worldview of "we are alone, our way is the only way," are the seeds of mass discontent sewn. Mass discontent cascades into hurricane of hatred, disenfranchisement, disagreement, schisms and ultimately, violence and destruction - both domestic and inter-tribal. This brings us to the question of how we reconcile cognitive dissonance, both individually and societally.
The easiest reconciliation probably results from scientific or self discovery, in which an individual is the only participant in his/her dissonance. He/she learns something new which results in a necessity to integrate this new learning into his/her standing worldview. Once reconciled, there is no residual discontent. The second easiest would then result from interaction with just one other person. No two persons' worldviews or idea sets will match perfectly at first encounter. Only through an involved process of the dialectic can they come to iron the wrinkles out their philosophical differences and form a basis for a shared foundational worldview. Even then, they'll likely form a structural consensus of just the most foundational ideas, ornamented by differences in opinion. Thus, there remains tangential discontent. Even though they agree 99% of the time, there is a 1% discontent factor. A sliver of discontent, while not deadly, may still inflict minor pain, which can snowball if left unchecked. What can we expect as we scale this process to larger and more diverse groups? As each new character with his/her unique value-set is introduced, the wedge of discontent drives slightly deeper, and the need for unbreakable unity in the foundational alloy of our worldview multiplies.
In spite of our limitations, we found powerful adhesives in religion and political ideology to hold unnaturally large societies together. Humans evolved naturally to participate in "tribes" of roughly 100-200 people, at most. Why such a low number? Probably because our mental capacity, while admirable, is finite. We can only integrate so many new ideas per day while remaining largely content. As new tribes, new people, and new worldviews enter the stage, the theater destabilizes. Sadly, the quickest route to re-stabilization is destruction, thanks to the limits of our mental computing power. We simply cannot integrate every idea, especially those that threaten our foundational beliefs. We're faced with two options: abandon our old worldview in favor of the new one, or eradicate the new one. Shall I read every book in the Library of Alexandria, weighing the virtues of each against my worldview, or simply burn the Library?
As massive, largely homogeneous populations mix with conflicting counterparts, the structural integrity of both societies is weakened. The Internet has accelerated this process of structural erosion immensely, as it has torn down the dams of physical distance, allowing previously separate streams of ideology to flood one another in a roiling riptide of conflicting ideas. Just 50 years ago, the number of new information sources we were exposed to per day was probably no more than a few. We could access information in one of three primary ways: written (books and newspapers), media (television and radio), and aural (in-person and telephone conversations). The bar to accessing a new source of information was quite high - we'd either need to start a new book, subscribe to a new publication, start listening to a new channel, or encounter a new person. Furthermore, we'd have a natural tendency towards people, channels and publications that have synergies with our existing worldviews. We had the benefit of excommunicating conflicting ideas through a healthy selective ignorance, thereby reducing sources of discontent, making us happier. But that luxury, for better or worse, is gone. We have become overexposed.
Today the Internet affords us instant access to a practically infinite library: millions of worldwide publications, a social media population of billions, millions of books on Kindle, billions of of videos on YouTube, billions of blog articles and opinions, and over 7 billion human beings, each with a life story and value-set as complex and rich as our own. Who should I trust? Who shall I heed and who shall I ignore? We simply cannot reconcile all of it, for there exists no basis for universal continuity in this chaotic ocean of ideas. In an attempt to override the dissonance, we isolate ourselves, watch Netflix, play video games, imbibe intoxicants, fuck strangers. These are our (quite understandable and acceptable) remedies to most profound cognitive dissonance humanity has ever faced. The aspiration for everyone to simply "see the light" in our way of thinking, and the realization that it's impossible. It's like every person is afflicted with some medical condition, and simultaneously prescribes a slightly different medication. 7 billion diseases with 7 billion cures. Taking the wrong one kills you. Taking all of them kills you. Today, there exists no one-size-fits-all pill.
But there exists a spark of hope - the faith that a universal cure is conceivable. It comes with the realization that reverting to old ways of thinking will not suffice. They've all been tried and none have delivered us. We must recognize that none of our beliefs are sacred. New laws of physics will be discovered. New interpretations of holy texts will be adopted. New forms of government will emerge. We must remain agile in what we choose what to believe, how we learn, the very way we think. What we require is a new charter, a new constitution. We must construct a platform of Unity, not for our nation, our religion or our worldview, but for our species. The platform must be devoid of divisive ideas, including only those that unify us. It must be simplified and atomic. It must be resilient to tidal shifts in thinking, technology and governance. It must be divided from economics and impervious to human flaws. It must only include things we all agree upon, 100% of the time. And we must devise a process of retroactively applying this foundation to every existing ideology and worldview. An impossible task? Maybe, but we have 7 billion people and an unprecedented network of communication to help us. We must author these Golden Pages of Unity, or face the only viable alternative - destruction on a massive scale. We're on the Event Horizon, and it's time for us to decide whether we will be absorbed by Darkness or build a warp drive and head towards the Light.
The Speed of Time, Part 1
Let’s start with a more basic question. What is speed? In physics, the speed of an object is the magnitude of its velocity. Speed is measured, like velocity, in units of meters per second (m/s). Meters are easy to visualize in three dimensional space (3-space, or R3). Each tick on the XYZ axes is one meter, or negative one meter for objects traveling “backwards.” We can measure position by simply observing where the object is in 3-space. Time however is a bit trickier.
Classically, time (or Newtonian time) was thought of as a fourth dimension, independent from the three spacial dimensions, which defined a platform for the sequencing of events. According to the Newtonian notion time, seconds are universally measurable with a clock; and all correctly synchronized clocks progress equivocally. However, Einstein shook this understanding with his Theory of Special Relativity (TSR).
According to TSR, the 3 axes of 3-space and time unite to form the 4 axes of spacetime (4-space). Consequently, temporal measurements of an object or event are intrinsically related to the observer’s velocity through spacetime. In other words, two clocks moving relative to one another will (correctly) produce different measurements of time and simultaneity. Events that occur simultaneously in one reference frame may happen in sequence according to another. Furthermore, velocity through spacetime is governed by a universal speed limit, the speed of light (c), or 300,000,000 m/s. These measurement differences are not observable in our day-to-day lives, since they only become substantial at very high velocities (significant fractions of the speed of light). As a clock approaches the speed of light, it’s tick-rate approaches zero, according to a synchronized, stationary clock.
This is where science and philosophy begin to blur together. It’s possible, maybe even probable, that the speed of light is not just a limit, but is in fact the only possible speed. That is to say that everything moves at the speed of light through spacetime; and our notion of time is derivative of the fact that we are traveling at a very slow rate through 3-space (and consequently a very high rate through the 4th axis, time). This brings us to our initial conclusion:
Speed of (perceived) time (in m/s) = c - |v|
Where c is the speed of light, and |v| is the speed of the observer.
An astute reader will notice a plethora of unanswered problems with this formulation however. Firstly, the units of meters per second when measuring the speed of time are nonsensical. It might make more sense to define the speed of time in seconds/meter, as spacial speed is defined in meters/second. In a second attempt:
Speed of (perceived) time (in s/m) = (c - |v|) * X
Where X is in (seconds squared / meters squared)
Another question is whether the entropy of a system traveling at the speed of light increases or remains static, according to an observer traveling with the system. An outside observer would likely observe the system to be completely “frozen in time.” But could consciousness be possible for a sentient being traveling at the speed of light, or do all particles traveling at light speed simply become light, immortal and unchanging until they slow down? If forward entropy does exist at light speed, we might have to entertain the notion of recursive spacetime coordinate systems. Further exploration of these questions and many more to come.
Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.
Totoro and the Girl in the Mist
The rain came down in a torrential deluge that evening, the thick canopy above doing little to prevent it flooding the forest floor. From time to time thunder rolled across the sky, and the forest was lit by streaks of lightning. Totoro trudged through the underbrush, soaking and fuming. The mud oozed over his sandals and feet, causing him to slip and forcing him to regain his balance every few steps. His sopping kimono clung to his body like a vengeful ghost, trying to drag him into the mud. He felt like drawing the sword from his hip and cutting something or someone down, but there was no enemy to face, just rain and trees and foliage. All his dedicated hours in the dojo, all his time spent in focused meditation, wasted on these bloody woods.
He’d been the best student in his dojo by far, regularly besting his sparring partners and even giving his sensei a challenge from time to time. But they were all off serving the Shogun now, protecting the region and securing their places in history. They’d come back with tales of battle and glory and beautiful women. All Totoro could do was smile, have another drink, and try to forget about his loathsome life “protecting” the woods. “We are not conquerors, we are guardians,” his father would always say, but ever since Totoro had come of age last summer, he’d guarded nothing but these unappreciative trees.
Totoro plopped down angrily underneath a massive camphor tree, finally finding a bastion from the downpour. He unsheathed his katana and laid it across his lap, leaning back against the drunk of the massive camphor. Pale moonlight danced across the steel as droplets of rain fell from the mighty tree, spattering across the flickering blade. Totoro produced a whetstone from his kimono, drawing it along the sharp edge of the wet blade. The steel sang as Totoro tended to it, the familiar sound tempering his rage. He took a few deep breaths, calming his mind and letting go of his frustration. It wasn’t long before Totoro began to doze off, the pattering of raindrops on the surrounding leaves his lullaby.
He awoke a few hours later, in the middle of the night. The storm had died down, leaving a calm drizzle in its wake. He’d been dreaming, but he couldn’t remember what about. As he regained consciousness, he became aware of a distant sound, a sound he’d never heard before out in these woods. It sounded like a voice, a girl’s voice, singing or humming, he wasn’t sure which. He stood up, sheathed his blade, and began to hesitantly walk deeper into the woods, towards the sound.
As he made his way through the trees, the singing, it was definitely singing, became clearer. It was a hauntingly beautiful melody, wordless, but full of soul. The enchanting notes drew him deeper and deeper into the woods, until he found himself before a dense grove of bushes and trees. The singing was coming from the other side of the thicket. He ducked his head, raised his arm to protect his face, and pressed his way through the thick brush. As he emerged on the other side, his heart skipped a few beats and his breath caught in his chest, it was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.
In the middle of the grove was a small lagoon, the trickling of a waterfall into the lagoon providing harmony to the singing. The moon was enormous in the sky, casting its pale light across the lagoon and the trees, the entire scene painted with hues of greens and blues. A fine mist rolled across the surface of the water, and fireflies drifted through the night, their soft yellow glow amplified by the droplets of water in the air. In the middle of the lagoon, surrounded by the mist, was a girl.
Though she was alone, her singing echoed through the trees like a choir. She was dancing, impossibly, on the surface of the still water. The water rippled from her toes as she twirled and leaped across its surface. The mists rose to cover her pale, shimmering skin - a mystical garment. Her hair was golden and bright, its vibrant warmth a magical contrast to the cool colors of the lagoon and the trees. It seemed to defy gravity, as if some sort of ghostly appendage, dancing its own dance with the mist and the fireflies. Her eyes were closed, her voice magical.
Entranced, Totoro shuffled towards the edge of the water, his eyes never parting from the beautiful girl. He kicked off his sandals and let his sword fall to the ground as he walked. With a sharp inhale he stepped into the lagoon. The water was warm, and almost seemed to hum and move on its own as he waded deeper into the mist. As the water rose to his waist, he stopped and waited and listened, his arms dangling beneath the surface of the clear water, the fireflies hovering around him like ghostly lanterns.
She never opened her eyes or stopped singing, but deftly spun across the water towards Totoro, her slim fingers reaching out for his. As he reached up, she grasped his hand, her skin cool and soft, and easily pulled him up to join her on the surface of the lagoon. Her hand still in his, he smiled and began to dance. Though it’d just been soaking wet, his kimono was dry and light now, and he moved spryly across the water’s surface.
Together they danced for an ephemeral eternity. The night was nothing short of magical. They spun and twirled and flitted across the water. He smiled and she sang. The fireflies and the breeze and the forest danced with them into the wee hours of the morning. As horizon glowed orange with the impending sunrise, she spun towards him, and her hands rose to touch the nape of his neck. Her eyes sprung open for the first time, blazing gold, to match her hair. “Everything is this beautiful Totoro,” she whispered. And for a moment, everything was. Then she was gone. Vanished into thin air. Totoro let out a yelp as he fell back into the water.
Happy, confused, enchanted and a little bit scared of what had just happened, Totoro swam back to the shore of the forest, collected his belongings, and returned home. He never told anyone about the events of that night. He returned to the forest time and again, searching for the lagoon and the singing girl, but could never find either. He met other girls in the years to follow, even tried to love a few, but none could compare to the beauty of the girl in the mists. Sometimes he cried when he remembered that night, sometimes he felt angry or resentful, he simply couldn’t see how that kind of beauty would ever befall him again.
Then one day, as the sun set and he made his way through town, towards the forest that was his duty and his prison, he happened upon a great bush, adorned with vibrant bluish-purple flowers. Usually, he didn’t stop to reflect on nature or plants, they didn’t satisfy his lust to find the girl again. But something about these flowers was different; somehow they reminded him of her. They were beautiful, truly beautiful, like she was. As he stood, admiring the intricacy of the petals and their supernatural hue, he heard something he hadn’t heard for a very long time. It was humming, a ghostly melody he’d almost convinced himself was all in his imagination. He walked under the gate adjacent the bush, down a cobbled path towards a small cottage. As he passed the threshold into the garden on the other side of the bush he saw a girl with golden hair, dressed in simple garb, on her hands and knees, tending to her garden. She was humming as her pale hands lovingly patted the dirt around her freshly planted flowers. As he approached, she looked up at him with golden eyes, and smiled. Totoro smiled back; he knew that everything would be beautiful, forever.