September 30, 2006

You need only to consider one question when you wonder if this food is what is best for you: “Would I eat this if I couldn’t taste it?”

– Adam Khan, YouMe Works

September 30, 2006

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself,
and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

– Oriah Mountain Dreamer

Times (They Are a Changin’)

September 30, 2006

Okay, I don’t really know where this idea came from. Maybe the idea has been rolling around in my head for a while now, ever since I read a passage from Instant Enlightenment about the human conception of time. Add to that a dash of Richard Dawkins’ TED Talk, and you have the culmination of my (not entirely new) conception of time.

The idea, in its present form, visitted me while travelling back on the XC bus from our meet yesterday (wooh, Lehigh!). I felt really tired, needless to say, and just kind of chilled out, listening to a podcast about Darwin. Evolution came up, of course, along with the reason some people find evolution so hard to understand: we don’t see the evolution happening on a human time scale.

And that’s where it hit me. Humans have a very specific scale by which they tell whether or not something is happening.  For example, in the human time scale, grass “isn’t” growing. We never actually see it grow. We just see it at one length in one instant and at another length in some future (maybe a day, maybe a week) instant. The grass doesn’t grow to us. Not to say we don’t realize that the grass is growing, but we still don’t ever see the grass grow, so it might as well not.

Or try this one out. Say you haven’t seen a small child for a very long time. Maybe a year. You see that child again, and he looks completely different. Yet the parents see the child and see no difference between the two points in time. You have two spread out frames of reference (the time a year ago and now), while they have a continuous string of instants that the child “grew up” within.

I think I’ve gotten a little off point, so let me pull it all back together. Humans have a specific frame that they measure change in. Too fast, and we don’t even notice it. Too slow, and we notice the change, but not the changing. So, geologic time scale is too slow. Cosmic time scale, not even comprehensible. The life of a flea is too fast. The decay of certain radioactive elements, impossible to reason with. But all of these “things”, assuming that they could have a subjective experience, would  experience time in a very different way. The experience of what we call a year, to a flea, is an eternity. But to the universe, it’s the blink of an eye.

I don’t really know why I found this so interesting. Or important. But something about it just rang a bell with me. It just made something inside me go “hey, that makes sense.” Because if the passage of time is subjective, that means we can control how fast something ‘happens’ (I know, I’m going out on a limb here). A cool thought. Almost a super power.

So, have you exercised your super powers today? Did the time it took to read this blog post feel like an eternity, or an instant?


My New Favorite Song

September 28, 2006

Chemical Calisthenics by Blackalicious

I can do anything

Neutron, proton, mass effect, lyrical oxidation, yo irrelevant
Mass spectrograph, your electron volt, atomic energy erupting
As I get all open on betacron, gamma rays thermo cracking
Cyclotron and any and every mic
You’re on trans iridium, if you’re always uranium
Molecules, spontaneous combustion, pow

Law of de-fi-nite pro-por-tion, gain-ing weight
I’m every element of brown

Lead, gold, tin, iron, platinum, zinc, when I rap you think
Iodine nitrate activate
Red geranium, the only difference is I transmit sound
Balance was unbalanced then you add a little talent and

Careful, careful with those ingredients
They could explode and blow up if you drop then
And they hit the ground

Let it flow, yo, just let it go, get back

C-O-H-O-2 wine water solution of calcium hydroxide
Slobbin it, C-A-O lime will make bleach powder
Galvanic metal beats stomp out louder
Dried ice, C-0 squared refrigerant
N-O-2 makes you laugh, it’s laughing gas used by the dentists
I nearly added acid glue, I’m like oil of a toil, the king of chemicals
And the G heat gas waved all your mats
Chemical change, ice point, melt all your raps
Atomic weight, hold shocks, when you call
Refillable gas keep going way beyond
Biotch I’m only ill with buzzin, feel the ambiance
A diabetic process outta calm your ass
After I warm your ass, I’ll give sodium, silicate N-O-2-S-1-O-3, a water glass
Borax flexure full of brimstone sulfur
Boraxic acid, hip-hop preserver
C-O-2 could never put away the fire
Style aroma is scientific; the lyrical fuse would be connected
To teach you chemical calisthenics

The Theory is that all matter is composed of at least three fundamental particles
Protons, electrons, neutrons, Protons charge is positive
By now you’ve guessed electrons are probably negatively charged
Neutrons don’t follow either, neutral, in the middle, only no apologies
Centered, unmoved by yin and yang ideology
Neutron, bomb songs, electron fury
Cosmic musical radio-activity
Different points in joints within infinity
Oxygen and hydrogen alive within all types of energy
Within all types of energy
Within all types of energy
Within all types of energy
Within all types of energy, inside a world, inside a world
Inside a universe, inside of me existing although I can’t see it

Hydrocarbon, nitrogen cycle, ionization
Heavier than electric motor metals that weigh over a ton
This has been a chemist, Blackalicious creation
Clean out your desk, put your papers away cause class in almost done

This is chemistry plus calisthenics
I’m calcium plus potassium, magnesium, newspaper of sodium, sulfate
Your solvent, chloroform, remedy from the norm
glycerin, purest form Titanium
there is no way out, when this newfy is out
of all arms vibration, forming in a nigga
some bleachin’ to teach ya religious is equal to pieces of meteor
Eager to be here or is it, can see here I know all of all
I’ma pickin’ up pretty little Cindy
I’m more, I’m thinkin of more,
I’m cookin a potion!

Seriously though, you have to hear this song. It’s chemistry in hip-hop.

Good stuff.

I feel like puh-poo. One of those days, you know? When no matter what you do, you still feel like you should be doing more. And then when you do the “more,” there’s still a lot more to do. And doing any of it doesn’t make you feel any better.

Even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat. Being a rat makes me feel like shit.

A lot of this comes from too much thinking. And this time, it’s not of my own accord. During my humanities class, we’re talking about Socrates and Plato, and more importantly, Plato’s The Apology. If you’ve ever read it, you know a big part of its message is simply “question everything.”

Well, that gets tiring. Especially when you’re already in an existential funk. Thinking big thoughts when you don’t feel like thinking at all hurts. It hurts my head. And it hurts my body. And it hurts my “soul,” however you wish to define that.

Add to that a sense of insecurity about life in general, and you’ve found one bitchy son-of-a. I just want a break. But I know I’d waste the break being miserable. Better to be miserable and on duty than miserable and free.

So, my mission, should I choose to accept it, is to figure a way out of this quagmire I’ve fallen into. Or dug myself into. Whichever one.

Easiest way to do so? Act my way out of it. Figure out how’d I’d act if I weren’t all gooped up. And then do that. You gotta see it before you can be it.

Thanks for reading. I hope you have a beautiful day.


Childhood Reflections

September 26, 2006

Reading a story, I was reminded of a childhood memory.

I remember traveling late at night on the roads. Mostly over bridges and other sparsely lit areas. Through the country on the way home from a party by the friend of the family.

Darkness and countryside envelope the car. The only light is the headlights of our car. As it cuts through the night, I imagine all the things that might make up the darkness. All the creatures that might inhabit the night. But as I sit in the quiet of the car, I’m also reminded that I’m safe, that nothing can get me here where I nod off to sleep.

I remember best the warmth of the heater, the beautiful, comfortable silence of the cabin, and the scenery my imagination could add to outside.

I don’t think I’ve taken such a nocturnal journey in quite a while. A trip through the night, where I sit in the back seat and nod off to sleep. Trips today are made in the drivers seat, with the radio blaring and the silence marred by idle conversation. Or at best, made sitting in the passenger seat, worrying about the silence, thinking it awkward, and wondering about the best way to break the silence.

I miss those trips. I remember them ending with me nearly asleep, wandering into my house and laying in bed. Or sometimes, I would be asleep, and my parents would pick me up and bring me into my room, place me on my bed, and tuck me in.

I suppose these sorts of things must pass with age.  But I wonder why I can’t still take a trip through the night, the countryside dark and empty, and my mind at ease with the world. Why I can’t sit comfortably in silence.

September 26, 2006

Cause you can choose to say “Good morning God” or “Good God, morning”

– From First in Flight by Blackalicious

September 25, 2006

I thought I had already explained that. If you don’t get what you want, you suffer, if you get what you don’t want, you suffer; even when you get exactly what you want, you still suffer because you can’t hold on to it forever. Your mind is your predicament. It wants to be free of change, free of pain, free of the obligation to life and death. But change is a law, and no amount of pretending will alter that reality.

– Socrates, from Way of the Peaceful Warrior

First WILU Episode!!!

September 22, 2006

Check out the first ever WILU vCast. (If you watch the video, you’ll learn what WILU means, and you’ll get to see me making a fool of myself!!)

Thank you YouTube for your support.

I hope you enjoy!


The Blue Chair Analogy

September 21, 2006

Today was a fun day in my humanities class. A very fun day. Why? Because we did some hard core philosophizing. And you all know how I love philosophizing.

We discussed Plato’s Euthyphro (if you haven’t read it, I wouldn’t advise, but if you have, god bless you!). The whole point of this dialogue, in a nutshell, is to define piety and impiety. Though, in the end, Socrates (the protagonist of Euth.) spins Euthyphro on his head so much that he doesn’t even know which way is north.

I won’t bore you with all the intricicacies of Plato’s / Socrates’ argument. To be honest, the arguments don’t interest me. Except for one.

Socrates poses the question, “Do the gods love something because it is pious, or is that thing pious because the gods love it.” Now, if you’re like me, at this point you’re scratching your head and going “huh?” Just read that a few more times and it should sink in.

Sunk in yet? If not, let me explain in normal (read useful) language. He’s asking something to the affect of “did that A paper get an A because it IS an A paper, or is it an A paper because it got that grade?” Does the “A-ness” precede the grading of it (you know when you start seeing hyphenated words with -ness attached that your in philosophy land).

Sure, whatever, who cares. Platonic ideals and all that jazz. What’s the real world application (because god knows philosophy is no good unless you can do something with it).

Lets take the original example that Plato gave: Do the gods love something because it is pious, or is that thing pious because the gods love it. If it’s the latter, then we need to gods in order to tell what is pious or what isn’t. If it’s the former, quite frankly, then we don’t need the gods. We too can tell if something is pious via reason.

This led in my class to the question of how something could “just be pious” without something (preferably a god) making it so. A confusing question, I must admit. At least, when looked at from a mythic religious creator perspective. It sounds like the nontheist is making the “turtle” argument (it’s turtles all the way up and all the way down) when they say that humans are “just that way” (ie they can tell right from wrong because they just can).

This is where I stepped in and did a little scientific heavy lifting (I’m the “skeptic” of the class). I pointed to a blue chair and gave the common philosophical question of, “Is that chair blue because there is an inherent quality of blueness in it, or because we percieve it to be blue.” Let me make a clarifying statement: I’m not talking about linguistics here. That would be an entirely different argument. I’m not talking about the fact that the word “blue” is completely socially constructed and that we have no way of knowing if you and I even see the same “blue” and that the word blue doesn’t even exist in the physical world.

I’m talking about the blue that you see. The blue that arises in your consciousness. That blue doesn’t exist either. Think about it. Yes, the certain wavelength of light does exist. But the color blue that we perceive has correlates to that wavelength, but does not in any way define that wavelength. We just evolved (or our eyes evolved) to see the color “blue” when that wavelength strikes them. Another animal may see something completely different from the blue we see. Other animals may hear and smell in “blue.” (for more on this, check out Dawkins’ brilliant exposition on the reality of how we view the world vs. how the world actually is). [Note: We could say that some people (the colorblind) don’t see the color blue at all, but that’s a defect of their biology, therefore leading to a different subjective reality.]

Therefore, and this is the crux of the argument about morals I’m about to make, even though there is no color blue as we perceive it “out there” in the objective universe, that does not mean that we cannot agree on the color blue. Our common biology allows us to define certain objects giving off a certain wavelength of light as blue.

Now, let me propose an (imperfect) analogy. Just as the color blue does not exist in the objective universe, the ideas of piety and impiety (or good and evil) do not exist in the objective universe. But this does not mean that we cannot agree, due to our common biology and culture, about certain gradations of good and evil. Though it may not be “objectively” good to not kill another person, thanks to our shared biological intuitions and social norms, we can agree on certain “rights and wrongs” just as we can agree on the color blue. Add to that the “color-blindness” angle, and we can see how some people just aren’t good. They go out and kill with no moral pangs at all. This is not mean we throw the good of all humanity out just because these few people have a moral “defect.”

And thus the argument of “how can one be good without god” falls to the wayside.

At least, it would if I could articulate the argument in my head into a slightly more cogent one on paper.

And yes, it is more complicated than that (to quote Ze Frank). But I’m only covering the physiosocial angle. All the other angles I leave for you to explore.

I hope you enjoyed this jaunt through philosophy land. And you thought philosophy was completely useless! Silly! :)