I need to find a new place to shop

So a couple days ago I was looking over my grocery list:

Cat food
Iron (4.485×1024 kg)
Ziploc bags
Light bulbs
Royalty-free porn
Stereo lithographer
SD media reader with Mac drivers
Chocolate eclairs

I prefer shopping at Publix, but they don’t carry everything on my list. I tried the Super Wal-Mart around the corner, but there are a few things they don’t carry, either. Anyone got any suggestions?

Some thoughts on communication style, self-knowledge, and fear

A few days ago, Shelly, S, and I had dinner together at a Thai restaurant, where the conversation turned to Turing computability, representing data in n-dimensional space, constructing an experiment from within a virtual reality environment like the Matrix that could determine whether or not the environment was a virtual reality, and other light dinnertime fare.
During the conversation, Shelly made the observation that you’re more likely to hear things like “Turing computable” at any given time in our house than you are to hear words like “cheese” or “toilet paper.”

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who divide people into two kinds, and those who don’t. According to some members of the former group, there are two kinds of people in the world: those who think, and speak, in terms of abstract ideas and concepts, and who use abstract language and metaphor in their communication, and those who think in terms of concrete concepts, and have difficulty grasping and understanding abstract communication.

Now, I’ve dated people who have difficulty with abstract ideas and concepts. One thing I’ve learned is that I do better in relationships with people who can think abstractly. Another thing I’ve learned is that people who lack the ability to think abstractly often lack the tools of introspection and inner contemplation which would allow them to understand themselves. This lack of introspection carries a high price tag–bot for themselves and for those around them.

Dr. Roger Penrose is fond of handwaving. He got a lot of newspaper inches a while ago by proposing that artificial intelligence is impossible on the grounds that consciousness, intelligence, and self-awareness are quantum effects. He even wrote a book on the subject. This book is 480 pages long, but in case you haven’t time to read it, it can be summed up this way:

“I really, really, really, really, really don’t want consciousness to be possible in a computer. Thinking that a computer could be as smart as a person makes me very, very uncomfortable, and makes me feel less special. So here’s a lot of handwaving about how impossible it is. Look! It’s impossible! Quantum mechanics! Quantum mechanics! Of course, I’m not a neurobiologist, but I’ll throw in a bunch of really scientific-sounding language and a whole lot of math in the hopes that you don’t notice the fact that I’m not actually proposing any REASON why quantum mechanics should be necessary for thought, nor proposing any mechanism by which quantum effects occur within the brain, nor even describing any way whatsoever that quantum mechanics might affect the functioning of a neuron. But did I mention I really, really don’t WANT artificial intelligence to be possible?”

Dr. Penrose, whose degree is in pure mathematics as opposed to, say, cognition, neuroscience, or quantum mechanics, has a history of this sort of thinking. In 1989, he gave an interview in Scientific American in which he rejected quantum string theory because “It’s just not the way I’d expect the answer to be.” Now, string theory may or may not be correct, and it may or may not have value, but to reject it because it’s “not how I’d expect the answer to be” is bad science–and on top of that, it’s stupid. Albert Einstein made the same mistake when he rejected quantum mechanics for religious reasons; as a result, he spent the last fifteen years of his life as a living monument, contributing nothing to physics because his religious beliefs would not let him accept the truth.

People make this same mistake all the time. I’ve known many people who have difficulty with introspection who end up believing things about themselves which are manifestly and obviously (to those around them, anyway) untrue, because they are unwilling or unable to examine their beliefs about themselves and unwilling to acknowledge an uncomfortable truth.

For example, I know people who insist that they are rational and logical, and who express a disdain for “mere emotion.” Not surprisingly, many of these people are the most emotional people I’ve ever met, and some of them live lives completely ruled by their emotions. Wihtout the capacity for abstract thought, and the capacity for introspection which seems to rely on it, they simply don’t NOTICE–or perhaps, don’t acknowledge–the almost entirely irrational and emotional ways they make their decisions. No introspection means an enormous blind spot to the most basic truths about yourself; no capacity for abstract thinking seems, for some reason, to mean no introspection. At least, I have yet to encounter anyone who lacks the ability to think abstractly yet who still has good introspective skills.

People put a lot of effort into their insecurities and into their discomforts. Introspection is sometims uncomfortable, because it may bring one face-to-face with some truths which are as uncomfortable as the notion of artificial intelligence is to Dr. Penrose. But avoiding the truth out of fear of discomfort works outwardly as well as inwardly. Dr. penrose is made uncomfortable by the notion of a machine with the cognitive ability of a person; closer to home (and more ploddingly pedestrian), many people fear hearing the truth about their partner’s sexual history, say, because of the same discomforts. A person who fears and avoids discomfort is unlikely ever to reach the truth about anything–himself, his partner, the world around him. The more pedestrian forms of avoidance aren’t as interesting as Penrose’s 480 pages of handwaving, but their effects are more immediate.

Last night, I had a conversation with datan0de. It went something like this:

ME: “You’re the reason I’m going to crush the world in my iron fist.”
datan0de: “Do you mean literally or figuratively? Are you actually going to crush the world in an enormous fist made out of iron?”
ME: “Of course I mean that literally! It’s more satisfying, don’t you think?”
datan0de: “Depends on where you’re standing.”

datan0de seems equally comfortable in the realm of the abstract (demonstrating that the set of real numbers is an uncountable infinity, for example) or the concrete (talking about how fast an actual fist made out of iron that’s three-quarters the mass of the Earth would take to rust). That’s quite a trick; I can talk to someone who thinks only in concrete terms–an eighteen-year relationship with a person who can’t think abstractly taught me that skill–but I’m happier talking in abstract terms, because it’s closer to how I conceptualize the universe. Shelly’s even more extreme in that regard.

There’s a lesson in here somewhere. People who don’t think of themselves and the world around them in abstract ways seem, at least in my experience, to be more uncomfortable by the truth, and to resist more strongly the idea that introspection is a tool which has value. I’m not sure why introspection and abstract thought are coupled, though it certainly seems to be the case. In any event, the less likely someone is to confront some part of his or her personality unflinchingly, the more likely that person is to become angry at the suggestion that he should. Suggest to someone who’s jealous or insecure in his relationship that he should examine the causes of those insecurities, with an eye toward overcoming them, and you’re likely to meet quite a hostile response. Point out to someone who believes herself to be rational and analytical that she is making profound, life-shaping decisions solely on the basis of an emotional response, and you’ll really end up in the shit. In a weird, snake-eating-its-tail kind of way, this response, and the avoidance of discomfort that produces it, itself is seen as a beneficial and positive thing–suggest to someone that there is value in exploring things which are ucomfortable and the very fact that theey are uncomfortable is itself held up as proof that they have no value.

Penrose avoids his discomfort by writing hundreds of pages of vigorous handwaving; other peope avoid their discomfort by insisting that they are something they are not, or avoiding intimacy and the knowledge of a partner’s past that comes with it. But avoiding uncomfortable things is not the same thing as mastering those things. Smetimes, life is uncomfortable; sometimes, the truth is uncomfortable. In the end, however, living in a world where the truth is acknowledged is superior to building a life out of avoiding the truth.

Link o’ the day: ACLU intends to take up arms on behalf of polyamory


In response to a student’s question about gay marriage, bigamy and polygamy in certain communities, Strossen said the ACLU is actively fighting to defend freedom of choice in marriage and partnerships.

“We have defended the right for individuals to engage in polygamy,” Strossen said. “We defend the freedom of choice for mature, consenting individuals.”

So polyamory is on the radar for both right-wing conservative religious groups and for pro-rights groups. Interesting times, indeed. This could get really, really hairy for a while.

Faith can move mountains? Not quite.

You hear it all the time. If a person had as much faith as a mustard seed, then that person can move a mountain. Faith is all you need. Faith can work miracles. Right? Right?


Sorry. It sounds nice, it appeals to that part of us that wants dominion over the natural world, but…it ain’t so. Hate to have to break it to you, guys. It just plain ain’t true–at least, not in the way that people think it’s true.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Having a belief that something is possible is a prerequisite to doing that thing; if you don’t think you can do it, you ain’t gonna try. Faith, at least faith of the “I believe this is within the realm of the possible” variety (rather than the Mark Twain “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so” variety) is necessary and essential to anyone who wants to move a mountain.

But it doesn’t stop there. If you have faith that you can move a mountain, but that’s all you got, then the mountain ain’t moving. Ain’t no way. You see, it takes more than faith–you have to have faith the task can be done, but then you also have to do the work. (Moving mountains, just for the record, is backbreaking work. Mountains are big. I mean, really, really big. Tens of millions of tons of rock, and you gotta move it all from here to there.) Faith alone will get you butkis; the way faith moves mountains is by enabling you to do the work it takes to move a mountain, giving you the belief that you can figure out how to get it done.

In the case of literally moving a mountain, having faith that you can do it is what gets you started; but from there on, you still have a whole lot of work to do. It helps to have one of these:

Now, this machine required a lot of faith to build. It took faith that such a huge (and expensive!) project was possible. It took faith that it would work. It took faith that it would work and do so in a way that was more efficient than just spending the same amount of money on a whole bunch of people with shovels.

Faith is the first step, but if you believe faith alone can move a mountain, you’re deluding yourself. Faith without work is nothing; faith without the investment it takes to get things done is pointless narcissism. Faith may get the ball rolling, but it’s work, not faith, that gets the mountain from wherever it is to wherever you want it to be.

Now, this is true of any task, even something a lot smaller and closer to home than activist geology. A person who tells you that faith can make a relationship, for example? Bullshit. Relationships don’t succeed by faith. Relationships succeed because the people involved have invested in good communication skills, a suite of problem-solving and conflict-resolution tools, integrity, trust, honesty, self-knowledge, compassion, and respect. It is those things, not faith, that build a good relationship. It requires a belief that a good relationship is possible and desireable to make the other things seem worthwhile, but it’s not faith alone that does the job.

Faith can move mountains? Hogwash. Faith, of and by itself, can’t move a paper clip.

By the way, if you see the Buddha on the road, kill him. 🙂

Astrologer sues NASA over Deep Impact space probe

Yep, you read that right. A Russian astrologer has filed a $300,000,000 lawsuit against NASA, claiming that the Deep Impact probe, which intercepted comet Tempel 1, “violated her spiritual rights.”

“The experiment, in which NASA fired a projectile the size of a fridge at the comet Monday, was an attack on “the holy of holies,” Marina Bai’s law suit claims, according to Russian press reports. Her suit, filed at a Moscow court, claims violation of her “life and spiritual values.”

“In any case, it is obvious that elements of the comet’s orbit and associated ephemera will change after the explosion, which interferes with my practice of astrology and deforms my horoscope,” the Izvestia daily quoted Bai as saying.

Folks, you just can’t get enough of this sort of nuttiness for my entertainment dollar!

The weird, weird, weird weekend…and tits!

Okay, so.

The weekend started innocently enough. Saturday, zensidhe and fangly celebrated the anniversary of their creation in some sinister government laboratory and their birth, respectively; the theme of the party was “Mad Scientist,” which afforded many photo ops I may eventually get around to posting. Alcohol, guns, goth chicks, datan0de in a lab jacket…all the usual things one might expect from a party at zensidhe‘s place.

Now, ordinarily, a party at zensidhe‘s place would provide enough material for several LiveJournal entries, not to mention a couple police reports and a sexual escapade or two of the kind that creates moments you look back on later and plow into a parked car. Sunday, though, brought something that has distracted Shelly and I since, so I can’t really post appropriately about the party.

“What did Sunday bring?” I hear you ask. Well, thanks for asking! Sunday brought this:

Shelly and I went for a walk in the park late Sunday evening. This particular park is in downtown Tampa, and while we were on the back stretch of the park, we heard a meowing behind us. We turn around, and this kitty comes running at us as fast as her little kitty legs will carry her, and launches herself into Shelly’s arms, purring madly. She was skinny to the point of being gaunt and very dirty, and we didn’t have the heart to leave her. We carried her the three quarters of a mile or so to the car, and she never protested except to hiss and spit whenever anyone else walked by. Kind of weird.

Now, I was worried that our other cat, Snow Crash, would cause a big problem. We rescued him as a kitten last Christmas (what is it with national holidays and cats with us???!!), anbd he’s quite aggressive and playful. I needn’t have worried. As soon as we got home, the new cat proceeded to terrorize the living bejeezus out of Snow Crash, even though he’s eleven pounds to her five. We named her “Molly,” after the character in William Gibson’s Neuromancer.


It looks like she’s pregnant(!).

Monday, Shelly and S and I went to Orlando to visit with S‘s other boyfriend and to connect with nihilus, phyrra, and some friends of theirs for dinner and fireworks. The dinner was good, the fireworks were spectacular, I got one of the very few good pictures I have of S:

And I promised tits in the title. Since everyone1 knows the only way to get people to read large swaths of text is to offer them tits, without further ado, I present phyrra at zensidhe‘s party:

Look! Tits! (Borderline not-safe-for-work, depending on how liberal your work environment is)