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Tuesday, September 11, 2001

Brazil (1984)

Well, I suppose on this historic day I should take a moment to record my thoughts, particularly since as usual they seem far from the norm.

(For reference in the future: terrorists just hijacked four airliners and flew them into the two towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and some dirt somewhere in Pittsburgh.)

I find I have almost no emotional response to it whatsoever. It fits my model of the world too well. So what everyone else is experiencing in a jolt today, I've spread out evenly over the years. I suppose in that respect, you could say that I am actually happier and more secure today than the average person. I guess cynicism (realism in my book) has it's redeeming moments.

But nobody wants their redeeming moments to be like today, which is why their emotions take over and they can do nothing but to condemn the act, as if somehow a moral judgement is more useful or important than simply objectively understanding what's going on. Instead, they vehemently declare the event to be outside acceptable bounds, to be against the rules, a consequence of nothing other than malicious human Free Will, that random thing that answers only to the ethereal spirit within, a spirit of Good or Evil. Laws of cause and effect are forgotten--or worse, explicitly declared irrelevant. Who cares what the cause is, this is simply unacceptable behavior under any circumstances; no cause could ever possibly justify it.

But it happened anyway, so apparently there was some cause to justify it after all -- in the eyes of the universe, by the laws of physics and chaos and all which that begets. And the last thing anyone will allow themselves to consider is their own role in that cause -- what did I do to make this happen? The shield of moral condemnation protects them from any responsibility, because the only cause considered is one of moral error and hence all of moral righteousness are clearly innocent. I would never do anything like that, and hence it's not my fault.

But, of course, it is. This outburst from hell is but a signpost along the road of good intentions, letting us know we're making good progress along our journey.

[Heh, coincidentally Aaron just now sent me this link which seems to say many of the same things...]

Anyway, when man picked up the first rock and clubbed his enemy over the head with it -- that was the beginning of technology, and it has been a steady march of greater empowerment ever since. Empowerment of individuals, and then empowerment of nations. And with that empowerment comes the need for greater respect -- more cause to pause and think before we act, to be fair, to win mutual trust because in the end we cannot protect ourselves, we can only retaliate, and by then it is too late.

But this is not a very secure position -- to know one is at the mercy of the benevolence of others -- so people's minds reject the truth of it, tell them instead to believe they are strong enough to be safe. This makes them feel better.

And it also gives them less reason to be fair.

And the rest is not only history, but the future as well, because we are a nation of people unprepared to accept our own faults and vulnerabilities.

We, as a nation, will respond with more force, more show of power, both outwardly, and inwardly toward our own citizens, because we believe it is about control, because we are afraid we don't have enough control.

But the truth is we will never have enough control, and never have. On the whole, it is only our ability to retaliate that improves with time. But so does everyone else's. So in truth, it is about respect, which is just the opposite of control.

And to admit that takes courage and honesty, in measures perhaps beyond our means.

So, welcome to the future.

In other news, I've been making slow but steady progress with my AI research -- at least it seems like it could be progress, although I'll never really know until it laughs -- but I've also been getting distracted with physics questions, spawned by someone's request for an explanation of the twin paradox of special relativity. I have a really good, intuitive explanation for that, which I was planning on drawing up in diagrams and making into a web page (if anyone's handy with using Mathematica or such to draw plots and wants to volunteer to help, let me know) but I've been digressing into related minutia which have in their own right been very interesting pursuits (to me at least). At the moment I'm wondering if you can "unfold" space-time such that the path of a photon is perfectly straight, with no discernable origin. When you do that, the funny looking iso-lines of proper time through the Lorentz transform suddenly become regular and grid-like, but... one has to choose a single reference point around which to do that. I guess what I'm trying to do is the equivalent of trying to unwrap polar coordinates from all possible origins at the same time, which just aint gonna happen. Oh well. Perhaps I should go back to doing my taxes (estimated taxes are due in a few days; sigh).

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Simon Funk / simonfunk@gmail.com