Tugs from the Future

I read so many articles on time that I got lost.

One that I do remember is the concept that all of time exists at the same time. Time doesn’t move, we just progress through it. Of course that also means that potential futures exist as well, the paths not taken, the good paths, and the bad paths.

How do we know the path to take?

I’m thinking about gravity, I’m thinking about the tug of gravity. At a distance it is very faint, hardly felt. If we are steering a car it is the small adjustment that keeps us in our lane.

Gravity gets stronger the closer we come. The other day I was driving up a small hill into the setting of the sun. When I crested the hill there was a blinding flash that obscured the windshield. Suddenly a highway divider appeared directly in front of me, briefly filling my field of vision. It took a violent jerk of the steering wheel to set me back on a safe track.

The “right future” tugs at us. If we pay attention, we only have to make slight corrections, otherwise we jerk the wheel with major effort, until we either get the correct path or we finally crash into a path that is not successful, a “bad future”.

What determines the “good” from the “bad”? That certainly is pretty basic, the difference between right and wrong. The classic definition of sin is “missing the Mark”. The image is of an arrow sticking in the bale of hay, but several inches from the center of the bullseye.

What if the arrow is in the bale, and then we draw the bullseye later, with the arrow in the center. If we move the bullseye after each time we shoot each arrow, then we would never “miss the Mark”, and we would never sin. Some people actually live their lives this way, and they rationalize any choice that presents itself. I think they are not only jerking the wheel left and right, but they are doing it randomly, not as a corrective measure. Most importantly I think they get lost.

The “good future” has a gravitational pull that directs our steering. A successful life is arriving safely to our Destination, where ever that may be.

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The Long Now

I’ve been pondering things that I don’t know. 
Well, that’s not exactly accurate. That category is far too immense to ponder. So let me be specific. My recent post about time has caused me to review dozens of sites, filled with completely incomprehensible concepts in physics. 

I consider myself at least above the tick that measures average intelligence. Okay, maybe only the tick that is average. Still, I’m a human, so theoretically, if I read slowly, with lots of background research, I should be able to understand a Wikipedia article.

Not so, I’ve read and reread several articles on time that have completely defeated me. Other humans have apparently understood these things, but I am outside the building with my nose against the glass.

So here I am, bouncing down the road of knowledge, my head bruised by the ceiling of my comprehension. That’s a very good visual. I wouldn’t be too concerned if they were 12ft ceilings, but apparently I’m in a 4x4x4 box. 

Let me give you an example. Google the phrase “Clock of the Long Now”.

This is something that I knew nothing about. Not even a glimmer. Now that I have found the Wikipedia page, I have read it three times. I can repeat many of the facts that I’ve read, but I have failed to understand the purpose and meaning. 

I mean, Amazon has purchased an entire mountaintop in Nevada in order to install the proposed clock. Okay, I get that some people know how important it is, but I can’t find the way to that same conclusion. 

Maybe I just have to accept that some things I will not know, even if it is ticking in front of my face!

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Soapdish Effect

I once had a son… well, actually I had two, and I still have them. This is a cautionary tale so I’m keeping to the fairy-tale standards. 

I once had a son who took long, hot, showers in the morning. Not that he was particularly dirty each night, certainly not 45 minutes of dirt. It had just became a standard. It was how he woke up to face another grueling day of high school.

His bathroom, the one he shared with his sisters, had a flaw. There was no ventilator fan, and in the winter there was not the option of opening the window. I don’t think that it was open in the summer either. 

The room was a virtual steam bath after every shower, and in a way that was also comforting. But this is not a story about a personal sauna. It is a story about soap, or more accurately a soap dish.

One morning at breakfast, before he headed off to school, my son said that the soap dish was loose in the bathroom. 

The soap dish was inset in the wall, held by a single screw and some mounting grout. I considered the problem and came up with a solution. A longer screw and more grout. Perhaps I will get to it on the weekend. 

The weekend had mostly passed, and now it was late Sunday afternoon, still time to go to the hardware store if necessary.

I tested the screw and affirmed that it seemed to endlessly spin in place. Yes, definitely a case of a stripped screw. As I sat on the tub’s edge I pulled on the soapdish just a little and it seemed as if the entire wall bulged out toward me.

Perplexed, and not quite believing what I saw, this time I pushed. The wall of tile seemed to depress at my push. 

This time I pried the soapdish to one side and it popped off, exposing a dark hole in the wall. I was expecting to see the wood two by four where the soapdish had been screwed. There didn’t appear to be any wood. 

I combined the push/pull flexing of the tiled wall, and the absence of wood, and I had a terrible feeling. Dry rot! I had two choices. Fill the wall up with some magical foam, plaster, or concrete, or take off the tile and wallboard to see where the wood went.

I went from loose soapdish to major demolition. I pulled the tile away around the soapdish, no wood. I continued to pull down tile and wallboard to find the studs holding up the sliding window. There were no studs holding up the window. 

I pulled the tile off the shelf that held the shampoo and rinse bottles. Under the tile and wallboard shelf there was no shelf. I couldn’t find any wood left anywhere. 

More tile and wallboard came down. In the far corners I finally found good wood. The tub was completely filled with tile and broken wallboard. The whole wall was gone!

That late Sunday afternoon turned into an early Monday morning with the tub and all the fixtures on the porch, a sawzall cutting through several floor beams, and the window only being held into place by the outside wood siding. 

It looked as if a bomb had gone off. It was strange seeing the nails of the outside siding just hanging there in space with nothing to attach. I briefly wondered what was keeping the siding from falling off. 

My fable about the soapdish has played itself out in several ways. What is consistent is that things that appear simple, can suddenly go very wrong. 

A few years before the soapdish, we brought a dog. She was a wonderful dog… okay, she had issues. but don’t we all? We had Bella for twelve good years. Bella declined quickly at the end, and it was clear that she was aging and getting slower. 

One evening she seemed to collapse under the dining room table. She couldn’t stand or move, so we tried to make her comfortable. The whole family was there, surrounding her with love. She died as I was sitting next to her, stroking her fur. 

It was a shock, it came so quickly. We hadn’t noticed that she was uncomfortable, and perhaps she wasn’t. She just died because it was her time, surrounded by the family she loved. 

It wasn’t long before I began thinking, “Now what?” She couldn’t stay there on the floor, but where should she go?

Who do you call? It was dark, I didn’t relish the idea of getting a shovel and digging a hole at midnight. I finally wrapped her in a sheet and placed her in a black plastic bag. 

We discussed our options in the morning. We decided against taking her to the vets for cremation. We wanted to bury her on the property. She wouldn’t fit in a shoebox, but she wasn’t a really large dog. It was certainly possible to find a place and dig it deep enough. 

The main discussion was centered around a spot in the backyard, or a spot in the front yard. Little did I know that the “soapdish effect” hinged upon our choice.

We settled on the front yard because she would be remembered here. In the backyard she would be lost and forgotten. In the front yard she would be remembered and loved.

I found a spot just below the front walk, so I got my shovel and pick. The pick was used to breakup the hard earth, and the shovel, shoveled out the dirt. 

After about an hour of digging, I thought I had a whole about the correct size. I carefully laid her body in the trench and I could see I had the right length and width, but not the right depth. It had no go at least another foot deeper.  

Out came the pickax and shovel. More strokes into the earth. More scraping dirt out of the hole. It looked just about right. I could stop here or hit it one more time to be sure. I took the pickax for one last stroke and immediately pierced the main water line.

The mother of all geysers exploded out of the hole, shooting thirty feet into the air. 

I was a little surprised and shocked. Okay, I was profoundly surprised and shocked. I quickly ran to the house shut-off valve to turn it off. It didn’t work, the break was front of the valve, not behind it. The house didn’t have water though, so to that extent I was successful. 

I pondered the possibility of shutting it off at the street. It was a good idea, but I didn’t have the right tool and the value was buried in dirt. I had to call the utility company while Old Faithful spewed all over the yard. 

The “soapdish effect” was just starting. It took an hour before the water company shower, and after he shut off the water he reminded me that it was my responsibility to repair the line. 

I asked what his experience told him. He didn’t know, but probably around $10,000 dollars. 

Our dog was going to have a ten thousand dollar burial. 

Things can turn on a dime. You can crack the window in the bathroom, and the room will last sixty years. You can bury your dog in the backyard, and you can save 10 grand. Another example of truth and consequences.  

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Our Fickle Relative

What Time Is It?
What time is it? Ha! It depends upon the clock! It is possible for the clock to be correct only once per year. Maybe even longer. 

Let’s say that our clock is just slightly off, off by milliseconds. It could take a full year or more, before the clock correctly tells the time. Well, that makes perfect sense. The question is, compared to what? Technically a clock is always right to itself.

Does the universe have a consistent clock? Is there a standard ticking something someplace that we can make a comparison?

We divide time using a standard that depends upon a full rotation of the earth. One day is sunrise to sunrise. Minutes and seconds are merely divisions of that rotation. 

It doesn’t take a genius to understand that time measure is most certainly relative. How long is a day on a giant planet like Jupiter?

A day on Jupiter is the same, one full rotation. Or is it? The planetsforkids.org website gives this table for kids to ponder. 
Mercury – 58 days and 15 hours

Venus – 243 Earth days

Earth – 23 hours and 56 minutes

Mars – 24 hours 39 minutes and 35 seconds

Jupiter – 9.9 Earth hours

Saturn – 10 hours 39 minutes and 24 seconds

Uranus – 17 hours 14 minutes and 24 seconds

Neptune – 16 hours 6 minutes and 36 seconds

No planet agrees to the 24 hour standard. We don’t even agree to a 24 hour standard. Our Earth spins only 23 hours, 56 minutes, and 4 seconds for a complete rotation. 

Wait a minute, uh ur, wait a second… um, Stop! I thought that a day was a complete rotation, and that we based our clocks in 24 hours? Well, that is true, except that it was a guess when we first considered measuring devices. Now we can measure things much more accurately, and it turns out that the Earth is slower than our clock. 

My first thought is… WTF? Who is the primary actor? Why don’t we recalibrate our clocks to match what we know as a “day”. Apparently we have determined that our “guess” is better than our reality. My head hurts when I ponder this, and the consequences that follow from it.

There are consequences, we adapt by creating a leap year, adding an extra day every four years. We actually say that we have an extra day! Where did it come from? Poof! Out of the cosmos another day comes by, like some sort of orbiting comet?

Okay, okay, time is a slippery concept. Apparently science can only grasp time in terms of using two separate theories in physics. Time viewed by a long distance perspective is best understood by E=mc2. Time in sub-atomic terms is better viewed by theories in quantum mechanics. 

As an example, quantum mechanics tells us that time is altered by merely bringing in a measurement. What? 

It’s like time is a squirmy child. He is a certain height, but as soon as you bring a ruler to him, you can’t be sure that his height is accurate. 

Time is certainly fickle. Not relative, we are talking just plain fickle, like a squirmy child. 

I keep going back to the classic standard. Even a broken clock is right twice a day, that’s a far better ratio than a clock that is slightly slow. 

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Where Dies the Light?

There is a new movie, “Ghost in the Shell”. It’s actually a remake of a classic Japanese manga. I have not seen the new movie but it reminds me of my latest ponder.

The nature of intangibles, or to be more exact, the presence in nature of intangibles. I am not talking about concepts like peace, love, hate, emotions. I’m pondering the presence, and existence, of the individual.

We study the observable and credit the seen with existence. We sometimes credit other “unseen” things with existence, but the “witnessed” things are indisputable.

Two people, in a blind, see a group of apes in the forest. The observers tally what they see, and they agree with each other. They see the same amount. They see the size and coloring differences. They agree on the tangibles.

They also see the relationships, and in time, they see the unique personalities. They agree on witnessing the intangibles. The intangibles exist, but where are they?

The Japanese manga tells the story of cyborgs. Creatures that have some parts human, and some parts that are manufactured. Like the Six Million Dollar man, the parts that are manufactured are really upgrades, arms that are stronger, legs that are faster. The cyborg is not robotic because, like RoboCop, there is an organic controller. In the Japanese manga, the Ghost (soul/personality) lives in the Shell.

This intangible Ghost exists in the microtubular structures of the organic brain. It can be measured as electric signals, but it isn’t necessarily electrical. When life ends for the organic, the Ghost seems to disappear.

When the light is turned off, where does it go?

I remember being told as a child that the light beam of a flashlight, if pointed at the night sky, leaves the earth forever at light speed. When the light is turned off, the light photons continue, like water from a hose, until the light is absorbed by some matter, perhaps space dust, millions of miles away.

The light does not die, the source is just turned off.

The manga considers the possibility that artificial intelligence may eventually create a Ghost in the manufactured controllers. It may be that all creatures have a Ghost.

The human spirit is foremost in observation, but other animals exhibit the intangible. Possibly the definition of life is the presence of a Ghost, the direct result of creation.

“Definition of life: the condition that distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change preceding death.”

Two things that stand out, life requires “organic” material, and life requires death.

It doesn’t mention the intangibles, it doesn’t mention “the Ghost”.

The concept of inorganic structures that create a “Ghost” is interesting, and has been the driving story of science fiction from “Space Odyssey” to “The Terminator”.

Will the “Ghost in the Shell” add anything more to the concept? The early manga animation proposed the possibility of an organic Ghost and inorganic Ghost merger. If inorganic is seen as an upgrade, what would the merger look like?

It would seem to me that the natural upgrade would be for the merged “Ghost” to be able to live outside the shell.

If this were to happen, is it alive?

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Broken Things

We met in unequal circumstances. I was west, spirit in the mountains, she was east, tribal, and civilized. 

I was almost painted blue with cold northern genes, she was warm, with generations of literacy.

I was wide with experience, and not very deep, she was narrow and focused, a tight laser of perception. 

I thought myself special and under discipline, she was special and professed for a living. 

Not opposite attracts, but something different. A need to be complete, to be a whole person. 

I was confident, and defensive. A bag of flesh with broken things inside. Nothing appeared wrong, no emotional stumps, no visible compound fractures. Just brokeness, with sharp edges, making it impossible to get close, without causing internal bleeding. 

Love adapts, it requires effort, and a belief in the future. There is less brokeness now, but memories die hard, and there are always fresh reminders.

Where I failed, she succeeded, so we succeeded, and I am forever grateful.

And then there is the fruit, the actual living results of unequalled joining. Amazing products, cared for, protected, loved beyond measure.

Now, in my twilight, or at least my late afternoon, I am not so much west, not so much confident, but approaching a measure of awareness that resembles peace.

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Flash: Grid to Ridge

At the East end of my street a mountain loomed. As a young child it seemed days away, in truth, it was only several hours walking. As I got older, it became clear to me that it was possible to spend half the day walking to the mountain, and half the day to get back home. It should probably be during the long daylight of summer in order to have a little rest and relaxation at the summit.

There was only four of the neighborhood kids that were old enough to be away from home for the time that we had calculated. Several of us had walked as far as the roller rink, and we assumed that the mountain was directly behind it. Add another hour and we should be there. The only problem was at the route to the roller rink veered to the right. We needed to find a more direct approach to save time.

At the peak of summer we headed out with packs of snacks, a compass, a signal mirror, a watch, binoculars, and several canteens of water. And rope, we had to have a nice long piece of rope. Probably the heaviest thing we carried.

The first ten blocks were direct, and perfectly East. The mountain was stlll visible and perhaps only a little closer. Every few blocks we checked the compass, the East was still the East. Finally, the neighborhood changed and the streets began slant off, leaving us with a choice. We could do our best to follow the streets, or we could drop down to the creek, which we knew led to the park where the roller rink was. 

It never occurred to us that there would be two creeks so close together.

We took off our socks and waded through the ankle deep creek in our tennis shoes. The water seemed clear to us, although today I realize that it wasn’t so much spring fed, as runoff from lawn watering, and car washing. Every once in a awhile there were suds.

It was by far not a straight shot, creeks curve back and forth, following the contours of the land. Mostly the creek bed was flat like a path, at times there were “holes” that were quite deep. We found tires buried in the gravel, we found rusted shopping carts, mostly we stayed cool under the shade of overgrown banks. Trees and bushes shielded the sun, but they also kept us from easily leaving the creek bed.

It was a little bit like the African Queen movie, slogging mile after mile, in wet clothes. It was a fine summer adventure. When we realized that the freeway was crossing over us we decided to climb out. We really didn’t need he rope, but heck, we brought it with us, so we tied it to a tree and up we went. When we got out to put on dry socks that went into wet shoes, we saw that we had swung at least a dozen blocks to the north. The concept of two creeks came alive.

Fortunately there was a street going straight south that would eventually cross the road leading to the roller rink. We were only two hours behind our timetable. Two hours exploring Wildcat Creek, the other creek.

It wasn’t long before we were behind the roller rink, trying to find an easy way up the hill. We were too close to recognize the mountain, all we knew was that the grass and dirt in front of us sloped upward. We marched on, sometimes going to our hands and knees. Looking back we began to see the city grid stretching below us. We were gaining altitude!

After at least an hour, we came upon a ridge that was well above the park. There was also the dead end of a road that dropped down the creek where we had been. We saw that we had taken an almost direct line, straight up to the ridge. We also realized that the actual top of the mountain was still an hour away, through a cow pasture, and barbed wire fences. We sat down on the ridge.

As the leader, I checked our time, and officially called the expedition to a conclusion. We had technically made it, we had gotten to the highest point that a car could drive. That was an accomplishment. We sat down and drank the rest of our water and finished that last of our snacks.

Looking out over the grid of our city we tried to find our street. It should look like a line pointed directly at us. We used the binoculars to try to narrow our choices but we weren’t sure. We could see the bridges and the Bay beyond, but we couldn’t see the cross streets that would have defined our block. 

There was still a chance. A friend couldn’t come with us because of a sports commitment, but he promised that when he got back that he would try to help. For three or four minutes on the hour, every hour, he would stand in the street and flash a signal mirror at the mountain.

We had ten minutes to wait till the next flash. Maybe he forgot, maybe he was not home yet, maybe he went shopping, he got caught up in some Saturday afternoon movie. The hour had come and we saw nothing flashing from the grid below us.

Then there it was, as plain as day. Through the binoculars we even imagined we saw a speck in the street, holding the flash. We looked through our packs and found our mirror. For the next several minutes we pretended to know Morse Code, flashing back and forth from Ridge to Grid, from Grid to Ridge.

It was late afternoon when we headed back, no creek wading, just neighborhood street after neighborhood street. We were tired, but we had been somewhere, and we had done great things, and we even had used the rope that we brought. There was still 30 minutes to dinner time.

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