Your leaking thatched hut during the restoration of a pre-Enlightenment state.


Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


decay & ruin
Biosphere II
dead malls
Irving housing

got that wrong

appropriate tech
Arduino μcontrollers
Backwoods Home
Fractal antenna

fun social media stuff

(nobody does!)

Like my brownhouse:
   energy or simulation?
Sunday, May 31 2009

In the afternoon I drove over to the Wοοdstοck Faιm Anιmal Sanctuary to do some more work on their elaborate business phone system for Doug and Jenny, the folks who own and operate the place. I spent hours there, mostly hooking up wires to jacks and soldering together splices. I'd badly stubbed my right pinkie toe so I didn't feel comfortable wearing shoes. It's a fairly alternative crowd at the Woodstcok Farm Animal Sanctuary, but the folks there are mostly hip city folk, and I could tell that my walking around barefoot over gravel and manure was as shocking to them as two men kissing would be shocking to your average resident of Casey, Iowa.

In the evening a Gretchen showed up with Chris and Kirsty, and then Kris and Brian (the couple who had come to pizza night the other day) arrived and we all sat down to a barbecue-based dinner of veggie burgers and vegan quesadillas. I had such an enormous appetite that I was a little embarrassed by the amount of food I was eating, particularly when I began eating a whole fucking quesadilla without realizing that the intention had been for it to be cut into sectors and distributed that way. Chris was the only other person at the meal with a comparable appetite, and both of us also added habañero pepper slices to our burgers, surprising ourselves with the heat.
Later we all had a very interesting [REDACTED] conversation in the living room about religion and spirituality. Kris and Jenny are both cancer survivors (Kris has written several books about her struggle), and part of Kris' recovery process involved her own custom spirituality: a mix of Buddhism and other eastern traditions, possibly through various pop-western prisms. At some point Kris asked the assembled if any of us were atheists. Gretchen and I said we were, as did Doug ("I thought you were an agnostic," retorted his wife, Jenny). Kris acted as though she'd never encountered a real live atheist before, though this might have been because usually her atheist friends are respectful enough of her spirituality that they demur on the issue. She took the opportunity to interview us, though I was the one offering most of the answers. She wondered if what I thought of "energy," and she didn't mean this in the well-defined sense familiar to physical scientists. She meant vibes going through the air from one person to another somehow, an accepted part of most spiritual systems (including Christianity; presumably this is how prayer works). I said I didn't believe in that sort of energy and that my model for how humans interact was based on my experiences with databases. Each person builds up a model of the environment in his or her head and performs analyses and runs simulations on that data. But something someone does disconnected from that data doesn't affect that data unless the change is coming from the analysis being run. Periodically you get to update your simulations with fresh contact with people, but the energy in this case is the kind that directly affects the five senses; it's the kind a physics professor would recognize.
At some point Jenny got to talking about the process by which she has lost (or has gradually been losing) her southern-fried Christianity. When she was a kid, she'd had a conventionally-southern attitude towards Christianity. She prayed, she believed, and she didn't question. At some point she developed bone cancer in one of her legs and went through a long ordeal of chemotherapy and ultimately experienced the amputation of part of that leg. Through it all, her church was right there for her, praying individually and en masse for her recovery. At the time it seemed absurd for her to attribute her recovery to anything but the grace of God, and she certainly didn't qualify her thankfulness with anger at God for having giving her cancer in the first place. But the world of filmmakers and art nerds Jenny was about to enter would eventually cause her faith to unravel. For awhile she was married to an atheist and prayed for him to come around to God. Eventually they split up and she met her present husband Doug, whom she sold to her parents as "Jewish," which they found intriguing and exotic. But it soon became clear that Doug wasn't the slightest bit religious, and gradually Jenny lost much of her religion as well. But it was a sad thing for her to experience losing, particularly because it meant a loss of connection to her family. And what religious feelings that remain are deeply personal and hard to articulate, particularly around potentially judgmental atheists like Gretchen and me.
But we were anything but judgmental tonight. Kris and I were going out of our way to affirm each others' belief systems by saying that our respective differences were more of terminology than of actual belief. But there were plenty of actual belief differences as well. I really don't believe in "energy" and Kris doesn't believe it's just a metaphor for things we feel mulling over the simulations in our heads.
At some point in the conversation, Gretchen expressed her developing anti-tribalism views, which are still a little shocking coming from someone who only a year or two ago was such a proud cultural Jew. The ancient Jewish customs and rituals handed down to her across the centuries used to be very important to her, but recently she's come to realize the absurdity of giving special favor to a culture just because it was the culture of "the vagina that spit you out." She is gradually replacing the trappings of her cultural heritage with her own assemblage of cultural odds and ends representing her world-view, which is all about kindness to our fellow beings. She has also come to prefer the rituals that she has either created or adopted on her own terms (such as "pizza night") over the ones of her heritage (such as Yom Kippur). Her attitude to culture has thus come to more closely resemble her attitude towards people. You can't pick your family and you can't pick your cultural upbringing, but you have the freedom to pick your friends and your cultural outlook.

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