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23 May 2010

Storytellers

I’m happy, very happy almost all the time now, because I honestly love teaching, and I live in a gorgeous and interesting place, and materially am pretty comfortable. But even with all this happiness (most of the time I drive home from work just amazed at how great my day was, even on the relatively shitty days), I’m still feeling listless. The happier I am with what I’m doing, the worse it gets, really, because I realize that (even though I knew I wanted to teach when I was, like, eight) I am here essentially through dumb luck. I stumbled on the JET program at the right moment to apply, when I was fed up with my miserable cubicle job and had one of my infrequent bursts of directable energy. For once I didn’t hit a hard patch and dither till the deadline passed. I am unlikely to be this lucky again. And if I am finally figuring out what I like, and if the last time I tried it worked so well, if I’m going to live up to my you-do-it-to-yourself personal philosophy, I have to, I really, really have to, sit down and do some thinking. I have to get a plan. Not an inflexible, day-planner plan, but a direction, a goal. Just on the weekdays, between getting home from work and going to bed I’ve got more than seven hours a day. There has to be a way to put that time to better use than rewatching old TV or rereading old books.

The seventh season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is essentially pointless. The villain sucks, the character development is flat or too dramatically bent, and the climax is a bit anti-. (They probably should have stopped after five and done “Once More with Feeling” as a special.) Even the episode I like most is a bit annoying, because it’s about Andrew, who is more than just a bit annoying, but when you watch it at the right time, when you’ve got that listless feeling and you don’t know why, it can be a good reminder of something you keep forgetting.

You see, diary, there’s a difference between story-telling and thinking. Many times in my life, I’ve thought that I think too much and act too little. But the truth is that I think almost not at all, and what I called thinking on those occasions was not thinking, but narrating.
I used to run all these internal comparisons to Hamlet. Our family situations are a bit different, but I could really relate to his paralyzing ruminations. I thought we were both thinking too much to have time or energy to act, but the truth is that Hamlet is too busy telling himself (ghost) stories about his life to live it. This is a good way to make your life seem more sensible, if your mom is dating your uncle, or less boring, if you never actually do anything, but it’s all just storytelling. I don’t do much of that anymore (you may have noticed), but unfortunately I haven’t been doing much thinking either. The truth is, I’m a bit shallow and not all that smart. I quip pretty well and read a lot, so I often fool people (especially myself) into thinking I’m a lot brighter and deeper than I really am. I need to think more (and better). I need to get working on that self-awareness thing on a level beyond telling stories about myself to myself. I need to feel listless less and do more. I need to quit forgetting all of this all the time.

Maybe that’s why I’m putting this here, as a public reminder to myself. Maybe it’s more of the narrating I mean to be avoiding, maybe not. Maybe I just feel like it, and that’s enough reason.

Filed by shaun at May 23rd, 2010 under indifferenthonest
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30 Sep 2009

Yeah, so, Japan

13 days left to go, and about one suitcase-worth of extra stuff to squeeze in somewhere. The baggage allowance is two bags of 50lbs each plus the carryon and personal item, and international shipping is insanely expensive for anything larger than small parcels. While harsh evaluation along the lines of whether any ceramic skull candy dish, no matter how bright and festive, is worth transporting across the Pacific Ocean, has culled my worldly possessions down to slightly less than 100 pounds, the volume of said possessions still exceeds the interior dimensions of my luggage.

In related news, I now have less than two dozen books (books, you may know, are heavy). Anyone who has seen any of my apartments should have some idea what that entailed–about a dozen trips to Half-Price, net result: -4000 books +400 USD (estimated).

So now there is the nightly revacuuming of plastic bags full of clothes and shuffling things between various bags as though this will somehow create a fold in spacetime that will let me get my second-favorite coat or another pair of boots onto the plane.

Oh, but I bet you wanted to know why I’m going, not just details about suitcases.

Filed by shaun at September 30th, 2009 under indifferenthonest
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4 Sep 2009

p s

I’m moving to Japan next month.

Filed by shaun at September 4th, 2009 under indifferenthonest
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3 Sep 2009

I may be very wrong

Daniel N Robinson, at the end of a lecture about psychology and the witch hunts in early modern Europe:

What is the moral tale that I hope to have conveyed with this story about minds possessed?
First, theories come quite easily to us when we seek to explain the aberrant or eccentric behavior of others. Secondly, we tend to describe those who are different from ourselves not in the neutral terms of merely different but in the evaluative terms of sick, diseased, sinful. Thirdly, sometimes in our solicitude we take out after those to cure them of diseases that exist only in our theories, and not in them. Fourthly, as reasonable and judicious people, when we set out to do this we want to be sure that we’re using the right kind of method, that we have the right kind of data, that indeed–if there’s something actually juridical or adjudicative going on–that we even have settled and defensible trial procedures.
I’ve rehearsed the witch panic for you–I shouldn’t call it a panic; it went on for over three centuries–to say that all these consideration were operative at the time, that the motives by and large were probably salutary and even laudable motives, and that the conduct was deplorable, the victims numerous and savaged, the complacency enduring for the better part of three hundred years.
The moral tale is: once you’re absolutely sure what makes Smith tick, you know everything about him you would care to know, look in the mirror and say three times, “I may be wrong, I may be very wrong, I may be hopelessly wrong”, and you’ll probably be right.

Filed by shaun at September 3rd, 2009 under indifferenthonest
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5 Jul 2009

so, this thing

It’s still here, I guess.

Filed by shaun at July 5th, 2009 under indifferenthonest
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10 Dec 2008

and Houston really ain’t that bad a town

I owe you an apology, Houston. I said some things, some, well, I don’t think they were untrue things, exactly, but very unkind, definitely more than you deserved (after all, it’s not like you’re anywhere near as bad as Dallas). I stand by a lot of what I said–you’ve got problems, especially that sprawl thing–but I don’t think, now, more than most places, and you’ve got a lot of good too. The further away from you I get, the more I appreciate the good, and the more obvious it gets that what really bothered me had a lot more to do with my flaws than yours. So all that stuff I said, let’s just chalk it up to projection and me being an asshole again, ok?

Filed by shaun at December 10th, 2008 under indifferenthonest
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30 Nov 2008

Happy happy / joy joy

Thinking a lot about happiness

“For most of my adult life, genuine happiness has been the result of the first month of Zoloft, or the first weeks of Effexor, or the dawn of Paxil.”

I am not depressed, but I know depressed people.

Depression is not sadness. It is the inability to be happy.

Depression makes treatment difficult because of the belief it cannot be changed.

Once treated, lack of depression != happiness.

We don’t know what happiness is

Mostly think it’s cheerfulness, euphoria

It is not possible to feel this way all the time, so we believe we are unhappy

Joy is the temporary blissy feeling

Joy is not sustainable

Joy is not happiness

Happiness is more complicated

Happiness is an emotion, mindset

Sometimes sadness is the result of shitty things going on in life

Happiness is an approach to life

We shouldn’t expect to be happy without working on it

We don’t get to choose our lives entirely, but we do get to choose how we think about them

Depressed people have no experience with happiness, can’t recognize it.

Note: This was drafted several years ago, but never completed, possibly because the level of hubris involved, but more likely because it would have been a lot of work. I’m going through my old drafts now and publishing or deleting them, and I think these are for the most part very good bullet points for a real essay, so I’m publishing it now as written, on the date which it’s totally possible could be the date it was written on. Shaun, 2012/03/13

Filed by shaun at November 30th, 2008 under indifferenthonest, old drafts
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13 Nov 2008

epiptolemy

Do you know epiphenomenon? I only learned about the concept recently (thanks to Tim Ferris), describing Ptolemy’s epicycle-intensive universe model, and have been thinking about them a lot. It’s nice to have a word for knowing and describing what something looks like without understanding it (a word other than “physics”, I mean). I desperately need a word for a model for something that is extremely in its basic assumptions but produces correct results, and though epiphenomenon does not exactly mean that, I will briefly coopt it to serve.
This idea–an accurate, incorrect model–has bothered me re: consciousness since I heard a keynote at SXSW by (I think) Raymond Kurzweil a few years ago about artificial intelligence. I didn’t really follow how much of what he said led to his conclusions (it seemed the other way around to me, really, but I was pretty hung over, and also this was four-plus years ago now, and I’m going entirely from memory here.), but he had a rather convoluted metaphorical reductio ad absurdam about a field of wheat waving in the wind. If we take the stalks that are bent by the wind N degrees or more as 1s and the unbent stalks as 0s, the field of wheat can be interpreted as one very long binary number. Since everything on a computer, (presumably including a computer which happened to be sentient because it’s a 1:1 model of the human brain), is a long binary number, or a series of them, then a field (or fields) of wheat sufficiently large to represent the bits of a computer sufficiently complex to reproduce the human brain, then given the right wind, you have to admit that it’s possible for your wheat field, sentient computer, and human brain all have the same data in them right then. Therefore, if consciousness is just a matter of electrons (or, you know, the arrangements of collapsed wave functions that we call electrons) arranged in a certain way in the brain, your model turns Dinge-an-sich and you have a conscious wheat field.
This, while obviously wrong, is hard to concisely (not that I really go in for concision. obviously) and clearly refute if you don’t have my concept of epiphenomena on hand. Once you can start slotting it into analogies as Ptolemy’s model is to planetary motion, it’s much easier to shake the nonsense out of your head and start arguing about the difference between a representation and a real thing, and the ship of Theseus, and all kinds of other all-Greek-to-me stuff.
Of course, my understanding of Buddhism is that it already takes consciousness as something like an epiphenomenon to begin with–just a trick the universe is playing on itself–so this probably has a completely opposite point if you approach it from that angle. More evidence that the wheat field is just as much a conscious self as are you–i.e. not at all. (My understanding of this particular tenet of Buddhist thought, I hasten to point out, is just about as shaky as my memory of Kurzweil’s speech. I have lots of trouble with keeping this idea from seeming like crackpottery on the order of Billy Pilgrim telling that kid not to feel bad because though his father my be dead now he’s still alive in the past, but it seems to have to do with Heraclitic (the Greeks are Buddhist sometimes (I rewrote that twice, flipping the copular around)) rivers, state versus process, and dewdrops on spiderwebs. I think you’re going to have to look this one up for yourself.) Some people took Ptolemy literally, too.
Also, I really need someone to tell all this to Umberto Eco. Probably instead of a wheat field, we’d have to use a book metaphor, say a library with the checked-out books as 0s and the books present as 1s. What with “On the Impossibility of Drawing a Map of the Empire on a Scale of 1 to 1” (can I mention here how much I enjoy that I’m the first result Google lists for that title?), and his already knowing plenty about epiphenomena I’m sure he could have some real fun with it.

Filed by shaun at November 13th, 2008 under indifferenthonest
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