Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Life's Philosophies III

I have another life philosophy... actually maybe "strategy" is a better word.

I call this strategy, "Don't Be Richie."

When I was in college, one of my friends started taking guitar lessons from a guy named Richie. Richie was close to our age. He apparently made the unilateral decision that he was now part of our overall friend group and he should invite himself over to hang out with us whenever possible. He'd run into us somewhere and hang out with us. Sometimes he'd show up at my friend's house, where odds were reasonable a bunch of us would be hanging out and he'd...hang out.

Richie was kind of ... awkward. As I recall, his major flaw would be that he would enter into every conversation with some completely different conversation. Like we'd be talking about the movie we saw recently and he'd jump in and start talking about his motorcycle. We sought to ditch Richie whenever possible and never invite him anywhere and do everything reasonable to discourage him without actually saying "go! away!". I think the best moment was when we were leaving my friend's house to go somewhere and passed Richie on the narrow road going the other way. We pretended to not see him and got the hell out of there. Everyone was basically nice to him when he was around but as soon as his back was turned it was all, "Holy crap, how do we ditch this guy?"

A thought floated through my mind at that moment. "Wait... we're all nice to him until his back is turned... and they're all nice to me when I'm around... dun dun dun!"

I immediately began Operation Don't Be Richie, which continues to this day. The cornerstones of this strategy are as follows:
* If someone declines invitations to three events in a row, stop inviting them to anything unless they specifically request otherwise. They might be trying to avoid me.
* Always give people an out when extending an invitation. "Would you like to go to a movie Saturday" is better than "Are you busy this weekend", since the latter question is actually a trap.
* Never invite myself anywhere, even if I really really want to go. Wait to be invited.

Through this strategy I can ensure that I am never Richie, or "That Guy" as people like him are more universally known.

Life's Philosophies II

Here's another one.

So there are times in everyone's life when they're scared, nervous, etc. Maybe it's concerns over bills, their job, the sound of a broken window at 3am, the left wing, which was there just a moment ago, no longer being present, whatever.

Religious folks have it easy. They get to pray to an all powerful presence and in doing so, they can feel at peace and conquer their fears.

Coming from more of an agnostic angle where there may or may not be an all powerful presence who may or may not be inclined to help in any way (Crom!*), I had to come up with some other internal rationalization.

My secret mantra? "Do the best you can." I think I want that on my gravestone: "He did the best he could."

I think I evolved this line of thinking through gaming (see also: "everything I ever needed to know, I learned from gaming"). I've generally felt that while you can't always win, there is no shame in losing when you are out of ammo, out of options and too tired to run anymore. There are times in everyone's Nethack career when they are shoved up against a dead end with 15 Orcs stuffing up the only exit, they have 1 hitpoint left and the only thing left in their backpack that can possibly be of any help is a scroll named "Ugloft Potel" because they haven't identified it yet. And sometimes it saves you and sometimes it just lights up the room so you can witness your death more clearly. But that's not important. The important thing is you did the best you could with what you had and nobody can ask any more of you than that.

This same line of thinking has carried over into my real life.

I maintain a relatively stress free existence by saying things like, "While I don't know what my career will look like in 5 years, or what that noise was just now or whether that left wing is supposed to come off at 30,000 feet, what I do know is that I will simply do the best I can and this is all anyone can expect."

I dunno, I just find a lot of peace in that concept.

There's a joke among competitive gamers that goes, "don't run; you'll only die tired". I've always felt that dying tired (and out of ammo) was the best way to go. You did the best you could and there's no shame in that.

* - I've been reading the Robert Howard "Conan" stories. I like the concept of Crom, the god of Conan's people. Contrary to the movie, you don't pray to Crom. Conan was quite specific about this. Crom doesn't care and if you pray to him, he'll send you doom for interrupting his train of thought. Crom only does one thing for his people: at birth, he gives them the strength to strive. "What else shall men ask of the gods?" What else indeed?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Life's Philosophies

(for lack of a better word)

Occasionally I hear things that seem like good, reasonable advice, like "make time for people who make time for you". I haven't decided if it's good advice or not but I like the direction it's going.

Once in a great while, though, I come up with a philosophy that sticks with me long term and directs me in a very day-to-day way. I think I have three main ones that drive everything I do, so I'll list them here. If you have tracked me here from other comments or blogs, you may be familiar with these already, but I thought it was time to put them all in one place:

1) Monsters are real.
2) Live life as if it was ideal.
3) Seek happiness, not perfection.

"Monsters are real."

When I was little, I thought monsters were big, hairy things with fangs that lived in your closet or under your bed. Now that I'm older, I wish it was that easy. I mean, a big hairy monster with fangs would be easy to identify and if it lived in the closet, at least you'd know where it was at. Now I know that real monsters are much, much worse than we ever dreamed of when we were kids.

Real monsters look just like people and they might be anywhere.

This isn't meant to be a basis for paranoia, which is something you can certainly develop by watching too much nightly news or reading too many history books, but it's important to understand that they exist. Terry Pratchett once mentioned that the important thing to teach children isn't that monsters are real (we are born knowing this), it's to teach them that monsters can be beaten.

I think that it's important to remind adults that they are real. We tend to forget. And then one day they show up and fly an airliner into a skyscraper.

Don't create unrealistic notions about the nobility and universal brotherhood of mankind. Not all of them think like you do.

"Live life as if it was ideal."

This is an important philosophy to have if you're going to have the previous philosophy. This one states that while there is a very small chance that the person approaching you in the dark alley is a serial killer looking to get a start on his career, you should treat him as if he was a nice person who would probably be fun to play Scrabble with. In an ideal world, he would, in fact, be a nice person who is fun to play Scrabble with and the only way you'll ever find out is to approach with that attitude in mind. Whereas if you treated him as a potential serial killer and, say, sprayed him with pepper spray and kicked him in the gemmies without provocation you would never find out about Scrabble.

To put it another way, don't let fears of negative possibilities ruin your life. Make your choices. Other people's choices are up to them. If they do wrong, then that's on them. If you assume they will do wrong and treat the situation as such, you will miss out on life's joys. If you always wear a raincoat and carry an umbrella you will never get wet but you'll also never feel the sun on your skin.

Incidentally, I wrap up these first two philosophies into one package I call "optimistic cynicism": the practice of approaching situations as if they were ideal even when I feel they aren't, which is most of the time.

"Seek happiness, not perfection."

This philosophy applies to everything from vacations to relationships to what you are doing right now this very second.

Are you happy where you are? Happy with what you are doing?

When I ask this, do you think of other things you could be doing? Things which might be more fun? Do you worry that you're wasting your time? Carpe diem? Are you seizing the day? Might you be able to seize it better if you were doing something else?

These are foolish questions. Dangerous questions. "Carpe diem" has to be the worst philosophy to hit our society in the last 20 years. Seize the day...bah!

Never ask yourself if you could be doing something better. If you could be someplace better. If you could be with someone better. If you are "living life to the fullest".

Ask yourself if you are happy.

If you are happy, then be happy. Don't waste that happiness by worrying about ways in which you might become happier.

If you like where you are and what you are doing then stick with it. "The perfect is the enemy of the good". You can find yourself old and miserable because you cast aside too many good things in the search of the perfect thing. By all means, throw away the things that make you unhappy but don't throw away the good just because you think you can find better.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

John Adams

I've started watching "John Adams", the HBO series. I'm renting it from Netflix.

Initial thoughts after the first disc:

1) In times of real crisis, smart people are forced into politics.

2) Nothing we are facing today is a real crisis. We have a lot of pseudo-intellectuals proclaiming doom from the highest mountaintops but those are just molehills compared with what John Adams was facing.

3) What a shame that our government has become what it is after its modest beginnings. What a shame that we as a society feel that tax money and government interference is necessary to solve every individual case of poverty or mismanagement. This is not what a government ought to be used for. We (the people) surely ought to be able to fund all the welfare we'd like without actually taxing ourselves and getting the government to do all the work for us. It's probably the worst way to do welfare, given the government's track record on efficiency.

But I'm not too concerned about it, because we aren't in a real crisis.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

On religion

My personal feelings on the subject of God And All That:

There's no proof, but there are some things that strike me as needlessly suspicious.

First, though, I'll explain why randomness is incredibly important. If there is no randomness in the universe, then the universe is deterministic: given the laws of physics and given the current state of things, the end result is predetermined. Free will is non-existent. In this case, soul and God and all that seem fairly irrelevant anyway.

However, if we can somehow prove that something, anything, on any level, is truly random, then determinism is ruined and free-will has a chance. There is no way to predict what the universe will do next provided that something in it is random -- that given the state and given the laws, there is no way to predict what this one random thing will do next.

Now consider pi.

Maybe that's a strange basis, but the simple ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter results in a mathematical number with no pattern and no resolution. It seems to be the mathematical equivalent of "random" -- if you take a sample of any million digits of pi, you'll find that each of the numbers 0-9 appears about 100,000 times each, as you would expect if they were being generated randomly.

I'm not sure that this proves anything but I call it "needlessly suspicious", that we can look at a circle and find proof of limitless precision in a number that you can calculate to as many digits as you like with no patterns and nothing but mathematical randomness in the digits. To me, it feels a bit like the universe has held its finger along side of its nose and given us a wink.

I've also always thought that human memory was suspicious. The ability to remember things is still being studied with some surprising results. I've generally thought it was suspicious, how much we can remember and I've never really bought the theories I've read for how we can store what we do.

My personal theory is that we never truly forget anything. I've been driving down the road before and seen an intersection that recalled a dream I had some years prior, the kind of dream that you wake up and forget immediately, and here I was remembering it in detail based on a visual cue. The question of a soul really comes down to whether or not there is more to us than meets the eye and I've generally felt that human memory was a suspicious hint that there is more to us than meets the eye. The fact that more detail can be brought up under hypnosis adds further suggestion that the problem is not what we can remember, but rather, our ability to reach it.

However, this isn't to say I would suggest anything "supernatural". I've never liked that word. Or "paranormal". There is no such thing as supernatural or paranormal, there are only things explained by science and things which science has not yet explained, but eventually will. If consciousness is indeed a projection into this universe from somewhere else and if there really is more to us than can be gleaned from our atoms then it's still science. It's just a question of theory and evidence and proof, all of which may be beyond us for a long time yet.

But just because something hasn't been entirely figured out doesn't mean it's "religion" as if that was some counter to "science". The root of religion could be thought of as theory, in this case trying to explain the phenomena of consciousness. People rising from the dead and transmuting water into wine and cloning bread, that's just stories and deals with the OTHER part of religion, the philosophical part. That part is interesting too but it's not of great interest to me. The real root of religion is the theory of what it is we really are and what, if anything, it all means. It's a question for science, but it's currently too far beyond science to be able to answer it with any certainty whatsoever. We aren't even sure what the properties are of the type of matter that accounts for the majority of the mass of the universe. We have a long way to go before we can really say anything about the scientific questions being posed by religion.

There are still some truly huge questions about the nature of the universe which science has yet to answer. Maybe when we know more about the universe, we will know more about ourselves. It's far too early to take on the mantle of atheism as if it was scientific fact. You might as well be touting aether theory or the idea that the sun orbits the earth. Those were perfectly valid at one time but lack of evidence to the contrary sometimes just means the evidence hasn't been found yet.