Thoughts on Greatness

  1. The thing is, it’s not about the thing.
  2. Greatness only comes through that which is great.
  3. Great work comes through great pain.
  4. Enduring greatness only comes through enduring great pain.

Have you ever seen a tautology so true?

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A New Year’s Digest

It’s a new year. Some people seem to think it’s a blank slate to start a new, but for others that’s an impossibility. There are too many things that can tie one to the past. I’m trying not to look at those things. I’m just trying to be the best realist I can be and acknowledge that it is both a new year in which the same 12 month cycle happens again. I acknowledge that this year will be different, but there are things that are always the same: the names of the months, my general confusion about life, and human nature. A wise man supposedly once said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Of course, years aren’t “under” the sun, so they have the right to be new. Ironically, all new years celebrations are all the same. Perhaps we should have a New Year’s Mourning, in which we mourn over the death the new year brought to the old.

I also try to take the view that the new year is another opportunity to struggle against sameness. It is an opportunity to try and shake things up and defeat the deterministic nature with which life seems to process. It is an opportunity to change life’s hue, saturation and brightness (a good thing to do any day). It is a time to change the flavor, scent, texture, and timbre of life. Because of this thought, I am determined to make the most out of this opportunity for change and try an implement the following this new year:

1. Permission to be crappy.

I like Jack Kerouac’s rule #28 “Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better”. Okay, maybe crappy, and perhaps not undisciplined, but permission to be wild and raw. The reason being I am a perfectionist and have the hardest time ever just doing something when I think I’m terrible at it. In turn I will be crappy at first, but it’s a start. Mastery takes time. It takes many mistakes. It takes experience. If one doesn’t have the experience (10,000 hours), thy’re not a master. If one doesn’t have an aptitude for it, it’ll be crappy at first. Also if one has a great sense or vision of what the end result should be, anything less than an exact match is crappy. I have good news: with time and practice, mastery and excellence will come.

2. Space and time for creative process.

I have a nasty tendency to become transfixed on what ever I’m working on to my detriment. I get fatigued. I burn myself out. It takes me longer to finish the project. I need to intersperse my time with periods of otherness. Anything else: meditation, going for a walk, writing, reading, singing, playing the piano, serious music practice, and maybe just switch to a different project for a while. The benefit of taking breaks from a long task are wonderful. Since the mind works in less intuitive ways, letting one’s default circuit run is very beneficial to everything else that one does or thinks about. It helps to synthesize everything one has learned.

Creativity is an interesting beast. It takes structured/deterministic/disciplined chaos. It is the balance between order and disorder. It is a point where thought becomes multi-fractal and ideas seem to mesh together very easily. Language itself shows a balance between chaos and order. The area between order and randomness is the where there is the most structural complexity, it it also where the most statistical complexity is. If one wanted to model a certain process, the most complex model would be in the middle of order and chaos. A simple deterministic process like a rock falling out of one’s hand is described by a simple set of rules. Total randomness is also really simple to statistically model. All states of the system are equally probable, just pick one.  It has been researched extensively by James P. Crutchfield.

It is complex to try and master creativity. One needs the right pressure, space, and time.

3. Order my mind-space continuum around my space-time continuum.

I have been known to try tackling the impossible all the while expecting myself to accomplish it within an even more impossible time frame. I need to be more realistic in my perceptions of time and space. This will come in handy for doing the above two items. Managing time is essential. I suppose the best I can do with this right now is give myself permission to be crappy about it, give myself some time and space, and see how much better I can get.

4. Enjoy everything.

I think what is more to the point is: exuberantly enjoy all states of existence. If something is happening that I don’t like, I don’t need to let it effect my enjoyment of life. This is more of a Platonic ideal that exists in another realm. Any realization of this will probably piss most people off, but I can try, right?

I really want to start enjoying everything because I want to enjoy the grunt work that it takes to get somewhere and be something in life. In other words, I want to enjoy all it takes to be successful in order to enjoy my (assumed) success all the more!

Have a great new years! I’ll see you on the other side of it. I wish you a very successful 2010! Oh! Here’s to a new decade, “Cheers!”

For more information on order and complexity, check out What Lies Between Order and Chaos (PDF), Complexity: Order contra Chaos (PDF), Is Anything Ever New? (PDF), When Evolution is Revolution–Origins of Innovation (PDF), and Computation at the Onset of Chaos (PDF).

Be a Kid Again!

Recently, I’ve been wanting to be like a kid. Actually, it’s been a theme I’m been striving to emulate for over a year. It was reinforced when I saw Hideshi Hamaguchi’s page at Portland on Fire. He’s an “experienced toddler”. (He’s also an amazing person, if you get a chance to meet him please do.)

Kid’s are just amazing. They grab a hold of anything and play with it for all it’s worth. They juice amazing amounts of knowledge from playing with things. They aren’t afraid to go after whatever they want. They just want tease things and see what happens. They are probably the best specimens for seeing how the brain works in it’s most natural state. They don’t know much about their environment, but they learn tons by interacting.

Recently, it’s been exhilarating to look at the amazing potential to interact with my environment. In general, it’s exhilarating to look at the potential for anyone to interact with the environment, and those around us. A friend keeps reminding me this phrase, “We do not know what anything is for.” It’s so true. It’s the core mindset of the hacker (not to be confused with the negative side of that, see cracker). Anything can be re-purposed for anything else, but more than that, anything can be interacted with differently. Here’s an example of that:


That is a video of MIT’s Kelly Dobson and her blender, Blendie. You can learn more about Kelly here, you can learn more about blendie, here. Her field is Machine Therapy.

Seeing that video reminded me of harmonizing with a vacuum cleaner, singing into a fan just because of the awesome effect it had on the sound passing through it, and first experimenting with the harmonic resonance of physical spaces through singing and later throat singing. There are just so many cool things to do.

When it comes to inventing new ideas, interacting with objects, or doing anything, the only bad idea is one that failed. Even then, it isn’t a bad idea because of the learning involved. Just remember to bring out that inner kid everyday.

*Special thanks to Amber Case, Cyborg Anthropologist. She is responsible for leading me to that video. She post all sorts of amazing things on her website, flickr, and tumblr. World look out! She is an emerging thought leader.

Where’s “The Lost and Found”?

At 9:16 AM Dec 22nd @vincenthunt said, “There are far too many people walking around looking for their passion, and their purpose. I wonder where the ‘lost and found’ is??” Immediately, my mind started thinking about why. I wrote back “The ‘lost and found’ is everyone and it is also deep inside each person waiting. You’ve inspired me to write a blog post.” So here’s the post:

Society at large seems to teach us that we are born, go to school, get a mediocre job, retire, then die. While we’re living we might make some money, we might inadvertently change the world, and we’ll probably buy a few things along the way. This doesn’t strike me as a picture that inspires purpose into a life. In fact it seems to take away purpose.

I think most people think they need a “job”; they think they need to be employed. Most people are raised to think that there is no other way to make an easy living. People also tend to seek the approval of others. Many people probably don’t do this intentionally, rather subconsciously. Maybe they think people won’t approve of them quitting their job and risking their income. Maybe they’re just afraid that they won’t be able to have all of what they do now. That might be true. It might be tough to start a new venture after quiting a job.

Entrepreneurs are more likely to not think this way. If they want something to happen they will go for it. If they see how the world could be different they will convince enough people to make it happen. They will ask for whatever it takes to do it. They won’t be afraid to ask. They won’t think about how weird it might seem. They don’t think about how strange doing something seemingly impossible is to other people. They also have the confidence to know that it can be done and the knowledge and ability to direct it to completion. They know how to work their magic.

Now this is too idealistic. Most entrepreneurs are not one hit wonders. They too must learn their craft. Perhaps a few of them were lucky to have caregivers that taught them the ways of the entrepreneur. I venture that most didn’t have that good fortune. So what makes these people different from you or me? Nothing really. They just saw something and went for it. They probably fell along the way. Everyone falls when they learn to walk.

So what does this have to do with where the “lost and found” is? I think people lose their purpose about the time they realize it’s easier to keep doing what they’re doing: crawling along at some job they can merely put up with. The thing is, people probably still have that purpose inside of them. Buried underneath the seeming impossibility of it all, is a passion they lost track of in the mess that our lives seem to become. Now here is where everyone becomes involved: Everyone is similar at some level. People have needs. If one has a compulsion to do or make something, there are probably a few people out there who would enjoy it or have a need for it. Basically, if you feel compelled to provide an item or a service that brings value to people, you’ll succeed. It seems so simple and feels so counter to our everyday lives; but if you really go for it, you’ll be free from the tyranny of boredom. Just go out there and learn to walk and you’ll do what you enjoy doing. You might just find your passion and purpose.

More Randomness

Tonight, a friend asked me, “What pervades everything?” I thought about it, and I don’t know. In the past, I have thought about what goes through everything. I gave that earlier question the answer “information”. Although one can say it isn’t information, because information is not necessarily all pervasive — but then maybe it is. Information triggers the creation of more information. The movement is from information to information. Is there a moment where there is no pure information in the system and it is a heterogeneous mixture of information and something else? That something else can be described in terms of information and this is what introduces the creation of information. I do not believe that information only changes from one form to another. The amount of information continuously increases — this is entropy. Then, of course, there is a relationship between the measure of entropy and work. Both are time dependant and increase with time. Work is essentially (simplification!) the energy used summed over time. The actual energy in the system remains the same. Entropy measures the increase in information content, but if, by analogy, there is something like energy — say a state — then states are conserved. States merely transform from one configuration to another based on the information content. Entropy increases as states change from one to another — just like work increases as energy changes from one form to another.

Basically, the act of being permeates everything. However, this is not what I’m going to write about.

I was also thinking about our past — the pioneer days, the colonization of America, the rise and fall of empires, the conquest of the new, and the excitement of establishing things. Where have these days gone? I know that we have a society that is adverse to violence. It would seem as though our conception of pioneering includes plight and plunder, but does it have to be that way? If there were no struggle in action movies, they wouldn’t be quite as exciting. I’m sure this has to do with the way we have evolved over time. It doesn’t seem as though we have entirely domesticated ourselves, and it might take an excruciatingly long time to do so. Still, when will the next county be chartered in a state? Will there be a 51st state? The only real amazing thing one can do these days is charter a city or corporation.

Of course there are those modern day stories of people who have started their own countries. Countries are things that seem to always change, they are destroyed, they are conquered, or they just dissolve. In most cases there is some sort of struggle or war. It seems as though modern civilization (in first world countries) has either restricted people from, or taught most people not to fight against the government. There are probably hundreds of reasons for this. A few are: People don’t always know much about their government. People are indoctrinated that their government is the best government and allows them more freedom than the other countries’ governments. People don’t to do things that they used too. People have become complacent and apathetic toward anything save what they are interested in (which often times doesn’t include anything besides the normal).

Addendum: I think there is still some truth to the last paragraph, but at the same time. I wonder about all of our systems, they seem to always end up disenfranchising a group of people. How can there be a system that continuously grows like entropy or work in physics? How can we take a rather closed economic system with certain resources and make into something more. Is this where the concepts of space industry and the singularity come into play? Virtual goods, aside from the work required to make their bits flow from place to place, really don’t require many resources. Is the vast infinite frontier a digital paradise?

Out of Chaos: Order

Many creation myths contain an element that chaos reigned before order emerged. There’s the Enuma Elish, Genesis, and Ovid’s Metamorphosis. They all imply that there was some sort of chaos until a god (ruler) commands or acts to create order by establishing laws. In Genesis the words used are tohu (toe-who) and bohu (bough-who), which mean unformed and unfilled more or less. They imply a certain amount of disorder. God is introduced using the word elohim, which is normally translated as God. However, this word is definitely broader than that. In few places, and there might only be two, it is used to designate the word rulers or kings.

If you dig deeper in your Biblia Hebraica Stutgarttensia (that’s the gold standard used for researching the old testament; it contains all the known variant readings in their original language), you will find more textual evidence pointing towards the meaning of elohim being rulers. Genesis 6 talks about the sons of God (benai ha’elohim) and the daughters of man (benot ha’adam). This passage has been misunderstood to say that angels were having sexual relations with human women. However taking the meaning of elohim to be rulers, we can safely say that this passage means the rulers were hogging all the women (just in a very different tone). This makes much more sense. It also means that Genesis 1 describes the rulers establishing boundaries, creating names, and decreeing order upon the chaos.

I think the fact that well developed societies had this type of creation myth tells us something about ourselves. Once a society has built a hedge against the randomness of life, they feel as though they have established order. As the generations progress, they begin to feel as though everything is orderly and that order should be demanded of everything. However, there is now a glaring crack growing, bifurcating the facade of that security. In quantum mechanics everything is a probability, nothing is certain until it is measured. Einstein spoke against this negative feature of the quantum by saying, “God is not a pair of dice.” normally translated, “God does not play dice.” Everything is based on randomness. This is a stochastic universe.

Mathematics is begining to tell us the same thing: Everything is based on randomness. The sequence of the prime numbers is random. Algorithmic information theory tells us that the closer to random something is the more dense the information content. A truly random number sequence cannot be compressed. This means that randomness is pure information.

It is the nature of order to emerge from chaos, because chaos represents dense information. Nature’s order comes from a careful balancing act of the creation of information, increasing entropy, and nature’s self organization. Nature, being a complex adaptive system, must let information occupy the most stable state it can form. Randomness is the engine that drives creation (in the present tense). It is probably even the explanation for the arrow of time. All this leads me to believe that order is an emergent property of randomness.