Wednesday, July 28, 2004

One plus Two

Read a sci-fi recommended by my friend David: "Evolution", by Stephen Baxter. Interesting read, mostly disjointed chapters following various primates from 65 million years ago (the dinosaur-killing comet) to the end of life on earth one-half billion years from now. Interesting points/theories:
  1. Prior to the speciation of Homo Sapiens, all the primate main "characters" were the one ancestor of us all. I guess that's true, before we were a species, there was one earlier primate ancestor that we all wound up descended from.
  2. The mental tool/agent that was the seed of self-awareness was a module that modeled the behavior (mind) of others -- needed to survive in complicated primate dominance heirarchies.
  3. The origin of religion: when the 1st slightly mutant and psychotic Homo Sapiens broke out of having a compartmentalized mind and started putting 1 and 2 together (and forming sentences) around 60,000 years ago (not a bad number), the 1st thing she did was set herself up as a shaman. She used her new-found mental abilities to confound and dominate others -- shades of the power of lying in TOOCITBOTBM (blogged earlier).

Got two new cd's recently:

  1. "The Love Below/Speakerboxx" by Outkast, for my birthday.  The non-rap cd has good tunes, some unbelievably banal vulgarity, and the oh-so-catchy dance tune "Hey-ya".  My wife and I were driving back from Cornell after dropping our middle daughter off and heard it on the radio 3 times in the 11 hour drive.  When I got home my oldest daughter had sent me the link to "Hey-ya Charlie Brown".  I tried to fwd it to someone the next day, it was gone from the .edu server where I got it -- probably swamped by a storm of downloads.   No link, I'm sure you can find it.
  2. "Get Away from Me", by Nellie McKay, from my youngest daughter for Father's Day. She liked Nellie the best of the acts she saw at Bonaroo. 2 cds, kind of all over the place, very creative. Not sure what kind of staying power the tunes have tho.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Do You Believe in Luck?

Just finished the 2nd book of Neal Stephenson's Baroque Trilogy, "The Confusion". Fully as good a read as the 1st. I would presume that much of the historical content was researched and mostly true. One thought I had from this, re The Right to Keep and Bear Arms in the Bill of Rights: in the time of this book, roughly 80 years before the Declaration of Independence, carrying weapons was still only allowed to nobles. Commoners weren't allowed weapons. A standard feudal feature, like samurai Japan. So, the 2nd amendment says that it wants a militia, but I wonder if it also wasn't a repudiation of the feudal separation of nobles vs commoners. Everybody gets guns!

Thinking about Pinker's nature vs nurture arguments in "The Blank Slate" (last blog), he quotes 50% genetic, 50% peer group, but really seems to want to ascribe the 50% peer group to 50% fate or luck instead. This reminded me of three things:

  1. The movie "Grand Canyon". I liked the movie, about various people who get "messages from god" and how they react to them. (I queried my team of developers at the time as to what the secular version of "message from god" would be. The best we came up with was "anomalous meaning spike".) At various times more than one of the characters say "I believe in luck". So, the question is, do you believe in luck, and also, what is luck?
  2. The book "The Celestine Prophecy" (no link (shudder)). I read his about 10 years ago to see if new-agers had any interesting new religious concepts. I kind of liked the 1st of its 10 principles, which was that all of our lives are shaped by random happenings and events, sometimes strongly. So, we should be on the lookout for such life-shaping random events, and when we perceive one, try to get behind it and go for it.
    From there, tho, it's straight downhill, with the 10th principle being that you can vibrate yourself into a higher plane of existence such that you kind of disappear from this one. Damn, somehow I have managed to miss all the well-documented cases of that happening. Oh well ...
  3. Tim Power's novel "Last Call". I like Power's stuff, magical realism, with historical figures mixing up with various para-supernatural stuff. This one is probably my favorite of his. It's a fisher king story, with the main character a professional poker player. In it, if there are anomalous "luck waves" around, the liquid in a glass will tilt at an angle and smoke will spiral over the table. This is part of what has ruined me on gambling -- when I am (infrequently) around gambling, I find myself trying to check out "luck waves".
So, what is luck? The fact that sometimes shit happens, and you hope it's not to you, and sometimes good things happen, and you hope that it is to you.

I tell a story: around 10 years ago, on a Friday evening, I was supposed to pick up my middle daughter and her friend, then in middle school, at a movieplex on the east side of Lexington. I get there, no daughter. After 20 minutes or so, I find out they hooked up with some boys they knew and the boys' mom gave them a ride home. My office was on that side of town, and I decided to drop by for some reason, which I would normally never do in the evening, particularly Friday. So, I take Man-o-War to I-75 north for one exit to Winchester Rd. Halfway there, I slow down and stop on the Interstate. An elderly woman, drunk and on medication, was driving on the wrong side of the interstate and had a head-on with the car two ahead of me, also driven by a woman. Both women died. They had the medical helicopter on the interstate, they finally let us off the exit I had got on about 90 minutes later. The point is, I had no business being there and then and, if I had been running 30 seconds ahead in this improbable sequence, I could have been the one in the head-on. I take this as evidence that, when your number's up, your number's up.

So, I guess I kind of believe in fate -- but I think that's just that circumstances beyond our control, but of a non-mysterious nature, can affect us in ways we can't predict. But I think I really don't believe in luck. Damn, tho, I hate to write that. I'd better knock on some wood to ward off the jinx.