2012-01-20 01:04 pm

(no subject)

Said by Dr. Morrison: "The physics is indeterminate but the math is determinate."

Dr. Morrison asked the class to state the first law of thermodynamics. There were fifty graduate students and zero answers. Fifteen or so seconds passed, tense on our side, amused on his side, before I was finally able to put myself back in that earlier place, and blurt out "The conservation of energy!" On the side of graduate students I take this episode to be more illuminating than humiliating. There is a qualitative difference between a graduate student in physics and an undergraduate student in physics. I assume -- no, I observe -- that there is also a qualitative difference between a graduate student in physics and a professor of physics. What did the class' failure demonstrate? That sometimes, in order to learn the advanced material, one must forget the basics.
2011-12-31 02:30 am

Made of words

Some time ago a fellow on FurAffinity asked me why I do not have an icon, and by extension why I do not draw myself. I begged out of giving an answer, saying that it would be long and self-absorbed. The "self-absorbed" part still stands, but I do have a short answer now: it is because, insofar as I am a fox, I am a fox made of words, and insofar as I am a fisher, I do not want to be seen.
2011-08-24 01:24 am

(no subject)

A reply to a locked post by Mina about styles of communication online. I think it might read better without context.

While I wouldn't use your terminology, I think I see the distinction you mean. More, I find myself wanting the best of both worlds: the explicitness and engagement of the one, and the respect and gentleness of the other. Sure, the explicitness and engagement are used as excuses for assholish behavior, and the respect and gentleness are only shown towards insiders, but they're still worthwhile overall. I generally fail on at least one of those four counts, though. :/
2011-08-03 01:04 am

(no subject)

If the success of your theory's agenda leads to the elimination of some term, then your theory abuses language. If the adoption of a theory entails holding some term or terms in uniform contempt, disdain and dismissal; if it takes some other word and makes it inescapable and indispensable; or if it enforces a style of writing, so that only work in that style can be recognized as a work of the theory: then it abuses language. Theory should enrich language, not diminish it. Take into consideration the theory that seeks to persuade you against an opinion, but beware the theory that seeks to make it unthinkable.
2011-06-11 07:05 pm

(no subject)

A comment else-journal.

A world in which a person can walk on water is an interesting one, but a world in which the symbol of walking on water can have as big an effect on humanity as the actual deed would is an incredible one. This is a world in which it is precisely symbols that have the power of miracles.

Maybe people yearn for a grander world. But maybe what they yearn for is the grandeur of this world, present but occluded. Or, because I really feel like I'm not articulating the thought well: one can feel meant for a better world, and one day discover that this better world is the one you already live in.
2011-05-19 01:48 am

"It would be a fierce rather than a peaceful friendship..."

I had reason to think of this old email recently. It is from the summer of 2002, shortly before I cut off all contact with friends for about half a year, a period I called my capital-A "Avoidance." I realized later that the email was a circuitous way of asking Raki permission to criticize her, years before I learned how to say such a thing as "I'm angry at you." She didn't reply.

Many of my thoughts have no further life to live after I first articulate them. Not so for the idea of friendship first expressed here.

... )
2011-03-03 02:17 pm


There are questions which every person must, in one form or another, ask himself. Such are, 'What have I to do with my nation's politics?' 'Can I fully mean what I say?' 'What is worthwhile?' 'What do I know of others?' 'What have I learned?' and 'How shall I create myself?' To answer such a question is to explore oneself. The ones who can best answer these questions are the ones who have most thoroughly explored themselves. Yet there are some who have only begun this inner exploration. They can recite all that resides within their one horizon, but know of nothing beyond. They dwell always in the one region of their mind which is best-explored, this necessarily being the part which borders the outside world, and it is a region fully settled: they live in that coastal city you may call their behavior, unable or unwilling to live without all its conveniences. Ponder if you want the value of city life, with all of humanity's capabilities at hand, and the value of commerce, of contact and trade with those other lands across the oceans. Their value is real. But there may, there should, come a day when your answers cease to satisfy you, or when you come to see that they were not the answers you sought in the first place. Then you must turn away from the ocean, away from the city, and fix your gaze on the opposite horizon. Your truths lie inland.

A philosopher's business is with those questions which every person must ask himself, whether or not the question is posed in a familiar manner. He does not answer them: one who proffers such answers may be an activist, leader, priest, critic, therapist, parent, or teacher, but he will not be a philosopher. A philosopher, I may say, assists with those questions. He brings them up, questions them anew, reveals what paltry things pass as their answers -- but when he interposes his own answer, no matter how powerful, he ceases in philosophy. A philosopher knows that each person is a continent unto himself, a continent traversable by no-one else. The philosopher may be an outfitter for the ventures inland, one who provides you food, clothing, compasses (but not maps!), mounts, or even weapons. He may be a trainer, who can teach you how to hike, climb, swim, camp, hunt, forage, and cook, skills unnecessary in daily life but vital in exploration. He may even, on those rare occasions when his inner terrain resembles yours, be a guide for a short time. Or he may be nothing more than the braggart in the room, who tells incredible and incessant stories of the wonders he has found, and provokes you to find out for yourself whether they do exist, to prove him wrong or prove him right. But one thing he will never be is your cartographer.

Ani DiFranco sang, "Art is why I get up in the morning. But my definition ends there; you know, it doesn't seem fair that I am living for something I can't even define..." For years I said the same of philosophy. But now I have a late answer to the question of what philosophy is, an answer which came only as I started to find my feet as a physicist. Why this irony? Why did the answer come only now, when I no longer live for philosophy?
2011-02-14 05:15 pm

(no subject)

These are two things you should never have to justify: caring and not caring.
2011-01-15 02:54 am

Dragons and Geniuses

In my third year at Chicago, when tiny pieces of me were starting to break away, I visited Larry McEnerney for the last time. I had shown him The Nine Charioteers, perhaps hoping that he would sense the despair voiced in it. He began to articulate his thoughts about its structure, but stopped when I could only stare blankly, his uncanny teacher's intuition probably telling him that I was not in a position to understand my creation. Dr. McEnerney said instead, "You have great things ahead of you," then the conversation turned elsewhere. I did cherish that statement. That little thing gave some warmth in the cold places I was subsequently to go.

It was not his greatest gift to me, though. His greatest gift was the patient rebuke, repeated several times through the course of our encounters, for an arrogance developed over the course of a lifetime: a gentle rebuke, without anger or scorn, yet forceful enough to rattle that arrogance where very little else could. The memory of those rebukes, whose lessons I have still not fully learned, guards against the excesses to which memories of praise can lead a person. Praise will warm you: and if you are enchained, it will warm you in your chains.

Larry's statement was one of a series, the most recent of which came only a few months ago, when Dr. Rindler, my mentor from UT Dallas, encouraging me in my ordeal of changing advisors, wrote, "You have as brilliant a mind as any I have come across." What am I to do with this series, this wedge in the door of my self-knowledge? I only realized a few months ago, in the wake of learning to not adapt, that I have kept it more secret than any of my shames or regrets. I thought for a long time that I kept the praise secret out of an aversion to bragging, as though only civility kept me from revealing the thorough grooming I had received from an early age.

It's not a grooming that I can beg sympathy for. I benefited and continue to benefit, and my strongest aversion to that aspect of my development is a recurrent anguish that some of my friends, equally meriting such grooming, did not receive it... my blessings are not all internal. I brag that mine was not an easy clay to shape, that I resisted my schooling to a degree that few else who have still continued their schooling can claim, but the defiance was not complete. There was always that gap in the back of my defenses, through which slipped such notions as brilliance, superior intelligence, genius...

It is a strong river into which I was thrown so early, and you cannot rightly expect a child to resist it: the most you can hope is that he keeps his head above the water. But it has a chaotic flow, and can take one strange places. There was one step of this long grooming, a "Talent Identification Program" where middle-schoolers who did well on an early SAT took college courses over the summer, in which a wild sequence of coincidences and events took place. At an age when most children thus groomed would have started to wonder whether they were geniuses, I started to wonder whether I was a dragon.

I can't say it didn't make sense! What else but strangeness could explain all the strangeness? I never quite believed that I was a dragon, but held it as an aspiration instead. My draconity occupied a realm of speculation and fantasy below, but not less important than, the categories of knowledge and belief. In certain periods it is right for your fantasies to be more important to you than your beliefs. And I can say, with some assurance, that thinking about my draconity filled the same emotional role that speculating about a future brilliance did for others. One believes in dragons and in geniuses for much the same reason.
2011-01-12 02:47 am

Mastery of a text

From a conversation with Rax.

Also: I acquired Barthes' A Lover's Discourse and have read portions of it. I dislike it. It is not a book about love, but rather a book about infatuation. I could go on at much greater length, but if you would find such a criticism overly harsh, then I will skip such exposition.

I would argue there are portions that are about infatuation, but I'm happy to hear critique of it --- I don't think it's perfect, just that it's been useful to me. I'm sorry it hasn't been useful to you!

Eh, on second thought, I don't want to go to greater length. The one thing I did say can stand as a summary for most of what the longer critique would contain.

On the other hand, this situation did provide the opportunity to clarify why I have such strong reactions toward books, most books in fact. Emerson says in Self-Reliance, "Who has more obedience than I masters me." This seems like just a bit of self-indulgent contradiction until you realize that the mastery he speaks of is not the mastery of a slave, child or wife, but the mastery of a text. The texts I master are the ones to which I show the most obedience: I become willing to follow their fancies and self-indulgences, accept their descriptions, and think in their terms, and one criterion for mastering a text would be to understand it (obey it) even more than the original author. So the fact that there are some writers, like Heidegger and D&G, who leave me with a feeling of revulsion, indicates that were I to show them such obedience they would abuse it. (I do not claim they abuse all their readers.) Similarly, when I come across writers toward whom I feel disdainful (like Barthes or Derrida), it indicates that I could offer them such submission, but they would not do anything worthwhile with it, they would neglect it. I do not claim that this is the only way or picture of reading, but it is one that explains the strength of my responses.

I really, really, really like your metaphor, and I think it's entirely reasonable that different people would find what Barthes has to do with that obedience either useful or not. Thank you.

Going a little bit further: after accusing Derrida elsewhere on your journal of feigning mastery of a text, I started to wonder what counts as true mastery. Extending the idea above, I think that disobedience of a text is only possible from a standpoint of mastery, because you can't disobey what you aren't in a position to obey. So what I see at play in Derrida is not only a feigned mastery but a feigned disobedience, as though he only learned enough from Austin to make a point of spurning him.

If I had critiqued Barthes it would have ended up similarly. There are times when the full articulation of an aversive response counts as a good criticism, but this was not one of them.
2010-12-21 02:12 am

Forty months' update: a little late

I don't much like writing about the mundane details of my life, but I think I owe it to my friends to do so. So, awhile back, I decided to write big updates every six months or so, to keep my friends up to date. I fell a little behind in doing so, but here I'm making up for it. And if you're curious why this appears on Livejournal too: all my important writing goes to Dreamwidth, but since the only thing this post is for is to give information to my friends, I don't mind it going up both places.

Friendship )

Living on my own )

Graduate school )

Writing and Drawing )

Miscellaneous )

[1] They call their abode "The House of Intransitive Verbs".
[2] Though I still maintain that cutting ties with her was one of the smartest things I've done in my life.
[3] Mainly because I started out afraid to phone people unprompted. My biggest struggles of the Dallas period were matters of overcoming fear.
[4] That was the year before the line acquired brand names.
[5] Also, I'm rather arrogant. Maybe you could tell.
[6] When a medium varies slowly compared to the wavenumber and wavelength of light, the light can be treated like a classical particle. This is called photon acceleration. The most nifty thing is that you straight up use angular frequency, rather than energy. This means that the moments of the distribution function take on new, unusual forms. I'll stop now.
[7] A slow process, if you do it right.
[8] And right now I'm trying to finish a short story rather than working on comics, so drawing is stalled for the moment.
[9] At first I was not happy with the seat I received, since it's the least private of them. But I'm the only person in the place with sufficient desk/table space, so it turned out well, and the absence of the others even secures some privacy.
[10] A fact I like. Rooms feel much more spacious without ceiling tiles, and the exposed infrastructure can be fascinating. This room has obsolete transparent water pipes still in place, with standing water in the bends.
2010-12-21 01:59 am

(no subject)

Reading today's XKCD comic reminded me of a criticism I wrote of it back in 2008, prompted by Nick. Here it is. I think I went too far in a few places, but in others I made good points. There's much I could say in praise of the comic as well, but I think other people have that covered.

Considering the uneasiness I often feel when reading XKCD, which I've only managed to partly articulate, I'd love to see such a critique. Maybe we could tag-team the thing.

I'm definitely curious... I suspect the things that rub you the wrong way are the same things that do me.

Okay, I'll give it a shot. Of course, there's much positive that I could (but won't) say. *pulls snark muzzle off*

First, something that may matter far more to me than you: the author's naive attitude toward science. He seems to be unaware of one of the biggest shortcomings of science, the fact that only a practitioner of a science can accurately judge its strengths and weaknesses. This comic displays that well. Here's a rather arcane problem that arose within science, a problem whose derivation would (even nowadays) require graduate-level E&M and statistical mechanics training, based on a measurement that's way beyond the capabilities of any undergraduate lab. So, practically speaking, if you pursue a career in physics you have to take both the fact that a crisis existed in the first place, and the fact that the measurements of blackbody radiation gave unpredicted results, on authority. (You could look up the derivation and the data, but what good is that without understanding?) I have to resist the urge to make a parody of that comic which reads, "Science: If you had six-plus years of specialized training you'd know that it works, bitches."

However, the broader problem here is that Munroe speaks from a standpoint in which science is ideology. That standpoint allows him to write comics like this, complete with imagery that's Nietzschian in its arrogance. His is a worldview in which creationists and conspiracy theorists are deadly foes in need of battling, rather than comparatively unimportant manifestations of a much broader (culture of) ignorance. It's a worldview whose inhabitants can find this satisfying as a comic. This gets on my nerves because I think it's bad to turn science into ideology.

Oh well, I can at least get some smugness from the fact that I know more math and physics than Munroe does. (Seriously, his most sophisticated math jokes are about Laplace transforms. That's not even graduate level.)

Maybe I should gripe about the art some. It seems like Munroe actually tried to expand his abilities as an artist in the early stages of the strip, but nowadays he's content to pump out another shaded mountain every few months to keep the apologists fed. Although gender ambiguity being a fearful thing even in a stick-figure comic, you can recognize women by their hair.

As far as his sense of wonder is concerned... the best way I can summarize it is that it is safely confined. In XKCD, wonder is not something capable of transfiguring (revealing a new aspect of, renewing the beauty of) the everyday, but something that occurs away from the world, something that leaves it behind and thus leaves it (or rather its standing description and/or (mis)understanding) unchallenged. It's the wonder of a grade-school child, who builds a fantasy world inaccessible to adults, yet unknowingly populates that world with nothing but the tropes and archetypes built by those adults' preoccupations... a child who shows his affection for his heroes by turning them into ninjas and spies. (There's much more that can be said about XKCD's childishness... its frequent return to juvenile taunts as a subject in need of undermining, for instance.) It's the wonder of waking up before the dawn, admiring the sunrise, then spending the rest of the day exactly as anyone else does. It's the wonder of building a ball pit in your room in which to trade quotes from pop culture. It's the wonder of a person for whom a lack of philosophical introspection is scary, but taking that introspection seriously is scarier. Munroe is honest enough (and he's very, very honest, I think) that "ha ha only serious" moments frequently show up in which wonder appears, is given its minute, and is then put back into its drawer by the punchline: here and here are two good examples. I think it's rather telling that the comic's single most profound vision occurred as a sketch drawn in boredom... as the extra title is quick to tell you, as though Munroe were trying to excuse himself.

Wonder, like love, does not flourish within ideology.
2010-11-22 10:11 pm

Scraps: "Seeking my black hen"

Our ideas require upkeep.

A new perspective may be found (during a journey, say) but not taught. Instruction cannot change a person's position.

...not an inversion but a refiguring of values...

One ascribes those feats of learning to genius so as not to learn from their example.

If you are inept at metaphor, you will be inept at morality. During my life in graduate school a certain bad metaphor masqueraded as a theory, but I wish to say nothing about it besides the fact that my thoughts are considerably more advanced than viruses or bacteria.

I think that no important activity ever disappears from human life. Though for me cultivation has become figurative, it has lost few of its characteristics.

I recognize five successively rare levels of understanding of a subject, as a person in turn becomes able to use it, explain it, justify it, make it funny, and reveal its beauty.

My writing style involves the selective defiance of grammar.

Yet there are some who cannot commit to ambiguity: they mean a part of what their words do. I revel in ambiguity, straining to exhaust my meaning, and I exhaust myself in the process.

Aye, you gazed long into the abyss, but you flinched when the abyss found you adorable.

Ethics cannot be practiced as though it were a skill.

Superiority is the enemy of mastery.

During my last semester as an undergraduate I earned an infinity in a geometry class, and I have been spending it ever since.

Schedule ourselves as we try, we will always have our days and our nights.

Many times I had to struggle between inspiration and responsibility: to decide between a steady light and a distant, intermittent sound. By my tracks you may trace such decisions.

Boredom is a sin against intelligence: thus are our schools something diabolic.

But I would rather be as eccentric as Mercury, so that higher laws may be discovered in my orbit.

I complicate my ideas in order to not lose them during the trip.

I've asked some of my best questions while tired. Exhaustion is particularly useful when I forget that an assurance is less than an answer.

What one doesn't understand seems like a ritual, and what one misunderstands seems feigned.

After doing so much algebra, /* referring here to the elementary textbooks */ the experience would flow beyond the time spent in front of book and paper. I found my steps forming the rudiments of something that resembled dance, as I gave a tiny joyful dip every time I inverted a rational function, or drew back slightly, as though from a sudden, light impact, every time I cancelled a factor. Of course, one can distinguish between dance and play. By this point I could take multiple steps inside my head, so the pen restrained my body only intermittently. Beyond even that buoyant stage, the actions would enter my dreams themselves, and in doing so exhaust me far more than the waking practice. The night presented me with some formidable task, I think an operation on two functions with a half-dozen factors total; however, the coefficients were nebulous things that sometimes changed during the calculation, so that I always discovered a mistake before completing the problem. Thus I would ceaselessly calculate until morning, never solving the problem. I once regarded such dreams as a kind of nightmare, but now I recognize them to be my most advanced variety of practice -- the most advanced because they invariably leave me exhausted the next day. Dreams such as these make my methods reflexive. The exhaustion they bring is a low price for the permanency and quickness of skill attained with their help.

To acquire a skill, practice it while awake. To acquire a talent, practice it in your dreams.

Some people think that if the fox is immoral, the rooster is thereby moral. Rather, the import there is that in some relationships -- call them hierarchical -- either or neither party, but not both, can be ethical. We vie over everything valuable, morality included.

It is a poor experimentalist who sees only with his eyes.

I do not know why I hate silence. I have cultivated such rare talents to direct against silence, talents such as eloquence, rigor, expressiveness, even volume -- but there always exists a silence greater than I can break. When I find myself alone in basements and tunnels, or rather places of resonance, I sing. I voice myself and can thus accompany myself, but I can only do so while my voice holds out. A greater silence draws me out of every hiding, home and history included. Even if to nobody: what am I when I am exposed?

I savor fear: it sharpens my senses.

Nevertheless, I have to explore my foundations, locked, guarded and policed though they are.

I would tell you to study yourself, except I do not know whether you would do so in a school or in a college. For twelve years the magisters tried to convince me that learning is painful; fortunately, what I learned is that some suffer to know.

I once wondered what it would be like to be diagonalized. She or I, but not both, could bring my own values to the center and leave me otherwise empty. Whose basis am I now in? Whose basis might I be?

...to take my expansion to the next higher order, though the new term may prove too complicated.

...my joy: developing the rudiments of the ethical geometry in solitude, and applying them in friendship...

...a man of small angles and small deviations. He was a special case of himself. Eventually a final approximation had been made, putting him in exact form, a human being who could be solved. But has the equation of your life been written yet?

...and I spent a year of winter without friends. Everything bright in me turned colors of flames then fell away. In response to false springs I have bloomed irrationally.

My friends are something heroic: they have slain monsters in me.

My friends have sometimes been hurt by my words, and perhaps I will someday help them to heal. Etymologically, to write is to wound, and to read is to counsel. But what business do you have with your words' history?

...speaking to each other in concepts of endearment...

What others call comfort I name calm. (Have we existed together inside, and safe from, a storm?)

I always fall in a straight line. Once I learned that the landings became easier.

I can recognize a mood that a person rarely experiences by the stiffness of its (his?) expression.

:I once wondered at the disparity between thinking and doing in a certain essay.: There comes a time in every thinker's life when he commits to a greater task than he can achieve. When you spend much more time thinking than doing -- and that is not a bad thing! -- then you "do" unreasonably.

Most of us would correct, but not teach, someone we dislike. People will often learn more from your lessons than you want them to.

I walked all paths but arrived by one, which I call my own.

Stupidity is more complex than brilliance, but brilliant people do not like to acknowledge that fact.

Wonder is the easiest emotion to exploit.

:Take this paragraph apart.: I carried four white, male, and for the most part dead philosophers to Austin, namely Austin himself, Cavell, Thoreau, and Emerson. Austin taught me that I do in saying, and moreover do in writing. Cavell steals raccoon-like into grand and secure abodes, where I, with lesser dexterity, have often followed. Emerson shows me the greed and appetite of profuse thinkers. Finally, Thoreau I can call a philosopher without reservation. I love physics, so I refused to carry a history of philosophy to Austin, though after moving there I discovered that I had packed one away irregardless. I am a graduate student, not a philosopher, but I still cannot avoid philosophy: it is in my way.

Every action can be done ethically, but that does not mean every action should be done ethically. Not everything can be significant.

Often I mean myself. How could I communicate otherwise?

A good reason to understand the laws of physics is to weaken the laws of humanity.

The people in first-tier schools have more talent, those in the second-tier more dignity, and those in the third-tier more kindness than the remainder.

I dearly enjoy living as a counterexample to many a contemporary thesis.

I have sometimes felt betrayed by a friend. That is another reason for gratitude. Everything coming from humanity comes better from a friend.

Extreme moods are not conveyed well in extreme terms.

I can never be completely true to my capacity for reason, just as I can never completely honor what is good in me, and can never be completely faithful to what I am.

The art of thinking is to converse with yourself in a single identity, an identity you cannot be given.

Midnight: Who scattered the seeds of wisdom in such a cruel pattern? So that now beauty and wisdom only grow together in walled gardens, and the seeds that grow in city streets and urban cracks are gassed, trampled and hated? We hate urban wisdom. It grows in the cracks in us: it decays us. From the highest points of our structures we rage at what we overshadow. There are internal catastrophes waiting to happen, when what is loftiest in us will most surely collapse.

How shall we create ourselves?
2010-11-20 03:09 pm

Scraps: "Continuity"

I should speak with joy of the sudden appearance, of the beauty of an angle unanticipated. Do I?

I love this world. What is my love? Can I in any sense call it returned?

How do I make myself understood? I have complicated the task in the pursuit of density of meaning. My excuses are insufficient in the face of my friends' bafflement: I write for myself, yes, but in writing for them I also write for myself.

My disappointment needs expressing too.

I do not want to mask my vanity, my arrogance or my mediocrity. The effort spent in concealing them would be better spent undercutting them.

I maintain the continuity chiefly through text, and I measure the starts and ends of the stages of myself by specific acts of writing. The first essay from my past that I still read (from twelve years ago) seems like a refusal spoken through clenched teeth, saying that I will not yield who I am to circumstance. Call it a Declaration of Identity, written with the intent to fight. Next come my draconic rambles, coincident with my discovery of philosophy, slowly growing in length and complexity over the course of six isolated years. The most significant among them were the report on the discovery of flight (something that still resides in my list of values), an essay on being obligated to one's ideas (like the earlier declaration, a recurrent provocation of myself), and an enormous, impenetrable work on emotions (written as my ability to control those emotions reached its extremum).

Starting with a footnote on the death of my draconity, the next period of writing was an exploitation and sublimation of my capacity for insanity, in which density of meaning became my chief goal. The pieces standing out here are the mentioned footnote, a startled placing of myself bodily into the domain of ideas, a paean to my friends in which each received a paragraph, and a somber derivation of how little separation remained between me and insanity. Afterwards there were some pieces on writing, which now read to me like a slow recovery. And at present there is the project of giving form to my values, and thus form to myself, a slow process.

Continuity and convolution go hand in hand, I think. It is only a complex creature in whom portions can die without killing the whole. But the fight to define myself is over: there no longer remains any external agency which can obscure my sense of myself, now that I have faced all of the most powerful effacers of an identity, schizophrenia included.

I am misunderstood -- well then! -- am I prey to my friends' errors? Or are they merely one element of our interaction, one very finite element? I should not let my continuity be severed by anything so simple as my writing style.

If I have lived sincerely, it must have been in a distant land to you.
2010-11-16 04:39 am

Scraps: "Apathy"

Wisdom is an eloquence of action. A single action is no more wise than a single word is eloquent.

...And I believe that cleverness may serve as a template for wisdom.

Nothing is essentially a vice.

The Friday before last, I spent some time with Dr. Rindler, the man who had been my mentor in Dallas, who had provided many good conversations about physics, indulged me in my notion of completeness, and demanded explanations from the top tier graduate schools when they rejected me. I spent much of the first thirty minutes of this long overdue conversation on the edge of tears, wanting desperately to tell him that I am thriving in graduate school, but constrained by honesty to tell him I am lucky. One question nearly made me break down: he asked, "Do the people here realize how special you are?" But I have not yet lived up to the promise of myself.
2010-11-14 11:12 pm

Scraps: "Happiness"

Note: I'm just grabbing the most interesting and/or coherent parts from these abandoned text files and deleting the rest. Don't expect it all to be stuff I still believe... or even, for that matter, stuff I can still explain. :P

It has been the mistake of everyone cradling a new insight, everyone who has followed a new path to its end, to stand in that new place and claim happiness.

Happiness is structural. It is an emotional correspondence to the relationships between one's parts and one's whole. What are the kinds of unhappiness, then...

It is a petty set of constraints under which can a life be optimized.

One can never go so astray as one can in adopting a metaphor.

The question of happiness is now an abusive one. To ask after happiness is to advance a two-pronged scrutiny, half of the scrutiny the probing of the questioner, who after all must have a reason to ask, and half the sudden need of the person asked to both evaluate and express himself. Are you happy? And can you ask the question without every answer preemptively rejected?
2010-11-14 01:02 am

Scraps: "A Number of Days"

Ecstasy, low happiness, joy, exultation, satisfaction.

I sought the sky tonight. I sought the clearer darkness away from the city, to find stars more distant, and there I found myself in a broad sky looking up, thinking that in ecstacy there is need for such vastness. Around my teeth and tongue I rolled the new knowledge, what soon after moving I had suspected would be: that I am now happier than I have ever been in my life. Though still lonely, still a creature whose paths traverse emptiness. I should fill that void by traversing its entirety, but a needed rotation intervenes. I am sorry you stars my friends, but I need the daytime as well!

...that my triumph is not mine alone: that this is a happiness of the time after an end, after a landing. I cannot claim it as mine because I am already beyond it.

...finding a place of beauty, to prowl there... I can only rediscover joy.
2010-11-13 08:20 pm

Abandoning a project

A couple of years ago I realized that I was using this journal to write myself, and made that endeavor an explicit project. [1] That was a mistake, and I am abandoning the project. I'm not abandoning the aspiration of creating myself through my writing, which will remain, but rather the ambition of doing so in a systematic manner.

Two realizations spurred this decision. First, for a few years now I have rarely been able to find my words. I thought this was just a side effect of a difficult, crisis-ridden graduate school career. No doubt that played a part in the loss, but now I think it is also a result of misunderstanding the circumstances in which I could find words... I saw that in using them I was creating, and assumed thereby that I was in control of that creation. Second, the degree to which I can shape myself is more limited than I had thought. I recently made a huge change in my life, switching the advisor I work under in graduate school to one much more suited to my interests, abilities, and temperament. This change came only after I was pushed to an emotional extreme, dug in my heels, and thought to myself, "I will not adapt."

I had misinterpreted the success of the previous periods of my life as matters of successful adaptation. I started out high school skipping classes profusely and receiving multiple suspensions, and ended it a top student who could redesign his classes on request, at last taking twenty AP tests over two weeks. [2] I started out college a socially inept, mediocre student who did not actually know how to study, and (after a thorough breakdown) ended it taking and acing eight classes per semester while also keeping a healthy social life. When my first few years of graduate school were also rough, I figured that, while I was slow to adapt, I eventually did so more fully than most, and simply had to wait for the adaptation. Yet the single act I've done so far to best improve my life in graduate school was a matter of refusing to adapt, a matter of changing my circumstances rather than changing myself.

Refusing to adapt requires a major change in the way that I think about myself. In particular, I don't know to what extent I can write myself, what I can and cannot give form via words. Looking at the way my project was structured reveals that I planned too much, that I assumed an endless plasticity in myself... it was as though I had undertook not only to create myself as a piece of writing, but also to create the language in which I would be written. But I can't do the latter. At best, I can learn that language in which I can be written, [3] but I have to take it as something beyond my control.

Not that I have much left to do in place of the project. I dislike talking about the mundane details of my life, a dislike which won't soon fade. I do like talking about, reconstructing, significant events from my past (you can see a few of these reconstructions immediately below), so there will be some of those. Occasionally there are segments of conversations with friends that I find worth sharing, and I'll continue to do that as well. This is a good practice, as I suspect that the language I'll need to write myself is exactly the language in which I can converse with my friends. Also, over the next few days I will comb the files of the abandoned project and post the worthwhile fragments. Beyond that, I'll be at a loss, without a clear idea of what to write, except that it should no longer be systematic, and that (following the previous post) I don't need to hold it to quite such high standards.

In the spirit of greater conversation, I'll ask those of you who made it this far: do you recommend anyone on Dreamwidth for me to add to my reading list? I have been a bit slow in expanding my social circle here.

[1] "Writing myself" isn't so much a metaphor as a system of metaphors, like my "ecosystem picture" from a few entries down. Ask and I'll point you to relevant entries, but I don't want to explain this concept in detail right now.

[2] And I made the top score on twelve, failing only one, winning all sorts of silly awards as a result. This is, oddly, the first time I have told this fact to friends... there's no way to say it without bragging, and I am ashamed of bragging. But I would rather be ashamed than keep secrets.

[3] Which is English, yes, though not all English. But a good writer never stops learning the language in which he writes.
2010-11-12 05:20 pm

(no subject)

Something a friend said in conversation yesterday: "Our need for social interaction outstrips our ability to provide meaningful content." I think this is a good maxim for me, specifically, to keep in mind.
2010-09-28 10:54 am

(no subject)

No, I didn't get shot.

Unrelatedly, my attitude toward Livejournal has softened a little. The advertisements still annoy me tremendously, and I plan to keep all my useful writing on the Dreamwidth account. However, I won't delete the LJ posts, and I will post mundane updates giving the details of my life on both journals, when I resume writing them. I think I'm some, uh, thirty-something months late on those.

Edit, April 2012: I'm back to being pissed off at the site. I hope you die, Livejournal.