Luminary Perspective

March 23, 2006

Give Me Liberty!

Filed under: Spiritual Growth — Luke @ 12:15 pm

Liberty is more than getting to do what you want. It is having a system of rules in which it is safe to do what you want. Plenty of tribal cultures have existed where you could do what you wanted, but it was not very safe to do so. People doing what they wanted, often found themselves at odds with their neighbor who wanted to do the opposite.

Having it safe to do what you want can be very simple. As long as what you want harms nobody else, leaves them free to follow their conscience, and does not permit them to harm themselves or others in a major way, it is fairly safe to do it. Part of the picture is thus to remove the “want” to do something that violates the liberty of others.

That is why Christianity is so good. It gives us rules to keep from hurting others badly, and it also gives us a mechanism to conquor persistent unconscious desires that are contrary to that purpose. That is what the Cross is about, stopping the urges we have to hurt others, and preventing them as much as humanly possible from being acted out.

In the past, many have misunderstood this purpose. They believed that the Cross was merely to remind us of our incurable and wretched state, which only death frees us from. That may be fine for a culture of serfs and slaves to believe, but it is not how a free country operates. It was certainly not the intent of the Gospel writers. The Cross exists to free us of our hurtful instincts and habits, which is what lets us live freely. We do need to face them squarely, but as victorious folk with real power to overcome.


Relational Knowledge

When you learn a new skill, it is similar to getting to know a human being. There is an entire set of knowledge that you acquire about the subject area, and things that you must experience to fully grasp. Like human relationships, more time spent means a closer bond with the subject. Also similarly, there are ways to make friends and ways to approach a subject that are more effective than others.

You need to find common interests and common goals to make friends. It is likewise good to find some existing area of personal interest that a subject incorporates or expands, and to take a close look at the various goals you have which it has potential to help you achieve.

Knowledge is your friend. It can also help you make friends, just like having friends can help you make more friends. It gives you something to talk about, and it gives you power and abilitites that impress people favourably. All these are advantages of friendship as well.

Thus when I think of knowledge in terms of a relational database in my mind, it is more than a mechanism. It is more like a relationship.

Music and Intelligence

Is it true that musical ability and (measurable) intelligence are linked? I believe this is correct. Music involves combinations of both similarity-based association and rhythmic association. From these two come the ability to reason more quickly and filter out distractions, which (in human minds) causes the phenomenon we know as intelligence.

A tune without rhythm, or rhythm without a tune, is not music at all. That is to say, you can produce very subtle rhythms or tunes, but if it is absent or completely undetectable, it is impossible to recognise as music.

Musical ability has a lot to do with distinguishing nice sounding notes from bad sounding notes. To do this, a catalogue of nice sounds must be kept in long-term memory for easy access and precise comparison. This is completely unconscious for most musicians, but so is mathematical ability for most mathematicians.

Another distinguishing feature with musicians is the ability to determine tempo easily. This is something that is also completely unconscious, or must be practiced until it becomes so. It has to do with counting time intervals precisely and being able to determine at a given moment exactly how many intervals have passed. The mathematician faces a similar challenge in balancing equations, because he has mastered the art of translating symbols to past, present, and future terms.

Thus I think musicians train in quite similar skills, and possibly identical neurological structures, to those used by master mathematicians, as well as any other endeavour of the mind. There is always a use for “tempo” and “pitch” in learning a new skill. Intelligent people who are not good at music are likely capable of becoming so if they are willing to adapt, and it also makes sense to think that those not gifted with high intelligence will find their mental capacity to expand with musical practice.

Rational or Irrational?

Filed under: Accelerated Learning, Efficiency, Motivation, Spiritual Growth — Luke @ 11:22 am

There are words which in technical terminology have a definite meaning, but in the everyday universe of human lives, are highly subjective. For example, if you make a decision based on a gut instinct, is it rational?

We usually think of a rational decision to be based on logic. A gut instinct is not consciously based on logic, so it is not consciously rational by that definition. However, when you look closer you generally find that a gut instinct is actually based on information acquired from a variety of sources, added together in a logical way. That makes it rational by that definition.

Furthermore, if a person has a good ability to make instinctive judgments and those serve them well over the course of a lifetime, they might come to depend on them. That is a rational choice, because it makes logical sense to do things using a tried and true method.

Ultimately, everything is rational. However there are scales of increasing complexity that come into play, and there are parts of the mental processes that shuttle around extremely high information densities. It’s unsurprising that we don’t always percieve our thoughts as being rational. But every instinct that is programmed into us has a good logical purpose once you understand it.

March 22, 2006

Store-Bought Meat

Filed under: Motivation, Spiritual Growth — Luke @ 12:30 pm

I have been giving some thought to avoiding store bought meat. We have a whole recently butchered pig in the freezer, which was corn-fed it’s entire life and humanely slaughtered. I don’t feel guilty about eating it. However, when I think about the likelihood that the beef, pork, chicken, and turkey from the store was raised by a factory-farm optimized for profit at the expense of the animal’s comfort, it makes me a bit uneasy.

Capitalism has advantages, but it has it’s disadvantages as well. One of these is that where living creatures are concerned, it rewards the farmer who figures the most ingenious way to fatten them up for slaughter quicker and cheaper, over the farmer who keeps them comfortable and healthy.

Unfortunately, most of the time organically grown meat is sold for around $6/lb. I would prefer to be vegetarian or vegan, rather than pay that kind of money. The pig we recently had some friends help us slaughter and butcher was about $0.50/lb, plus labor. It goes to show how much better of a deal you can get if you are willing to do some of the work. It is also an advantage of living in the country.

What bugs me about eating animals which have been forced to suffer discomfort for economic reasons, is that I believe God cares about me. It stands to reason (particularly in light of certain scriptures) that He would care at least to some meaningful degree about animals as well, and that if they are being tortured as a result of my economic decisions, it is displeasing to Him.

Aside from that, there are health reasons (injected hormones, high-disease conditions, feeding of mammal parts, mad cow disease) and conscience. I don’t want more on my conscience than is necessary. Not eating tortured animals will likely reduce the subconscious temptation to turn a blind eye towards the suffering of humans.

H store-bought meat
U  cheapest way not always healthy : unpleasant conditions often used
M spiritual consequences
A  mistreating animals is sinful : supporting sin is also wrong
N alternatives
E  humanely raised animals : vegetarian : vegan

Hating Tolkein

Filed under: Spiritual Growth, Writing & Education — Luke @ 11:32 am

I just realised something. I hate Tolkein. Well, his books anyway. Kind of. Millions of grown adults worldwide are totally in awe of this man’s fiction series, but it is all a pure dumb fantasy. A bunch of untrue stories about wierd creatures and fantastic coincidences. They never existed outside the imagination, and the outcome of their imaginary actions will affect no one. And yet, when reading the books (or even watching the movies) it’s hard not to like them.

The first book is about a hobbit. Hobbits are little human-like critters with furry feet and a horrible tendancy to overeat and gossip. Nonetheless, they are supposed to be great farmers and burglers. The main character is always complaining throughout the book, eventually stealing a ring which gives him the magic power of invisibility. Every foe he encounters in a group is either a foolish-yet-good (elves, men, dwarves) or an unquestionably bad group of people (spiders, goblins). Two shady characters encountered are Smaug the dragon, and Gollum the mysterious cave-creature. Gandalf the Wizard is an infallible authority figure who helps him along the way.

The second book, or rather series of books, takes this world and treats it ten times more seriously. Suddenly, there are about five heroes, plus a few side characters who either are weak and become strong, or fall and get redeemed in various ways. The trouble is it is so magical and non-rational that it doesn’t teach a solid moral message. Instead of showing how real people fall into temptation and get redeemed, it instead vividly shows how fantasy people fall and get redeemed. By Magic.

The One Ring is used as a kind of catch-all plot device that makes people fall to temptation or darkness for reasons completely magical. A thematic explanation is provided, but it is not one that translates to anything in the real world. Gandalf is tempted to take the ring and use it to do good, but decides that doing so would lead (in no uncertain terms) to him becoming evil. Galadriel and Aragorn experience the same temptation. No logical reason is actually given for them to know this to be the case — they just know it because they are the good guys and it would be the end of the story if they did.

This misrepresents how people are really tempted and really overcome it. Temptation comes from very mundane sources. Things around us provoke irrational responses, and we are tempted to act on those. The only way to really overcome temptation is to gain a better real understanding of the area of temptation, and fund out why it is really wrong to give in. It is not to use catch-all phrases and meaningless platitudes to cover your ignorance.

L misrepresents temptation, redemption
O  magical source of temptation : redemption also comes magically
T real temptation, redemption 
R  misunderstanding produces temptation : understanding brings lasting repentance

Overwriting Bad Habits

Filed under: Efficiency, Motivation, Spiritual Growth — Luke @ 1:48 am

In life we tend to follow patterns. Most of them we are not conscious of. I used to think my life unstructured, yet I spent a good deal of time in repetitive, unproductive actions such as habitual procrastination, daydreaming, playing computer games, and watching movies. Now I have consciously restructured my life to where I clean up, go to bed at the same time, eat regular meals, and often do chores that are “not my job”. These are now habits, and often happen without my thinking of them, or with very minimal conscious thought. I still have a good many improvements left to make, but these are encouraging to me.

The secret to forming a habit to perfection is said to be to do it for at least 28 days straight. If you can do the same thing for a month, it becomes a habit. This refers to it going into your long-term memory where you don’t hardly think about it. Your short term memory, of the past 3 days or so, is sensitive to much shorter repetitions. If you blog one morning for the first time, it is likely that the next morning you will think of whether you want to do it again. If you follow through, then the third morning it is even more easy to remember.

Breaking undesirable habits is the same way. Earlier this month I had a webcomic addiction. I would visit 5-10 sites with daily updating strips, and read them. Then one day while brainstorming about a blog entry, I had the bright idea that I could quit reading them without missing them, simply allocate a day or two at the beginning of each month to catch up. Reading the comics daily was a bad habit, but reading them monthly would not be so bad. For the rest of the month, I would have all that time (and mental workspace) free to work on blogging instead.

For the first few days after that, kept getting urges to connect and read the comics. But I was able to prevent myself from doing so, and remember my commitment, because I had aleady abstained from reading them the previous day. This gave momentum towards the new “break the habit” pattern I was introducing. Since that first day, I have not looked at a webcomic. I typed urls for them a few times, but always closed the window before it loaded.

Part of what helped me introduce that “breaking” pattern was the introduction of the blogging pattern, with which I associated breaking the bad habit. However, I think part of what I used to introduce the blogging pattern was the pre-existing webcomic-reading pattern. I realised that the act of sitting and writing at a computer is not much different from sitting and reading at a computer, and since I was doing one on a highly consistent daily basis it wasn’t near as much work to introduce the other. In short, I was able to leverage the bad habit’s rhythm into the creation of a similar-yet-better habit, and this in turn helped me break the bad habit.

O habits
V  everyone has them : not always good : necessary for growth
E bad habits
R  usually not consciously acquired : have rhythm
W good habits
R  need rhythm : usually acquired consciously
I switching
T  start with both at once : establish good one, then break bad one

March 21, 2006

Thoughts on Rhythm

The more I think about it, the more it seems like rhythm is the ultimate key to hacking our wetware. The flow of ideas and thoughts inside us is based to a large degree on timed functions. All you have to do is synchronize them properly and they can accomplish anything that is possible for a mind to accomplish.

Rhythm reduces the amount of energy that it takes for the mind to accomplish a particular task. A non-repeating beat is never as easy to process as a repeating one. However that is not to say perfect rhythm is the only thing that is useful in life. Often it helps to break a flawed pattern. However, this only works if there are sufficient resources available to correct it.

Thus, it is good to start with with a rhythm until sufficient resources exist to handle a break, then locate a flaw and temporarily break the rhythm over it. This is a really basic principle.

R mental
H  composed of timed functions : rhythm synchronizes
Y social
T  people expect rhythmic behaviour : schedules, ideas synchronize
H flaws in a pattern
M  may be ignored for a time : must be confronted at the right time
I repeating patterns
C  build energy : permit growth : not always perfect

Growing Worms

Filed under: Business, Efficiency, Spiritual Growth, Technical — Luke @ 10:56 am

Last summer, we had the bright idea to purchase some red worms. The little critters are fairly hardy, but even so we thought we lost them last winter when the bin froze solid. Well, this spring I dug around in the bin and it turns out there are several breeding adults still alive in there. Apparently they either grew from eggs, or survived freezing.

I like worms. They are nature’s farmers, constantly plowing and fertilizing the soil. Nightcrawlers are about 5-10 inches long, and plow deep burrows into the subsoil. They come out at night to find any food lying about, then pull it down and eat it. They also leave some of their castings on the surface where it buries loose rocks and fertilizes surface plants. Their tendancy to dig deeply makes them a tree’s best friend, because the roots of trees need spaces to grow into and ways for water and air to pass through the soil.

Red worms are different from night crawlers, because they are smaller and require a higher carbohydrate intake to survive. They thrive on manure piles and rotting vegetable matter, and reproduce quite a bit faster. This is the kind we have in our worm bin. We feed them coffee grounds and table scraps, along with rotting leaves and such for bedding. Our current bin is half of a plastic 55-gallon drum with holes in the bottom for drainage. I am planning to make a larger one by stacking some tires on top of each other.

Not only are worms good for the soil, they make great fishing bait. Red wrigglers are popular because they wriggle around more than nightcrawlers. They (and/or their castings) should be fairly easy to sell if we can get them to reproduce enough.

W red worms
O  reproduce fast : eat high-calorie stuff : small
R night crawlers
M  come out at night : dig deep burrows : greatly improve soil
B worm growing
I  use red worms : feed table scraps : need bin with drainage

March 20, 2006

Churning out “The Stuff”

I have just not been getting as much done as easily lately. Some days writing 5 medium-sized posts is easy, others it’s hard. Today, I just want to stop and do nothing. But I know if I do that it will cost me in terms of will-power and discipline in the long run.

Today I have written two. They weren’t bad, but could have been better. To all my loyal readers, I thank you for your patience. I will try again to get my writing style down to improve. It won’t be easy, but that isn’t the point. The point is it will be harder to do what I want in life if I quit.

In a way, it’s a good sign that I’m getting discouraged and frustrated. It means I am challenging myself. If I had stuck with an easy rate, I wouldn’t be growing. The longer I stick with this rate, the more growth I will achieve, and the more likely that I will get to a point where this is “too easy”, even on a daily basis. Perhaps then I can double up and make it really hard on myself. 😉

W Hitting the wall
O  5 posts is overwhelming today : yet not impossible
R Skills take time
K  challenging rate is hard : unchallenging rate won't bring growth
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