One: OTOH, holy cheeseburger with onion rings, it’s this blog’s Eleven Year Anniversary. Not to mention, just last week, the nine-year anniversary of retiring from the rat race. Perhaps it’s because Summer Solstice has passed (and now the light is dying), or maybe that my mom would have been 98 (the day after Tau Day), but I find myself more reflective and thoughtful at this mid-year turning than I do, despite the influence of Janus, at New Year’s.
Other: OTOH, I’m steeped in ennui and have never felt less like writing a blog post. The question is whether the pressure of the anniversary overcomes the desire to putter, read, or nap. I’m writing this (and presumably you’re reading it), so it looks like the day won over the mood.
So… Happy Something day. Here’s a standard disgruntled anniversary ramble…
Except… I get tired of myself yet again railing about how messed up the world is (and make no mistake, it is hugely messed up). Let’s just take it as given and move on.
Other, Other: OTOOH, I usually write this anniversary post as a statsgasm of charts and lists (and links), but it’s largely the same story this year as it was last year. The top posts are still the top posts and activity has been about the same (low trickle that it is). The stats this year don’t even interest me, so I’m not going to subject readers to them.
Which leaves the disgruntled ramble.
And the usual anniversary pondering about blog direction. I still want to write about technical topics. To amuse myself, if nothing else (and document my various “ship in a bottle” projects). Every year, though, I vow to return to a more “web log” style. Screw production values, screw planning and polishing, just ramble off the top of my head.
The problem is that it’s so contrary to my background and training. Planning, preparation, polishing. I am, in part, a showman. Production values matter. It’s hard to publish something I haven’t given much thought to.
So, it’s the annual, yeah, we’ll see what happens. Anything could.
Traditionally I make some sort of 3D model to commemorate the day, but my ennui makes the (rather large degree of) effort involved an effective blockade. And, truth be told, I haven’t felt the creative urge like I used to. It hasn’t entirely evaporated, but it doesn’t churn like it used to. I’m definitely slowing down.
I thought of it too late, but modeling a maze struck me as kinda fun:
I have some Python code that random generates mazes like this. Just tell it how many rows and columns (the one above is 40×40). As with my random text generator, there are a lot of parameters that affect how the maze looks.
The ultimate goal would be an animation featuring a run through the maze:
But this project didn’t occur to me until a couple of days ago, so I didn’t have time to do anything for the blog anniversary.
What I’d really like to do is add a Python module to my little maze-generating suite to have it emit data POV-Ray can use to build a 3D maze model. Here I’m using a 2D maze image file (that I convert to negative grayscale) as a height map. The maze shown in the images above is, in a sense, “extruded” from the ground based on how bright the pixels of the maze image are at that point.
In the image, the maze walls are white, so those parts of the “ground” extrude up as maze walls in the rendering. The coloring of the walls is just a color map also based on pixel brightness (or, effectively, height).
Such height maps are typically used to simulate mountainous terrain:
Although they can be anything one imagines depending on the input image:
Or like a maze. The one just above is based on a deliberately low-resolution image of simulated wave patterns interfering. Each “skyscraper” is a single “pixel” of the image.
It is fun stuff to play with, which is why I keep doing it. The amount of detailed effort needed makes it grow old fast, and I walk away from it for a while, but I always seem to return.
This last week, as I mentioned last post, I’ve gotten back into my moving particle simulations, but now with a proper collision handling function. Before I had to consider my particles point-like; all collisions were head-to-head. Now I can simulate things like (virtual) “pool balls” with glancing collisions.
To be clear, this is all pretty trivial stuff. It’s the basic foundation stuff far more sophisticated 3D rendering engines solved long ago. The dynamics of colliding objects, especially canonically spherical objects, is simple and well understood.
So, these animated videos are basically kindergarten finger paintings, but, firstly, they’re also as much fun as finger painting, and secondly, more importantly, I like the hands-on learning about these foundation basics. I like trying to figure them out for myself and then seeing how close I came (sometimes pretty close).
Bottom line, I’ve long found foundation topics live up to their name. They form strong platforms for understanding the world. I may not have the long-developed highly focused expertise of experts, but after studying these topics literally all my life, I can generally keep up okay. There’s a lot to be said about being a Jack of Trades. Life, spice, variety.
Bottom line, it’s about curiosity and broad interests (openness to new experiences). It’s about learning to learn and how to think critically (which is not to say negatively, but thoughtfully, carefully, and with physical reality uppermost in mind).
But I think it starts with curiosity and questions. When those flames die, so do our minds.
Which takes me back to where I started. (And, oh my, look at the time. If I’m to post this on its proper day, I need to wrap this up. No time for stats and charts. What a shame.)
In Robert J. Sawyer’s Quantum Night, that bit about a significant fraction of people being philosophical zombies has really stayed with me. [See this post.] It seems to have taken me to a new stage regarding how I see “the world” (which is to say, the humans that inhabit it).
The first stage, way back in high school, involved wondering what the hell was wrong with people, why where they so… dumb? All my life, from when I started speaking, a key piece of consistent feedback I got from the world was about how smart I was. Usually followed by implicit or explicit feedback that I was a freak, not one of the flock, not entirely human. Quasimodo.
I decided back then that people just weren’t trying. Being “smart” was like being fit. Seemed obvious. Exercise your body, you get fit; exercise your mind, you get smart. I just figured I’d been one of those naturally fit people. Or I’d gotten so used to working out daily that I just didn’t notice it. I figured people just hadn’t had their attention drawn to how they were being intellectual couch potatoes. I called it The Death of a Liberal Arts Education.
Crucially, I thought it was curable. Fixable. Just get people exercising.
The second stage occurred somewhere around the turn of the century (it’s kind of fun being old enough and positioned in time such that I can use that phrase). It was an epiphany. Being smart, at least to some extent, isn’t like being fit; it’s like being tall.
It’s something you’re born with (or without); not something you can cure. Hence the comments all my life. Hence my mis-matched point of view all my life. Hence my abiding sense of being relatively alone out on the flats of the bell curve.
What was interesting is that this view freed me from blaming people for not trying and from expecting them to “pick up the pace” intellectually. That’s like expecting someone to be taller. Absent some radical surgery, not gonna happen. Certainly not by trying.
“There is no try…”
Sawyer’s idea got me thinking about this in terms of conscious minds versus functioning brains. His SF premise aside, if consciousness is a spectrum, it’s possible that spectrum includes the degree of consciousness. I think the overwhelming complexity of consciousness adds weight to the notion that it emerges to varying degrees.
The laser light analogy is useful here. Materials that can lase can also offer a spectrum of how the laser light emerges, its intensity, purity, etc. It depends on the exact structure of the lasing material. Energy obviously also affects that spectrum. Bottom line, laser light can be weak or strong; it can even fail to emerge.
Which is all to say I keep seeing more and more of humanity framed by the notion of just how conscious individuals might be. A low, or lack of, consciousness seems to explain so much. It’s as if the world suddenly makes a lot more sense to me.
It seems this has always been the case. It’s an aspect of humanity. There is the famous line from Socrates, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” More recently, Camus wrote “An intellectual is someone whose mind watches itself.” Bonhoeffer’s famous letter about stupidity seems to include this view. Sawyer certainly seems to be channeling it — it’s a key aspect of his plot.
Any perceived difference can become a way of dismissing people, but it can also be a frame for understanding them. As with my epiphany about being tall versus being fit, it can free us from false expectations (but beware of slippery slopes — keep your virtue ethics light burning bright). Intellect, at least to some degree, depends on the brain. It’s part of the natural spectrum of humanity, which varies in all traits.
The new stage of thinking for me is realizing how broad that spectrum might be when it comes to consciousness. It’s something I want to start writing about. I’ve tip-toed around stupidity for eleven years. Enough!
We need to face up to the fact that stupidity is orthogonal to education. Some very educated people are very stupid, and some very uneducated people aren’t. (I still think a Liberal Arts education that stresses literature, art, and critical thinking, really helps.)
And I think we need to face up to the degree to which modern culture foments stupidity, allows it to flourish. Too many of our TV shows and movies are written by mental infants. I don’t blame culture, but I definitely think it reflects us, and I suspect it can be an enabler, a closed feedback loop.
I have to say it again: That a key (adult!) media empire is based on comic book superheroes astonishes me. That another is based on a space fantasy, while others are based on toys and amusement park rides.
I just don’t get the teddy bear security blanket safe warm crib aspect of it all.
But then “lies to children” (and the lies we carry into adulthood) is another part of culture (always has been — there is no Santa Claus). I was thinking about this while watching a PBS show about a kid’s first visit to a farm. Meeting the friendly animals, Ms. Cow, Ms. Chicken, Ms. Sheep, and Ms. Pig. All delicious friends.
Funny thing about pigs… Cows give milk, chickens give eggs, sheep give wool, bees give honey. The males are all necessary to keep things going. But pigs are the only animal that gives us nothing. We raise them only to kill and eat them. (Which is the reason the Jews won’t touch them.)
Speaking of anniversaries, the discovery of the Higgs boson was announced at CERN ten years ago today.
And, BTW, we should be very close to seeing the first science images from the James Webb Space Telescope! Check this page.
Stay tall, my friends! Go forth and spread beauty and light.