Tommyjournal  archive    August 2006

Earlier this month, I heard Robert Thurman (a professor of Buddhist Studies) give a talk on the radio. About secular humanists, Professor Thurman said
They are imprisoned in a sense of disconnectedness, of course, because they think that their consciousness is nothing, essentially. They don't have a soul, so they don't think they'll have continuity after death, they don't think they have a previous life. So in a way they have a tendency to disconnection. And therefore, they have a tendency to do a few things like invent nuclear weapons, use nuclear weapons, you know, do a few paranoid things like that.
Is it necessary to believe in a soul in order to feel connected, or to behave civilly? Should we choose beliefs based on whether they feel good to hold, as opposed to whether they are supported by evidence?

Me personally, I'd rather feel connected by appreciating my role and value in society. I think that to feel connected based on a notion of soul is to build a house on sand.

In any case, I think it's unfair of Professor Thurman to characterize a nondualistic* view as thinking that "consciousness is nothing, essentially". Consciousness could be an activity.

By analogy: to a naïve observer, heat doesn't seem like motion; heat seems to have an altogether different quality. Indeed, an early theory hypothesized a "subtle fluid" called caloric that was responsible for heat. But nowadays, heat is recognized as being identical to molecular motion; a separate ontological category is unnecessary (and would tend to be misleading). Physicists no longer speak of heat in terms of caloric.

I suspect that consciousness is identical to nervous system activity, although I don't think that's as obvious or settled as heat being identical to molecular motion. But irrespective of whether I could convince you (or Robert Thurman) of that view, it's unfair to caricature it as equating consciousness to "nothing". (Heat didn't become "nothing" when physicists recognized it as a form of motion.)

It's instructive to study the history of science, and to view current trends in light of that history. Consider, for example, how caloric was termed a "subtle fluid", and note how some modern-day dualists* use terms like "subtle energy".

*I mean "dualistic" in a Cartesian sense, where consciousness operates by means of a nonmaterial component.

Earlier this month, I wrote about a friend who'd grown up in this area but had moved away. Two days ago, I had a conversation about him that went about like this:
  Tommy:As long as I'd known Chad, he'd been saying he wanted to leave.
  Dorit:Do you know who got him to finally leave? Do you know who pushed him to do it?
  Tommy:[quizzical look]
  Dorit:I did. I told him, you're too smart to stay here, you have to get your butt out of this small town.
  Tommy:Did he thank you?
No. Chad doesn't say "thank you".
Chad isn't rude, he's just young and male.

Most people who grow up here move away after high school. They want to see the world. The youngsters who do stick around aren't necessarily lacking in ambition (although some are); they usually stay because they appreciate this area--or conversely, don't like city life.

I tried small-town life in the mountains once when I was 23. That lasted for about half a year.

I have different needs now than I did at 23; I've lasted a lot longer here in the desert. For the first few years here, I never entertained the idea of giving up on it. I felt I had to give myself enough time to adapt. That period is over; I've been here for almost nine years now. Lately, I've been considering spending more time in civilization, but not full time. I'm thinking about how that could be made to work.

local 2 PM conditions:
temperature  92°F
dew point  4°F

that is to say: dry.

A few days ago, I watched a jackrabbit1 dig out an area in the shade of a bush near my house. He2 now lounges there every afternoon. The recess he dug out lets his body sit lower, so his chin rests on the ground. He sits still, body splayed out, ears folded down, eyes open. He knows me, he isn't spooked when I walk by. He is beyond cute. I wonder if the reason he hasn't been taken by a coyote isn't that he's fast, but rather that he's too adorable to prey on. (I doubt it, but it's a nice thought.)

 1 Lepus californicus.
 2 I don't know if it's a he or a she.

If anyone reading this understands how people get their blogs linked to by other blogs, please let me know. I don't know if there's a customary way to ask, or what. Just waiting for it to happen has generated minimal results so far. (I'm asking primarily for tips on promotion, not so much on content and layout--although all thoughts are welcome.)

In early 2003, a website (I forget which) ran a set of dick photos and a list of blogs, and invited readers to "match the penis to the blogger". It generated a lot of traffic for the participating blogs. (I had an opportunity to participate, but I passed it up. I had just started blogging and didn't appreciate how good an opportunity for publicity it was. sigh)

Advice from the US Transportation Security Administration:
We encourage everyone to pack gel-filled bras in their checked baggage.
Ummmm... can I put some other clothes in there as well?

(seen, of course, at Language Log)

In an article about a proof of the Poincaré conjecture, the NY Times used a lousy example to illustrate a topological concept:
toporabbit To a topologist, a rabbit is the same as a sphere. Neither has a hole. Longitude and latitude lines on the rabbit allow mathematicians to map it onto different forms while preserving information.
If rabbits don't have a hole, what do those little brown spheres they leave all over my lot come out of. Or, if you don't want to talk about that hole (it's closed most of the time, after all), all the rabbits I've seen have nostrils.

I mean really, NY Times. Rabbits are adorable, but they're not genus-zero. If you wanted to use some mammal-shaped object as an example, you could've picked one that really doesn't have a hole--like, say, a Barbie doll.

fine print: yes, I know there's a topological distinction between a cavity and a through-hole. That's why I used nostrils as an example; the two airways join inside the head. The septum is topologically akin to the handle on a genus-one coffee mug.

update: the Times admits its error.

radiation I remember taking a metal thermos bottle in a carry-on bag on a flight about 17 years ago. It showed up in the x-ray screening, and I was asked to take it out of the bag for inspection. Before taking it out, I advised the security guard that there were stickers on the bottle that were only jokes. I told her that it had (pink) lemonade in it, and I drank some to demonstrate. She let me take the bottle on the plane.

biohazard I still have the thermos bottle. It still has the stickers on it (see adjacent images). Needless to say, there's no way in hell I would try to take it on an airplane now. (Where 'now' is any time after 9/11/2001; I don't just mean in light of today's news from England.)

I walked down the steps of the Supreme Court on my hands once (also about 17 years ago). I wouldn't do anything that unusual in Washington now.

I'm glad I lived at least part of my life in a simpler, freer time.

I saw a friend earlier today, a young man who'd grown up in this area, moved away a couple years ago, and was back for a short visit. He said he was happier with life in his new location. I asked him what he liked about it more; he said there were things to do, e.g., see movies. (My town is 50 miles away from a movie theater. To live here, it helps to be able to entertain yourself.)

If I had to name the one thing I miss the most about city life, it wouldn't be movies; it would be the variety of people to be with. (Not that I don't like movies.)

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as the lacy cirrocumulus cloud that drifted over my neighborhood at around nine this morning.

Ditto the full moon rising over the Inyo Mountains this evening while I was out bike riding.

Those two sights did wonders for my mood today. Funny, how that works.

In looking through my filing cabinet yesterday, I was struck by how many letters I had--letters from friends, and copies of letters I'd sent. Most of them date from over 10 years ago. A lot fewer (paper) letters get written nowadays, which I attribute to the wide use of email (and to long distance rates being a lot lower than they used to be).

I had run some personal ads over the years, back when I wanted to have a boyfriend. Responses came by mail. For fun, I would try to guess the age of each correspondent before opening the envelope. Even though the clues were minimal--choice of stationery, handwriting style, and so on--my guesses were usually fairly close. Sometimes there was a strong clue, e.g. one response to an ad I'd run in a German gay magazine came from a guy named Adolf. That put a lower bound on his age; after WWII, pretty much nobody in Germany named their kids Adolf.

Around five years ago I was playing
Hex online a lot, and also watching other people play. I have fond memories of evenings spent watching games between top-rated players, usually along with about half a dozen other spectators (usually all regulars; we all knew one another, at least to a degree, from having played there). The games moved slowly, especially in the openings--several minutes for each move. There was some chat among spectators, but not that much; sometimes it was as quiet as a library. Occasionally, though, a newcomer--usually a teenager--would burst into the room in the middle of a game and try to chat us up. One of the best Hex players was a child psychologist; if a kid came into the room while he was there, he would guess their age after only a couple lines of chat. His guesses were usually pretty close.

Flight attendant:  We will be dimming the cabin lighting, as it greatly improves the attractiveness of your in-flight crew.
   -- JetBlue flight, JFK
(from Overheard in New York)

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