Michael Battalio


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

11th Annual Christmas Mass Email

Greetings and Salutations, 
        Welcome to the Eleventh Annual Christmas Mass E-mail.  I hope this finds each and every one of you well.

        Usually by about Thanksgiving I start thinking about what I want to go in this correspondence, and after much inner turmoil, it isn’t until Christmas Eve itself that I finally decide what topic it is I want to cover.  This year, on the other hand, is completely different.  I’ve known exactly what I want to write about since the middle of September.  It, as usual, has to deal with some of the troubles I’ve been dealing with over the course of my year.
        My dad isn’t a guy of many words, but he makes them count when he speaks.  One of my earliest memories is of a balmy summer’s evening spent playing in the backyard.  My dad pushes me on the  flimsy tire swing under the old pecan tree, and after one particularly strong shove he stares off in his usually way and passes along this life lesson, “Son, one of the most important things you have is your health.  You can’t buy it, take it, or receive it.  You have it, or you don’t.  Take care of yourself.  You get one shot.”  I’ve had that repeated to me in so many words at least a couple of times a year ever since.  The lesson is one of the best pieces of advice he’s given me.  
        I bring it up because this year I’ve watched someone I care about suffer with a pretty atrocious disease while I’m helpless to do anything.  I can’t make them better; I can’t give them my health, as much as I want to.  I hurt watching someone I care about hurt.  Throughout these months of their recovery I keep reflecting on what my dad told me.  I’ve been very healthy my whole life, so I, naturally, take my wellness for granted.  It has never occurred to me that others wouldn’t be as lucky as I am.  You are supposed to be fit when you are young and gradually your physical condition takes more work as you age.  Unfortunately, life doesn’t take a nice, neat path between birth and death, so it is up to your own self to take care of your own self.  Your health is the best gift you possess.  Consequently, the best gift I can give you is the same advice my dad still gives me:  Take care of yourself.  (After you’ve stuffed yourself with the third helping of Christmas brunch, go for a walk tomorrow, and take the time to enjoy it.)  Additionally, the best gift you can give is to take care of everyone around you, even if it is just a smile when you know they’re having a bad day.  They will thank you for it into old age.  

        And there you go.  I’m enjoying my time at Texas A&M; just a few (more) years of grad school left.  Once again, congratulations to all of you who have really done something amazing this year, whether it’s finishing a degree, getting married, starting a family, finding a new passion in life or any other accomplishment.  But never be satisfied; always strive for more.  Always question, learn, grow; otherwise, what’s the point?
        Enjoy the season, appreciate the little things, and take the time to give yourself some credit for making it as far as you have.  Reply to let me know how you’re doing and what you’ve accomplished; wanting to hear from you is half the reason I send this every year.

As I’ve been having to teach as part of my assistantship, here is a teacher-themed requisite bad joke…

A new teacher is trying to make use of her psychology courses.  She starts her class by saying, “Everyone who thinks you’re stupid, stand up.”
After a few seconds, Little Johnny stood up.  The teacher said, “Now, Little Johnny, no one is stupid.  You don’t think you’re stupid, do you, Little Johnny?”
“No ma’am, but I hate to see you standing there all by yourself!”

Best wishes, happy holidays,
Battalio
http://www.battalio.com/

Friday, November 16, 2012

Serious conversations (part 43):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The forty-third through forty-fifth entries deal with globalization, peace, and war.



        Previously we dealt with space exploration and the need for scientific funding. We continue with a discussion on global peace.



        In the far future I believe global peace is possible if for no other reason that we will all die. All kidding aside, yes, I believe it to be possible. Here is why: a large amount of the global violence can be attributed to intolerance, whether religious, racial, social, gender, sexual, cultural etc. As humanity continues on, a greater and greater percentage of people will become “well” educated. (“Well educated” is a nebulous term that we could spend a lot of time talking about on its own.) Previous events have demonstrated that as education increases, people become more tolerant of differences. For example, consider how warlike Europe was in the middle ages. Since WWII, the more “modern” nations have very little internal fighting. (Granted Europe’s and the US’s relationship to the wars in the middle east is a completely different situation - as in mostly motivated by greed.) Even in eastern Europe where there has been atrocious ethnic cleansing in the last few decades, there is now less large-scale, overt violence. Granted that is because it is enforced from outside (a consequence of globalization actually), but there is peace nonetheless. Also, as education increases religious belief decreases; simply removing religion from the equation will rid ourselves of a lot of the progenitors/instigators of war.


        I have a second reason for believing that we will eventually see global peace (and it is related to my first sentence of this e-mail). Assuming humanity exists for long enough, we will eventually confront some sort of crisis that demands we as a species act together. This crisis could be natural or of our own making or a combination of both (global warming). Inevitably there will be some who embrace the crisis as destiny and continue as if nothing has changed, but many (most) will recognize that humanity cannot continue following its current war drum. Such a huge crisis will galvanize the disparate peoples of the world into a singular people. A crisis big enough to cause this to happen will have to be really gigantic, something like an asteroid impact or contact with extra-terrestrials or some cataclysmic natural disaster, but eventually a crisis that big will happen.


        A third possibility: a WWIII that destroys most of humanity such that the most warlike factions are extinct and those left are either non-warlike in the first place or too few or otherwise incapable to continue the war.


        So I have to say that while we will almost certainly not see peace in our time, we will see it eventually.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Serious conversations (part 42):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The fortieth through forty-second entries deal with space, space travel, space exploration, and its merits.



        Previously the merits of science research (advancement of the economy for one) were discussed; specifically, space exploration both manned and unmanned was debated. In the previous two entries we waxed on about the lack of scientists who are also politicians and the aimlessness of NASA. We continue on by pointing the blame squarely on inept politicians and their greed for pet projects.



        There really is no doubt to me that the public faith in the government to do good has dropped dramatically in the last couple of decades. I don’t really have an explanation for it. It is, however, the reason that NASA lacks direction. Conservatives are such stalwarts on the uselessness of government and the magical ability of privatization that for the first time in generations the US does not have a way of getting humans into low Earth orbit, much less space itself. (I try to be as moderate and independently minded as I can, but the conservatives are really doing a good job of making the government ineffective in general.) And we are 10 years at best from getting back there, so we are 10 years from having the space faring capacity of the early 1980’s. That’s not how you capture the imagination. In 10 years no one will be excited about getting back to where we were 40 years earlier. On top of that money is wasted as politicians go through the revolving door, picking money for random projects, because they know nothing about science, that are shuttered when they leave.


        Again, the root cause of all of this poor understanding in science is that we let lawyers be in charge of funding. That is absolutely stupid. Of course NASA is floundering. Of course we aren’t doing anything about climate change or overpopulation or finding new sources of energy. We are letting people with no or at best limited knowledge of science, who are only trained to argue, make the decisions on what is important. The fact that climate change is a political issue is sickening to me and just about every other atmospheric scientist, yet there is nothing we can do about it now because it has become politicized.


        Back to the point of the discussion. I have to say that space exploration is of much higher importance to me now that I’m working for a couple of professors who study the atmosphere of Mars. Several of the satellites that they were hoping for have been canceled, and the project that was to fund my RA position was not funded. So, my perspective is very biased now. Even in light of that I can say with certainty that space exploration is crucial to the survival of our species and all life on earth. Something catastrophic will happen to the planet, even if it is a billion years from now, and all will be lost if at least one species does not find a way to expand beyond our solar system.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Serious conversations (part 41):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The fortieth through forty-second entries deal with space, space travel, space exploration, and its merits.



        On the other hand, humans are big, heavy things, and they require a lot of effort (read: money) to get to outer space, much less orbit. The planet does not currently have the economic excess to be funding a lot of human exploration. The argument can certainly be made that the money could be applied to the deficit. However when you look at the history of human spaceflight, it doesn’t really take that much money. When you compare the operating budget of NASA to the deficit, even increasing the budget of NASA ten fold is a drop in the bucket. So at the very least we should not reduce the budget of NASA.



        Also, one could argue that all the money that we might waste on human spaceflight should all be applied to robotic missions or other endeavors. We could accomplish so much more with a lot less money if we limit our space program to robotics. However, I would again argue that without human spaceflight, we lose the imagination of the public, and without that the space program would be nothing today. So I maintain that a limited human spaceflight program is necessary for the continued survival of the unmanned program.



        Speaking of NASA: I think the problem with NASA right now is a lack of vision and drive. The directive of NASA has changed every few years or so. W Bush wanted to get us to Mars, but Obama has curtailed that completely. And I can’t even remember what Clinton wanted NASA to do. Again the problem is that the President (generally a lawyer by trade) is in charge of the budget of a purely scientific enterprise. He has no idea what it should do nor should he, yet he has ultimate authority over it. The president should not be issuing the mandates for NASA or any other scientific body. An independent panel of scientists should run NASA and be completely apolitical. The budget of NASA should be pegged at the inflation rate, unless the Congress wants to give it extra money to fulfill some request on behalf of the people. Otherwise no branch of government should have any say over the actions of NASA. Assuming that will never happen, at the very least we need another situation that demands something of NASA (at some point global warming will become that situation, but I won’t live that long) in a short period of time. Everyone working towards one goal is the way to get things done.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Serious conversations (part 40):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The fortieth through forty-third entries deal with space, space travel, space exploration, and its merits.


 


        Firstly a comment on the space shuttle and science funding in general: Just to mention this, I’m very disappointed that the space shuttle is gone.  Or more precisely that we don’t have a replacement for the space shuttle.  I was hopeful that by the time the shuttle was decommissioned that there would be plans for the replacement, but we really have nothing.  Not only that, major projects at NASA are being threatened to be canceled (Jim Webb for example).  Unfortunately mostly of the undereducated middle class doesn’t understand that research and development is key to an advancing economy, and not only that it is also necessary for our survival as a civilization.  So we are left with outcries that the NSF, NASA, NOAA and a multitude of other government scientific organizations are overfunded even though they receive very little percentage-wise of the federal budget.  And it is up to them to advance science and produce new technologies.  Imagine what the economy would be like (and life in general) if no one had ever bothered to fund the research that led to the transistor.  I fear that that is what is happening, because of the foolish we are letting technological developments that should occur in our lifetime slip out of our grasp. That saddens me.



        Let us move on to a discussion of manned space flight. For the moment I shall state that unmanned exploration is of obvious benefit. I go both ways as far as manned exploration is concerned, but generally I feel that is also of vital importance. This is due to several things. Firstly, we achieve certain innovations in technology that we will have to have eventually, sooner by having manned spaceflight. Eventually we will have to leave this planet, either due to overpopulation or something cataclysmic happening to the ecosystem or something terrible happening to the sun, and we need to prepare for that. Probably sooner rather than later. So it behooves us to work out the glitches in human spaceflight now while there is very limited pressure on us as a species. Secondly, although we will get there some day, hopefully, machines cannot do everything a human being can. If we had people on Mars right now (which I’m certain we could have if we’d stuck to the rate at which we were exploring in the 1960s), we’d absolutely know the whereabouts of water and if we hadn’t found it already, be much closer to finding life on Mars. Thirdly, there is something to be said of science for the sake of science and discovery. I believe the more we know, the richer our existence becomes. Lastly, we should do it because it is inspiring and captivating. I suggest this clip from Neil deGrasse Tyson (who spoke at MSU last semester and was wonderful) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3_F3pw5F_Pc I agree completely with that rant. Later on he talks about how poorly our congress represents us, not because of race or social status, but because of the fact that most of them are lawyers. There are no scientists, engineers, or regular people, so of course, they make stupid decisions. They are making decisions that have nothing to do with their professions.


        Next entry will feature comments from the other side.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Serious conversations (part 39):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The thirty-sixth through thirty-ninth entries deal with extending one’s life artificially.



Me:         Another thing to consider: what becomes of our interactions with other people? Do we each have our own machine we live in? Do we all exist as programs on one really large machine where our individual programs can talk and interact? What defines an interaction? Will there be levels of permission that are allowed? Will we have a choice in the matter? What about free will as a machine? Inevitably there will be evil people in the machine, think of what they will be able to do. What could they become? These are all answerless questions at the moment because this entire thought experiment is predicated on us actually getting the technology to move to machines at some point, so I don’t know if it is worthwhile to consider these questions.



        I suppose the question is to what extent is the stream of consciousness actually our selves. And will we be able to distinguish our voice from others. I would venture to say yes in the same way that I can tell the difference between when I am saying something and when someone else is speaking. I can recognize that the voice is coming externally, that it is entering my consciousness through one of my senses and not originating within me. I would interpret telepathy as another sense where my brain receives external input. Again, speculation though.



        It doesn’t matter what we define ourselves as; it only matters what our selves actually are. Nonreligious believe it is a purely physical issue. It doesn’t matter if people take issue with the brain being the center of self if the brain is actually the origin of self. Herein lies our biggest issue with this. No one actually knows what the self is. It seems to me that the brain is what most people believe it to be, and that assumption seems natural to me. I can feel myself thinking in my head. I don’t feel myself thinking with my arm or foot or digestive system. My body does (mostly) what my consciousness (that I feel to be in my brain) tells it to do.



Another interesting point from my friend: “If your actual brain itself was a computer, and you could copy and paste yourself and you could simply download a new ability, I don't think you could even call that human at all.  I'm not sure how you could be that and still maintain a sense of self, though, as I said before, you'd presumably have some central processor choosing what to download and when/how to copy.  But maybe remaining human isn't necessary.  You could willingly choose to become something else.”



And that’s the extent of serious conversations on bodily replacement. Hopefully this will be revisited in a few years. Our next entries deal with space exploration.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Serious conversations (part 38):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The thirty-sixth through thirty-ninth entries deal with extending one’s life artificially.



        Clearly you are still human if your body doesn’t work (see for example Stephen Hawking or Christopher Reeve). And I would suppose that you would still be human if we could find a way to sever the head and still provide nutrients to sustain life to the head. I am willing to say that our sense of self resides in the brain, and you can be your “self” without your body. So the question becomes does our sense of self rely upon being in the physical world? Even though Hawking and Reeve could not actually move objects around, they still interacted with the physical world by being a part of it - seeing and hearing etc. If we are living as a computer what (if any) mechanisms do we have to interact with the physical world? That to me is an important question because our existence is based off the physical. We matter only in the physical. Granted now that a lot of what we do is not necessarily manifested in the physical such as programs that we write or other electronically conceived works but it exists as storage in the physical world. If we were simply lines of code how would we interact with the objects of physical world ? Would we live in a machine then move ourselves to android like bodies when we needed to do something, and then move back to our machines when were done? (It would be awesome to have a body like an android to move into when I needed.)



        Another point is what component of fading memories makes us human? If we are a machine we will remember everything, yes? Is there some point where our consciousness has too much to remember that it becomes overwhelmed by the amount of memories? Maybe. I seem to remember there being cases of people who remember everything ever (I don’t remember the medical term for it.), but they have a limited lifespan. So how much can one consciousness remember? Is it a limit of our consciousness or is it a limit of the storage capacity of the brain? With machines our storage capacity is dramatically increased, but won’t machines run out of space at some point too? And even in that case what would it be like to live in a machine? That topic is covered in part 39.



Friday, June 15, 2012

Serious conversations (part 37):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The thirty-sixth through thirty-ninth entries deal with extending one’s life artificially.



        What if instead of transferring consciousness to a computer it was merely copied to a machine while your original consciousness died with your body?  I would not be satisfied with that.  My self must be moved, not copied, otherwise I would still be dying.  It wouldn't really be me inside a machine, just a copy.



        We already replace some body parts with non-biological items, but those parts that we replace are not the parts we define as ourselves. We replace arms, legs, hearts; we supplement our body with glasses, hearing aids, dialysis. But we live in our brains. We don’t live in our arms, ears, hearts, etc. It means a lot more to replace something we don’t understand - the brain- than it is to replace something we do - the heart is just a collection of muscles and valves with appropriate mechanisms for timing. Everything but the brain is a collection of reasonably well understood physical processes that follow a predefined set of rules and perform a predefined set of tasks.



        When it comes down to it, our brain is just a bunch of electrical connections--a very, very large number of electrical connections, but still just electrics. If there were some way to maps those connections, we could reproduce those connections, not just in another brain but mechanically.



        The difference, as I see it, between the arm and the brain is the number of electrical connections between nerves or neurons, but I really don’t know. I am a lowly physicist with very limited knowledge of biology. Although I don’t know how to express it scientifically, there is clearly a difference between my arm and my brain. I can cut off both my arms and legs and still be me but I can go without my head. Similarly, if I could find a way to nourish my brain without digestive, respiration, or circulatory processes, I would still be me.



        What about genetic engineering to extend the natural lifespan of the human body? I think the big fear with genetic engineering is that we fear people having enough money to engineer “regular” members of the race to such a level of inferiority that they become a lower class. Also there are probably a lot of ways to screw up genetic engineering so there would be the layperson’s fear of coming out of it with a third eye or some such. It is possible that science will figure out how to engineer aging out of our DNA so that we “naturally” live forever.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Serious conversations (part 36):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The thirty-sixth through thirty-ninth entries deal with extending one’s life artificially.



        More and more research has come to light which might allow us to one day replace our entire bodies with artificial mechanisms that duplicate the functionality of our biological systems that we depend on. We already replace certain parts with mechanical options already, though generally it is because a biological part has failed. I don’t know of anyone who has opted to get a mechanical version of a part when their biological part still works.


        There is some speculation that one of the current generations alive will have the option to replace entire bodies with cybernetics. So if you could, would you?



        We probably have a few more decades of Moore’s law holding, and by the end of it we will have computers (perhaps quantum ones) that can process a lot faster than our brains can.  It will only be a matter of finding a way to put ourselves inside a computer.  I feel very uncomfortable with that.  I am not sure placing my consciousness inside a computer is really me anymore.  However, if I were to gradually replace one failing part at a time, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. It could be that I’m so uncomfortable with it because the brain is still such an unknown device. How much of my brain is “me” and how much of my body is “me”. On the other hand, if parts of my brian were replaced gradually and my stream of consciousness was continuous, I won’t have a problem with it. I think it is our sense of continuity and uniqueness that draws such fine lines in this matter. (More on this in the next post.) My friend posited that it is “our natural aversion to change and our natural ability to adapt to small perturbations that makes us feel this way.  We have our normal concept of self, and it changes minutely all the time due to various influences and experiences in our lives.  But sometimes a significant change can completely upset your concept of what is normal for you and your own life, and you are forced to renormalize quickly and painfully.”



        So given that if I adapt slowly enough I would be all right become computerized, would I demand to have some sort of corporal form to manipulate or would I be okay existing as nothing but code in some sort of stationary mainframe?  I know I would want some sort of mobile form that I could manipulate with my mind, and I would prefer it to be very similar to the form of my present body (enhanced of course).   Another interesting idea is that we could control objects but not be a part of them - for example have some sort of machine that we can control mentally by remote through an interface, but that interface doesn't have to be some sort of clunky object, it can be implemented simply through code.  

Friday, May 04, 2012

Serious conversations (part 35):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The thirty-fourth and thirty-fifth entries deal with leaving a legacy.



        Leaving a legacy could be something as grandiose as changing the world, or it could be as simple as leaving a record of what you did. I keep a journal though not a daily one. The problem with keeping a daily journal is that most of life is, unfortunately, mundane. I tried to write something down every day, but I quickly found that I was boring myself. Most amazing things happen gradually, not day to day, so I’ve found that if I write something every time I post to the blog (about once every three weeks or so) that I usually have something worthwhile to write. I frequently go back through my old twitter and facebook feeds to see what I was doing this time last year. Some of that fascination with myself is because I want to know that I wasn’t and am not just wasting my time on trivial things. On the other hand, perhaps I find my past doings interesting because we find the most interesting person in the world to be ourselves.



        Regarding the side questions of post 34 from Serious Conversations (what is it to be remembered? I don’t think merely having my name remembered is worth it. I think that what I’ve done must be remembered. And: is it enough to have your accomplishment remembered but not who you were?): If your name is remembered, but what you did is not remembered then I wouldn’t be satisfied. I think I’d be okay if my name was forgotten but my deeds remembered. Still though, I would prefer to be remembered as a person, but I doubt that will happen. That really happens to almost no one, so I won’t expect it of myself. I’ll just hope for it. I do accept the premise to divide the thought of leaving a legacy into two distinct items: to make a contribution to humanity and to be remembered as a thoughtful person. You can certainly accomplish one but not the other. As to which one is more important, I won’t hazard a guess. I suppose it depends on how important your relationships with other people are that dictates how important it is to you to be remembered as a person.



        I understand that the way history as a concept is treated is much different now than it was in the past. I feel relatively certain that it will continue to change and that the concept of history will be much different in a few thousand years, perhaps to the point where the individual doesn’t even matter (Though that is difficult to rectify with the fact that our culture is so pervasive with the concept of ego right now.) or to the point where only individuals matter (though that doesn’t make much sense.). I suppose my point is that it is pointless to try to leave a legacy because we don’t know how our actions or ourselves will be interpreted in the future. Perhaps we should be more content with the now - be more concerned with bettering ourselves and humanity for the now, not for the future.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Serious conversations (part 34):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The thirty-fourth and thirty-fifth entries deal with leaving a legacy.



Sorry for the hiatus. Writing a thesis takes a lot of work. For the next few months, the blog should resume its normal post every three weeks schedule.



My friend begins: In the past, people have been studied and remembered through letters they have written or journals they have kept - what about us?  What will happen to our vast archives of e-mails, Facebook and Twitter updates, blog posts, etc? But the cycle of life and death and the fading of memories over time are central and fundamental to human existence.  Maybe they are ultimately the most fundamental things of all in the human consciousness, and that's why people are so driven to leave a legacy.  Whereas we are biologically driven to reproduce our genes, we also have this extra mental baggage of memories and ideas that we want to pass on, and that can't be done biologically.  Throughout our lives, we witness the fading of memories with time and death and also see younger generations running off with ideas of their own, and we are afraid of being forgotten.



I respond: As I continue to work in academia, I am impressed by the difficulty in making a name for oneself.  The renown meteorologists publish vast quantities of research across a multitude of different disciplines.  I believe it will be very difficult to leave a legacy in the scientific community though that is my ultimate goal, so I'm forced to consider ways to be remembered outside of the science.  Because I don't really have very many grandiose ideas that might make me memorable, I'm simply making sure that I leave all my thoughts and work that I do produce well documented in digital form and saved in many places.  It is partly why I am sure to keep my website up to date and easily visible.  If I die tomorrow, there will be some record of me out there that can be viewed.



        It might be that to be human, you must not only live and die, but accomplish and be forgotten. Consider this, think about all the people who have done something far in the past that made them be really memorable to their generation and the next couple of following generations, but we have no idea who they are now. I could site innumerable examples, but here is one: can you name something significant that each of the US presidents did? I bet you can’t. I can’t. (I can’t even name all of them from memory.) I bet no one except presidential historians can. They were the leaders of what would be (for a time) the “greatest” country in the world, but no one remembers anything about them except their names. (Another side question, what is it to be remembered? I don’t think merely having my name remembered is worth it. I think that what I’ve done must be remembered.) I think almost universally that to be remembered for long periods of time you must contribute something to the arts, sciences, philosophy. I don’t think any political accomplishments will be remembered for all that long. And beyond that, at some point we will all be forgotten even if humanity continues for another 100,000 years. Another example, who invented the wheel? We have no clue. An inventor who could rank up and beyond with da Vinci, Edison, Ford, Franklin and we have no idea who he/she is. The reasons are because it was so long ago, and the communication mechanisms used to record the event and name (stone, primitive language) were rendered obsolete. (Back to my side question, is it enough to have your accomplishment remembered but not who you were?) I would argue that the mechanisms that are used today to record history (paper, computers, modern language) will also one day become obsolete, and a lot of people’s names will be lost in the process even though the actual accomplishments might remain.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Serious conversations (part 33):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The thirtieth through thirty-third entries deal with death.



So stating that we will be able to cheat death at some point and assuming we live long enough to see that happen, would I want to live forever?


        For me, I think I will eventually get bored, and we all know that forever isn’t really forever.  In a very large number of years, the universe will no longer have any useable energy, and we won’t be able to exist (thanks to the second law of thermodynamics).  So we will die; even with technology, we cannot cheat death.  (I say that with certainty based off of current knowledge, perhaps there is a way around all of this, whether through multiverses or whatever.)  But the fact remains, with /nearly/ unlimited time, I’m going to run out of stuff to do, probably.



        However, the sum of human knowledge doubles every few years (that rate surely is not sustainable), so I could live forever and not run out of things to do (learn).  [Speaking of inventing things to do, my friend theorized that perhaps our “reality” is just a program inside a computer and our actual selves are computerized and our consciousness is living out this existence as an experiment for our true selves.]  However, the “Big Chill” is what, 1 with 100 zeros behind it years away.  I occasionally get bored now, and I’m only 26.  Imagine being 10^100 years old though.  I suppose the question is, is forever longer enough to get bored with infinity?



To end the discussion on death, we are all hard wired to be scared of death.  We certainly wouldn’t get very far if no living creature feared death.  Evolution and natural selection wouldn’t work; creatures would die before expressing and passing along superior traits.  Interestingly, I often consider the various ways I could die in a given situation.  I suppose that’s a bit morbid, but I think being aware of possible hazards prevents me from being injured.


        I definitely want to leave a legacy of sorts (a good one), but being obsessed with leaving an imprint can definitely cloud your judgment (a la G.W. Bush).  I want to have accomplished something so that one of the branches of sciences is positively impacted.  That is probably a bit grandiose, but I’m not demanding that I get an equation named after me or I receive a Nobel Prize.  I just want to have done something very useful.  Perhaps I don’t want to leave a legacy as much as I want to be merely remembered. (More on legacy and becoming mechanized in the next few S.C. entries.)

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Tenth Annual Christmas Mass E-mail

Greetings and Salutations, 
        Welcome to the Tenth (yes the tenth) Annual Christmas Mass E-mail.  I hope this finds each and every one of you well.
        I recently had the statistic re-quoted to me that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master something.  To add a bit of perspective to that number, if you were to practice an hour every day at your occupation of choice, it would take you almost 30 years to reach this magic number of 10,000.  Thirty years to be good at something, what dedication!  In thinking about all the time I have spent on all my music and instruments, I am, perhaps, a quarter of the way to it.  In a way, it is somewhat depressing that it takes so long to be "good" at something, but in another way, it is very exciting because you will continually get better.  I am elated to think that if I keep working, someday I might be four times the musician that I am now.  Just think how much better you can be at whatever you want by the time you're reading the 11th annual e-mail.  Do it; make it happen.
        Conversely, I have the terrible tendency (and this year is no exception) to be unable to say no.  Given that it takes so long to master the hobbies that I find enjoyable, I frequently ask myself why I’m working on things I have no interest in.  By doing something that does not fulfill some part of myself, I am denying myself the mastery of activities in which I find great comfort and pleasure.  There are probably very few of us that have put 10,000 hours of time into a favorite hobby or pastime or even perhaps profession, so we all have room to improve on the activities that make us happy.  If you are doing something that does not make you happy or improve your quality of life, move on; let it go; say no.  And that thing you’ve always been meaning to do, start.  You’ll always be 10,000 hours away until you work on that first hour.  Three hundred and sixty-six days from now you will still be a year older regardless of if you learn something new or not, so you might as well begin now.
        Lastly, I want to pull a quote (hopefully not completely out of context) from another Christmas letter from one of my professors.  He said, “…the lessons and events of life are seldom the things that we see on the surface; there is almost always something deeper. Such is our life. We see what we choose to see…”  (Perhaps after a few thousand more hours I shall be as articulate and profound as he.) I ask you to see what you normally would not see.  Take time to pause, reflect, and ponder on the events of your life.  They are unique to you, and only you can absorb the lessons that will best reward you.  You owe it to yourself to see.  Find that deeper meaning, and do not be afraid of what your life lessons might teach you.  
        And that’s it.  I finally finish my career at MSU in May.  In some ways I am sad to see it go, but I am more excited about what lies ahead (more school in some far away location).  I must assume the same for many of you — sad to know that another year has gone by, but excited to begin anew.  Once again, congratulations to all of you who have really done something amazing this year, whether it’s finishing a degree, getting married, starting a family, finding a new passion in life or any other accomplishment.  But never be satisfied; always strive for more.  Always question, learn, grow; otherwise, what’s the point?
        Enjoy the season, appreciate the little things, and take the time to give yourself some credit for making it as far as you have.  Reply to let me know how you’re doing and what you’ve accomplished; wanting to hear from you is half the reason I send this every year.

And the requisite bad joke…
A woman was shopping at the local supermarket where she selected:
A half-gallon of 2% milk
A carton of eggs
A quart of orange juice
A head of lettuce
A 2 lb. can of coffee
As she was unloading the items on the conveyor belt to check out, an obviously drunk man was standing behind her watching as she placed the items in front of the cashier.  While the cashier was ringing up the purchases, the drunk calmly stated, “You must be single.”
She was a bit startled by this proclamation but was intrigued by the derelict’s intuition, as she was single.  She looked at the five items on the belt and saw nothing particularly unusual about the selection that could have tipped off the drunk.
Curiosity getting the better of her, she said, “Well, you know what, you’re absolutely right.  But how on earth did you know that?”
The drunk replied, “Cause you’re ugly.”

Best wishes, happy holidays,
Battalio
http://www.battalio.com/
 
2003-2016 Michael Battalio (michael[at]battalio.com)