Monday, April 23, 2012

On the Origins of Teepees.

Listening to Radiolab got me thinking, as it tends to do.  They posed an amusing, seemingly flippant question:

Why the cowboy hat?  

Where did the cowboy hat come from?  Who invented it? 

The Radiolab show on Patient Zero makes the interesting claim that it wasn’t Stetson and his “Boss of The Plains” hat that was so lusted after, nor was it the cowboys who bent and kneaded and abused their hats into the shape we now know as a cowboy hat. 

It was a process more akin to the fur of a mouse.

Slightly more and fluffier fur will make give a mouse a slightly greater survival advantage in cold climates.  So it is the climate, and the evolutionary vectors of the mouse, dictating the outcome of fur.

Well, climate, that is easy, people study that all the time and make predictions.  Stetson did that to make his ‘perfect hat’ for the west.  It’s how people play the stocks or cash in on a fashion trend.

But what even is an ‘evolutionary vector’?

For all I know I invented the term myself. 

Evolution is any change improving the survival advantage of, traditionally an animal, but really anything that can reproduce- an idea or a system.  But  vectors are a way of plotting the direction of ‘progress’ in evolution.  

Evolutionary Vectors are trying to predict whether a particular structure or system will consume greater or lesser energy over time.

 Evolutionary vectors are trying to calculate the odds of whether it is sustainable or prone to boom-and-bust or more or less robust against extinction.

But the question comes in whether we can engineer faster or more efficient evolutionary vectors?  Can we, as the mouse, decide longer fur is better for us?

Well, isn’t that as simple as putting on a coat?

It’s so easy for us to put on a coat when it’s cold outside.  And shed one when it’s warm.  How much easier and more responsive than fur coats that must molt and regrow.

Which leads to a very simple observation:  Mice don’t wear coats.

In other words, humans are more capable of manipulating and changing their environment than any living thing has ever before.

Evolution works by contradicting expected entropy.  Living things are energy concentrators.  And they are energy manipulators, trying to store energy to do work when it is most advantageous to the genes of the living thing.

People have taken this to the extreme, trying to burn through millions of years of accumulated biological energy (in the form of hydrocarbon chains) in a few decades.  And shit, we fucking rock at it.

But, this would clearly fall into the category of unsustainable.  Our margin of error is fairly large, but our rate of consumption is really too astronomical to debate.  Millions of years in à Tens of years out.  We’re draining out of the well much faster than it can refill.

But heck, we’ve gotten this far.  Maybe we have a chance to start collectively thinking in longer terms than minutes, days, meals and orgasms.

So when I look out my airplane window right now, 30,000 feet over the Midwest, (and creating about ten thousand times my fair share of greenhouse gasses from fossil fuel emissions) I see the pac-man shapes made by rotating watering systems. 

Crop circles.  The graffiti that aliens would make to mark their visits.  But here, as far as the eyes can see, are crop circles made by people, driven by very basic animal needs.  Needs like energy-concentration.  Energy concentrated in plants by the sun.

We have come a long way.  We are in a place of potential and understanding far beyond anything we saw before.  We are blossoming a beautiful awareness of our impact on the world around us.  We know amazing things about the human mind, about the physics of our universe, about the diversity of life.  Einstein would tell us we are standing on the shoulders of giants. 

But our understanding is still very piecemeal, and very theoretical.  The wisdom of scientists and philosophers has not really been integrated.  Small pockets of special interest control valuable insights carrying with them hidden implications.

People are still communicating at a very animal level.

If we are to survive, we must learn to better share the collective wisdom of the world with each other.
We need a better system for communicating complex viewpoints on complex issues.  A system that is accessible, adaptable, and revisable by all people.  A system that is fair but competitive.

And hell, we are very close.

It is predicted that almost one in seven people in the world are on Facebook. Fiber optics transmit data packets at the speed of light.  What does that say for communication?
(With seven degrees of separation, does this mean that everyone knows someone on Facebook?)

We have massive-scale wikis on a wide range of subjects. What does this tell us about vox-populi, the voice of the people- collaboration in popular thought?

The evolutionary vectors are all pointing toward a fusion of our strengths, playing against our weaknesses.  We must work together.  We must work for future us’s who have not been born yet.  
The survival advantage is too great.

So put on your coat, it’s cold outside.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The "Quit Yr Job" Paradox

I finally figured it out,

Why so many of us go to work day in, day out, unsatisfied.  We talk about quitting as if it is some future victory we will claim.  The few who do quit- rather than changing jobs, or going back to school, or most often: staying the course or getting fired- inevitably do so quietly, without that sense of victory they had longed for, so long coming.

The thing is, in our longing for a sense of control- in the same way we embrace religion, routine, and fad diets- we have embraced job waffling.  The power to quit your job is one of the few reliable powers left to the American worker.  Of course, nowadays, so many Americans are out of work.  But I digress.

So we can never really quit, because that means losing the job.  Quitting quitting is much harder than just quitting the first go.  So if one can hold work, they do, because they are holding onto that freedom of choice, that power of self-expression that is the ability to quit your job at any moment.

So you might as well hang onto that unsatisfying job for the satisfaction of choice, because once you are unemployed, you have given up your bargaining chip.  You might be left with some unknown thing, even less fulfilled than when you were assistant manager at Starbucks.  And you become a quitter, rather than someone who could quit.

Of course, the choice is far more complicated.  For me, quitting didn't even become a consideration until recently, when I realized I had been lying to myself.  I was not, in fact, pursuing my clearly stated goal of sustainable contentment.

Which is pretty clear.  It's 3:26AM and I have work tomorrow and I'm already way behind deadline.  Something does not compute.  But it is nice to know, when a dodgy situation's all going to hell, well "by God I can get the Hell out of Dodge!"  But you know, once I did I'd be a failure.  And who wants that?

Nobody wants that- even though it's questionable whether or not my time at RMS is as productive as any other possible path for me right now.

Well, we're coming up on my third Vegas experience, which promises to be very different from the first two.  For starters, I'm not single!  Ahh, but my past experiences weren't all that adventurous anyhow.  Maybe they were, but not so far as attraction-relations were concerned.  Denny's Grand Slam for one, please.  First Ticket out of here, please.  Vegas 1.0 I was woefully unprepared.  I was miserable.

Vegas 2.0.  Lower expectations, greater freedoms.  The opportunity to get stupid.  Aha!  Vegas, where mediocrity shines.  If it gets overwhelming, focus on some fascinating character study drawn out from the rich tapestry of life on the strip.  Bury myself in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind.

Vegas 3.0.  With all the stuff at home to look forward to, with Juliana in my life to tie me to a tangible reality, bringing with me the Dao De Jing and Food Rules and Flow- Optimal Experience this promises to be the most rewarding foray into depravity yet.

And there's so much to learn in work and play, I just hope my physical form can support it.  I hope I can rest enough for the constructive part of my brain to click on, instead of flickering dimly as it has for so many weeks.

I kep thinking about that article, reading in New Zealand, about how Jews are resilient, because they see low points as periods of great potential.  On one hand, that is the only way to think (everyone who believes in Evolution believes they're a survivor) but on the other hand, I can't help but think there has to be something to it- that we find opportunity in our weaknesses.

So I look forward to leveraging my weaknesses, as I keep trying to help mankind live and learn in sustainable contentment- which, it's interesting, is a goal awfully similar to the Buddhist practice of Bodhicitta- "the intention to achieve omniscient Buddhahood as fast as possible, so that one may benefit infinite sentient beings."  

Although I guess my twist is, I don't believe in reaching 'Buddhahood' as an individual.  To me, it must come as a social effort, as something we all help each other toward, and the reward is intrinsic in the effort.  That is- my process of attainment is a path of self-fulfillment and if I am fortunate it is a worthy example for others to follow.  

I merely seek to share a set of tools and knowledge, and make them as universal as possible.

"May I attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings."

...And another early-morning ramble bites the dust.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Restful Need

I feel kinda like those starving shipwreck victims who hallucinate that other people are legs of lamb, except for me they are sheep and I am begging them to let me count them...

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

"To have a long, real career, you can't be that crazy. And you have to be on top of your shit. And you have to be good when you're asked to be good." -Joel McHale