Patriotism and treason have no meaning when a country is at war with itself.
It takes no effort to be smart. To take the default position, the straightforward interpretation, and the obvious conclusion takes no effort at all. Anyone can be smart. It takes a true genius to be a fool. The multiple layers of pretzel logic some people construct in order to argue a point must be exhausting.
One thing I have observed in life and an idea I have been repeatedly exposed to is that one’s social environment has at least as much to do with one’s behavior as one’s innate nature. Sociologists suggest that putting people in jail might be a less effective way to prevent criminality than making sure people grow up in a healthy home environment, have plenty of legal opportunities for advancement, and are kept away from the influence of those who are already criminals. There are even those that have suggested that labeling someone as deviant in some way can cause that person to internalize and even embrace the label, becoming set in their deviant ways, and that if we instead cast their past behavior as an aberration from an otherwise clean record this would be less likely. This is called role theory.
I know that there are times I have been tempted to be rude since all my efforts to be polite were getting me nowhere and I was being accused of being rude anyways. I figured there was no loss to my reputation if I became what they said I was. Social environment matters a lot. I’ll recount three examples from my life:
One: When two of my coworkers failed to get along, management stuck me in the middle of them since I seemed to get along with almost anyone. However, because I was now in the middle, I had to interact with two troublemakers while each of them only had to interact with one of me. Thus, I was in twice as much conflict. Management soon forgot why I was put there in the first place and started seeing me as the problem.
Two: One of my coworkers often stood in the corner when there was nothing to do. I noticed that my other coworkers simply assumed he was lazy and would not help. Whenever a task appeared, they would do it themselves, grumbling all the time about the guy in the corner. When multiple tasks appeared, they simply worked harder. In contrast, when I was alone with him and something needed to be done, I simply left half-finished items near him. He was slow to respond, but soon enough he stepped in to help without being asked. He didn’t see a point in working when others were handling things so well and he couldn’t easily insert himself into the fray.
Three: I also notice that I joke less when there is someone else in the group to fill that role. The class clown is not always the same person; it is merely the funniest person in the class. How talkative or reserved I am changes greatly depending on who I am with. In school, I used to think I was introverted until I discovered that I could be quite extroverted in the workplace. The venue makes a big difference.
Instead of being quick to judge, maybe we should take note of the situation others are in and walk a mile in their shoes.
When was the last time you were labeled as something you weren’t?
English is an often-inadequate language. One word can mean so many different things. This is especially true with the word “fair.”
According to some, an economic situation is fair so long as the participants are equal under the law. The laws are to be followed by all without exception. Those equally guilty are punished equally. The innocent are left unpunished. Each individual has the same amount of representation, the same rights, and their testimony counts the same in court. Everyone is equally taxed and equally regulated regardless of who they are. Everyone is kept safe as much as possible from theft, vandalism, extortion, and fraud.
According to others, being equally free from interference in our economic activities is not enough. We must also be free from the consequences of the freedom others have to govern their activities. To be fair, there must be no monopolies or collusion. Those institutions that do better shall not take advantage of their new status to undersell their competitors only to raise prices later. Sellers must not use their freedom to sell to whom they want to discriminate against those of certain races or creeds. Buyers must not use their freedom to shop where they want to do the same. Enforcing this kind of fairness necessarily diminishes the first kind.
According to others, it is not enough that we all be free of discrimination and collusion. We must all have the same starting point. No matter the economic means of our parents, we must receive the same education and be given the same amount of seed money. We must also be served the same level of health care throughout our lives so that we differ only in our competence and work ethic. Since the seed money and cost of education must come from someplace, in practice it means that the state discriminates against the most productive members of society by interfering in their economic activities. Enforcing this kind of fairness necessarily diminishes the first two kinds.
According to still others, none of this is enough. Fairness only exists when all outcomes are equal. Those who work hard, those who are lazy, those who are intellectually gifted, those who are mentally retarded, those who follow all the rules, those who actively fight against the system, and all those in between are guaranteed the same wage. That doesn’t sound fair at all.
Finally, “fair” can also mean a carnival. This is the best kind of fair.
One thing I have observed in life and conversation is that many people are confused about the difference between wants and needs. They do not seem to realize that those words only retain distinct meanings within narrow contexts wherein all the actors already have broad agreement over which is which. The terminology cannot simply be carried over to new conversations.
In the general case, all needs are need-fors. A need must have an object. For example, one might need a bridge for crossing a river. One might question whether they truly need to cross the river, and whether they might find other means of traversing it (e.g. a boat), but this does not make the need invalid. If it were so, then no need could pass this test. Even in the extreme case of having needs for living (e.g. air, water, food) where no substitutes will suffice, one could always ask whether one truly needs to live.
All needs are wants and all wants are needs. Wanting a set of roller blades on one’s birthday can also be equally thought of as a needing a set of roller blades for going roller blading, or needing a present for preventing disappointment.
The difference between wanting and needing is only one of relative importance. There is no strict line between them. The terms only make sense when there is a large gulf of importance between two sets of desired conditions. In those rare situations, the less important conditions are called wants and the more important conditions called needs.
So don’t tell me I don’t need cake!
Sometimes the world just doesn’t make sense. This is true not only about the way things are done, but the official historical record of how they came to be done that way. One thing I have observed is that numerous sayings with one meaning today allegedly originated with a very dissimilar meaning totally unrelated that could never have evolved into its current one. Am I being lied to?
Mind Your Ps And Qs
The only way I have ever heard this phrase used is to tell people (especially children) to behave themselves and mind their manners, which is largely another way of telling them not to roughhouse and to say “please” and “thank you.” My parents told me to mind my Ps and Qs before leaving me with the babysitter. I understood P to stand for “please” and Q to stand for “thank you” (ten-Q). This was a common way of saying it in my household. It was a clever pun. On Sesame Street, Ernie once had the same idea.
Only in my early twenties did I read that the saying originated from the time of early typesetting. Those setting up the printing press had to be careful not to confuse lowercase p with lowercase q. Saying “mind your ps and qs” was a way of telling someone to pay attention to detail. How this very different meaning evolved into the modern one is a total mystery.
Later, I read another origin story. This one claimed that in English taverns, ale was sold in pints and quarts. When patrons became rowdy from too much alcohol, they were told to “mind your pints and quarts.” This was eventually shortened to “mind your Ps and Qs.” This explanation makes slightly more sense than the other.
How is it possible to have two completely different origin stories? Historians should either know or not know! Why the controversy? Could this be a macroscopic manifestation of the “multiple histories” of quantum mechanics?
Almost every television detective is stonewalled at some point by someone they are trying to get information from. Usually it means that someone won’t answer their phone or moves slowly in supplying documents. In the general case, stonewalling is what one does when they simply fail to respond to inquiry rather than explicitly declare they won’t cooperate. When a big company never returns your messages, they are stonewalling. Getting questions answered is like interviewing a stone wall. This is a common word used this way and only this way (to my knowledge).
Later in life, I read that the origin of the word had nothing to do with stone walls or failing to answer questions. Allegedly, there was once a gay bar by the name of Stonewall. There had been a fight inside, but some patrons blocked the police from entering. It was a big event and made the national news. Because their lack of cooperation was active and explicit, it is not the same as how the word is now used.
I’m not buying it. Even if the original meaning of the word meant any sort of blocking of access, it’s kind of a strange coincidence that the name of the bar was so fitting, isn’t it?
From my very first day on the world wide web, I kept hearing about something called spam. This was not canned meat, but unsolicited mass emails. How did this slang begin? Only in my late twenties did I find out. Multiple sources say that the word comes from a Flying Circus skit. In it, a couple stops at a restaurant where every item on the menu contains spam. “I don’t like spam!” the lady (played by Graham Chapman) says. Then, the origin story skips what must be at least a half-dozen steps to say that now we refer to junk email as spam.
Why? What’s the connection? The story explains absolutely nothing. It’s like explaining human embryology by explaining how egg and sperm form a zygote and then saying, “And then out pops a successful banker with a house, three kids, two dogs, and a convertible he takes to church on Sundays.” What happened in between? How did the two totally unrelated concepts of canned meat and junk email become linked in enough minds that the meme caught on?
None of these stories make any sense. Even if they are partly true, they leave too much unaccounted for. This must be maddening to sociologists. Why is human culture so confusing and unpredictable?
At least the story of how s’mores got their name makes sense. Believe in s’mores.
It never ceases to amaze me how badly people misinterpret my words – even when using common phrases on which society has already agreed upon the meaning!
A Bird In The Hand Is Worth Two In The Bush
I had always taken this to mean that something you have is worth more than something you merely know about. For example, the television you own can be watched anytime, from the comfort of your living room, and on whatever channel you like, and is therefore worth more than thirty televisions in the store display window.
A bird in the hand can be pet and observed in detail. The birds in the bush can only be heard. Since a bird in the hand is worth more than two in the bush, three birds in the hand must be worth more than zero in the bush! Birds are worth more in the hand. I use the expression to tell people to go get their hands on those bush-birds.
I recently discovered that there is another way to take the same expression. For some people, the bird in the hand is worth more only because it is certain, whereas the two in the bush are uncertain. Since it is likely one has to let go of (and lose) the certain possession for the uncertain gain of additional possessions (unlike televisions, birds fly away), this expression is used to tell others to be content with what they have and not go after the bush-birds. It is the exact opposite of how I use the expression.
800-Pound Gorilla In The Room
I have always seen this expression to refer to something that is undeniably on everyone’s minds, but nobody wants to talk about. There is even a television commercial that makes use of this, and for years it ran so often that I find it hard to believe anyone missed it.
Now I find that some take this to mean merely the dominant force in some setting, such as an industry. While the dominant force is certainly undeniable, something does not have to be dominant to be undeniable, and even if it is, it doesn’t mean that no one wants to talk about it. Usually, the opposite is true. Thus, this usage is very different than mine, overlapping in only a very tiny point.
Take This With A Grain Of Salt
I had always understood this to mean that the following information was from an unreliable source and was likely exaggerated, though it still might have a grain of truth to it. This is what I was told and it is the only way I have ever heard it used. One day, I read an article wherein the author assumed it to mean that the following information was merely something the listener would not want to hear (thus why it needs salt to make it “palatable”), the expression indicating nothing of its reliability.
Bees – like insects in general – fly erratically and seemingly indecisively. They take indirect paths. When I read of someone making a beeline, they are usually being pursued and dodging sniper fire or keeping their pursuers guessing where they will be one second in the future. Thus, a beeline is an indirect route. If it were a direct route, it would simply be called a line.
Now I hear that a beeline is the exact opposite of this. A beeline is instead a direct route. This makes no sense to me at all. Am I the only one that has ever observed how bees actually fly?
One Man’s Buck Is Another Man’s Buck
This is not even ten percent of the common sayings that have multiple meanings that only I seem to be aware of. Most people are only aware of one meaning even though they aren’t in agreement with each other. We all live in our tiny little bubbles and assume the rest of the world is the same way. This is why there is so much misunderstanding when it comes to the meaning of common words, idioms, and jokes. Often the same word can have very different meanings depending on who uses it, and one man’s buck is another man’s buck (this means that two people can take the same message differently – e.g. buck=deer versus buck=money – just in case you were thinking something else).
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Sometimes we must go backwards to go forwards.
Chocolate chip cookies were invented by mistake. They were a failed attempt to make chocolate cookies, but Mrs. Toll made the best out of the situation and introduced to the world a new favorite.
Sometimes when doodling alien creatures I mess up. When this happens, I can usually think up a way to salvage the picture and make it more interesting than it would have been originally. Could those stray marks on its back be gills? Genitals? External parasites? Some of my most creative ideas have been mistakes.
The ancient Israelites failed to take the city of Ai because of the sin of one man. Once dealt with, they attempted again to take the city, pretending to retreat and leading the enemy into an ambush. Winning this way would have been unlikely had they not lost the first time.
When I was nineteen I unwittingly insulted a friend of mine and she was rude to me in response. Unable to bring myself to apologize first, she did, I returned the favor, and our friendship was stronger after that than it would have ever been otherwise.
When things go wrong, don’t be discouraged. Instead ask yourself, “If this had been my plan all along, what would my next step be?” There is a way to fix any mistake. All things can work out for good. Even when we fail to do this, God can fix anything. It is never too late.
So, if your current situation had been your plan all along, what would your next step be?
Disclaimer: The following is my analysis based on dozens of books and magazines I have read and pieced together over the years. Most of the concepts I’ve never seen related together before. Most of it I think I understand pretty well, but I have been wrong before. Some of it I know I don’t understand. Input and corrections are welcome.
No one likes to die. Humans take grand steps to avoid being killed. Most religions hold that some form of consciousness outlasts the death of the body and that the soul lives for eternity. How might such a thing work? It would seem to violate physics.
Medical science may one day progress to the point that the physical body can be protected from aging and almost any disease or injury. It might also be possible to upload copies of our minds onto more durable, artificial bodies, or onto multiple, wirelessly connected bodies in case one of them is completely obliterated by a bomb or something. To avoid supernova-sized catastrophes, our bodies could be spread across multiple star systems. This way, something of us would always survive.
If possible, these methods might keep us alive for billions of years. However, we would eventually run into the problem of entropy and heat death. One day, all useable energy will be gone; everything will be homogenous and uniformly heated. Then nothing will ever happen again. By carefully slowing our rate of energy consumption, we could theoretically extend our lives indefinitely – but could our state then legitimately be called life? Awareness requires thoughts, and thinking uses energy. Slowing our energy consumption also slows our thinking. It is not enough for us to live forever in time on a finite amount of energy if our thoughts also become finite.
No one really knows how consciousness works, but one Scientific American article I read long ago suggested that thought rate was proportional to the volume of the brain, while energy use was proportional to the surface area, meaning that we could in fact experience an infinite number of thoughts on a finite reservoir or energy – albeit at a progressively retarded rate. This is very encouraging.
Unfortunately, there was a catch. Heat loss is also proportional to the surface area, meaning that a continually-running brain will heat up. It must be periodically shut down so it can cool. Since the rate of heat dispersion depends on the difference in temperature with the surrounding environment, as the brain uses up energy, the universe will become even closer to equilibrium, and the cooling time will become progressively longer. This requires some sort of “alarm clock” to wake the brain at the appropriate time and no such mechanism is 100% reliable. Given an infinite amount of time, it would eventually fail us and we would never wake again.
There are other limits on time as well. In accordance with the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, there is always a non-zero probability of measuring any object to be in a different position than where it was previously measured to be. On the scale of atoms, this manifests as a lot of “jumpiness.” On the scale of people, planets, and galaxies, it means that given enough time there is a statistical certainty that one day they will simply leap across the universe far away. It is much more likely still that only small parts of them will be similarly transported, which in the case of humans can be deadly (imagine if your heart suddenly vanished). This is called quantum tunneling. On infinite timescales, the entire universe could suddenly pop into a different configuration, with a new arrangement of matter and new laws of physics. There would be no way to survive.
There are also limits on space. It is not good enough that we have an infinite number of thoughts if we do not retain them as memories. Is it really life to just have the same two thoughts over and over? What are we if not our unique path through history? If the original body is not important, and memory is not important, what is to separate us as individuals? Otherwise it could be said that we have survived so long as someone else survives. Who is to say it isn’t us? Memory storage requires space. Even with combinatorics, infinite memory storage requires infinite space.
Even assuming the universe to be infinite in volume, we know from observation that it is expanding. Matter is thinning. The farther away a galaxy is, the faster it recedes. Galaxies far enough away recede faster than the speed of light. Light from those galaxies can never reach us even in principle. Nothing can go faster than light in space (the receding galaxies are following the flow of space, not moving in it). This means that an infinitely-sized (or at least continually-growing) brain will eventually be pulled apart by the expansion of the universe and its various parts will lose contact with each other. The only ways around this problem are to use faster-than-light communication (impossible), reverse the expansion of space (good luck with that), or to find ways to store ever-more information in an ever-smaller volume.
Unfortunately, there is a maximum limit on how much information can be packed into a given space. Counterintuitively, this limit is proportional not to the volume it is packed into, but to the surface area of a sphere with that volume. It is called the holographic bound. Holograms have some weird properties. Information in holograms is spread around such that a small part of the hologram can be used to recreate the whole picture – though at a lower resolution. They are also able to hold in only two dimensions the information to recreate a three-dimensional image. I don’t understand very well myself how this works, but it is made possible by quantum entanglement. Since every particle in the universe has interacted directly or indirectly with every other part, in a sense the entire universe is entangled and therefore should also have holographic properties. This is why some physicists have suggested that our four-dimensional spacetime might be a “simulation” running on a computer in a three-dimensional spacetime. Thus, the amount of storage space available is proportional to a two-dimensional area and not a three-dimensional volume.
Probably not coincidentally, the holographic bound of a cache of information is the same as its Schwarzschild radius. Information is stored on matter and increasing the information density to its maximum can only be done by increasing the density of the material. Squash a material enough, and it will collapse into a black hole. The volume of a black hole is not proportional to its mass, but rather needs to be ever larger with every addition to still be called a black hole. A black hole with the mass of the Earth needs to be roughly the size of a golf ball and therefore very dense, but a black hole the size of the solar system need be only as dense as water. The observable universe is so big that to be a black hole it need be only as dense as roughly what we measure it to be. We might be inside a black hole now! To retain an infinite memory, we must grow an ever-larger brain that also grows ever-thinner to prevent gravitational collapse.
Even assuming we find a way to halt the expansion of the universe or a way to send signals faster than light in order to keep different parts of our brain in constant communication (or both), we will eventually run into a math problem. Any finite set of matter only has so many possible configurations. Given an infinite amount of time, something must repeat. Given an infinite extension in space, this means our superbrain will be filled with copies of the same sequence over and over. Some of these sequences will be whole universes just like ours and contain fully functioning organisms with brains themselves – believing themselves individuals distinct from their surroundings. Maybe that’s what we are. Maybe we are already part of a superbrain that has already lived forever.
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My name is Dan. I am an author, artist, explorer, and contemplator of subjects large and small.