Knowledge is Three-Dimensional   (2017Mar13)


Monday, March 13, 2017                                        11:16 AM

Cheese und crackers, can I write a suicidally depressing blog-post. But never fear, dear reader, I wouldn’t ask you to read that last one—not everything I write deserves posting. Let me try again—let’s see if I can be a little less direct, a little less my quintessential self.

Weather? Well, it’s cold as a witch’s tit, and weather is the death of conversation, so no joy there. Politics? Please, don’t get me started—neither one of us will enjoy that. The day of the week? Do you really want another smug joke about the Monday blues, the Monday blahs, the…oh, forget it.

I put myself back on anti-depressants yesterday—but I messed up and just took a full dose—you’re supposed to ramp up slowly, but you know how my memory doesn’t work. I spent the whole night in the crapper and my tummy still hurts. But, rocky start notwithstanding, I’m now safely back inside the drug bubble—protected from the flashes of rage and frustration, the obsessive behavior, the sleepless nights.

It’s always struck me as funny that the one thing anti-depressants can’t cure is depression. I’ve never stopped being depressed on these things, have you? No, anti-depressants modify your chemical response to depression—they don’t change the thoughts in your head—just the way that your body reacts to them.

Young people don’t usually make much of the connection between their feelings and the effects of those feelings on the body—or the effect of the body’s health on their feelings. Maybe that’s because the hormonal turbulences of young people easily overshadow that resonance—maybe that’s why I’m just starting to notice it, now that my hormones have gone ‘deep background’. For all we know, young people feel the oncoming rainstorm in their joints, too—but their hormones are shouting so loudly they can’t hear it.

I’m reading a story that posits the existence of ancient civilizations with technologies we’ve never learned. I thought about it. When the discovery was made, about electro-magnetic inductance and about EM radiation having a spectrum, from microwaves to radio waves to visible light to infra-red heat, et al., we shouted ‘Eureka!’ and decided that we had plumbed the mysteries of electricity. But what if there’s more to it—what if we ran with EM radiation, and in doing so ignored another basic principle of electricity that goes unknown and unnoticed today?

It’s a valid question: how much of our science is the development of physical concepts we discovered, or figured out, and excited us enough to overlook some other basic concept? What if our standard idea of EM radiation, as perpendicular waves of electricity and magnetism, is actually missing another pair that fit in diagonally—say, unicorn power and ESP, or something? After all, dark matter and dark energy are references to things that we can’t see or sense, thing we can only deduce through corollaries—is it any less likely that there are a few phenomena in physics that we can see, but have not yet deduced the meaning of?

If you’d asked me about this question a few years ago, I’d have been dismissive—but my opinion of human intelligence has taken a nose-dive of late and now, if there’s a question of ‘can we be that blind?’, I’m leaning always towards ‘yes’.

And, really, could electricity be more mysterious? Even after we figured out the basics—the Edison stuff—we still had waiting to be discovered: resistors (materials which change in a current), super-conductors (materials which transfer current without any loss of strength due to resistance), and solar panels (materials which convert sunlight into current). Think about it—Edison invented the electric lightbulb prior to our discovery that light itself was electricity (well, electromagnetic radiation at a certain frequency, if you insist on being technical).

Some discoveries, in short, are brand new ideas no one ever conceived of or guessed at—but some discoveries are of a deeper understanding of the already known. Galileo built the first telescope—but Newton was the first to figure out the optics of it—to explain why a telescope works. In reaching that deeper understanding, Newton was also inspired to invent the reflecting telescope—a smaller but more efficient use of magnification optics than the straight spyglass type.

In summary, there is always more to learn, to discover—but there’s always more to learn about what we already know, as well. Knowledge is three-dimensional.


Trump Is Too Smart For Me    (2015Sep02)

Tuesday, September 01, 2015                                          10:35 AM

Some people are smarter than others. Some people are really stupid. In a classroom, we get an obvious display of differences in intelligence—some kids get it right away, other kids struggle. If you stay in the classroom, you get smarter—not intrinsically smarter, just smarter because you have more information to work with—you’re better able to analyze, contrast, and compare. Thus the second graders think the first graders are stupid because they haven’t learned their times-tables yet.

The grade-level thing works itself out, in time, but varying levels of education and insight will continue to make some people smarter than others. Ordinarily it doesn’t matter—when me and my neighbors are mowing our lawns, we’re all smart enough for the task at hand. Someone’s lawn may turn out greener than the rest of us—but that’s not intelligence so much as interest—having an abiding interest in any subject will make one more knowledgeable. Not by magic, of course, but because one will pay attention to that subject and seek out new information related to it—it’ll catch your eye.

Back when I was a programmer, I was above average—not because I was smarter, but because I had affection for algebra, algorithm, and the trickiness of programming-language syntax—things that leave most people cold. Interest parallels intelligence in this way—we are all pretty expert in the things we love. Those who love reading, who love discussion, who love learning and research—these people will naturally stick out as smarter-than-average. But their smarts are as much a matter of their preferences as of their innate intelligence.

Some of us will be lucky—we will be inspired to read by our librarian, or be inspired to learn by that special teacher—and some of us will learn to love those things through loneliness, boredom, or privation. Either way, we will learn something not consciously taught in schools—we learn to enjoy our own company—this is where the ‘nerd’ factor comes in. Playing with the other kids can be a challenge—it becomes less so when one has the alternative of being by oneself. When solitude is the norm, however, important social skills are left unlearned.

Meanwhile, our childhoods will contain variations in parenting, income, educators, and environment—we can never know what would happen if all the kids in a community had mature, responsible parents, or went to a school with all great teachers. But even in a world of nerds, we can still assume that differing levels of smart would present themselves. I imagine that given optimal educational stimuli, we might experience the paradox of intuitive, non-scholastic intelligence becoming the most admired type of smarts. In an environment where everyone studies like mad, those who can juggle, or always have a ready quip, or have a knack for persuading people—might stand out as the ‘smart’ kids. (Indeed, this is true in reality—but mostly because scholastics are less exciting, not because they’re pervasively uniform.)

Learning facts, understanding relationships between facts, and scholastic pursuits in general are all categories of intelligence—but there are many others: empathy, charisma, intuition, salesmanship, social skills, communication, team-building, entrepreneurial activity, sensitivity—there are many important mental strivings beyond the simple ‘smartness’ of a straight-A student. That’s why top colleges care more about essays and ‘extracurricular’s than they do about SAT scores. That’s why ten different programmers can write a program for a certain job without any of them writing the same code—because there are as many ways to use intelligence as there are types of intelligence.

We use tests to ascertain certain intelligences—if you can pass a road test you are smart enough to be a licensed driver; if you pass the bar exam you are smart enough to practice law. But we have no tests for parenting, for managing, or for voting—intellectually demanding activities that can be attempted by people of any education or intellect—no matter how small. But then, there’s no test for being born, either. On the other hand, testing itself is a questionable method for determining skills—it’s just the best we can do with existing systems, and we have to use something to ascertain minimal competency in licensed activities like driving or practicing law.

But the most difficult aspect of intelligence is that having certain knowledge doesn’t protect the informed from disagreement by the uninformed. In my experience the most drastic example of this is when religiosity is used in place of information—I can know some facts for certain and still be unable to convince another person, because they perceive that information to run counter to their religious teachings. From my point of view it is legalized insanity—from their point of view it’s freedom of religion—but either way, it’s incorrect—and I know that, whether others remain unconvinced or not. And they say they pity me, but no more than I pity them. But they pity me for not sharing their delusion, while I pity them for being willfully blind to information that’s there for all to see, if they’d only let themselves see it.

Religiosity also bothers me because differing levels of intelligence will always be there to confuse an issue—and the religious delusions just add a whole ‘nother layer to that confusion. If you want to tell me there’s a heaven, a hell, a white-haired old guy, or a pearly gate—I’m all for it. None of that stuff bothers me. But if you want to make direct connections between what’s actually happening in life and those crazy fairy tales, there’s where I run into trouble. When religion is all good news and good vibes, it’s wonderful—but when it steps over the line into judgement, division, and hate, that’s a problem. And it’s never the religion itself that does that—it’s always some clown who’s taking an ego-trip or running a scam who decides we should all live within the confines of his personal dream of purity.

One type of intelligence is persuasion. People can be good at persuading other people, without having much of the more traditional forms of intelligence. We see this today in the Republican Party members—they persuade their followers of many things, but they’re not very concerned about the veracity of what they’re persuading their constituents to learn. They ‘educate’ to persuade, not to inform, and their believers mistake it for real education—they’re even taught to doubt the people who speak in earnest for the public good, like scientists. If the GOP can vilify scientists, who’s next—teachers?—literacy itself? This is why right-wingers always wear business suits—they think that if they resemble dignified people, it will dignify their propaganda. It probably helps them take themselves seriously, too—as long as they don’t look in a mirror.

Politics creates its own reality. When a politician faces an unpopular issue he or she will have two choices—please the crowd, or lose the election. We used to have a more authoritarian mind-set in this country—a politician had a shot at convincing us that their leadership was true, that we all had to bite the bullet for the common good—like when Johnson sent the National Guard to the Deep South. Now we’ve reached the point where an educated politician (who knows better) is forced to publicly cast doubt on evolution, or global warming, or the need for women’s health care. How those poor bastards get any sleep at night is a mystery to me.

And now they’re stuck with this guy, Trump, who has a PhD in persuasion—and almost no intellectual property outside of persuasion—and he has made their private sins into a public celebration, and they’re uncomfortable with that. They know that a lot of their hot-button issues are ‘naked emperors’ that won’t bear honest inspection—they know that the key to fighting progressives is to spread fear and confusion—not to bring these things out into the sunlight, as Trump is doing. He recognizes that many people are bigoted against Latinos—what he doesn’t recognize is that it’s a leader’s job to tell the haters that they are wrong. The rest of the GOP have at least that much understanding of public service—that one must use ‘dog-whistles’ to attract the haters without joining their ranks, where one is forced to defend the ethics of hatred—an impossible task.

Trump crystallizes the difference between ‘being correct’ and ‘winning the argument’—he can win almost any argument, but I have yet to hear him say anything that is true. I heard one talking-head on TV yesterday say, ”Well, it’s August…” I guess that means we’re all supposed to revel in stupidity while the sun is shining, and we’ll all get back down to earth when the leaves start to fall. Personally, I think we’re all being stupid enough, all the time, without taking a summer brain-break.

Life on a Go Board


I don’t like it when words are used as stones on a Go board, or statements used as chess-pieces—those are combat simulations—since when did communication become combat? For that matter, when did words become the only form of communication? Actions speak louder than words, but words, or perhaps videos’ scripts, are considered a life-connection from you or me to someone halfway round the world. Am I really connected to those people? Funny story (you know I accept friend-requests from anyone) this new Facebook-friend of mine only posts in Arabic—it’s beautiful stuff, but I don’t even know the basic phonemes of that written language—and I had to ask him to tell me his name (or equivalent sound) in Roman script.

I don’t want to get into a debate here about argument. Formal argument, or debate, is certainly useful and productive—as is regular old arguing, when it’s done with restraint or when its goal is an elusive solution or resolution. The Scientific Method, itself, is an implied debate—a conflict between prior theories and the new theories that overthrow them—or that are overthrown thereby—no, I’m not saying that communication isn’t rife with conflict—my purpose here is to discuss other forms of communication and sharing. So, please, let’s not argue (—jk).


I finally realized that all these unsolicited friend requests from the Mid-East were because I was using a photo of Malala Yousafzaya as my Profile Pic! I’m glad—now I know they’re not shadowy extremists trying to cultivate an American connection—they are instead the liberals of their geographic zone.

Such international friends frustrate me—the lack of words that I don’t type could be just as offensive as any thoughtless words I post—and there are plenty of those. I wish I knew what they were. Whenever someone wants to Facebook-friend me as their American friend, I start right in on criticizing all their grammar faux pas and misunderstood colloquialisms—they love it—that’s what they want from their American friend. I’m afraid geek-dom knows no borders—only my fellow geeks from faraway lands appreciate criticism—I’m sure people with the Cool gene flock together across the datasphere as well (but then, I’ll never know—will I?)


But communication, as a means of sharing ideas and organizing cooperative efforts, is far more than a battle of witty words. Political cartoons, cartoon cartoons, obscene gestures, and ‘making out’ come first to mind—although there are plenty more examples. The Media (a term I use to denote People magazine, other newspapers and periodicals, radio, cable-TV, VOD, cable-news, talk shows, private CC security footage, YouTube and the omnipresent Internet.) I say… the Media is looking for trouble.

They aren’t broadcasting cloudless summer skies or a happy family sitting around the dinner table or the smoothly proceeding commuter traffic a half a mile from the traffic accident. And I don’t blame them. Their job is to entertain—that’s what pays their bills. And I don’t blame us, either. We are happier watching dramatic thrills than watching paint drying. There’s no getting around that.

And I won’t play the reactionary and suggest that we go back to a time when entertainment was a brief treat enjoyed, at most, once a week. Even the idle rich (and this is where that ‘idle’ part comes from) just sat around socializing when they weren’t at a fox-hunt or a ball. To be entertained was almost scandalous—think of it—in a deeply religious society, such escapism went against the morality of the times—and even as a once-a-week diversion, it was frowned upon not only to be a stage player, but to attend the performance, as well.


But entertainment, like a gas, expands to fit the size of its civilization—those old scruples took a few centuries to kick over, but once the digital age had dawned it seemed quite natural that everyone should have access to twenty-four-hour-a-day entertainment (call it ‘news and current events’, if it helps). And now we have people walking into walls and driving their cars into walls while they stare fixedly at their entertainment devices.

So, trite as the word may seem, Media is a mandatory entity to include in any discussion of the human condition. And more importantly, it must be a part of the Communication topic, as well—most especially with a view towards a formulation of culture that does not make conflict our primary means of sharing and informing our minds. So let’s recap—Entertainment equals drama equals conflict equals fighting (See ‘Arnold Schwarzenegger’). Information equals scientific method equals discussion equals human rights (See ‘Bruce Willis’—jk).


To begin, there is one thing that needs to be acknowledged—learning is NOT fun. I’d love it if it was—I know fun can be used to teach some things—It’s a lovely thought—but, No. Learning is a process of inserting information into the mind. People talk a lot about transcendental meditation but, for real focus, learning is the king. To learn, one must be patient enough to listen; to absorb an idea, one must be willing to admit that one doesn’t know everything; to completely grasp a new teaching, one may even have to close ones eyes and just concentrate—nothing more, no diversions, no ringtone, no chat, no TV, no nothing—just thinking about something that one is unfamiliar with—and familiarizing oneself.

We forget all that afterward—the proof in that is that none of us graduate from an educational institution with the ability to ‘sub’ for all the teachers we’ve studied under. We have learned, but only a part of what was taught—it’s implications, ramifications, uses, and basic truths may have eluded us while we ‘learned to pass the class’. Contrariwise, our teachers may have bit their tongues—eager to share some little gem of Mother Nature’s caprice implicit in the lesson plan—and had instead put the ‘teaching of the class to pass’ before the ‘teaching of the class’.


And that is no indictment of teaching, that’s just a fact—it doesn’t prevent me from admiring great teachers. But I couldn’t help notice that great teachers always color outside the lines in some few ways. Teaching people to learn for themselves, with that vital lesson neatly tucked into the course-plan of the material subject of a course—it takes effort, discipline, and way more patience than that possessed by most of the rest of us—but it also requires an allegiance to the Truth of Plurality, that incubator of eccentricity.


But we forget our Learning. It becomes something we simply ‘know’, something that we just ‘know how to do’. Part of good parenting is learning to teach well—young people have the luxury of just understanding something, while parents must struggle to figure out how to explain it, or teach it, to their children. And then we forget about that learning—and must scratch our heads again, struggling to explain ‘explaining’ to our grown-up, new-parent offspring. It’s a light comedy as much as anything else.


So learning is not fun. There is a thrill involved, however, that is almost always worth the ticket price. The internet and the TV blare words at us in their millions, info to keep us up-to-date—just a quick update—and now there’s more on that—and we’ll be hearing a statement from the chief of police….—also, we are seduced by lush orchestrations or driven musical beats, by the gloss and beauty and steel and flesh of literal eye-candy, and that dash of soft-core porn that is the engine under the hood of so many TV series.

We see breaking YouTube uploads of rioting in a faraway land—we believe that our quiet little lives are nothing, that all our sympathy and concern should be spread across the globe to billions of strangers in distress. We are flooded with information by the Media—but because it’s the Media, only conflicts and crises are shown—the peaceful, happy billions of people that pass by those crowd scenes, that seek refuge across the border, that have families and generate love to whomever gets near enough—we don’t need to see them.


But that isn’t true—it’s true for the Media, but it isn’t true for us. The Media can’t change—but we can be aware of its bias. We can take note of the fact that the Media should not be the major part of our dialogues with one another. Best of all, we can become aware of how much the Internet can teach us—if we can stop IM-ing and web-surfing and MOMPG-ing long enough to notice that the Internet is a hell of a reference book.

No, I’m not saying we should trust the Internet. I’m saying that the real information is there, and finding it and using it will be the road into the future that our best and brightest will walk along. They will pull their eyes away from the Mario Race-Cart, the YouTube uploads of kittens and car-crashing Russians, and George Takei’s Facebook page—and they will throw off the chains of Media and make it their bitch again, back where it belongs.


In WWII, fighter-group captains and flight-team leaders are always saying ‘Cut the chatter, guys—heads up!’ I think we need the same thing—everyone should have a little devil on their shoulder that says the same thing—“Hey! –so the Internet connects you to the entire civilized world—that doesn’t mean you have to say anything—it just means you can.”

Our high-tech communications infrastructure is no small part of the problem—the digital magic that flings words and pics and music all over the world bestows an importance and a dignity to our messages that many messages don’t deserve. Posting to the Internet is kind of like being on TV—it grants a kind of immortality to the most banal of text-exchanges—it can even be used against you in court—now, that’s very special and important—and now, so am I, just for posting!


So, yearning for the perennial bloodlust of Law & Order: SVU, our self-importance inflated, and our eyes off the road, we speed towards tomorrow. I hate being a cynic.

[PLEASE NOTE: All graphics courtesy of the Quebec National Gallery]