May 16, 2015
I have received emails from several readers concerning my post ‘The Dark Side Of Life’. Their responses have left me thinking that I should write a short post regarding my views on optimism and pessimism.
So what sorts of things tell whether a person is optimistic or pessimistic? Here are some areas to consider:
1. Predictions and potential for change
Does the person expect the best or the worst outcomes in future situations? Can bad things be changed or is the situation hopeless? Is the external world in control, or do they have the power to change events?
2. Focus of attention
What sorts of things does this person talk and think about? Is there a preoccupation with the negative, the positive? Does the person strike some sort of balance?
3. Attributions of intentions
When they deal with other people, how do they think of other people’s intentions? For example, if you’re in the office and someone snaps at you, do you think that person is just mean, or do you think they’re probably just having a bad day, giving them the benefit of the doubt?
Do you believe your self/others are useless? Do you believe your self/others are loveable and valuable?
There really isn’t a right or wrong answer to all of this, but either extreme is dangerous. Excessive pessimism can lead to depression and inactivity. Excessive optimism can leave people unprepared, unsafe, and ill equipped for the future. The answer is to live somewhere in the middle.
When it comes to confidence, keep in mind that people are the most over-confident in areas where they’re the least competent. It takes competence to recognize competence. Our ignorance in what we don’t know sustains confidence in our own abilities.
A pessimist would more easily see that people generally think too highly of themselves. Most all women consider themselves strong, most men consider themselves good-looking, and everyone thinks their children are above-average. We tend to accept responsibility for good deeds and not for bad deeds. The same goes for success and failures. Studies show that we all think we’re more ethical than our average counterpart and that we’re all better at our jobs than the average peer. We all easily believe flattery and are easily impressed with psychologist tests which make us look good. We tend to think our groups (our school, our country, our race, our children, even our pets) are superior. In situations where people tend to behave less than admirably, we overestimate how desirably we would act. We over-estimate the commonality of our foibles and underestimate the commonality of our strengths. Also people with excessive self-esteem are more likely to become aggressive when confronted as compared to someone with low self-esteem. Conceited, self-important individuals turn nasty toward those who puncture their bubbles of self-love.
As for judging other people’s intentions, always keep the situation in mind. Even good people can become nasty if put in a bad enough situation. We live in an overly individualistic culture which under-emphasizes environmental factors.
Optimists make better dreamers. They have the confidence to pursue their dreams and try to make them a reality. This leads them to see possibilities that a pessimist would miss. But that comes with a cost. Unrealistic optimists will ignore serious problems, refrain from taking proper safety precautions, and their emotional situations are often dealt with through denial, nonchalance, and blaming others.
Pessimism also has benefits. For example, they are better at recognizing dangers and foreseeing potential problems in a plan. Also, since they have lower expectations, they are less often disappointed. However, they also tend to have higher rates of depression, higher blood pressure, and are perpetual party poopers.
Both optimism and pessimism are mental strategies for dealing with an unpredictable world. Maybe being a realistic optimist is the best approach? However, who defines what’s realistic? If the greatest visionaries of the past had been “realistic”, they never would have tried. There’s no definitive answer to this.
May 5, 2015
Have you ever wondered what will ultimately happen to the Earth, the sun, and our universe, long after we’re dead? This video explains it all.
I’ll create a rough time-line for you all to follow.
– 600 million years from now
As the sun gets older, it will get hotter and hotter. This temperature increase will be too much for plant life on Earth and most all biological life will go extinct.
– One billion years from now
The sun’s increased temperature will boil away all the oceans, leaving it a barren rock. Only a few types of bacteria will survive, if anything.
– 2.8 billion years from now
Life will be completely impossible on Earth, even for straggler bacteria.
– 4 billion years from now
The Milky Way galaxy will collide with Andromeda, leading to a massive reshuffling of the stars.
– 5.4 billion years from now
Our sun will begin to run out of fuel
– 7.9 billion years from now
The sun will expand into a sphere 250 times larger than it is today; Mercury and Venus will be gobbled up in the process.
– 9.5 billion years from now
Our sun will deflate into a white dwarf star and become rather dim.
– 150 billion years from now
The universe will get so cold that even the cosmic background radiation becomes undetectable. All distant galaxies will be invisible due to the universe’s expansion.
– One trillion years from now
Stars will no longer be forming in our galaxy.
– 110 trillion years from now
All stars will have burn out. Everything will be lifeless, black, and cold.
– One quadrillion years from now
The cold, barren rock which we call Earth will plunge into the black dwarf which used to be our sun.
– 10^25 years from now
Our sun will becomes a black hole and slowly evaporate due to Hawking radiation. Whatever tiny particles remain from this process will be slowly stretched out into nothingness as the space-time fabric continues to expand.
– 10^100 years from now
The universe will return into the nothingness from which it began.
April 25, 2015
This post will discuss topics I rarely talk about with anyone. That’s mainly because if you bring these things up, it’s almost as if you’re a flawed human being. Happiness and positivity are practically mandates in today’s society, but I think as a consequence, many people are extremely shallow and overlook many of the things which are obviously wrong with this reality. I plan to bring up the dark side of life and the sorts of things which deeply depress me.
This short, incomplete list will give you an idea why I will never have children. I don’t want to bring any other life into this world. I’m going to try to make this world a little better place before I go, and then I will silently exit and hope I never return to this place.
When I think on this list, I just want to go out into a log cabin and have nothing to do with this world. I want to explore physics, consciousness, and the deepest aspects of this universe, and forget about human existence.
Also note that there’s no way I can discuss these topics in complete depth. I’m just planning to skim over some things to reflect about.
1. The Frailness Of Our Bodies
All life has evolved from simple cellular organisms swimming in the oceans. We’re basically complex organizations of dirt and water. We can be injured and destroyed very easily. We suffer immensely from disease, hunger, bad weather, bodily injuries, and many other things. Our knowledge of our bodies is also very crude, and when things malfunction, we lack the technical ability to fix ourselves.
The human body is badly engineered, and to top it off, I find it rather disgusting. While we’re putting cream and make-up on our faces and styling our hair, very few of us think about what’s underneath our skin, powering our bodies. It’s really gross.
If I cut open your mid-section, that’s what both you and I look like inside. It’s not pleasant. There’s a reason why we stink if we don’t shower and scrub ourselves everyday in the shower. We’re vast colonies of bacteria. Our underarms stink. Our breath stinks. We have turds flowing through our insides. Gross is an understatement.
We cover ourselves in clothing and give ourselves artificial smells with perfume, mouth wash, etc., to temporarily mask our real selves, which is abhorrent to even smell or look at.
And strangest of all, why is my mind constituted in such a way to find myself disgusting? What a cruel state of existence.
2. Our Cruel and Stupid Inner Instincts
All life on Earth has evolved by natural selection. There was a massive contest between species to reproduce and survive. That’s not to say the most advanced, most intelligent, and most beautiful life-forms flourished over others. Not at all. All we can say is that what’s left on planet Earth is that which has been able to survive and reproduce. That’s it. Ticks, tape-worms, chiggers, mosquitos, and all the rest, they’re here too.
This survival process has created our brains. Our minds are natively programmed with all kinds of evolutionary baggage and they threaten our survival and happiness. Why do people try to control and dominate one another? Why do people enjoy violence? Why do we blindly follow leaders without thinking? Why are people obsessed with sex and continually discontent with their partners in relationships? Many things like this stem from evolutionary baggage and can be explained, but I don’t have time. All that needs to be said is that we have stupid instincts and it causes immense suffering on this planet.
The only real weapon we have against the stupidity of our own unconscious minds is education. We have to learn to suppress our inner instincts and realize that the behavior they’re telling us to do is not in our best interests. However, school is boring. And why is it boring? Our ancestors evolved on the plains of Africa, chasing wild animals with spears. We want to move, we want to hunt, and we want to kill things. We didn’t evolve to sit in an office cubicle and stamp insurance forms.
All of this is why kids find physics boring but they enjoy playing Call of Duty, where they spend hours and hours killing one another with all kinds of weaponry. To actually enjoy something like physics requires immense mental development and education. It requires years and years of exploration into the nature of this cosmos. Without that education, there’s no way a person would find physics interesting. All they’re interested in is sex and money.
Human history is depressing. No matter what time period a person lived in, there has always been stupid humans guided by animal instincts, bent on controlling, dominating, and exploiting everyone around them.
As time has gone on, the weapons have only gotten more and more powerful. Now we have gatling guns which can mow down an entire crowd of people in seconds. We have chemical weapons which will eat the flesh off of all living organisms and leave them gasping in horror as they die. We have drones which can drop missiles on you from space – you can’t even see or anticipate your own death. But worst of all we have…
4. Nuclear Weapons
As we speak, nuclear missiles are aimed at every major city in the world. One slight misunderstanding or mistake and KABOOM. The entire human race will be wiped off the face of the Earth. Why did we build these things? Why have they not been dismantled? This is far beyond self-defense. Using them only means mutual annihilation. It’s complete insanity.
5. Squirrely Beliefs and Religions
I understand that we are all trying to make sense of this reality that we’re experiencing, but I hate the intolerance, the anti-science, the bigotry against gays, the wars, and all the other things that so often comes along with religion and superstition.
It breaks my heart to see women’s faces cut up when they’re caught sleeping with someone they love outside of marriage, or others who are stoned to death in the streets because someone doesn’t approve of a decision they made. I can’t believe the modern world has ISIS in it.
6. Plagues, Disease, and Cancer
Science is the only real weapon we have against all the viruses, bacteria, and other infections which can take control of our bodies and steal our health and happiness. If we ever let stupid, superstitious people in control of our governments, they will take funding away from biotechnology research, and we will not have any weapons against all the microscopic forces which want to ravage our bodies.
7. Natural Disasters
Despite what you may think, neither the Earth nor the universe cares that we exist. Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes and more continue to destroy our cities and kill innocent people.
Have you ever wondered why the Ku Klux Klan dresses in white robes? Well, white slave owners used to fill their black slaves minds with superstitions that ghosts would attack them and give them diseases if they ever tried to escape. So, they’d put on white robes and terrify their slaves at night. They’re vile human beings.
I hate seeing police brutality, where poor blacks are strangled to death in broad daylight for selling individual cigarettes on the streets, or children are brutally gunned down in parks. I can’t believe it still goes on today.
9. Celebrity Culture
I don’t hate celebrities as people, but their whole culture and how pervasive it is depressing. Go on Youtube, try to check out in the grocery store, or attempt to read the news, and there it is. This superficial, shallow world of make-up, dressing up, sex tips, and other garbage is thrown in your face. Is that a baby bump Jennifer Aniston? Who knows and who cares.
Movies today are mostly special effects, violence and sex with little food for thought. Everybody’s always trying to sell us something and people are famous for doing absolutely nothing.
10. Controlled News Sources
A small handful of large corporations like AOL, GE, News Corp, and a few others own and control everything. If they’re not selling us things we often don’t need, they’re systematically bribing and controlling our government. As Noam Chomsky points out, their goal is to manufacture consent.
It’s depressing. The only information we have access to is what the giant money making entities want us to know. It’s painful to watch.
11. Wealth Inequality
We hear a lot about wealth inequality today. The richest 1% continue to earn more and more while the middle class slowly withers away. Are these facts true? Yes. If you look at the numbers, it’s happening, without a doubt.
Where I live in the United States, costs for health care, education, most everything else a person needs continue to rise far faster than wages. This is a huge topic, but we hear about it everyday. There’s no need for me to go on about it.
April 18, 2015
While some university graduate schools may be creative places, on the whole, schools and universities are uncreative places for their students. What makes an environment creative? Dr. Robert Sternberg of Cornell has extensively researched creativity and has identified five factors which are always present in creative individuals.
Creative people are masters of their craft and know what they’re talking about.
2. Imaginative Thinking Skills
They can see things in novel ways, find new patterns, and explore connections others have never seen before.
3. A venturesome personality
They welcome new experiences, tolerate ambiguity and risk, and have some inner source of strength which pushes them to persevere through difficult obstacles. They are focused and are able to avoid distraction.
4. Intrinsic motivation
Creators are driven more by interest, satisfaction, and challenge than by external factors. They’re not out to impress others or make money. They typically become obsessed with some problem, project, or puzzle and work on it night and day. They wake up thinking about it and go to sleep thinking about it. They become deeply interested in something and pursue it because they want to.
5. A creative environment
Somehow creative people find a place which sparks, supports, and refines their ideas. They’re surrounded by mentors who challenge and support them. Creativity works best in teams which are out to innovate and have lots of communication. There also has to be a lot of time to think and work on the problems.
Of these five factors, the university as I’ve experienced it only develops expertise. They are places where competent professionals assign you lots and lots of homework, papers, and assigned reading, and if you keep pushing through, they eventually cram knowledge into you. That’s not to say you’re going to be creative and contribute new things to your field, but you’ll be able to mechanically do the things you’ve been taught.
With time, they’ll teach you to solve integrals, translate certain types of problems into differential equations, and write formal documents in a very grammatically correct, professional manner, and all of that is wonderful. However, that’s not to say you’ve been prepared to create and share original ideas. If you just go through the typical university curriculum, even passing all your courses with straight A’s, that does not guarantee you’re ready to contribute new things to your field. There are other skills which were never developed; that’s because they’re much more difficult to grade and measure.
Creativity requires intrinsic motivation, where things are studied and done for their own sake. Most students hate their assignments, avoid them when they can, and are completely extrinsically motivated. They’re out to get a good job. When I was in my English class just the other day, one student shared how happy he was that he’s going to be graduating in a few weeks and that he landed a job which will pay him $65,000 a year. The other students’ faces lit up and one student told him, “Nice! You’re done.” Those were his exact words. The goal seems to be to gain skills which lead to employment and then go and earn money, which they’ll then spend on the things they’re actually interested in. It’s all a means to some other end.
Because of the grading system, students come to hate tests. They pray for easy tests and easy classes, because making mistakes is too costly. They don’t want to be challenged because there is no room for mistakes. If they get bad grades, they lose scholarships and grants, and that means more debt. Also, if you get bad grades, you’re less employable and can’t get into the colleges and graduate schools you’re interested in. Bad grades can completely destroy your career ambitions, permanently. The result is students obsessed with compliance and grades. The attitude is not to question, it’s to obey. So, students worry that they have to do everything perfect on the first go because every score is kept in a permanent record. If a person is not allowed to fail, they’re never going to learn to venture out and take risks; you can’t be creative without taking risks and failing over and over.
Taking tests can be of some use – for students – “where I am, what I know, what I’ve achieved,” or for teachers – “what should be changed or improved”
Beyond that, they never really tell you very much
– Noam Chomsky, professor of linguistics, MIT
It feels like every other day you have an exam around the corner. If you divert some of your time to explore your own interests, even if those things are just further explorations of a topic you’ve covered previously in that very class, you’re severely punished when you do poorly on future exams.
In science and engineering, it’s easy find yourself scrambling to master the material for the next exam, lacking the requisite time to make the material your own. It’s very easy to learn things just well enough to answer the types of questions a particular professor will put on the exam. You can skate through college, making really good grades, without a deep grasp of the material.
A person can do magnificently on a test and understand very little. We’ve all had the experience of “acing a test” and forgetting everything two weeks later.
– Noam Chomsky
I’ve found this to be true with really complicated survey courses, where the course is supposed to give you a brief overview of the field. To get through them, you really don’t understand things, but you memorize how to work certain types of problems because you have no other choice. To give you an example, in an introductory particle physics course, we were studying some sort of excitation process rooted in quantum electrodynamics, and I did not remotely understand it. Equations were just pulled out of thin air, there was little explanation of what the variables even were, and the text basically said, “This is the equation that’s used.” I shrugged and said, “So? How does that help me?” I went to the library and got every book I could find, read them all, and still did not understand it. I could tell it was a really complicated, deep subject, and I suppose that was why it just gave me the equation without explanation. Even still, I really wanted to understand it.
The test was coming around the corner and I thought, “Well, I don’t get this at all.” I got copies of old exams, sort of figured out how to use the mystery equation, and somehow skated by. I got 100% on the exam but that didn’t mean much. With complicated material, even if you want to understand it, the class pushes forward and exploring the topic further only leads to you getting left behind. I’ve known many curious students over the years who have interesting questions in mind but they’ve never had the time to pursue and explore them.
A sixth grade teacher came up and told a story how one of her students asked if she could learn more about something about a particular topic and the teacher said she felt compelled to tell her that she shouldn’t do that – that she instead should be studying for the upcoming national exam because it will determine the teacher’s future and indirectly, the girl’s future. The little girl may have been a lot better off if she explored what interested her and not the test. Passing tests doesn’t begin to compare with inquiring, searching, pursuing topics that engage us and excite us. In fact, you will remember what you discover – if you pursue this kind of learning.
– Noam Chomsky
American universities have many factors which crush creativity. For one, they assign so much homework, reading assignments, and papers, you really don’t have time to pursue your own self-directed endeavors. When I was signing up for classes in the past, two of my professors were visibly upset with me when I didn’t take the full class schedule which they recommended. I told them I had ordered a stack of programming books on artificial intelligence, was interested in learning about the technology behind self-driving cars, and that I would resume being a full-time physics student the next semester. One professor just chuckled and laughed to himself. The other stormed out of the room and wouldn’t talk to me. I found it bizarre, said nothing, filled out my schedule, slid it back to them, and then left in silence. During the subsequent months I went on to study AI in depth and found it incredibly interesting – infinitely more interesting than the classes they were trying to push on me.
To pursue your own interests in your own way in college is considered laziness and you’re looked down upon. The professors are often cynical and assume you’re at home playing video games or watching television, so they feel they have a moral imperative to “push” you, which really amounts to stealing the little free time you have for self-directed endeavors.
Students are also crushed by massive financial burdens. Over and over again, I see students taking huge course loads because they’re worried about the massive student loan debt they’re incurring. They have no free time. I was hanging out with a graduate student in the library one evening and he told me how he was taking double the normal course load. I asked him why and he told me how terrified he was of the massive debt he’d been accumulating and needed to finish up so he could get into the workplace and pay it off. How are you ever supposed to develop a venturesome, independent, self-directed personality when you have no free time of your own to explore anything? Doing any sort of self-exploration in a college environment is impractical. There are too many assignments diverting your attention and the financial costs are too high. You need to have a directed goal before you go in there. It’s not a place to explore.
As for the university environment, it’s generally passive, not interactive and involved. When I was a child, my grandfather loved to tell a story where he’d ask me, “Jason, what do you do during church?” and I replied, “I sit still while daddy preaches.” He’d then erupt in laughter. Sadly, my high school and college experiences have been just that. You sit still while professor lectures.
Professors will answer your questions, but they almost always have a rather rigid class agenda. There is so much material needing covered before the next exam and if you try to get elaborations and further explore topics, there simply isn’t time. And even if you’re interested in exploring it on your own, if you take all the courses the university system shoves onto you, you won’t have time.
Going back to extrinsic motivation, many employers want to find self-directed, self-interested scientists to work in their laboratories. This leads to many science and engineering students faking interest in their subject or field to look more employable. They get involved in several small, petty research projects which demand very little of them. Then they self “publish” papers on these topics which are never intended to be looked at or read. From what I can tell, they’re just resume filler. These tactics may fool some naive employers, but I don’t know. It’s all rather bizarre to me.
I’ve had several students recommend that I get involved in several projects of this sort. We’d be in the hallway having having this discussion and their primary selling point was how little time was involved and how easy it was to write up the paper. If you look at the papers themselves, they look very technical, but the students lacked any real deep understanding of what they were doing or what they were writing about.
Creativity demands teamwork and there is some degree of working together in teams within universities, but it’s generally on superficial assignments which don’t really mean that much. No real comradery develops and it rarely lasts beyond the particular class assignment you share together at that time. Universities are solo institutions. When you do your homework and take your exams, you’re in it alone. It’s actually worse than this though. The top students are awarded scholarships, so everyone is in silent competition with one another to leave the university with the least debt.
In general, I would not say the environment is supportive either. I’ve never been asked by anyone there what I’m interested in or why I’m pursuing what I’m pursuing, or felt like there was this system in place wanting to support me, encourage me, and help me achieve my goals. Despite people lamenting how uncaring and brutal the corporate world is, every single business partner I’ve ever worked with has sat with me in a restaurant, asked about my direction and interests, and how we could effectively work together. Universities are not like that at all. They’re generally expertise factories. You’re put on an assembly line, stuff is crammed into you (which is rapidly leaking out of you at the same time), and you come out the other end with a GPA (grade point average) stamped on your chest.
“It doesn’t matter what we cover, it matters what you discover. That’s what teaching should be: inspiring students to discover on their own; to challenge if they don’t agree; to look for alternatives if they think there are better ones; work through great achievements of the past, and try to master them on their own because they are interested in them. Students will really gain from them but will remember them and use it as a basis for going on their own. Education is really aimed at helping students get to the point where they can learn on their own because that is what you’re going to do during your life, not just absorb materials given to you by the outside, and repeat it.”
– Noam Chomsky
I don’t think very highly of universities or schools, but an education is a very important thing. Without a high level degree, your opportunities will be limited. Most of us have to just grit our teeth and deal with it.
April 12, 2015
Lately I’ve been reading My View Of The World, a book by Erwin Schrodinger, the famous Nobel laureate physicist. He was the creator of the wave equation used in quantum mechanics. I’d like to share some passages from it, along with passages from his other books as well.
What I want you all to notice is that physics, to him, is a quest to understand God, himself, and the universe. It was his personal journey to tackle the deepest questions of our existence. Even so, philosophy was more important to him than physics.
“This life of yours which you are living is not merely a piece of this entire existence, but in a certain sense the whole; only this whole is not so constituted that it can be surveyed in one single glance. This, as we know, is what the Brahmins express in that sacred, mystic formula which is yet really so simple and so clear; tat tvam asi, this is you. Or, again, in such words as ‘I am in the east and the west, I am above and below, I am this entire world.'”
“There is no kind of framework within which we can find consciousness in the plural; this is simply something we construct because of the temporal plurality of individuals, but it is a false construction… The only solution to this conflict insofar as any is available to us at all lies in the ancient wisdom of the Upanishad.”
“Vedanta teaches that consciousness is singular, all happenings are played out in one universal consciousness and there is no multiplicity of selves.”
– Erwin Schrodinger, My View Of The World
Schrodinger believed we are all aspects of consciousness and are beyond space and time. We are immortal.
In one his other books, Nature and the Greeks (1954) he makes this very clear.
“We do not belong to this material world that science constructs for us. We are not in it; we are outside. We are only spectators. The reason why we believe that we are in it, that we belong to the picture, is that our bodies are in the picture. Our bodies belong to it. Not only my own body, but those of my friends, also of my dog and cat and horse, and of all the other people and animals. And this is my only means of communicating with them.”
“The observing mind is not a physical system, it cannot interact with any physical system. And it might be better to reserve the term “subject” for the observing mind. … For the subject, if anything, is the thing that senses and thinks. Sensations and thoughts do not belong to the “world of energy.”
“I am very astonished that the scientific picture of the real world around me is deficient. It gives a lot of factual information, puts all our experience in a magnificently consistent order, but it is ghastly silent about all and sundry that is really near to our heart, that really matters to us. It cannot tell us a word about red and blue, bitter and sweet, physical pain and physical delight; it knows nothing of beautiful and ugly, good or bad, God and eternity. Science sometimes pretends to answer questions in these domains, but the answers are very often so silly that we are not inclined to take them seriously.”
“Science cannot tell us a word about why music delights us, of why and how an old song can move us to tears.”
– Erwin Schrodinger, Nature and the Greeks (1954)
In his book Mind and Matter (1958), he states that we are all the same ‘thing’, one unified consciousness, one mind.
“There is obviously only one alternative, namely the unification of minds or consciousnesses. Their multiplicity is only apparent, in truth there is only one mind.”
– Erwin Schrodinger, Mind and Matter (1958)
Interestingly enough, Schrodinger thought this world may have been created by some sort of accident, but that is not true of consciousness, which we are all aspects of.
“Although I think that life may be the result of an accident, I do not think that of consciousness. Consciousness cannot be accounted for in physical terms. For consciousness is absolutely fundamental. It cannot be accounted for in terms of anything else.”
– Erwin Schrodinger, The Observer, 11 January 1931