03 January 2024


 —Your task once you put on the headset is to explore the world around you until you locate the beaver.

    The world presents itself much like a busy university setting in a large city. Student and professor types scurry and parade around the green, most silently, heads bowed toward the brick walks as if in contemplation.

    Your first thought is to find a zoo or a bio or psych lab of some sort where animals might be housed. But that is not what you do. You walk around the corner of a large neoclassical style building with high steps leading up to a brick façade of broad, fluted white columns and follow the contours of the ground which take you downhill farther and farther until you come to a broad, shallow river, its waves rippling in the evening sun. And there, just upstream, in front of a nondescript, multipurpose bridge—rail, auto, and pedestrian—lies a long, low structure of impacted mud and rocks and logs and twigs.

    Jumbled and chaotic but solid underfoot, the dam bears your weight as you step out on it and carefully tread your way across the wide river.

—The beaver is in the river, you say and remove the headset.

—My word! That is the fastest anyone has ever solved the problem of this world!

07 May 2023

A Free Person's Worship

"To abandon the struggle for private happiness, to expel all eagerness of temporary desire, to burn with passion for eternal things—this is emancipation, and this is the free man's worship. And this liberation is effected by a contemplation of Fate; for Fate itself is subdued by the mind which leaves nothing to be purged by the purifying fire of Time.

"United with his fellow-men by the strongest of all ties, the tie of a common doom, the free man finds that a new vision is with him always, shedding over every daily task the light of love. The life of Man is a long march through the night, surrounded by invisible foes, tortured by weariness and pain, towards a goal that few can hope to reach, and where none may tarry long. One by one, as they march, our comrades vanish from our sight, seized by the silent orders of omnipotent Death. Very brief is the time in which we can help them, in which their happiness or misery is decided. Be it ours to shed sunshine on their path, to lighten their sorrows by the balm of sympathy, to give them the pure joy of a never-tiring affection, to strengthen failing courage, to instil faith in hours of despair. Let us not weigh in grudging scales their merits and demerits, but let us think only of their need—of the sorrows, the difficulties, perhaps the blindnesses, that make the misery of their lives; let us remember that they are fellow-sufferers in the same darkness, actors in the same tragedy as ourselves. And so, when their day is over, when their good and their evil have become eternal by the immortality of the past, be it ours to feel that, where they suffered, where they failed, no deed of ours was the cause; but wherever a spark of the divine fire kindled in their hearts, we were ready with encouragement, with sympathy, with brave words in which high courage glowed.

"Brief and powerless is Man's life; on him and all his race the slow, sure doom falls pitiless and dark. Blind to good and evil, reckless of destruction, omnipotent matter rolls on its relentless way; for Man, condemned to-day to lose his dearest, to-morrow himself to pass through the gate of darkness, it remains only to cherish, ere yet the blow falls, the lofty thoughts that ennoble his little day; disdaining the coward terrors of the slave of Fate, to worship at the shrine that his own hands have built; undismayed by the empire of chance, to preserve a mind free from the wanton tyranny that rules his outward life; proudly defiant of the irresistible forces that tolerate, for a moment, his knowledge and his condemnation, to sustain alone, a weary but unyielding Atlas, the world that his own ideals have fashioned despite the trampling march of unconscious power." 

Bertrand Russell, A Free Man's Worship

23 May 2022

Achieving Kardashev Type 1 Civilization

As anyone who's read much of what I've posted here over the years should know, besides Literature and Philosophy, I'm interested in things like climate change, renewable energy, desalination and potability of water, coral reefs, politics and the economy, and even Bitcoin. This article brings a lot of my interests together in a remarkable fashion, in fact reversing everything I ever thought—and more importantly read—about Bitcoin's wasteful energy usage.

When we were on the Big Island in Hawaii, I took the family to see the Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion, i.e., OTEC, facility in Kona. It was closed at the time but made a deep impression about Hawaii's unique potential solution to the renewable energy problem. If you think of the ocean, specifically the tropical ocean, as a giant solar panel, the technology makes incredible sense. And now come to find out there are some very bright people working on trying to bring the promise of this technology to fruition.

This article says that Bitcoin mining just might be the key to unlock this nearly infinite source of renewable energy. It's a technology dating back well over a century. The problem has always been the cost of scaling production: the energy it produces is only profitable at scale. However, if the naturally cool deep water it pumps to the surface is routed to cool Bitcoin mining rigs, the operation can be profitable in the modeling stages: FREE COOLING!

It's a brilliant solution, bringing together many diverse problems into an elegant solution. And it puts our civilization on a glide path to achieving a Type 1 Kardashev Civilization—with Bitcoin paying the way.

Check it out!


31 January 2022

THE LIAR'S PARADOX (Epimenides's too!)

The Epimenides paradox goes something like this:

“Epimenides the Cretan says, ‘that all the Cretans are liars,’ but Epimenides is himself a Cretan; therefore he is himself a liar. But if he be a liar, what he says is untrue, and consequently the Cretans are veracious; but Epimenides is a Cretan, and therefore what he says is true; saying the Cretans are liars, Epimenides is himself a liar, and what he says is untrue. Thus we may go on alternately proving that Epimenides and the Cretans are truthful and untruthful.” Thomas Fowler, The Elements of Deductive Logic (1869)


Another formulation, the so-called Liar’s Paradox goes: ‘Everything I say is false.’ ‘I am lying.’ 

Do not get lost in the truth-functional contradictions implied by these statements. For when you set truth and falsity aside, these statements convey a surprising amount of information. For example, we establish the assumption that:


            (0.1) There is such a thing as a statement of the language.

(0.2) This is a well-formed statement of the language. {function; copula; predicate}


This is obvious. It is the basis of the game we are playing. But moreover, simply by attempting to decide its ambiguity, we affirm that:


            (1.1) Some statements have truth.

            (1.2) Some statements have falsity.


Then, looking at the paradox and acknowledging its essential contradiction, we conclude that:


            (1.3) Some statements have neither truth nor falsity, and thus

            (1.4) are undecidable to our linguistic understanding.


In a world where truth functions determine meaning:


            (2.1) There is more to information than mere MEANING.


What other information can we glean from this logical paradox (other than attempting to solve it by noting that just because the statement “everything I say is false” is false does not imply that everything else I say is true, or, as is the case with most philosophers, explaining it away by saying that we are applying truth values ambivalently in the language and the metalanguage)? We can ascertain data about the speaker Epimenides, or the so-called Liar (L), who makes these statements:


            (3.1) L can make certain well-formed statements of the language about himself.


Whether they are true or false matters not at this point to us. Thus,


            (3.2) L is not necessarily a reliable witness about himself.


And while we can make no inferences about L’s self-consciousness of the truth or falsity of his statements, we can certainly assert that:


            (3.3) L’s statement sows confusion.


For example, if we imagine a contradiction machine, a machine that can calculate statements logically, then such a paradoxical input statement will disable the machine.

Without any further information about his intentions, we cannot determine whether L actually is a liar or or is merely mistaken or whether he’s intentionally sowing confusing or merely playing a game or whether he’s bullshitting us or is merely confused.


Generally, though, our thinking and thus our understanding of reality and, what’s more, our understanding of who we are is necessarily limited by the language we use. And Epimenides’s paradox here points us to merely one facet of this limitation.


To ask the question of meaning, to ask what it all means, is to ask the wrong question. It is to voluntarily stop at the gates of the prison that constrains us: the prison of language.

05 November 2021

Goodbye, Cruel (Social Media) World

Jaron Lanier, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now.

Here they are in his own words (but go to the link and find his book):

1. You are losing your free will.

2. Quitting social media is the most finely targeted way to resist the insanity of our times.

3. Social media is making you into an asshole.

4. Social media is undermining truth.

5. Social media is making what you say meaningless.

6. Social media is destroying your capacity for empathy.

7. Social media is making you unhappy.

8. Social media doesn’t want you to have economic dignity.

9. Social media is making politics impossible.

10. Social media hates your soul.

27 March 2021

Jekyll Island: Rising seas, Sinking ships, Spindrift

Jekyll Island, GA, is one of those places you can never forget. A barrier island of the coast of Brunswick, its inland salt marsh is a unique ecosystem of subtle beauty and calm. Its live oak trees dripping with beards of epiphyte Spanish moss are hauntingly lovely. There are bike trails and beaches and a historical district. We saw kingfishers and osprey and herons and cranes and all manner of sea birds. There were alligators, too, though they were scarce because it was too cool for them last week. But that is not what makes Jekyll so unique.

On the north end of the island you will find Driftwood Beach. There is not really any driftwood there, but it is a bone beach—a maritime forest being reclaimed by the salt sea. I can think of no other place in the world quite like it. Hundreds of oak trees (mostly) denuded of their leaves and bark and moss lie in the sand and sea. There is a starkness, a sadness, to the beauty of this place. It's almost impossible to capture the feeling of this place in words—whether at sunny low tide or frothy high tide. It sticks with you.

And now, just across the St. Simons Sound, you can see the hull of the Golden Ray, a massive cargo carrier that capsized there in 2019. There were thousands of automobiles inside the ship when it tumped over. It has an even larger crane arcing over the ship which is being used to slice up the husk piece by piece.

Enough with words. I will let the pictures below tell the story. If you click a pic, a slide show will pop up.

The subtle beauty of salt marsh.
Before: Live oak dripping with beards of Spanish moss.
Before: Spanish moss.
After: A solitary oak being reclaimed by the sea.
After: Oaks denuded of leaves and Spanish moss.
Bone beach with capsized container ship across St. Simons Sound.
More of the same.
The dead maritime forest.

Sun setting behind the dead forest.
Rocks have been brought to shore up beach erosion. No help for these trees though.
Silhouettes against the sky.
More of the same.
Stark against the sky.
Dying a stark and lonely death.
Dead trees for miles.
Rising tide, distant capsized ship and arc crane.
Endless sculptural shapes. Trunks stripped bare by the rising ocean, even.
A forest dying.
Rising tide, tumped ship.
Sea foam and spindrift like a snowy day.

21 February 2021

An 'Other' Mystery

Here’s a sad tale—but an interesting one. A mystery.

Every morning for the past couple of weeks I’ve been woken up by the sound of a small bird banging against my bedroom window. It flies into the window, smashes into the glass with its beak, then settles back onto the ledge, and tries again. It happens over and over and over again. Dozens of times in a row.

At first, I figured it was probably just attacking a mirror image of itself it had glanced in the window, an alpha male attempting to frighten off another male bird that was encroaching its territory. But it kept happening time after time, day after day.

I began to wonder if it was something more. What if our house was somehow blocking its natural migratory flyway? Or it’s geomagnetic navigational system was somehow out of kilter? None of this I can prove. Besides, this is the first time anything like this has happened, and we've lived here for 20 years.

Then I remembered that a couple years ago, a bird made its nest in a coiled hose stacked up in our garage—which is directly below that window and which we now keep closed mostly. That gave me another thesis: this bird was trying to return to the place of its 🐣 hatching. Some instinct was drawing it back to its place of origin to nest, relentlessly. Birds are like that, I hear.

But that theory was scotched this morning. The bird woke me up again today. I decided to take a picture. And when I went out to get the papers, it was still there, and I was able to identify it. It’s a bluebird! (You can make it out in the last photo below) The bird that had nested in our garage, however, had been a sparrow. So that theory was out.

So, once again I'm at a loss. I do not understand what instinct or affect is compelling this particular bluebird to flutter its wings and smash its beak into my window over and over again morning after morning. I cannot put myself in its place anymore than it can break through my bedroom window. I simply can never know what it’s like to be a bird, to be this bird.

Nor is there anything I can do to stop it and perhaps prevent it from hurting itself. It's kind of sad.

Now, some literary types might suggest that it’s some sort of metaphor: maybe it has something to do with the persistence of the natural world no matter how much we do to insulate ourselves from it. Or, it's symbolic: the bluebird of happiness(!) is trying to batter its way into my life, but can’t because of whatever personal—emotional or mental—barriers I’ve erected over the years. Or, there's always the theological spin: my resistance to the inbreaking of the Holy Spirit—though I guess the bird would need to be a dove in that case.


None of that really cuts it. I guess I will just have to learn to accept the mystery of it, the pathos. The best I can do is sympathize with this bird's futile plight and admire its stubborn persistence. I cannot fully put myself in its place, share its compulsion. Cannot fully empathize. It is completely alien to me. It is an OTHER. It is a being that has its own instincts and appetites and affects. Its own mind, its own soul, if you will. A truly mysterious creature, one whose beauty I can appreciate and whose behavior I can observe, but one I can never truly know.

24 December 2020


Here are some things we know (or at least think we do):

Our universe of space and time is something like 13.8 billion years old, and getting older every day.


By contrast, average human lifespan is ~70 years.


Humanity, our species, is only ~200,000 years old.


Life itself, beginning with single celled organisms, is approximately 4 billion years old.


In other words, it took over 9 billion years for life on earth to emerge, and another ~3.8 billion years for our species to evolve.


Though we have good, albeit circumstantial, evidence of the beginnings of life and the universe, we have no clear idea when—or even if—our universe and even life itself will end, how many more billions of years it will continue to exist.


The difference between billions and tens or hundreds or thousands of years is difficult for us to grasp. It's easy to foreshorten these time frames.


 Our planet, a rocky space object, orbits around a single star.


There are hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy.


There are likewise estimated to be two trillion galaxies in the universe, each filled with hundreds of billions of stars, many like our own with multiple planets orbiting them.

The universe itself is thought to be some 93 billion light years in diameter.


These numbers are so vast, our minds can hardly calculate them.


Yet, somehow we are capable of making reasonably accurate estimates of the age and size of the universe and its number of heavenly bodies.


 At the other end of the scale, atoms and particles inside of atoms—such as electrons, neutrons, and protons—are unfathomably small. The number of them is incalculable. For example, there are billions and billions of atoms in a single grain of sand.


Particles are nebulous, cloud-like, that is, until they are observed.

Through our instrumentation and experimentation, we can make some reasonable observations of their probable locations or velocities.

Yet, they exist in the smallest conceivable unit of physical space, something called a Planck length. One way to visualize how small this might be is the following: Imagine "a particle or dot about 0.1 mm in size (the diameter of human hair, which is at or near the smallest the unaided human eye can see) were magnified in size to be as large as the observable universe [i.e., 93 billion light years in diameter], then inside that universe-sized 'dot', the Planck length would be roughly the size of an actual 0.1 mm dot."



The speed of light is 299,792,458 meters per second; or ~186,282 miles per second. We've managed to approximate this as well. A light year, of course, is the distance a beam of light, or a photon, would travel in a year at this rate of acceleration.


Our planet is about 25,000 miles around the equator. A photon of light could circle the earth more than 7 times in a second.


A photon will travel at this constant rate in a straight line forever until it interacts with another particle, though its path may be diverted by gravitational pull.


At absolute zero, or zero kelvins, or -273.15 degrees Celsius, or -459.67 Fahrenheit, matter reaches it foundational state.


The scale of human perspective exists in a state in-between all these phenomena: the instantaneous and the near-eternal, the very, very large and the very, very small, energy and matter, the speed of light and absolute zero.


How is it that we are privileged to have this vantage on all these phenomena? How is it that we can make some reasonable guesses about the nature of these things? This is a philosophical question.


The human scale is characterized by brevity, uncertainty, relativity, and incompleteness.


We have, of course, and have to rely on the evidence of our senses: sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste.


But we also have extensions of many of these—prostheses, if you will—such as: mathematics and logic, atomic microscopes and particle accelerators, x-ray and infrared telescopes and arrays of radio antennas, gravitational wave observatories and electromagnetic spectroscopes, among many others.


These provide access, but they also limit us. It is important to understand these limitations.


Imagine if we were creatures who could at once perceive things that were ~93 billion light years large all the way down to the Planck length.


Imagine if we were creatures who experienced the lifespan of a galaxy the same way we humans experienced a single burst of fireworks.


Imagine if we were creatures who experienced the entire universe of space and time the way we now experience a wave on the shore, or even as a single bubble of spindrift in the foam of a breaking wave.


Imagine if we were creatures who could code a virtual computer program to run on its own in four dimensions according to certain preset logical conditions.


Or, imagine if we were creatures made up of pure, unbounded energy (or, alternatively, information) who never experienced entropy or succumbed to the dimensions of space and time, at once both greater than and somehow beneath physical reality.


Are such imaginary beings or creatures or things possible? Could they exist? Who knows?

And, if so, would it even be correct to call them beings (or creatures or things) or say that they exist?

We may never be able to say, not least because we suffer from the structural limitations of our language (and thus the human mind) which, ultimately, breaks down to following formula: THING —> HAPPEN.


I suspect the Ancient Greek philosopher/sophist Protagoras was righter than he ever could have imagined when he said: "Man is the measure of all things, of the things that are, that they are, of the things that are not, that they are not."


It is at once a statement of great hubris (or vanity) and profound humility.

10 September 2020


We all know that hard decisions require hard trade-offs. Believe it or not, I take Trump at his word that he chose to downplay the deadly danger of the coronavirus to the American people because he didn't want to create "a panic" as he told Bob Woodward in taped interviews for Woodward's new book "Rage." So, what were those trade-offs?

As a philosopher, I might frame the question along these lines: What was the utilitarian calculation that led him to call the virus a Democratic hoax, to claim it was no worse than the flu, to encourage his followers to flout and then protest mask ordinances and business closures, to claim over and over again that the virus would simply disappear on its own as if by magic, to blame the states's governors (who did not have the same information he bragged to Woodward he had) for their failure to handle the pandemic?

Or to put it another way: What countervailing value compelled this administration to try to wait out the ravages of this pandemic in anticipation of a vaccine (and gaslight the American public about when it will be widely available)?

Again: Why, to this day, is there still no national policy to deal with the inevitable second wave that will strike here before a vaccine is widely available?

These are the sorts of hard questions a competent leader and administration is required to make in deciding policy questions. I get it.

So, what was the trade-off that fueled Trump and his administration's decision to downplay the deadly seriousness of the virus to the American public? What was the specific panic they wanted to avoid?

Trump's economic advisors Peter Navarro and Larry Kudlow and Steven Mnuchin, among others, made it abundantly clear that the administration's main concern was stock market values. The Trump administration's principal measure of its economic success has been the rising stock market. Trump himself boasted the other day about the record highs in the Dow Jones Industrial Average as evidence of what a good job he is doing. Understandably, they did not want to see a stock market panic a la 2008.

So, let's look at the numbers on both sides of the trade-off equation. Currently, the U.S. has roughly a quarter of the world's deaths (~195,000) even though we only make up about 4% of the world's population. Worldwide deaths stand at ~905,000. So, doing back-of-the-envelope math, if Trump had acted responsibly and truthfully, not downplayed the severity of the threat, and the U.S. had performed on par with the averages of other countries in the world (not better, just average), we should be at ~36,000 deaths (4% of 905,000). That's ~160,000 additional deaths due to Trump's neglect and public lies about the deadly severity and spread of the virus.

So the question we need to ask is how many points on the Dow Jones Industrial Average were salvaged by this policy? And how many lives were sacrificed in trade-off for each point on the Dow?

Unfortunately, I can't do the second part of the calculation because I don't have access to the numbers Navarro, Kudlow, Mnuchin, Trump, Pence, et al., had. I don't know what their projections of a market "panic" looked like. How many points did they believe it would fall if Trump did not downplay the threat of the pandemic? So, as I write this, I cannot tell you how many American lives per Dow point they gamed out in their scenarios. But I do believe this is the question that needs to be asked. FOIA, e.g., anyone?

One last point. If they did not make the good faith effort to do these utilitarian calculations in determining their policy response to the deadly spread of the virus, then frankly they did not do their job. They are incompetent, and their response has been in bad faith. The total good from the number of Dow points saved should outweigh the total suffering caused by the stack of dead American bodies and shuttered businesses or Trump's policy is an abject failure.

Difficult policy decisions demand tough, realistic calculations. We hired Trump to do the hard work of governing, and we need to be assured he didn't slough off this decision in the false hope the pandemic would simply peter out because he was afraid it would upset his re-election campaign strategy.