Happy 12/21/12!

As we all know, the world ends today – because clearly there’s not a more mundane, practical reason to the Mayan Long Count calendar ending, right? – and I’d just like to say it’s been a privilege to participate in the exchange of ideas here and to get to know some people here that are quite a ways outside the circles I normally move in.  It’s always good to broaden one’s horizons, to hear and to be heard, to bring disparate peoples together that might not otherwise meet.  Nothing but good can come of it, if done for its own sake.

Hey, how do you think time zones will affect the imminent apocalypse?  For example, maybe the world might end here first, since I’m in roughly the same time zone that the Mayans might have been in, maybe, so maybe we here might blink out of existence or burst into flames or be swallowed up by the very earth itself first, and then it might spread out to the rest of the wor

Dear WordPress:

Please stop changing the statuses of my posts from Draft/Pending Review to Published.  Nobody needs to see that.  I am aware that it’s partly my fault due to my login habits, or lack thereof, and that the auto-logout seems to make your client act a bit funny, but there is no need to expose your readers to the liminal and maddening void that lies sleeping just beneath reality itself, one day to awaken and devour space and star and man.  On that incomprehensible day, no amount of begging, no prostration, no benediction will preserve our sanity from the horror of even the merest stirrings of those vast and tenebrous things that exist beyond form, for whom our highest gods are beneath notice, but until then we should probably just chill and try not to think about it too much.

It’s a good thing nobody actually reads this, and that this is only a motivator to finish writing the things I start, because this way I don’t have to explain those duplicated paragraphs to anyone who saw them.  I will, though:  I am incredibly, psychotically picky about the wordings with which I say things, and commonly write paragraphs multiple times to see which one I like best.  I firmly believe that with the proper wording, a reader could be moved to tears by a description of how to make pancakes.  It’s probably an unrealistic standard to hold oneself to, but when you get right down to it, it’s not actually all that important to actually meet that standard at all.  The thing is to keep improving toward it, to never think “okay, this is as good as I wanted to be, now I’ll just maintain.”

A thing is only an amalgamation of circumstance, and circumstance alway changes.  Time always moves forward.  The you that began to read this isn’t the you that just read this line, and it’ll be another you still that reads my last sentence.  You are constantly being created and destroyed in every moment.  Maintenance, then, as well as anything that appears to neither proceed or degrade, is just a trick of perception.  It’s a pretty word for stagnation.

And you know, I don’t even like Lovecraft that much.  Or rather I like his ideas far more than the way in which he wrote about them.  Huh.

Peter Higgs r smrt

Since yesterday’s announcement of the pretty-much-discovery of Higg’s boson, I have read roughly thirty thousand million billion incomplete and badly written attempts to explain to people what Higg’s boson actually is, so I’m here to show you people how to fucking do this.  I mean really, most of you just went “They discovered Higg’s boson!  Watch this Youtube video to see what it is cuz I have no fucking idea!”  Youtube appreciates your ignorance, but nobody else does.

Here we go:  all matter is made up of tiny little bits called molecules.  Molecules are composed of atoms, which can combine in different combinations to make all kinds of shit.  Don’t worry about it, though; the molecules that make up, say, your arm are probably insanely complex and have ridiculous numbers of kinds of atoms and whatnot in them, so really, just leave it.  Atoms in turn are composed of a proton/neutron nucleus which is orbited by electrons; these electrons hop to nearby atoms and are what binds molecules together, else all that would exist are elements.  Certainly you wouldn’t have arms.  Or even be a you.  Protons and neutrons are in turn composed of elementary particles, which are in turn composed of nothing; they are the basic units of literally everything, ever.  Oh, and electrons are also elementary particles.  You’ve heard of elementary particles, surely:  quarks and bosons and so forth.

That’s all well and good, but it leaves a few glaring problems.  For one, the spaces between molecules/atoms/elementary particles are much, much bigger than the molecules/atoms/elementary particles themselves; science cannot concretely explain why your fist doesn’t pass through a person’s face when you punch them.  For two, particles in and of themselves have no mass.  Without mass, gravity cannot work, so this means science cannot concretely explain why you cannot fly.  Well, more accurately, science can’t explain why you don’t aimlessly and helplessly float through some amorphous and insubstantial hellscape out of a Lovecraft story.

Clearly, something was missing from our understanding.  People get punched in the face every day, and if we were living in an amorphous and insubstantial hellscape, it would seldom be debated.  So one fine day in bonny old Europe, a bright gentleman named Peter Higgs theorized that there must be some thing that imbued mass upon all these crazyass particles so that gravity could work on them and they would become substantial, rather than bouncing around reeeeeally fast like light does.

That thing wasn’t easy to find, either.  It’s popularly known as the God Particle, and the man who coined that phrase, Leon Lederman, Director Emeritus of Fermi, said he only called it the God Particle because his publisher wouldn’t let him call it the Goddamn Particle.  According to him, that’s a far more appropriate name, and I’ll explain why.

Our much feted boson existed for (seriously) something like a millionth of a billionth of a billionth of a second at around a billionth of a second after the Big Bang banged.  At this point the universe didn’t even come close to resembling anything a layperson could possibly conceive of as reality.  It was formless, churning and really, like, unimaginably hot and composed of particles that mostly don’t even exist anymore.  Matter and antimatter, most likely still raw and elemental and shapeless, were poised to entirely annihilate each other; nobody quite knows why they didn’t.  By our current understanding, us and everything else shouldn’t exist.  Congrats, everything you know and love is a massive, unexplained fluke.  Somehow matter won out over antimatter, and we narrowly avoided living in a strange bizarro universe comprised entirely of goateed evil twins lamenting the annihilation of their goody-two shoes counterparts, forever doomed to wonder what the point of taking over the world even fucking is now.  It’s science.

These conditions, as you might imagine, are hard to replicate, as is detecting the boson within these conditions.  In fact, only the signs of its presence and the particular particles it breaks down into can be detected, which means the ten billion dollar Large Hadron Collider must burn up ungodly amounts of electricity over and over and over again to smash those hadrons together and the data must be analyzed each time to look for the places where Higg’s boson was, and to rule out any possibility of it having been some other particle of a similar size and that decays the same way.  Ten billion dollars, 17 miles of ring-magneted tunnel, hundreds of the best scientists on Earth (half of whom are trying to convince idiots that they’re not going to spawn a black hole and wipe out mankind) and it’s still this hard.  Goddamn Particle indeed.

Still, this boson is the source of every last bit of matter there is.  It pretty much created gravity, or at least made it meaningful.  It is the only reason anything besides a Lovecraftian hellscape can exist.  In a manner of speaking, it created the universe, at least in the sense that it in conjunction with the graviton gave it its staggeringly complex and precise structure and the matter of which said structure is composed, which in turn created conditions in which life could be possible.  So really, maybe the God Particle isn’t such a bad appellation after all.

Bear in mind, this is kind of a jokey piece by a layman.  Scientific rigor was not even attempted, and in fact was amiably mocked.  If I got anything outright wrong, though, I’d love to hear it.

The Hedgehog’s Dilemma

What an interesting subject.  It could be anything!  After all, hedgehogs must have fucktons of dilemmas, not the least of which would be the fact that they’re actual hedgehogs, which must suck.  They’re tiny, kind of stupid and if a hedgehog were to fall onto its back, it would be fixed by its own quills to the very earth, and what would be a minor embarrassment for most creatures would quickly become a deadly yet broadly humorous predicament.  Or, less literally, perhaps its a Victorian take on the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise, where our blue hero finds himself forced to choose between social convention and true love, between what’s expected and the unexpected, between filial obligation and the obligations of the heart.  SPOILER:  like every single Victorian story ever, he will choose the latter in a highly dramatic yet obviously telegraphed “reveal”, to the consternation of his mother, sisters and that damn stodgy old Vicar.  Much corset-induced fainting and hmmphing ensues.

Seriously, you can’t respect a people who constantly wrote about flouting their own fucking values.  What’s that?  You say we do that nowadays too?  You say that humanity isn’t and can never be a homogeneous mass that subscribes to a homogeneous morality and that the flouting of the values held by the majority is perpetrated by a free-thinking artistic and creative minority and portrayed for the amusement and edification of those for whom the shackles of public judgment and condemnation weigh heaviest?  Well I don’t see how that in any material way changes what I said in the opening sentence of this paragraph, now GOOD DAY, SIR.

I know I shouldn’t write it down when I argue with myself, but I did it, it’s done and I’m not deleting it.  No, this is just some dumb old philosopher’s thingamabopper.

Imagine, if you will, a family of hedgehogs shivering in a wintery forest; I’m assuming hedgehogs live in forests, and I don’t care enough to look it up, so just roll with me on this.  It’s freezing cold, as often happens in the wintertime, and even kind of stupid hedgehogs know to huddle together for warmth.  Hedgehogs, though, are quite heavily quilled, and if they simply huddle closely, they will stab each other.  Thus, they are forced to remain somewhat apart and find an acceptable compromise between freezing to death and poking little bleeding holes in their loved ones.

The Dilemma was the idea of one Arthur Schopenhauer, a philosopher often criticized for his pessimistic ideas, making him a fellow misanthrope.  He related the above idea and posited that human social interaction works in exactly the same way:  if we are unreservedly open to the people we know, we cannot help but to hurt them, be it a minor pain or a mortal wound.  Conversely, if we withdraw completely, there will be no possibility of warmth for us, and thus to participate in society is to implicitly acknowledge that you will, regardless of your intentions, hurt people, and will in turn be hurt.  It’s interesting, because assuming it’s true, then from certain perspectives it follows that it’s actually unethical to even interact with another human being.  Of course, generalizations tend to not be true to some extent or another, and even if this one was absolutely true, any reasonable person would have to reject the notion that saying hello to somebody makes you an awful person.

Philosophers aren’t always reasonable, though; much the same sort of logic is used to argue in favor of another of Schopenhauer’s ideas, antinatalism, which is pretty much what it sounds like.  David Benatar, for example, argues that to give birth to a person is to indirectly do harm to that person, and thus procreation is immoral, backing his long lost sister Pat’s insistence that love is indeed a battlefield.  Still, if you stuck a gun to his head and offered to undo the great wrong that his mother and father committed against him, I’d be almost certain that he’d decline your kind altruism.  It’s the kind of argument that makes sense semantically, but instantly becomes nonsensical when made tangible in the real world.

The Hedgehog’s Dilemma is different, in my opinion; for such a simple metaphor, it’s very apt.  It does seem incomplete, though:  hedgehogs quills protrude down and back from the head, and with some care and attention to angles, they are perfectly capable of huddling as close as they like as their quills nestle flat and harmlessly against their loved ones.  It is heedlessness that creates the dilemma in the first place, not mere proximity, and it’s as true for hedgehogs as it is for humans.  Closeness only equals pain when one is reckless, and I certainly wouldn’t agree if Schopenhauer meant to imply that to show some care is to establish any kind of distance.  Not even a little.  Contrarily, apathy and recklessness become more and more likely the farther away one is from another, emotionally and socially speaking.  Certainly one is vulnerable to someone close, but there isn’t necessarily pain.  It isn’t even necessarily likely.

And so I present The Compleat Hedgehog’s Dilemma by bluinthisligget.  Take that, you dead German bastard!

No, I’m kidding.  His book The World As Will and Representation actually sounds awesome.  I also got some German in me on my mother’s side, so I’m allowed to say that.  Comments/opinions from my readers would be most welcome.