Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Alien Robot Zombie Skeptic's Law

Just about everyone is familiar with the bit of folk wisdom known as Murphy’s Law:
Anything that can go wrong, will.
And many of us add Finagle’s corollary:
…at the worst possible moment.
I got to thinking about this recently and realized that while Murphy’s Law can’t possibly hold true every time, there is a certain undeniable kernel of truth to it. You see, there is a reason that truth is stranger than fiction and that underdogs overcome seemingly impossible odds all the time. That reason is statistics.

When you have billions of billions of people living their lives day after day, hour after hour, even ordinary activities are bound to generate extraordinary results once in a while. And, of course, nothing limits us to ordinary activities. Hence, the Guinness Book of World Records. And the kid you knew in second grade who could blow boogers out of his eyes. And the fact that somebody invented Jello. And all of the things that people do with Jello to get in the Guinness Book of World Records. Including that booger kid.

The next time you hear someone ask, “Can you believe…?” – stop and think seriously about the question for a minute: is it really so inconceivable, given the endless possibilities of our theoretically infinite multiverse?

Indeed, our entire existence demonstrates the principal. Biologically, it is the one-in-a-quadrillion principal that makes evolution possible. Cosmologically, it accounts for the great diversity of star systems, including ours having a planet just right to foster life as we know it. Put them together and – BAM! – no more dinosaurs.

This leads me to a “law” that gets to the heart of why Murphy’s Law is true even when it’s clearly not:
Whatever can happen, will (eventually) happen.
I’m just going to let that one hang out there. That’s an infinite universe truism and as such is difficult to discuss without getting overly conceptual. But here is a variation that applies to the finite universe: that part of God’s creation that we can directly observe and start to comprehend:
Whatever people can do, they will (eventually) do.
By “people” here, I don’t mean that every single person will do every single thing – just as Murphy’s Law doesn’t necessarily come into play in every single situation, even though it seems to. But overall, as a species, I think this law holds more empirical weight than Murphy’s Law ever did and the implications are stunning. Human beings exist to push boundaries. At its worst, this means we get genocide and Flavor of Love. But at its best, we get a cure for cancer and interstellar travel.

Make no mistake: at a very basic level, everything that can go wrong, will – somewhere, somehow. But everything that can go right, will, too. The good thing for all of us is that we are capable of learning, so innovations like crop rotation and transistors don’t necessarily die with the unstable genius that was crazy enough to think of them.

But there is another implication of this law; namely, whether or not something is “ethical” doesn’t make a bit of difference on the large scale: somewhere, someone will do it if given the chance. That means that human cloning is inevitable, and most likely human-animal genetic hybrids and human-robot cybernetic hybrids as well. And a lot of other things that we can’t imagine yet. But we will. And in hindsight, we will call at least some of them “progress.”

Well, at least until we cause the alien robot zombie apocalypse.

Friday, November 26, 2010

25 random things about me

This started as a Facebook meme a while ago. After you write your list of 25 things, you are supposed to tag 25 people, and then they’re supposed to write their own lists, etc. If you haven’t already done this, you probably should, as it was actually one of the best things that ever went around Facebook. (That and Farmville.) Most people’s lists were pretty interesting and entertaining. In the spirit of narcissism in which blogs are intended, here is my (slightly edited for public consumption) list.

Rules: once you’ve been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 (or so) people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it’s because I want to know more about you. (To do this, go to “notes” under tabs on your profile page, paste these instructions in the body of the note, type your 25 random things, tag 25 people - in the right hand corner of the app- then click “publish.”)

  1. I’m writing a book titled Three Perfect Minutes: Milestone Recordings in American Music. It’s coming along slowly, but I’m pretty proud of it.
  2. I have pretty well-developed ideas for at least three other books I’d like to write. (Any one of them would have been an easier place to start than the one I actually chose to write first!)
  3. I hate winter, but the Blizzard of ‘78 is one of my favorite childhood memories.
  4. I am trying to embrace winter, partly to survive it and partly to give my son the chance to have his own memories.
  5. I’ve been to 48 states. (Still trying to get to Alaska and Hawaii.)
  6. I don’t belong here in Detroit: all cars look the same to me. Don’t say, “look at that Acura” to me, say “look at that green car.” Because I don’t know what an Acura is.
  7. I am Celiac: my body can’t process gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. I can’t eat bread, pasta, beer, anything cooked with flour, etc. It’s not exactly an allergic reaction, but that’s the easiest way to think about it. I found all of this out by a happy accident in late 2007 and have been gluten free ever since. It has made a world of difference for me. (Celiac is pretty common: in the U.S., about 1% of the population has the condition. Unfortunately, only about one in 30 of us has been properly diagnosed, but awareness is spreading.)
  8. I try to be patient, but sometimes you wheat-eaters just annoy me.
  9. I was completely unable to cry until two things happened in quick succession: 9-11 and the birth of my son. Now I find myself sometimes tearing up over really stupid things. (Does this mean the terrorists won?)
  10. I want to be a pirate. (Not a real one, mind you.) Yar.
  11. I’ve never been any good at sports (at all!), but I really love to play them, especially basketball. In 1991, I played basketball 363 days. I carried a collapsible shovel in my trunk in the winter, so I could clear off the court.
  12. I didn’t have my first drink of alcohol until I was 21-1/2 years old. Then, on a dare, I traded shots of Mohawk vodka with my best friend until the bottle was gone (11 shots each). Then I projectile vomited all over his carpet. That was a valuable lesson in moderation, one I’ve never forgotten.
  13. I always hated taking pictures, but lately it's been one of my favorite things to do. What changed? I stopped "following the rules" and started just doing what I liked and focusing on the things that interested me. My favorite thing to do is find unexpected perspectives of ordinary things, little hidden slices of beauty in the finite universe.
  14. When it comes to movies, science fiction always gets my attention, but it never makes me happy. (Well, the first two Star Wars movies did, but then...)
  15. I’ve never been a big TV watcher. Despite that, I was completely addicted to Seinfeld (despite not even own a TV at the time) and Lost. Other guilty pleasures: The Simpsons, Futurama and Melrose Place. Mostly, though, TV is so bad it’s depressing. Especially the cable news channels.
  16. I witnessed an unexplained phenomenon a few years ago: some glasses slid themselves neatly from one side of a cupboard shelf to the other. I’m highly skeptical of paranormal mumbo jumbo, but I’m having a hard time figuring out how to account for it. Was it an anal retentive poltergeist? God’s tiniest miracle ever? Seismic activity? A gluten-induced hallucination? (That’s not a symptom…) I’m really at a loss.
  17. I know my job as a parent is to help my kids grow into happy, well-adjusted adults. But there are days when I just want to freeze them at their current, innocent ages forever.
  18. I am not a morning person. I am happy to stay up late, but I will do just about anything to not have to get up early.
  19. My life has been first and foremost a spiritual journey. I don’t wear my religion on my sleeve or claim to have it all figured out, but my relationship with God runs pretty deep.
  20. I’m totally OK with the gay thing, and I really don’t see what the big deal is. Can we just treat gay people like people and move on to more important topics?
  21. When I was about eight years old, I nearly drowned. I thank God every day for each day.
  22. I love the smells of diesel, jet fuel, asphalt and roof tar.
  23. I can pronounce "Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg." (Yes, I'm a word nerd.)
  24. I have about 32,000 songs on my iPod right now. That doesn’t include podcasts, books or holiday music. There are no duplicates and very little filler (I tend to keep only the good tracks). I’ve got about 5,000 more songs on my desktop that wouldn’t fit.
  25. I don’t have enough music on my iPod.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Cool movie titles don't lie

Last year, I wrote of my excitement for an upcoming movie, based solely on its title: Cowboys and Aliens. The first trailer was just released, and it confirms my earlier excitement. Check it out...

Also, for good measure, here's the new Green Lantern trailer...

And the first Thor trailer...

In addition to these two movies, we will also be treated to Captain America, Transformers 3 and Sherlock Holmes 2 in 2011, while 2012's crop of movies includes The Avengers, John Carter of Mars, Star Trek 2, The Dark Knight Rises and first part of The Hobbit. So yes, I'm pretty stoked. Some of these will surely end up sucking, but with this many cool-sounding movies in production, some are bound to be awesome. The alien robot zombies have clearly taken over Hollywood.