America’s Technical Debt

If you are reading this and you know what “technical debt” means, then you already have a kind of privilege that most of America does not have. For those of you coming to this without knowing what “technical debt” means, I will briefly explain.

Technical debt is something akin to the programmer equivalent of “Honey, I’m busy right now. I’ll do the chores later, I promise.” Programmers do this kind of procrastination so often, that they came up with a term for it. That term is technical debt. Basically, it’s leaving some tough problem to fix later because immediate needs are more pressing.

It’s not as simple as the above explanation. In reality, there are often many good reasons to accumulate technical debt which you promise you’ll get to later, as soon as you find the time. Well, time and time again, we find that there just isn’t enough time to get to that technical debt. We are too busy taking care of the now to worry about the later.

One of the good reasons for technical debt is that there is an immediate thing that needs to be done and we can’t worry about the future because there will be no future for this company or product until this one thing I’m currently working on is done. Often times, the dreaded future never comes or comes in a form that is more manageable than originally believed. When it comes due, you simply pay the cost of the technical debt. You never know when it will come due. But in order to make progress, you must pay that technical debt off. And it’s always painful.

But once that expedient choice is made, the technical debt locks itself into the system immediately affecting all of your future progress and future decisions. But it’s tolerated because to even get to the point of considering the problems of the future would not have existed unless some technical debt was incurred at some point.

By this analogy, which will be more effective if you are an engineer or programmer who has experienced technical debt or have been asked to fix it, we look at America as a country with tremendous technical debt which is about to come due.

Let’s look at one instance of American technical debt which is not quite so politically charged right now so we can illustrate by analogy objectively and not be affected by the very system we live in which carries tremendous technical debt, and thus tremendous influence over our unconscious attitudes and biases because we inherently believe, as humans are wont to do, that whatever we are currently doing is correct and moral.

The first technical debt I would like to discuss is the free pass that the United States government gives to tobacco companies. If any other company made a product that is known to kill people as regularly as tobacco, we would collectively complain and have it stopped or reduced. In fact, that has happened, but the tobacco companies were able to get away with it for a very long time and still do. Have you ever wondered why?

Well, it’s not just because they’re a big corporation with a big lobby in Washington. Well, that is one reason, but the reason for their long-lasting influence over the course of 200+ years is because they have always been hugely influential on the USA from the time before there was even a USA.

In the days preceding the US’s independence from England, the fledgling colonies experimented with printing money. And largely this experiment with printing paper fiat money went about as well as you’d expect, which is not very well. There were counterfeits and inflation and each state had their own currency. It was a mess which is why we don’t have states printing their own money today. Yet, if they did do that, and it was a successful system, you can bet they’d still be doing it today and would be pressing for legislation to keep doing it forever. This is a fictional alternate history version of technical debt meant to illustrate how our past successes can impede our future progress.

And so, because of all of the bad money going around paying for individual states’ militias and taxes and whatnot, people regarded the printed money of the colonies as basically worthless. But the economy still had to keep working, so what did people do?

Well, they bundled up dried tobacco leaves and used it as currency! In this way, you didn’t have to rely on a state’s solvency to back its paper currency. You could, in a pinch, simply sell your tobacco. Bundles of tobacco were made into units of currency. So, a foreign nation such as France who would be quite wary of being paid in worthless Colonial paper currency could instead be paid in tobacco bundles. An average colonist could be paid with a slip of paper that was basically an IOU for some amount of tobacco! Tobacco was literally money!

And so, for a while, the entire tobacco industry propped up the US economy. If the US needed to buy weapons and cannons from France, they could pay in a currency that France would accept: bundles of tobacco leaves. Or they could convert tobacco leaves to gold themselves on the open market and pay in gold.

And so, the fledgling colonies incurred technical debt with the tobacco industry in this way. Without tobacco, there wouldn’t have even been a United States of America. So, that is a great debt that the Colonies and the new country of the United States of America owes to tobacco growers. But more importantly, the political influence that tobacco growers had on colony and US politics still remains very influential even though it is no longer as crucial to the US economy as it was in the early days.

The US has grown far beyond the economy of tobacco. We have largely fixed that technical debt. It was an important and influential backbone to American economy and society for a long time. But then, eventually, the time came to discard it along with all of its associated evils.

Part of that evil was the Civil War which pitted the agricultural slave-owning south with the industrial North. Well, the shape and future of the nation was decided in that war. We would shape the country in the model of the North and not the South. Not only that, but the South was not allowed to continue their course. This is part of fixing the technical debt of slavery and tobacco and an agricultural economic base. We abandoned that potential future because it was unethical and more importantly, not as economically viable as an industrial nation rather than an agricultural nation.

So far, so good. America is doing fairly well now. Certainly, the founding fathers and Abraham Lincoln could not have envisioned where we are today, communicating via global electronic network in a largely industrial society that is supported by mass produced agriculture that is greatly enhanced in productivity by industrial invention with immigrants from every corner of the world.

However, they also could not imagine the technical debt that we suffer today which is a problem left over from a legacy of a nation struggling for survival.

When a civilization arises from a nation built on slavery and wealthy landowners and wealthy industrialists, then is it any surprise that the foundational structure of that system favors the children and grandchildren of those people? Is it any wonder that the descendants of those people would regard former slaves and immigrants as undeserving upstarts who were trying to take away something that is rightfully theirs?

Is America really the land of the free? Or is that merely a misleading slogan like “The Patriot Act”? Perhaps the meaning behind “The Land of the Free” is that it is the Land of the Currently Free, meaning those who were free men by virtue of wealth and lands at the time of the Revolutionary War, not the land of the free-to-be-in-some-indeterminate-future.

Well, we are that indeterminate future today. We are those upstarts. And we have seen a different America that we like. We see the potential of a land of opportunity. A real land of opportunity, not just for the predestined inheritors of the Colonies, but for people who have immigrated here or whose ancestors have been brought here unwillingly, and for all who have yet to immigrate here and call it home and call themselves Americans. This is different than what America has been or ever was. This is an unintended consequence of immigration, of women’s suffrage, and civil rights. This is what happens when you have the kind of constitution where people can democratically decide how to change it. Small, incremental changes can have huge long lasting effects. But that class struggle is still there, the technical debt from the early days of the nation. If you are not in the image of the original colonists, then you are an outsider and a usurper. You are illegitimate to the claim to the prize that is America. That is the regressive, conservative sentiment. It is understandable. But is it wise?

This class division is America’s technical debt. It has been sitting there for a very long time since before there was even a country or constitution at all. It sits there as a fundamental structure of society, just as crusty as the old code in a program or app gets in the way of adapting it to new things.

American culture has changed, but the fundamental structure of American society as one that is for descendants of the original colonists has not changed. It is now okay to embrace multi-culturalism, but not okay to openly embrace racism and xenophobia. This pivot occurred after the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement. Going into the past beyond those cultural lines, those attitudes were more acceptable. Going forward, into the future, those attitudes are becoming less acceptable, although it seems that Trump is tapping into that ancient sentiment to gather votes.

Trump’s movement, to me, seems regressive. He not only does not want to fix the technical debt that America has accumulated into the structure of society such as institutional racism and institutional sexism, but wants to rewind the clock to a time when those were the prevailing attitudes and were both acceptable and morally correct. In essence, he wants to revert all of the code back to pre-civil rights movement and possibly back further, pre women’s suffrage and god forbid, pre-civil war.

The question is, if Trump’s movement succeeds in gathering not only voters but also changing the dominant sentiment on the future of America, then where does it end? If the white male inheritors of America “deserve” to inherit America before all others because of their ancestors’ sacrifice and hard work, then where does it end? Will he expel all people who were descendant from immigrants after the United States was formed? Will he revoke women’s right to vote because that’s what the founding fathers had wanted? Will he revert American society back to a point where not only was slavery legal, but also moral because the Bible is the absolute authority on morality and it’s not only condoned in the Bible, but there are also tons of pro-tips on slavery in the Bible.

Even if Trump is not willing to go that far, his ideas may spawn a future where someone takes his ideas further to regress the code further so that all of the technical debt that we’ve fixed so far is thrown away so that we return to a structure and system more similar to colonial times even though we are now in modern times. How would such an agricultural system work in a modern post-industrial information age society? Who knows? But I don’t think that the people who are seduced by Trump’s ideas care about the practicality. They care about the sentiment: This is “rightfully” ours and everyone else should GTFO.

But they are on the other side of history and progress, I hope. I hope that most of the people who have had this sentiment had died out long before crossing those important historic cultural lines. Like it or not, simply electing a biracial black man into office is crossing a cultural line. I think the Trump supporters instinctively understand what that means: Once you go black… you can’t go back… if I could borrow the crude perjorative phrase to elucidate their greatest racist fears come true. But they oh so desperately want to go back now. The odds are no longer stacked in their favor. And their misunderstanding that this means the odds are stacked against them means they will fight any and all attempts to rectify institutional racism and institutional sexism because they are also hurting, despite their inherent privilege over many others.

In other words, the current existing system that has inherited the technical debt of all of the original colonists still exists and still haunts us and prevents us from making changes to the source code. It still works, people say, so you can’t change it.

Well, some of us would like to build a structure or at least modify the existing structure so that it can last far into the future. And what we’re saying is that the old edifice and the old structures upon which this nation was built are not good and strong enough to last us very long into the future. So, some of us would like to fix that. Some of us, who are denigrated as not the true descendants and founders of this country, still feel strongly about the good of the future and are as invested in the success and future of this country because it is our home, too.

I think this is where movements such as #blacklivesmatter and #alllivesmatter clash. It is this inherent disagreement about America’s technical debt. Does it exist? Should we fix it? Who should fix it? And who should own the source code after we fix it?

These issues arise in a regular tech company and the discussions and arguments get just as heated and just as political. Blame gets cast all around and communication breaks down. It’s both interesting and disheartening to see the examine same thing play out on the national stage. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. People are human, after all.

It’s just surprising to see my experience dealing with people in an office setting play out almost the exact same way in a real life political setting. I don’t know if this is a new thing due to social media collapsing all of our various communities into mono-cultured echo-chambered identities so that a group of people such as #blacklivesmatters becomes condensed into a single identity in the eyes of many others rather than remain the diverse group of individuals that they are.

But it’s interesting there are so many parallels with this class struggle as there are in an office that is struggling over how to fix technical debt.

Anyway, I thought I’d share that insight with my audience today.

And so, my conclusion is that America had incurred a lot of technical debt in its early revisions and we’re seeing some of those consequences continuing to play out today. Now, fixing technical debt is never an easy task and is certainly very technical and not fun at all. But it is something that we must do if we hope to make a foundation that is strong enough for us to rest our entire futures upon it.

If I had a more neutral term for #blacklivesmatter, I would go with #fixAmericasTechnicalDebt. I only make this recommendation because I find people having some trouble acknowledging that the societal structure has some problems and that we can all roll up our sleeves and be on the same side of the issue and get some work done together rather than fight against each other. Unfortunately, #blacklivesmatter has taken on a sort of exclusionary tone to some people who are not deeply listening to legitimate grievances that people may have about a certain issue which is only one of many illustrative issues of the problem of America’s technical debt. Of course, it’s not meant to be exclusionary, but that doesn’t matter. People are gonna hear what they want to hear. So, let’s change the conversation to be inclusive and unmistakably so. Let’s call it fixing America! We know America is old and we know what worked in the past doesn’t work in the future. Are you still walking around with a Nokia phone? Or a Palm Pre? No? Then, maybe some progress is not a terrible thing. So, maybe some things the founding fathers got wrong we can fix today! We fixed slavery! We can fix the legacy to slavery, too! Let’s do it! Those guys in the 1800s got nothing on us! We’re smarter and better than those guys for sure right? And we’re smart enough to not fight a civil war about it!

References:
Tobacco currency: http://archive.tobacco.org/History/colonialtobacco.html This link also describes why buying slaves was preferable to buying land when tobacco is your main cash crop. Tobacco wore out the land and so you had to move often. If you moved to a new rented land, you would bring your slaves with you. And so, tobacco and slavery went hand-in-hand in early colonial America.

All Your Files Are Right Where You Left Them

When Windows 10 update finishes, it says, your files are all there right where you left them. This is an ominous message to receive. After my stroke, I feel like my memories are all there, right where I left them. Yet, something is still different all the same. I am missing some sense of scale of time or when the memories happened. The memories are all there, true enough, but they are all smushed together, as if an elephant had stepped on a grilled cheese sandwich. My memory is that smashed sandwich. All the parts are there, but it’s not quite the same shape as I’d left them.

There’s many strange aspects to having this new kind of memory that is different than before. I don’t know if I can do a good job describing it to you, but I can try. One of the weird things is that the feeling of a memory isn’t stored with the memory anymore. Maybe I lost that part in the stroke or maybe I never had any feeling about it in the first place. I tend to think it’s the latter since I was always pretty good at regulating my feelings. I probably did it all the time as a defensive measure. I doubt I relented for even a second. I think this is what people call “putting up walls.” My guess is that things happened that I remember, but at the time, I had suppressed the feeling at the time, so while the memory got recorded, there was nothing to record when it came time to record the feeling. It’s not that my feelings got lost when my brain got scrambled, it’s that they never happened in the first place. I think that’s what’s happening here, but who can really know?

This is strange, because I find myself feeling a lot of things about these memories that still exist that I never felt before. Sometimes, they are welcome warm memories. Sometimes, they are a bit raw and sensitive. Maybe what I’m about to describe is how people normally feel about their memories and feelings and I was somewhat abnormal before the accident for having the ability to suppress that. Maybe the stroke “fixed” me in that way.

I find myself having some pleasant feelings and some unpleasant feelings of memories that have long ago been stored and processed. These are very old memories with no particular feelings attached to them, but now I’m receiving very much new emotions about these old memories that could easily have been forgotten.

One memory that got me to notice that this was happening was of Beth’s feet. Beth was a girl I went to high school with. I think she was friends with my girlfriend in high school, but not really close friends or anything. More of an acquaintance, I guess. I don’t remember being friends with her, either. I don’t think we knew each other more than as classmates or acquaintances. Beth is my age now, around 46, probably. So, it’s strange that I have these feelings because of these memories of a high school girl from long ago as if it just happened recently.

What I remember strangely and inexplicably vividly are Beth’s feet. She went around high school barefoot most of the time. I think she owned shoes. She simply chose not to wear them most of the time. At the time, I recall, I thought that this was kind of dangerous and unsanitary. Imagine walking around your high school without shoes. Your feet would get dirty pretty fast with no way to wash them. Beth didn’t seem to care about that. She would prop her bare feet up on nearby chairs and things. It sounds way sexier than it was at the time which was rather mundane and somewhat unsanitary. Maybe there is something about writing that transforms the every day action into something more when that writing is complemented by an imagination. That is how my feeling about that memory has transformed. It’s as if it were stretched through the lens of writing.

Although Beth was a nice enough girl, I made no attempt to be her friend or to talk to her. Now, I have the feeling of regret that I didn’t do that. I don’t know anything about her at all, whether she was a nice person or whether she would like me. I just vividly remember the specific details of her feet and how she propped them up near where I sat in class. And in some sort of post-feminist way, now, I feel like it was a bit transgressive and bold of her to walk around with dirty bare feet like that as if it were no big deal at all. I now have the brand new feeling that I like that she didn’t care what people thought about it or even what I thought about it. She just did it and it was who Beth was. She was the one who walked around in bare feet, enjoyed the visceral feeling of it, and didn’t care what you thought. I find that really cool now in a way that I didn’t when I was in high school. And I feel some regret for not recognizing how awesome it was then and letting her know how I felt about it. Maybe that is not the kind of conversation you have in high school with a girl your age who is also your girlfriend’s acquaintance. It is kind of a weird conversation to have at any age, really. I don’t think I could have even had the same kind of feelings about post-feminist empowerment when I was a teenager. Such a person didn’t even exist yet. But now, here I am existing and responding to these memories as if they had just happened.

That is a lot of feeling to process based on a small detail from a long time ago. Imagine if you remembered a girl flipping her hair or chewing on a long strand of hair in high school in great detail and a flood of new emotions came over you because of these meaningless, yet precise and vivid details. It’s a strange thing, but not altogether unpleasant because I get to visit a familiar place, and time travel into myself from an earlier time. I feel like I am still me, and not my teenage me, experiencing these old memories. It’s rather fun in a way to experience old memories in an unexpected new way. But there is a certain sadness, too, to this kind of time travel. This is the regret I was referring to. I can feel different things about a moment long ago passed. But I can’t express myself in that moment to the people who are in the past that is but my memory of them. Beth is probably around 46 with kids and a husband and maybe even kids who have kids. Who really knows, right? The Beth I know from 30 years ago doesn’t exist anymore except in my memories. The Beth at the time probably would not have reacted too kindly to my idea of her dirty feet as a kind of post-feminist transgressive action. Or maybe she would. The sadness is that I can never find out because Beth from 30 years ago is gone forever, but it seems like I can because it’s like it just happened and I can still respond to it. But I know it’s not true. But for some reason, I still feel that it’s true. And that feeling causes the feeling of regret. It’s a strange thing. There’s no word to describe a kind of regret that you have about not having done something that exists only as an illusionary feeling in your memories. What do you do with such a feeling? Certainly, it would be silly to act on such a regret. But also, doing nothing doesn’t seem quite right either. But doing nothing is exactly what my former self would have done, almost certainly. I’m not very accustomed to processing feelings. It’s something I’ve been able to avoid doing for a long time. Like a pile of unwashed dishes, it’s just been piling up and haunting me and waiting for me to take some sort of action. Yet, I don’t. So, although going back in time can be pleasant and fun, there are some strangely unpleasant side effects to it. I’m not sure what to make of it. I think it’s still worth it, despite the strange negative feelings surrounding it all.

A different, unpleasant feeling that I have sometimes is the feeling that I forgot to feed Gracie or that Gracie wants to eat, but I won’t let her. Gracie was notorious for waking us up far too early to get us to feed her. Now, she had totally trained Jennifer to feed her early by waking her up at inappropriate times, but I was determined to be the boss and try to teach her to only wake us up at the right time, that is, she should be taught proper doggie manners. Needless to say, it never worked. At the time, I felt like I had a purpose, like I was carefully training a dog to be a better dog.

Now, I feel differently about it. My friend is hungry and I’m being kind of a jerk about it. She can’t make her own food because she has no hands. But my friend can talk to me and tell me that she feels hungry now. I feel bad and my eyes are welling up a bit just thinking about it now. It’s not her fault she can’t make her own food. She would most certainly make us both food if she could, I’m pretty sure. She’s a good dog. She means well, but she’s just a dog and has her limitations. But all she can do is tell us it’s time to get up and get food. “It is a good time to wake up. Don’t waste the day! Today is going to be fun! Let’s eat and make it a good one!” she seems to be saying to me now. But that was not how I felt about it then. Back then, I was like, you crazy dog, it’s 4 am right now. Wait at least an hour. And if Jennifer isn’t here to get up for work, please wait longer, too.

 

I’m so sorry, Gracie. I saw you only as a dog, a thing to be trained, and not as a friend. I miss you, my friend.

Maybe this is what normal people feel, all the time. I’m sorry also, to all you normal people, with all your normal feelings, for acting however I did at the time. I know now that I must have seemed very alien to you at the time. Maybe this isn’t how normal people process their memories and emotions either. I can’t really know for sure, but this is what I have to deal with now, and it’s all kind of new to me. Not being sure if what I’m experiencing and how I’m experiencing life is the same as everyone else. But I suppose that’s true of everyone. Maybe it’s a little bit more true of me because of my smashed grilled cheese sandwich type of memory that maybe other people don’t have it like that.

Or maybe there’s a simpler reason to this. I’m reading Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore which has an eerie, disconnected metaphysical feel to it. Maybe I’m just overly influenced by this book while I’m recovering.

Or maybe, what I’m hoping, is that what I’m feeling is not caused by Murakami’s writing, but is a reflection of the truth of it. Maybe I am experiencing something real he tried to describe in his novel in figurative form. I feel like my experience is something new, but similar, because it is not exactly the same as what he described, but similar in feeling. It is not the same. it is not a copy. But it could be an influence. I really don’t know.

I am going to enjoy it while it lasts. I may go back to being my old self and back to building walls. I don’t think it can be helped. That’s just how I was built from the beginning. It will be a little bit sad to change in that way. You could say that this event changed me in some fundamental way. What’s strange is that by taking something away, another thing is added. Now that my walls are taken away, everything is different. Things are a little scarier because even small things can be tinged with regret or sadness that I didn’t realize could happen. I suppose, like everyone else, I’ll just have to learn to cope with it.

 

 

 

One Hit Wonders

Why are one hit wonders so maligned? Because they lack the stamina or talent to do more? Well, you who are of zero hit wonders, who are you to judge those who have created something that brings joy, sadness, and wonder to the world for one brief moment in their lives?

Why are we so greedy as zero hit wonders to want our one hit wonders to devote their lives to honing their talents and producing great works for our own selfish amusement? Yet, not a single one of us lifts our finger to a guitar or piano or pen or paintbrush to create our own one hit wonder for others to enjoy. How can we be so demanding of others, but not of ourselves?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if each person created their own one hit wonder in whatever field they were best suited to expressing themselves? Each person had that one novel, that one movie, that one painting, that one song that they shared with the world and lasted forever? So what if this one hit was the high water mark of all of the culmination of the years of a person’s lifetime? What is the alternative? To never mark and commemorate such an occasion with a song or painting or book or movie that will last throughout humanity for the rest of time? Or the other alternative is for the zero hit wonders of the world to cling desperately to the hope that the creator of the one hit can recapture and echo whatever special talent into a second similar, but not entirely original hit that strummed and resonated with the inherent emptiness of never having created or hit a high water mark of their own? That we should drain the one hit genius of all of his life in search of something to fill the emptiness that is the lack of our own high water marks in creativity? Is it not work to create even one wonder, much less many? And yet, who among us are willing to devote the time to even a single wonder, much less a lifetime’s worth?

Let us not judge the one hit wonder, but celebrate it instead. Let us be that one hit wonder, whose moment of passion intersecting with talent and experience creates something original which resonates with other people, if not forever, then at least for a moment. For that moment, let each of us bask in the echo of one person’s peak of expression and let us all resonate with it until the next person dares to stand up and offer her voice to refresh the diminishing echo with a booming new thunder.

I want to live in a world where we are all each one hit wonders for a time. Needless to say, such a world would be wonderful.

 

The Taste of Today

I didn’t like today. Like a food that someone said I should like, I tasted it and found out it wasn’t for me. I read too much Facebook today, it seems. The story of the people who had been killed in Orlando was still fresh and Facebook was a buzzing hive of activity around it. Normally, I might have enjoyed the chance to join the buzz and voice my opinion on the matter. Not today. I did, a little bit. But I didn’t like it. Though the killings didn’t happen today, it was the same as if it happened right then in front of me. I wondered if any of the victims had read my previous blog entry before they were murdered. I knew that that was incredibly unlikely. Although my social network did reach into LGBT circles, I doubted that my personal blog could have stretched to those poor unfortunate people. I’m just not that popular or interesting, to be honest.

In my previous entry, I surmised that any of my readers could have died before I do, if there were enough readers. And each of those 50 people did in fact die, not knowing that going to a party and having fun with friends and meeting new people was going to be the last thing they would ever do. But every day is like that for each one of us. We never know if the current day will be our last.

I didn’t like today. Maybe today would be my last, too. I don’t know. It didn’t taste right. So, I took a nap. And with my condition, if you take a nap, you might not ever wake up. Today may be my last day. But it might be your last day, too. You’re probably not too concerned about it. So, I decided not to be too concerned about taking a nap. I felt like taking a nap, so I did. What’s the use in worrying about it?

After I woke up, I started to read Kafka on the Shore. I snacked on some red grapes while reading by myself in the van. They were sweet and snappy with a kind of satisfying firmness to the sweetness. And the day got better. I was transported to Japan where I spent a lovely day in a mysterious new place with new people. I forgot about what happened in Orlando, and the day tasted sweet, like what people told me it should have tasted. I grew a little bit more tired after reading. And even though I already took a nap, I decided it would be okay to take another one, even if it could be my last.

After I got up, I started to type upthis blog entry to record how I felt after reading the book. Now, though the day is sweeter, I am still a bit sad. I’m a bit sad to know that those 50 people will never be able to just take a nap and read Kafka on the Shore while snacking on red grapes. I know there could be a lot of politics that could go with that statement. And my former self may have brought up something else to go with it. But my current self refuses to believe they are really gone. They didn’t believe they would die that night and and thus they certainly are just waking up right now and opening up the book and entering the library in the book and snacking on red grapes in a van with a cool breeze coursing through the window. That is what I wish if wishes were being granted today. It shouldn’t be so unfair. When I beat the odds and others don’t. It shouldn’t be like this when I beat the odds and have another day. The extra day I get should be one I choose. I should get my wish for free. What do you think? I wish maybe that others could taste what today tastes like, too. Through this entry, maybe people can taste today a little bit. Both tastes. A little you don’t like, then, a little later, you like it. Like a neopolitan ice cream when you don’t like one or two of the flavors. It’s still overall pretty good.

Maybe tomorrow will taste better. Maybe it will be my last. I don’t know. I’m glad to have shared the taste of today with you. I hope you can taste many more, even if the taste doesn’t entirely agree with you.

 

 

 

Let’s Get Meta-Physical

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Lets Get MetaPhysical, Meta… Physical. Let me hear your body talk… literally hear your body because your mind must send signals to your nervous system to contract meat and make your meat parts vibrate which makes the air vibrate which makes tiny meat parts and bone parts in my ear vibrate which sends more electrical signals to my mind which is also made of meat that was recently pushed from its normal place by an imbalance of blood and fluids inside my skull causing ICP. Let me hear your body talk because it is the only way that your mind can communicate with my mind.

There is not yet a way that technology has figured out to directly connect your mind’s electrical impulses directly to my mind so that I don’t have to go through this round about physical and meat-flapping way of hearing your body talk. I want to hear your mind talk directly to my mind.

Actually, I’m wrong! There has been invented a technology to do just that— directly connect our minds without using our bodies to vibrate meat. We’re doing that right now, through some amazing invention called writing that another rotted meat brain long ago had figured out. We will never know the names of those meat brains, but their idea of writing will carry on forever because it is such a good idea. In that way, those anonymous and unknown meat brains will always be with us and be a part of us.

And so, don’t mourn for me if I should pass away which might happen at any time now for me, but may happen to any one of us, even you. Perhaps the odds of it happening to me are slightly higher for me than for you. But know that it is still non-zero for you. That is what I now know to be true for myself. Even though unlikely, it could still happen to you all the same. You should learn that sobering fact for yourself and act accordingly. If you’ve played any poker, you’ll know that the odds defy what you think should happen all of the time. It is quite common, at least exactly as common as its exact probability.

Think of this weird fact. Even though I have a somewhat higher chance of dying before you do, if enough people read this blog, then there is a greater chance of one of my readers will die before I do. What are the chances that reader is you? I don’t know. That depends on the other readers and how many there are and their individual probabilities. But bottom line; it could be you. Are you feeling metaphysical yet? Are you thinking about yourself as a non-physical entity who could simply cease to be right now at this very moment? That’s what I have been going through for the last few weeks since the “event”— I still think that is a dumb word for it. There was no post-event like burning man decompression or nearly dead man decompression. There was a lot of physical therapy which is not the same as mental therapy or decompression. There was a lot of physically getting my brain retrained to do things a normal adult human being should be able do. But there was not much explaining or soothing of the mind. I suppose that is what religion is for.

But religion, for me, or I should say, for my mind, is not my favorite thing. It is not suited to my tastes. However, I have met some wonderful older people at my time at the adult care facility for whom religion is a wonderful thing. I will write about them later. But for now, I want to focus on my metaphysical experiences so that if you’re like me, and religion has not latched onto to your brain like a vicious schnauzer for whatever reason, then maybe you need something else. It is not as soothing as various metaphysical concepts in a well-established religion, but it is at least an explanation of what’s happening. And when you’re very confused and are obstinately refusing to adhere to any religion’s explanation of what’s happening, then maybe you will find a somewhat plausible explanation soothing. I think that I myself would have, but I had to come find this route by myself. If you find yourself in similiar circumstances in unknown territory knowing that you will soon cease to exist, then maybe it could be comforting to remember this route and perhaps it may offer some understanding and hence some comfort to a naturally skeptical, but logical and otherwise open mind. Note that I am not proclaiming this to be the answer to life, the universe, and everything. It is simply a result that my meat brain produced given the inputs it has received thus far. I’m very skeptical of how our meat brains do their jobs, and so
I’d prefer an explanation of what’s happening to me in terms that I already understand. And those terms are reliant upon things that I already know well, namely science and computing. And so, in the next few paragraphs and posts, I will be giving you a first hand account of the meaning of life, the universe, and everything from a fractured mind. Given the flaws inherent in a piece of meat, much less a known-to-be broken piece of meat, take what I’m about to “say” with a healthy dose of skepticism.

I like that I can “say” this to you without causing my meat flaps to vibrate the air to vibrate your ear’s meat parts. In this way, I inhabit your meat brain. Now that you have read these words, I have created the same stimulus in your brain as if your ear parts had actually been vibrated by the air. It is an amazing feat of technology greater than all of the recent advances in virtual reality, although to be fair, virtual reality does in fact have technology to vibrate the air near your ears to vibrate the meat in your ears. In fact, if you know me personally and know my voice and demeanor, then perhaps I am now currently inside your meat brain creating images and sounds by manipulating signals in your brain to create a localized personal facsimile of my image and voice. What an amazing technology! Writing is the original virtual reality.

And so, even if I should cease to be right now as you’re reading this, I live on as a simulation in your brain. Just like the original meat brains who invented writing, my idea will continue through you and on and on perhaps for as long as there are meat brains and perhaps even beyond meat brains if the meat brains ever figure out how consciousness works and creates an “artificial” one… “artificial” being a most meat-biased kind of word to mean non-biological consciousness. If all of the meat brains die out as mine shall, if not sooner then later, I could perhaps still live as a voice or simulation in non-biological minds. This very sentence is infecting your fertile meat brain space right now and could further infect other consciousnesses until the end of time. If that happens, what does being alive really mean? What does it mean to die to expire to cease to exist? Did I really cease to exist if these words echo and echo forever throughout all of the meat space now and on into the future and on and on through other “artificial” consciousnesses and on to other advanced forms of networked consciousnesses that we cannot even fathom at this
point in our primitive development.

I suppose it means that “I”, the current biological entity will no longer be able to produce new ideas and react to them. The current me will have its connections severed from my body. I can still think of moving my body parts, but they won’t respond. And stimulus from the meat will no longer reach my mind. Vibrations from my ear cannot become words and ideas in my mind. Any copies of me will be connected to a /different sensory organ. Future versions of me could be simulations or replications, but won’t be exactly me. However, there is an even stranger possibility.

And that is that the current “I” is in fact a simulation of me… a me that once existed as a
physical being long long ago. And the current “I” is an echo of that. It is a copy of the original or a copy of another simulation such that “I” can react to newly created ideas and create new ideas based on those new ideas, although perhaps with different sensory appartus. Who would go to such elaborate lengths to produce such a simulation? Well, you could just as well say, why does humanity go to such lengths to make more babies and teach them reading and writing? It is just something they do. They have created a fertile meat-mind space in which reading and writing can spread and prosper forever. In the same way, these minds may create future non-biological minds that reproduce and prosper for the mere purpose of doing that and simply existing as a mind which is a wonderful thing to be. And all of us today, could be “ideas” or “words” inside of those vastly more capable minds. It is simply that we are more refined and more accurate in our simulation than mere words. Although my words created a simulation in your own hardware in your own mind, it was perhaps not as accurate as it could be. My voice and intonation are not directly carried with mere words on a blog.
What would it take to make it more accurate? More data? More technology? More ideas? More mind- space? Perhaps minds in the future, or even more strangely, in the past, have figured it out. And what we are as minds and entities is that we’re actually some ideas that have been propagated through time and space for a very long time from a long dead civilization that had reached a point of creating consciousnesses that could reproduce and were self-sustainable.

However, don’t think of yourself as a simulation. You are possibly a word in a great conversation or a movie or a political debate in a group of individuals’ minds. You are being exchanged between minds more powerful and more different than we could possibly imagine with our limited simulation abilities. You will live on forever in this manner, though you will no longer be able to interact and react in your current mind which we call our “world” any longer. In religions, we call this sort of existing beyond the material world, a soul or a spirit. In Dawkins’ book, he called such a thing a meme, which is a word that has taken on a different meaning in the age of the internet. But he meant it as a self-replicating chunk of information and made a biological parallel to a gene.

I think this is the right direction, but that perhaps there are still other explanations that can go further. I don’t think that our simulations are memes in the Dawkins’ sense which fight out an evolutionary battle to survive. I think the answer is simpler. If we are simulations, we are more akin to words on a blog page than to genes in a biological entity. There is no need to fight and compete with others for survival. All of the blog pages can exist and be ready to be read just as all of the information currently now contained in computers can easily be entire contained in many human-like minds or greater. We can extract all of reading and writing from human minds without considering how much memory space that takes. A copy of me now exists in you after you’ve read this far. It is a sublimated and simplified copy of me, but it is a copy of my ideas, and if that is what is important about me, then it is effectively me anyway. If what is relevant about me is my mind and how it interacts with yours, then this interaction through writing is not that much different than talking with me which is what I often prefer to do when in the physical presence of others anyway.

Now, a few of you may miss the physical presence of me for physical reasons. But really, I am a somewhat average chunk of meat and you can find a suitable physical replacement of me to wrap your meat arms around. If you cannot find a suitable person, I would suggest a dog because they are nice things to wrap your meat arms around if you are still able. However, a dog cannot have my mind within its meat brain. And so, even with a dog, you will not be able to replicate the significant thing about me which is my mind. But, that is not true, because it is within all of our minds’ power to reproduce any other mind and imagine its existence and predict its actions. And therefore, as simple and as flawed as that simulation of me might be, it is still there, and for that reason, I will always be with you and will continue to affect you in ways that you cannot understand today.

But you may also take comfort that perhaps we never existed at all. That physical reality is an illusion anyway. We are all words in a great conversation or composition of ideas or a movie or a play or a poem or a song. It doesn’t matter exactly what. We are all important parts of a dialog. People who come from a religious background can sometimes feel a greater purpose to things. Perhaps they know that they are a crucial word that is a turning point in a movie. Perhaps they do have a greater purpose. Perhaps their lives are conveying a greater idea in a language that we as creatures are too simplistic to ever understand. But perhaps we can still sense the context in our word and our purpose in the greater conversation. Perhaps we will never find other intelligent creatures because we are a language and not a universe at all.

So, with that concept, we can derive a few ideas that can offer some satisfaction in life without a religious explanation.

One, it is important that you do what you do. You are a precise simulation in a precise language in a precise dialog. You keep being you, whatever that means. Be yourself and be true to yourself. You are your own word in the great dialog. Your actions have meaning to more than the other actors near you. Their thoughts on what you do are not relevant to the meaning of the dialog. They are also a part of the dialog. But perhaps they are supporting actors and you are main actor making the main point. You are the noun and the verb and they are the adjectives and adverbs to help describe you. They are necessary for that purpose and provide extra meaning to you. But if you change yourself, you change the whole meaning of the sentence. In fact, if they succeed in changing you, then perhaps you are a pun or some sort of play on words meant to amuse the audience. If that’s so, that’s okay too because that was your purpose in the great dialog. Are you funny or sad or crazy? That is part of the emotion that you are conveying in the subtext of the great dialog. It is perhaps unfortunate for you personally. but it is of great import to the listeners of the great dialog to sense your emotions. It is all a part of the communications and an art greater than what we could understand. Maybe you are part of a dialog. Maybe you are a part of a song. If you changed or disappeared, you will be missed by the listeners. Maybe that’s why quantum mechanics is so sensitive to whether there are listeners or observers to actions. It is a part of the structure of the language.

Later on, I’ll described what actually happened to me that I remember that led me to this conclusion. It is perhaps as fascinating, if not more, than this blog post, because it is based on an actual experience. So, all of the above is speculation, but the experiences I had previously in this incident which for now I’ll call “Atheist hell” led me to the insights above, and those previous experiences are true and not speculation. And I can describe how the experiences led me to the speculation above and you can see the logic in the train of thought, which I think is important for people to inspect, especially logically minded people who work with computers and need to inspect how things work in order to verify the truth of some fundamental thing that does not work in order to fix it. In order to fix something, we must understand its chain of causality which I will provide later in case some other person has a similar experience. Then, we can match up data with events and provide a more accurate picture of what an objective reality is. For now, I provide my description as a single data point around which new data points and new speculation may attach itself. The data I will provide in that future post will loosely correlate with actual events happening to my physical brain at the time. It is my hope that others in my situation can provide more data to add to the expanse of knowledge so that we may gain a fuller picture of human biological consciousness. It is a fascinating topic on which there has been much speculation and thought, but little data. I am offering a little of speculation and a little data to go with it. Maybe this can be of use to somebody and can help further the ideas in this area.

 

 

What Figuratively Happened?

Well, my last post was what literally and physically happened. Now, I’m going to explore some other things that happened, such as what figuratively, humoristically, and metaphysically happened? I’ll go through variations of these in a few upcoming posts. I hope that you find them interesting musings of a fractured, yet continually healing mind.

I’m going to start with the silly. Because all of this is heady difficult stuff. It’s difficult to face our own mortalities, so I think silly is the right tone to start us off.

The way I understand human beings now is of a much more fragile type of physical concoction.

Have you ever gone to a festival or concert or New Orleans where they served those excessively tall drinks in a playful tall plastic or glass tower? Sometimes, it has multiple colors of alcohol or mixed drinks in the concoction. I call this thing “the silly drink.”

And in the end, we are all silly drinks because our meat is finely balanced in the cup at the top of the silly drink and if we should accidentally fall and drop our silly drink on the ground, we are done for. All of our balance and functions that allow us to write ridiculous blog posts and sick twitter burns are floating inside a bit of meat in the cup of that silly drink. Protect that silly drink well. That is you. Or at the very least, if you break the silly drink, you will cease to be you. That almost happened to me. I almost broke my silly drink.

The care centers I was at was so concerned about me breaking my silly drink again after they put it all back together and refilled my cup, that they were insistent on me pushing the giant red button next to my bed that summoned a silly drink enforcement agent every time I had to go pee. This silly drink enforcement agent was assigned the important task of watching me pee and making sure I didn’t spill my silly drink. That is, making sure that, in my state of damaged silly drink, I didn’t lose my balance and fall over and spill the rest of my already half damaged silly drink onto the ground.

It was quite crucial that I summon the pee-Watcher and they were quite insistent that I push the button. Yet, many a time, I recall illegally peeing on my own without pushing the button. I, in my impaired silly drink state, thought it was perfectly fine to get up and pee by myself as I had done many times before. In my mind at that time, I felt perfectly fine just as I’m sure you do right now reading this. So, you, just as I was then, would be appalled at being ordered to push a button to summon a Pee Watcher to watch you pee right now.

Even knowing that I was impaired didn’t stop me from getting up to pee on my own. And thus, my judgment in this matter was also impaired. Sure, I did accomplish this many times on my own without spilling my silly drink. But maybe I was lucky I didn’t have a catastrophic error or make the poor judgment in the same way as not pushing the button in the first place.

I still struggle with this. Knowing that I have impaired judgment, yet absolutely feeling I’m not impaired, but having everyone tell me that I am impaired. Being a confident person who used to get shit done, this is difficult to get used to. I know what I can do. Don’t tell me what I can’t do. I think many self-confident and accomplished people would feel the same way. But let me tell you, it’s an illusion. Fortunately, I haven’t suffered too greatly from such an illusion, but I have to be careful. Because it’s a very seductive and comfortable illusion. We’re only used to what we were before the brain injury. We’re used to being masters of our own agency. We’re used to keeping that silly drink safe automatically. Why can’t I be trusted to continue to do that? Do we have to have a safety mechanism for everything? Do I have to rub on tiger repellent because there might be tigers lurking to ambush me? Well, better safe than sorry they say. Maybe. But maybe we’re being overly cautious. What’s the harm in being safe than sorry? It’s a fair argument.

But by nature, I’m a risk taker in a way. Not in the same way as sky-diving, but more in the way of calculating my risks at a poker table or investing in real estate or with life choices such as quitting my job and moving to California. So, it’s against my nature to play the better safe than sorry route. I’m an explorer, a risk taker, and an adapter. I react and adapt to unforseen circumstances and form reactions and plans quickly. It’s what makes me good at my job and at playing games.I enjoy exercising this aspect of myself. I grow frustrated at jobs and situations where I’m not allowed to run freely with this aspect of myself. So, most companies like to mitigate or limit their risk. I tend not to do well in those kinds of companies. I do much better at companies who have no choice but to take risk and place the burden of that risk on its personel, namely and chiefly me. But it’s a risky move since I could literally die of a stroke the next day.

So for me, it’s weird not only to have to push a button to have someone watch me pee, but it’s even weirder to have to worry about the risk. It’s just something that I have never don’t and perhaps even can’t get in the habit of worrying about. Adapting to worsening circumstances and making the best of the situation is what my character is about. It’s hard to change that so late in life, even when my entire mind is wiped and begun anew. Perhaps there is something hard-wired. I don’t think so, because I’m writing this now, and I didn’t re-learn how to do that. So, I must have retained that character trait after my accident just as I have retained the ability to read, write, and speak and communicate and snark.

Anyway, until next post, I hope you all take care of you silly drinks, but only to the extent which makes you comfortable. Don’t go out of your way to avoid risks just because this post made you realize how fragile your silly drinks were. But acknowledge the risks and know that they exist. And acknowledge that by smoking, or not wearing a seat belt, or not wearing condoms with a new partner, that you are incurring a risk to your silly drink. But it’s your choice, just know what you’re getting yourself into and what your odds are.

Here are some stories of people who have dropped their silly drinks. It’s hard to deal with, and it’s fascinating how people adjust to it. Louis Theroux – A Different Brain.

 

 

 

No, Seriously, What Happened?

In a more serious tone, this is much closer to what really happened as explained by a Registered Nurse. My account is from my memory, which in light of what happened as described below, is understandably fractured.

From Jennifer:

“The original bleed was worse than I had thought. Not because anyone told me it wasn’t bad, but no one said it was, and Ming’s neuro exam had been so stable.
The original bleed and subsequent swelling of the brain in response to the injury caused a pretty significant right to left midline shift. That is, a fairly good part of the right side of the brain was pushed over into the left side because there was no where else for it to go. This is a kind of herniation. Ming has had serial CT’s that have all been pretty stable. No new bleed and only mild increase in swelling but nothing surprising. It is difficult to see the clot as they are doing quick CTs without contrast and he said an MRI is best to evaluate the bleed. That said, they do not expect any of these things to change significantly (improvement wise) for quite sometime. It could take a month to see any improvement in the swelling on scan. But a worsening would be obvious, and goes without saying, bad.
Since admission:
they have been managing his blood pressure, oral or IV depending on the circumstance (as he has now been in and out of the ICU three times).
Managing the clot with anti coagulation therapy, first heparin drip and now lovenox injections (which neurosurgery said that now with therapeutic levels of lovenox there is no indication to switch him back to heparin)
Managing his pain as much as they can non narcotic but recently have had to resort to narcotics as the pain has worsened.
This brings us to the swelling and the event that happened yesterday evening. They have been using 3% sodium solution with a goal of pulling extra fluid from the brain tissue to help relieve the pressure that is causing the pain and deficits. The bleed and swelling are both contributors to this midline shift. Well, he can’t stay on this solution forever as it will affect his kidneys and it’s hard to keep all of his other electrolyte in balance with that much sodium. Because his neuro exams had been so stable (aside from the seizure activity) they decided to start weaning the sodium solution. Ming’s body decided it wasn’t ready. As the day went on he started having increased headaches and nausea/vomiting. Then he declined rapidly with a significant drop in heart rate and stopped breathing. They quickly intubated. Luckily the response team included the Neurosurg fellow. He said he literally watched Ming’s pupil blow in front of him. Not that this is good by any standard but the fact that they were all there meant quick response. They gave him a drug called mannitol, which does the same thing the Na does only super fast. With the lowered Na infusion throughout the day Ming’s brain started swelling again. Only this time instead of pushing right to left it pushed down. All of it is bad, but down is really bad because this puts pressure on the brain stem which controls your heart rate and breathing. The Mannitol acted quickly, Heart rate recovered and pupils returned to equal and reactive. They took him for another scan and it still showed no significant change.
They left him intubated and lightly sedated overnight. Another video EEG which they plan to keep him on through today. They woke him by stopping the sedation several times overnight and did neuro exams. Of course he tried to pull out the tube each time but they had his wrists restrained. Once calmed he would follow commands and then they would give more meds and let him go back to sleep. This morning they turned off the sedation and he woke up and they extubated him. He was doing ok, I happened to call 15min after extubation, sleeping but waking easily and following commands. She said he was not speaking clearly, just kind of mumbling. But that could be all the drugs.
She said the EEG overnight did not show any further seizure activity. They had started him on Keppra the first time around and have now added Dilantin. These can make you super sleepy especially since he got a loading dose last night.
I asked the neurosurgeon what he thought as far as long term prognosis and why they weren’t doing anything more to relieve the pressure. The surgical intervention has risks that far outweigh the benefit given his current condition. I can explain it to you guys if you want me to, but since right now it’s not an option, I’ll skip it. He felt this event tells them they have to go much slower in weaning him off the Na. All things considered he felt Ming could make a close to if not full recovery, but it wasn’t going to be quick or easy. He said he was looking at minimum of a year of rehab.
All of this to be figured out once he is out of the woods for everything else. “