Any misspelled words or grammatical errors on this site are provided only for effect. Views expressed here are strictly those of the author, as opposed to being from his pet iguana. We reserve the right to add new letters to the alphabet or alter the time-space continuum as we see fit. Your presence at this site is a complicit agreement to these conditions.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Vacuous Knowledge Gap Between Us and Us

3 comments (add more here)
Mankind flatters itself that it knows a lot. By assumption, you can comfort yourself in an egocentric way that our understanding is the template for the universe. We compare ourselves to dolphins, the second-smartest living being, and we figure as smart as they are, if that’s our biggest competition then we must be pretty darn smart. By default, we crown ourselves kings of the known universe, and just cross out that nagging ‘known’ part because we should be able to round off, in the absence of other participants who failed to show up when we called roll. We’ll just say whatever we can see is all there is and call it good. It makes for a much tidier equation, and it doesn’t confuse the computer simulations.

One constantly hears in every discipline of study that “we’re just beginning to understand blah-blah-blah…” Oh really? How would we know we’re just beginning to understand a particular thing if we don’t understand it yet? We don’t know how much of it is out there to understand. For all we know, we may be understanding only one one-thousandth of it, but we wouldn’t know how close we really are until there are signs that we’re close, which we might only recognize in retrospect, since we might not know that they’re signs. So to say that we’re just starting to understand a specific thing gives us no context to work with.

I could just be starting to walk over to my neighbor’s house. Or I could be starting to walk from Los Angeles to New York. The fact that a walk is being started tells us nothing about the length or content of the journey. Saying we’re starting to understand something may turn out to mean that we’re still several centuries away from understanding it, or it may mean that we’ll get to the point where we understand about one-tenth of it and then hit a dead end, so it’s a meaningless phrase strangely reminiscent of a sales pitch. And yet it’s so common, because it’s a feel-good phrase. We have this psychological need to desire progress. Whenever we recognize an achievement, it represents progress. Even if we’re moving on a treadmill, at least it feels good to be moving.

It’s curious how mankind always seems to be just on the cusp of these things. How long can you continually be on the cusp before the cusp becomes an illusion?

If we don’t recognize what our current limitations might be as a people, we may think we’ve done more than we actually have and thereby become complacent, settling for something less than we can do. So ironically we have to think less of ourselves so that we can notice that more needs to be done, otherwise we might do less after thinking we’ve done more. Capiche?

We’ve shown a lot of ingenuity, and we continue to amaze ourselves (though if we were smarter we might not be as apt to be amazed?), so it’s evident that people are trying, going in the direction of advancement. But we don’t often take thoughtful looks at the flipside. So I give you…

Things mankind has demonstrated it is lousy at:

Either we don’t understand global and national economics, or we’re too enticed to ignore what we know in order to apply it honestly. If life were the game of Monopoly, then we’ve lost every time we’ve played it. We ended up mortgaging all the railroads, even though on paper it was a decent strategy, but then where are the hotels? Way to go, people with stratospheric IQs. Economics is tied in to sociology, which is tied in with human psychology, which is where we come in, and there are no signs we’re anywhere near understanding any of these to an appreciable extent enough to where we can say with a straight face and no fingers crossed we have a handle on it.

Why is it that power corrupts? Whatever the reason, we feed the machine by letting money dictate who is in power. We bemoan the lack of rationality in politicians, but most everyone that gets into the more important positions turns into that type of puppet, so it would appear to be the process that is faulty. It seems to be the monster mankind has created. I don’t know if there’s a way to get out of it short of catastrophic occurrences forcing us to, because we don’t seem to be able to change it to any noticeable degree.

Government is a mechanism that grows in a self-serving manner. Rights and property typically aren’t given back to the people once they’re taken away. Once they have a grab, what incentive do they have to give it back if they don’t have to? Altruism? Are you kidding? Government is run like a business and politicians tend to act to keep themselves in office. To stay in business you have to look out for number 1 first and foremost.

So we’re still failing in many respects at having a representative government. Maybe a C- which was saved by the Constitution being handed in as the term paper in the nick of time.

Before you feel too high and mighty about the intellect of humans, consider how parking has continued to perplex us. Ruminate on that for a moment. Maybe we just got lucky on going to the moon. We invented cars a hundred years ago, and yet we still have nowhere to put them. Wouldn’t solving the mysteries of the universe be at least a few levels above figuring out how to allow enough room for 6x12 hunks of metal?

Of course they say we put a man on the moon and so we should apparently be able to do other things, but it could be that putting a man on the moon was an anomalous accomplishment which makes it appear like we can do most anything. For every great feat such as that, there are hundreds of deficiencies on a lesser scale. Just because you hit a home run doesn’t mean you’re capable of doing it every time you’re up to bat. Just because you had a #1 song doesn’t mean you can do that whenever you go to the recording studio. We reach peaks in all sorts of endeavors. They shouldn’t fool us into thinking that a high level applies across the board.

Social Behavior
While most people behave respectfully and in a non-criminal way, there is enough of a criminal element which is allowed by the law-abiding to greatly impact how society operates.

There’s enough dishonesty to require locks, passwords, barriers, firewalls, computer virus protection, security cameras, barbed wire fences, surveillance operators, security guards, security tags, more highly technical currency bills, receipts, contracts, signatures, attorneys, and his orchestra. We have these things to protect ourselves from ourselves! We’ve gotten to the point that we need more and more to protect us from those of us who can’t be honest. And theft also raises the cost of every item you buy. You’re paying for thieves, because they don’t pay anything for their merchandise.

In my view, the nice people are letting the mean people take advantage of them. The bullies recognize that they can get away with bullying, and so they keep it up. I don’t think punishments for crimes are severe enough, dissuading enough. People who commit major felonies or violent crimes should lose more of their rights. If they can’t be responsible enough to use their rights, then some of them should be taken away. If they can’t live in a free society without willfully sapping its energy, then they should be sent somewhere where such freedoms aren’t available, a la a prison colony, where they can reap the consequences of their acts. As it is, we’re subsidizing them. And they’re using us.

Whatever disincentives are currently in place aren’t dissuading criminals from rampant criminal behavior. As sad as it is, we have to protect ourselves from our own species, because in our existence, it isn’t safe to be out at night in many places, or to go into many neighborhoods. It’s so commonplace that we don’t think much about it. We just accept it as the way it is. We live in two worlds, and we try to forget that one of them wants to eat away at the other.

And while we can’t make people behave well, we can give them consequences to remove their influence from our free society. It’s idealistic to think we should all be able to get along. The reality is there are enough bad influences to make this impossible. Some people have no desire to get along. If we can deal with those influences first, then maybe we can talk about the rest of us getting along.

We’re using a timing system that is impractical. It might have been cutting edge when it was first created, but it’s way behind the advances of the last few centuries. The industrial and technological ages have a lot to be impressed with, but we’ve failed to integrate key elements into them. If we want technology to be successful, then it needs to effect the improvement of other areas as well.

The system of seconds, minutes and hours is cumbersome and impractical. Yet we can’t seem to improve on something that is millennia old. It’s not because we think it’s a great system, but that we don’t have the intelligence yet to improve upon it. All our machines are calibrated to 60, 60, 24, a.m., p.m., so maybe it is the that machines are ruling us already. And only a machine would keep us in the pattern of five weekdays and two weekend days.

Get in the car for 20 minutes and see how many people have no clue what they’re doing, or many of them who do just don’t have any concept of anyone else on the road. We’re the most advanced species on the planet, and yet we continue to have difficulties negotiating our transportation modules. Chalk it up to impatience and over-emoting. Regardless of the causes, there is a plethora of rotten drivers out there. If Henry Ford had foreseen this day, he might have chosen to invent something a little less self-destructive.

We’ve tanked. Desperate Housewives notwithstanding.

About 25% of all adults in the U.S. smoke cigarettes. This is an indication that their health is not of utmost concern. About 40% of all traffic fatalities are due to drunk driving, and yet we’re more keyed on whether someone is wearing a seatbelt or not. 15,000 people die a year in the U.S. in auto accidents involving alcohol. That’s about 5,000 more than the number of people who are shot by guns in homicides. We’re gung-ho about regulating weapons because they are so immediate. However, our priorities are clearly not with the health aspect.

Junk food is easier and often cheaper to prepare than nutritious food, so nutrition many times is losing out to convenience. The U.S. in recent generations has become more overweight. Maybe video games, computers and cell phones will reverse this trend. Or not.

Natural Sciences
Not to ignore the achievements of science, but if we’re to be realistically objective about it instead of clouded in a self-congratulatory view, we would also acknowledge the vastness of its deficiencies. It’s true that we know more factually than the people who went before us, but we’re still tomorrow’s fools. It’s hard to acknowledge that, because it’s more comforting to think that we’re at or near the pinnacle, that we’re on that cusp.

Science can’t even accurately forecast tomorrow’s weather. Medicine has made leaps and bounds, although doctors still have to guess a lot and conduct numerous tests.

We’re not real good at religion either, though religion seems to be the only discipline that doesn’t regard mankind as having superior and authoritative intellect, the only one that doesn’t wield a human arrogance. So in this sense, religion makes fewer presumptions in admitting the deficiencies of humans. This makes it in practice the most realistic and honest approach. Unfortunately, the social aspects of religion have left much to be desired, but doctrinally, religion takes a rather pragmatic outlook.

It’s quite refreshing to have a view which takes a step back and asks more questions without making too many presumptions.

Critics say that religion incorporates all sorts of magical scenarios in its lore, citing claims of miracles being performed, and that such things are outlandish. And yet is the planetary structure of the universe or that of systems within organisms any less ludicrous or far-fetched? Which miracle is more incredible than our immune system, or the digestive system, or the circulatory system, or eyesight?

With increased knowledge should come the recognition of the lack of knowledge present. The funny thing about knowing is that you can only know what you know, but not what you don’t know. So for whatever’s remaining, you can only guess. And we don’t know how much that is. We can paint various scenarios that in theory put us very close to solving the unknown, but there’s nothing that says those scenarios would be any more accurate than the rest.

The fact that we as humans are still collectively incompetent in several key areas would seem to offer a clue that we likely aren’t all that competent in any key area, even the ones where we pour billions of hours of human research. There’s no reason why any discipline should be magically exempt simply due to volume or extra effort. And that’s what religion is doing is making a recognition of this.

For those who would ask regarding the advancements of mankind, “Are we there yet?”, for all we know, we haven’t even gotten out of the garage. But be sure you’re strapped in for when we go over that cusp.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Same Old Similar New

0 comments (add more here)
What at first seemed to be the norm would later turn into the radical abnorm. But then it was time to stop putting off the inevitable, lumber out of bed, and go track down once and for all whoever invented mornings. It was a cruel joke, us being the punchline. They probably thought it a novel idea at the time of its inception, but the sorry morning was destined for failure from the start. Weighing the perks against the drawbacks, it seemed obvious. The time of the day they picked to have it was sorely doomed. And trying to follow the act of sleep is inviting trouble all around. Not to mention that sleep can be narcissistic to the point of asking for multiple encores. Whatever comes after would have to be anticlimactic. Add to that the fact that sleep comes with pillows — anybody just strive to top that, and go down in quicksand trying.

On this day of days, I would take on the role of covert operative, so secret that even I was unsure of my own title, but glad to be doing it. I always got up for those sort of gigs. As a child, I loved being clandestine even though I couldn’t spell the word, and now all that training of sneaking through the cupboards and hiding under beds was paying off. Even years later, it was still difficult to refrain from infiltrating the cupboards in whatever abode I might find myself in. Zorro had his mark, and me, I had to raid the cupboards before I would leave a place. People knew their Nilla Wafers were in jeopardy, and they’d lock them up if they thought I was on their trail. This eventually got me on the outdoor beat, where Nilla Wafers were nearly extinct, if not for picnics, from which I had my pick. Not quite cupboards, but beggars can’t tell people their sob stories when they’re dealing in espionage, and I was wallowing in it.

I was to frequent the midtown park and track down a supposed agent from stealth forces before he could identify his target, promising to be an apt challenge for my acumen. More details than this would complicate the issue past its relevant parts.

All I had or needed to go by was that he/she/it spoke an unusual Pidgin dialect, although since being fluent in four other languages and doing a mean impersonation of Jackie Gleason, it would be difficult to get him/her/it to show the aforementioned shortcoming.

Upon entering the park from the east side, I bumped into a fellow in a Gaelic trenchcoat and immediately asked him what he thought of the local transit system in general, as well as how he would summarize the concept of onomatopoeia. His response, though brusque and uncharacteristically non-committal, suggested a genuine unfamiliarity not replicable by most stealth agents. We exchanged business cards, tipped our caps, and went on our way.

I chose a strategic spot near the playground, since playgrounds are typically frenetic, replete with distractions, thus ripe for producing illusory effects. In short, it would be the ideal environment for my desired cover.

After polishing off three chapters of The Communist Manifesto without incident, I turned my attention to my picnic surroundings, trying to ascertain what, if anything, was out of place. One entity would carry with it unique traits that would differentiate it from the rest of those present. The cumulative flow of the crowd, the billowing leaves on the trees, the rhythm of the playground swings, the yapping of dogs of various and sundry breeds… these all came together into one whole. But one thing would be out of step, if I could just key into it. All that is natural flows, but that which is not natural is intermittent, haphazard, non-random, and thereby artificial, thus giving itself away despite its best efforts, by its very nature.

The best way to “see” is to block out whatever you don’t need to see. There was much around me I didn’t need to see. It was just noise, and I placed it into the backdrop. This left me four points of reference that were competing for most unlike themselves. Now reduced to a simple multiple choice question, the answer would soon become apparent.

A clown juggling on a unicycle thought he had me fooled, but I knew he was a plant. I didn’t know how I knew, but I did. Instinct doesn’t come with explanations, and if you wait for them to come, you’re gonna miss a lot of buses.

I anticipated the patterns to unfold as they always did. To the well-trained observer, these processes can be timed with the precision of a meticulously orchestrated sonata, where each instrument comes in on cue. Life plays in various rhythms, though few notice.

A conspicuously inconspicuous man at 6 o’clock had caught my peripheral attention. His blank stare betrayed his thought processes. He was looking nowhere and looking everywhere. Unlike everyone else, he appeared to be concocting his thoughts rather than merely living them.

I became further suspicious of him when I noticed he was talking intermittently into his umbrella. I thought it a peculiar conversation tool. I thought that, because I would’ve opted for a croquet mallet or an opera ticket. Perhaps it was all a matter of style, but nonetheless I thought it prudent to make a note of it. I regarded him closely from that point on. I made it a point to blink only when he did so that he wouldn’t see my eyes closed. I was in his grill and he didn’t even know it. Or if he did, he didn’t give any indication. He continued his pattern of glancing around at nothing in particular.

I turned slightly in his direction to point my cuff link camera his way. This was going to be my moment in the sun, where all the planets would converge on my behalf, the elements at my behest, the setting to become my stage, where I direct the cast to the finale.

In an instant, he turned into pixie dust, and I thought that was rather inconvenient for him. Only the umbrella remained. But I dare not touch it. After an awkward pause of about 18 minutes, which was followed up by another awkward pause of about 6 hours, and then a comfortable pause of 29 seconds, I walked over to the dust, which had already started forming very tiny dunes reminiscent of a miniature beach possibly frequented by really small people. I regarded him further. Once having been convinced he was no longer staring at me, I scrawled in his aftereffects the words “Lyle Was Here.” I didn’t know his name, but I took him for a Lyle. I thought if he wasn’t, the dunes would have to make the correction, because I wasn’t to be responsible.

Sure enough, the next day when I returned to that same spot, it now said, “Lyle Wasn’t Here.” The dunes had spoken, garnering from me a newfound respect. And the umbrella? It was long gone, possibly opened by a vagrant and caught up into the wind where it would be tossed like an ill-fated Caesar salad and then sold at an auction for a fraction of the original cost. But it was inconsequential. It was so inconsequential that nobody thought about it anymore. They thought instead about the absence of umbrellas. And the fact that anything but umbrellas could be seen. This was all that occupied anyone’s minds. It was as if brainwashing was going on just prior to the rinse cycle.

I wiped away the message, and then carved out, “Then what is his name?” From that point, I could think of little else to do to while away the time for that day, so I called it a day even though it had already been called one on the calendar. Not wishing to be redundant, I deferred to the calendar and thought of other things I could call it instead. Upon further reflection, it seemed rather pointless to be naming it something else, and I had no idea how I had gotten backed into that corner. I called for a recount and pleaded the fifth. And then I punted. To say I was desperate would have been like saying a monk was on fire, because it didn’t adequately describe the situation.

When I came back that next morning, the message had only been updated to say, “What’s whose name?” This was a rather quaint predicament we had here. I wiped it clean again, and scrawled, “Lyle’s. Duh…” I seemed to be dealing with amateurs here, but I stayed patient and focused on the task at hand. This would require perseverance of the most extreme kind.

As fate would have it but par for the course, I wasn’t able to return the next day because of my poorly planned double hernia operation. They were having a two-for-one offer and I couldn’t very well pass it up. So I sent a courier to the park to take a picture of the dirt. While I was reclining in the recovery room, the courier brought me an assortment of color prints to display across the table. Finding the picture I needed, I misread the caption the first time, but then I realized after clearing my eyes that it said, “jk, it actually was Lyle.”

I was growing a tad irritated, so I wrote to whoever it may have concerned, “This is getting somewhat tedious. Can I text you?” And of course, I had to wait until the next day to find out. The suspense was nearly unbearable. Nothing I did for the remainder of the day could compare to my anticipation for what might transpire on the next. Breathing was about all I could handle. I forced myself to breathe just out of curiosity.

So on Thursday, I sojourned down to the park once more, eager for the next revelation, only to find inscribed “Excuse me? You want to text a pile of dirt?” I could tell this was going to be challenging. I checked with my cell phone company, and they didn’t have any plans that seemed to fit my current needs.

I mused at the sudden lack of options I now had. The sands sifted through my fingers and became part of the destiny of the progressing wind. I was a sail being directed by its wiles. I gave it a little time to see if it wanted to change course. It didn’t. So I didn’t ask it to.

With nothing left to do and nowhere to do it in, and having looked around for missing as well as found clues, I decided it would be prudent to pack it all in. My mission had now completed in a most incomplete way, though I had accomplished the primary objective, which was to rid the world of arch enemies while still retaining all the other kinds of enemies.

My report would contain a synopsis of my encounters and the accompanying lessons learned. I would tell of the near fatal mistake of confusing my earpiece with a clam shell. Of the symbolism of the dunes as a horizontal passage through the hourglass, oddly making it more linear than its inherited chronology. Of the pastiche of obligatory dunes-as-life scenarios, of the will of the human spirit to carry on in the face of all obstacle, of the notion that nothing is cut-and-dried with the possible exception of beef jerky, of the simplistic nature of art which parrots an undersimplified lifestock, of how obfuscation keeps a lot of people in business and a lot of other people wondering what they overlooked, of umbrella as metaphor only to the extent that it isn’t already the center of all we attempt and capture within our few decades roaming around the planet like a horde of banshees late for a dinner appointment with the establishment, as if dining somehow had to be rushed into as well as being ubiquitous in the social arena (would you like parsley with that, madam?). Of mice and other minutiae. I would contain my report within those bounds, a soliloquy for half history. And then I would wriggle back into the woodwork, to not be seen, heard, or rumored until the delicate equilibrium of the universe was once again disturbed, for a call to have my services rendered, rescuing the elements back to stasis for a time, while ever-approaching the ideal. Which is why we can never return to a norm that doesn’t exist, the lesson now learned.

Dance Like Nobody's Watching

Philosophy Soccer