tag:worthywords.posthaven.com,2013:/posts Word of the Week 2016-12-27T22:00:50Z About tag:worthywords.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1075233 2016-12-27T21:58:24Z 2016-12-27T22:00:50Z Heroin

What feelings lie within the story of Jonah and his whale? On the surface there is horror, but, as George Orwell argued, there lies beneath the horror a deeper current of feeling, one predominated by envy. A half-suppressed wish to trade places with Jonah and to take with acceptance what he fled from in terror. To surrender all worldly agency and concern, to give up on responsibility, to retreat within a small and private world and to there while away all the long hours of this life in perfect comfort and pointlessness. 

Much of the horror genre follows this pattern, a veneer of fear layered over an appealing fantasy of greater or lesser anti-social character, and for the story of Jonah it is the appeal of whale as womb. The siren song of warm oblivion. The song that, as Margaret Atwood put it, "forces men to leap overboard in squadrons even though they see the beached skulls." In our current age it is heroin that sings to us this song.

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tag:worthywords.posthaven.com,2013:Post/944742 2015-12-11T23:32:40Z 2015-12-11T23:32:40Z Movie

An inherently funny word, movie. We have this new invention by which pictures are made to move, moving pictures we call it, but that's a little long and lacks the catchiness so important when trying to sell the public on innovation and so overtime the phrase shortens to the brilliantly playful 'movie.' But playful isn't always what we want, especially when the 'we' refers to critics whose careers depend on extolling the potential for movies as Art with a capital A. 

There are alternatives. Film sounds suitably portentous but becomes more inaccurate day by day. Cinema is best, burying its functional equivalence to 'movie' under the academic camouflage of Greek (kinema meaning movement). The only problem being that the word cinema, while ostensibly referring to the movies themselves, has rather inextricably come to refer to the theaters that show the movies. In fact, the whole business of movies shows a certain confusion in this regard. Cinema is the biggest offender but the entire language suffers a general vagueness when it comes to separating the film, if you'll excuse the archaism, from its customary viewing area. The reason why is plain after a little thought. In days gone by the theater and the film truly were inseparable. Unlike music or plays the only way that a moving picture could be experienced was inside a darkened room equipped with the host of technical requirements. There was only one way to see a movie and that was to go to the movies. What is remarkable is how this connection has not yet passed out of consciousness. Even in todays world of home video the cinema and its theater remain incredibly linked.

So why do movie theaters still exist? What is the attraction that brings people out of their homes, through traffic, past the prohibitively expensive gate and into the seats? What does the theater give? The answer is threefold: It produces a trance like experience, allowing us to momentarily divorce ourselves from the innumerable distractions normally filling our lives. It bestows a communal experience, letting us share experience of emotions with another group of humans, even though communication during the experience is heavily discouraged. Finally, it offers people the chance to give their money in service of something they believe in. This last may seem ridiculous but I could point to numerous article arguing that we ought to lend our support, through ticket sales, toward one kind of filmmaking or another. That there is a market for these articles proves that monetary sacrifice toward a higher goal is a factor, though probably a minor one, behind ticket sales. Trance, community, and sacrifice. What do these three things add up to? Well, when one consider them functionally it becomes obvious what niche movie theaters fill in our culture. They're churches. Churches to cinema, the great religion of our day.

What is a religion other than a set of stories that serve to give our lives meaning, provide succor in times of need, and create a sense of community between people who would otherwise have nothing in common? It's possible that Star Wars alone serves these functions for more people than many major religions. Even the way the popularity of movies has spread across the globe mirrors that of religion, diffusing into foreign places through the building of churches coupled with aggressive advertising. All backed by a staggering amount of money in the hopes of making even more money. Though, if criticized on that front they can always say that while it's true the new markets will make them an ungodly amount of money, the true purpose is to spread the joy of what they sell. Today they're even undergoing something of a Reformation thanks to the revolutionary technology of streaming services which, like the printing press of the 15th century, has been slowly but surely eroding the importance of churches and the traditional, ecclesiastical power structures behind them.

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tag:worthywords.posthaven.com,2013:Post/939743 2015-11-27T01:29:10Z 2016-02-21T21:46:34Z Leaflet

Once upon a time the humble leaflet was the dominant form of public discourse.  From the fifteen to seventeen hundreds matters of religion and policy were debated through the proliferation of thousands of vitrolic pamphlets. When the Seven Years War was winding down and Britain felt sure of its victory over France there was considerable debate over which colony they would take for their own. Some wanted to seize the island of Guadeloupe and its considerable wealth in sugar. Others thought they should seize Canada and its vast tracts of lands. Both sides printed a steady stream of leaflets arguing their points. Near the end of this pamphlet war one final argument was made for Guadeloupe. If England were to seize Canada, the argument went, then the American colonies would no longer have the looming presence of France to fear. Without that fear and the consequent need for British protection the colonies might feel themselves self sufficient and attempt to seize independence. Despite this argument, Canada was indeed the choice made. A little over ten years later another pamphlet was made and circulated throughout the Thirteen Colonies. It was Common Sense by Thomas Paine and its arguments for independence fueled the fires of rebellion, inspiring thousands to join with Washington and the other American elite in fighting against British rule. A few simple pages can change the world.

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tag:worthywords.posthaven.com,2013:Post/938612 2015-11-24T22:56:12Z 2016-02-21T21:45:07Z Evidence

When Democritus proposed that the universe is composed of atoms or when Ibn Kahldun theorized that humans came from a gradual, generational transformation of monkeys they were both astoundingly correct. Both ideas turn out to be true, but both are in some ways simply lucky. Today we admire these men and their ideas because we value are ideas in the marketplace of evidence and it so happens that today we have mountains of evidence backing up both of these claims. This hasn't been the case for most of history. When these ideas were proposed they were not competing in a marketplace of evidence, they were competing in the marketplace of truthiness. Truthiness, a brilliant word gifted to us by the great Stephen Colbert, being exactly that quality of an idea that makes it feel true without the need for any evidence backing it up. 

While the theories of Democritus and Kahldun gained a degree of acceptance in their time, along with a degree of infamy, they were both eventually reduced to footnotes of history precisely because, while considered interesting, their truthiness value was low. It was only when humanity began shopping for ideas based on the quality of evidence that these theories were rediscovered and received the success they deserved. That shift of marketplaces, when humanity decided that an idea must be tested against the world and not just within the confines of our own minds, was one of the most momentous and beneficial in our history. But the old marketplace didn't go away. It's still there, and we must always be wary of those attempting to bring us back to the old and shiesty bazaar of mere believability.

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tag:worthywords.posthaven.com,2013:Post/934492 2015-11-17T03:32:14Z 2016-02-21T21:43:07Z Backing

Do you have backing? It's one of the most crucial questions in life. Anyone can be a maverick, anyone can shout their lone opinion against the overwhelming resistance or worse, apathy, of the world. Every street corner doomsayer does that. But to have backing, that is to have convinced at least one person that your not crazy. That your shouting reason and not madness. It is of course no guarantee that this is the case. While there are no street corner doomsayers with backing, there are plenty of cult leaders.

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tag:worthywords.posthaven.com,2013:Post/932162 2015-11-11T21:09:57Z 2015-11-16T17:22:18Z Optimum

In mathematics there are two kinds of optimums. There is the global optimum which is the best and most perfect solution. Then there is the local optimum. The local optimum is the greatest solution in its immediate vicinity. It is not the best solution that exists in the problem space but any step away from it would be in a downward direction. Once one of these is reached optimization plateaus. The great solution is never found because to get there would mean the abandonment of the good enough. Good can be the enemy of great.

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tag:worthywords.posthaven.com,2013:Post/931109 2015-11-10T05:55:14Z 2015-11-14T03:56:56Z Occupying

From Sargon's Akkadians to the British East India Company the business of occupation is a venerable one, including amongst its historical ranks also the Persians, the Romans, the Arabs, the Normans, the Mongols, the Aztecs and the Conquistadors. But how is it done? How does a minority of a population, and often a hated and invasive one, take and hold the reigns of power over all?

Tolstoy wrote in a letter that inspired Gandhi, "What does it mean that thirty thousand men, not athletes but rather weak and ordinary people, have subdued two hundred million vigorous, clever, capable, and freedom-loving people? Do not the figures make it clear that it is not the English who have enslaved the Indians, but the Indians who have enslaved themselves?" The truth captured in this simple calculus is that it was not truly the invading English that captured India, but rather the local legions of ambitious bureaucrats and petty tyrants who saw an alliance with the English, or even outright subordination, as a way to increase their personal power. 

When the Spanish came to the New World the pattern was the same. The Incans saw the invaders as game changing allies in their ongoing civil war. The oppressed peoples of the Aztec Empire saw a weapon with which they could at last throw off the parasitic imperial yoke. It's only after the war is over and victory won that the consequences become apparent. One begins to notice that the influx of these new people is unceasing and accelerating. That those now in power are precisely and exclusively those people utterly dependent upon the occupiers for that power, and that the institutions established by these people are slowly becoming more pervasive, more entrenched, and more tyrannical.

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tag:worthywords.posthaven.com,2013:Post/928819 2015-11-06T22:01:48Z 2015-11-14T03:57:05Z Spectrum

Frequently the most interesting part of a spectrum is what's left outside of it. When we speak of the color spectrum displayed in a rainbow what we are referring to is the tiny stretch of electro-magnetic wavelengths our eyes are able to detect. The larger spectrum ranges from x-rays, so small and energetic they can punch through the surface of solid objects, to radio waves so large and lazy that they unnoticed through solid earth. And what is left out of this spectrum? Well unlike color this spectrum is based on a mathematical relation, wavelength times frequency equals the speed of light, and so there is no wave that cannot be placed upon it. But, it is not yet determined where in actuality the waves stop. Just how far this spectrum goes is an open subject in theoretical physics, and so again we find the true fascination just outside the edge.

This as true of politics as it is in physics. In this country we are accustomed to seeing the spectrum of opinion regularly presented to us in our elections. The liberal conservative spectrum that runs from Democrats to Republicans. So accustomed that it can come as a shock to realize that in some countries our politics seems as narrow a space as color is when compared against the full richness of the electromagnetic field. It is always important to ask what lies beyond the edge of the familiar.

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tag:worthywords.posthaven.com,2013:Post/928383 2015-11-06T01:01:21Z 2016-02-21T21:38:01Z Area

It seems a trivial thing, area. In these days of satellite imposed grids knowing the size of a space hardly seems a bother. But, it is a task that has for much of history has kept many a bright mind occupied. It was the genius of Newton that gave us Calculus and for the first time, after at least three millennia of trying, we were at last able to find the true area inside curved lines. It is only now, in the last fifty years, that radio and rocketry and relativity have given us the GPS systems that allow us to know the area of any place on Earth without laborious effort. Such is the story of humanity, we solve problems so we may have the luxury of forgetting they ever existed.

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tag:worthywords.posthaven.com,2013:Post/927339 2015-11-04T14:37:52Z 2016-02-21T21:38:06Z Polish

When something is polished it is more than finished. Not just done but also shinning. Exemplary. Sometimes this final stage is accomplished through the application of something extra, by layering on the wax or the varnish. The thing by itself is incomplete and only by fusing it with these thick layers of alien matter can it be made to shine in the way we desire. Other times the thing has within itself the capability to shine. We know locked inside is perfection, and polishing is then an act of cleaning, of scouring, of hacking away until the beauty we believed to be inside is brought blazing to the surface.

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tag:worthywords.posthaven.com,2013:Post/926559 2015-11-03T05:56:04Z 2015-11-16T17:28:15Z Transient

To be transient is to not last. It is the opposite of permanent. But permanent, like infinity, is a useful concept that does not present itself in reality. Nothing in our lives can be permanent because we are not. Life is transient. When we feel this transience there is often a pull to connect to those things that seem to us rooted in eternity. The mountains or the desert or the sea. But mountains rise and crumble, the deserts grow and shrink, and though the sea has been here longer than any desert or mountain it has been very different in different times and even it will not last forever. Eventually the engine that powers the tides will weaken and fail as the moon drifts ever farther from the Earth, its gravity pulling upon our sea and air less and less.

If we cannot turn to things then perhaps we can turn to processes. The mountains may die but life will go on. The great, unbroken chain of life in which we are one small link. It may even be possible for it to outlive the transience of this world, migrating across the stars long before the tides die and sun grows red with senescence. It is a comforting thought. That we might spread across a thousand worlds and go on until the ends of the universe. But there is an end. The universe itself is not free from transience. There will eventually come the day, unimaginably far from now, when each atom is too far to ever again interact. When all that is left is black holes slowly evaporating into endless night. Unless some fringe theories are true and those singularities are secret seeds. Each, or perhaps just those massive enough, will someday gave birth to their own big bang. The ultimate graveyards of our universe, the monsters that devour even the light that crosses their path, will be the mothers to new ones. And perhaps the black holes created in our universe have inside them the laws of physics that birthed them stored away like the genes lying in the heart of a seed. The code may be altered, mutated slightly, by the furious energy that is the birth cry of a new universe, but it will be largely the same. In this way the universes themselves may be evolving. Changing with each iteration, and the direction they would take by rules of natural selection is that those with more black holes would outproduce those that produce life. Thus the universal generations would tend toward more and more star creation which means more complexity. More life. A great chain of life and complexity in which the entire history of our world is but one link. One tiny, infinitesimal link. But a link nonetheless. A part in something permanent.

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tag:worthywords.posthaven.com,2013:Post/923864 2015-10-29T14:31:16Z 2015-11-18T05:29:21Z Government

This one's a toughie. Not because there's is little to say but because there's too much. The subject of government has been one of constant debate and study for the entirety of truly recorded history, starting around the 8th century BC when people at last began to record for posterity the lives and beliefs of themselves and those around them. But those nearly three thousand years of discourse point to one oft overlooked definition of government: the eternal human project.

There's two ways people often think of government. The first is to not. To take not just government but our current form as a given and to unconsciously assume it's always been like this. The second is to think of government as something humanity sort of stumbled into, or perhaps was even trapped by. Neither is true as the idea of government, the idea of regulating ourselves to work more effectively together, goes back to the beginning of our evolution as a eusocial species. But, for three thousand years we've been experimenting and evolving ever more complex and sophisticated forms of doing this. Hopefully as our knowledge and methods improve we will continue to see the continuance of the trend we have seen in the Western world for the past couple centuries of increased freedom and happiness for ever larger swaths of the population. But, we must be vigilant, because evolution does not favor what is best but what survives. Throughout history there has evolved many governments that were and are fierce, predatory organisms. Red in tooth and claw. In the world today such governments are coming ever nearer to an endangered species, but those genes will always be in the pool of ideas from which governments are formed.

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tag:worthywords.posthaven.com,2013:Post/923149 2015-10-27T22:35:53Z 2015-10-27T22:35:53Z Splitting

One could call science the art of splitting. From the atom to the genus, science works by breaking things down and studying how the smaller and smaller pieces work. But in reality much of these splittings are arbitrary, they never exist as strongly in nature as they do in our minds.  Take the split between alive and dead, so fundamental to so many sciences. But yet, in practice, the closer one looks the more this split falls apart. Is a virus alive? It's little more than a string of chemicals able to hijack the reproductive action of a truly living cell. Even in the macro forms of life like ourselves, the division between life and death is much hazier than we like to admit. Over the years there have been numerous attempts to define death, from the cessation of the heart to the absence of brain activity. All have been found faulty. The only truly reliable indicator is rot. 

In the end we must accept that death is not a binary state that begins at a certain second, but rather one end of a spectrum. But, we cannot do away with the idea of death. The split between living and dead is crucial to our understanding the world. This is why science is the art of splitting. Because these divisions do not exist in reality. Therefore it is up to us to invent the dividing lines that best aid us in our understanding. In other words, when we split nature what we are doing is engaging in an act of imagination meant to enrich and better our understanding of the world. And if that isn't art, then I don't know what is.

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tag:worthywords.posthaven.com,2013:Post/922580 2015-10-27T05:01:23Z 2015-10-27T13:22:06Z Wrist

The elaborate saddle joint of the wrist, alongside its partner the thumb, was our gateway to consciousness by opening for us the path of tool use. It is also among the first places to develop arthritis. The knees take first place. The knees that, along with our spines, must support a lifetime of upright, bipedal walking that they were never designed for. Walking being among the latest evolutionary gambles that led to us. This uniquely human form of locomotion is far younger than our wrists and far, far younger than our back and legs which struggle to accommodate the change. These new, untested features are still prone to bugs, and are greatest points of failure. But, they will not be fixed as these are the changes that brought us to the intelligence that sets us apart from all other life on Earth. And with that intelligence came ways to compensate for our failures, to remove their narrowing effects upon the gene pool. We have freed ourselves from the harrowing processes of natural selection. It is our greatest victory, but it means we have to accept what we have as the final version. There are no more patches coming from the manufacturer. If there's something that needs to be fixed, we have to hack the source code and fix it ourselves. It's a risky move, especially considering we only learned the language not so long ago. But, when a potential bug fix could save thousands of lives, it's a risk we must accept.

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tag:worthywords.posthaven.com,2013:Post/921173 2015-10-24T05:36:45Z 2015-10-24T05:36:45Z Peculiar

The dual meanings of peculiar are in truth facets of one meaning. On the one side it means to be unique to the subject being discussed, on the other it means unusual or strange. But what is it to be unusual or strange except to be in some way unique, and to possess uniqueness can only mean be other than usual. These two facets when melded together create an ability to describe nigh near anything, for what cannot be whisked away under the far reaching umbrella of those descriptors? What cannot be buried underneath the innocuousness of peculiar? Simon and Garfunkle captured well this capacity for burial when they sang of a man's neighbors freeing themselves to ignore his loneliness and eventual suicide by simply simply dubbing him 'A Most Peculiar Man.' Or, to take a more startling example, there was the one time popular euphemism for slavery as 'The South's Peculiar Institution.'

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tag:worthywords.posthaven.com,2013:Post/920586 2015-10-21T21:10:52Z 2015-10-23T13:54:39Z Product

In today's world the harder question to answer is not what is a product but rather what is not a product. So all consuming, so reactive, a system is capitalism that it is nigh impossible to escape it. Even the attempt to escape, real or fantasized, is turned around and fed back into the system one hoped to decry. Hence the factories churning out Guy Fawkes masks and Che Guevara t-shirts, or the burgeoning industry of tiny home construction.

Not to say that capitalism is a bad thing. It's an admirably nimble and reflexive system and perhaps the greatest spur to human ingenuity short of war. Plus, no one well versed in 20th century history could still advocate for its one time rival, the fully state run economy. When one hears that for the entirety of the Soviet Union's seven decade existence it never once manufactured an adequate supply of tampons or sanitary pads, one can clearly see the remarkable efficacy of the free market. But, one can't help but wish it was not so all pervasive. That there were some avenues of life beyond it's purview. Some places still free of price tags.

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tag:worthywords.posthaven.com,2013:Post/920288 2015-10-21T04:22:54Z 2015-10-21T04:22:54Z Invitation

A perilous gesture the invitation. While the vampire seems to be the only variety left still upholding the practice, in the folklore of old is what a common trope that all denizens of the night and the wild, from the mischievous to the nefarious, could not simply barge into one's home despite their otherwise awesome powers. They had to be invited first.

These stories date back to a time when hospitality was king and when the ill treating of a guest was one of the most heinous acts a person could do. It is perhaps easy to imagine the point of the tales. To serve as gentle reminder that one must after all set some limits on one's courtesy. Some doors once opened are nigh impossible to close.

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tag:worthywords.posthaven.com,2013:Post/916837 2015-10-16T04:27:32Z 2015-10-21T14:39:47Z Tales

Why is it that we humans so love to tell a good tale? What is the point of stories? They take up an inordinate amount of our lives. Thanks to television the majority of Americans are able to spend the vast bulk of their leisure time immersed in stories, a luxury that for most of history was afforded to only the literature upper class back when those terms were largely synonymous. What good does it do us? There are many answers. The one I choose is George Eliot's: "Art is the nearest thing to life; it is a mode of amplifying experience and extending our contact with our fellow-men beyond the bounds of our personal lot." We love stories because a good story is compressed experience. A great story is years of the authors life and thoughts distilled into a single nourishing tale. We grow richer in the only way that really matters when we collect stories, for the only substitute for a wealth of stories is a wealth of years and that is a wealth much harder won.

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tag:worthywords.posthaven.com,2013:Post/916686 2015-10-14T14:05:50Z 2015-10-14T14:05:50Z Regulation

The seemingly quintessential human invention, regulation. The idea that there are invisible lines which must not be crossed. That our behaviors must conform to certain standards enforced by nebulous entities, either governmental or corporate, each of which is, of course, illusory. No matter what invisible entity the bringer of justice pays lip service to there is only us humans in this world, there is no such actual thing as a government, and it is always an individual who carries out each step of the punishment. A person called a judge tells other people that this one person must be put inside a prison and he is obeyed because everyone present has agreed that they will do what the judge says. Once inside the prison that person is prevented from leaving by other people who do so because by so doing they are given pieces of paper with which they can secure their necessities because all have agreed that these pieces of paper can be used for such things.

It may sound as if I'm criticizing these institutions. Nothing could be farther from the truth. While I believe it is important to know and understand the true nature of these and all institutions as simple illusions of consensus I still recognize them as being the most necessary of illusions. Ones that I believe we should all agree to pay lip service to for the alternative is far worse. If we hope to all work together for the betterment of all, as we not only should but our biologically predisposed to courtesy of our eusocial evolution, we must agree to set limits on our behavior and to enforce those limits against those who would break them for their own profit by the pain of another, this being something else we are predisposed to thanks to evolution. For evolution has imparted us with dueling instincts. On one side we are made to work together for humanity would not have survived if not for the tribe, yet on the other we are made to seek out our own advantage above all. Hence the regulation. To stop those who would seek to profit by destroying everything. As the body must work to keep cancerous cells in check. And there, in one comparison, the idea of regulation as a human invention breaks down.

Regulation is not a human concept but the natural evolution of any system that attempts to harness individual components working of selfish instincts toward a greater good. Any sufficiently complex organism has created a breed of regulatory cells, the lymphocytes, to seek out and eradicate any cell that seeks to reproduce and thrive in a way that harms the organism. A process we call tumor formation, but which the cell might call getting theirs. Similarly, in a wasp nest there are wasps who patrol the hive in search of rebellious workers who may be attempting to lay their own eggs. These eggs, if left unchecked, would create males with whom the all female workers could mate. Since the queen's power comes from total domination of reproduction, this would be the ultimate blow to her power. So we see that regulation is a natural phenomenon. And, like all naturally evolved phenomena, it is often exploited.

There is one crucial flaw in the idea of regulation. Someone has to be given the power to enforce it. Some component of the system is put above it so as to monitor for behavior that goes against the system. But who monitors the monitors? When the hives are studied, the wasps who root out illicit reproduction are those most likely to be committing the crime. As for organisms, lymphoma is one of the most common cancers. The parallels in human history are legion.

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tag:worthywords.posthaven.com,2013:Post/916053 2015-10-13T01:39:09Z 2015-10-13T01:39:09Z Functional

We tend to think of a mathematical function as an operation. A number goes in one end, things are done to it and then another number comes out the other end. This definition is nice but not all inclusive, there are many functions that fall outside its umbrella. Technically a function is a relation between two sets. One set is all the numbers that can go into the function, and the other is all the numbers that can come out the other side. The function can (hypothetically) be defined by drawing a line between every number in the first set to the resulting number in the second set. I've been saying numbers but, and this is key, it doesn't actually have to be numbers. Being a relationship between sets is all that really matters, not what those sets are. The crucial discovery, and when mathematics really took off, is that the members of those sets can be other functions. As soon as we begin to analyze functions working on functions, things can take off exponentially. And, as in so much, what was true in mathematics is true all the way up the chain to our workday universe. If you're talking about physics or programming or even art, as soon as new inventions can work seamlessly off the old you hit the inflection point and things begin to explode. Because no one, not even the best of us, can really build all that much by themselves. In science they call it 'standing on the shoulders of giants' and in the art world there is always the old adage about great artists and stealing. Real progress only starts when we all begin to build off each other.

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tag:worthywords.posthaven.com,2013:Post/914708 2015-10-09T03:18:52Z 2015-10-09T03:24:55Z Bake

The key difference between baking and normal cooking is the indirect application of heat. This allows for food to be cooked gradually from the outside in, usually leaving a hard, protective casing as in the case of a bread loaf. It's a fair assumption that baking began with bread, and bread began with gruel. Primitive man learned that grain when heated in water would release its starch and so thicken a soup into a more nourishing gruel. This gruel when left in the baking heat of the sun would turn into what must have been a very terrible bread, but that bread was still leaps beyond any other food preserving technology. A revolution was born, one that has carried humans from nomadic tribes to city-states to high-rise offices. There was another revolution, born on that same primeval day on running in parallel ever since, that has been just as influential. For there is an alternative to letting gruel dry in the sun. It can also be stored in liquid form, mainly in tree trunks for this predates pottery, and when one does that a curious thing happens. It ferments. And so at the same time humanity made its first terrible bread it also made its first terrible beer, and while mind altering substances such as mushrooms were surely already known to man now, for the first time, here was one that could be made at will and in quantity. Beer and bread, the two great stories of mankind. Apollonian and Dionysian, the dueling currents of culture and counter culture.

Which brings us to the other definition of bake and today's most visible battleground of the ancient feud between those who wish for the freedom to stretch the possibilities of the mind to its limit (or, as is often tragically the case, past the limit) and those who seek to protect the citizenry from the dangers inherent in too much freedom. This, at least, is the honorable front of that war, small though it is. Most of the fighting is done on the dishonorable front, between those who profit of the misery of others through imprisoning them either physically or chemically. It must be said that there is such a thing as too much freedom. How accessible do we, as a society, want our opioids to be? Or our guns for that matter? Surely some limits are necessary. Some lines must be drawn. But, as anyone familiar with the incarceration rates knows, in this country, on this particular battle, we are far from that line. Laws that make criminals of our greatest contributors, from Paul Erdos and Carl Sagan to John Lennon and Bob Dylan, do not serve society. Those laws become themselves the enemy of society. Christopher Hitchens once said that totalitarianism, that ultimate antithesis to the healthy society, has as its essential principle the making of laws that cannot be obeyed. In a healthy society, as we should have learned from the 21st Amendment, everybody's crime is nobodies crime.

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tag:worthywords.posthaven.com,2013:Post/914218 2015-10-08T04:54:02Z 2015-10-08T04:54:02Z Host

It's a relationship rarely reflected on in our current culture, but for much of history the role of guest and host were of extreme importance. The crime of MacBeth and his Lady was so momentous that it drove them mad not just because it was murder, and not just because it happened to be their king, but also because it was done while that king was a guest in their house. As ole' Mac tells us himself before doing the deed, "He’s here in double trust: First, as I am his kinsman and his subject, Strong both against the deed; then, as his host, Who should against his murderer shut the door, Not bear the knife myself."


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tag:worthywords.posthaven.com,2013:Post/913814 2015-10-07T05:12:36Z 2015-10-07T05:12:37Z Cant

To cant is, supposedly, to talk sanctimoniously. I've never seen the word in the wild, but I doubt this is its core meaning. It sounds to me musical, and a little looking reveals that it springs from the the Latin for sing, canere, to which we also owe canary and chant. It's easy to imagine how the modern (though seldom seen) meaning crept into place. As the language changes and we don't find ourselves needed to discuss Latin singing the musical connection fades but the ecclesiastical atmosphere remains. Though it left behind one cousin which holds onto the original meaning. Canticle, a word whose apparent dignity is in exact opposition to its actual meaning which is 'little song.'

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tag:worthywords.posthaven.com,2013:Post/912125 2015-10-06T04:26:40Z 2015-10-06T20:36:57Z Liquid

We become so accustomed to water that we have to be reminded how miraculous liquid is. Most matter in the universe is a gas, each molecule so flush with energy it rushes headlong through space, tied to nothing but itself. Sometimes it finds itself plunged into a mass of others and in so doing is lost. Crushed into a solid where each atom is held so tightly by every other atom that none can ever break free. More often it reaches an opposite fate, it finds itself getting more energy than it can take and can no longer hold itself together, forced to watch helpless as its electrons slip away as it becomes plasma. These are the more common fates of atoms. Only in a few rare spots does something else happen. Something truly extraordinary. Some atoms come together and though they become mutually trapped in the resulting web of connections they do not give up their own energy. They do not crystallize but instead keep moving, bound but not imprisoned. They become liquid. 

We look at the stars and marvel at the miraculous nature of Earth that only here have we yet found life, but the existence of life is but a mere extension of Earth's main miracle: Abundant liquid water. The great prerequisite for life. We can imagine life without water if we try, Carl Sagan hypothesized ammonia based life as close as Titan, but we are hard pressed to imagine life without liquid. Indeed, life on Earth is little besides liquid. We imagine ourselves solid, but the percentages tell us otherwise. We are water. And life's liquidity is not limited to its composition. The behavior of life is that of liquid writ large: A vast web of semi-independent actors, each pursuing their own course yet inescapably bound to one another. Animal life is a way for the ocean to spread its dominion over the surface, and like the ocean it has its own ebb and flow. Recently life in the shape of humans has flowed over the world entire. We have crashed our way into every niche and cranny like surf breaking upon the rocks, and while we congratulate ourselves on our total victory I fear we may be missing the beginning of the turning of the tide. Humanity may yet recede, and we may be feeling now the first gentle pulls of that great ebb.

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tag:worthywords.posthaven.com,2013:Post/911793 2015-10-02T02:32:34Z 2015-10-02T02:32:34Z Trouser

The rarely seen singular of the common trousers. I don't think anyone is quite sure what a trouser is, I'm certainly not. Is it one leg off the pair that together constitute a pair of trousers? If so, why do we feel the need to qualify when we say 'trouser leg?' Even when considering the familiar plural the confusion continues. Here in the US we call most trousers pants and only those pants on the more formal end of the spectrum do we actually use the word trousers, but this is far from universal. In the UK any and all of what we would call pants are strictly known as trousers and, in fact, pants is what they call the type of garment that we rather literally refer to as underwear. Though sometimes we do somewhat agree with those across the pond by calling them underpants and of course when those underpants in question belong to a female we drop the 'under' and tack on a jarring note of what I would call infantilization and refer to them as panties though this would sound strange to the rest of the Anglosphere who, seemingly just to add even more confusion to the mix, have plucked an entirely new word from the ether for these garments and call them knickers.

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tag:worthywords.posthaven.com,2013:Post/911590 2015-10-01T01:32:29Z 2015-10-01T01:32:30Z Tape

The magnetic tape, once a mainstay of our lives, now a dead medium. Replaced by the similar but more rigid spinning platters of our hard drives or the temporarily frozen transistor patterns of our phones flash memory. At least, dead in the common eye, but useful technologies almost never die. They simply fade away into the limbo existence of their fringe uses. There is a small DC power grid still operating inside San Francisco, powering a network of ancient, economically irreplaceable elevators. Out there in the wilds of legacy systems there is still FORTRAN code controlling perhaps vital systems. And while consumers may have left the tape to die data archivists have kept it alive. Where data is needed forever, in a business sense, there is nothing that can compete with tape in longevity. Tape libraries holding petabytes of information in drum upon drum of magnetic tape exist in server rooms across the world. And how long will they last? Just what is forever, in a business sense? About 30 years. They hope. So what will become in the decades to come of all this data we have been studiously collecting, trusting in the messianic power of the Big Data revolution to solve all our problems if only we can offer to it sufficient amounts of what it craves. What will happen to it when even the tapes begin to erode? Well, the answer is simple. That's tomorrow's problem.

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tag:worthywords.posthaven.com,2013:Post/910713 2015-09-30T01:26:36Z 2015-09-30T01:26:36Z Fail

It is perhaps the greatest fear of humanity. To fail. A large net that when cast catches most all else there is to fear. What is the fear of public speaking, and other high pressure socializing, but the fear that we will fail in the minds of others? The fear of heights is, as is often remarked, really the fear of falling, but the fear of falling is really the fear that we will fail to keep our balance. Fail to stay tethered to the ground and in a sudden gust of wind or shift of earth to find ourselves plummeting toward that most universal fear. And what is death but a failure to survive? 

Our fear of these things is in inverse proportion to the trust we place in ourselves against their challenges. Philippe Petit was able to walk along a rope between the Twin Towers because he knew the exact limits of his balance. We would rightly be afraid to try such an act, we know it is beyond our limits, but how many of us even know our limits? Most never even approach them so ingrained is the fear of failure. The fear that our limits our even closer than we surmise. But what is there, truly, to fear in failure? Often we are risking nothing, or near it, and the cost is mere embarrassment. And that small risk is where we must start. Where we begin the long process of circumscribing our limits and so build to greater risks and eventually the jump must be made. There is a time when the larger risks must be made. Our bones, or our careers, or our fortunes, or, sometimes, that greatest risk of all: Our lives. But, when we do it, truly risk it all, even if we fail, is that so bad? To meet our end a little sooner than some, and in a way that it may be said of us what is said of Phaethon, "though greatly he failed, more greatly he dared." That is not so great a thing to fear.

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tag:worthywords.posthaven.com,2013:Post/908810 2015-09-25T19:55:30Z 2015-09-25T19:55:30Z Fish

There is a mystery to the fish. Much of humanity relies upon it, but for most of history we knew so little about the world it came from. Emissary from a strange and alien place, inaccessible to us. Perhaps this played a part in the choice of fish as an early symbol for Christ, another emissary from the unknown. More likely fish as Christ came about because of the fish's preexisting symbolic association with life, shorthand for the life sustaining bounty of the seas.

And Christ as fish, life giver and messenger, makes a direct contrast to the Lord of the Old Testament who most of all resembles that most terrible of his supposed creations, the Leviathan. Master of the alien world. Remote, powerful, destructive and mysterious. Rarely seen, most often recognized by the signs of its passing. The cresting wave signaling the colossal thing passing beneath. A great wind that rends mountains signalling the thing that swims unseen behind the material world.

In the Book of Job the Lord describes the terrible power of the Leviathan to cow Job into compliance, but he doesn't stop with the terror of the seas. He also boats of another of his creations: The Behemoth. Leviathan's land locked counterpart, a beast of such enormity it drinks rivers. And if we take Behemoth as another symbol of the Lord then we see even more why Christ, the fish to the Lord's Leviathan, came to Earth as a man. 

According to Jewish folklore there is one other primal beast to rival Leviathan and Behemoth. It's name is Ziz and it is the terror of the skies. A bird of such enormity its wings block out the sky. Now we recall that the dove is yet another symbol for Christ. Fish, man, and dove versus Leviathan, Behemoth, and Ziz. Two competing views of divinity and therefore the nature of the universe. A place of life and hope or a place of terror and death.

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tag:worthywords.posthaven.com,2013:Post/908927 2015-09-24T04:02:08Z 2015-09-24T04:02:08Z Cheating

Everyone knows the definition, to break the rules. But what lies beyond the rules? Tron was disqualified from the 1982 Academy Award for Special Effects because they had cheated by using computers. Going far enough past the rules can change them.

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tag:worthywords.posthaven.com,2013:Post/908403 2015-09-23T04:18:31Z 2015-09-23T04:18:32Z Possible

What is and is not possible? That question has, possibly, had more written about it than any other. Is possible that which can be expected to happen? But far too much has happened that was once believed impossible for that to be a good answer. Perhaps it would be easier to work from the other side, how do we hedge in the impossible? Theoretical occurrences that violate the laws of our everyday existence are termed magic or supernatural. But, of course, many would argue that these things can and do happen. Almost every religion has part of it's founding dogma that the supernatural has happened at least a handful of times. And if any of these mutually contradictory claims are in fact correct it would in turn make the label of supernatural worthless as anything that happens in nature is by definition a part of it. If the supernatural refers to God interfering with the normally operating laws of the universe then that means he had to have built into those laws the possibility of his own future meddling, making them also part of the laws of the universe. Divine intervention would be a feature and not a bug. If the supernatural real then it isn't, so by definition the supernatural only refers to what cannot happen. So we limit ourselves only to that which lies within the circle drawn by the laws of physics. But can we be sure of those? Some physicists worry that the laws of physics may differ across vast regions of space. It is possible that physical constants are not constants at all but variables whose shift can only be detected on the inter-galactic scale. After all, how would we know? We can only perform real tests in our own little system. We look to the stars and see that everything seems to follow the same rules we observe on Earth, with a few yet to be understood wrinkles, but what about all we cannot see? Those wrinkles may in fact reveal holes in our understanding of nature and of what is in fact possible.

So perhaps to arrive at what is possible we should start at the beginning with what know to be true and certain and universal. And what, ultimately, do we know for certain? Descartes gave us the axiom that all we truly know is real is ourselves. The famous Cogito ergo sum. It's a better place to start than most but like all axioms it must hang alone unproved. Can we really prove to ourselves that we think and therefore are? Is it not possible that our perceived thoughts are little more than memories, a story constructed by our brains to make sense of the actions we took and therefore improve our future predictive ability even though those actions were in fact done without thinking? It's possible that we are in every moment unconscious automatons and consciousness only exists in retrospect. But, of course, if we pursue that thinking we are forced to ask, if this isn't consciousness then what is? We have nothing to compare it to and so consciousness either refers to this or it refers to nothing and so now we see the pull of Descartes' axiom. After all we must start somewhere. But there is value to be gained in this exercise in that it brings us to ask if there are other places to start. Other axioms. I can think of one. Possibly older than Descartes' if it was, in fact, invented by Hassan-i Sabbat, founder of the Assassins. More likely it was invented later, perhaps by Neitzsche who certainly popularized it and may have only attributed it to the Order of Assassins for the air of age and mystery the association created. The axiom is this: Nothing is true, everything is permitted. Regardless of its origins it is hard not to agree with Neitzsche that herein lies a path to true freedom. To take as your axiom that there is no truth that can be given to you and that there is nothing other than yourself that can determine what you can and can not do. That it is up to each one of us to determine for ourselves what is true, and what is possible.

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