On Consistency

A consistent person, in thoughts, don’t have any logical contradictions in her reasoning. To be consistent in actions, on the other hand, is to have them follow a estabilished pattern. The ultimate consistency is to have both your thoughts and your actions on the same track.

Consistency has it’s place in life. It’s important, for example, to show results in work with a regularity.  It’s important to hit the threadmill everyday, and not just once per month. A math theory will crumble at the slightest lack of consistency.

But it’s not for everything. Let’s just take some time to examine how hard it is the task of being a truly consistent person:

First, all your opinions can’t conflict with each another, and your arguments can’t end up falling into one of the logical fallacies. Here, the first problem we have is that one has to actually remember the things he has said. And this just doesn’t happen, not for the average man.

Memorizing, spotting this fallacies is possible when you see a transcript of a debate. But it’s much more difficult to examine in real time during a conversation. As it is to see if a previous point of view conflicts with the one you are having now.

Finally, we are never the same person we were a moment ago (nor can we remember that person completely). How to be consistent then?

I think that if you had the ability to really get all of the opinions of a person, like a super brain x-ray, you would realize that all of us carry many inherent conflicts, and live happily without fully realizing them.

Lack of consistency invites creativity, freedom. A famous writer once wrote that

“A foolish consistency is the hobglobin of little minds”

I (think) that what he meant by that is that you are supposed to choose very carefully the things you wish to be consistent about. It may not be important, for example, to be consistent in your opinions on a TV actress – you may like her someday, and deslike her on the next, and that’s perfectly fine. It’s not important to be consistent about the way you do groceries, you can start with the tomatoes today, and onions on another.

A person is allowed to be inconsistent every once in a while, or to change her views  subject. I notice that public figures suffer the most from that since people expect them to be entirely consistent, all the time. The point is that content of what someone is saying is more important to be processed than seeing if it matches what was previously said.

It is far more interesting to be consistent in the way you dedicate time following your dreams, whatever they might be. In the same idea, it’s necessary to maintain the same level of expectations in a relationship, or to raise all your kids in the same fashion.

Only you and the priorities you’ve set out can tell what are the things you need to be consistent about.

By the way, in this text, I was consistent in repeating the word ‘consistent’. Not every consistency is valid, see?

[IMAGE: Custumers lining up. Unknown location. image source]

 

 

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On the Value of Life

I have this theory that a person’s life has an intrinsic value, that cannot be erased by any doing.

But why is it so?

After all, with ~7.6 billion people around the world, one could think that life is not rare, and we tend to think that valuable things are those that are hard to come by. Like diamonds.

We also have this need to rank everything around us, including people, what leads us into thinking that not everyone has a value, not really, just a handful of people.

But this notions are wrong. And very dangerous. They don’t work for life, in my opinion. The moment you start thinking that life is disposable, you’ve lost what’s called the human side of the equation.

Well, when you see someone, you can’t see it just for what it is now or what it has done. Much less see it by how much it earns, by it’s job or it’s car.

You have to see someone for it’s dreams, for the potential for literature, music, science. You need too see it by the way it might contribute to society given the proper chance. You have to see if for the way it raises his kids. See it by the way it carries the torch of humans forward though time.

You need to remember the heritage of every living man: the unbroken line of ancestrals, the rich culture embedded within everyone, centuries of history, traditions, beliefs.

You have to acknowledge the struggle it endured, even though this can only be imagined.

The odds of conception alone, of two random strangers meeting, combining their DNA in a particular way, surviving all sorts of birth diseases, and producing this life are staggering to comprehend. Then it has to pass though all kinds of ackward situations, not to mention puberty, fighting everyday just to keep fed and breathing, only to arrive at your judgemental table.

This theory leads to a certain code of behaviour, that you can’t ignore the intrinsic value of person by action or thought. I find that whenever I’m strong enough to follow it, I’m closer to being more considerative of others.

This is, in my opinion, why you should always treat other people with as much respect as you can, as you expect to be treated, fairly. Not because you fear some divine karma if you don’t, but by conscient action that society is better this way.

Every action of violence, lie, sabotage, of exploitation of others, means violating this intrinsic value. It doesn’t mean it’s easy to know what to do in every situation, but can be a guide.

So does that mean that a mass murderer is inocent?

Not exactly, but it does mean that this value needs to be taken in consideration, even for a mass murderer. First, it means that you should refrain from pre-judging him. Let the evidence speak for itself, if you are in such a position to judge. You’d be suprised how often it’s not up to us to judge and we end up doing so.

I find very hard to support capital punishment if you believe in this value of human life, but I’d say that every case is a case.

It means that he should be given an unbiased trial (the best that can be made possible) and if convicted, that every effort should be made to find him a productive way of returning to society.

There is money around for beach houses, luxury cars, to reward stockholders, but there isn’t for taking care of someone that needs help, for a time, just to get his bearings. Not everyone agrees with this, most people consider a waste of resources to rehabilitate prisioners. But I ask again, what is the value of a human life?

I do believe that if you actually take the time to teach a child proper values, by being present, securing an adequete environment, expose him to good role models (say, in books and movies) then I believe you have a pretty good chance of ending up with an honest, decent human being.

It’s easy to forget the value of life.

When you fence refugees out of countries, when you discriminate, when you fail to provide education and proper medical care, when you ignore the homeless, when you strip people of their dreams, all of this fundamentally ignore the real measure of a human life.

And the end result of this: missed opportunities.

[IMAGE: Famous 1936 photography of a migrant woman, Florence Owens Thompson, and children, by Dorothea Lange]

 

On the Master File

I’ve told you earlier that on some days I like to believe that reality is some sort of elaborate simulation.

There was a group of physicists recently trying make a simulation of a quantum phenomena, and it became increasingly complex to do it, pointing out that such a simulated reality is not possible. It doesn’t exclude the case where reality is run on a quantum computer or any other one that might be created.

Reality does seem too complex for a simulation. To store every bit of data representing everything that you see around seems unimaginable. But who knows what computing capabilities could a God have? What tricks to save memory could it develop, for example, saving function relations rather than variables, and tying things together.

If you have seen the trilogy Matrix, you’ve realized that there are some deep implications in this reasoning. Aside from making you feel bad for living in a world that is not ‘real’, it also means that somewhere, hidden deep in the fabric of reality, there is a Master File.

The true content of this Master File is a mystery. I like to think that it contains a complete record of this universe’s constants. It could contain the exact start conditions of the universe (if it had a start). Maybe, written in some language, the myriad of mathematical formulas that rule the cosmos. Perhaps it even contains information on who built the simulation and to what end.

What a discovery would be to find a way to access this file. That assumes that it can be opened at all.

Could it possibly be opened for editing too?

Dazzling diamonds of Trumpler 14
Star Cluster Trumpler 14, one of the brightest regions in our galaxy. A dark nebula (possibly) is seen near the center. Credit: NASA & ESA, Jesús Maíz Apellániz (Centro de Astrobiología, CSIC-INTA, Spain) image source

We know, from experiences with our own games, that it can be quite tricky to open a ‘console’ from the simulation without a manual. The console is the interface between this reality and the Master File.

It could be anything in the real world, from a modulated radio signal to writing the proper set of equations on a paper. Anything that you input some signal and obtain a response could be the means of opening the console and accessing the File.

Even worse, it could be tied to a specific point in this universe, so it would only be opened in some forgotten alien ruin on a distant galaxy.

And, of course, acessing such a file doesn’t mean understanding it’s contents. It could be encoded in a such a cryptic way that it’s patterns are not obvious. We have learned for more than 50 years that life is coded in DNA but it doesn’t mean we’ve cracked every intricacy of the expression of human genes.

One odd though that comes to mind is that we could be in contact with the Master File right now, in the thousand random chunks of numbers we receive from the world. There could be an underlying meaning to them.

Well, that’s it’s theory. Do you accept the holy quest of seeking out the Master File?

*Note: The content of these notes is not endorsed or affiliated with NASA/ESA, and express solely the author’s view.

[IMAGE: The Matrix styled coding.  image source]

 

On Death

Ah, Death. The conclusion of life.

If we poorly understand life itself, it’s variety, it’s reasons for being, it shouldn’t be shocking that we know so little about how it comes to an end and what lies beyond.

Yet everything you see around, that will ever exist is decaying somehow. We are constanly reminded by that every time we have a brush with death, how life hangs on that mythical thread that the greeks were all about.

Now, you might fear death at some point. But we are raised (by hollywood culture) to face death with pride and dignity, meaning that would are not supposed to express or be overly concerned with our fear, simply embrace it when it comes. This is actually a good piece of advice, since there is no escaping it.

In reality, it can be somewhat messy at the end, as Game of Thrones reminded us on occasion. You see, we fight for life everyday with everything we got, and suddenly we have to abandon it. It’s a difficult transition to make.

To think of death almost brings a certain relief. That all the struggles, all the horrors in this world cannot find meaning after it. I have to admit that when hopes are low, and I can find no joy in living, I even look forward to it.

Death, or rather the fear of it, produced quite a number of things. From music, to literature, to religion. Much of religion (but not all of it) is about theorizing about what comes after that, and giving a sense of meaning to life.

There are many interesting concepts of Death. From one of the oldest, the Egyptians seem to believe that once a person died his heart would be weighted in a balance against a feather, and if lighter than it, the person would be welcomed to immortal life. Hence the meaning of all those elaborate funeral practices. To Greeks people would be ferried through river Styx, after paying a coin, to Hades Underword; or for the choosed blessed, the Elysium.

Mainstream religion drawn much from that. In tradicional Christianity, there is firm belief in Heaven and hell, after a judgment is in place. Islamism has a similar, but not exactly equal dualistic approach. I wouldn’t presume to talk about Judaism. And there are the eastern philosophies, like Buddism, with breaking the endless cycle of rebirth through enlightenment. Hinduism also embraces the concept of reincarnation.

There is also the idea that what awaits us after that is absolutely nothing, that all these concepts above are simply fantasies we tell ourselves. I could not find a specific name for this, the ‘non-belief in afterlife’, it lies somewhere between Religious Skepticism and Apistevism. I do know that this is somewhat frowned upon in society, just as atheism is.

In spite of near death experiences being an ‘active research field’, there are no undisputed evidence as to what lies ahead. The list of people who claimed to have return from death is also disputed, but you are free to seek them or their books if you believe this will bring you any closer to understanding the mystery of death. I honestly doubt it.

If one were to consider a belief in the afterlife, there is a list of questions we can narrow it down:

  1. Do you believe there is something at all after death?
  2. Do you believe in a soul?
  3. What are your thoughs on reincarnation?
  4. Do you think fate is a real thing?
  5. If there is a divine entity, does he judge the living?
  6. Do you truly believe in Heaven?
  7. Do you truly believe in hell?
  8. Where do the dead go to when they die?

Having your personal answers to this, you can iron out the details (if your hell has 9 circles or is it happening on Earth right now, for example). It’s obvious these are question one struggles the whole life with, it’s only natural that your answers change as your perspective of the world evolves.

One of the most beautiful concepts of death I’ve come across is the one presented in J.K. Rowling ‘Harry Potter’ series. We are confronted with death from the very first book, when we learn about the fate of Harry’s parents. Quite a bold thing to do, discuss a tragic death in a children’s book. But there is wisdom in confronting our children with the reality of the world in a protected environment, not as to shock but to prepare them.

You will probably remember the Three Brothers Story.  The significance of this cautionary tale is to remember that there is in real life there is no defeating death, at best once can elude it with wisdom only to greet it as an equal. The deathly hollows were so powerful indeed because they could master death.

There are these awesome Dumbledore quotes about it:

Voldemort: “There is nothing worse than death, Dumbledore!

Albus Dumbledore: “You are quite wrong. Indeed, your failure to understand there are much worse things than death has always been your weakness.

And

It’s the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more.

After all, to the well-organised mind, death is but the next great adventure.

What you won’t remember is metaphorical Death Chamber in the Department of Mysteries, with the archway with the tattered black veil, where Sirius Black died. Nowhere the mystery of death was better depicted.

It is my view that the veil of death will never be lifted. This last shroud of mystery nothing can possibly reveal. It’s to teach us humility and to accept that there are larger things than us.


This will be an extra bonus for the artistical fellows out there. I considered a drawing or a painting to reflect on death, but I’m not gifted with the skills to produce it. Heh.

Imagine a green plain field with grass scattered by bashing winds in all directions. A moat in the center. and on top of it an ancient burial site, with stones atop one another. Over the tomb, a white dead tree. Perhaps fog, What man was buried there? How was his life?

Either a painting or one of those fancy carbon drawings would come nicely I think.


[IMAGE: Giza Pyramid Complex, in Egypt. image source]

On Wandering

Cambridge’s A.L. Dictionary defines the word ‘wander’ as:

  1. to walk around slowly in a relaxed way or without any clear purpose or direction;

If you stop to think about, much of our lives is spent on wandering around. We are born into this world without a clear purpose, with no guidelines, and without truly knowing ourselves. That can only lead to much time spent trying to find our path, and hence, wander.

And I don’t just mean to wander physically, or from job to job, but also wander in our way of thinking. How many times we change our minds about something, only to change it back again some time later.

Have you ever felt that strange desire to just leave your ordinary life, your steady-pace and run into the wilderness or live from place to place?

I believe that, to some people more than others, there is still a residual urge from our nomadic past that runs very deep. I’d go as far as saying that it’s the reason why they never seem to find a place, and prevents them from bringing their lives into a focus.

Drifting from one job to the next, focusing on today’s assignment, dispersing one’s energy rather than having a single long term goal are all traits of people who are bound to wander the rest of their lives. Somewhere along the line society stepped on the right of these people to exist as they were.

And there is the danger of not realizing in time that one is drifting too much. This leads to poorly conducted lifes, often with suffering as an end result.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean a bad thing. It’s more often a compromise between how one’s dream about his life and how it actually flows. You can’t judge a person’s life based on how aimless it was, as some remarkable life experiences come exactly from wandering around.

As J.R.R Tolkien beautifully wrote in this much tatooed sentence:

Not all those who wander are lost;

The apparent contradiction of these words in fact reveal this truth. To not seek a particular goal can be a goal on itself. There is a fine line between wandering to explore the world and it’s things, and wondering without any purpose – to be simply lost.

[IMAGE: Mt. Cook in New Zealand, image source]

 

On Mathematics

Mathematics is both a language and a form of artistic expression. Language because it has all its characteristics: it is symbolic, has a morphology and a syntax. It also represents something as an idiom does, in this case our natural world (or rather, our limited interpretation of it).

But Math is not tied to reality, unlike Physics for example.  There is no need for experiment to validade its work. As an important mathematician one wrote:

The essence of mathematics lies in its freedom.

One is free to conjure any kind of creation to suit his needs. That is the great power of this field. It can be something that was motivated by a practical problem: How to keep track of a herd of sheep? How to measure the area of a irregular terrain? Will there be enough corn to feed the population? For practical reasons, this comprises most of it.

And it can be simply a thought experiment: What would a 9-th dimension cube be like? The problems in this pure Mathematics have a higher degree of abstraction, and are considered a larger set of the problems that arise from the real world. It’s possible for one of these problems to be found later having a counterpart in the physical.

The more you come close to this century Mathematics, the stepper the abstraction curve goes. That is the reason why most people will only have the practical knowledge of the Classical Era. And that is a bad thing in my humble people, but I guess Math just isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

People could benefit from the gain in coping skills from studying it, though. It’s trying at times, but the satisfaction of grasping a new math tool is beyond words. And the variety of problems you can solve increase rapidly with more studying. I consider my Math skills the ultimate measure of knowledge, as everything I ever hope to learn has it in its foundation.

And it’s still under construction, even when it comes to the basics. Much is done of course, but one can easily find knots to tie or a new problem to tackle. A example of this is the prime numbers – is there a formula that can give any prime, given it’s position? This has haunted me for a very long time, it looks at first so simple. Solving it could render our cryptography useless, for those who want to see the world burn.

UlamSpiralNegative

The mysterious pattern in prime numbers, known as Ulam’s Spiral. credits

There is much more that we can’t do than that we can. As an example, only a handful of integrals have a primitive in terms of defined functions. And the hardship of computing an integral increases dramatically if you start picking elaborate functions.

One might view this tendency as an evidence that the Math we developed is unsuitable to handle our intricate universe. We could be speaking Russian instead of plain English. Perhaps there is a different way of looking to things that is simpler and more effective. It’s hidden, waiting to be found.

From this freedom of creation comes the artistic aspect of Mathematics. In a carefully refined theory, one could leave a lasting work just as a painter or a composer does. I hope this has insipired some more courage when opening your next Calculus book.

[IMAGE: A computer generated fractal, Sierpinski. image source]

On a Sunset

Few things can rival the beauty of a sunset, particularly after a storm when the sky is filled with clouds. Too many clouds and it spoils the view because the sunlight can’t get through.

Ordinary beauty, yes. But still beauty.

I could probably go on discussing how the red-orange color of a sunset is due to Rayleigh scattering, but as a scholar, it’s important to know when to just sit back and admire the view.

One phenomena involving sunsets is the so called ‘green flash’, a flash of green light moments before the sun disappear in the horizon. Living so far from the ocean I must admit I’ve never seen it with my own eyes.

Big_green_flashA green flash in Santa Cruz, California image source

This was depicted in the Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. There are many other atmospheric phenomena, some of them quite rare to be seen and registered, this source provides a list of them with photographic records.

But one of the most intringuing aspects of a sunset is how it’s beauty is fleeting. The sun goes down and the red light touches the clouds making them orange and then pink, and finaly blue. The sky in general, is always in constant change. You will never get to see the same sky again.

It is a privilege to be alive to witness a sunset.

[IMAGE: Sunset near Swifts Creek, Australia. image source]