A long time ago I proposed “what exactly is reality?” as a question I would later answer. More recently I wrote on the same topic “I don’t know [...] I also don’t really care.” That was obviously not quite true, as here I am writing about it again. I think what was true was that I'm okay with not having a way to fully define reality. And I’m not only okay with the ambiguity of possibly being totally wrong about everything; I think it’s a good thing.

I remember reading a long time ago a quote by Einstein “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know.” and later hearing about what I think was probably the Dunning–Kruger effect, an actual cognitive confirmation of what Einstein said. Ignorance really does breed overconfidence while knowledge grows understanding of how ignorant we really are. What we value isn’t just knowing a lot in general, but specifically knowing enough to poke at the edges of what we don’t know.

There’s something uncomfortable about recognizing that the part we don’t know just seems bigger and bigger the more we learn about it. But I think the alternative, the idea that we could figure it all out and just be done learning about the universe, sounds even worse. Maybe it’s just the perspective of what I know now, but it’s hard to imagine knowing everything without everything feeling really small and boring.

Once I start from the assumption that reality is undefinable and stop struggling against that idea, reality actually gains some definition, not as a resolvable thing, but rather as the process for improving resolution. I’d been thinking about reality as a thing to see better, but reality is more like the "enhance" thing they do on TV shows, only not totally ridiculous. It’s the process of seeing better.

So taking that back to the idea that one’s ideas should be not only internally consistent, but also consistent with external reality, I think all I really mean by that is that being internally consistent can’t come at the expense of being open to new ideas. That doesn’t mean all new ideas are equal, because new ideas can be evaluated on how they open up even more new ideas. Bad ideas shut down thought. Good ideas expand it. And expanding ideas includes maintaining a good amount of existing ideas, which conveniently rejects the whole "everything we know is a dream" flavor of nihilism. That seems like a pretty good rubric for approaching ideas. I’m looking forward to applying it more specifically in future posts to see how coherent my thinking really is.


That was in response to “I don't write much anymore”, which describes a feeling I relate to, but which doesn’t entirely explain my own lack of writing. And after trying to explain another part of why I don’t write, I realized it’s pretty easy to deal with. I’ll just give you a quick recap and then you’ll know everything about me. Or at least close enough that I can write again without feeling like you have no idea who the author is.

So let’s see… I just adopted a kid. Really just, about a week ago. That’s new. And my job title is now Vice President. That’s different. And what else? I stopped writing music for a while, but then I got a piano and now I’m slowly getting back into music. But maybe not with the kid? Who knows.

I stopped caring much about electoral politics, I think mostly because politicians generally reward caring by asking for more money and I don’t like to think about how much money has broken democracy. I guess I’m generally a little less certain about stuff.

Over the last few years, I’ve thought several times about a post I once wrote about trying to stay true to reality, which I ended with a question about how we know what is real, and a promise to return to that. I thought at the time I might invest a little time into thinking about that and come up with a good answer, but I still don’t know.

There’s something about getting multiple perspectives to fill in missing holes in reality, but how do we know which perspectives are right and which are wrong? I don’t know. That hasn’t really changed; I never knew. But now, I also don’t really care. If the people I’ve chosen to trust are all wrong and I’m living in a manufactured reality that is internally consistent but still wrong — actually, not even if. That’s almost certainly the case, and I’m okay with that.

Um, what else? I started buying and selling stocks and it turns out I’m pretty good at that. Mostly Apple, but others too. I’ve played a bit with iOS app development. I realized at a concert that I can no longer sit “indian-style”, which I just now realized is a potentially offensive term. I’ll have to look that up.

I realized recently that I can’t actually read all the blogs I’m subscribed to, but don’t really have a solution to that, meaning I still want to be a person who reads them all. Oh, I now help run groups.drupal.org, which combined with my Vice President title at a well-known Drupal-using company gives me a weird sort of authority in the Drupal community, where I still feel like an outsider.

That’s maybe enough for now. Basically I’m older and dumber. Maybe I’ll write more now. But I’m not making any promises. Because I don’t know.

Update: Ha, my blog still does XHTML validation. I totally forgot caring about that; I guess that’s another thing that changed. Took me longer to validate the markup on this post than it did to write it. Maybe I’ll turn off the validation before I write more.

I haven’t been paying much attention to Occupy Wall Street. It initially looked to me like the kind of disorganized protest that happens all the time, doesn’t have enough focus, and quickly dissipates when anarchists show up to co-opt the whole thing. But now that it has successfully sustained itself for a couple weeks, it’s clear my initial perception was wrong. Today I noticed they’ve released their first official statement, and I read through it, thinking it would give me a better idea of who this group is and what they hope to accomplish.

The minutes of the meeting that agreed to this document are fascinating. They ended a long discussion of this document by saying (shouting?) THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE! and it really does look like a working democracy. The meeting minutes are probably more useful for understanding the group than the official statement. It’s really impressive they’ve been able to hold this together so long without much formal leadership at all, and it’s exciting to be able to see the details of how that works in practice.

That said, the document itself isn’t great. It does very little to clarify what exactly the group is about, at least for someone like myself who is vaguely sympathetic. It’s just a long list of bad things corporations have done. The key question I had before reading it went entirely unanswered: is this group against corporations themselves, some general category of corporate behavior, or an unrelated collection of specific corporate misdeeds? It looks like the group itself hasn’t answered this question. I imagine there are more than a few dedicated communists in the group as well as people who maintain a generally positive view of corporations.

I mention all of this as context for a single word in this statement, which seems to exemplify where this group is right now. Emphasis added:

We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments.

I'd speculate most adults in America don’t know when to use "which" and when to use "that." But surely at least one person in the working group that created this document understood the difference. Unfortunately the meeting at which this document was drafted has no published minutes to tell us if they collectively considered an alternative:

We come to you at a time when corporations that place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments.

That single word change is pretty big. The published version suggests all corporations place oppression over equality. The alternative would say only some corporations do that, specifically those running our government. That single word is the difference between a campaign against corporate influence of government and a campaign against the very existence of corporations at all. Outside this statement, I don’t see much evidence Occupy Wall Street has defined its position on this issue. But here in this statement, they may have done so unintentionally.

I think we’re in good shape on the question of what democracy looks like. Is it too early to start worrying about what democracy writes like?


On Letters to an Unknown Audience, Ezra Kilty, whose trouser size is 31 x 33, quotes a passage from Master and Commander, ending with a paragraph on identity:

"The identity I am thinking of is something that hovers between a man and the rest of the world: a mid-point between his view of himself and their of him—for each, of course, affects the other continually. ..."

That seems true and I'm particularly interested in how this plays out online, perhaps because that is my primary mid-point. My brother, whose trouser size I do not know, once wrote something about how people stop blogging when they get jobs. I think he wrote it on a blog he later stopped writing when he got a job. It may be more indirect than that; people stop blogging when they have enough interaction to establish identity. That may be a job, but it could just as easily be a knitting circle.

These things take time from a day, and that's what I've always thought was driving the change. You get a job, and you don't have time to blog. But maybe it's more than that. Maybe you know on some level that when you don't interact with others, you stop existing in their minds. You feel yourself start to lose identity. So you go online and make your self known there. On a blog maybe, or a social networking site, or in videos, or as an avatar in some game. The context doesn't really matter. The point is: you are a person who acts a certain way and now other people know such a person exists. You gain identity.

It's difficult to have a good identity through interaction. Society is rigged against doing. We recognize good deeds, sins of commission, and sins of omission, but almost never good deeds of omission. You noticed when I failed to say "happy birthday" on Facebook but not when I stopped myself from posting that mean-spirited comment on YouTube. No one applauds the politicians who just do their jobs and somehow avoid attacking each other. We even vote such people out of office when someone else with more identity comes along.

It's also difficult to have a consistent identity, but that may be a good thing. Too much consistency makes it difficult to change, and we all need to change. On Ftrain, Paul Ford writes that Google+ lets you divide people into clusters and lie to each group in different ways. As negative as that sounds, it brings online identity closer to physical interaction. It's much easier to establish myself as patient in my knitting circle and efficient in my job when I don't have to mix the two. Surely this can be taken to Jekyll/Hyde extremes, but it seems we need at least some ambiguity to successfully navigate identity.

Ezra closed his post by saying I am sharing this with you. That didn't mean much to me at first, but I now find I'm inclined to say something similar in ending this, to establish my own identity by affecting your view of me. As much as I can influence it, I want my identity to be good, but also somewhat fluid. I am a person who has thought about these things.

bear attack

One of my group of friends sent us all a picture of a bear attack we experienced together a few years ago.

That's me on the far right of the picture, in the background. I say "a few years ago" because I don’t remember how many years it was. Somewhere around three, I think. I don’t remember this moment at all, actually. This is a good demonstration of how my memory works, or rather doesn’t. This was clearly a memorable moment, but I don’t remember it. I’m sure it was fun. I imagine someone (maybe even me) saw this giant bear statue, and somehow we arrived at the idea to pose for a picture of the bear attacking us.

Are there bears in North Dakota? Maybe we talked about that at the time. I feel like we talked about some other kind of attack in North Dakota. Maybe scorpions?

I remember a lot of the context around this photo. This was at our friends’ wedding in North Dakota, just before the ceremony. Or just before something with a set time anyway. Maybe between the ceremony and the reception? We had some time to kill before that set time, and we were at a resort with mini golf, so we played mini golf. Toward the end of the mini golf, we realized we had to hurry up, so we started playing collaboratively rather than competitively. We all worked together hitting all the balls toward the next hold, calling it "communist mini golf." Was the beat at the end or in the middle? We probably didn’t have time for a photo at the end.

It’s possible I only remember the communist mini golf part because Jessica mentions it pretty much every time we play mini golf. I also remember the reception was at a building a short walk from the mini golf. There were swings in between. And basketball. I think we played basketball at some point, maybe some other game as well. Four square? Where did we get a ball? The reception had an upstairs patio where people could smoke. People did smoke, and I joined them to talk. I don’t remember which people smoked. Either the night before or the night of the bear attack in this photo, I was outside, it was dark, and I was talking to someone. About something.

My implicit memory is great. I can do things I've done before, with skills I don’t remember learning. Much of life is like riding a bike for me, where you never really forget how. But my episodic memory is awful. I frequently start watching a new movie only to realize after five or ten minutes that I’ve actually seen it before. So maybe it’s like riding a bike, but I’m unsure if it’s my bike or I maybe borrowed it.

In many ways, as you might imagine, this is a bad way to go through life. I can’t reminisce with my friends about the bear attack; without memory, I effectively wasn’t there. But there I am, in the photo. Clearly I was there. It’s easy for people to assume from my lack of memory that I didn’t enjoy such shared moments. I’m pretty sure I did here. I look happy, of course, but beyond that, this is the kind of experience I would enjoy. Or at least I would now. Was I different then? Surely I enjoyed it.

In other ways, bad episodic memory is a gift. Unlike all my friends, I can look at this photo and experience it anew. While they can only remember their actual experience, I can construct new experiences among the wide gaps in my memory. It’s almost as if I get to relive my life, with only a few boundaries that I must repeat, in the memories I retain. Everyone looks happy in photos, so there’s a good chance my reconstructed past is actually happier than it was the first time around.

I’ve never met anyone with memory like mine. I’m pretty sure my memory wasn’t always like this, and I didn’t realize it had changed until years later, when I couldn’t very much remember years before. I’m sure there are other people with similar memories. Similar memory capacities, I mean. I doubt there are other people who remember the bear attack like I do. I can’t tell you how much fun we had.

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