The obligatory musings on Star Wars–not the newest movie, but the secret behind them all

Okay. So no real reason to critique Star Wars Episode III; it was exactly what I expected, which is to say clumsy direction, lots of eye-candy special effects, stunningly awful dialog (I actually slid down my seat and covered my face in embarrassment for George Lucas in a few of the scenes), lots of light-saber duels, and lots of screen time for Yoda. Better than the first two; not as good as it could have been. In short–about what everyone else is saying about the movie.

But i didn’t come here to talk about Episode III; I came here to talk about the dark secret that lies behind all the Star Wars movies, a dark secret that even George Lucas himself does not know. Once you understand this dark secret, and you re-interpret all six movies in light of it, many things in the movies suddenly make a whole lot more sense.

The dark secret is this:

Yoda is a Dark Sider.

Yes, you read that right. Yoda has given himself to the Dark Side of the Force, and in secret, subtle ways, helps the Sith to the best of his abilities throughout all the movies.

Yes, I know how that sounds. But think about all six movies, and bear with me here:

– Is the Jedi Council really that appallingly stupid and incompetent? I mean, really. C’mon. The Sith Lord is in the same goddamn room as them, and they can’t tell! He makes a blindingly direct and obvious play for power, and they can’t tell! Either the Jedi Academy requires IQ tests of all its applicants, and rejects anyone with an IQ over 85, or something else is up–namely, the most powerful member of the Council is working to ensure that the rest of hte Council stays in the dark.

– Yoda outclasses Count Dooku sixteen ways from Sunday–a better fighter, more powerful in the Force, and all-around better at everything he does–yet in the second movie, Dooku still somehow manages not only to escape, but to escape with the plans to the Death Star.

– Yoda doesn’t really seriously go after Sidius in the third movie. He makes a token show of it, gets the upper hand…and leaves. Not exactly convincing. Not exactly an overwhelming attempt from a person who’s just seen his friends murdered and is determined to protect the universe from sliding into the hands of the Sith at all costs. “Okay, tried I did. Leaving now I am. Ruling the universe you are. With how well that works out for you get back to me!”

– For a light-sider, Yoda has a whole lot of knowledge and skill at dealing with that crackly lightning-both dark side energy stuff; more, it seems, than…well, any Jedi, y’know?

– Yoda meets Luke. Yoda trains Luke. Luke takes off to go after Vader. Yoda says “No, wait you must, not ready you are, kick your ass he will…here, help you pack I will! Fun storming the castle you have!” Yoda’s goal was to get Luke captured.

– And speaking of getting people captured, great plan for hiding the babies, there, my little green friend. Geez, you sure tucked THEM out of sight! I mean, if Vader ever glommed on to the fact that he had a son running around somehwere, he’d NEVER think to start the search at his own family!

– Knowledge of the Clone Army in Episode II, and indeed knowledge of the entire star system where the clone army was being developed, was mysteriously wiped from the Jedi archives. By an insider. By an influential insider. They never did really address who that insider was, did they? Hmm…who would be in a position to do such a thing? Who indeed.

Seriously. Go back and re-watch the movies with the idea that Yoda is a Dark Sider in mind, and tell me that it doesn’t suddenly bring a lot of things into focus.

A bevy of quotes!

Working on cataloging some quotes for the Quotes files for my Zen fortune cookie program, and I figured I’d post a few of them here:

I do not believe in a fate that falls on men however they act; but I do believe in a fate that falls on man unless they act. ~G.K. Chesterton

The free man is he who does not fear to go to the end of his thought. – Leon Blum

Truth often suffers more from the heat of its defenders than from the arguments of its opposers. — William Penn

Even in the valley of the shadow of death, two and two do not make six. — Leo Tolstoy

We must respect the other fellow’s religion, but only in the same sense and to the same extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart. – H. L. Mencken

I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours. — Stephen Roberts

Confusing monogamy with morality has done more to destroy the conscience of the human race than any other error. — George Bernard Shaw

True wisdom is less presuming than folly. The wise man doubts often, and changes his mind; the fool is obstinate, and doubts not; he knows all things but his own ignorance. – Akhenaton

There has grown up in the minds of certain groups in this country the notion that because a man or corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with the duty of guaranteeing such profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary public interest. This strange doctrine is not supported by statute nor common law. Neither individuals nor corporations have any right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped or turned back, for their private benefit. –Robert Heinlein

To fear love is to fear life, and those who fear life are already three parts dead. — Bertrand Russell

Some thoughts on information theory, complex systems, and love

Often, when two people end a long-term relationship, one of those two people — usually, the person initiating the breakup — will say things like ‘I just don’t know you any more” or “You’ve totally changed.” And often, it’s not true, though the person saying it may feel that it’s true. The truth is a little bit more complicated, and a quick glance at information theory can explain why.

One of the axioms of information theory is that the output of a system you do not understand looks random. Early man lacked the ability to predict such things as solar eclipses and whatnot because he did not understand the system; he knew nothing of gravity, didn’t understand that the earth orbits ’round the sun, and so on. So these events appeared random to him, and he invented explanations for them that were based on random events — the dragon wakes up particularly hungry and devours the sun, that sort of thing.

As time progressed, man learned to predict certain events, such as the course of the planets in the heavens and the rising and setting of the sun as the seasons changed. The models he built were based on repeated observation; he could predict certain events, but he still did not understand the mechanisms behind them; repeated observation was enough to show that the system wasn’t random, but it still couldn’t be predicted precisely, because he still didn’t understand it. Certain events, like eclipses, still appeared random.

This is true of any system whose mechanisms are not understood. The process of understanding something lies in constructing models of that thing; the ancient Greeks attempted to model the behavior of the planetary bodies by constructing models based on rotating, interlocking Platonic solids, for example. A model is useful, and can be said to describe something, only if that model makes predictions that accurately predict the behavior of the thing being modelled. The Greeks ran into a lot of trouble here; their models of the heavens made predictions that were reasonably close, most of the time, but didn’t always jive with observable reality; the more they tried to jigger the models to account for the discrepancies, the more mucked-up and complex the models became, until finally Copernicus got exasperated with it all and said “Here, look, it’s got nothing to do with Platonic solids, see? If you assume that the sun is at the center of the whole mess, and we go ’round the sun, and the other planets go ’round the sun, you get a model that’s very simple and makes predictions that are pretty much perfect, see?” In 1992, the Catholic Church finally agreed, and officially accepted the heliocentric model of the solar system.

The output of a system that is not understood at all looks random. As someone learns to find patterns in the output, and builds models that explain the behavior of the system, the output stops looking random — but, as the Greeks discovered, a model that seems good, and makes accurate preductions some or even most of the time, can still be completely bolloxed. The Platonic-solids model made reasonably good predictions much of the time, but it wasn’t really a terribly accurate model; in fact, it wasn’t even close.

So what does this have to do with love?

The same laws of information theory that apply to planets and solar systems apply to people as well. If you don’t know someone and don’t know a blasted thing about him, you probably can’t predict his behavior very well. You can predict very general things, simply by knowing that he belongs to the class of objects called “human beings,” of course; you can predict that he most likely doesn’t have wings, and so on. But you can’t make predictions about how trustworthy he is, what kind of music he likes, how good he is in bed — despite the best efforts of astrology, fringe racist groups, and those goody urban legends that say things like a man’s penis size is related to the width of his hands. Fact is, until you have a reasonably good mental model of that person, you just plain don’t know what he’ll do — his behavior might as well be random.

When you’re in a relationship with someone, you have a pretty good opportunity to observe that person’s behavior over an extended period of time. When you do this, you begin to see patterns emerge, and those patterns let you begin understanding that person. You build a mental model of that person, and as that model seems to predict that person’s behavior, you understand that person still more. In fact, intimacy is the ongoing process of learning to understand another person with greater and greater accuracy.

But it’s possible to go wrong. People tend to re-create the world in their own image, and to project their own feelings and beliefs and philosophies onto other people. This is to some extent unavoidable; it’s very difficult to understand a person who conceptualizes the universe in a way that’s completely different from the way you do. Your model of that person starts with the assumption that certain things about that person are basically similar to certain things about you. And given that many people are similar in many ways, often that works just fine.

But sometimes, two people who are very different in worldview get together. When this happens, it’s possible they may never really understand each other; they may build mental models which, like the original Greek model of the solar system, work pretty well most of the time…but which are actually built on premises which are completely inaccurate.

So these two people go be-bopping down the road of life, not really understanding one another, but thinking they do — and wham, a solar eclipse occurs. Something changes in the environment — perhaps something that goes completely unnoticed, because it’s not relevant to the mental models they’ve built of each other — and one of them acts in some way that the other one never saaw coming and could never have anticipated.

“You’ve changed! You’ve completely lost it! I don’t know you any more!”

No, the fact is, that person is the same as he’s always been; you never knew him. You thought you did, but that understanding was flawed; and now your model can’t predict his behavior any more. Which means that, to you, his behavior appears random — a very scary thing in a partner you’ve been with for a long time.

The greater the difference in two people’s worldviews, the more likely this can happen. It’s especially common when two people who have very different drives or needs in relationship get together; each tends to project his own needs and his own drives into his model of the other. Even where it doesn’t cause a meltdown, it can still create problems in the relationship; “My partner says she is ‘polyamorous,’ which means she wants to fuck other people — I better keep her on a short leash, because if I don’t, she’ll just run off and fuck everyone in town.” This is not a realistic model of ‘polyamory’ — but a person who is not polyamorous may not really understand polyamory; the behavior of a person who is polyamorous may appear random.

Building an accurate model of something, especially a complex system, is very hard work. Building a good model means being able to step back from your own preconceptions and look — really look — at the system, without projecting your own desires onto it. the Greeks really, really wanted to believe that the model of the universe had something to do with Platonic solids, because they were utterly fascinated with what they perceived to be the harmony and beauty of Platonic solids, and it bolloxed them up for a very long time.

Which brings me to the second part of building a model of something, which is being able to discard that model when it makes predictions that don’t come true.

That second one is especially difficult in romantic relationships. Like the Greeks, people in love become emotionally attached to their understanding of their partner, even if that understanding is based on projection. We tend to re-create the world in our own image, but more than that, we want our lover to be like ourselves; it’s comforting. Things we don’t understand about our lover are really scary; they make our lover’s behavior seem random. It’s much easier to embrace a model that has flaws than to discard the model, say “Actually, there are things about this person I don’t understand, and if i want to understand them, I must first admit that I don’t.”

That takes work — a lot of it. Scary work. The alternative, though, is having the conversation which usually starts with You’ve changed, I just don’t know you any more and usually ends the relationship.

Some thoughts on extropianism

Some time ago, I wrote in this very journal:

I am an extropian. Put most simply, what that means is that I believe a system’s capacity for intelligence and information can and generally does improve over time.

Put more completely, it means that I believe the human potential, as with the potential of any complex, dynamic, evolving system, is open-ended. I believe that human systems tend over time to amass increasing amounts of knowledge and understanding about, and ability to control and manipulate, the physical world; that there are no arbitrary upper limits on that increase save for those imposed by the laws of physics themselves; and that as a consequence of this increasing capacity for information and ability, complex systems such as human societies tend toward an increasing capacity for freedom of action, including an increasing capacity for overcoming obstacles and limitations.

I also believe that the universe operates according to principles which are knowable, observable, and comprehensible; and that rational and analytical thought, combined with experimentation and empirical observation, are tools with which those fundamental principles can be understood. I believe that constantly challenging ideas, including these ideas, is a necessary and vital part of understanding the natural world, and that those who do not challenge their own ideas are fundamentally and fatally handicapped in their ability to progress.

I’ve been told these things represent a religious system, and that extropianism is a religious belief, much like any other. In fact, some people take it even farther than that; I’ve seen Web sites that describe the extropian philosophy as a "cult," in a rather stunning display of Missing The Point. No, Dorothy, we’re not in Kansas here; extropianism, much as it is a philosophical belief system, is not actually a religious system at all.
Hang on, the rabbit hole goes pretty deep…

Bad news, good news (and an apology for being absent)

The Bad News:

I’ve been an appallingly bad friend lately, especially during the past week–I’ve had to cancel out on several people, I’ve missed spending time with many of my friends (including phyrra and nihilus), I missed the opportunity to see the Smoosh and many other fine folks at the last Game Night…in short, I’ve been a hermit, barely poking my head out into the light of day.

And it’s all been work-related. My clients have been driving me insane.

The Good News:

Three thousand, one hundred and forty dollars’ worth of billable hours in the last eight days, bay-bee! And it’s (mostly) finished now–I have nothing left on my plate ’til tomorrow afternoon, and after that, it looks like I might actually have two whole days unassigned.