Monday, May 31, 2010

Summer Vacation

Dear Readers;

Memorial day marks the traditional start of summer.  I freely admit that I mark memorial day on the calendar primarily for the advent of inviting, even hot, weather.  I hope to, over the next few months, be too engaged in outdoor activities to regularly update this blog. I have a few "this day in history" peices I have been developing for another project and I will probably let them spill over for the sunmmer; I hope you enjoy them. I will post a few more specific things here and there, but I will be sweaty and drained whilst posting them.  Do not expect much.  

I plan on being more vigilant come October, but plans change.  Thank you all for your ongoing interest.


Headquarters, Grand Army of the Republic
Washington, D.C., May 5, 1868
I. The 30th day of May, 1869, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form or ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.
We are organized, comrades as our regulations tell us, for the purpose, among other things, "of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion." What can aid more to assure this result than by cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foe? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their death a tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the Nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and found mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten, as a people, the cost of free and undivided republic.
If other eyes grow dull and other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain in us.
Let us, then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us as sacred charges upon the Nation's gratitude,--the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan.
II. It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to call attention to this Order, and lend its friendly aid in bringing it to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.
III. Department commanders will use every effort to make this order effective.
By command of: JOHN A. LOGAN, Commander-in-Chief.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Freestyle swimming

So... it is back to SoCal. How many times do I have to visit this former home in a year before the “former” descriptor fades to inaccuracy? It is nice to catch this subtropical winter’s false spring and its early spring’s false summer, but the suitcases carry only so much life, and I am reticent to become a gypsy. I would still be sifted out of much of what goes on here so that should the designation “former” fade there would be a zombieland of time before I would see it as “home” again.

Perhaps I could pick up some of the lapsed friendships and acquaintances and get a head-start building the cage of connections that would make me feel safe. Now, with the freedom of both space and time, I am exposed and vulnerable. If my freedom guided me I would end up outside of the SoCal megacity. The roads on the map all merge together and leave here. When I lived here I would often leave and call it going someplace, now if I left I would simply be someplace when I stopped to rest.

One of the last times I spent a full week in SoCal I discovered a dead possum while running. The body was tucked into the shade of a short landscape coifed bush. Possums are known for pretending to be dead in order to avoid danger. This possum looked like it was pretending to be asleep in order to avoid death. Some small hand had gathered several bunches of rough yellow flowers and had arraigned them around the lounging corpse.

The possum had pretended to be dead while alive; pretending as it did so that it could avoid death. A child had apparently comforted the possum’s corpse; pretending as it did that it knew the possum while it lived. The possum had passed from living its own fantasy to existing as the focus of another’s.

Lonely as the megacity is; I am never alone here. The chop-chop of helicopters and whining sirens play above a background harmony of constant activity. Bearings fail, belts wear out, and people grow old; each generates a buzzing sound that never stops. People float in and out of their own focus. So many rooms have TV, and so much TV is shot in SoCal, that someone could be watching what they could see outside their own front door. The TV takes the outside world, livens it up, sanitizes it, and projects it back for us to live in more comfortably.

Back in December of last year I had a plan for confronting SoCal that worked. It involved a half-marathon and long runs on a sunset lit beach. The prospect of a full week in SoCal drives me to plan again. I have a plan for this trip as well though it is not as well defined.  Perhaps I should try more swimming?
Swimming is riskier than running. Weather shuts it down pretty fast. However, it is much more engaging. With a mask, snorkel, and wetsuit I blend into the water.

The running worked because it got me out onto the actual surface of SoCal. I felt the freedom of not being caged instead of just the vulnerability. The idea of swimming is to get soaked in SoCal wetness. The concept is that it will be more effective than just skimming the surface.

If the Weather does not cooperate I can always run. Running works.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Spam filters

There is fragility in the bond that ties two people together. The din of existence pulls at that bond until it stretches and then breaks. There are also stresses placed on interpersonal bonds by the nature of our personal emotional selves. Sometimes the bonds are so fleeting as to only announce their existence by the fragments they leave when gone. This is the normal state of affairs; attention is paid, information is gathered, and attention is re-directed.

For inanimate objects even this level of investigation can be an overindulgence. There are too many objects to give each one an individualized attention. It is so much easier to glance at, recognize as similar to items already known, and be comforted. Only when things act unconventionally, or are new, do they require actual attention. When things do not behave as expected the experience is often annoying, and sometimes scary.

The more things we interact with the more we risk discovering unexpected behavior. We could notice fewer things in our environment; effectively winnow out items whose behavior, whether dependable or not, is of little consequence. We could limit the resolution with which we understand the actions of items in our environment; pay attention only to the actions we have predicted, and avoid the possibility of discovering unexpected behavior. Both of these approaches limit our knowledge of the world, one through hubris, the other through ignorance.

Easy as it is to disparage these simple filters, they remain indispensible. When a particular goal becomes very important the status of objects unimportant to achieving the goal are usually ignored. This can easily be demonstrated in the following video.
How difficult is it to count the number of passes the white team makes?

A trivial example of this filter could be constructed around the goal of arriving for work after having left a little late. One walks quickly down a sidewalk, assuming the concrete is solid, ignoring the activities of those in the street. The filter provides the ability to focus attention on less-defined impediments. How can we dodge the couple arguing in the middle of the sidewalk? Will the truck pull out of the alley before I pass? Decisions are made, attention is focused, and the goal is achieved.

Those of you who have read my musings on flow and superfluidity in action probably notice that these filters are a potentially intermediate step in achieving these states. Simply apply a visualization model to the status of assumptions, and the response to the items they govern can be programmed into portions of the brain closer to the tip of the spine.

Problems arise when filtering stimulus becomes more important than gathering it. It can appear that we know more about a situation the more acute our ability to operate within it becomes. The ability can be due more to enhanced ignorance than to enhanced knowledge. We may know which alley is likely to have a truck back out of it, but we do not notice what happens down any other alley. Only those items that clamor for our attention get it.

So many things clamor for attention that we can lose sight of those things that do not. If we spend a certain amount of time on each item that demands our attention then all our time is gone, and many items that clamor are left ignored.

We can apply higher level filters, like spam blockers on e-mail, but these only prioritize the noise-making attention grabbers. How do we see the silent things? How do we re-test the operation of our lower-level filters without suffering catastrophic failures? How do we learn what is not pushed on us?

Silence is the answer.

Just bits of it…

Simply apply a super filter; all periphery attention is blinded. Examine the world with a laser-beam of attention. Look at one thing, know it, and move on. Let your attention fall on what you see; not on what is shown to you. Know your world a little better.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The deist problem.

Deism appears to be an effective solution to the difficulties associated with reconciling an awkward god with the information of a modern world. Without entirely eliminating the spiritual overlord one can re-assign its powers to the point that the question of its existence is almost moot. Properly practiced deism is just watered-down atheism.

What makes this a problem?

Theist impediments to progress are removed by deists wherever needed. It appears as if deism sports the best of both the atheist and theist worlds. Deism is an undeniably great step from theism and frees the thinker to pursue their humanity in ways unimaginable to the theist. Several advantages that deism offers are:
  1. The fidelity to a theist god is not lost, only tethered. Should the deist end up at some afterlife judgment she could honestly state that “I believed in you more than you made it convenient to do so”. Here the deist behaves like a theist-leaning agnostic.
  1. Religiosity is not abandoned. To many deists the watered down god is described as a “personal understanding”. The details of theology are not explained so the appearance of theist belief remains intact. Here the deist is in stealth mode. The hidden alterations to iron-age theology allow an easy duct-tape-level fix. I suspect that the numbers of deists masquerading as theists is legion.
  1. Morality becomes the process of determining right and wrong as opposed to the process of interpreting scripture. It is from this juncture that most theists begin the journey to deism. A majority of modern theists (so large that only a ignorable margin remain) believe that certain scripturally allowed activities, like slavery, are simply wrong. This is more than pick and choose theism, this is righteousness of morality beating the pulp out of dogmatic scriptural theism. This is the crowning triumph of deism. A livable modern world would be impossible without first arriving at this theological milestone.
  1. The deist does not need to adventure beyond a “theological comfort envelope”. Since theology itself evolved to provide for the believer the deist actively avoids leaving the fruits of theology to wither on the vine. It is in this apparent benefit that the trouble for deism lurks. Theism remains the crutch onto which the deist leans as if injured, but the deist is whole. Thousands of years of theist rhetoric have created a language of the sublime without which it may appear that some of the more awesome aspects of being human are abandoned.

Many adult onset atheists, myself included, have passed through a deist stage to arrive where we are today. Those who have simply abandoned all faith in a single defining moment and plunged into non-belief have, in my opinion, missed out.
The deist stage is a time of assembly. Introspection and experimentation help us to create a personalized approach to managing life's intangible benefits. Without a well defined atheistic tool set for life the aspiring atheist must assemble one that works for them.

Life cannot be put on hold while one figures out how to live it. For the type I atheists this assembly might best be done whilst a teenager. The adult onset (type II) atheist can ill afford the awkwardness associated with figuring out how to live after several decades of life. For the type II atheist the deism developmental stage is almost necessary for developing an into an effective adult atheist.

What then is the deist problem?

The problem arises in passing through the deist stage. As theism is abandoned by degrees the theology of the transitioner becomes more stable. New tool are brought to bear on those difficulties that motivated the partial abandonment of theism in the first place. Most of the problems of an awkward god are eliminated by determined deism. At some point the way forward is not clear. The motivation to proceed through deism evaporates. Imagined obstacles prevent further progress and we stagnate. The problem with deism is that it is a trap.

Discovering atheism unveils important human needs. Being revealed allows the atheist to design approaches to meeting those needs based on all available information. It is the nuts and bolts of those approaches as practiced in my life that is the attempted substance of this blog. When I was a deist the accepted approach was to describe all unanswered questions as the will of god. Only so far as god revealed herself to me was I able to understand those aspects of my life. she also took care of the unimportant aspects of life. I only needed to wordy when I needed to worry and at those times things would be taken care of anyway. It was actually a pretty nice passive arrangement.

Since I am living my life, not god, there is some confusion over where the line should be drawn between her responsibility and mine. As an atheist the act of living my life becomes the motivating reason for doing so. I decide what type of life I want to live and the first question is not “is this god's will?” but “is this possible?” or “how can I best go about achieving this goal?”. The god's will question is answered with shades of ambiguity. The “what can I do?” question is answered by choices of action. The deeper I examine the ambiguities of an awkward god the longer I put off living. When I choose to act, even when I choose not to act, I am living.

An iconic example of the atheist approach to living can be found in running. I do not run because I am a great runner or even because I am a very good runner, as I am neither. I run because I am practiced at getting up in the morning, breathing all day, and going to sleep at night. I want to be a person who wants to run. Specifically I like the superfluidity of running long distances and wish to be someone who can experience it often. With the problem stated I need to deconstruct what it means.

a) Superfluidity is the state of active cerebellum control with minimal cerebrum-cerebellum crosstalk. In simple terms it is the state of being.

b) What are the impediments to this activity? Muscles, Joints, and bones. Training helps with these.

c) What limits this activity? Nutrition and attitude. A plan and positive feedback help with these.

d) What is the primary measure of achieving the goal? Simply the time spent in “the flow” where the cerebellum controls the activity and the cerebrum is opened to the experiential nature of the activity. The longer the better.

e) What are good lead measures of progress to the goal? Time I can run in one session. Distance I can run in one session is good also.
    Throughout the entire process the concept of a deist god is unhelpful. Further deconstructions set up feedback loops. What was not working, how can it be fixed? What was working, how can I make it work better? The information that goes into this process is gathered through living. The information is the substance of life. Life enhanced is the product of the process.

    The atheist can love and therefore can develop an approach to love that helps achieve a “I want to love more” goal. The atheist can hurt and can therefore develop an approach to emotional pain that helps achieve a “I want to hurt less” goal. These are tools of life developed from deconstruction of the “I want to live more” goal.

    One question I get asked a lot in regards to this is “What about a higher power?”. I was asked a similar question “What about a higher power, dude” while I was in California recently. Both of these questions are perhaps better answered in a piece entitled something like “Why be an atheist?”. I want this blog to be more of an “How can I be an atheist” collection. Hopefully, as I answer the how question for myself, I will be able to coherently write down what I think at the time. No promises.

    The higher power(s) questions are important. That they exist and are not you is an unsatisfying explanation only so far as we harbor expectations of them being some sort of supernatural being(s).

    The most that I feel comfortable adding as a postnote to this piece is a statement that; “without resorting to supernatural mumbo-jumbo there are so many powers greater than yourself that you should have nothing to fear”. I also would recommend that you become a deist should you be at all uncomfortable with being an atheist.