The Account of a Lifetime

September 16, 2009

Thinking stuff

Filed under: Physics,Reflections,Tea. Earl Grey. Hot — xisor @ 9:41 pm

I spent a lot of time recently reading about some particularly interesting points. First up was space-time synesthesia. I’ve been long term fascinated by bits and bobs in cognitive psychology and more broad aspects of neuroscience. I suspect it had always been a low-burning interest, but one which became quite focused through discussions with my older sister as she undertook her degrees in psychology. I almost became a neuroscientist this last year, but being at the nadir of academic performance, the ‘fall’ after the pride of early ’08, it all fell through. Sad? Oh yes, but I’ll survive it.

Now, with S-T synesthesia, the most awesome point I felt was how important such things are in savantism. I’m very much a transhumanist in my pigeon philosophy. I like the idea of being able to alter my brain and explore reality. I really enjoyed the short story Exhalation by Ted Chiang which I’d heard recently on the Escape Pod podcast, at one point it deals with an…’alien’, shall we say, who opens up his own head to explore the internal aspects. It’s an absolutely awesome short story and the real beauty of it lies elsewhere, but this very simple act is one which I, as a theoretical physicist, feel intimately attracted to and unspeakably distant from. It’s experiment in such a base, pure and dangerous (idiotic!) form that I can’t help but feel it…tantalising. Enticing.

Noticing the unfolding aspects of neuroscience is something which will continue to fascinate me. I always loved artificial intelligence, programming, simulation and a host of other computer-sciencey stuff. It remains with me to this day. I highly suspect I’ll indulge later in life too. Perhaps sooner rather than later? Perhaps not.

Regardless, linking these thoughts together is the exciting prospect of mechanically improving one’s brain. Perhaps it is the engineer in me which I visualise the human body, the human mind, as little more than an excellently complex mechanism. Knowing the little bits I do about complexity science, about dynamical systems and the horribly complicated motions of such advanced operations…it dismays many medics I’ve known to take such a mundane, machinist outlook of ‘life’. And yet for myself, for the inner geek in me, I visualise an holistic spectrum of reality in which everything is bound up by connections. All of it, every aspect of reality fits together somewhere. And if it doesn’t, if I’m wrong? Well, at least it’s something I can find out, something I can test and learn from. If the universe really does break apart under scrutiny? Well? I’ve made my case and, taking perhaps the wrong inspiration from H.P. Lovecraft’s Call of Cthulhu, I intend to venture as best I can in the midst of black seas of infinity. If the universe is that unpleasant, so be it. I’ll just have to man up and take it.

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.”

– The Call of Cthulhu, by HP Lovecraft

Secondly on the interesting stuff front was the possible discovery of Magnetic Monopoles. It turns out it was an old lecturer, tutor and supervisor of mine who is on the paper; I was shocked! Now, I’ve not actually had a good shufty at the paper yet, but it intrigues me. I’m a bit of a damp failure as a physicist, perhaps, but I still have all that rattling around in my head. Perhaps I can turn me-noggin’ towards it and at least come up with a good explanation for folks at the pub, in coffee shops or even just at house parties. It’s so interesting, I do feel compelled to spread the news, tentative as it seems to be.


Yesterday was Battle of Britain day. Saturday saw the Leuchars airshow. It also saw my sister taking most of my stuff from this town and leaving me with only a couple of bags (and an inordinate amount of tea, which has now been dispersed across the town). As we walked, eating ice-creams after our delicious Grill House lunch, along the Scores, overhead soared nothing more and nothing less than ‘the Battle of Britain Flight’, a Lancaster, Hurricane and Spirfire in formation. Gorgeous and stunning, compelling. My sister knows almost nothing of that time in history save the little you pick up in day-to-day life. I had the fortune of studying it a bit whilst an Air Cadet. Even just telling her some of the details about it, reciting what I could recall of Churchill’s speech…it filled me with a pride I’d not felt in a while. A wistfulness.  I’m not terribly patriotic, I tend not to stand for or sing the national anthem and I’m not exactly a royalist by any means…yet I invariably consider myself British. Even the notion of the British Empire evokes some oddball sentimentality. It’s not pride as such, but it is an identification, for better of for worse.

It’s what I consider to be an important bit of my knowledge of history, I felt rather happy to remember it, to read about it. Now, on to the rest of the evening. I might brave the kitchen of this house in an effort to acquire some tea. Pip pip!


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