I woke up this morning to the sound of some idiot bitching to some other idiot during a radio phone interview on a station selected for having the most signal strength where my alarm clock is located, with my head apparently full of the grindings of heavy grinding and with no covers left on my bed. It hasn’t happened in a while. That’s probably a good thing (this stateful, clutterbrained feeling is really annoying when you have actual work to do) …or maybe it just means I haven’t had a lot of heavy thinking to do in the past couple months until last night, leaving nothing for my brain to grind on while I dream. Last night No* and I got into a discussion about fate, and our purpose (if any) on this warm, cold little rock. I guess it isn’t often that I really, truly, give a long stretch of serious thought to things like that.
Leaving the house this morning, someone tapped me on the shoulder just as I was turning-while-jiggling the little lock switch in the center of the doorknob. Scared the hell out of me. I turned around and saw only a long stretch of staircase, not a soul in sight. It must be that today’s lock-jiggering caused a meta-stable crease in the stiff leather of my jacket to pop into a more comfortable resting shape on my shoulder, because that’s the most logical scenario. (“That which is simple is true.” – Me, oversimplifying Occam’s Razor in typical razorly fashion) At least, more logical than taking it as a supernatural sign that instead of heading out for another day of signal-processing excitement at work, I should turn around, crawl back into my bed and hope that the background job so rudely interrupted by my alarm clock would resume and continue to completion, leaving the answer to the question of life, the universe and everything sitting at the bottom of my brain like a Snickers bar against the trapdoor of a vending machine.
On patterns reflected, and reflection on patterns.
(“Everywhere I must declare I’ve got a flair for patterns…” – Wierd Al)
In those few barely-remembered moments as I came out of sleep, I remember feeling like a scuba diver, on the last breath in the tank, surfacing toward the murky light with one arm outstretched. Relieved at the clarity, blinking in the blinding concrete reality, but with the miasma of a thousand shattered pieces of thoughts still swirling around me.
For some reason I was back at Arisia, which turned this way and that, and with a bit of jiggling, collapsed like a camp cup into a dense little recursive space. I saw duct tape holding the stars together with great difficulty. Pining for a girl who isn’t interested, while being pined for by a girl I’m not interested in. The phone ringing while dialing the person causing it to ring. And in the middle of all this, possibly the same hour, my housemate–live together, parked together, cars towed together, hard disks failed in tandem…resulting in pi popping up to six sig fig, in the error message of an SQL query, matching the copy on the only person I could ever crack wise to in the form of an SQL query and actually get a laugh from. One sector, 512 bytes, of nulls strategically placed by a grown disk defect that knows the significance of this number better than I do. In those last few milliseconds of not-quite-sleep before my eyes opened, it seems that the usual web of thoughts and memories, forming routing meshes from one fragment of information to another, were instead forming loops. Beautiful, overlapping, inefficient, frightening little loops, wrapping back on themselves like field lines. All roads led to… well, not Rome, but the letter count matches. Maybe this is just the cyclical, patternful, and some might argue, perverse nature of the universe. If one were to find the seam where the whole thing was sewn together, and rip it open, would one see ‘Fractally Yours’ on the inside tag? (Or do I just need more sleep?)
(But at least it would compress well…)
On pre-ordained purpose, and getting hit by a bus.
Where was I? Oh yeah, we were talking about, among many other things, fate. Destiny. The idea that the set of all Things That Happen is, at this moment, already defined for 0 <= t <= infinity. How can something like that be proven, or equally importantly, disproven? I was pondering this on the way to work, shoulder-shaking jackets notwithstanding, and had the inexplicable urge to just run out into the street and jump in front of a bus. (All right…some necessary qualification here: not in the sense of “I considered really, seriously doing this right then & there”, more in the sense of “Hmm, I wonder what would happen if…”, and running kind of a mental simulation while safely on sidewalk firma. Call me sane or call me a wuss, that’s up to you.) Would I disprove the existence of my own fate by altering it, with this snap decision, right then and there? Or would that then will have been my fate all along? (Or however you would say that in Douglas Adams style time-travel-tense, where the present alters a past that hasn’t happened yet.) Let’s say that fate, by what I would consider the most common definition/behavior of fate, could not be altered by an arbitrary snap decision like that; that that decision itself was in fact pre-ordained by the initial conditions of the universe at time zero. (“Precognition is nothing more than sufficient knowledge of the initial conditions.” – Me) That would mean that this whole thing we call existence serves no purpose, like a simulation in which the final value is already known. It would also mean that my purpose in life was to turn 24 and get hit by a bus. (“I never want to live too healthy, because the univese has a sick sense of humor. If I ate nothing but tofu and bean sprouts on the basis that most everything else will kill ya, I’d probably turn 28 and get randomly hit by a bus.” – Me) That’s a sad and sobering possibility, especially if believing this in conjunction with a Creator: that we are no more than an experiment in a higher being’s fishbowl, to end once this force of creation has grown satisfied and/or bored with the results. If that’s all we are–a simulation being run for no other purpose than to verify that the simulator works–it almost seems sane to assume that the only information (data?) of real importance is a snapshot of the final frame, and if only the final frame is saved, everyone and everything that has lived and died before that time will not exist, will not ever have existed, and will not have needed to (as, surely, the exact state of that frame could have been arrived at via any number of alternate paths). That’s an angry little fragment of candy to swallow.
Which brings me around to the alternate conclusion, that randomness and chaos rule supreme, that we are free to think our own thoughts, and affect our own futures, no matter how many quotes about initial conditions I pull out of my situpon. But…but…if at time zero every spot of energy was accounted for, every particle had a position and a defined velocity, carried forward to time infinity, how can there be more than one outcome?…is it possible that we would owe the existence of free will to nothing more than a sort of cosmic roundoff error, least significant bits quantized away in discrete time and discrete space, or lost beneath the noise floor of the quantum foam?
All right, I’m not through with this, but I should probably go to bed.
(Ah, my bloggg… where else can the word “that” three times in a row still form part of a perfectly valid sentence?)