Loneliness vs. Being Happy. A choice?

“When a man of Scotty’s years falls in love, the loneliness of his life is suddenly revealed to him.  His whole heart once throbbed only to the ship’s engines.” – Star Trek

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The Boy at six.  How much fun is Christmas?

This week the Internet has been aTwitter® about loneliness.  It’s part of the cycle – it’s Fall, so it’s time for peak talk about being lonely.  Weight loss stories go year ‘round, but they peak after Christmas.  And the stories have a kicker.  “Loneliness is worse than ______ (obesity, high blood pressure, smoking, or, heck choose your own favorite disease to fill in the blank).”  The most recent article that I read seemed to focus on middle aged men, but I think it goes much deeper than just loneliness.  I think the roots are back to Hope.

When was the last time you were so excited that you could hardly sleep because of the day ahead?  That’s Hope.

I’m old enough I enjoy giving stuff more than getting it, but I’ve observed that kind of Hope, that level of anticipation most recently in The Boy and Pugsley.  The Boy is seventeen, and really surprising and delighting him at Christmas is difficult, now.  But Pugsley is twelve and would have the Christmas tree up in early September if we’d let him.  Pugsley dearly loves Christmas, and that spirit is alive in his heart, even when The Mrs. and I play Scrooge and Grinch®.  The Christmas Spirit (which is really just super-concentrated Hope) is naturally strong in the young.

I’ve recently discussed Scott Adams’ Formula for Happiness (LINK),

Happiness = Health + Money + Social + Meaning.

How does it apply to the young?

Health is (generally) a given.  When a child is sick enough that he leans over the side of his bed and throws up in his brother’s pants (which just happened to be on the floor there because they shared a room), he tends to remember that.  (My brother, John Q. Wilder, was not happy.)  Youth and vitality go together, since they haven’t had time to wreck their health yet.

Money is a hit or miss.  But (generally, again) money issues don’t weigh heavily on the mind of a kid.  They know that times might be tight, but they have no perspective to keep them up at night worrying about money.

Social?  In all but the extreme cases, kids have plenty of chances to interact with other kids and make friendships that last a lifetime.  Even shy kids.  They might not be friends with the popular kids, but they can have friends.

Meaning?  Yes, but like kids, it’s pretty shallow.  Being good is near enough what constitutes meaning for the younger set.  Meaning often comes from adequate performance and parental praise.

But as people get older (past their thirties), the equation changes.

Health:  Yearly you are reminded of increasing limitations, stronger eyeglass prescriptions, and less hair (except on the back, where it grows thicker than an Amazon rain forest).  Ow.  My hip hurts.

Money:  Generally people are better off financially as they get older, with the caveat that their peak earning potential may be in the past.

Social:  Friendships may have worn away through long hours and distance – most social contacts might even be at work.

Meaning:  Meaning likely comes from work, spouse, or volunteer organizations, or, in some cases, just making it to another birthday.

What role does hope play?  Hope is looking forward to time with friends and family, having goals big enough to be worthy of chasing, having plans of things you want to do and experience.  These things lead to enthusiasm and excitement in life.

What does the opposite side of the Adams Equation look like?

Despair=Poor Health(No Hope)+No Money(No Hope)+Alone Socially(No Hope)+Meaningless Existence(No Hope)

Despair leads to all the bad issues:

  • Loneliness
  • Depression
  • Disappointment
  • Sadness
  • Pain (real, not like needing a safe space in college because spaghetti is cultural appropriation)

It’s a lot like being a fan of a California NFL© team.

A sudden cratering of any one of the factors in the Equation of Despair can bring about a vicious cycle, leading to spiraling sadness.  This despair is dangerous – fatal if long enough and deep enough.  How many widows die within a month of their husband?  How many men die a month after retirement?

Whereas Hope can put you in a bad place and make you stay for too long (bad job/bad marriage/Raiders® fan), Hope is of then the only thing that will keep you alive when things go horribly wrong, as they absolutely will from time to time.

I think the key might be in being able to look at the world, not through the jaded eyes of experience, but by being able to maintain that sure Hope of a six year old on the night before Christmas . . .

Value Creation and Zombie Steve Jobs

“Lies are like children: they’re hard work, but it’s worth it because the future depends on them.” – House, M.D.

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Pugsley, prior to going for his midnight shift in the PEZ® mines.

I was talking to a friend yesterday when he mentioned that he had been transferred to manage a group of newly graduated college kids.  To be clear – this group of college graduates is in no way typical – I imagine that they’re making in range of $80,000-$90,000 a year.  Not Harvard Law money, but still pretty good for the small(ish) town my friend lives in.  So, as a new manager to the group (he’s been managing people for decades, and he’s a good one) he got the group together to explain what he was looking for from them, what his general expectations were of his employees.  In one line that has been standard for him for years, (I heard it from him when Bill Clinton was President) he indicated that he expected the group to put in, on average, fifty hours a week.

Chaos!

Pandemonium!

My friend had become Literally Hitler.

He eventually backed down to forty-five hours per week, and was demoted to just being Literally Saddam Hussein.

As he told the story, I laughed.

The irony is that these college grads that actually do put in the long hours that my friend suggested will soon be so far ahead of their colleagues that their colleagues will never be able to catch up with them:  the harder worker will have more knowledge, more skills, more credibility, and very soon, much bigger raises and promotions.  Their colleagues will call them, “lucky.”

90% of success is showing up on time.  At least 5% is working just a bit harder, so your skills build up faster, especially when you are young.  (The remaining 5% is turtles.  All the way down.)

What’s the point in all this hard work and achievement?  To be rich?  To stress yourself out to the point where you have a heart attack in your 30s and die?

No.

The point is Value Creation.

One of the coolest aspects of the capitalist system is that it allows you (really, forces you in a purely capitalist system) to be of value to your fellow man.  Capital flows to those that create and provide value.  So, in a truly capitalist system, you create wealth for yourself by creating value for someone you might not even know or ever meet.  Bill Gates made money when I bought my copy of MicroSoft® Word™, and yet he’s never invited me for dinner.  Nor will he, unless that restraining order lapses.  I’ve told him to stop calling me, but that man won’t listen.

Value creation is like magic.  You take an idea or concept to make someone else’s life better, and then you create a product or service out of wood, metal, plastic, or just plain computer code, or, like this blog, just out of pure ideas.  If your idea is good, people will buy it, eat it, or read it, but probably not all three, unless it’s breakfast cereal.

Capitalism is simple – you (should) make money only when you create value for someone else.  Value Creation is nearly alchemy.  Alchemy was (at least in part) focused on turning lead into gold.  Capitalism is better.  It can turn cow poop into gold – when sold as fertilizer.  In a capitalist system, we transmute lower valued items into higher valued items every day.

The flows of capital follow the paths cut by Value Creation.  Those people (and businesses) that are best at creating value get more money.  What do they do with that money?  Do they put it in a box?  No.  They use it to create more value.

And that’s what my friend’s newly graduated college students do not get.  The business isn’t there for them to have a great life.  It doesn’t exist to pay them a living wage.  It won’t pay more because housing is more expensive where the business is.  Companies pay based on the value the employees create.  Don’t create more value than somebody else would for minimum wage?  You’ll get minimum wage.  Don’t create enough value for a three bedroom house on two acres in San Francisco?  Your boss and company don’t care.

In the end, it’s Value Creation.  How do you do it?

There are lots of ways, but perhaps the best way to create value is to solve someone’s problem.  The bigger the problem and the greater the number of people, the greater the value creation, and, generally, the greater the wealth that the person or company can expect to get.  The cell phone is a great example – before it existed, people spent no money on it.  After it was invented, people would spend . . . some money on it.  After the phones got data, and the phones got smart?  Massive floodgates of money poured into a product that had never existed.  Apple© went from a value of $30 billion to a market cap of 30 times as much, nearly a trillion dollars after their innovation with the iPod® and with the iPhone™.  They created a new category, and brought value to people in ways that nobody (except Steve Jobs) anticipated.  I hear that their primary focus right now, however, is bringing Steve Jobs back to life, so they can have a new idea.

The effort that went into creating the new products that Apple® launched was legendary.

And it was more than forty hours per week . . . because changing the world takes more effort than that . . . .

Tom Petty, AM Radio, Heavy Metal, and Motivation

“If you ask me, you are both off the mark.  Last night was about two people ruled by very powerful superegos, tortured by them, who found a chance, however misguided, to break through and rediscover their ids together.  Call me an old softy, but that’s how I see it.” – Frasier

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The Boy and Pugsley dancing in the rain, which makes my id sing.

I’m not sure exactly when I first heard a Tom Petty song.  Where I grew up was media vacuum.  On TV, we had three channels, plus PBS® (Who watched PBS©?  Nobody.).  Unless it was nighttime, we only got two radio stations, and both of them were AM stations.  One played country music, so, for me it might as well not have exisited.  The other played a complicated mix of top 40 from four years previously, news, and an hour of mariachi music at lunchtime.  It signed off (shut down) at 11PM.

But at night . . . at night the mighty KOMA blasted out 50,000 watts of rock and roll at 1520 on the AM dial, the ionosphere conducted the signal hundreds of miles and back toward earth and over the mountains to my house.  It’s probable that I first heard Tom Petty on some cool summer night (down to 50 ˚F most summer nights).  Maybe it was “Don’t Do Me Like That.”

But Tom was always a bit older than I was, both in age and in the issues he raised in his musical themes.  Me?  I gravitated toward metal, mainly hairy metal, Ozzy™.  Mötley Crüe®.  The Scorpions©.  Despite the previous list, what I liked wasn’t all hair metal.  I liked “normal” music, too.

I ended up on a strange quest:  I’d heard a song, once, and I’d try to tell people what it sounded like, and say intelligent things like “it goes Da Da Dadum dadum de-da dum Ohh-Aiii-Uh . . . Uh.”  The record store clerk would nod knowingly, and point to a cassette or album.  It would turn out to be Judas Priest™.  Which I really, really liked.  Or Molly Hatchet©, which was kinda okay.   I would dutifully buy the tape or album, zip home (first on my ten speed, later in my pickup) and then listen to the album.  Normally, in the first song I would know if it was the same singer.  Always the answer was it wasn’t.  But these mistakes were beautiful – I can still remember sitting on the couch on a dim, overcast day, the clouds pregnant with snow that had yet to fall, blasting “The Hellion” and thinking . . . “okay, life is really cool.”

Imagine that this song played every time you entered a room.  I imagine Google® is working on that.

Again, none of them were the band I was looking for.  I think I spent $300 or so on every single album that featured leather, scantily clad females, and Spandex® that I could find.  For reference, I had all of these as either cassettes or albums.  Album cover copyrights belong to their respective corporate overlords.

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Funky font?   Check.  Picture that looks like something the disturbed kid drew in art class?  Check.

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Satan?  Check.  Priest in glasses being thrown into a pit of fire?  Check.

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Hmmm.  I don’t know about you, but something screams, John Wilder, BUY THIS ALBUM NOW!

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Spandex®?  Check.  Leather?  Check.  Canadian?  Check.  But . . . they’re dudes.  I bought this on cassette, so, thankfully, the picture was tiny.

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Swords?  Check.  Giant flying leathery chicken?  Check?  Leather . . . on a girl this time?  Check.

AliceCooper

Wow.  Just . . . wow.

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I never could figure out what sort of naughty thing they were supposed to be doing.  In the day.  At a drive in.  With both feet out the window.  Probably ripping the labels off of pillows?

Until . . . like Columbus I discovered what was already there (and broken up by the time I found them): Led Zeppelin.  True Fact:  Christopher Columbus first discovered Robert Plant picking onions in a Nevada prison camp, and introduced him to Jimmy Page at a ballet class, but would take no credit because he wanted Led Zeppelin to do disco music.

So, I listened again to Zeppelin. “Yeah, it might be that guy singing?”

It was.  It was this song:

This was the song.  Yay! 

But I’d have to special order the album, since they didn’t have Led Zeppelin III in stock.

Nope.  Too much commitment.

As you might have been able to tell by the artists and album covers above, my musical tastes were driven by my id.

If you don’t remember your Freud, he broke the brain into three bits:

  1. The Super Ego, which, like your dad, is for criticism and moralizing.
  2. The Ego, which is the organized human who lives on the main floor and deals with society in a realistic manner, and
  3. The Id, where all base instincts (Sex, PEZ® and Rock and Roll) live in the basement of your brain.

I listened to a lot of rock that was id driven.  And why not, I was working on a multi-decade winning streak.  Sad songs were for people who occasionally lost stuff.  But Tom Petty’s music was deeper.  It spoke to the conflict between the Super Ego and Ego, an intellectual and emotional conflict I really didn’t have.  I was riding high on year after year of success, slaying dragons and charging the castle.  Why would I question anything?  Party on, dudes!!

It wasn’t that Tom and I didn’t get along – he was no Bruce Springsteen or Johnny Depp, who are both dead to me.  They know why.

Really, it took life kicking me in the teeth more than once to move me from the normal reckless abandon that I attacked life with to a person who asks the kinds of questions that Tom Petty discusses in his songs.  I still recall having a conversation with The Mrs. when I began to realize that I liked Tom Petty:

Me:  “You know, the older I get, the more I understand Tom Petty.”

The Mrs., shaking her head, raising her voice a little:  “Can’t hear you . . . blow dryer on.”

But now Mr. Petty is speaking to me again – he died.

It’s not unusual for rock stars to die young – it’s like we pick an unstable, talented personality and then shove massive amounts of cash at them.  I’m just surprised that 90% of them aren’t dead by 30.  Just my luck that after the apocalypse the Twinkie®, the cockroach, and Johnny Depp will still be around.

But Tom Petty won’t be around, even though The Postman (movie) promised me that he would be.  His death hit me (oddly) harder than I’d anticipated.  He hadn’t been my life’s soundtrack, though I’d clearly been listening to him more recently.

He made it to 66.  According to the CDC, 83% of white non-Hispanics will make it to 67.  Only 1% of 66 year olds die.  If you make it to 66, your mean life expectancy is to make it to 86.  So, from this data, he died early.  But he didn’t look out of shape.  Far from it – he’d just finished a part of a concert tour comprised of 50 dates in five months, which can take a toll on 26 year olds, though I presume at 26 it’s the Jack Daniels® and late nights and not the (presumed) warm tea, oatmeal cookies and obligatory cellophane wrapped butterscotch hard candies that old people like that filled the Heartbreaker’s dressing room.

Though Mr. Petty was quite a bit older than me, I guess his death hit me like it did, because even at 66 it seemed he should be too young to die, just as his voice entered my soundtrack with a greater frequency and volume.  It makes me feel that much more mortal, and therefore more committed to getting into the best shape possible now so I can be in the 50% that make it to 82 years.

Tom Petty inspired millions in many ways – through emotional ups and downs.  He inspired artists everywhere that they could pick up a guitar and play and that their music would, like his, give them a slice of immortality.  And guys like me who want to keep runnin’ down our dreams.  I think this is the part where I get the dragon, right?

Thanks, Tom.

A Short Guide to Transhumanism and The Future of Society

“So it says here that you’re proficient in C++, code assembly for multiple processor architectures, and . . . that you are a cyborg?” – Silicon Valley

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What a Transhuman might see?  Or way too many filters?

Friday’s discussion of Ray Kurzweil’s (LINK) work on immortality was just part of a bigger picture:  it is one of the foundational principles of Transhumanism.  One definition of Transhumanism is the use of biology, information technology, nanotechnology, and cognitive enhancements to consciously and dramatically evolve humanity in a short period of time.  I know, I know, it sounds like a villain’s plot out of James Bond, but there are a dedicated group of people who are working to bring this about right now.

Transhumanists even have a magazine (LINK) called H+.  H+, for humanity plus, is also the abbreviation that is used by some for the movement to indicate Transhumanity.  And they’re working on achieving H+ now.  One of the more recent articles was referencing a study showing that planarian worms keep their memory after being frozen – something that might be important if you are researching how to bring yourself back after being frozen, like Kurzweil plans for after he dies, if he’s not immortal by then.

We talked about biology on Friday, and getting people to live forever (or a really long time) is part of the movement.  But it’s not just living longer, it’s also increasing life quality.  Inevitably, the idea of uploading a human consciousness (maybe after getting thawed out?) into a machine comes up, since human life is frail and we could build a robot body that’s tougher than a refrigerator, and faster than one of those shaky little Chihuahua dogs.  Having a cool steel body would allow you to be either a Prius® or a Corvette©, depending on if you liked the metric system or not.

But if you had your brain already uploaded into a machine, why bother at all with an actual body?

That’s a second possibility – just upload your consciousness and live in a hard drive.  Some folks, like me and Elon Musk consider it more than a little likely that we live inside a simulation right now.  My first post to discuss this idea was here (LINK) where it becomes the explanation for why we haven’t been contacted by aliens.  We’re either living in a simulation or we’re non-player characters in a very detailed video game.  At least you might be a non-player character, I know I’m real (not as sure about you).  Maybe it’s a multiplayer game?

The other frontier of study that is impacting Transhumanism is nanotechnology.  For about a year, everything was “nano” in every magazine, every news story.  It think that’s been replaced (for now) with “sustainable.”  But, outside of a cool techno band name, what does nano mean?  Roughly it speaks to structures between 0.000000001 meters and 0.0000001 meters in size.

“Nano” had its start when Dr. Richard Feynman put together a lecture that was titled, “There’s Plenty of Room at The Bottom.”  You can find it here (LINK).  In it, Feynman sets the stage for manipulation and eventual mechanization of really, really small machines.  In it he referenced biology as a template – we know that these small machines can exist at that scale, because cells exist and are functional at that scale.

Another place that H+ folks are working on is cognitive improvement – concepts on how to better improve the functioning of the human brain and make us smarter, either biologically, chemically, or through fusion with technology.  And not smart like “vodka Saturday night,” but really smart.  Chemical enhancement has gotten a majority of the attention when discussing the subject, but I would suggest that Google® has already provided a significant cognitive enhancement.  I recall having conversation in 1998 when The Mrs. and I were having an argument about something so important I don’t even recall the subject now.  My friend Matt looked at us and said, “Why are you arguing about a fact.  Look it up.”  After booting up the computer and connecting to the internet via a modem, one Hotbot.com search later, and we had a factual answer (this was before Google™ took the world by storm).  We haven’t had an argument over a searchable fact in years.

I argue that the most significant cognitive enhancement in human history so far has already occurred.  The Internet provides a massive amount of factual knowledge and computing power.  This power makes us all smarter, and gives as a much more of information far faster than at any point in history.

By nature, this vast variety of views makes us drift further apart as a nation.  When I was a kid, there were three networks, plus PBS.  Everybody in the seventh grade talked about the same show – we were all watching it – after all, Fonzie.  Cable existed, but it was mainly a way to get The Three Stooges©.  Now, it’s very rare to go in to work and be able to talk about a television show – I’ve got 200 channels, and I’m certain that nobody I work with is watching Escape from New York right now.  Given DVRs and on-demand, people might not even watch the same show in the same year as you.

On Friday I said that I thought that, even though the several aspects of immortality seemed to be pretty far off from a technical standpoint, I thought that there might be a way that some of the more crazy-sounding things might happen sooner than we’d think.

And there is – it’s called increasing returns.  Outside of standard medical science, which I think we can all agree is pretty stunted (LINK), there is a massive increase in technical knowledge going on.  If I can use an analogy – if you’ve ever done a really big jigsaw puzzle, it’s very slow to start with.  All the pieces fit with other pieces, but there are so many other pieces it’s difficult to find the connections.  But once a few connections start to go in, the picture starts to make more sense.  Eventually, as there are only a few pieces of puzzle left, they go very quickly.

And it’s been that way with technology throughout history.  Our knowledge as a species keeps growing over time – more links are made, and finally we solve one puzzle quickly.  We do run into physical and thermodynamic limits, like the total amount of energy one can get from a gallon of gasoline, or the amount of flavor that can be packed into a piece of Juicy Fruit®.

As we have more smart people on the planet now than ever before in history that can now pull information from the entire history of the world working on information system problems, we end up with far more than Uber – we’re near to having AI systems that that will be able to replicate most of the things that most thinking people do at work.  From truck drivers to managers to accountants.  A few key decision makers and people who do actual physical work that robots can’t do will be all that’s necessary to run a major corporation.  One corporation I was working at around 1999 got rid of hundreds of accountants – floors of a skyscraper were empty – not because business was bad, but because those people had all been replaced with accounting software, and purchasing software.

And this will increase with time, too.

The big idea of Transhumanism isn’t that we replace a bunch of accountants and purchasing managers – the big idea of Transhumanism is that we replace humanity with newly evolved Transhumans.  And there’s no fixed version of what the final, evolved version of us will be like.  It almost certainly will not look like us.  Beyond that, I’m not even sure what the viewpoint would be of 200+ IQ immortal cyborgs – what projects would they work on – how would they vote?  Would we even be able to communicate with them?  The final form of Transhumanity might be one where they instantly communicate, one to another.  They might look much more like Borg® than Boy Scouts.

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Bought a t-shirt with this on it for The Mrs. – she still wears it.  No one wants to be late for the Singularity!  (H+ Magazine)

Greg Bear wrote a great story (that he eventually turned into a novel) about combining intelligence plus cells using nanotech – the original short story can be found here (LINK).  The story describes increasing returns in a pretty unusual and chilling way.

We can’t know what the final form of Transhumanity will look like.  There is a mathematical definition that describes when mathematics and logic break down – like one divided by zero, or a black hole where gravity overpowers all other forces.  We call this a Singularity – and it’s clear that we cannot imagine what an all-powerful humanity would look like.  I just hope that they don’t get me in the freezer too late during the Singularity – I would hate to still be in the microwave when the Singularity hits.  That’s just bad form.

The Fermi Paradox, or, Is There Life In Other Fridges?

“Morty, there’s nothing dishonest about what we’re doing.  Now slap on these antennae.  These people need to think we’re aliens.” – Rick and Morty

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What an alien might look like.  Perhaps a bit too subtle in the orange suit?

“Where is everybody?”

That’s the simple question that Enrico Fermi asked at lunch in 1950 at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.  Everybody laughed, because on the walk to lunch, these eminent physicists (Edward Teller, father of the hydrogen bomb was one) had been talking about UFOs, and his comment a half hour later seemed to capture the idea that all of them had.  To my knowledge, none of these eminent men (except for Teller) lived in Mom’s basement or wore tinfoil underwear to bed, so it was a serious question asked by seriously smart dudes:

Where are the aliens?

Eventually this question became the foundation for what’s known today as the “Fermi Paradox.”  Stated simply, the Fermi Paradox says:

  1. The galaxy has been around for billions of years so,
  2. It’s unlikely that we’re the first civilization,
  3. A civilization should be able to move across a galaxy in millions of years, so
  4. Why don’t we hear them or see them? Why aren’t they in our solar system?  Is the food that bad here?

Thankfully, a large number of people (some of whom also live in their Mom’s basement) have spent a lot of time thinking about this.  Per Wikipedia (LINK), here are the best answers:

  • Extraterrestrial life is rare or non-existent: This is the first explanation.  But it’s lame.  Really lame.  Everywhere we look in interstellar space, we see signs of chemicals that are clearly precursors to life.  And life showed up pretty quickly on Earth, and perhaps even earlier on Mars.  I don’t buy this one.  If you’ve seen the inside of my fridge, you know that life is everywhere.
  • No other intelligent species have arisen: I have to give this one a possibility.  As far as we know, intelligent, tool making life has existed only for 0.01% of the lifetime of the planet.  That’s not a lot of time.  Could it be that intelligence beyond a certain point actually results in an evolutionary disadvantage?  Maybe all the intelligent lizard-people were eaten by Tyrannosaurus Rex while arguing that the means of production should be shared by all dinosaurs, and that T. Rex was a greedy member of the 1%?

From XKCD.

  •  Intelligent alien species lack advanced technology: I can see lots of ways this could be.  A planet with low metal content so no circuits.  It’s pretty hard to build a bamboo radio telescope that works.  For that you also need kelp, and an electric eel.
  • It is the nature of intelligent life to destroy itself: Are you talkin’ to me?  Hmm?  Well, I’m the only one here.  I thought so.  I looked up the main causes of death in the world in 2015.  People killing people was not in the top 10.  So, while it might be fun to beat up on yourself and on how bad humanity is, that’s simply not the case.  Mankind rocks.
  • It is the nature of intelligent life to destroy others:   With a sample size of zero, it’s hard to say one way or another.  Even a small number of alien species bent on destruction of all other species would be significant.  But wouldn’t we have seen a sign of that, like a big moon gun shooting at us?
  • Periodic extinction by natural events: It’s undeniable that happens here on Earth.   There have been five mass extinctions, with the most recent being 65,000,000 years ago, which is longer than many people live, so you might not remember it.  It’s the one that killed all the dinosaurs, remember them?
  • Inflation hypothesis and the youngness argument: This one is bogus.  Even the author (Future Nobel Prize Winner Dr. Alan Guth) argues that in his paper (LINK).  I don’t suggest you read it, since he gives away all the spoilers in the Abstract.  The relevant quote about the Fermi Paradox is:

Thus, if we know only that we are living in a pocket universe that satisfies Eq. (12), it is extremely improbable that it also satisfies Eq. (13). We would conclude, therefore, that it is extraordinarily improbable that there is a civilization in our pocket universe that is at least 1 second more advanced than we are. Perhaps this argument explains why SETI has not found any signals from alien civilizations, but I find it more plausible that it is merely a symptom that the synchronous gauge probability distribution is not the right one.

Translation:  This result makes no sense.

  • Intelligent civilizations are too far apart in space or time: Yes, but they can cross the entire galaxy in a few million years.  Unless no civilization ever does this, we should see something.  An interstellar Outback® or Jimmie Johns™ on Mars.  Something.  I’m calling this unlikely.
  • It is too expensive to spread physically throughout the galaxy:   Time is on your side, and something like a self-replicating robot could easily get through the galaxy in a million years and spend time creating “My Robot Went to Cygnus X-1 and Only Got Me This Lousy T-Shirt” t-shirts for the inevitable tourist trade.  This is nearly within our ability, so, unlikely.
  • Human beings have not listened long enough: This is a good point.  We’ve only been able to listen for the last 80 years or so, and most of the time we weren’t listening.  Unless the aliens bought commercial air time during the Super Bowl®, they could have been broadcasting instructions on how to build an interstellar drive for a space ship or how to make creamy PEZ® and we would never have heard.
  • We are not listening properly: My first grade teacher accused me of this.  In writing.  On my report card.  “Johnny likes to talk and can’t sit still.”  That’s because I was a boy, silly.  That’s on the warning label, along with the bruises, cuts, and torn jeans.  But back to aliens.  We listen on the radio spectrum, mostly.  And mostly on a particular spectrum, as defined by the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute’s website (below).  What if that’s just a convenient place to look, and not the one aliens have settled on?  What if they use lasers, or the even more potent laser/shark method?  What if they text?  What if they use fundamentally different timescales (much slower or faster)?  This is likely, in my opinion.

For interstellar communication, a particular range of radio frequencies, “microwaves” from 1 GHz to 10 GHz, are particularly good choices.  At lower frequencies our galaxy emits prodigious amounts of radio waves creating a loud background of noise.  At higher frequencies the Earth’s atmosphere, and presumably the atmosphere of other Earth-like planets, absorbs and emits broad ranges of radio frequencies.  The result is a quiet “Microwave Window” through which efficient radio communication is possible.

From XKCD

  • Civilizations broadcast detectable radio signals only for a brief period of time: This was (kinda) my theory in 2000 when I emailed Frank Drake (LINK) and asked him – (his equation-The Drake Equation-is used to estimate the number of civilizations communicating in the galaxy).  In short, my hypothesis was that civilizations must have sufficient excess energy to spend the time and effort to broadcast to space and to listen for signals from space, and that having that excess energy from (like us) hydrocarbons like oil and natural gas and coal only last for a while.  And fusion is hard, and fission has waste problems.  A related post of mine is here (LINK).  Drake responded, and, sadly, that email account is no longer or I’d quote the response.  In one word, his answer was, “maybe.”  The other concept is that civilizations are “noisy” for a while until they learn to move on from high powered radio to lots of smaller low-power radios.  Earth has gotten a lot quieter since the 1970’s.

From XKCD

  •  They tend to isolate themselves: It could be that the alien species are all introverts that like spending time in their room listening to music, or standing in the corner at a party until they sneak out and go home and hit the Playstation®.
  • They are too alien: Aliens might be so different than us that we cannot mutually communicate – ever.  It would be like meeting a civilization composed entirely of ex-wives (or ex-husbands, your choice).  Hey, maybe that was why they called it the eX-Files®?
  • Everyone is listening, no one is transmitting: Like us.  We’re not actively sending signals out, or at least not very often.  If someone did hear us, they’d look back to see if there was a signal, and they wouldn’t find a thing.
  • Earth is deliberately not contacted (zoo): We’re like the hippos in the zoo.  People look, but you’re not supposed to disturb the display.  Oh, look what happens when you throw a hurricane at them!  Silly people!  Possible, but seems like a lot of work.
  • Earth is purposely isolated (prank): Let’s take a civilization, and make it look like nothing’s going on outside their solar system (snicker).  And let’s magic marker their face.  Seems very unlikely, and way too much effort.
  • It is dangerous to communicate: Maybe everybody looks out and says . . . “Where is everyone?”  Since there’s no good answer, they assume everyone before them got smashed by . . . something out there.  So, they shut up.  Maybe?  It’s what Hawking is suggesting as our best strategy now.
  • The Simulation Theory: We live in a simulation, and they didn’t program in any aliens.  Very possible.  Our current level of technology could almost produce a realistic simulation, so it’s not too far off to expect that another million years of tech advancement would produce not only SuperUber with cabs that all driven by clones of NFL® legend Howie Long, but the ability to live your entire life in your Mom’s basement in a virtual reality.  And we’re all non-player characters.
  • They are here undetected: They’re sneaky, and are all over, like tourists, and we just don’t know it.  Some silly Prime Directive or something.  I believe this is unlikely, because Kirk always ignored the Prime Directive whenever it was even remotely convenient.
  • They are here unacknowledged: This is the true X-Files® X-Planation.  Government knows.  SETI™ knows.  Nobody will tell us.  This is one of the most popular with the tinfoil-wearing basement dwellers.  It’s solidly possible.  Blue Oyster Cult certainly thinks so:

1980’s at its best:  men in black, bad special effects, girls in furs, weird beards, and Flight 19 references.

What about . . . we are the aliens?  If you look at life . . . it’s got great computational power.  It’s got amazing resiliency to everything from meteor bombardment to super volcanos.  It has amazing memory storage capacity (think the amount of info in DNA alone).  It’s complex, but resilient.  Perhaps the galaxy has been seeded, with us and the things that live in my fridge.  And we’re the replicating critters that are supposed to send copies out into the cosmos.

When we manage to get out of Mom’s basement.

 

Superpowers, Stress, Ben Franklin’s Nails

“I’m not stressed beyond the stress induced by telling you how stressed I am.” – House

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The Boy took this selfie.  Not sure what he was upset about.  Maybe it was the stock market? 

I think too much.  I know, I know, it hurts.  The Mrs. tells me I should just relax and not think so much.  But perhaps my superpower is that I think about the future, so to not think about the future would be like Superman® not flying or Aquaman™ not . . . talking to fish, or whatever it is that he does.

To me, the future is a set of probabilities, branching at intervals.  And what I can do is imagine branches from decisions in the past reaching into the future, starting at the single, solid limb of now, and moving forward, getting smaller, as larger probabilities stay thicker, but smaller possibilities branch out into tiny limbs.

The tiny limbs are real, though, and they represent things that can happen based upon both the choices made today as well as some element of chance (either random or not).

As we’ve discussed in the past, Taleb taught us that all probabilities and all risks aren’t equal (LINK).  And Seneca said it’s always easier for things to come crashing down than to hold them together (LINK).

 

But we are active in creating our future.  I can place myself (mentally) in that future to understand what that situation looks like.  I can imagine a future where I cooked a cherry pie.  I can then map it out and see what I can do now to make a better then.  Like buy whipped cream for the top.  And I can imagine a future where we’ve all forgotten about Warrant:

Is it wrong that sometimes I sing the lyrics “She’s a hairy guy?”  I swear this isn’t about Jenner.

My Superpower is a little like chess, but with more showering than the last chess tournament I was in.  Also, the variables are not as well-known as chess, but in most cases I’ve done really well with at work and at life with this ability, though I cannot yet hover or make adamantium claws spring out from my knuckles, which would be even better superpowers than fish-talking.

But when we finally get to a decision point, most of the time it’s like coming home to a place I’d already been on my imaginary branch so I’m generally not surprised.

One advantage to this power is that I look at the risks around me on a regular basis and try to figure out ways around them, measures that mitigate them, or better yet, insurance that I can get that allows someone else to take the risk (insurance is not always an Allstate® product, sometimes it’s a contract where somebody else owns a risk, which can often be gotten for asking).

Of the things I do at work (besides being snarky and obscure), this is probably the best one.  Way better than my coffee consumption skill, though I’ve been told that’s legendary.

And frankly, I like the pressure when the ball is in my hand and I have the ability to think, to perform and to achieve.  I like the odds on me performing well, because I think like this:

 Diz ſagent uns die wîſen, ein nagel behalt ein îſen, ein îſen ein ros, ein ros ein man, ein man ein burc, der ſtrîten kan.

-Freidank (Which is a dude’s name.) via Wikipedia

I know, a knee-slapper, right?

The English version of that is:

The wise tell us that a nail keeps a shoe, a shoe a horse, a horse a man, a man a castle, that can fight. – Now a translated Freidank, still via Wikipedia

And, know that Freidank lived in 1230 A.D., long before Ben Franklin collected a version in his book “The Way to Wealth” that most of us are more familiar with:

For the want of a nail the shoe was lost,
For the want of a shoe the horse was lost,
For the want of a horse the rider was lost,
For the want of a rider the battle was lost,
For the want of a battle the kingdom was lost,
And all for the want of a horseshoe-nail.

Thinking this way is stressful, but not the bad kind of stress, but rather the excitement, the exhilaration of having a real problem, a meaningful problem to be solved.  Are there exciting challenges?  Sure!  Are there horrible, frustrating setbacks?  Also, sure.  But when everything comes together and we light up the cigars to celebrate, it more than makes up for anything “stressful” along the way.

A Stanford® professor (LINK) has been doing research and agrees.  “Good” stress is . . . not bad for you, and, in fact, may help you perform at your peak.  It’s a challenge.

That same article noted that stress was bad mainly if you thought it was bad.  If you thought it was okay, exciting, just a challenge?  It tended to not have the bad long-term consequences we associated with stress: the heart attacks, the stress hormones, the late night peanut butter and tuna sandwiches, etc.

But for me, the downside of this thinking was still this thinking.

I can see bad things.

My job (in many cases) has been literally looking at the worst case and pulling back from there.  I once looked at tornado frequency in the Midwest, and made a half-hearted attempt to quantify the likelihood of civil war changing our government (this was only for about six months of my career, but it was an interesting six months).  Since that was my job and I got paid to do it, it tended to bleed over into home life, so I thought about worst case scenarios even when I was off the clock, and related them to myself and my family.  The upside?  The last time we needed duct tape, paracord, a socket set, and a knife on a family trip (this really happened) we had it in the emergency kit in the trunk.  I only wish I had packed the goatskin – we could have used that.

So I think.  It used to be worst at night when I was ready to go to sleep.  The possibilities would branch out and I would end up going down decision/probability trees (of my own personal life) and, being night and all, often end up in some dark places.  I’d start with, say, needing to pay the mortgage, and then end up penniless and panhandling to pay for new shingles after a storm that never happened.  Yeah.  Silly.  Now I play the radio so other people think and I can listen – it distracts me so I don’t end up on paranoid rabbit trails.

The downside of this is that thinking down chains of causation, I used to build up a big amount of worry in a hurry about personal stuff.  It’s not that I’m scared of the future, it’s that the future can be so uncertain – understanding that a risk exists doesn’t tell you very much about the risk.  For that, experience and mathematics are key, but we’ll have that on a Monday post some week.

One thing leads to another, and I ended up with?  Stress.

Not the good kind.  I’d worry about aspects of my future that were difficult to control.  Research indicates that the key to removal of stress in life is having control.  In psychological speak, believing that most outcomes depend on things that you can do and control is called an “internal locus of control” and is just a fancy way to show that you like having the ball in your hands on a 4th and five with 30 seconds left on the clock.  You believe you control your own outcomes.

So I turned parts of that into challenges.  I challenged myself to have enough money so that I didn’t have to worry about next week’s mortgage, or even next year’s mortgage.  I took my money stress and put it in my hands, and thankfully had the opportunities to make sufficient money that I’m not scared about tomorrow.  I did my best to take what was a (bad) stress and turn it into a good pressure to achieve.

Tough times along the way?  Yeah.  But way more wins than losses.

I think that’s why it’s exhilarating to quit a job – it’s the ultimate demonstration of control when you can move to a situation where you think you’ll be happier.

I think that (in part) is what Jordan Peterson means (LINK) when he says “clean your room” – take control of some facet of your own life so that you feel you’re able to fix your own situation before you burn out.

I’ve switched from being fixated at looking down long dark halls and now I see the light coming in from the side rooms.  And I like to think that I take some time to play there – because on a long enough timeline, all of our mortality rates are 1.0.

And I’m committed to taking control and ownership of my issues.  Like Mark Twain said, “Worrying is like paying a debt you don’t owe.”  And, as I noted on an earlier post, that’s at least part of what keeps me writing.  I’m taking control, taking the garbage out, and making sure I have enough nails.

Somebody might need that horse after all.  Better yet?

Let’s saddle up Ben.

For heaven’s sake, if you’re really stressed out, go see a doctor, not an Internet humorist!

Jordan Peterson, Success, Bruce Campbell, and Roman Emperors

Discovery Channel© has Shark Week™, and at Wilder, Wealthy and Wise® we are lucky enough to have Dr. Jordan Peterson Week©.  This is the third of three posts on Dr. Jordan Peterson – his website is here (LINK). My first post on Dr. Peterson can be found here (LINK), and the second post here (LINK).

 

“Jamie, how many 29 year old record company presidents operate out of their mom’s trailers? Know what I’m sayin’?”- J-Roc’s Mom, “Trailer Park Boys

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Oil Tank Dennis Quaid (playing Sam Houston) knows a little bit about Oil Tank success, starting his own Oil Tank country and all.

I had intended on just doing three posts this year on Dr. Peterson, but will probably do updates from time to time, since his ideas are stone-cold interesting and I think I could do six weeks of posts on those ideas without repeating myself, but if I did that we’d just have to hand over the reins to Jordan, and I own the domain name, and I don’t think he’d share the revenues.

Elon Musk almost always has something going on, too.

Monthly updates about these guys?  We’ll see.

(By the way, Elon, GOOD JOB dumping Amber Heard, she’s really not worth a Prius®, dude.  I’m telling you – she is trouble and likely a Terminator® sent by James Cameron from the future to mess with your Mars (LINK) plan.  You dodged a bullet!!!)

The_Man_Who_Sold_the_Moon_Shasta_Ed

Now a 100,000% better with no Amber Heard. (image, Wikipedia)

But this is Wealthy Wednesday, and Dr. Peterson has a lot to say about success (and, it seems, almost everything else), which is reasonable given the unreasonable amount of success that he’s had, especially recently.

Today we’re going back to those forty points that Peterson laid out on Quora (LINK) in response to the question “What are the most valuable things everyone should know?”  In the analysis on Truth last post (LINK), Dr. Peterson had 16 out of 40 points that related in some way to Truth (I know, we could quibble, was it 15 or 17, but why quibble, since we’re friends?).  Are there any of the 40 points that speak to success?

Yes.  Dr. Peterson speaks on things I consider to be huge when it comes to a deep, meaningful success that combines significance with economic success.  I mean, why would you want a Justin Bieber-level success if you could have success that mattered, like Bruce Campbell?

Bruce

A perfect gift for any occasion!

Peterson has several videos on YouTube® that directly tackle important personal development points that lead to success:  fear (and how to overcome it), the importance of having a routine, where to find the freshest and plumpest Pez®, and how success leads to even more success.  I encourage you to watch the videos.

But going back to the 40 points.  Many relate to behaviors (behaviours in Canada, eh) that lead to success.  These are quoted below (bold) with Dr. Peterson’s gracious permission.  My commentary follows.

  • Pursue what is meaningful, not what is expedient. – There is always the opportunity to do things just for the moment, but when you work on what matters? That leads to long term success and value.  This means that, no, eating only appetizers doesn’t make a good dinner.  You need cake, too.
  • If you have to choose, be the one who does things, instead of the one who is seen to do things.   Do them so you how to do them.  Do them because they are meaningful.  Do them because it’s right.  Doing them just to be seen?  Yeah, we wedgied that guy in High School.  That’s the worst kind of smarmy dude.
  • Pay attention. Sorry, dozed off.  Oh, yeah.  People notice when you take them seriously, when what they say matters to you.  If you’re not present in the moment, those that are will notice.  And you’ll miss important things.  “Hang on, honey, I have to tell Google that they should lower their price to $750,000.  They want a million bucks!  Stupid college kids.”  (Yes, that really happened, and he did not get the deal.)
  • Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you need to know. Listen to them hard enough so that they will share it with you. There is an implied Trustworthiness in this statement.  Be worthy of their trust.  Realize that Truth is not where you look, it’s where you find it.
  • Be careful who you share good news with. Bad bosses get jealous, and even good people get jealous.  Similarly, don’t appear too good to your boss.  A boss that’s intimidated by you is not generally a rational boss.  If you have to make that calculation, beware.  Likewise, sometimes your friends get a bit tired of hearing of an endless sea of victory.  Be real to them.
  • Be careful who you share bad news with. People who don’t like you (or to whom you just represent a tool) can use that news against you.  Similarly?  Don’t share your weaknesses.  Hey, Clark Kent – your boss does NOT need to know that you’re nearsighted and break out in hives every time you’re near a little kryptonite©.  Also, your bad news might be insignificant compared to someone else’s bad news.  Your very worst day might be better than the best day of the person you’re talking too.  “Oh, my, and the caviar was nearly off!  I made do, however,” won’t go too far if the other person can barely afford to pay their chauffer and their private pilot.
  • Make at least one thing better every single place you go. The right people generally appreciate this.  They see it, and it’s obvious.  If they don’t see it?  You know, deep inside, it was the right thing.  A guy was working really hard on making a concrete footer smooth.  I pulled aside his great-great-grandboss.  “You know that’s going to be buried, right?  I’m good if it’s a bit rough.  Heck, it’s really even better if the concrete is rough.  More friction.”  Boss’s response?  “It’s his work.  The man has pride in it.  I’ll let him own it.”  What a good answer.
  • Imagine who you could be, and then aim single-mindedly at that. How many days do you want to spend being the you that isn’t the best you?  The first step is imagining.  Once you’re there, Von Mises (LINK) will take over.  If you see a better you, a path to get there, and believe that your action can take you there?  Nothing can stop you.  Unless you told your boss about the whole kryptonite® thing.
  • Do not allow yourself to become arrogant or resentful. Good things will happen to you during your career.  Bad things will happen to you during your career.  People will step on you (if they can) to elevate themselves over you.  You’ll forget the contributions of great team members.  Focus on this:  You’re never as good as people think, or as bad.  You have had amazing help through your life.  “Don’t spend time hating the situation.  The situation doesn’t care.” (Marcus Aurelius, probably)

Marcus

Unknown Sculptor, Pierre-Selim (Self-photographed) [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Why is it that when I wear a toga to work that they think I’m a little off?  Marcus rocked his!

  • Work as hard as you possibly can on at least one thing and see what happens. This implies that you’re going to get rid of the fear of failure.  If you try, really hard, and fail, what will happen?  Mainly, nobody notices, except you.  And you get stronger.  It has been my experience that the harder I work at something, the better I get.  And sometimes I achieve results that are beyond anything I ever could have expected.  And other things fail, but I learn a little bit more each time.
  • Maintain your connections with people. Outside of graffiti artists, The Mrs., and Keanu Reeves, most of us don’t work alone.  Most of us depend on others to make us better, make us stronger.  There’s a natural pull for certain people (introverts and those under stress) to pull back, mainly when they need other people the most.
  • Do not carelessly denigrate social institutions or artistic achievement. The stupid form you just filled out?  Yeah, somebody had to design it, and they had a reason.  See if you can make the form better, after understanding why it even exists.
  • Nothing well done is insignificant. There is the possibility of beauty in the most mundane and base of tasks – cleaning a microwave oven can be significant, especially when it’s done well.  I can show you the fulfillment you will get from cleaning a microwave.  See you at my house on Saturday?  Only a minimal charge for this lesson.  (H/T M. Twain)
  • Dress like the person you want to be. True enough.  Some days I’m Homer Simpson.  I would just love to be involved in those wacky adventures!  Danger point:  If you work at a construction company and dress like an investment banker you will be mocked.
  • Be precise in your speech. Meaning is important, and certain people follow only concrete statements.  Precision in a concrete fashion is especially important to them – their brains don’t understand exaggeration for effect.  Likewise, when someone asks you a yes or no question?  Answer yes or no before you explain the answer.  They might not care why.  And precision in speech leads to truth.
  • Stand up straight with your shoulders back. Posture feeds directly into mindset and emotion, and in guys pumps testosterone up when done right.  Standing tall and strong like a superhero, hands on hips?  Yeah, you’ll feel like a superhero, and being a superhero is a great way to get important things done.  Especially if “things” is slicing up people with metal claws.
  • Don’t avoid something frightening if it stands in your way — and don’t do unnecessarily dangerous things. Bosses hate fear and like courage (good bosses).  They also understand risk.  They like it when you take appropriate
  • Notice that opportunity lurks where responsibility has been abdicated. There will be times when you will see something undone.  Do it.  It will be noticed.
  • Be grateful in spite of your suffering. Nobody likes a whiner or wants to spend time with a whiner.  Nobody wants to hear a whiner whine except his enemy.  Everyone suffers.  To repeat myself, your worst day is better than someone’s best day.  Act like it.

Dr. Peterson is doing more than writing about success, he’s quarterbacked creation of a software suite called “Self Authoring,” (LINK).  Note that I am not as of this writing date getting paid if you sign up.  I’ll let you know if that changes.

The concept behind Self Authoring is to work through issues – fix yourself – by revisiting and writing about events in the past that were particularly difficult for you or in some way may be holding you back.  Additionally, there’s a focus on writing a future as well to create a meaningful goal or set of goals to work for, sort of an anti-nihilism pill.

Bill Gates probably doesn’t need this.  Those who are able to be pretty clear of their past and are able to perform at a high level already based on solid future goals are probably not the target market, though Dr. Peterson did say that one driving factor in designing and creating this tool was from requests by companies for ways to help their high performing employees perform on an even higher level.

When people write about their painful past, people experience long term positive impacts (compared to a control group).  Likewise, another group constructed and wrote about their future, and had similar impacts (when compared to the control group).  I have theories about everything, but I wonder if confronting past trauma made them braver?  I wonder if it allowed them to really examine what happened in context and they were able to trace the impacts to their present state?

In the end, Self Authoring is consistent with Peterson’s maxim – you have to fix yourself.

I wonder if that’s part of the mission of this blog?  I know that Orthodixie (LINK) (another blogger from my past, an Orthodox Priest with a Carolina accent, and no, I’m not making that up) and I would talk about how blogging let us mentally, “take out the trash,” and how much better we felt after we’d gotten something out on paper, even something unrelated to the things that were bothering us.  I’ll probably give the Self Authoring program a try.  I’ll let you know how it works out . . . but get yourself a Priest as a drinking buddy if you can.  It always amused The Mrs. when I engaged him in theological debate after wine.

Me, I’m still cleaning on my room, making it a little better each day.  I know that The Mrs. is very much looking forward to me being done with that.