May 22, 2014
Just yesterday I wrote a big long post on society, values, and culture. I didn’t end up posting it because I took a look at it and it was just me ranting about all kinds of things which are wrong with the world. I stared at it, read it over a few times, and then thought, no, this is not what I’m about.
Why? Have you guys ever saw blogs, or Youtube channels, or other online content, where it seemed the main goal of the content creator was to dig up filth and bring it to you each and every day? That sort of thing gets a lot of attention but it poisons your soul. You shouldn’t fill your mind with all the stupid things idiots are doing across the world. Sure, you have to be aware of it to be informed, but don’t use that as an excuse to live in their muck. Fill your mind with loving, interesting, beautiful things. Find people who are creating inventions, art, and discovering new aspects of the universe.
With that in mind, I instead want to write about something more interesting — what do I believe in? That’s a much more difficult question. Without faith in something, you just die inside. You’re empty and have no direction. You just sort of drift through life, moping around.
The other night I asked myself what I believe in. Just having to ask myself that question is kind of strange. You can live life unconsciously believing in things, never critically examining your mind and figuring out what you’re all about.
So what does that question even mean? What does it mean to believe in something?
It’s about finding something of value. Something worth experiencing, worth knowing, worth doing. If someone was to ask you, “What makes life worth living?”, you’d hold this thing up in the air and say, “This!”
At first I found myself saying, “Progress”. I believed that it’s possible for us to understand this world and take control of our destinies. We don’t have to accept the cruel fate nature has given us. If we get involved, we can change our government, our world, and the way we do things. We can create new inventions and make life easier and less tedious. Sickness and disease can be defeated. Even death from old age will eventually be conquered.
But while all of that is well and good, that doesn’t really answer the question. All that is saying is, “Once we fix these problems, then life will be good.” What does that new “fixed” state of existence look like? And what about right now? What is available to me right now which I can say, “This!”
That’s not easy to answer. Most of my joy comes from learning new things. The world is just really bizarre, especially the physical world. As I get deeper into this quest to understand the nature of reality, I keep peeling back the layers and everything is just strange. I find a lot of joy seeking answers to questions like why am I conscious, what is the brain doing, what is space and time, are there other universes, what is the physical world composed of, why does it all behave the way it does, is there free will, and things like that. I get more joy from that than anything else.
My joy originates in taking an ordinary everyday moment and looking at it in a different way. It’s a delight in the world itself. You have to look at it without judgement and without fear, with a deep curiosity to know things as they really are. Well, maybe that’s not even right. You don’t necessarily have to care whether you “know” it or not. It’s not a hoarding attitude where you feel rushed to get as much knowledge as you can, or experience all you can within your short lifetime. It’s a very relaxed state of being. When you begin to see it, being radiates and flows out of the world in such quantities, no matter where you are or what you’re doing, there’s more than enough of “it” to go around.
You have to disconnect yourself from the the noisy, random chatter in your mind and become the universe itself. I’m not talking about meditation here, or maybe I am. I’m not sure. Your body and your life are just part of the drama which is unfolding. There’s a disconnect of “self” and a connection with a totality of existence. It’s fine if there is words and thoughts, but they have to be about this existence and what you’re experiencing. They’re best if used creatively to either learn more about what you’re seeing, such as seeing beyond it, or examining the process which is unfolding. In my mind, the words are like, “How did this happen? What is this made out of? How was it made?” In other words, the thoughts disconnect you from yourself and connect you to a greater, more expansive, more timeless reality. If you get far enough into it, you can just sit on your back porch on a lawn chair and look out onto your yard and the mind will go all over the place. I’m not talking about your worries, how you’re going to pay the bills, or some fight you had with your girlfriend. This is much deeper than that. It’s not negative or depressing.
You look onto your backyard and think about all the insects and plants and how they evolved. My mind is very “process” and “law” oriented, but if you’re an artist, maybe you’d imagine the insects and all their forms from different perspectives, like you’re “drawing” them in your imagination. Even I oftentimes think about it from the perspective of an artist. I think about all those little insects and their forms and I’m always left in awe. If you’d given me a blank canvas to paint on, I could never have come up with any of them. Look at those things! Look at all those little legs and weird eyeballs. You see a grasshopper jump and fly across the lawn and I picture all that went into making that moment happen.
The beauty is all in the details. It’s about the complexity, the details, and just an appreciation of this “being” which is all around us.
I think of the physics involved, the air particles being displaced by the little wings, and all the tiny muscle movements within the insect’s body. I think about what it’d take to simulate it all on a computer and am in awe of how much detail there is. No computer today could even come close to simulating all the detail which would be involved.
I like learning the details because I have an engineer’s mind. I think about building little flying machines and there is delight in understanding how to build them and going through the creative process of choosing how to build it. It’s not like there’s only one way to build something. Look at all the different types of flying insects and birds. There’s many ways to build flying contraptions.
This utilizes your entire mind. It’s not passively going through life without any thoughts. You engage your creative mind as well. At least, that’s how I do. If you’re an artist, maybe you try drawing and creating your own insects. Try to beat God at His own game! (Good luck with that!) Even if everything you come up with pales in comparison to the depth and complexity of this reality, you’ll feel great joy in taking part in the creative process.
My creativity comes from figuring out the processes involved. I think about how to model it all within computers. I’m big into simulations. I like understanding what’s going on around me. I have no other goal in mind, though that understanding could be used to build new things.
As I learn more and more, there are all these puzzles and problems to explore. I have a set of choices on what I could spend my time studying and further exploring, and that’s a very creative process. I could work to master this form of mathematics, or look more into what’s going on in these metals at low temperatures, or think about how I could model a low density plasma in universe simulation. As I learn more and more, my ability to create and explore further grows. Knowledge creates the ability to be creative. At least in physicists and engineers. I could build it this way, that way, or this other way. How accurate would this be? How well would this do? When would this work and when wouldn’t it work? What limitations would there be?
There’s this expansion within you. This bubble around you pops and you become aware of a world much greater than yourself which has always been there. Its complexity, power, and elegance will simply overwhelm you and leave you in total awe. You’re sitting there in a lawn chair in your back yard, a normal everyday event, but everything has burst into vibrant colors. It’s profound. What is all of this?
This isn’t anything in particular. I can’t hold up any one thing and say, “This!” It’s more of a way of spending your attention. Your self dissolves into the world around you, like a sugar cube dissolving in a liquid. Even the process of learning and creating itself feels like an experience which is happening. It’s not like you squint your eyes and grit your teeth to make things happen.
But to answer my original question — what do I believe in? Whatever it is, it’s all around us. You may find it looking into the eyes of someone you love. You may find it drinking a fine wine, or if you’re like me, creating computer simulations, trying to understand the mind, and wondering how everything came into existence. But whatever “it” is, it’s not far from you.
May 8, 2014
Scientists from Harvard, MIT, Princeton and others have collaborated on the world’s largest and most detailed computer simulation models of the universe to date. It’s called Illustris and it was simulated on the world’s fastest super-computer. You should check out the results in this video. Take a look at the galaxies and the surrounding dark matter.
Besides simulating gravity and hydrodynamics, it also models complex chemical processes in the diffuse gas, radiation, and magnetic fields. It even takes into the account the formation of black holes. Very cool. I really like the music too. “It’s not real, it’s just a computer generated fantasy!”
May 3, 2014
As I’m sure most of you have heard, powerful special interests in the U.S. government have been fighting against net neutrality. I’ll take a brief moment to explain what all of this is about.
Net neutrality means that internet service providers do not charge different rates based on what you do or access on the internet. All data is treated equally. Whether you’re accessing a smaller website like mine, or you’re using Google, or playing a game, the internet service provider doesn’t treat the information differently.
Well, they’ve pretty well gutted net neutrality and over the next ten years, if we don’t fight this, the internet is going to be a very different place than it is today. If we site idly by, it’s going become just like everything else in this world — the rich and powerful dominate and control everything, and the rest of us are shoved off into “slums”.
One of my favorite things about the internet is how free and open it is. I can start a website like this and build it up. I could start my own Youtube channel and gather a following. And if any of you find my material, you can access it at high speeds, watch my videos, read my website, share my content, and so on. I love that. I feel like I’m given an equal shot. There’s very few barriers thrown up. I don’t need a huge wad of money to get started. It’s easy to get going and if I’m willing to work at it, provide content, and promote myself, I can be successful. Sometimes I’ve considered starting a Youtube channel and there are barely any barriers to entry there either. Just go out and buy a decent camera for a few hundred dollars and get yourself some decent lights. And if you don’t really care about presentation, you don’t even need that.
This is what makes the internet so awesome. No matter how much of an odd-ball you might be, you can always find what you’re looking for. But freedom like that is something you have to fight for. The rich and powerful don’t like us to have a place to express ourselves, come together, organize, and innovate. They want control and to destroy any competition. They’re working to throw all of us into digital “slums”.
ISPs like Comcast are working to construct data “super-highways” and plan to throttle bandwidth based on what websites you’re accessing, what content you’re viewing, or what activities you’re participating in. Unless I, the content creator, pay the the ISPs a big wad of money, my content will not be delivered quickly to you, the customer. And unless you spend extra money for fast access to sites like mine, I’ll be thrown into the “slums” of the internet, as will the rest of you.
The internet will become a place dominated by money, like everything else in the world. It all really pisses me off. From your end, you’ll type in “jasonsummers.org” and then you’ll wait, and wait, and wait. It’ll be really slow and a pain, and after a while you’ll get sick of waiting and stop coming to sites like mine. But if you go to somewhere these big ISPs “approve” of (aka, are paying them huge wads of money), then their data packets will be given a higher priority and delivered lightning fast to customers.
So what should you do? First, learn more about all of this. Second, sign petitions, such as this one.
Write your representatives and cause a stink.
If you’re on Youtube, inform your subscribers. If you have a blog, tell your readers about it. And all of us unite and make a lot of noise. Flood your representatives with emails and letters. Physical letters are the best but emails are good too.
April 30, 2014
Finals are right around the corner for me, so I haven’t had a lot of time to write blog posts. But thinking about tests and transcripts, I remembered Mr. Bone from one of my favorite childhood cartoon series, Doug. I was in my Statistical Mechanics class and overheard some students talking about grades, finals, and transcripts, and that reminded me of how Mr. Bone would always threaten students that he’d leave bad marks on their PERRRMMMMANANENTTT RRREEECCOOOORRRDDD!
I actually found one of the episodes I was thinking of on Youtube! Everything is on there these days. I can’t believe I used to watch these cartoons twenty years ago. Am I really getting that old?
April 26, 2014
There’s a new game coming out in just a few days that I’m really excited about. It’s a fairy tale where all the game’s art is like an interactive water-color painting. The light of the world has been captured by the Queen of the Night, and you play the role of a small girl named Aurora who must bring the light from the sun, moon, and the stars back into the world. You’re accompanied by several friends, one of which is a small firefly who helps light your way.
Here is a video of a person playing the game. It looks amazing.