Wednesday 11 April 2018

#500 Thank you Fizzfan et al.

Thank you Fizzfan for all of your wonderful comments. It's been an absolute joy seeing your responses every day. I remember standing on a cold station platform last year at the height of the miserable house hunt and feeling reassured by your uplifting messages. I'm sure I will continue picking up the phone to check them out of habit for a while to come.

I'm looking forward to finding new ways of spending the extra twenty to sixty minutes every day such as staring out the window of trains or in the case of the tube, looking blankly at the overhead map and trying to avoid eye-contact with the other passengers.

When I started blogging five years ago, I originally considered writing daily but quickly imagined it would require immense dedication and opted to write something more weekly instead. Contrary to that expectation, at no point did writing over two hundred daily posts feel too taxing. I think a part of me must have needed to do it and found it therapeutic. 

I tested out my ability to keep up the posts beforehand by writing for ten days in a row and found that fine. I thought perhaps I would write daily for a month or two, then it became a daily ritual and I carried it on. Now I've reached a point where I would like to see what else I can do with the time.

Thanks also in no particular order to Hetal, Cath, John, Liz and my family, who I know read at times and anyone else who has taken an interest during the last eight months and the years before that.

Tuesday 10 April 2018

#499 Winds in the east

The day after finishing the dust ball series, I sat down to write a blog post as usual. Something was different.

I'd been writing daily for eight months. The series itself had been a change in direction, preceded by a week's worth of posts on the theme of searching for a blog like mine. Which followed another week of posts about the university strikes. I'd started writing posts under themes because I felt like I wanted a change. Now I wanted another.

The journey through the blogosphere earlier in the year had highlighted the rarity of personal narrative blogs without a strong theme. They existed but were hard to find, at least among the ranks of the popular pages.

I wanted to explain that if I carried on blogging daily, the blog wouldn't grow and neither would I but I didn't know that. I wanted to say that the daily practice had become repetitive and that life wasn't supposed to be repetitive but I didn't know that either. It was what I liked to call playground logic. The kind that seemed to fit but was only half-true.

Maybe I just didn't want to write about my own life publicly anymore. Of course nobody just wants anything. I'd have my reasons. Boredom. Lack of reward. Lack of growth. Lack of change. A desire to do other things.

Bukowski famously said "If it doesn't come bursting out of you despite everything, don't do it." I'd felt guilty reading that but had done it all the same. Until I felt an urge not to do it. That was where I was at. I'd keep writing in some shape or form but for now, I only knew one truth. It was time for the blogging to end.

Monday 9 April 2018

#498 Road Rash

It was pleasant riding the 176 across the thawed tarmac along Walworth Road into the city this morning. Rays poured in through the top deck windows. The intermittent, gentle but authoritarian sound of the prerecorded female destination readouts let me know I was on track and on time. It was slightly boring though.

A cyclist banged hard on the downstairs side panel with his hand. His way of letting us know we weren't the only road user. I'd met newbie London cyclists who still thought Road Rash was a skin condition. The reality was closer to the 90's Sega Genesis version. Machines raced aggressively down hazardous routes. The clang of fists on metal. Hurling insults, tasting smog and taking chances. Cycling anywhere in the city was taking chances.

The first time I rode a bike in London, I got hit and tumbled over the handlebars. The back wheel bent at a right-angle. I was ten. My dad leaped over the bonnet of the car and he and the driver exchanged swear words until a police officer came. As an adult, my bike hadn't suffered a scratch until that night I left it at Peckham Rye station. It was chained up but I should've known better.

I'd never replaced it. As I sat there on the top deck this morning, a part of me wished I was down on the concrete, heaving and weaving. Hammering the pedals, glancing back every so often to see what four-wheeled monstrosity I was competing with. The underdog of the road. Risking life for fitness and a more invigorating ride home.

Sunday 8 April 2018

#497 Notting Hill Library

My back was sweaty. This always happened. I moved the rucksack to my right shoulder, then took my arm out of the left side of my hoodie and did the same with that. Wonky shoulders in retirement were a small price to pay for ventillation.

The walk to Notting Hill Library had seemed like a good idea at Bond Street. I was tired. Though, ironically, that was the reason for the trip. In an effort to maintain my recently-improved sleep patterns, I required a good book to read before bed. In the absence of any more appealing recommendations, I'd decided to try and emulate Jordan Peterson. I was off to get some Nietzsche.

I'd found JP's description of the late author's work to be unsurprisingly correct. Upon picking up a copy of Beyond Good and Evil in a bookshop earlier on, I'd at once agreed that it was far thicker than most other books. Not in its physical dimension but in its succinctness. The damn thing actually came with a warning that it was hard to read.

I wasn't out to kid myself, I wouldn't get half of what this guy had written but I had managed to understand some of it back in the bookshop. At least I thought I had and it made me so happy that I decided to make the trip to the library to rent it.

It was a win-win situation. If I enjoyed it, the bedtime reading would help me sleep. If I didn't, I'd make another long journey back to the library to exchange it and the walk would help me sleep. I looked again at the first chapter and found its opening lines disappointingly accessible but then flipped to the preface and saw a caution that the text might appear easier to understand than it actually was. I probably should have looked for a book about the book, rather than the book itself. I decided that would be my back-up option if the book proved too much to handle.

Saturday 7 April 2018

#496 Reflecting on the dust ball series

During the earlier part of this week, I thought back to the dust ball series. Light and dark. The beginning of Genesis. Making the distinction. The first eye. That was what it did. It only saw the difference between light and dark. It was like a parallel between science and religion. I kept thinking about eye as the first sensor and how it could be scaled up into a robot with five senses and a whole lot more besides. It was the beginning of being. I'd write up the series into a story and continue to work on it.

I read somewhere that the eye was the same width as the sensor in a 35mm camera. We had more megapixels though. 576 to be exact. Cannon were prototyping a 250 megapixel camera. There were differences though. The human lens worked differently. We sensed light differently. We had a brain. 

The dust ball series had been a way of getting my head around Dan Dennett's idea that both the body and the mind were products of evolution. As a scientist, among other things, Dennett tended to avoid getting into the more spiritual side of things unless he was making reference to the evolution of religions. This was understandable. He'd spent his life in universities. Yet universities weren't the only place to learn about the human condition.

Further east, the Indian gurus had been meditating upon the nature of their existence for centuries and had come up with similar conclusions to Dennett. "If you spend enough time observing yourself, you'll discover that you aren't what you think you are. That also goes for free will and your religions". Like Dennett, the gurus had spent their lives looking inward at the mind but through very different means. Then Jordan Peterson, a psychologist, had come along and retold stories about where meaning came from, or at least what kind of behaviour was conducive to it. How could I get the most out of my own behaviour and find more meaning?

When I'd stopped seeing Sarah, I'd told her I would put together a toolbox of things that could help a person out if they ever felt off-track on their journey through life. I still hadn't done it. The infinite possibilities of what form the toolbox could take and what to put in it stretched out in front of me. I was tasked with collapsing them into a single thing. A thing that held resources. I didn't know what that thing would be. If it would be anything. Maybe just my own brain. I did feel more resourceful these days. More able to sense what needed doing. Strangely, it felt like writing the dust ball series had helped.

Friday 6 April 2018

#495 Interview prep

I had most of it figured out. Check the organisation's website. Check the interviewer's LinkedIn page. Other accounts if they have them. Skills. Why I'd be a good fit. Questions to ask. How they could improve their site. Some prepared competence answers.

The Reed website had a list of typical interview questions and textbook answers. It was the week after Easter. Lectures were over for the holidays and I was using the time to meet recruiters and brush up on my question responses.

From the bottom of the Reed page, it was clear that not everyone enjoyed competence based interviews. A variety of professionals had left comments cursing the process, venting their experiences of defeats they'd suffered at the hands of the merciless questions.

It was understandable. Some of those people had worked long and hard for years without ever having to get good at talking about what they were up to. Now they were losing out to people who could. Perhaps in some cases, to impostors.

Their resentment wasn't helping them though. They were so full of suspicion about the integrity of their competitors. They talked as if they knew without a doubt that everyone else was lying and because they were bad liars, they were losing out in interviews.

I considered myself a cynic but not like those guys. Their grievances made no sense. If everyone in the world lied, that would mean the interviewers were also expert liars, which would mean they could detect it when they saw it. Why would they hire someone they knew was dishonest? 

Competence questions weren't easy but did the complainers really think that they could get away with not being able to explain what they did for a living? They weren't losing because they were bad liars, they were losing because they sucked at telling the truth. Probably. Unless the companies they applied to really were full of dishonest people, all lying to each other. Who would want to work in a place like that?

Thursday 5 April 2018

#494 A dietary change

I'd never been into protein bars and shakes. They seemed like something a person should only have before hitting the gym. Or after hitting the gym. Or while chilling out at the gym. I didn't go to the gym though. When I wanted to exercise, I ran. And runners didn't need extra protein. Or so I thought.

I'd always been a self-confessed carb monster. I loved them. I could pile my plate full of pasta, load thick slices of buttered bread on the side and never put on any weight. The only problem was the energy flux. I'd feel fine until about 2pm and then plummet into a carb coma. Not literally but I certainly wasn't taking any names after lunch.

I came across the right advice by chance. A YouTube video about something else that happened to mention loading up on protein at breakfast. It seemed worth a try so I had a power bar one morning and the rest was history.

The first thing I noticed was that my mood was more stable. I got hungry at lunch time but wasn't desperate for it. The most remarkable thing was when I tried having only chicken and vegetables at midday. There was no afternoon slump at all, it was incredible. My focus was like a laser beam.

I didn't care if it was a placebo, I was sold. My next step would be to stock up on protein-rich breakfast foods and keep them at home. There was enough to choose from. I wasn't keen on jerky and the drinks still seemed like too much quick-release sugar, so the bars seemed like the best bet. Or nuts. I used to love peanut butter toast in the mornings. Apparently it didn't contain enough though. I never thought I'd wave goodbye to peanut butter but things were different now. It was 2018. Even peanut butter might have to make way for progress.

Wednesday 4 April 2018

#493 A less lazy Sunday

Peckham Rye park really was perfect for running around. Any time, day or night, the silhouettes of between one and five joggers could be seen bobbing along on the horizon, on one of the park's three sides. Maybe not any time. Most times.

The friction between my thighs was new. I'd never experienced it in my twenties. Clearly I was getting fatter. Which was all the more reason to run. I'd barely been out this year. All the lectures and Barbican visits had taken up hours and hours. I wasn't about to start blaming the snow. That would be no more than a half-truth. In fact, it deserved its own paragraph.

NOTHING about the human body prevents it from running in the snow! Or the wind or rain or sun for that matter. The fact that anyone in the UK could dare to claim that it was too... anything... outside to go for a run is completely and utterly preposterous unless said person is in ill health or otherwise incapacitated.

Two runners overtook me. It was ok. Five years ago, I'd have chased and raced the cyclists along the side that ran parallel to the main road. Now I let them pass. The wire from my headphones dangled and flapped against my side as I slowly bounded up the path. 

A lap was just less than 5k. Three laps were 10k. That was what I told myself. If I was going to run just a lap, I must be unfit and would need encouragement, so I rounded it up. If I was going to run three, I felt good and was clearly in need of a challenge, so I rounded it down. Like an advanced feature of a running app. It had been seven years since I'd first run around Peckham Rye so I felt quite advanced myself. The setting was just the same though. Running round it grounded me. Travelling just that short distance around the park was like making a longer journey back through time.

Tuesday 3 April 2018

#492 Life as a pool table - part 15

Closing remarks

During this fifteen part series, of which this is the last part, I have attempted to describe an imaginable sequence of events that tell a story about the development of a population of robots from some balls of dust.

I feel as though they have now reached a point where any further development would be either difficult or irrelevant. However I would be happy to respond to any questions about the series.

One question could be whether I think there's any truth in the story. I like to claim that I try not to hold any beliefs. That claim could probably be debated by those who know me and I generally enjoy participating in such debates. 

I do think that with an open-mind, a person can see some truth... and some untruth... in just about anything.

Monday 2 April 2018

#491 Life as a pool table - part 14

The concept of religion
Robots that thrive tend to do so with the aid of beliefs. Similarly, societies of robots that thrive tend to do so with the aid of more beliefs. This is where the superego comes in. It assists with the maintenance of organised structures, from the likes of which both the robots and their societies are made. It does so through the propagation of particular abstractions such as powerful stories and rituals that are adopted as a means of education and form core parts of the robots' societies' cultures.

An individual robot anticipating a meal may imagine it more or less exactly as it will look once it has been prepared. However the impact of the superego within society at large dwarfs the daily concerns faced by the individual robot in both scale and complexity. The abstractions of the superego must therefore take forms that appeal to the robot but which are less representational in nature. Symbols and stories are ideal.

The robots enjoy the stories. They feel compelled to participate in the rituals. They identify with their traditions and sense that they are deeply important. Their knowledge of themselves is not yet sufficiently advanced for them to fully understand the differences between the stories in which they believe and the physical realities in which they exist.

Many treat the abstractions as literal, physical truths and accept them in a similar way and with a similar conviction as the beliefs that they hold about the physical world. Such dogmatism is extremely common among the robots. This is partly due to the fact that the robots' brains evolved by responding to physical events and use the same internal mechanisms to deal with the abstractions of the superego as they've been using for millions of years to deal with the more immediate threats and rewards of the physical world, although even their grasp of that was limited.

Eventually, many of the robots become increasingly educated and develop their understanding of the physical world around them, changing many of their long-held beliefs about it as they do so. In contrast, many robots' religious beliefs remain relatively unchallenged despite their obvious incongruence with their own observations. This is because the superego continues to play a role in moderating the behaviour of individuals within large groups and for that it must continue to use non-representational symbolism.

The robots who do abandon their traditional beliefs often replace them with a set of equally dogmatic beliefs that are formed through their analysis of the physical world. In doing so, they may overlook both the functional necessity of the traditional beliefs and the lack of inherent social cohesion of their new analytical findings, chiefly because their brains remain predisposed to dogmatism and will reach for any belief that looks and feels solid, grabbing on to it long before they have examined it properly. To their brains, it feels somewhat as though they were drifting helplessly in a stream and then found a log to hold on to.

To be continued

Sunday 1 April 2018

#490 Life as a pool table - part 13

The concept of beliefs
The robots' memories grow, allowing them to develop beliefs about the world around them. For instance, the belief that food should be eaten and that predators are to be avoided. There is no truth in these beliefs beyond the minds of the robots. The predators, for example, believe that it's the robots that should be eaten. However the beliefs, like other concepts that we've introduced so far, become an inheritable feature of the robots because they help with survival.

Specifically, beliefs allow for a wider range of responses to situations than would be the case if the robots relied on their mechanical drives alone. For example, the belief that a robot should drink water when it's ill - even though it doesn't feel like doing so - allows it to stay hydrated.

The concept of societies
However, it's not just the robots' own needs that their beliefs promote. Each robot has a fairly direct experience and understanding of the most important things that it has to avoid and pursue in its own life. Its interactions within its society on the other hand, are less clear and less easy to represent.

This is especially true when the robots start operating within groups of a larger size than that of the average family. They have not physically evolved to do so but by chance, smaller groups can meet and merge to form a new larger entity, in just the same way that the first two dust balls met and combined back in part one.

To be continued