Michael Battalio

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,
2003-2016 Michael Battalio (michael[at]battalio.com)