Starlit Blackness

(December 11th, 2011)

Life gets so very busy at times. A week can go by, sometimes even a month or two, and you suddenly realize that some event that you once considered to be immediately recent is now almost entirely lost into the past, sometimes inconclusively muddled into the rest of the surrounding depths. You might have trouble recalling what day some remembered event happened on, or what other events of the same timeframe were. They become a blur, now mixing with ever-more-recent events continuing to confuse things. You lose track of the individual moments, of the complicated mesh of factors which constantly work to make you who you are, make your decisions what they are, make your life what it is. But we must realize that our existence in this world is due entirely to the ever-playing-out unfolding of the sum of all of the moments of our past. Every single intertwining thread of your personal history, unimaginably complicated in its interweaving with those of every person you’ve ever had influence with, imposes its role on the present. The being you are is utterly, fundamentally made up by the being you have been, and this being you have been is entirely abstract, compounded by the passing of each and every single moment as they pass by ever-fleetingly into the perpetually growing collection of your memories.
 
But you cannot look upon the past as a meaningfully continuous, unbroken assessment of influences on the present. Your past is fragmented, broken and scattered (unless you are an exceedingly rare case who can seemingly remember everything) across your notion of time so much that it’s often difficult even to gauge the time difference between two events you know (for whatever that’s worth) must have occurred in close proximity. So many of them get twisted up among themselves, and it may take a directed, powerful conscious effort to recall enough details to place a meaningful correlation upon one such event in respect to any others.


Rather than a reel or stream of video able to be accessed at your leisure, the influences of your past make up a sort of collection of discrete luminous points against otherwise utter black nothingness. Because you won’t remember everything... black nothingness reaches out to swallow up everything that is not somehow committed to permanent recallable memory. This is what’s behind you, if you were to consider yourself as a point on a sort of lifelong timeline. These discrete, luminous points against the all-encompassing blackness are your memories of the past, some nearer to the “present” and some much more clear and distinct than the rest despite their varying time-distances, and therefore brighter, more distinguishable. Around you, then, everything in clear focus beside you is your present—unhindered by distance, at least within the extreme recent past, and able to be viewed in all of its immediately considerable glory. And in front of you are mere projections, ultimately indistinguishable in their haziness, exponentially more so as the projections increase in forward-time-distance, but sometimes clear enough to grasp a future you may have considerable control over bringing about.

You stand at the center of this thought experiment. Time is a river, ever-flowing past your rooted position, forever working to glide each moment smoothly past you into the swallowing blackness of the past. Yet because you possess this remarkable faculty to recall events, those which flow behind your immediate vicinity are not necessarily lost forever—they may become luminous points, positioned somewhere behind you among all of the complexity that is your past experience, and are then able to be recalled at will. But not all—not even an appreciable fraction of all—of the events which flow behind you take on such a form. Most of them flow right past and meld into the utter blackness so fully that they will likely never be recalled again. Those that do not share this fate, those that take on their luminous positions against this encroaching blackness, are usually those which are most worthy of this honor. They were somehow more meaningful than the rest which failed to attain such status, most likely because of an emotional tie or any number of such personal significances. Perhaps all memories, every single moment, is assigned a space into this blackness, but might be so vanishingly faint that no amount of effort will ever fully recall. Regardless, those which take their place above the threshold of conscious recollection, bright enough to be seen when you turn around to look, are by definition those which will have the power to remind you of where you came from, what being you have been and therefore what being you are and what being you have the power to become.

Filtered in this way, those memories which somehow survive the passage into meaningful luminescence will take their place amidst the surrounding blackness and other such “survivors”. Some will even work further; they will constellate themselves into meaningful groupings which will then yield even further insights, multiplied by their cooperation. Negative memories will provide for you recollections of mistakes or other such reinforcements of an event which could hopefully have some sort of insight gleaned from them. You can use them to avoid similar recurrences. Positive memories will remind you of things you did right, or things that happened to play out favorably, and in turn will help to shape your present attitude so as to create more such favorable points. Ultimately, you want each moment to flow by you on its way to take its place as a brightly shining, positively reinforcing memory to be recalled when its relevance will serve you positively.

They say it’s dangerous to dwell on the past… doing so hinders your progress, eats up your focus which could be better spent dealing with the ever-present present and planning for an effective future. But an effective future is, in all likelihood, going to be achieved through an effective understanding of the past. Those luminous points shining so brightly behind you are forever there for you to analyze. They most likely hold the most profitable keys to a successful future, especially if you can see them for the ways in which they may relate to a current situation, how they might be constellated into a collective meaning, but even when this is not obvious the more happy memories among them will always work to remind you of fortunes you once held within your grasp, times which were once being experienced in a long-lost present. They may yet hold secrets to blissful fortunes you would otherwise overlook in constant consideration of the present/future. The goal, clearly, is to develop an effective balance of past, present and future considerations. But it often seems to me to be the case (and I hope I’m wrong!) that the past is the first one consciously dropped, unfortunately, in favor of the alternatives.

A busy life is not unlike a massively populated city, so crowded with people and buildings and lights that most of the incredible starry night sky is shrouded in its own produced glare. People go about their lives, of course living, physically, entirely within the present, but their probing minds may not reach far in any other direction because of this convoluted mess always stealing away their attention. The vast majority of the bright points of light standing out among the rest of the mind-numbingly black sky are drowned out entirely and people don’t even stop to realize that there are countless more beautiful stars lighting up the blackness, staring them in the face if they would only take some time to separate themselves from such unrelenting focus on the present and just take in some of the wonder that is just outside the reach of their typical lifestyles.

If you’ve ever looked at the sky far enough away from any electrically populated area then you probably noticed the utter, almost indescribable vastness of the night sky as practically uncountable numbers of stars were made apparent to your unaccustomed eyes. It’s absolutely incredible, I believe, as few times as I’ve seen such a sight myself (and I certainly hope to see it many more times in the future!), and yet is almost entirely overlooked within the daily routines of the vast majority of the people on (largely civilized portions of) the planet today. Today’s modern world, with all of its widespread electricity bringing us the wonders of artificial light, heat, internet, refrigeration, gaming, and the like, often neglects to remind us of the difficult stages we’ve been through. So caught up in our modern technology, bringing us our superior artificial light and entertainment, we sometimes lose sight of the enormous scales of time in which such luxuries were not possible because of the available resources and knowledge. Long ago, people saw such sights every single night (discounting clouds and such). Of course the modern luxuries would not be possible without the struggles and the breakthroughs of the past, and they are inherently meaningful to us all because of this fact, but even so we tend to discount the matter entirely when current stresses and trials call much of our attention to the present, into the glare.

The intense glare of the present moment tends to far outshine the past, even where it is directly related to the very well-being of that which we hold so dear to our present lifestyle, because we see it as it is and tend to believe that the struggles of the past—however tightly they may have been intertwined with the luxuries of the present—are gone, and only worth fleeting consideration when such a thing is forced upon us. But set aside some amount of time, such as a carefree weekend (as many do when they get the chance), and go and enjoy the uncomplicated luxuries of a relaxing camping trip, or some such trip, spent far enough away from modern civilization that you can truly appreciate the incredibly vast sight that awaits you when you gaze upon a clear night sky. Even when you are looking upon the clear night sky in all of its unsheltered glory, you could probably assign every single star in the sky a memory of your past and not even come close to exhausting the entire “library” your mind has at its disposal. There certainly aren’t enough constellations in the typically recognized assortment to map out all the complicated connections.

Our personal lives are like that, in a way. So caught up in our present moments, so engulfed in all of our modern habits and technologies, we tend to lose sight of the awesome complexities of our past lives which may hold untold fortunes for our present and future potentials if we were to give them proper consideration. They get lost in the glare of all of this modernity. But those starry points are there, even if you do not see them currently. Take a few steps back, and some time to devote to careful consideration, and they should make their way back into the sky as the glare of your overwhelming present subsides for a time. Do this occasionally. Remember your roots. Each of us has much to learn.

Each of us can be considered a similar, though wildly uncomplicated, model of humanity—just as we have so much to learn for ourselves, from ourselves, so humanity has much to learn for itself… from itself. What is available to be remembered of the past is, by far, the most effective way to indulge this necessity. Because things done wrong can be perfected, and things done right can be repeated… because we remember. Because we have the capacity to look back upon an event long past, recognize its brightly shining light so much like a beacon upon the utter blackness of the rest of the past, and devote our time and our consideration to its usefulness. Because the past is forever entangled within the present, and realizing this and seizing this phenomenon for all its worth opens up untold windows into the best possible futures—both for you, and anyone, as individuals, and for humankind as a whole.

The starlit blackness of the past is our only true guide into the hazy unknown of the inexorable future. THE BEST IS YET TO COME.

Posted by Eli Stanley | at 11:39 PM | 0 comments

On Nonsense

(December 4th, 2011)


I don't know that anyone in particular disagrees with me on the following topics. I only have the urge to formulate these arguments because I have known people who believed, and I have read things that supported these following prime examples of nonsense. At the very least there are some arguments which raise some important considerations in such matters. So in a way I hope that I'm not saying anything that everybody doesn't already agree with, or if this isn't the case then I hope these are at least some interesting arguments that can be discussed with respect and dignity, because respect and dignity are some very nice and important things in this world.

If I am wrong about anything in this writing then I would be absolutely overjoyed to be made aware of this. I might be hard to convince, as these are some pretty strong beliefs, but if you know this to be the case (that I am wrong) then you should be able to convince me. And that's the whole idea. :]

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There is no such thing as "luck" as far as any actual demonstrable "force" is at work in the world. I think that luck has its usefulness in describing a particular set of events; somebody may appear to have been "lucky" or "unlucky" for a certain period of time. It could have been any length of time and it may even be a trend still occurring. Perhaps somebody goes to the casinos and wins big--you'd probably say they were "lucky." Perhaps they have won big every single time they've gone—any number of times, say, fifty—you’d probably say they've been extremely and almost beyond all odds "lucky." But this trend could be broken at any time. The person is not inherently "lucky." Something is worth being said about their good fortunes, for sure. I would call them "lucky" myself, but only in the sense that it describes a given set of past circumstances that happen to stand out among the mundane rest of them. Certainly there were vast amounts of people who were particularly "unlucky" at the casinos during the same timeframe. Statistically, somebody is probably going to win big. It's pure coincidence who this happens to be. And, statistically (and especially with a large enough pool of participants) somebody is bound to be extremely "lucky" and win big multiple times.

It follows that luck cannot be controlled. Luck is going to manifest itself, in all likelihood, in any large-enough set of “participants.” If two people spin the slots at a casino, there is not likely going to be anything remarkable coming from it (although it’s possible!). But if fifty thousand people (to just throw out an arbitrarily large number) spin the slots, at least one of them is probably going to win big and seem “lucky.” A mathematical equivalent would be two people each spinning the slots on twenty-five thousand separate occasions—you should expect the same probability of “luck” breaking through. (It’s no coincidence that mathematics plays a strong role in describing “lucky” behavior).

A great many sources would have you believe that you can “improve” your “luck” with certain objects kept near you or certain behaviors practiced. But you cannot bring this about by making sure you wear a particular pair of socks or a rabbit's foot around your neck, or by stumbling across a four-leaf clover or any other such nonsense. Of course, anything can be symbolic for anything else. I certainly don't mean to entirely dismiss such behaviors. Anything that compels you to act in a productive manner, as abstract as it may be in reality, does hold this relevance, and nobody can take that from you. If wearing a particular pair of socks genuinely makes you feel happier and more optimistic then, by all means, wear the socks! Being happy and more optimistic has every chance of helping you to achieve the goals you're pursuing. Indeed, this is probably the "luck" you think you're attracting. But there is definitely more than a mystical force at work in such cases. Such is the power of the mind when utterly convinced.

Alternately, you won't bring misfortune upon yourself by not tossing a pinch of spilled salt over your shoulder, or by breaking a mirror, or by opening an umbrella indoors or by walking underneath a ladder. There are good reasons not to do each of these, sure: opening an umbrella indoors just makes you look silly; breaking a mirror just creates a dangerous mess (not to mention the destruction of a nice mirror); and walking underneath a ladder makes you vulnerable to falling objects (including the ladder itself). But improving your mindset is an extremely valuable thing and not entirely unrelated, and so I do not mean to demean the internal thought processes that result from such thinking… only the logical silliness of it all. Good fortune is generally brought about by clear thinking and carefully considered actions, plus a bit of skill, and variations from this trend can most likely be attributed to unforeseen consequences of actions otherwise overlooked, and by mathematical inconsistencies from the rest (traditional “luck”).

"Luck" can be a useful idea in describing the past, even up to the present if the trend continues--but it loses all relevance when imposed onto the future. You cannot influence chance. What you can do is act responsibly. In most cases “luck” is just the result of a person imposing their level-headed thinking and calculations upon the world, using these to effectively achieve that which is in their goals, and in most other cases is the result of entirely natural mathematical anomalies when a large enough pool of participants is involved in some consideration. Because when there is a .0001% chance that something remarkable will happen with the pull of a lever, one in every million people is going to enjoy that fortune, and nothing else will have any effect on these odds (if it really is a closed system—otherwise, sabotage can very well wreak havoc).


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Karma is another bit of nonsense I have deep issues with. Like with luck, there is no divine force governing the implementation of "karma" and the term only has its vague usefulness. People who “do the right thing" and treat others “well” are arguable more likely to be treated in kind than those who go out of their way to be rude and selfish and inconsiderate. But that's just cause and effect—if you're strolling down the sidewalk and you're passing by someone going the opposite way, punching them in the face is much more likely to get you punched in the face right back than not punching them in the face. This is just good old logic and "common sense." The cause and effect relationship is obvious, but each person still has their own "free will”; nothing enters the equation to guarantee that there will be retaliation. Punch a peace-loving monk in the face and they may just blink and continue on their way. They might even give you a hug. On the other hand, not punching a person in the face might still result in a punch in the face for you. Who's to say? Nobody. If somebody is going to punch you, they're going to punch you. A kind act might help to deter this just as much as a rude act may encourage it. Similarly, if a piano is likely going to fall on your head while you’re peacefully strolling down the sidewalk, it's going to fall on your head regardless of the actions you've been taking. A few more seconds spent staring at a beautiful woman might slow your advance just as much as a few extra seconds spent chasing after one might speed it up, and either case might save your life, but it’s entirely circumstantial in all its complexity. It's all circumstantial.

Less obvious are the more subtle things, like donations, compliments, volunteer work, or any other spontaneous kind gesture. Even so, there is no guarantee of "good karma" in return. Sure, you may increase the odds of being treated kindly in return, but this is only the result of somebody having been aware of your kindness and acting to repay you in some way. If you were to make some donation and absolutely nobody was aware of its source (you), then you have done nothing to increase the odds of your own good fortune. It's easy to attribute some random burst of good fortune to a kind gesture you performed in the recent past, and you might even be right--but only if the former had a direct impact on the latter. Otherwise it's pure coincidence. Like luck, this idea of karma is another example of a dangerous logical fallacy called "post hoc ergo propter hoc," that because two events are connected sequentially they must be connected causally. But there are usually so many various factors playing their role in some outcome that it is usually extremely difficult, if not reasonably impossible, to fully grasp the whole situation. For the same reason it can be extremely easy to attribute it all to one point source of cause, one that’s easy to trace, and just dismiss all others for their complexity. And as tempting as this is, when there is a seemingly obvious source cause, so extreme that all others can be dismissed entirely, this is overwhelmingly unlikely. In all likelihood you’re going to miss something crucial and misinterpret the true situation, and end up fueling a future mistake.

It's easy to test this, even with simple thought experiments. Imagine that you gave ten dollars to a homeless person out of the pure goodness of your heart. Now, if you're a particularly superstitious person you'll probably be expecting something "good" to come of it. Granted, in all likelihood, something "good" is going to happen in the near future. And once you're looking for it, the connection is easy to draw. But "good" things happen all the time. Let's just say you find ten dollars unexpectedly in the pocket of a different pair of pants later that day. A rather striking coincidence, for sure, but a coincidence nonetheless. But that ten dollars was in that pocket already. That you happened to put those pants on and reach into that pocket is nothing but circumstance. If you hadn't given the homeless person ten dollars earlier, you still would have found ten dollars in your pocket later on (and you might have attributed it to some other act of kindness in the past), unless the act played some cryptic role in pants-decision-making, or unless the ten dollars actually did materialize out of the absolute empty space inside that pocket, or if the events of your life leading up to the fateful kind gesture toward the homeless person unknowingly led you to set aside the very sum of money you hadn’t even realized you were going to so selflessly donate away. But only one of these scenarios effectively accounts for both the laws of physics as we know them and what we call “free will.”

And what if you didn't find the money? What if you got into a wreck five minutes after your act of goodwill? Would you relate this to your resulting "karma?" What if you find your home had been broken into and robbed once you finally return from the ordeal of the accident? What of this? The point is something "good" is going to happen eventually after any number of unfortunate somethings. The longer it takes, and the more significant it ends up being, the more tempting it is to draw a connection with whatever your most recent "unreturned" act of kindness was.

Even if you're not a particularly superstitious person the connection between two "good" events and two "bad" events is still sometimes hard to dismiss. If there really is a connection, it's because of the direct result of free will and cause and effect and the laws of physics and not because of some vague, all-encompassing force working to repay your efforts in kind (and along the way probably violating the physical laws and the very free will you're appreciating).

This is not to say that you shouldn't be a genuinely kindhearted person to your fellow members of humanity and to the rest of the universe, because that is the best way to be and you should reap the benefits of your good nature--this is only to say that "what goes around comes around" only applies as far as the physical laws and each person's free choice of actions causes it to be so. Good people do tend to attract other good people, and good actions do tend to attract other good actions. It's just not guaranteed and the tenuous links between most of them should not be unreasonably exaggerated as direct links.

There is no reason to get frustrated at “karma” when your boyfriend or girlfriend breaks up with you even though you selflessly donated all of your spare change to a hungry man you passed by on your way to bring him or her flowers. Potentially countless other factors had been at work for any amount of time.


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I know I wrote something about astrology a while back, but it just still bugs the *%^*(*($&^ out of me.

One of the things that baffles me more than absolutely anything else is the idea that the motions of planets and constellations holds any relevance whatsoever to our daily lives and personalities. What difference can it possibly make where Venus's apparent position is against the background constellations (which are only arbitrary "shapes," extremely vague ones at that, of which the individual stars that constitute them are separated by hundreds and thousands of light years)? Why does it mean anything different when Venus passes within the "boundaries" of Scorpio, Libra, or any of the constellations? Or when Venus passes into one and Pluto passes into another?


Speaking of Pluto, how is it reconciled that, long ago, nobody even knew Pluto existed (or Neptune, for that matter). And what happens if we discover another more distant planet? (Pluto isn’t even “officially” a planet anymore!) Apparently distance is not a factor to an astrologer's calculations--which is troubling, because in the universe as we know it every force weakens with distance. The only two forces that can be said to be affecting us as a result of the position of a planet are gravity and electromagnetism. If gravity were the force governing astrological effects, then the moon would have BY FAR the most influence. Even the gravity of mighty Jupiter has very little effect on us. The monitor in front of me is probably pulling on me harder than Jupiter is. But the moon isn't a planet, of course. And Jupiter has just as much astrological influence as tiny little Mercury. So it's not gravity. If electromagnetism were the source, then the sun would have BY FAR the most influence. But it doesn't. No other body has even the slightest noticeable effect on our lives due to its electromagnetism--and the sun only serves to fry our electronics every once in a while. So it's not electromagnetism.

So what is it? There would have to be something. And this something should be measurable, and demonstrable. Otherwise how is its influence apparently so well-known?

Another possibility that always bugs me is one in which a child is born on another planet. And I mean something way far away, some planet orbiting Alpha Centauri or something. That far away the constellations would be, for the most part, totally different (and I don’t know this to be true, so in the case that it’s not, it’s just as easy to imagine a star so far away that the constellations really do appear strikingly different from its relative position). So what is the fate of this child?? Would it just simply be unknown until thousands of years of births and analysis of personalities leads to another set of variables? What about a time far enough in the future when children are being born on dozens of different worlds far enough apart to have completely different skies? Or would these children simply be governed by the same variables as they are here on Earth? If so how could this be so?

I do need to point out that I could be wrong. Astrology could be entirely right (at least some version of it… there are so many!). It's just that in everything I've ever learned, in every bit of intuition I've ever gained, in everything that makes up the overall sense of the universe to me, everything cries out that this is wrong. Not to mention countless "astrologers" admitting that they've simply sat down and written up random "horoscopes" just for some money. If any of them are admitting it, how many of them just aren't? It is undeniably possible that the proposed force will be discovered someday, and it may be shown to actually account for some, if not all, of this crazy stuff. If this were to happen, then I'd gladly accept it! I only want to understand everything, as it can be understood. I just don't understand the vast, widespread interest in something that has absolutely no grounds in testable science (at least not in any that is readily available to be analyzed).

The time of your birth could reasonably have some effects on your personality. If you're born in the winter, your very first experiences would be of colder, darker times (assuming any exposure to the outside world), and in the summer it would be correspondingly different. This could, arguably, have some effects on your future personality, though I'm hesitant to put much thought into its usefulness. This DOES NOT, however, have anything to do with planets and constellations (other than the fact that they were, of course, somewhere in the sky at the time).

I don't know, it just sounds so utterly bogus. I do see how the daily horoscopes can be somewhat entertaining, at times, and I just hope that this is the case for everyone—mere entertainment and curiosity. Unless they know something I don't, in which case, I'd love to know it myself…

Again, anything can be symbolic to anyone; anything can bring a positive emotional response when applied effectively and rationally (maybe sometimes even irrationally if “lucky”). I most certainly approve of the idea that somebody wearing a rabbit’s foot, or avoiding ladders, or tossing spilt salt over their shoulders, or following the horoscopes, and getting some sort of inspiration from them, could be genuinely benefitting from this behavior. Although I feel like the same benefits could be gained from far more rational and practical methods, such as being analytical and careful and cautious and considerate and just all-around legitimately kindhearted and caring, it doesn't change the fact that they are benefitting. This is all I'm really trying to say. There is a fine line between superstition and the day-to-day activities which are difficult to distinguish from the things generally thought of as being supernaturally caused from careful, cautious, considerate, kindhearted, caring mannerisms. But understanding their true beginnings could very possibly go a long way in helping the majority of humankind to actually understand each other in more fundamental ways and work effectively to bring about the “best of all possible worlds” as imagined by each individual. With some exceptions the world actually usually makes sense if you care to seek it out and spend some time understanding its finer details. The results are much more gratifying and intricately beautiful than any sorts of supernaturally-accepted forces working to reward individual gestures of manipulation or goodwill at the expense of the collective free will of humanity, let alone the physical laws which have yet to exhibit any trace of localized exception as repayment.

Posted by Eli Stanley | at 9:11 PM | 0 comments