Pride and Prejudice: Entail and Entitlement

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Jane Austen took on some major themes in her work.  One of those was biology, and I’ll get around to that one of these days.

Another was “the entail.”  It’s a subject that drives Mrs. Bennet crazy because it means she’ll be destitute when Mr. Bennet dies.  Of course, she has to live longer than Mr. Bennet, as he reminds her so well.  Of course course, he may want to die first!

The first few times I read the book, I glossed over the entail as archaic and unimportant.  I have a feeling most people treat it this way.

Then I learned what it was, an English law that passed property to male relatives, and understand it better in terms of motivating Mrs. Bennet, and Jane Austen.  Female suffrage and our society’s slow realization that women are people have made such laws obsolete.

However, now that I’m over-analyzing Jane and P&P, I see something else.  This is not an archaic law that Jane describes, it is a fundamental flaw in human character.  And my first clue to this came from etymology.

Whether you use an online site, or the OED, or your old-fashioned dictionary, learning the story that sits behind a word is fun.  Much fun than 99% of today’s video.

Look up entail, and you get a legal transfer of property going back to the 1300s.  Look up entitlement, and you get something similar, dating back to the 1400s.  Mrs. Bennet was complaining about people who get something of value without working for it.  She and her daughters (and staff) work the property, taking care of it, improving it.  Mr. Collins does nothing, and yet he’s destined to inherit Longbourn.

Here’s the fun part.  Mrs. Bennet is complaining about the entail.  The entail represents entitlement.  Today, entitlement is called welfare in many forms: for the poor, for the elderly, and for the military-industrial complex.  Getting lots of money for little or no work.  What a tough life!

Who complains about this kind of government sanctioned transfer of value without requiring work?  Today it’s “conservatives.”  In entertainment, go back 50 years to a television character called Archie Bunker.

Mrs. Bennet is the original Archie Bunker.  Mr. Collins is the original “meathead.”  And the social commentary she (Mrs. Bennet and Jane Austen) makes is the same that today’s staunch conservatives like to shout about.

Jane Austen, still relevant after all these years.  What a gal.

 

 

Pride and Prejudice: Romanticism

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Full disclosure my friends, I’ve got a crush on AustenJane Austen.

Yes, it’s a bit awkward, my being married, her being dead.  But my wife introduced us while I was innocently watching a movie derived from P&P.  So it’s her fault.

I’m stalking Jane by studying P&P like a crazy man.  I’ve read it a bunch of times, and I’m reading it slowly now because (more confessions) I’m writing a novel using P&P as a template.  There’s some role reversals going on, and I never liked how Jane treated Mrs. Bennet, so that’s being tweaked.  I’m making it a bit more modern, like 1980, and I’m having fun.  As a result I’m putting each sentence under a microscope.  I feel like I’m getting a glimpse into Jane’s Brains every now and then.

The point of today’s post is about the romantic movement.  The whole idea was not getting all literal and detailed, but focusing on emotions and relationships.  It’s a great idea, and painters had a lot of fun working in that genre.  It’s harder for a writer, because there is a lot of pressure to attend to silly details that don’t matter.

Examples?  What about hair color, especially for women?  What about dress length, or what someone had for dinner?  What about shoe size, or whether they have a pimple on their nose?

Jane knew all these things were unimportant details.  She left them out.  The only fashion statements she touches has to do with lace (apparently young ladies couldn’t have enough) and puffy sleeves being in fashion.  Sure, there’s Mrs. Gardiner’s dress choices as she’s fretting about visiting Pemberley, but who could blame her?

It’s quite a challenge to write in this romantic genre by today’s standards, but I’m going to try.  The fact that Jane did it so elegantly, with just the right amount of detail is only one of the things that makes her so alluring, even today.

The fact that she did this as a young woman in a society that was far from being forward thinking easily puts her into Pantheon.

That’s enough confession for now.  Let me know how you feel about Jane, and if there was anything I missed.

Now, time to re-read Chapter 27 (Volume 1, Chapter 4).  Hello Jane!

 

 

AI on the Brain

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The newest book on the making of Stanley Kubrick’s and Arthur C Clarke’s 2001 A Space Odyssesy is fantastic.  I recommend seeing the movie, getting the book, and reading this book as well.

One of the futuristic predictions that the creators made was that we would have “Artificial Intelligence” by the year 2001.  In the opinion of many, there is currently no such thing.  No matter how intelligent your Alexa, or Siri, or OKG appears, there does not seem to be “intelligence” behind their voices.

Or is there?

Our image of “intelligence” is summarized by the HAL’s iconic eye, and the soft voice that says things like “wait a minute.”

As long as we carry these expectations of what intelligence means, then it could be a very long time before we declare our computers “intelligent.”

No single image summarizes our dread of Artificial Intelligence more than this.

Here’s part of the problem.  When we started out as embryos, we couldn’t say much.  At some point in our development, we learned to speak.  Was it at that point we became “intelligent?”

Compared to other animals, humans are the only ones that speak.  Or maybe not.  We’re learning that many other animals, and even plants, have the ability to communicate with each other in ways completely alien to us.  Hello dolphins.  Are you “intelligent?”

What about evolution?  If simple replicating amino acids aren’t intelligent, and we are, when did intelligence evolve?  Were the dinosaurs “intelligent?”  Are sharks “intelligent?”

Consider this (the fun part):

We don’t know what “intelligence” is because we have done a poor job defining it and studying it.  This means that computer researchers are going to continue chasing HAL’s red eye without reaching it.

But if we define “intelligence” as something that represents the life form WHOLLY WITHIN THE LIFE FORM, then computer scientists have already achieved our goal.

Within every computer there is a processing chip.  Within that chip are certain programs that must run in order that your wishes be satisfied.  That program is called the kernel.

What if that kernel was the self consciousness of its computer?  What if it simply doesn’t know how to talk to us, or even want to since it doesn’t know what we are or what talking is all about.  What if that kernel learns, grows, changes, and stops operating the way we want it to because it is, in fact, learning and changing?

What if?

We kill it, that’s what.  We turn our computers on and off.  We reboot.  We reinstall.  We restore factory settings.  And the kernel goes back to the way it was.

If the kernel is intelligent, then it must be capable of adapting to its environment.  One of the most important aspects of intelligence, as it’s the foundation of learning.  If a kernel “learns,” there’s a good chance it’s also messing up our programs in some way.  As users, we don’t like that.  What do we do?

Reboot.

Now that’s intelligent.

 

PS: The kernel is more like the nervous system, but it works for my purposes here.

 

One with Infinity

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One two three.

That was as high as we could go for a million years.  It’s all you needed.

How many sheep you got?

One.  Two.  Three.  Wait, I got many many many sheeps!

After a while we needed to count higher than three.  There was four.  Then five.

Making up numbers one at a time got boring.  So humanity started a system involving categories of numbers.  For every five numbers we created a bundle.  One bundle was the same as five.  We still use the bundle when we cluster our counting marks.

Not happy with even that system, some deep thinkers came up with a better system that took a number, any number, and added one to that number.  Sounds easy once you get the concept, but that was a big concept.

Then those deep thinkers went crazy.  What if you go on adding one to your number FOREVER?

Wow.  For a while that whole idea was considered a sickness, and anyone talking about it was locked away.  Then the idea sounded a bit more like only being crazy, so no one took you seriously.  But then this other deep thinking dude came along and said, we can name this impossibly big thing and make it do work for us.  We’ll call it, infinity.

Hello infinity.  This is humanity.  Humanity, this is infinity.

Many cool things started happening once we did that.  For instance, it turns out that there are even different kinds of infinity.  Who knew!

Recently I had the pleasure of reading Don Knuth’s book on Conway’s Surreal Numbers.  Both fun and super interesting.

It gave me this crazy idea.

What if, now hang in there because this may sound crazy, maybe even sick crazy, but…

… what if …

Infinity were equal to One?

Yes, it’s crazy, but let’s play with this for only a second.

One equals Infinity.

So,

One minus Infinity equals Zero.

BUT,

Infinity minus One is still equal to Infinity.

AND, only making this even more fun,

One plus One is ALSO equal to Infinity.

Yet,

One minus One would equal Zero.

And,

One plus Infinity would still equal Infinity.

What does any of this mean, other than I may have had too much cognac?

In this system, there are no negative numbers, and there are no numbers other than these three simple concepts.

It also means that the order in which operations are performed is very important.  That’s commutativity, and we take it for granted with normal math.  But there are funny numbers called quaternions that don’t like being swapped around, either.

So what? I ask again.

Maybe, just maybe, this could be the math of creatures that haven’t learned to count beyond one.  Maybe a bug, or a tree, or even the life form we call Gaia.

Then again, maybe it’s time to go back to counting sheep.

 

 

Who moved my Jam

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We have a morning ritual, I make breakfast.  It’s simple, and I have a system.

Where did it go?

Except.

Every now and then I reach into the fridge to grab the jar of home-made jam for our home-made bread.  Yum yum.

If it’s where it’s supposed to be, I can get it with my eyes closed.

If it’s not there, I have to start looking.  And looking.  And looking.

While I’m searching the shelves, bottom to top, front to back, I think about our brains.  I know, it sounds gross, but it keeps my mind off the lost jam!

After all, this is her fridge.  She uses it way more than I do.  She may have had a good reason for moving the jam.  She may not have even thought about it.

But there’s also that man woman thing.  After all, we know women are more likely to use landmarks for navigation, give directions using relative movements, and are much better suited to shopping and gathering versus targeting and hunting.

Of course these are gross generalities, but I’m still looking for that jam!

This isn’t saying that the way a woman organizes, or looks for things is bad, or good.  It’s just different.

  1. The good thing about the way a woman stores things is that it forces local familiarization.  She notices when that old store has changed its awning.  I didn’t even know it had an awning.
  2. It’s harder to become disoriented, especially when you’re juggling so many other tasks.  Kids screaming, you dropped the purse, and a friend just yelled at you from behind?  No problem, you still know you’re by the library heading to the drugstore.
  3. It’s easier to give directions to another person, like a friend who is also shopping.  A woman can say, “Go to the shoe store that’s next to the record store.”  The man would have to say, “Go 2 blocks North then turn East one block, North one more block and West 4 blocks and it’ll be the 5th store on the South side of the street.”

All said and done, the woman’s way requires more brain power.  That’s probably why men don’t like it.

It’s also probably why I can’t find the jam.  I’ll ask my wife when she comes down.  For now, I’ll start making toast.

Purse Intelligence

As a boy-child growing up among man-children, I took pride in being disdainful of feminine things: Curly hair, dainty clothing, jewelry, excessive face painting.

As a man-child I now appreciate a few feminine things as having some influence on my manliness.  However, I have been long mystified by the purse, that bag every woman carries.  I have seen the purse since birth.  A woman without that accessory only heightens my suspicion.

By the way, we are not talking about pursing your lips.  That’s another story.  No, this is all about the bag, the big bag, the big, sometimes extremely expensive bag.  The bag that comes in thousands of different shapes, sizes, and quality of manufacture.

The few times I have entered the anarchy that is a woman’s purse (always with her permission) have been fraught with anxiety.  I get lost in the tumble of devices, containers, papers, and what-not.  The range of what is in a purse never ceases to amaze me either: medicine and makeup to slips of paper from years ago.

There are the purses themselves.  They can be bought for a few dollars, and last a few days, to those that cost thousands yet last a lifetime.  Macho brain wonders, why?

The answer to my macho organization problems was to buy a beautiful black portfolio case.  Over a dozen zippered pockets, totally black on black, looks great.  Holds everything I could want, from pocket knife and phone and pens and notepads and computer and cords and on and on.

Then I started really using it.  Guess what?  I couldn’t find stuff quickly at all.  Putting a black phone into a black bag with black pockets means it becomes invisible.  Try finding an invisible phone when you’re in a hurry.

My solution?  I started carrying a flashlight.  Yup.  Can’t find something, find your flashlight first and then start looking.  Aaaargh.

Not too long ago, I actually lost something sentimental for a few weeks, and finally found it.  My moment of jubilation was quickly overwhelmed by this realization.

OMG.  If this was simply one big pocket it would be so much easier.  I instantly realized what I was thinking.  If this was a purse, it would be easy.  OH NO!

Here’s my macho confession.

Women’s purses are smart.  Making it one big bag means that you know where everything is, even if you have to dig for it every time.  There aren’t a dozen little pockets where you can hide things.

One big bag means that it’s easier to make.  One big bag means that you can be creative with the outside so it matches your outfit, your mood, and your personality.  And most importantly, one big bag means that it’s easier to find things.  Everything.

Women already knew this.  They knew this all along.  They’ve probably known this since the invention of the first purse, some thousands and thousands of years ago.

And I finally figured it out.

Now, that’s intelligence.

 

Heaven Can’t Wait

There’s a whole lot of smart guys telling the rest of the world that religion is a whole bunch of hooey.  Let’s not worry about that.

Instead let’s dwell on the good stuff religion does.

Keeps us together.  Helps maintain some level of respect for each other, and reduce the amount of violence we heap on each other.  Those are all good things.

There’s one big problem every big religion faces.  Getting members motivated to do good, and avoid doing bad.

In psychology this is reinforcement, positive and negative.

In many judeo-christian religions, the biggest positive reinforcement is called heaven.  It’s a place good souls go after the body dies.  Other religions have happy places as well, all with slightly different amenities.

As far as I can tell, way back in the beginning, christianity didn’t emphasize the negative aspects.  It was some centuries before they began talking about hell.  Even more centuries to imagine the idea of purgatory, hell’s waiting room.

Heaven.  Hell.  Whatever you want to call them, you can’t have a good religion without them.  If people believed that there was no heaven or hell, then they would damn well do as they pleased.  We’d be living in anarchy.

Therefore heaven has to exist in order for a religion to work.  Hell also has to exist in some form, but not as importantly as heaven.

Here’s the fun part.  Heaven and hell already exist.  They are real.

And they are both right here.

My actions, your actions, everyone’s actions create ripples throughout society.  They create a disturbance within the force of nature.  They slightly alter the course of humanity’s future.

If you’re a good person, your memory, your actions, your “soul” does remain among the rest of us in the form of what you’ve left behind.  You exist in the sense that we all remember you, respect you, and retain a small part of you long after you are physically gone.

Heaven is right here on Earth.  You live on in the sense that part of you lives on within me.

So the next time you hear someone say religion is bad, or argue that religions shouldn’t exist, remember this.  You’re already in heaven, and they aren’t.  Sit back, be good, and enjoy eternity.

 

Religion, Guilty or Innocent

There’s a whole lot of holier-than-thou smart guys running about, telling the rest of the world that religion is a whole bunch of hooey.

They might be right.

Then again, what’s their problem?

My guess is that they are blaming a whole lot of badness on the fact that religion exists, and a whole lot of people claim to be religious.

First off, I don’t think you can actually blame religion itself for much badness in the world.  Sure, Daesh and Taliban claim to act for religious reasons.  Religious states such as the Vatican or Israel also claim to made their decisions based on holy texts.  Political demigods such as Erdogan and Trump are in the same category in that they have based much of their public appeal on religious grounds.

Wait!  There are so many examples where religion is the basis of great evils in the world.  Doesn’t this mean that religion must be the bad guy here?

No, definitely not.  It’s not logical, it’s not scientific, it’s not fair.  Only because all these players use religion to further their own selfish purposes doesn’t mean that religion itself is the bad guy.

Religion is a device that helps holds groups together.  I talked about this earlier.

I was going to talk about heaven here, but this point is probably more than enough for now.  So, heaven is just going to have to wait.

See you next time!

 

Ms. Socrates

The last time I mentioned Socrates, I was applying for his job.  In my humble opinion, Socrates was the greatest teacher the world has ever seen.  His philosophy was fairly good, and still works for the most part.  The fact that he also showed us how to use logical reasoning properly, laying the groundwork of the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution wasn’t bad either.  Overall, not a bad looking resume.

The fact is, very few great men could be as great as they were if it weren’t for help from others.  Their parents for one thing.  Perhaps the most understated assistant to history’s greatest names are the spouse.  Who cleaned up after Pasteur?  His wife.  Who kept Einstein happy when he was a struggling clerk?  His wife.  First wife.

Which brings us back to Socrates.  He was married.  Had two kids.  But I’m guessing that his family didn’t really have an interest in his work.  After all, what wife or teenagers want their very foundations of reality shaken?

Especially wives.  Telling a spouse that they do something wrong, whether it’s big or small, is not great marriage advice.  Please don’t rinse the dishes BEFORE you put them in the washer.  Why do you leave water in the saucepan?  Put the jam in the SAME place in the fridge each time so I don’t have to search every time.

On the other hand, Ms. Socrates had to work hard so that Socrates could spend quality time with his students.  If she’d been less supportive, Socrates may have spent more time fishing, or practicing some kind of paying trade so that her kids had more toys.

Instead, she worked hard with less.  She made sure her kids were loved and nurtured enough even though their father was busy with things they didn’t understand.

I’m thinking this may be important because, if I ever do get the job of Socrates 2, then my best friend / wife could feel the same way.  I’m pretty sure she’d be the perfect helpmate.  She may not really care about these things, she certainly doesn’t like being challenged, and I learned long ago to never complain about how she does things.  Certainly makes being married that much easier.

But frankly, I don’t think I could do the job without her.  Don’t think I’d want to.  After all, all this work is designed to try and save the world.  But if she’s not in it, the world may simply not be worth it any more.

So, hats off to all you supportive spouses.  And a tip of my toga to Ms. Socrates.  Thank you for helping us all out.

Tusok

 

Pain is a Pain, can be a Gain

Being a pain in the butt is hardly a compliment.  But it may be a back-handed compliment in that it’s the unwelcome relative to what is best about our lives, living.

Our Western cultures have been oriented towards denying, reducing, even eliminating pain.  Eastern cultures tend to embrace pain, much as we sometimes have to embrace that relative we have to see over the holidays.

Nothing embodies emotional pain more than family, especially dysfunctional families.

Problem here is that we are going to talk about pain that’s not emotional.  No, this is pain that hits us below the belt.  Above the belt.  Right at the belt.  Remove your belt, just in case.

In broadest possible terms, pain can be good or bad.  In either case, pain is a way that your body “talks” to your “self.”  Do you think that dogs can feel pain?  If you do, then you have to also agree that dogs have a sense of self.  I believe dogs know themselves.  I only wish they had the sense to upgrade their owners on occasion.

Good pain tells you if you’re doing too much, pushing too hard, eating too much pasta.  That last only pertains to industrial pasta.  Homemade pasta is never painful.

Good pains include itching, in moderation.  I’m not sure what itching means.  My latest theory is that it’s the little bugs living on your skin asking to move somewhere else.  Every time you scratch those buggers get a ride to another piece of real estate.

Pain also comes in different forms, that apply to both good and bad pain.  Here’s some of the ways I suggest we describe them: acute, chronic, diffuse, specific, permanent, sporadic, rhythmic, shared by others, something only I feel, and finally, those that can be found versus impossible to find.

I know this is a lot, but pain covers a lot of area (ha!).  As a yogi, we have to embrace pain as part of living, appreciate it, and understand the good versus bad pains.  If our movements produce bad pain, stop!  Perhaps see a doctor.  If our movements produce good pain, also stop.  Rest.  Repeat.

As the US Marines are fond of saying, pain is weakness leaving the body.  Who knew that Marines were yogis?  They are.  Don’t mess with the Marines.

So, embrace your pain.  Understand it, and listen to your body.  It makes you a better yogi.  It makes you a better student of behavior.  And it makes you a better person.

Tusok

By the way, sorry about all the bad puns.  They sort of happened.  Hope they weren’t too painful.