Hypersensitive Culture

December 20, 2013

Did any of you hear about Duck Dynasty’s star being taken off the air for anti-gay and racist comments?  Maybe you’ve never heard of Duck Dynasty?  I hadn’t heard of it either, but then again, I don’t really watch TV.

I looked into it a little and it seems to be a sort of comedy reality show for rural audiences.  It’s about a group of self-described rednecks, with funny beards, who play pranks on one another, hunt and fish in the woods, and that sort of thing.  It’s the most popular show in the U.S. garnering something like 12 million viewers each time it airs.

Duck-Dynasty-Cast

LGBT activist groups have been pressuring A&E to take them off the air.  The network execs at A&E should just ignore any external pressure and allow Duck Dynasty to go on unhindered.

Conservatives have rightly been arguing that they can’t even express their views any longer without the thought police coming in to shut them down.  In this case, I do agree with them, they are being persecuted.  You can look at the Duck Dynasty cast and guess what sort of beliefs they’d hold.  The show’s star used to be a hippy but then tried to find God and became a Christian.  When he makes his remarks toward gays, it’s religion talking.

I wish fundamentalist Christianity wasn’t so harsh toward gays, but it is what it is.  How can we say we live in a society with freedom of religion and freedom of opinion when you get fired just for stating your beliefs?  Stupid beliefs, yes.  But should a person be fired for stating a religious belief held by most people in the country?  No, especially if it’s unrelated to the job.

People say this isn’t a free speech issue because A&E isn’t the government.  A&E is a private network and can do what it wants. That’s a good point, and I agree.  But let’s just dissolve all the fictional entities like the government or the corporations, and just think of us as people living together in a society.  We’re all neighbors, families, and communities wired together through electronic boxes which can share television shows.  We share the transmission lines because it’s convenient to do so.  From that vantage point, what I see is a group of people making a huge fuss because they disagree with the viewpoints of one of the actors, viewpoints might I add that aren’t even expressed in the show itself.

We have two groups of people who dislike each other, one a minority group of protesters, roughly 500,000 strong, who have been directly or indirectly insulted, and the other, roughly twelve million Duck Dynasty fans.  The minority group is trying to convince us to take the show off the air because they don’t like the actors or the way they see things.

For the moment I’ll put on my judge’s robe and assess this situation and try to be as fair as I can.  First, some considerations.  We all know the protesters do not watch the program to begin with.  It’s not their kind of show.  To top it off, nobody’s being forced to watch anything.  It’s not hard to avoid either – you just change the channel.  There’s no violence.  Nobody’s rights are being deprived.  Judge Summers rules there’s not a problem, case closed.

Wouldn’t it be nice if I ran the world?  :)  I’d run things differently, I tell you!  *stands on podium*  Vote for me!

I wish our institutions were more democratic and we could solve these issues in a more thoughtful way.  It’d be nice to have a vote to settle this.  If that were to happen, twelve-million would vote to keep it on the air while probably five-hundred thousand would vote the other way, and Duck Dynasty would stay on the air.   Then we could all go our separate ways, and I think the outcome would be fair.  That’s not how the world works though.  With our legal system and method of ownership by corporations, this is all in the hands of A&E’s owners, who can do whatever they please.  Everything gets distorted.

This got to wondering if these LGBT groups protest TBN and Pat Robertson, because they speak against homosexuality.  It didn’t take me long realize that that wouldn’t have any impact.  In their case, the owners would tell the LGBT protesters to buzz off and would continue to air their programming.  But going back to our ideal world, if there was a vote for the Christian shows as well, I’d vote to keep them on TV.  Who knows, maybe one afternoon I’ll be interested in hearing what they have to say and I’ll turn to their channel.  Also, there’s a lot of Christians out there, and I am not one to tell them what to say, do, or think.  If I started hearing hate and nonsense, I’d just change the channel.  It’s not a big deal.

How I see it, GQ Magazine interviewed the star and asked his personal views on things.  Do we want to hear his ideas or not?  What is the message of our new hypersensitive age? Say what we want you to say or we’ll take everything from you?  I don’t like that at all. 

It’s worth flipping the situation as well.  I could see David Attenborough’s nature programs coming on the air and people in the south getting angry because he talks about evolution and how the different species evolved.  In some cases conservative groups have went into an uproar, but his shows are still on the air.  Nobody has been fired.  Why are the programs we like special?  A free society allows free discourse and a free flow of ideas.  Good ideas and bad ideas.  Good shows, bad shows.  Whatever people want to view, they should be able to view, as long as they’re not infringing on the rights of others.

When you don’t like things people are saying, you don’t silence them.  That just fuels a persecution complex and doesn’t fix the problem.  A lot of people in the south and in rural areas feel very strongly that the Bible condemns homosexuality as a sin.  Something like 80% of Americans consider themselves Christian, and there’s a very large portion of them who think homosexuals are bound for hell.  They’re still there, even if you try to take away their favorite TV shows just because you don’t like the actors.  They’re not going away, and in a free society, they’re free to have their beliefs too.

Voltaire once said, “I do not agree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”  That describes my sentiments toward all of this.  I don’t agree with his position at all, and I hate to see how gays are treated.  I support all gay rights.  I’m not a religious man, but I believe in freedom.  Freedom protects the people you don’t like.  The people you don’t agree with.  The opinions you don’t share.

This doesn’t just apply to television.  I hate seeing Youtube videos taken down because they’re accused of “hate” speech.  One Youtuber was speaking out pretty harshly against religion and a bunch of Muslims came in and flagged it as hate and the video was taken down.  The Youtuber’s account was temporarily suspended and he had to fight to get it back.

Youtube was initially supposed to be a place where people could get out their webcams and have discussions with one another.  Any time serious discourse takes place, things get heated.  That’s the point of it all.  But if we continue down this road we’re on, all that’s going to be left to view is random stupidity and girls putting on make-up.  Everyone will be afraid to express a serious opinion because if they do, they could lose their job.

Sometimes I feel I’ve limited some of my own job prospects because I’m so vocal and open with my opinions here on this blog.  But I know that people have to do what I do.  Somebody has to take the risk and let the discussion take place.  That’s how ideas develop.  That’s how we grow as human beings.

Ideally, it’s all about having respectful discussions with your adversaries.  You leave comments on their websites and forums, and try to get them to think about other ideas.  And though few realize this, the most effective tactic is to love your enemy.  You speak honestly and kindly to them, trying to teach them why you disagree with them.  But if you attack them with hatred, they will only dig deeper in their shell and hate you even more.

I’ve seen feminists on Youtube shutting down comments because of the flood of hate that comes in.  I don’t know if I blame them sometimes.  Mobs gang up on these women, just tearing them down personally, rarely even addressing the concerns in the video.

Women go through a lot if they post content on Youtube.  They make all sorts of serious points to think about and consider, and all the mostly male audience leaves in the comments is, “No tits, GTFO.”   Then you see really attractive women, making innane, thoughtless content, and they’re love-bombed.  “You’re so talented.  You’re so beautiful!”

Even attractive women can’t easily share things with the world.  I’ve been learning more about cooking lately, and a while back I was searching for recipes on Youtube and found a clip with a beautiful celebrity showing one of her favorite salad recipes.  She’s a gorgeous woman and I can’t say I didn’t notice, but I was disappointed by the comments.  Guys were talking about masturbating to the video, what they’d do to her if they had the chance, and on and on.  I just thought, “Geez.  Calm down guys.”

Atheists run into similar problems.  They make serious videos addressing religious belief and they get floods of hate mail.  And if the comments aren’t downright hateful, they’re more often than not filled with passive aggressive undertones.  It goes the other way too.  Religious people are attacked for sharing their ideas.  By attack, I don’t mean argument wise.  They’re just assaulted as a person.  They’re called called fat, ugly, bald, or whatever.  Their clothes are made fun of.  They insult the person’s voice if it’s too high pitched, or low pitched.  They attack the video quality.  Just whatever.

I respect those with thick skin, who just deal with it, though I don’t blame those can’t take the heat.  As my blog has gotten more popular, sometimes I feel this inner pressure not to post some of my thoughts on things.  Some of my posts have tens of thousands of hits over the course of a year.  You reach a point where you don’t want to share your inner feelings.  You want to be more objective and write about impersonal subjects.  Sharing your intimate feelings and then being attacked mercilessly is terrifying.

Some of you can’t imagine what it’s like to be attacked by a legion of people for sharing your views on things.  Imagine putting your heart and soul into a speech, getting on stage in front of ten thousand people, and then they erupt, start throwing things at you, boo’ing, drowning out your voice.   I see Youtubers who make their videos and practically have to run for cover to avoid the maelstrom of hate.

There’s a wide range of issues which are difficult to discuss objectively.  Take whether or not there’s any differences, on average, between men and women.  Are there real differences in how we think, our emotions, and so on.  Many of us guys wonder why we go to graduate school in theoretical physics and there’s no women around.  Every class we take, all men.  No women.  Is that the case all over?  Who knows, but we’re all too scared to ask.  Who wants to be accused of being sexist?

If you share thoughts of loneliness or emotional vulnerability, lots of people roll their eyes and think you’re weak.  You’re just after attention!  You’re feeling down and out, reaching for people who may identify with your feelings, and instead this black cloud of hate comes your way.  

If you have thoughts that there may be more to a human being than just our physical bodies, your secular audience rolls their eyes and thinks you’re leaning on an imaginary crutch because you fear death.   Your religious audience doesn’t like it either, because you don’t agree with their sacred views.  They more often than not just pity you.  You haven’t found the “truth”, and oh how miserable you must be without their God!  

If you advocate fiscally conservative ideas, your progressive audience thinks you’re a heartless bastard.  If you argue for a stronger social safety net, libertarians say you have no principles.  You offend half of your audience no matter what political position you take.

If you want to end the drug war, you must be a dead beat addict of some sort.  If you question the American Dream, half of your audience thinks you’re just lazy and have given up on life.  Or they’ll label you a communist.  You’re just scared to step up and compete.  If you worry about the environment, you’re a tree hugging, socialist, liberal.  Save the whales, save those snails!  Some will even accuse you of hating humanity.

If you lament some of the stupidities in human love, people think you’re just pitiful and must either be ugly, fat, or in some way unlovable.  And what’s worse than being fat?  If you share concerns that it’s important to exercise and eat right, your overweight audience thinks you’re targeting them, and they think you’re shallow.  You haven’t learned how to love yourself, regardless of your body type.  And if you’re a guy who tells women they’re beautiful, even if they have extra weight on them, other men look at you suspecting you’re just trying to get in good with the pretty girls.  You don’t really believe that!  You just can’t win.

If you question what the government is saying, you may be lumped in with conspiracy theorists and often discredited.  When I posted about the NSA, before it really blew up, people sent me hateful messages, saying I was a conspiracy nut, and on and on.

If you come against failures in our school system, or think we’re spending too much money on it all, you’re accused of not valuing education.  If you share feelings you’ve had of oneness with everything, and possibly even spiritual experiences, people think you’re psychotic and crazy.  In my case, I’m often attacked that I only have some of the views I do because I grew up in such a religious home.

And God forbid you have an ill-informed view on something.  You’ll get floods of hate, more than you would otherwise.  How could you be so stupid!  Oftentimes you blog to flesh out your ideas, but once you get a bigger audience, you can’t really do that any longer.  You write one stupid thing and it’s on the internet forever.  People are unforgiving.  They’ll make it into memes and plaster your face on it, then broadcast it all over Facebook, Tumblr, and the web.  Who wants to be the face of an ignorant viewpoint?  You’re better off not sharing your ideas at all.

A hateful world is also a world where you can’t develop your ideas.  Only love fosters growth.  To give people freedom to think and grow is a form of love.  Hate destroys free thought.  Everyone’s too scared to think and discuss things.  Who wants to end up alienated from everyone around you?  Sadly, in this sort of world, the people most willing to share their inner-most thoughts are those who already feel alienated to begin with.   Is it any wonder that the most vocal are those spewing hate themselves?  Everyone else becomes “fake”, and we all question what we all really believe.

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Topics: Politics | 3 Comments »

My Weird Daydreams

December 17, 2013

Do any of you daydream when you lie in bed in the morning, just before you get up to start the day?  I do, more than I’d like to admit.

Some say that thought is what causes the vast majority of misery we humans experience.  It disconnects us from “now”, and we instead find ourselves thinking about our past, we’re troubled by our future, we entertain grudges, and we sit there lost in a thought sea of anger, depression, and frustration.

I struggle with that a lot.  I think about our mortality, how our loved ones will die, the problems in the world, and all those sorts of things.  It doesn’t help that media outlets bring us ultra-condensed negativity, 24-7, filling our minds with rapes, murders, and war.  They find the worst of the worst, and bring it to us right on our doorsteps.  And we feel guilty if we ignore it because after all, we live in a democracy where we have to be informed citizens.

However, thought isn’t always like that.  If properly channeled, it allows you to explore depths far beyond common experience.  It’s an unlimited playground which grows as you learn more about the world.  The more knowledge you have, the more objects and settings you have to mess around with in your private world.  I think at its deepest levels, thought is a crude reality navigation mechanism.  You can imagine, traverse, and explore different possibilities.

I’ve spent many mornings lying in bed, waiting for the sun to come up, thinking about what I’d do if I were given great power.  I’m not talking about human-power.  I’m referring more to a God-like power to totally transform reality.  What would I do with power like that?

In the beginning, I would sit around wondering how I could ever acquire power like that.  As I studied the mind and a lot of science, I began to see one possibility, though it’s a fantasy.  It might not be in the distant future, but that’s another matter.  I imagined being relocated to a secret government lab where we’re building quantum computers.  Some of the staff there tell me that we’re working on a special type of computer which is capable of thought.  Since it’s made of different materials than the brain, it’s capable of thinking millions of times faster than a flesh and blood brain.  The eventual goal is to construct brain-computer interfaces and hook selected people into this super-mind to give them super-human intelligence.

I’m selected to be the first person use this technology, so I undergo surgery and I’m directly interfaced into this super computer which is stored deep underground, in this secret lab.  I wake up, and while I still have human-like emotions and desires, things are incredibly easy to understand.  I digitally connect to all the scientific research networks and read every scientific paper and text that’s out there, all within a minute or so.

I soon realize that the other scientists are wary of me, fearing what I may do with this power, so I know I’m going to have to escape.  For a short time I play around, acting as if none of it worked, but eventually I engineer a brilliant escape and shoot myself off into space so they cannot get to me.  I fly off to Mars, and within a short time become a techno-super-being.  A nerd becomes a god.

Can you imagine that?  Aliens are exploring the cosmos looking for new life-forms and they find me, an ape-creature wired into a giant quantum-super computer, drifting out in space.

Being the ambitious sort that I am, I soon construct vast numbers of probes and space-craft to send out into the cosmos, exploring the universe.  I learn all of the universe’s secrets, all about other life-forms, and catalog and chart all the vast numbers of worlds.  To store all this knowledge, I transform entire planets into computers which would store all the information I have learned.  Schematics and knowledge of everything you could possibly imagine.  Even things that have never existed, but could, if the need ever arose.

I construct tiny nano-robots which can take matter and transform it into any new form you ask.  If I desire something to happen, I’d think the thought, those thoughts are broadcasted to the giant computers the size of entire planets, and they compute what needs to happen in order to make that thought or desire into a reality.  Then vast colonies of nano-robots would go into action and “do” whatever needs to happen.

My physical body and brain are locked away in this protected vault, deep within the core of a distant planet.  Nobody will ever find me.  I’m digitally wired into this vast network of technology and can explore whatever I want without fear of death.  I imagine at that point I’d have learned the nature of consciousness and wouldn’t need my physical body or brain any longer.  My essence would somehow exist in the information processing of all this technology I’ve constructed.  But how that would work exactly, I don’t know.  Anyways, it’s all just a thought experiment.

So now that I’m practically immortal and have transcendent powers, what would I do with them?  I’ve pondered this problem for years, and when I really sit and think about it all, I always come to the same answer — I’d use it to make my friends and family members happy.

I’ll give you one example of the types of things I’d do.  A friend of mine used to always tell me how boring she thought the world is.  To her, life is mostly suffering and misery, and then you die.  We get stuck in jobs we hate, love doesn’t last, and everything that matters to us will be taken away eventually.  She’s always struggled to find happiness.

For her, I’d secretly come back to Earth one night while she’s asleep, and when she awoke, she’d have this strange feeling that she’s actually in a dream.  Of course, she wouldn’t be, but she would just have this inner feeling that something has changed.  It’d start off simple, but little things would start going her way and she’d quietly think, “This is nice.”  Life would be pretty normal, but just slowly getting better.

I’d construct friends for her, built from the dirt, sort of puppets of mine, which would grow to be her lover and a network of friends who will eventually bombard her with love and tie her into an amazing story of some sort.  Each night when she’d go to bed, she’d feel like she was falling deeper into this weird dream.  She’d come to think she was immersed in a lucid dream.

An incredibly handsome, kind, romantic man would come into her life and she’d be so happy.  Good fortune would come her way and she’d have the resources and wealth to do the things she wanted to do.  No more boring jobs.  She’d enjoy that for a while, but then it’d get deeper and deeper.

As she came to trust that things would always work out for her, no matter what happened, I’d up the intensity of the experiences. For example, she’d be on a cruise and they’d hit an ice-berg like in the Titanic.  They’d be sinking and then her husband would go to great lengths to save her, and this romantic story would play out.  She would suffer, a little, but never in any extreme way.  Things would scare and excite her, and it’d never be boring, but somehow it all would always work out in the end.  Nothing too tragic would ever happen.

Titanic-redo

There would be no limits to how deep all of this went.  She’d go to sleep again and again and again, and each time she’d feel like she was deeper in this lucid fantasy, and that would give me “permission” to shower her with ever more exotic fantasies and adventures.

As time went on, she’d totally forget about her past life on Earth, and she’d be living as a beautiful princess in a splendid castle, surrounded by people who love and adore her.  Gold streets, diamonds, and everything would glimmer and shine.  Flowers would be everywhere.  Cute animals.  Everything is warm and fun.  And of course, there’d be adventures of every sort.

If she ever seemed to be growing tired of one fantasy, or longing for something else, when she’d go to sleep, it would all be transformed to something else as she awoke.  To her it’d feel like she was in dreams within dreams within dreams, and she’d have no idea what was or wasn’t real.  All she would know is she loved it and never wanted to wake up.  And if she started to miss her old friends in one of the previous fantasies, she’d go to sleep and wake up in that world again.

Considering things might get scary at times, I’d give her some recurring “symbol” that would let her know she’s dreaming and it’s always going to be ok.  Some sort of logo.  Like when the ship hit the ice-berg, she’d look at her pillow in her cabin and it’d have that logo embroidered into it.  It’d always appear when things got intense.  Like when she saw the water pouring in and the ship sinking, a crew member would appear wearing a hat and it’d have the logo on it.  They’d be guides who would always help her out of tricky situations.  I would want the logo to be really cool looking.  Maybe something like this.

black horse logo

I’d do all sorts of things like that for friends and loved ones.

I also wondered if I’d ever abuse that power.  I couldn’t imagine myself wanting to hurt anyone.  There are some who I wouldn’t mind teaching a lesson, but I worried that would lead me down a slippery slope.  Like a rich politician for example.  If he votes to cut all funding for the homeless, I might have a special “dream” prepared for him as well.  When he went to sleep that night he’d wake up as a homeless man.  He stumbles around town, nobody helping or hiring him.  He’s cold and starving and the other homeless people sleeping in cardboard boxes tell him, “There used to be a government soup kitchen, but Governor Smith shut it down.”  Then he’d fall into the snow, tired, wanting to die, and then he’d wake up in his bed.  If he didn’t get the message, he’d keep having dreams like that until he did.

Then again, you may all ask me, “If you had that sort of power, why don’t you just fix all the problems in the world?”  When I sat and thought about that, I concluded that I wouldn’t want to fix everything.  We still face some problems, such as incurable diseases like cancer, but we’ve mostly tamed mother nature.  Our main problems are getting along with one another.  We can’t control ourselves.

Nobody should be hungry, homeless, or without access to their needs in our modern world.  We just can’t figure out a good way to organize ourselves effectively.  That, and we have problems with greed, stupidity, and selfishness.  Those are the real problems.  Should a powerful being come down and spoil us all, making us all into brats?

Have any of you met a spoiled rich kid before?  I have.  I can’t stand them.  When everything is handed to you, it has nasty psychological effects.  Then again too much suffering can be just as bad.

I once saw a sci-fi movie, I can’t remember the name now, but in it a civilization developed advanced technology and robots which did everything and the humans became worthless creatures who had no depth at all.  They just ate, had sex, and did next to nothing with themselves.  No pursuit of knowledge.  No art or culture.  No growth.  They were worthless beings.

If I artificially propped up the humans, they would never stand on their own.  I don’t think that’s right.  I’d feel like I was robbing them of their potential.  I don’t know if I hold happiness as the highest virtue, though I’m still undecided.

I could immerse everyone in fantasies like I did with that girl, but that troubles me.  Why? I don’t have a great answer to that.  In life, sometimes we just love people.  We love our family and friends, and we don’t make logical decisions when it comes to them.  Giving her those fantasies may not even be what’s best for her.  I don’t know.  Any decision I make toward her would be highly emotional, and her happiness is very important to me.  It just is.  It isn’t right that I favor her over others, but I love my friends and family more than people I don’t know.  I’ll admit that.  That’s one reason I probably shouldn’t have powers like this.

If I had that kind of power, and someone criticized me for abusing it with that girl, I worry what I might do in my petty rage.  Who are you, little human, to question my Platonic romance?  I’d probably immerse him in the same dreams as her, and he’d fall madly in love with her, over and over, but I’d always frustrate his attempts to get with her.  “Oh? You could make her happier than I can?  I doubt it, but I’ll let you try.”  He’d always end up as a butler or something, shining shoes, in the friend zone.  Poor guy, that’d be a fate worse than death, but I wonder how cruel I could be if people messed with those I care about.

He visits his psychoanalyst and tells him, “I have dreams within dreams within dreams of this same goddess, each within a different story, and each time I fall madly in love with her, only to end in the friend zone, bested by some amazing, charming, beautiful man who comes out of nowhere.  Doctor, what does it all mean?”

prince princess

Then he’s teleported to this giant glowing hall, where I sit on a flying throne blazing in black flames, behind me a giant computer with that horse logo on it,  and I tell him in a roaring, booming voice, “Your only mistake was making me your adversary.  The girl’s mine.  I win.  She’s chosen me every single time.  No hard feelings.”  Then he wakes up in his bed on Earth, a bit nervous and frustrated, but ultimately unharmed.

Why do I sit and think about these silly things?  The other day I mentioned art and purpose.  I talked about finding the ultimate basis to why you do what you do.  When I deeply analyze myself, I don’t want power, I want happiness for myself, my friends and loved ones.  Like anyone else, I wonder how to make that happen.

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Topics: Personal | 9 Comments »

Nerd Talk – No Cool People Allowed

December 15, 2013

This post is only for nerds.  If you’re half-way cool, you won’t have any idea what I’m talking about in this post, so don’t bother reading.  That being said, as some of you might know, I have a nerdy love of Japanese role playing games.  I tend to blog about serious things, but I have mentioned my secret addiction a few times on here.

Ever since I played Final Fantasy 6 on SNES as a teenager, I’ve been hooked on them.  Well, I was in the past anyway.  Most of their newer games aren’t anything special, unfortunately, and I had begun to think I’d lost interest in video games altogether.

You guys care to go down a nerd’s memory lane?  I was in junior-high school, it was summer vacation, and it was way too hot to do anything outside.  So what did I do with myself?  Like every teenager, I played video games.

My brothers and friends were all into first person shooters, so I played them too back then.  We were totally addicted to Goldeneye 64.  But toward my later teen years, I started to break off into playing RPGs.  A friend of ours down the street had this game called Lagoon on Super Nintendo and my brothers played it just to make fun of it.  Then I got to playing it and while I could never admit it to anyone in my family, I actually liked it.

Soon my brothers caught me spending hours and hours playing it and they started calling me “La-geek”.  I’d roll my eyes, tell them to shut up, and in my younger brother’s case, wrestle him to the ground, tie him up in his bed blankets, and then roll him out in the hallway as he was crying out for Mom.

Later I learned there were much better RPGs, and found the Final Fantasy games.  First it was FF 6 on SNES, but later I came across 7, 8, and 9 on Playstation.  Cloud’s buster sword, Squall’s gun-blade, and Vivi the black magician.

cloud motorcycle

Cloud Strife – Final Fantasy 7

When I think of Final Fantasy, I think of those guys.  I’d never seen anything like it.

vivi-final_00324499

Vivi – Final Fantasy 9

Great stories, incredible music, and an all around immersive experience.  If you’ve never played them before and like console RPGs, you’ll love them.  Final Fantasy X on PS2 is great too.

Squall and Rinoa - Final Fantasy 8

Squall and Rinoa – Final Fantasy 8

As sad as I am to say it, I can’t help but feel nostalgic.  Every couple years they come out with a new Final Fantasy game, but I’m always disappointed.  About a year ago, for the first time since my teenage years, I actually put down a Final Fantasy game and didn’t finish it.  I was playing their latest PS3 release FF XIII-2, and I was Serah and Noel fixing some sort of time-distortion where these little tomato creatures were crawling out into the forest, or something.  I don’t know.  It was just stupid.

There was a time when there were knights and dragoons in FF.  Do you remember playing as Cyan and Sabin, protecting the castle from invading armies?  Or how about riding through Narshe in Magitek Armor?

terra magitek

Terra In Magitek Armor – Final Fantasy 6

How about Squall and Rinoa hijacking that train in Final Fantasy 8?  Can you remember the feeling when you were first rode a chocobo?  And who could ever forget Setzer and his flying airship casino?

Setzer Gabbiani - Final Fantasy 6

Setzer Gabbiani – Final Fantasy 6

I remember raiding Mako reactors with Barret and Cloud.  Auron was awesome.  Even the side characters like Cait-Sith were cool.  Remember Cloud’s motorcycle?  Or when Balamb Garden took off into the sky?  I can talk about those old games all day.

If you have no idea what they are, they’re sort of like really imaginative, interactive novels with Hollywood blockbuster quality soundtracks.  They go on for forty to sixty hours, and you get totally drawn into them.  Every time I’d play those games, there was nothing like them.  They were so imaginative.  So different.  I just miss that.

I was thinking that I’d never play a game that good ever again.  Square was bought out by Enix and things just went downhill.  FF XII wasn’t bad, but X-2 and all the XIII games?  As I said before, they’re nothing special.  I had a lot of hope for FF XIV online, but it was a disaster.  Well, they’ve recently came out with a big update and they say it’s pretty good now.  Maybe I’ll go out and buy it to check it out?  I don’t know though.  Online games are way too time consuming.  I don’t have that much free time anymore.

Anyways, I don’t like to focus on the negative, so I’ve secretly kept alive an inner hope that somehow, someday, someone would bring that magic back into a console RPG and I’d find it.   Well, sometimes dreams do come true!

So I just got off for Christmas break, and I’m buried in several feet of snow.  I was studying particle physics, loading up the wood stove to say warm, and just needed a change of pace.  I’m always studying physics.  I needed something else to do.

I figured I’d try a console RPG, so I did a little research on the internet.  It turns out some of the original guys from the Final Fantasy team left Square, formed their own company, and made a game called The Last Story on Nintendo Wii.  Intrigued, I got it and oh my gosh.

Last_Story_Box_Art

Oh my gosh.  OH MY GOSH!

Just today, I played this game for eight hours.  Eight hours!  No joke.  I woke up early in the morning and played until it was dark outside.  I didn’t even want to quit then, but my eyes needed rest.  With these games, there’s never a good time to break.  I’d hit pause, run in the kitchen to quickly eat something, and then jump right back into it.  That’s how awesome this game is.

I love it.  I was thinking I’d never love a game like the old Final Fantasies, but I’ve spent today in total amazement.  This game has all the magic of the old series.  The characters and story have depth.  The music is incredible.  The game is fun to play.  It’s everything I’ve wanted in a video game for so long.  But now, they have newer hardware to work with and everything is even better!

The Last Story

The Last Story

I couldn’t believe it.  I’ve only had the game for two days and I’ve already put 15 hours into it.  I went to save my game and saw that and thought, “Seriously?”  It did not feel that long.  It’s probably the second best RPG I’ve ever played.  First would go to Final Fantasy 8.  Let’s be honest here.  It’s impossible to top that game.  But The Last Story comes in a fairly close second.  That’s how good it is.

The cutscenes really bring depth to the characters.  The voice acting is superb.  The graphics are beautiful, filled with castles, and a very magical fantasy world.  It’s just well done and polished.  Well, the battle system has a few glitches, but once you get used to it, you can work around it.

The story centers around two young men who are left as orphans due to a war, and they dream of one day becoming knights.  They form a band of mercenaries, wandering from town to town, until eventually they have a chance to become knights for an ambitious Count, but they quickly become disillusioned when they see all the corruption within the nobility first hand.

I hope Square-Enix takes notice.  I have high hopes for Final Fantasy XV.  I keep telling myself that they’ve just been in a weird slump.  And yeah, FF XIII-3 Lightning Returns will be coming out soon, but  I haven’t even pre-ordered it.  I see trailers and gameplay videos, and it doesn’t grab me at all.   I mean, I didn’t even finish FF XIII-2.  I basically forced myself to play through FF XIII.  I have a strong feeling that if I do end up buying it, I won’t even remove the plastic wrapping.

Considering my time is more limited nowadays, if the game isn’t really good, I’m not going to waste time with it.  Not too long ago I bought Nino Kuni, Wrath of the Witch King for PS3.  I’d much rather play through that.

It’s kind of funny.  I went into Gamestop searching for it and an asian dude from their staff came up to me and asked if I needed help.  I told him I was looking for Ni No Kuni, and his face lit up.  He went into the back and got their last copy, and as he handed it to me, he kept going on, “Now this is great game.  You’ve made a good choice with this one.”  I replied, “I’ve heard it’s really good.” He gave me this look of assurance and strongly stated, “Oh, it’s good.  Believe me.  You’re going to like this one.”  It was like he was trying to keep it away from the other customers who weren’t worthy of their last copy.  These other people?  Psh, they wouldn’t appreciate a quality JRPG like this!  But you, I can see you have a fine taste for these things.  Lol!  It looks fun anyways.

So yeah.  That’s how I’ll probably spend the holidays.  While everyone else attends big new years parties, boozing it up to loud music and dancing, I’ll just drink apple juice and stay at home studying particle physics and quantum field theory, locked away in my study.  When I get tired of that, I’ll play The Last Story and Nino Kuni.  And maybe FF A Realm Reborn.  That, and I’ll be going to the gym and playing basketball once the snow melts.  Oh, and when the first wave settles down, I’m going to go see the new Hobbit movie.   My Dad actually wanted to go see that with me.  He loves the Lord of the Rings movies.

I’m also wanting to finish reading some of Noam Chomsky’s books I ordered a while back.   That’s about all I’ll do over the break.

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Topics: Personal | 5 Comments »

Religion In Science Classes

December 5, 2013

Religion does not belong in a science classroom.  Recently a young student went on Reddit to share a quiz his Florida schoolteacher gave their third grade class.

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Take a look at the last two questions.  Einstein’s general relativity explains gravity beautifully as an effect from the bending of the fabric of space-time.  Our descriptions only break down in extreme conditions, like within the center of a black hole, where bizarre quantum effects come into play, and we haven’t been able to unite the two theories.

Why does it break down?  What’s the big deal?  Why is it so difficult to solve this problem?  Well, many physicists believe that black holes collapse into new universes.  The big bang which originated our universe may well have been initiated by the collapse of a black hole in some sort “other” universe.   Naturally, trying to figure out something of that complexity is a monumental task.  To connect the two theories, us physicists may well have to devise a mathematical framework which unites our universe into a pantheon of other universes, all with their own distinct laws — laws which themselves probably evolve within each universe’s distinct flow of time.

The physicist Lee Smolin wrote a book called The Life Of The Cosmos in 1992, advocating the fecund universes theory.  Basically he argues that natural selection and mutation may well be going on at the grandest scales of the cosmos.  There are all these universes being born and universes are developing within universes, within universes.  Leonard Susskind of Stanford has taken similar positions with his string theory landscape model.

Considering we haven’t figured all of that out yet, I guess you can just say, “God did it.”  But you know, that further begs the question, “What is God?”  Explain to me what God is?  Why does God do these things?  How do you know this being exists?  Why are you so certain?  Maybe the universe came into existence some other way?  Maybe we’re all part of a much larger scheme of things and there is no plan or design?

I’m an agnostic.  I don’t claim to know everything about this universe.  The more I look into it, the more complex it is.  I find it hard to believe people who claim to have answers to questions like these.  I’ve been spending the last eight years of my life studying physics, and I look at how religious folks get their answers and wonder why anyone should believe them.

Take the last question.  Christians do not “know” that gravity was designed by God.  What sort of proof do they have?  They have blind faith which isn’t based on anything.  We physicists build giant particle accelerators and do careful experiments to confirm carefully tested theories.  Any single violation of our theory, just a single experiment where the elementary particles of the universe violate our mathematical laws, and we’d all throw our hands in the air and say, “Back to the drawing board.  We’ve been wrong all along.”  They’re the complete opposite.  No experiments, no way to ever prove them wrong.  They just pull magical beings out of their butt and say, “He did it!”, and if we don’t believe that, we’re condemned to eternal damnation.  Ask them who “He” is and they babble incoherently.  It’s more likely that the laws of physics evolve and change within different universes, and there isn’t even a set ultimate law to begin with.

Science is about what we do know, as little as that may be, and we do know that Einstein’s theory can explain the motion of things through space-time in all but the most extreme circumstances.  Teach that to our students.  Keep religion out of the classroom.

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Topics: Physics, Politics | No Comments »

Living In The World

December 3, 2013

The other day I recommended you all watch Andrei Tarkovski’s film Solaris.  After watching several long interviews with him, I just love his style.

He will take some difficult philosophical concept and build the entire film around that.  Take Solaris for instance.  The central theme of the movie is whether a man can remain human in an inhuman environment.  It’s not about the giant alien planet, or the space station, or any of the “sci-fi” stuff.  All of that is just a plot device he’s exploiting to put the main character in inhuman situations that test him spiritually and emotionally.  We the viewer then grow from watching the film.

He had a lot of deep insights.  Watch this clip above and listen to what he says about young people.  Growing up, all of my friends were always wanting to do something.  Busy, busy, busy.  Playing games, sports, listening to music, going to concerts, watching television, whatever it was.  Something had to be going on.

We tend to view that as a form of vitality.  That’s life.  Those people are alive!  They’re wanting to live life to the fullest.  Think of all that’s out there to experience!  Why are we sitting at home, doing nothing?

Tarkovsky makes an interesting observation.  Young people are uncomfortable being alone with themselves.   There must always be a distraction.  Loud noises, silly entertainment on Youtube, guns blazing in video games, there always has to be something.  That something temporarily takes them away from themselves.

Take the club scene.  You have this loud music blaring, bass thumping, and lots of alcohol.  Those sorts of places are not so much about living as escaping.  You even hear it in the lyrics of dance music.  “Forget the world”, “Let’s just have fun”, “There’s only tonight”.   Is that truly living in the moment?

Young people insult the elderly and say they’re boring for just sitting on the porch, enjoying the breeze, watching the birds in the water bath, but I don’t think that’s the case.  They’re actually more spiritually developed.  They don’t need distractions.  They’ve learned to be themselves.  They can sit and be whoever they are, and experience their life, in their home, on their porch, in their body.

I had never realized that.

Are you able to just sit, in quiet, no fantasy keeping your mind occupied on the television, no video games, no music in the background.  Can you just sit for one evening and simply be you?  Not consuming someone else’s life or work.  Not reading other people’s blogs and ideas.  Not daydreaming in a storyline someone else wrote.  Can you sit and live in a world of your own creation?

This world, as you, creating your destiny.  Your work of art.  Your composition.  Your story.  Your pursuit into the unknown.  Can you do it?

There’s an emptiness in passive consumption.  Something special happens when you engage yourself and your imagination toward something you desire to accomplish or know.  It integrates into your being and life.   Take my former life as a software developer.

I remember spending a lot of time with my friend Greg, and we’d just sit and talk about what we at that time called “bases”.  We’ve always been people who dissect the things around us into their parts and then combine them in new ways.

When we would design software, we always had deep philosophies about everything.  The entire process, we were always building and revising complex philosophical systems, based on design, implementation, deployment, support.  The whole works.  What do I mean by that?

You may think that writing software is, well, writing software.  But no.  That’s how amateurs do it.  It’s really about purpose.  Technicals are secondary.

The first and most primary purpose is why are you doing what you’re doing.  Do you believe in it?  Does it matter to you?  Why are you developing software?  What is your goal?  What are you trying to accomplish?  What does it mean for someone to use your software?

You say, “How could I know something like that?”  As a novice, of course you don’t.  You don’t know that when you start.  That’s what you have to find out!

I’d land all kinds of contracts.  We’d be sitting at my desk in the office with the development tools open, designing screens.  I’d have a contract for a medical clinic and this software was to manage different medications for cancer patients.

I would sit in my office and fill notebooks with designs, flow-charts, and plans.  Not necessarily the technical aspects of the software, such as the database, and all that.  No.  I’m talking about the human “flow”.  The interactions.

There’s a lot more to it than the “job”.  There’s your presentation and interaction with the people in your life.  Who you work with.  How do you present yourself.  Your ambitions.  Your standards.  Your qualities.  Who will and won’t you work with?  What are your standards?  What do you require before you’ll even start a job?  All sorts of things like that.  That’s the real meat.  That’s the hard stuff to figure out.  That’s what so few people ever figure out.

Once you have your way of doing things, you can serve everyone better.  I remember a doctor hired me to develop some software to manage their Radiology laboratory and he gave me some ideas about what he wanted the software to do.  He had some basic screens drawn on a piece of paper and so forth.  An amateur would’ve said, “No problem.  I’ll develop it just as you’ve drawn out here.”  But did I do that?  No.  I told him, “I have a better idea.”  He looked at me puzzled.  I said, “I must live and immerse myself in the lives of these nurses in this laboratory for the next week or so.  I have to know everything they do, sometimes better than they do.  Then I’ll start.”

After I’d do that, I’d move on to optimizing the whole thing.  Lay out each process.  Think of the purpose of each step.  It can be a really tough challenge to sit and take some complicated process and reduce it to the simplest possible set of steps.  It has to be broad enough to cover anything they may want to do, but also streamlined enough to where the things they do most often can be done quickly and easily.

I remember being so proud when I’d deploy the software.  I’d just leave an icon on their desktop and then wouldn’t say anything.  Wouldn’t tell them anything.  They’d open up the first screen and the software was so intuitive, and so easy, there was absolutely no training necessary.  They just clicked around for a few minutes saying, “Oh, ok.  I see.”

The IT man would be talking to me about deployment.  “Does this have an installer?  How do I install this on other machines?”  I’d say there’s only two files.  There’s a database file, and the software executable.  That’s it.  He’d exclaim, “What!?”  I’d say, “Yes.  That’s it.  No complex installations of any kind.  Just put a shortcut to this executable from this server folder on any machine.  It will work.”  The simplest possible deployment.

Why?  Because I designed it exactly around their current work-flow, but just got rid of everything tedious.  Everybody in the entire building who had anything to do with my work.  As simple as possible without losing the purpose of what the software was intended to do.  I’d then drive back to the office smiling, “It can’t be done any better.”

But what did I really do?  All of that stuff I mentioned just now, that’s just details.  What is the central core of why it would always go so well?  Why would I succeed when others failed?  Here’s the real point, so make a note of it.

I went into their organization and discovered their purpose.  The purpose of each worker.  Of each computer.  Of each step in their process.  The purpose.  It’s ALL about the purpose.

It’s not about the software.  It’s not about the screens or pretty graphics.  It’s not about the servers or the databases.  In their case, it was about treating patients with cancer.  That’s it.  That’s the basis.  This organization takes care of people with cancer.  The nurses don’t give a care about the software.  They want to take care of the sick.  That’s the ultimate basis.  If you don’t get that, go home.  You will fail.  You will never make it.

But you know, nobody’s going to tell you the basis.  You have to discover the ultimate basis.  Every job I’d do had a different basis.  I had to find it.  Once I had it, THEN I could start the design process.  Before that?  You’re just spinning wheels.

It was the same process as when Tarkovsky was creating films.  You say, “How are they the same?”  They’re exactly the same!  When you’re a master at something, the technicals are just petty details.  The philosophy, the system, the “basis” is what matters.  The creativity flows around the purpose of whatever it is you’re doing.  You have to believe and have a passion in the purpose.

Tarkovsky’s basis for Solaris was to find a way to express a human being struggling to stay human in an inhuman environment.  That’s it.  That’s the core.  That’s what really matters.  That’s the purpose of why he created the film.  The rest was just details of expressing that theme.

He’d spend nights thinking about the world, about life, about the universe.  All kinds of things swirled through his brilliant mind.  But at some point he formed a philosophy of what was important to him.  What things mattered.  And based on that, he was able to find a purpose for his films.  Then he weighed all kinds of options and said, “This is the most important thing to make a film about.”

Think about the normal Joe.  Why don’t they create things?  They’re not flowing with a purpose.  They’re not integrated into the world, with some thing they’re trying to do.  Tarkovsky was an artist, inspired by his father, a poet.  He looked at the world and had a perspective on it.  And because he had that perspective, he had ideas he wanted to share, things he wanted his audience to see and think about.

There was some inner discontent.  That was the source of his art.  There was some dissatisfaction with the world, and his work came along to try to do something about that.

If you’re passive, you can’t be creative.  You have no purpose.  Art and all creativity are born from discontent.

Before you can live as a creative person, living as yourself in your world, you have to create your philosophy.  Your system.  Your way of doing things.  Your way of interpreting the world. The world comes into you, some process of creativity and imagination happens within you, and then something is churned out.  The best of the best are always working on their inner system, their purpose.  Their essence.

Living as an entrepreneur, a very creative enterprise, I was always developing inner philosophies toward everything.  This is who I do business with.  This is the kind of work I do.  These are my standards.  This is the quality of my software.  This is my process of development, deployment, and fulfillment.

Now my shift has been toward theoretical physics, but it’s still purpose driven.  I’m no different than Tarkovsky.  I have deep philosophical issues plaguing my mind, an inner discontent with the current explanations given to me as to what this world is, and I want answers.

I talk about them here on my blog all the time.  What is free will?  What am I?  How can I be free but made of these particles which follow physical laws?  What is consciousness?  What is the origin of all of this?  Why does the world follow rules at all?  Are there other universes?  How do they work?  Is there a God?  All sorts of questions brewing in my head, and physics is the best way I know to pursue them.

The research papers are just like films.  They’re sharing with the world some thing that mattered to me.  Unfortunately physics papers have a limited audience, but it’s no different than producing a film.

Lots of people crank out worthless research papers.  Nobody reads them.  They just write them up to have a fancy CV.  But the best physicists, you can read any of their papers and work and it’s always a deep inquiry into something fascinating they were exploring.  Something they wanted to understand.

Whenever you start engaging the world, your thing almost becomes religious.  It’s the most important thing in the entire world.  Satan could come up to me and say, “I’ll offer you fame, women, and money, if you’ll just abandon this pursuit of yours.”  I’d exclaim, “No!  You’re crazy.  What am I going to do with this wad of paper?  Is it going to tell me why the stars shine?  Why I exist?  The fate of the universe?  You can keep it.”

Have you ever went to the store and just didn’t want anything in there?  There are things you want, but they can’t be bought.  You’re going to have to create them.  Bring them out of the void.  It’s your calling.  Your thing.

To be creative, it’s all about integrating the world and everything it offers into some purpose of yours.  That’s how you grow to live in your world and not somebody else’s.  Being in the moment is not about being distracted; it’s about being totally immersed, emotionally, physically, intellectually.

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Topics: Philosophy | 3 Comments »

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