Grey Matter


I'm back at work. My left eye is well on the road to recovery (don't think too much about having an eye on the road). My right eye is infected but improving. Hopefully it will be feeling normal by the end of today.

How I lost my soul

Discussions on the subject of reincarnation made me start thinking about memory. A hundred years ago memory used to be mysterious stuff that could be described as being part of a non-physical soul - because scientists couldn't explain it in physical terms. Now that human memory can be described as biological structures and interconnections of neurons (even though the mechanisms for learning are still not well understood), why should we think that the soul would keep a supernatural backup of the biological memories? How can you remember things that happened in a past life when the memories of that life were stored in biological wet-ware? How and when does a spiritual backup memory get implanted in a new human brain?

I look at the history of human understanding of nature and can see a parallel in our understanding of mind. When nature was all a mystery we believed that gods made everything happen. They made the sun rise and the grass grow. They were actively involved in the on-going maintenance of the universe. When the mechanistic nature of some natural processes were discovered, we reassigned the roles of gods. They were responsible for creation of a fully working universe and a lot of seemingly-random events. As we learnt more about nature and discovered more about how things had come to be over the past millions of years we decided gods were responsible for the architecture that made all the natural processes possible, and occasional inexplicable events. This trend has got to the stage where most scientists expect there is a natural explanation for any observable event. The need for any god in an explanation has disappeared.

What about soul or spirit? (I'm prepared to mix these terms because both are poorly defined and virtually impossible to distinguish.) Some ancients believed there was a body-spirit segregation. The spirit contained knowledge and intelligence. It was the supernatural part that would live on after the body had decayed. A more prevalent belief today is that there is a body-mind-spirit segregation. We can assign knowledge and intelligence to mind, and assign our spirit the role of consciousness, self-awareness, supernatural-awareness and life beyond the grave. Hidden underneath this belief is the idea that when our spirit lives on, it will take with us our values, beliefs, intelligence and memories - the things that we think of as being "us". But now science has shown us how our brains' biochemistry explains our memories and our intelligence. The need for spirit as a supernatural explanation is disappearing. The list of functions that will live on after death is getting smaller and smaller.

My behaviour is part hard-wired and part learnt. I have reactions and perceptions that have been shown to be inherent to a human without training. I have behaviours that have been learnt or conditioned by my upbringing. The way I perceive things in the world around me is based on the neural connections made in my brain over many years of life. My skills as a pianist are based on neural connections formed by long hours of practice. My imagination and creativity are attributable to my ability to mix and match ideas from a huge associative memory repository - all residing in my biological brain. If I have a soul and it doesn't have a complete spiritual copy of these memories, then how can my soul retain my values? How can my soul be me? If someone could reprogram your brain so that you lost all your memories and all the acquired skills that made you unique, but made you a completely happy person, would you want it done? I know I wouldn't.

To be continued.

The One

After seeing Reloaded a second time (Reloaded reloaded?) WifeOfVirge suggested I filk the song One from A Chorus Line. This turned out to be harder than I expected. Why? Because the original lyrics from A Chorus Line fit the matrix theme a little too well already. e.g.
(Lyrics: Edward Kleban)
One singular sensation
Every little step he takes.
One thrilling combination
Every move that he makes.
One smile and suddenly nobody else will do;
You know you'll never be lonely with you know who.
One moment in his presence
And you can forget the rest.
For the guy is second best to none, son.
Ooooh! Sigh! Give him your attention.
Do...I...really have to mention
He's the One?

Here is where I got to with the filk:
One matrix simulation
till a tiny pill he takes.
One causal aberration
Every choice that he makes.
He hates that oracle telling him what he'll do
It's just another excuse to try more kung fu.
One, burdened with a purpose
but he never can tell why
'cause he thinks he's just a guy who's fun, hun.
Oooh! He's... frocked up like a priest now,
Do... we... understand this geek tao?
He's the one!

I even entertained the idea of singing it but there are always some questions best left unanswered.


I'm trying my hand at another short story. It's based on the introduction to a much larger work that I scoped out, but hadn't got around to developing further. I took the opening scene and tried to make it into a satisfying story in itself.


Today I can view my screen with both eyes. My vision doesn't have a bloodshot tinge despite external appearances. I still don't know what caused my eye irritation. It started yesterday morning and got worse through the day. Last night I played the infamous pirate Bloodeye Virge and put an eye patch over my eye because it hurt too much to try using it.
Today it's still swollen and sore, but I can use it. We'll see what the doctor has to say about it.

A picture of Captain Bloodeye the Gross (if you can stomach it).

Ay ay Cap'n Bloodeye, your eye
has made your whole face look awry.
It's not that we're scared.
We were just unprepared
for such grossness, ya know, 'cause we're shy.

The doctor says it's conjunctivitis. He's prescribed some eye drops to cure me of my piracy. It's feeling better already.


It's just as well I spoke to my senior engineers before my 10am R&D managers' meeting. I could present a positive encouraging Monday morning face to each of them before getting the enthusiasm beaten out of me with a large corporate stick. The corporation wants its profits. The corporation can't get its profits from the market place (where, not surprisingly, our competitors are similarly struggling). We must cut costs.
The unionised employees have taken their slice of the pie with a guaranteed set of pay increases to keep them comfortably ahead of inflation. The non-management professional staff had their taste of the pie, although not as generous a serve as for the unions. The managers got 0% unless certain R&D milestones are met by certain dates. The first of those targets was definitely a stretch goal, in the same way that giving birth to a fully grown adult would be a stretch goal -- something has to break. We are now within 1 month of the deadline and all the king's horses and all the king's men have been working overtime for too long. The second milestone (on the same project) might have been achievable had we been able to make the first. The third milestone is on a different project. Meeting this would seem almost achievable if we hadn't chewed up all our resources on the first project. It still looked vaguely possible until we started on the cost cutting e.g. reducing head-count by not replacing personnel losses.
Now at this morning's meeting I hear that all professional staff will be required to take 1 week of annual leave on either the last week of August or the first week of September. Does this save money? Yes (but since we still get paid while on annual leave, it is only shifting figures from one column to another). Do these dates correspond with school holidays? No. Does the plan include people who have already used up their four weeks leave? Yes. Does it lower the chances of meeting milestones? Guess.
Do I feel a bit jaded about my work? Do I feel like a valued employee?
It's a secure job. I work with great people (until they get pissed off and leave). Even with the zero percent pay increase I still get paid enough to live comfortably. It's a job I can do without really having to care.


Did anyone miss seeing the weekend journal entries? Erm... would you believe... they are there but your browser version is not up to date so you can't see them? Would you believe that Gandalf walked over the keyboard and held down the delete key while I wasn't watching? Would you believe my weekend blogs contained anti-Australian sentiments and were censored by government intelligence agents? Actually I spent most of the weekend enjoying a book by Stephen Erikson and just didn't get around to updating my journal.


It works for software problems. Why not for writing?
I just had another of those brain-processing-in-background moments. I was working through a problem with an engineer to make sure he completely understood it before letting him continue debugging. The numerical results were correct up to one point in the analysis, then wrong on the report window. I left him to crawl through the details and find exactly where the problem arose. I grabbed a coffee and started thinking about something else. Ten minutes later... Bing! I found myself distracted by a possible solution to part of the problem. It fitted too well. I checked the erroneous results against my idea. No surprises -- my explanation pointed directly to the coding defect.
After so many years in software development it's not surprising that my subconscious brain has learned how to explore problem spaces and identify useful solutions. If you do anything for long enough (as long as it isn't completely random) your brain remembers and re-uses successful patterns, even though you may not recognise your own improvement.
Now I want to do different tasks with my brain. I want creative ideas from it. I want stories, plots, themes, allusions, humour, pathos, grandeur, warmth and complexity. I want it constantly processing in the background and feeding me with a stream of logically-interconnected entertaining ideas. I want it to tell me how to describe scenes in ways that will soak through into a reader's mind and crystallise into perfectly formed replicas of my imaginings.
Am I asking too much?

Proof By Example

Some may have noticed that I am afflicted with a mathematical leaning. I've met a lot of people who can stand straight and tall, knowing what is obviously true based on what they have seen with their own eyes and heard from very reliable friends and mass media. I am crippled with cynicism and an obviously irrational fear of rash generalisation.
Last night I suffered the indignity of not knowing what causes the bulk of the world's infant behaviour problems. A current affairs program was showing the metamorphosis from Brattus Rugrattus to Angelus Rugrattus due only to the application of positive parenting principles. My maternal biological ancestor was sneering at that example and reading a printed-out email about fail-safe diets (from some "mom" who frequents a diet control group that my biological sibling joined) and their remarkably efficacious transformations of child health and behaviour (subjectively evaluated success rate: 100%, sample size: 2).
My depth of ignorance was all too clear. I was only just recently coming to grips with the fact that nearly all of the drugs prescribed to modify behaviour were completely unnecessary and usually made the behaviour problems much worse. I still hadn't even managed to believe that the bananas we had been eating had been enhanced with food dyes to enrich their colour. Here I was, my body almost overflowing with toxins, my children mentally deficient from a lack of Mozart during gestation, my philosophy distorted by a misguided but sinister Darwinistic scientific conspiracy, and I still couldn't accept the truth about child behaviour that was staring me in the face. I remained attentive but silent. My affliction is so debilitating.
Don't let your children be infected by this mathematical leaning. Teach them the truth early in life and save them the trauma.

Ranting? Who's ranting?
Oh yeah... I suppose I was. The sarcasm gives it away.
Terribly sorry. We can't have silly things like imbecilic giants and temporal blowflies every day.


There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.
Genesis 6:4

These sons of the Nephilim were still giants by Genesis standards, but hardly remarkable when compared with today's athletes. In the eyes of the nomadic farmers of the time, these men would have seemed 12 foot tall. Extraordinary specimens though they were, their life expectancy was short. They were born with "hero" indelibly stamped on their foreheads, and let's be honest, nobody ever claimed they were mental giants.
It is a little-known fact that the offspring of these giants did not age like their contemporaries. They had no supernatural powers nor superhuman strength -- they were still mortal. Most of them perished in the flood. Some survived for hundreds of years. There are even a few still alive today, but more by sheer luck than any uncanny survival instincts.
The activities of these few remaining ageless ones have been wisely ignored by mainstream human history. After living for five thousand years without making a significant difference to anything or anyone, any reasonably intelligent being should have succumbed to suicidal ennui. Draw your own conclusions.

I can feel a short story coming together. It's about two brothers, Neville and Ralph (or Neffi and Raffi) and their long term feud.

Syndicate content