Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Being (Your)self

So there's this thing called twitter. Yes, I'm aware that twitter has been around for a while now, but I'm thinking about the 140 character limit thing that forces you to be succinct and post in only tiny snippets.

This whole twitter/blog thing brings up an interesting question about self-expression. We all hear about "online identities" and such, but I wonder about this idea of the character limit with relation to self identity. In a country that holds free speech sacred, and in which people flaunt and (in my opinion) often take that right for granted, it seems odd that people would flock to a service that limits the amount of expressing that you can do. I suppose you could make more than one post at a time, but that seems to defeat the point of the character limit.

I started thinking about what it might be like if this character limit got extended to the rest of our speech. For example, the population got to be so big that each person only gets a limited amount of expression. As if data was a limited resource or something like that. Seems like an interesting thing to think about.

Partly, I wonder about the twitter thing. It seems like you could share some really interesting and thoughtful snippets. On the other hand though, there's a lot of self-important idiots out there tweeting their way through life (check out tweetingtoohard.com which is the best thing to come out of twitter). Put those posts up next to the kinds of "tweets" that would be coming out of places like Iran and Pakistan and it's clear how much we can take for granted.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Interal Monologue Externalized

Trying to organize some different thoughts and such that I've been having so this seems like the right place to put them down to work through. Maybe if you're extremely unlucky I'll actually follow through with working on some of this stuff on here. Anyhow, here's the stuff I've been thinking about.

1) Variant Realities/The Nature of the Real

One of the big projects that I've been expertly putting off is starting work on a novel. I've been putting a lot of thought into what sort of themes I'd want to work through and what kind of story I'd want to tell for quite a long time. The concept has gone through a number of different iterations based on the nature of what I'm interested in and what I've been thinking about. There are a few things that have remained constant about the project though, which I think will actually make it into the final cut. Whatever I write will explore the nature of the real, of the "experience of living", and of ways in which human experience and human thought connect directly to our perceptions (and the actual nature) of whatever reality is.

Needless to say I'm planning to write science fiction, but hopefully in a way that allows it to be considered serious literature. Any good story is about relationships, not only of the characters with one another, but with themselves and with their world. Truly brilliant writers can make the story about its relationship to the reader. I believe that this is accomplished through clever use of archetypal and mythological context (the "monomyth" or "metastory" concept if you will). The use of the comic also seems especially good for this purpose.

2) Light and Color

My continuing mission carries on. Currently I have taken two small side endeavors with respect to light and color. First, I'm reading Einstein's Relativity, because it's both readily available and generally related. While relativity is not specifically about light, it's clearly related and seems like a good way to slowly move toward quantum theories of light. Secondly, I'm reading Goethe's Metamorphosis of Plants. Plants are heavily nourished by sunlight, which I find to be fascinating. It seems valuable to investigate them further in that regard.

I'm thinking of starting a terrarium. Oooh.

3) Society, Ethics, and Education

I don't think I'm going far afield when I say that Americans are at best cynical of and at worst untrusting of the government. I think we all expect government officials to be corrupt, greedy, cheaters; that we are unfazed when they turn out to be such. When a politician or public figure does something good, we are surprised, but unmoved because it seems like so little when we consider the extent of the negative in our society. I can't understand why we are accepting of this and why there seems to be so little movement against it.

Greed and selfishness are becoming major problems in our society. The current economic crisis is the result of greed, along with a lack of knowledge on the part of investors and home-buyers. The whole Madoff thing comes from greed. The companies that were bailed out and used that money to pay bonuses and retreats for exectutives (23k in taxpayer spa treatments anyone?) are guilty of it too. What happens in democracy that it stops being about "us" and starts being about "me"? We all do it to some extent, but most people would say that they are not greedy and selfish. My dad looks to the good in people and tells me I'm too cynical about this sort of thing. Is he right? Is it just a few bad apples at the top that cause these problems?

Tell me this: why are we accepting our country's failing morality? I heard a bit ago that an alarming percentage of high school students admitted to cheating on a test at school. An even more alarming percentage of those students said that they felt their personal ethics we acceptable!

Deep in my heart I believe that education has to be the solution to these kinds of problems. I'm not talking about just moral education, but education on the whole. A better system of education could help kids to fulfill their potential, become better citizens, and find more satisfying lives. It has to start with how we teach our kids. Right?

4) Caboose

A while back I made a post about the "Caboose's Mindscape" gag from Red Vs. Blue. I have continued thinking about that and about the relationship between self-perception and the real world. A few weeks ago a buddy said to me that "perception is reality". While I know it's a common idiom, I've been wondering about how true it is, and especially about how it related to the RvB bit. I'm very tempted to hit Burnie up with the idea of doing some "Philosophy of RvB" segments. Not that I think a lot of people would be interested. Anyhow, it'd be a good investigation I think. I'd almost be interested in doing like a recorded roundtable group on it.

5) Growing Up

It's beginning to become troubling how I'm drifting apart from some of be closest friends. I don't really want that to happen. I've been considering the idea that a project of sorts (like what I mentioned above perhaps?) would be just the thing to give us a united purpose. We'll see.

Until All Are One.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

New Divide

There seems to be an ever-increasing synchronization between human and technology with every passing day. More and more we find ourselves connected to and dependant upon the pieces of technology that we integrate into our lives. I can't remember the last time I went a day without sitting at a computer keyboard, even for a few minutes. I haven't been without a cell phone at my side in 5 or more years. My iPod travels everywhere with me. This is communication and information and entertainment on demand.

My father hates the idea of all of it, but the fact is that the technology isn't bad or evil or malicious any more than it is good or kind. The way we approach the technology, however, might be something we can adjust. There is an entire realm of science fiction dedicated to the "robot apocalypse" future, where man designs such vast and powerful machines that he loses control of them because he misused them.

That sort of thing just doesn't parse for me. Machines aren't going to get smarter and eventually take us over. That sort of fiction is created for movies like "The Matrix" and "Terminator". If there's one thing that I am certain of it is my eternal love affair with pineapple. Just after that, however, is my certainty that man will be the ultimate cause of his own evolution and demise.

It's no secret that I'm a huge "Transformers" fan. I was my favorite cartoon as a kid and I read the comics then (and now). I saw the first movie at midnight of the day it opened, and I'll see the second one as well. But as I've gotten older, "Transformers" has gone from a childhood fancy to a compelling narrative.

Like man, the Cybertronians (Transformers come from a planet called Cybertron) are sentient beings with emotions and social bonds. Unlike man, they are nonbiological life-forms. In the current continuity of the Transformers comic it was hinted that the Cybertronians were originally biological creatures who slowly evolved by incorporating more and more technology into their bodies.

As someone who expects to have communication devices available for permanent grafting, to be living in a world with real cybernetic organisms within his lifetime, I find this very intriguing. The reality inherently behind fiction is in the lessons which remain for us to learn from it.

Transformers is not a happy story about families and living together, but rather a war story. Having destroyed their own planet, squandered its resources, and battled one another for millenia, the Autobots and Decepticons accidentally bring their war to Earth. An eternal struggle for power and dominance by different factions with different ethical, spiritual, and political views. In the "War Within" series, even the two primary factions split further, dividing the Cybertronians into little cadres, each staking their claim on resources and territory. All at war.

I'm not saying that technology is the reason for all of this, but I think a fair warning should be placed on where we go from here as a species. If we want to be connected to one another and to the world that sustains us it would be wise for us to be cautious about the methods we use. No amount of technology can overcome dogmatic religious or political differences. It is only through the application of reason and empathy that we can be at peace with one another and our world.

If we can learn that defending peace, justice, reason, and empathy are the lessons I learned from a childrens' show of all things; from Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Jazz, Prowl, Ironhide, Cliffjumper, Grimlock, and even from Megatron and Starscream, and all of the rest of the Autobots and Decepticons...well, there are religions that don't teach these lessons so well.

The fear should not be that the machines will take over. As we become more alienated from one another and from the world we should fear most of all losing our humanity; losing the connectedness of intellect and of emotion that we take for granted. We have to learn to be actively involved in our lives from moment to moment and across the course of time. We have to learn to connect the immediate temporality of the now and the eternal fluidity of how we exist within the flow of time. For the Transformers, this is accomplished through the Matrix of Leadership and the Allspark, powerful ancient pieces of technology that anchor their beliefs and that hold the keys to understanding their existence. I doubt that we will be so fortunate as to find the technology that can answer these questions for us, but I am certain that the answer will never be found in selfishness, greed, or hatred.

Until all are one.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Momentary - Metalanguage

I'm reading Nagel's commentary on Gödel's Proof at the moment. One of the things that is discussed in the section on formal logic is the difference between language and metalanguage. It is quite easy to get confused between them when you are interchanging terms. Now there is language, which we use to talk about something in the usual way.

My chair is brown.

But we can talk about these statements as well, and this is the metalanguage.

'My chair is brown' is a sentence.
'2+2=5' is a false statement.

I have been wondering, since we're reading Hobbes and Locke in class, how often we confuse the intention of language because it is actually metalanguage of a sort. Instead of taking Hobbes or Locke as practical theories, perhaps we should ask ourselves what sort of ideas they are trying to get at about government.

Where else do you suppose this comes up a lot? Do you think we face questions of language versus metalanguage often? If it is a regular cause of confusion or misunderstanding, perhaps we should have a more easily recognizable way of communicating these ideas. How could we accomplish this?

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Triple the Fun, Part I

It's just about finals and paper time in "St. John's"-landia, which means it's time to start organizing my thoughts to write my oral final proposal and my preceptorial paper proposal. I haven't felt quite as challenged by the material in 'Politics and Society' this semester as I was with the 'Math and Natural Science' segment last semester, however, I also find that my interest was greater in the more challenging segment (thus lending credence to a long-time hypothesis that I perform better when challenged). So there are three assignments that I have to work on, which I guess I will post about in a yet-to-be-determined order. Maybe that will help get my mind going.

1) Short Paper on Hobbes' Leviathan for Tutorial

We throw around the words "political science" pretty easily these days, but it carries with it a suggestion of something more than what we usually mean by it. Leviathan is Hobbes' attempt to construct a reasoned understanding of the relationship between the nature of man and government. Reason is an essential principle for Hobbes, which is evident in the first few chapters of the treatise that discuss science rather than politics. It is by application of reason that we choose to leave the state of nature in which life is "nasty, brutish, and short" and form the commonwealth.

Our modern "liberal" minds rebel against Hobbesian government because it seems that it would fall into tyranny quite readily. For Hobbes the sovereign authority must be absolute and unquestioned. When we leave the state of nature to join together in a commonwealth we do so because we fear for our lives. Our natural state is one of war with every other person, struggling with equal strength over resources to which we all have an equal right. In this case, it seems that we are better off in ANY commonwealth than we are in the state of nature. The purpose of the commonwealth is, therefore, to protect the security of the subjects. Maintaining the commonwealth by any means seems therefore to be the essential function of the sovereign. It is through and by the authority of the subjects that the sovereign acts. The Leviathan in question is the body made up of all of the men who place their power in the hands of the sovereign.

For Hobbes, this authority is unquestionable, because the sovereign acts with the will of the subjects once he has their authority. He is empowered with the legislative, which allows him to construct law as he sees fit for the good of the commonwealth. He is the originator of all law, property, and action in the commonwealth as an agent of the subjects, and as such is unquestionable. There is no recourse against his actions or his laws, because anything he does carries the authority of the people. Thus he must act in such a way that protects his interests, as leader, and that protects the interests of the commonwealth so that the Leviathan remains strong and free of the diseases of seditious doctrines that undermine his absolute authority. The prevention of this, for Hobbes, involves educating the people on the laws of the commonwealth and, most importantly, reminding them that the original authority of those laws comes from them via the actor of the sovereign. This would show them that the absolute power of the sovereign authority is their will and is necessary to protect them from a return to the dangers of the state of nature.

Our strong reaction to this doctrine is probably something like an immediate cry of, "Tyranny!" However, as we saw in The Prince and continue to see in Leviathan, and Locke's Second Treatise on Civil Government, the ideas are not recommending a specific form of government or governor. The only qualification, it seems, that the sovereign in Hobbes' Leviathan need posess is that he be competent to understand the best interests of himself and the commonwealth and recognize the need for absolute sovereignty. He allows that the government might take one of any number of forms. The goal of Hobbes' political science seems less like a kind of guide to running a commonwealth (how to build a government) and more like a commentary on the nature of governing (what governments should be like).

Hobbes is attempting to present us with an appeal to some essential quality of governance that supercedes the question of the particulars of government. Further investigation into what this essential character is seems like it might prove fruitful and interesting.

Monday, March 16, 2009

And Now For Something Completely Different

One of the frustrating things about the modern world is its focus on specialization. To be fair, this is also one of the strengths of many businesses and organizations in the U.S. The U.S. military, for example, provides a baseline of military training to all soldiers, but then specializes them with significant additional training in their chosen field. There are few businesses where employees are cross-trained on other jobs as a matter of course. I've been thinking about all of this in my search for a new job (unlike many people, however, I still have the old one so I can afford to be a little picky). Our university system operates especially like this, with very focused majors. It is even rare for people to study multiple fields at the graduate level of education. Probably, this has a lot to do with the time it takes for such studies to bear fruit so that you can get paid.

Some of the most notable philosophers in the Western world were so-called "Rennaisance Men". Aristotle studied logic, ethics, politics, biology, and was arguably the first zoologist. Descartes attempted to reason from first principles, through the sciences, and into philosophy. Hobbes began with science and worked through religion into politics. Why did our greatest minds seek to bring together many different areas of thought? Did they see connections that we cannot?

It seems that part of being human might relate to bringing together the diverse parts of the world in ways that make sense. From an individual's perspective, all thoughts, experiences, sensations, and emotions are jumbled together. Although we try to split out the various parts of the world, perhaps it is this internal mixture that is leaking through making us want to fit such varied ideas together.

Personally, I try to remain something of a generalist. I am interested in so many different fields that I find it challenging to constrain my inquiries to one or two. While I'm sure it's impossible to be in expert in more than one, I wonder whether any of them is truly split apart from the others. I think we've shown over the course of time that many "Sciences" are interrelated, and many of the "Arts" are as well. I think we see true genius in those who can seamlessly integrate the two. By directing ourselves toward this interdisciplinary thought we may learn more than we bargained for.

Out of Order

Sometimes I want to post about real philosophy, but just don't have the energy. I think I would update this blog more if I did. It's a personal problem which, I guess, I have to deal with personally. I sometimes feel like a kid in a toy factory. I look around and I see all the amazing things this world has to offer. I want to know about it all, I want to ask so many questions about so many things, yet it feels like I would never do much living if I spent my life overawed with wonder. So, like the rest of the human race, I somehow manage to invent boredom to prevent myself from being overwhelmed by the universe.

It isn't that I think that if I knew the way things work I'd be more in tune with everyone else and with the world at large. I know that the place where I fit is unusual and odd. I don't mean that in the goatee-laden, disenfranchised way that so many others would say it either. My idiosynchratic way of thinking doesn't even fit into the place where the depressed, disenfranchised mass of artists and poets fit.

I try to make these posts about my intellectual life, rather than my emotional life. I suppose there are plenty of spaces in my experience of the world where I can express my emotions, but few where I can truly express my thoughts. It's hard to talk to people about your thoughts, because so often we find that everyone is trying to talk and noone is listening. For some, the emotional and the intellectual life become intertwined as their thoughts and feelings become linked and they are either unwilling or unable to let them diverge, even for a moment.

I'm not even sure that I express my thoughts here. Every attempt to make the thoughts and words line up together just seems to find my words lacking. They are just another expression of me, and like me they don't quite fit.

For this post at least, this blog is: Out of Order.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Momentary - Inside Caboose's Mind

I've been thinking a lot about imagination and memory. For anyone who is unaware, I'm a big fan of the machinima series Red Vs. Blue. I think the guys at Rooster Teeth who put it together have, knowingly or unknowingly, presented us with some fantastic existential insights and some wonderfully imaginative imagery that can be used in philosophic thought.

I'm not a huge fan of so-called "pop-philosophy", but I think that insights grow out of different sources for different people. The value should be in the thoughts that come out of the material, not in the material itself.

One of the really great gags introduced in Season 2 of RvB is Caboose's Mind. It's presented as a strange world in which there are copies of the characters as they appear from Caboose's point of view. The characters return several times and the Mindscape has changed based on external events. Caboose's memory of Church is killed by O'Malley in their first visit, which results in him forgetting who Church is.

What do you suppose your mindscape might be like? Do you, like Caboose, have stereotyped memories of your friends that are the way you think of them? Are your memories in some kind of framework like this that alters your recall of them?

Try calling up memories of images. Where are you seeing them? Try sounds and voices. Where are you hearing them? Try tastes and smells. Try touch. What sense perception are you employing to recreate these sensations? How long can you make them last? What are your memories like? How specific are your memories: visually, audibly, olfactory?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Rant: Criteria for Ranking Video Games

Erica sent along this little Top 10 PC Games of All Time article to me, which is causing me to have to go on a rant. I realize that I usually entertain more intellectual pursuits here than video games, but I feel like this is an important point of view.


I will copy and paste my email response to some friends as well:

I'll lay into this bullshit right here and now. WoW might be the most played (human hours invested) game of all time, but the idea that it's the #1 PC game of all time is absurd. I'm not actually convinced it's the best MMO of all time, though I admit that its interfaces are intuitive and its visual impact is startling. The best PC game of all time should be based on the fun value of the game, which can't be possible in WoW thanks to hours of mindless grinding, repetetive combats, and end-heavy content.

Owing to its stature, I would surely allow WoW to breach the Top 10 and it is certainly the top MMO (which is actually kinda' sad), but to call it the Best PC Game of All Time is absurd. There's no mention of the Half-Life Series or the truly innovative Portal. I fail to see how X-Com could miss the mark. It would have been intellectually dishonest of them not to include Civilization, which is truly one of the best all-time, but while I enjoy SimCity, I find it hard to believe that it is worthy of the top 10. Too often in these sort of Top 10's we get the "Most Innovative" or the "Best Selling" games. Why aren't the games evaluated based on what should really matter: how much fun they are to play.

I think that really needs to be my jumping-off point. I don't think that anyone would argue with me that the primary purpose of games is directed toward enjoyment. Sure there's probably lessons in teamwork or coordination or strategy involved, but we play them to relax, to interact with our friends, and to have fun. I don't have anything against World of Warcraft directly (I played for a while even), but it seems to me that it is reasonably antithetical to some of the things that are important to me. So, for the benefit of those still reading, here's a convenient list of why I think these are important criteria for game designers to consider.

1. We play video games to relax: When we are playing video games it is in our downtime. It's time we're not spending fulfilling our primary obligations. This being the case games should be as user-friendly as possible to their targetted audience. Now sure, maybe some games are too complicated for some people or are of the wrong type. Like books and sports, not everyone likes the same things, which is okay. But in the case of video games, they should be designed with an eye toward the recreational. To put it another way, just because it's my downtime doesn't mean I want to be wasting time. While extended travel times and complex interactions might provide a gameplay-balancing or immersion effect for some players, especially in simulation games like Eve Online, noone wants to play an action oriented game where you have to sit on a bird for 15 minutes to fly from one town to the next. Having to spend hours looking for a party to go to the dungeon where you have already been 6 times just to defeat one boss so the piece of loot you need will drop is another example of how this is bad.

2. We play video games to interact with our friends: I love multiplayer in video games. I've almost gotten to the point where I don't want to play single-player games anymore, although I find some that really speak to me from time to time. But what exactly does multiplayer mean? Is it trading off as my brother and I did in Super Mario Bros. when we were kids? Is it charging into the first room of the Truth and Reconciliation level of Halo in the living room of Adam and Michelle's old townhouse over and over again on Legendary with Jacob, Dean, Baxter, or Adam alongside? Is it the cheering/jeering/laughing competition we had when we multi-boxed Halo, splitting into upstairs and downstairs teams? Is it the experience of joining alongside one or two friends at your own PC screen as Adam, Norm, Dean, Rob, and I did in Neverwinter Nights? Is it the hours of shouting at one another over XBox Live as we schooled n00bz together online? Is it the experience of making new online friends we felt in City of Heroes and World of Warcraft? Which of these experiences provided us with the most fulfilling experiences? Which do we remember most vividly? Can a multiplayer world be so big and expansive that it makes friendships less invigorating? Do you act or talk different when with your real friends and your online friends? When the group is mixed? It's a lot to think about.

3. We play video games to have fun: This seems pretty self explanatory. Maybe we don't all have the same exact definition of fun, and maybe we like different types of games. The point is that whatever you play should be enjoyable. For me, at least, a lot of that enjoyment comes from sharing my gameplay with a friend or two; over XBL or, even better, in person.

It's important to think about what you get from your activities, what you want to be getting from them, and what you think you should be getting from them. We should always strive to examine our activities so that we know why we do them and how the help us become who we want to be.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Momentary - Amphiboly

An amphiboly is a fallacy of ambiguity that is marked by a failure in grammar. In other words it would be when the exact meaning of a statement is left unclear due to a failure in clear grammar. For example:

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

On Friendship

I sent out a bit from Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics to some of my close friends. If you'd like to follow along it's from Book IX, Chapter 9, from Becker numbers 1169B30 to the end of the chapter.

Nicomachean Ethics spends the first 7 books talking about virtue of character and intellectual virtue. In Book VIII, however, Aristotle begins a discussion of "friendship". To me it's a bit of a non-sequitur, but I think if you take into account what he's seems to be saying about man as a political creature it sort of follows to discuss friendship. Now if you are familiar with this part, he identifies three sorts of friendship: friendship of utility, friendship of pleasure, and true friendship. He identifies different qualities of each and discusses a surprising variety of topics related to them, but I'm interested in where he is heading, rather than any particular specifics of friendship.

In the Sachs translations of Aristotle, there is a lot of reference to "being-at-work", translated from the Greek energeia. What he means by this that I find lacking in other translations of energeia is something like an active condition. Not something you actively maintain, but some part of being that is actively enacting.

Now if, as Aristotle thinks, "thinking" is the primary action of man and the "intellect" (Grk: nous) is something like what we would call the self, why would we need friends? Why should man desire nothing more than self reflection and introspection, which, based on the passage indicated, seems to be the greatest good. Why do we need more than the awareness of being that we have within us?

If this "being-at-work" of self is so important, what is it? How can I share in a friend's awareness that "he is"? Do you suppose Aristotle is somehow right about intellect and the self? Another section that may be helpful to read for this discussion would be Chapter 8, especially the paragraph around 1169A.

The question becomes, "What is it about my relationship with my friend that gives me a greater good than my own awareness of self?"

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

For Thought - Love Story?

Do you think that Romeo and Juliet is a love story? What is the central conflict in the play? Who are the main characters? Think about the main action of the play. Which parts do you remember? Do you think the conflict in the play is about love? Could there be something else going on?

Assuming for a moment that Romeo and Juliet is a love story, what do we think of as the elements of a love story? Don't we see a story about the boy winning the girl (or vice versa)? Don't we see the lovers struggling with their feelings for one another? Isn't there a conflict between them as they try to overcome the obstacles in their relationship?

Question: Do you think Romeo and Juliet actually have any obstacles between them? Do they struggle with their love for one another?

What is Romeo and Juliet about? Do you think there is a better example of a romance in Shakespeare's works?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

To Boldly Go...

Recently I've become more and more reacquainted with my old Star Trek fandom.  I've been wondering quite a lot about why the stories of Kirk and Spock and McCoy that my mother and I watched when I was a little boy were so evocative.  Why do we feel so attached to Picard, to Riker, to Worf; even to Q?  Later on Deep Space 9 we can see a new frontier, ravaged by war and falling apart.  Do Cisco and Kira's stories draw us because they are so different from the semi-utopian visions we have seen to this point?  What about Voyager, so far away, yet driving forth on a hopeless 75 year journey home?

What is the draw that these stories have on us, with characters that feel so much like friends?  Gene Roddenberry originally intended the show to be a "wagon train to the stars", which I believe it was successful at accomplishing.  It is an adventure in the final frontier, a story told with such strength of purpose, finding such a joy in the human condition and in how we strive forth.

The ancient Nordic and Teutonic societies originally worshipped Tyr as the leader of the gods.  A god of war, warriors, and destruction was so very appropriate in their culture.  Yet over the course of time their leaders and shamans brought forth the god Odin/Wodan.  Odin was overwhelmingly dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom.  He hanged himself from Yggdrasil, the World Tree, for the sake of knowledge; traded his eye to the Norns for the sake of knowledge; and sent out his ravens Huginn and Muninn day after day to return to him with knowledge.  Yet Odin was still a warrior god, vengeful and powerful.

Space, the final frontier.  That which is beyond us.

To explore.  To know.

To boldly go.  With strength.

Where noone has gone before.  The unknown.

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Line and the Circle

Okay, so regarding the line of infinite length and the circle of infinite circumference; what do you think? Are they related?

Think about what a circle is, a single line bounding a figure equidistantly from a single point, called the centre. The line itself is, however, unbounded. Do you see a way in which the circle might represent a kind of Little Infinity?

Think about the single straight line. Could this be a way of representing Big Infinity stretching out in both directions for eternity?

Are these two shapes so different though? What would a circle with an infinite circumference look like? Here is a picture of a finite circle:
Note that this picture has no particular size associated with it. The circumference is the distance around the outside of the circle. If this distance were infinite it would be impossible to know exactly where to begin the curve of the circle, precisely because there is an infinite distance the circumference must encompass. Once you begin to curve the circle, the shape would demand that the circle be completed (because all circles are the exact same shape with different radii and circumferences; eg. they are all similar) and therefore finite. The best way to demonstrate this might be to look at a very very very very small part of a circle, which might looks something like this if we zoomed way in on a single point:

This looks an awful lot like a line to me. So now, if a circle is representative of Little Infinity and a line is representative of Big Infinity they seem like they might be very much alike indeed.

Do you buy into this? What do you think? Is this convincing you of something more about infinity? Does it make you think maybe there is something interesting at work here that we need to look at more closely?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

For Thought - Your High School Geometry

Remember your High School Geometry?

Remember lines? How they extend in both directions unendingly? They have length, but no width. What sort of thing is a line? What do you suppose an infinitely long line is like? Does it make sense to think or talk about an infinite line?

Now think about circles. What sort of a thing is a circle? What does it look like? If all circles look the same, how big could a circle be and still be considered a circle? What might a circle of infinite circumference look like?

Do you think you see a relationship between these two things? What is the image above a picture of?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Little Infinity

Of the two concepts we are setting out to explore, Big Infinity seems to be the harder of the two concepts to get a hold on, probably because of its lack of visible external boundaries. Perhaps we should start by exploring Little Infinity.

I suggested that one way to model Little Infinity might be to look at all the rational numbers between 0 and 1. How many numbers are there between 0 and 1? We can enumerate them in one fashion as fractions, decimals, or parts of numbers. (0.1, 0.2, 0.3, etc.) How many of these numbers would we say there are between 0 and 1? Does it seem that there is an infinite number of fractional parts between 0 and 1?

Imagine a number line that displays this:

This line is finite in length with distinct boundaries, yet within those boundaries it contains a seemingly endless number of possible divisions. As you approach 0 the numbers seem to get infinitely smaller, and as you approach 1 the numbers seem to get infinitely bigger. With integers like 0 and 1 we can count very easily from one number to the next (0,1,2,3,4, etc.). The next question to ask, then is how we do this with our divisions. What number follows 0? What is the next number after 0 or the last number before 1? What implications might this have for Little Infinity?

You might answer that the number directly following 0 might be something like 0.000...01, such that it is a decimal followed by an infinite number of 0's with a 1 at the end. However, I'm not sure that this means very much at all, since we pretty much arrive at the same problem of being unable to count from 0 to 1. If you believe all of this, it looks like you'll have to accept that there is this thing I have dubbed Little Infinity.

Maybe old Zeno wasn't as wrong as you thought.

If this all seems to be the case, then as you approach 1 from the direction of 0 it seems you could continually come closer and closer without being obliged to count to the number 1. It reminds me of the way some parents might count at their children when scolding them, "One, Two, Two...and a half, Two...and three-quarters..." They rarely reach three and are not obliged to count three because they can continually come closer.

Does all of this make you want to believe in infinity more? What implications does this seem to have for numbers or the number line? What does our investigation seem to say about Big Infinity? Do you think there could be larger and smaller infinities, or is the infinite singular in size?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Big Infinity and Little Infinity

The distinction between what I call "Big Infinity" and "Little Infinity" has been on my mind for a while, so coming back to it now as a starting point for postings seems particularly appropriate. It happens to be pretty central in some of the popular philosophical inquiries these days, which means it's worth getting a clearer understanding of what we mean by "infinity".

What does it mean for something to be infinite? You might answer that it has something to do with endlessness or eternity; perhaps it relates to time or the size of the universe somehow. It seems to me that my very first thought about infinity is "something that goes on forever" or maybe "an amount that cannot be quantified". Either way it seems to have a suggestion of magnitude within it.

"Big Infinity" is the kind of infinity that tries to suggest something that is unbounded on the ends. Infinite space means means space without a boundary at which it no longer continues. If you recall your High School Geometry lesson, you might think of Big Infinity in the definition of a line. Unending in both directions, right? It passes through all of the points that lie on itself.

So it's big. Really big.

In ancient times, the philosopher Zeno is attributed with an interesting paradox, also called the paradox of the arrow. Zeno said that an arrow fired at a target could never actually hit it because it would always cross half of the distance in the approach. By continually halving the distance the arrow would become incrementally closer but never actually hit its target.

This is something like "Little Infinity". Think of all of the numbers between 0 and 1 (0.1, 0.01, etc.) and you have a sense of what Little Infinity represents. The infinite amount of space between two defined boundaries. Tiny differences, minuscule differences, but differences nonetheless.

Start by thinking about bounded and unbounded infinity then. How do you percieve them? Do you believe in them at all? Do you think one makes more sense than the other? What does it mean for something to be infinite?

On Perseverence

Yeah, so I was reminded that I have a blog again. As usual this prompts me to once again examine my desire to write on a regular basis and do a bunch of active, visible thinking while I'm in the process of writing.

I'm just not very good at remembering.

What I need is a blogging alarm clock, something that says, "Hey...that stuff you're thinking about? GO WRITE IT DOWN ON YOUR BLOG!"

Okay, so here we go again with the trying over.