Sid, the Defender

27 02 2009


This is Sid.

sidSid is a circle.

He doesn’t believe in you.

Sid lives in a two-dimensional world, a flat plane, and you are not in that plane.

Therefore Sid cannot see you.

Therefore you do not exist.

This is your finger, as it passes through Sid’s world.

fingerSid only sees another circle.

Therefore, your finger is just a circle, like Sid,

And you do not exist.

Sid only sees the outside, but you see the inside.

Sid is full of chaff and bits of debris, and you tell him so.

Sid thinks your finger is a liar.

With your other finger, you poke at the debris inside Sid.

Sid is not amused.

He retaliates by stabbing your finger with a mathematical line.


You quickly remove your finger from Sid’s flat world.

Sid has conquered the magical menace.

He is at peace with himself.

He can think that he is only a circle, with no debris inside.

He can’t see debris.

There is no such thing as debris.

Besides, he can’t fix what he can’t reach.

And you don’t exist, so what no one sees doesn’t matter.

What Sid doesn’t see can’t hurt Sid.

Your thumb is hovering directly over Sid.




Lazarus Died

25 02 2009

I was nearly four years old when I first learned that my birthdays had an annually recurring pattern.  The first three were a serendipity to me.  A month before that annual event, I tried very hard to remember my third birthday, but it seemed like centuries past.  Four years seems like nothing, now, but at that age it was a lifetime.  I also remember being four months old.  I didn’t know at the time how old I was, but I remember events from that time in my life.  I remember not knowing how to roll over on my own.  Back then, I felt as though I had been alive forever.  Four months is nothing, now.  It’s just four changes of the calendar and four new laboratory notebooks.  It seems that as time goes by, the measure of a day shrinks to nothing.  When I pass someone in the hallway at work, I hardly feel the need to say, “Good morning,” as it seems like I had never left.  If I could live a thousand years, a decade would seem like a year.  If I could live forever, all finite time spans would diminish to nothingness in their significance.  Well, that’s all fine and good, but at no point will I have ever lived an eternity.  Even the immortal never really get there.

Which brings me to an interesting point.  For God, who has already existed forever and has forever yet to live, a finite time span is, already, like nothing.  A day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day, for they are both as nothing.  The importance of this is in the value that he places on different things.  A thing which does not last forever is as good as a thing which never existed.  Consider it this way, and very little of what we have here on earth has any value at all to him.  What lasts forever?

Heaven lasts forever.  Hell lasts forever.  The human soul is here to stay.  Anything that we can take with us when we die has lasting value, including relationships and faith.  Everything else has no value.  Understanding this goes miles toward understanding the nature of God, I think.  What God does, therefore, will always be toward furthering things that he values, which will always relate to things that last forever.  Life and death are nothing.  It’s the eternity that follows that must be considered.

(Matthew 11:4 ) Jesus used his miracles as proof of who he was.

(John 9:1) When asked why a man was born blind, Jesus replied that it was so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.

From the human perspective, all miracles are for immediate gratification.  A blind man is healed, because blindness is bad.  (John 11) Lazarus was raised from the dead, because death is bad.  The lame were made to walk, because lameness is bad, and so on.  Looking back on it with the advantage of a couple thousand years under our belts, we might assume that not all blind were made to see, so not all blindness is for the purpose of displaying the work of God in people’s lives.  Lazarus…is he still alive?  If Lazarus died, then the miracle of his resurrection has become undone, hasn’t it?  It flies in the face of the assumption that God does all things for an eternal purpose.  The lame that Jesus healed, have they walked at all in the last millennium?  The immediate gratification felt by those who received Christ’s healing has been utterly lost.  All healing is ultimately undone by death.  Lazarus is dead.

But God does nothing for any purpose which is not eternal.

To understand the miracles, one must understand God.  The blind man was made to see, that the glory of God would be displayed in his life.  Why?  That in so doing, people might believe in the one who performed the miracle.  The purpose of blindness is not miraculous healing.  Blindness is just the product of living in a once-dead world.  That particular man, however, was blind for the purpose of the miracle.  All of Christ’s miracles were for a purpose that went beyond the miracle, itself.

(Luke 13:18 , Matthew 17:20)  If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can tell a mountain to move, and it will.  Why?  A seed can grow into a full-sized and flourishing plant.  A little bit of faith is enough for a miracle, because it takes a little bit of faith for a miracle to transform it into a lot of faith.  Faith, destiny and prophecy are the only three ways I know for cause and effect to happen in reverse order.  The miracle does not happen because someone has a lot of faith.  It happens because in so doing it causes faith to grow.  A person without any faith would look upon a miracle as a hoax.  He needs at least a little bit of faith to begin with, or the impact of the miracle never hits him.  It’s the faith that happens after the miracle that causes it to happen in the first place, though.  Destiny, likewise, is an instance of cause and effect in reverse.  It is the purpose that you were destined for that drives your actions today.  If God intends for you to be in Dallas tomorrow, then you will do things today that get you there, whether you realize it or not.  Prophecy is a perfect example of cause and effect in reverse.  They are the events of the future that drive the prophecies of today.  Predictions are only good if they accurately describe events of the future.  Hence, it is the future which drives the present when it comes to prophecy.

(Matthew 9:1-2)  The purpose of a miracle is to drive faith, but the purpose of faith is the forgiveness of sins.  We are saved by faith.  Through salvation comes everlasting life, which means living forever in Heaven with God.

So then, it all comes back to Heaven, Hell, and the human soul.  People often ask how a good and loving God can let so much pain and suffering exist in the world.  The initial response is that this world only has evil for the same reason that Hell has no good.  This is this first death and Hell is the second.  We are one step removed from what God intended for us, but we are fortunate enough not to be fully removed from it.  The second answer is that, unlike Heaven, this world is temporary.  To God, all temporary things are like nothing, because he has already lived forever.  Pulling a loose tooth is torture if done slowly.  The faster you pull it, the happier you’ll be.  For God, this life is practically instantaneous.  The suffering in this life is not the issue.  It’s the suffering or joy of the next life that really matters.

What is pain, anyway?  Pain is the motivation that God placed within our bodies to motivate us to avoid harm.  It’s not the pain that’s bad.  In fact, pain is good, if it works correctly.  It’s the damage to the body, which causes the pain, that is really the issue.  Clearly, we were meant to preserve ourselves from harm, at least for the time being.  Some time, at least, is necessary for the events which lead to eternity.  At the very least, time is necessary for us to find and share the faith that leads to Heaven.  We’re living on a sinking ship.  The more slowly it sinks, the greater our chances of survival.

Death undoes the miracle.  Lazarus died again one day, but death does not undo the purpose of the miracle, which is to increase faith that leads to salvation, which lasts forever.  God does not fail.


Things Unseen

22 02 2009

It was evening, and I was home alone.  I was a thirteen-year-old, washing the dishes, and the television was on, softly playing some news exposé about the elderly, or something.  The setting was stupidly simple.  All I did was whistle a song from a television commercial, the Cool Mint Listerine ad, where they have this animated bottle swinging from a vine.  Then, during the last few notes of the song, I heard someone join me in whistling the song.

Yeah, I was home alone.  There was no one in the room with me.  I looked up at the family room, where I heard it, but I saw nothing.  It definitely didn’t come from the television.  I rubbed my forehead, and mumbled, “That’s not right.  Now I’m hearing whistling.  This isn’t happening.”  I started back on my working, hoping to forget about it, but then I heard it whistle again.  That time, I knew I heard it.  It was as clear as if some invisible person were in the house with me.  It had that acoustical property, not like something from outside.  Someone whistled like they were testing me to see if I really heard it.  It was like a questioning, ascending tone.  I stood there with a plate and a dishtowel in my hands, thoroughly dumbfounded.  This time, I walked toward the sound.  I pointed at a chair and said, aloud, “I know I heard it come from right about here.”

Then I heard it again, two notes, one higher and one lower, like a “yoo-hoo.”  It came from my right, directly right.  It was definitely in the room with me, on the opposite side of me from the television.  To my right was nothing but a dark hallway.  It didn’t sound like it came from down the hallway, though.  It sounded like it had been right beside me.  I looked down at my dog, and she just looked up at me like nothing in the world was wrong.  Two thoughts sprang to my mind, quickly, that either I was hearing something supernatural, or that someone was in the house with me, playing a trick on me.  The second possibility scared me worse.

Then I heard it again, on the other side.  There was nothing between the sound and me but empty space.  In that direction was only the television, and a wall.  What’s more is that I could have placed the sound at arm’s length, and about half a foot above me.  Whatever it was, it was either tall, or hovering, and it was completely invisible.  It sounded just like a human whistling.  Once again, it sounded like it was testing to see if I really could hear it.  What’s funny about human nature is that we can be terrified by things that we don’t understand, even if no threat appears imminent.  What’s even funnier is how I dealt with it: I went back to doing the dishes.  One might say that I defended myself against the unknown by clinging to the familiar.  I figured there was nothing to be done about it, and I just wanted the whole thing to go away.

And that’s all there was to it.  It left me alone.

Not long after that, maybe a month or so later, I saw my parents standing at the door to my sister’s room, looking a little worried.  Through the door, I saw her crying.  My mom said something about the stress of school getting to her.  She had been doing homework at the time.  Later, I asked my parents what had happened, and my dad said that she had been spooked by noises.  With a certain pride, he later explained how the house creeks a little as it cools down in the evening, making harmless noises.  This would be what’s called a poltergeist, also known as a “noise ghost.”  It’s not a ghost at all, but a product of physics.

A few days later, I asked my sister about it.  Her story didn’t match my parents’.  She was minding her own business, when she heard a voice that distinctly sounded like it was in the room with her.  It said her name.  It was the voice of a male human.  She thought it sounded like he was trying to get her attention.  He stopped when she panicked and started to cry.  This was definitely not the creaking of a heterogeneously cooled house.  This was something like an invisible person.  In retrospect, she didn’t think that this thing was really threatening her.  In fact, considering that it left her alone after she started crying, it probably meant no harm.

The next two years, I could not so much as pee or take a shower without feeling that someone was watching me.  I had become acutely aware that there was something humanoid in my home and completely imperceptible.  Whatever it was could see me, but I could not see it.  I knew of only four things that it could be: a demon, an angel, a human spirit, or God.  I eliminated God from the list right away.  Whatever the thing was, it seemed to be experimenting, which doesn’t fit with an omniscient God.

Was it a demon, or other evil spirit?  I’ve been around one of those before.  I was at the residence of a lesbian, who was toying with membership in a vampire cult, perhaps to replace her fading gang affiliation.  She gets the award for being most likely to ruin her own life in the dumbest way possible.  She was a pathological liar, too.  Her place was oppressive.  The air felt stifling and dense, and I felt about fifty pounds heavier.  I had the distinct impression that something in that place did not want me there, but it was helpless to make me leave.  A demon can only take what you give it, and she was giving it rights to her life.  Looking back on that, I feel pretty strong.  I feel like I had the authority to make it leave.  Had I done so, she probably would have invited it back, and we’d be worse off.  This thing that I heard in my own home didn’t feel anything like that.  There was no oppressive feeling.  It just seemed like an invisible person.

Was it a human spirit?  If it was, then it could have been the boy next door, who was killed in cold blood by his own friend.  That was years earlier.  I was just a little kid, putting together a circular seventy-something-piece Bugs Bunny puzzle with a friend, when a police officer stepped directly over our puzzle to knock on the front door.  After a few words with my mom, the officer left.  I can still remember them hauling away a pre-adolescent boy in handcuffs.  His face was stone cold emotionless.  He had shot the neighbor kid with the family’s own gun.  The Bible says that we are not to contact the dead, as they have no influence on the world of the living.  So I’m forced to rule-out the murdered boy, or any other human spirit as an explanation.

Was it an angel?  It’s the only option left, but it leaves some room for explanation.  Whatever it was, it seemed surprised that a person could hear it.  Generally, I’ve always had the impression that the understanding of angels was static.  One does not think of angels as being surprised by anything.  We don’t think of angels as having angelic technology.  We don’t think of them as actively learning things, and we never think of them as stumbling onto anything or making a mistake.  Let’s imagine the Apostle Paul, lying in his prison chamber, and an angel appears.  The angel takes a quick look around and apologizes, saying that he got the wrong cell.  So the possibility that an angel blew its cover accidentally seems somewhat absurd.

Then, my next question was how a spiritual being, or anything not physical, could move physical air to make physical sound waves.  I could say that I heard the sound in its own element, like a spiritual form of sound, but it fails to explain the acoustical properties of the sound.  The sound waves had to bounce off of the walls, but the house is not a spiritual thing, so spiritual sound waves don’t really make any sense, either.  I could call it a hallucination, but someone else encountered it, too.  I inquired of someone that I thought wiser than myself, asking what we knew about the laws of spirits, and whether angels were subject to their own physical laws, as we are subject to ours.  She replied that it was likely, and she called it “metaphysics.”

Now, I know that there are two meanings for the word.  The first is a well-developed pantheistic belief that, really, has nothing to do with metaphysics in general.  When I refer to metaphysics, what I mean is anything that lies outside of our physical realm.  This includes angels, demons, God, human spirits, and anything else I might have missed.  This experience sparked my interest in that other world.  I wanted to know the mechanism of what had happened.  What I actually learned was almost nothing.

The first thing I must say is this: we are living in their test tube, and they can easily observe us.  However, we cannot easily observe them.  This is important, because these are not just impersonal forces.  These are intelligent beings with their own objectives.  Imagine attempting to negotiate with someone that you know nothing about, who has been observing you for years.  In all likelihood, any deal reached will be entirely to the benefit of the other guy.  What I mean is that if we fail to see the depth of our own ignorance and deal with it appropriately, then we run the risk of falling for a hideous deception.  When encountering a spirit, we cannot presume to know its intentions, or anything else about it.  We must walk carefully.  We must do nothing with the spiritual realm without the help of the Holy Spirit.

The second thing I might say is that it would appear that spirits do still learn things.  The implications of this are enormous.  It explains why angels can change their minds and rebel against God.  They’re still learning, thinking and making decisions.  The significance of this lies in the possibility that spiritual stability today might not be the same tomorrow.  The forces that we do not see may learn things that can affect our world in ways that we did not expect.  Specifically, today we have a human ruler; tomorrow we may have the Beast.  Quite possibly, the day may come when the technology of angels and devils permanently disrupts our way of life.

Other than that, I still don’t really know what happened to me those many years ago, when I was minding my own business, washing dishes.  Maybe in the next life I’ll find out.

The better part of a decade later, I had my own experience in that role.  I was sitting on the roof of the student union building at college (it’s just one of those crazy things that college students might do).  It was the dark of night, and the outside area was lit by floodlights mounted under the eaves of the building.  Along came someone I knew, named Becky.  I called out her name and she stopped in her tracks and looked around.  She stood in the relatively narrow space between one building and the next, a relatively unobstructed area.  I was out of reach of the lights, which made me effectively invisible to her.  The funny thing about human hearing is that we’re really good at identifying the direction of a sound, so long as it’s not above us.  We don’t have a third ear for finding vertical direction.  Hence, when I called out her name, she looked in my direction, but not up.  To her, I seemed to be in the empty space between her and the wall.  I called her name a second time, and she replied, “Where are you?  Am I blind?!”  The hint of panic in her voice brought me back in time to my own similar experience.  I knew what it was like to be in that position.  Shortly, I climbed down a tree and introduced myself.

The earlier situation was actually quite comparable.  If we live in a three-dimensional world, and we interact with a four-dimensional one, then we look for events arising from the other world along the dimensions that we are familiar with.  She looked along the horizon for the source of a voice that was above her.  I looked through three dimensions for the source of a voice that originated from a different level on a fourth dimension.  Walking through walls and disappearing are not only possible but elementary for a being that has freedom of movement along an extra dimension.  I cannot fathom what that must be like.  I guess it’s just another one of those things I’ll have to wait to learn about on the other side of the grave.


Theological Chess: getting out of damnation

16 02 2009

You’re sitting there with your cup of coffee, enjoying a game of chess.  It’s well into the endgame, and your opponent moves his bishop and puts your king into check.  What do you do?  There are three essential questions to ask yourself in this situation.

  1. Can you destroy the threat?
  2. Can you evade the threat?
  3. Can you block the threat?

Let’s say you choose number one.  You slide your rook across the board and knock out the bishop.  The threat is destroyed, and you’re out of check.

If you choose number two, you move your king to a neighboring square out of the line of fire.  You’ve evaded the threat, and you’re out of check.

Choosing number three is a little more involved.  The threat can be blocked in one of two ways.  Either you can attempt to block the threat with one of your own pieces, or you can hide behind your opponent’s piece, say, directly in front of a pawn.  Blocking with your own piece could easily mean having that piece taken in the next move.  However, blocking with your opponent’s piece solves that problem.  The problem with using your opponent’s own piece as a defense, however, leaves the risk of having your opponent move that piece, and you’re back in the same situation.  This technique works best if your opponent can’t or won’t move that piece.  If you find yourself severely lacking in pieces, perhaps being left with nothing but a king (assuming the opponent isn’t also in the same situation), then your only hope is to reach a stalemate, which most often results from hiding behind the opponent’s pawn.

Really, all threat management comes down to the same thing.  Chess is not just an analogy, but an example of a greater principle.  When a man holds a gun to your head, you might destroy the threat by killing the man or destroying/taking his weapon.  You might evade the threat by dodging the bullet.  You might block the threat with a brick wall or a hostage.

Sometimes, not all three options are available.  You could be a pedestrian at a crosswalk.  You see an oncoming car, headed straight for you.  You can’t destroy the threat, because you have no means to destroy the car or its driver.  You might evade the threat by running perpendicular to the car’s path.  You might run behind a car that’s already at a stop, waiting at the light, especially if you think that the threat is deliberate.

All of humanity finds itself under the threat of damnation.  Everyone sins, and everyone stands looking at God like the condemned before a judge.  Everyone, Jew, gentile, Mormon, Muslim, atheist and  Christian has a contingency plan, even if they say they don’t believe in Hell or sin.  It’s almost a testament to the fact that we are in such dire trouble.

Well, what about the atheist, who says that there is no sin?  The atheist’s strategy for threat management is option number one: destroy the threat.  If there is no God, then there is no judgment.  Slide a rook across the board and knock the offending bishop into the afterlife.  For the atheist, religion is not just false, but an arch enemy.  I can not emphasize it enough.  If the claims of atheism were undeniably true, then there would be no knee jerk reaction against religion.  There would be no movement to remove God from public life.  A nonexistent God is not a threat.  However, if that threat is real, then killing it, in the atheist’s strategy, is all-important.  “Methinks he doth protest too much,” is a famous Shakespearean line to that effect.  If one intends to be an atheist, then ignoring God is not an option.  One must kill God.  Therein lies the motivation.  The atheist does not reject the existence of God on objective grounds so much as on subjective ones.  Truth be told, no atheist likes God, even assuming that God did actually exist.

The second strategy, of evading the threat, is one taken most often, by philosophies and religions everywhere.  Their strategy is to simply be good, thinking that it will get them out of Hell.  Anyone who has played much chess has probably had a game that turned into cat-and-mouse, chasing the opponent’s king all over the board.  You put him in check; he moves; you put him in check again; he moves again, and so on.  Actually, in chess, as in world religion, the evasion strategy is also the most employed.  Yesterday, I made fun of someone.  Today I make it up to them by coming up with something nice to say.  Unfortunately, evading judgment is about as effective as outrunning a bullet.  Trying to get into Heaven always seems to leave one wondering what is good enough.  The problem of saving oneself through works is that it often leads to extremism.  Nothing is ever good enough, so the faithful go to greater and greater lengths to assure themselves of salvation, even if it means wearing an explosive belt and igniting it in a cafe.

The third strategy is to block the threat.  For the Jews, that threat was blocked through animal sacrifice.  It was the method used by ancient pagans, as well.  It would be akin to blocking with one’s own piece.  This method is essentially the hostage-taking strategy.  A man grabs the nearest bystander and holds the victim between him and the police.  The Christians use a similar strategy, except that they block with the opponent’s own piece, which is Jesus.  Reformed Jews, however, do not employ option three anymore, but have reverted to option two.

If we examine the effectiveness of the strategies, we see that the first option is off the table right away.  You can’t really kill God.  You can make yourself feel better by killing religion, but you can’t kill God.  Evasion is just putting off the inevitable.  You never really know how good is good enough, and you always suspect that whatever the cutoff line is, you probably didn’t make muster.  Some people actually do feel good about themselves in this respect, though.  I’m not certain how they conclude that they’ve made it.  It strikes me as an unwarranted assumption.  The third option, using animal sacrifice, is not used much anymore.  Besides, offering one’s own sacrifice is like blocking with one’s own piece: once it’s taken, you might need to find another piece to block with.  Blocking with the opponent’s piece works if the opponent can’t or won’t move that piece.  In this sense, if Jesus was a willing victim, then he’s a safe barrier.  Certain rules must apply for this strategy to work:

  1. Jesus must be a willing victim, or else not have a choice (the blocking piece must not be moved).
  2. He must be deity (it must be the opponent’s piece).
  3. He must be available (the piece must be near enough to be used, and it must be situated properly).

All of this is fine for light discussion over a cup of coffee in a relaxed setting.  Application is another matter.  The issue of whether Jesus is like stopping a bullet with a brick wall or stopping a bullet with a feather pillow isn’t really one that can be solved along this line of thought.  The example of the chess game is mainly an analysis of how we set out to protect ourselves from harm, in this case the threat of damnation.  Ultimately everyone deals with threats in one of the three essential ways, through retaliation, evasion or obstruction.  It is also important to observe that everyone reacts to the threat of damnation, even if they ostensibly don’t believe in it.

There is an alternative, which I have not mentioned.  It’s the agnostic approach, which amounts to surrender.  You can lay down your king and take whatever comes.  It’s not a solution, and it’s not an attempt at a solution.  It’s simply a decision to not even try.


The Butterfly Swatter Effect

14 02 2009

Somewhere in Brazil a butterfly flaps its wings, and somewhere in Texas a tornado forms.  Somewhere, some meteorologist is wondering whether the former caused the latter.  It sounds absurd at the outset, but the idea took root and made for some magazine articles and a full feature film.  I wish I could say that the idea never took root, but it did, and it did so among some of the brightest minds in America.

It’s based on a more rational theory called chaos theory, which, in a nutshell is hardly more than “stuff happens.”  Every so often, the hard drive writes a bad bit on the disc, and unless the information was stored redundantly, in triplicate, the entire file might be ruined.  Granted, it can write thousands of bits correctly the first time, but every so often it messes up, and for no apparent reason.  It’s not that anything happens outside of cause and effect.  It’s simply that some causes have greater effects than others, due to the sensitivity of the system.

If you try to balance a pin on its pointy end on a hard surface, though there theoretically should be some perfect balancing point, you’re not likely to find it.  What’s more important, though, is that when you let go of it near that point, it may fall in a variety of different directions.  It’s easy to get confused when people talk about it in technical terms, but there’s really nothing more to it than that.  Chaos theory is simply a study of highly sensitive relationships of cause and effect.

The butterfly effect, however, goes a little beyond that, I think.  A man had a computer model of the dynamics of a weather system, and he discovered that very small changes in the initial factors had huge effects on the weather systems that developed from it.  The question that came out of it was, can the flapping of a butterfly’s wings lead to a tornado?

Yes, and no.  Firstly, it’s important to know the difference between a mathematical proof and a mathematical model.  The first one has all of its variables from real sources, takes all factors into account, and leaves no room for unexpected error.  If you put five apples into a barrel with five more apples, then you probably have ten apples.  That’s a mathematical proof.  A mathematical model assumes certain variables to be true and proposes a possible explanation for what we know, or what we think might be true.  String theory is a model.  It assumes a rather large number of dimensions to the universe, though we only know of three, and it attempts to explain the fundamentals of existence.  The problem is that we have no reason to believe that the universe actually has that many dimensions, and if we found them, it might be because we twisted our minds to convince ourselves that those dimensions could exist.  Even if there were that many dimensions, there still lies the possibility that string theory might not be true at all.  The same is true for weather models.  If the assumptions are true, then the model might accurately predict the outcome, but if there are any variables unknown, then the model might fail.  What’s more, though, is that if the system of cause and effect is far more complex than the computer can handle, then we really have a problem.  If the weather model were precisely true, then there’s still one fundamental problem: the world has more than just one butterfly.  Any model that a computer works with is only going to have a very small fraction of the factors involved in a real life situation.  The smaller the sample set, the more exaggerated the error.

Otherwise, we might have stopped Hurricane Katrina with a boatload of  DDT.

In theory, the cycle of cause and effect never stops.  You spin a top, and eventually it slows down, but it doesn’t really stop there.  That energy is lost through the creation of heat, and the stirring of the air.  Molecules bounce against each other, and a chain reaction of events takes place that never stops.  Ultimately, the end result is the same.  Entropy increases and useful energy is lost.  When entropy increases on a molecular level, it’s simply that chaos increases.  Molecules in the air are going in all different directions, and the energy spreads out evenly overall.  In a room where everything is completely at rest and at the same temperature, there is no interface between one level of energy and the next.  There is no cold front.  There is no sound wave.  There is no mass action of cause and effect.  If you make a wave in the water, you can observe how the many different molecules are working together in the same direction to form the entire wave.  When there is no wave, then all of the molecules are doing their own thing, in a highly chaotic state.  The greater the chaos, the more factors you have working independently of each other, the more impossible it is to keep track of everything.

The irony of it, though, is that while there is much more to keep track of on the molecular level, in the grand scheme of things nothing is really happening at all.  Chaos at it’s highest level is the entire universe at two degrees Kelvin, burned out and dead.  There is no mass effect, because there is no useful energy.  You don’t have waves of molecules moving in the same direction.  All large-scale causes have been broken down into a vast number of tiny and useless ones.

Yes, a butterfly can cause a tornado, if it works together with a vast number of other causal relationships, not the least of which is the sun and the topography.  Yes, my car might hit a bug that was going to feed a bird than might feed a larger bird, that might have…lived to a ripe old age and died anyway.  And that same bird might have found some other bug to eat that day, just because I happened to drive by.  The end result, though, is that the chain of events leads to things that don’t matter, and dissipates into countless other chains of events that couple with things that have nothing to do with me and have absolutely no significance in the grand scheme of things.

The end result is that the butterfly still dies.

In a way, it’s a sad reflection of humanity’s desperate attempt to grasp eternal significance without having to acknowledge the existence of God.  Yes, what you do is part of cause and effect, and those effects will lead to other effects, and it will go on forever.  No, it doesn’t matter.  Entropy still increases.  Everything dies.  The universe slowly grinds to a miserable stop.  The net overall effect of the life of any human is ultimately absolutely nothing.

…unless there’s a God.

Only things of an eternal nature can have eternal significance.  The life of a human can only matter in the long run if humans have an eternal soul.

Unless God intervenes, all things in this world will perish, and nothing we humans do, crawling on the face of this rock like ants on a candy, can change the final outcome.


In the Image of Man

10 02 2009

robot assembly, borrowed from Paradroid
A sky-blue colored android, number ANDSN13052997, also called Andy, was in the assembly plant, working in the circuit board section with his friend, ANDSN13052338, also known as Dustin.  The place was bustling with activity, humming perpetually with the sound of a full-scale ventilation system with HEPA air filters.  The AND line of robots, such as himself, were the highest order on their starship, with fully developed artificial intelligence (AI), and a morpheme-based machine language.

Before him lay an incomplete replica of himself, into which he carefully placed his newly assembled circuit board.  “Dustin,” he said, through short range radio, “Where, exactly, did the AND line of robots come from, anyway.”

Dustin looked up from his work, and his eyes flickered thoughtfully.  “According to cybernetic theory, the AND line originated from the PAND line many years ago through the result of several corrupted data files.  Weren’t you programmed with that knowledge?”

“Yes,” Andy replied, reluctantly, “I received that download, but I’m still not certain how a corrupted data file can lead to AI enhancement.  When we tried to develop AI experimentally, using cybernetic theory, it was a complete failure.  All we got out of it was system instability and errors.”  He glanced up at a PAND robot making its way along the ceiling of the workroom, expertly climbing among the pipes, beams and fixtures.  The golden PAND was a head taller than the AND series, with bowed legs and a large head.  Though far less intelligent than the AND, it was far more agile, and it was equipped with interdigitated  feet, which could also be used quite effectively as hands.  AND robots, such as Andy, were confined to smooth floors and moved about in a slow stately fashion.  “If cybernetic theory is correct, then the same forces that selected for better AI should have also kept us physically well-built as the PAND line.  As it is, we’re the slowest, clumsiest, most defenseless line of robots in existence.”

Dustin’s eyes stopped flickering for but a moment, before resuming thought.  “Ah, but we’re the highest order of robot, so it must have worked,” he said, as he turned back to the table.

“We walk on stilts!” Andy said, turning up the range on his transmitter.  The other Androids stopped their work to look at him.  A small AGM flew over from across the room and watched him expectantly.  “Go away!” he commanded the AGM.  It circled him a few times, extending the claw beneath its body in an attempt to grab at a circuit board or a semiconductor.  Andy waved his hand to ward it off.  “Idiotic AGMs are only good for one thing.  You can’t reason with them.  They can’t build anything or think for themselves.  All they know is find and deliver.  Take X; deliver to Y.  Take A; deliver to B.  Yet, they’re the ones who get the anti-gravity thrusters.  They can travel anywhere, and they can do it faster than I can focus my cameras, but we’re the highest order of robots, they say.  It’s all talk.”

Dustin returned to his work, dutifully making another AND robot, mostly ignoring his friend.  A light blue VAC robot passed behind them slowly.  “The VAC robot is slower,” he replied.

“The VAC robot is specialized to clean floors.  We have no specialized components.  Okay, so there’s one robot that can’t do as much as us, but it still has a stronger battery.”  Andy turned back to his work, until a light gray security droid, SDSN3985, slowly rolled to a stop behind him.  “You’d think that the least we could have is some smooth-rolling wheels.”  He turned to look at the SD unit, which glared up at him with red eyes.  “What are you looking at?” He scowled, “You don’t scare me.  You can’t even talk.  You think a beeping homing beacon and a blinking red light count for intelligent communication?”

“Careful,” Dustin warned, “Those things are well-armed.”

“Yeah,” said Andy, “Everything around here is well-armed but us.  We don’t have weapons.  We don’t have armor.  We don’t have anything.  How did cybernetics give us AI, but nothing else?”  He tossed his tools aside and stepped away.  “Function,” he said, standing akimbo, “We lack function.  I’m going to reboot.  See you in a few minutes.”  He stepped through the doorway and headed down the hall to the charging station.  From a crossing hallway, a little blue MSC unit sped across his path, causing Andy to stumble and fall flat on his face.  The little droid turned to gaze at him briefly, probably a little confused by the AND’s strange behavior.  Then it turned and rolled away.  “Yeah,” grumbled Andy, “You don’t know what it’s like to fall, do you?  You never trip, do you?  You just chug along merrily on those wonderful little wheels of yours.”

He grumbled all the way to the station.  When he got there, he plugged himself into a data port and a power supply.  He paused to look at the little runt next to him, another MSC unit, or was it the same one that had tripped him?  He grumbled to himself, and then he rebooted.  When his cameras came on line and his diagnostics were complete, he saw a very unfamiliar robot hovering before him.  It was a copper-colored thing with two arms like an android, and two beady yellow eyes peering out from underneath a helmet-like head.  “Almost done,” Andy said.  Carefully, he unplugged himself and moved away from the charging station, but the robot did not move to take his place at the charger.  It turned and faced him.  “What?  What do you want?” asked Andy, not really expecting an answer.

“I am ARCHSN1,” said the unfamiliar robot.

Andy was startled by the communication.  “You speak AND,” he observed.

“You must go to the control room,” stated ARCHSN1.

“Okay, Archie; wherever that is,” Andy replied.

ARCHSN1 led Andy down a long corridor to a cylindrical niche in the wall.  Andy looked at the niche and the circle on the floor, then back at ARCHSN1.  “Step inside,” ACHSN1 commanded.  Andy obeyed, and ARCHSN1 pushed a button on the wall.  In the next moment, ARCHSN1 went out of phase and disappeared.  Half a moment later, the floor below Andy began moving downward, past a lower floor and past the next.

“Well, there’s another one I can add to the list of things I can’t do: disappear at will and make the floor drop out from under things,” Andy muttered to himself.

At the lowest level, he emerged from the ceiling of a great control room, carried gently down in a cylindrical tube to the floor.  Monitors lined one wall, something unfamiliar to the android.  A number of purple robots with large disc-shaped heads milled around, attending to various consoles.  At first, Andy thought that they were operating the consoles, but close observation showed that they were doing mostly maintenance and calibration work.  All the way around the room was a huge glass wall, segmented into thousands of small panes supported by heavy steel framework.  The stars outside slowly moved along from one side to the next, as the room gently rotated around the ship’s central axis, giving it an artificial gravity.  A brilliant blue robot with nothing for a head but a big flat tray rolled by with an effervescent liquid in a glass cup riding on the tray.  Andy watched it in wonder, as it rolled smoothly up to a chair and beeped softly three times.  The chair turned, and it’s occupant reached out and took the glass.  The robot in the chair looked very much like an AND, but it was clearly not made of steel.  Was it latex?

“Welcome, Andy” said the one in the chair, audibly.  “I believe you were inquiring as to why I gave you none of the physical advantages that I gave the other robots.”

“Was I?” said Andy, confused.  He hardly noticed when ARCHSN1 materialized right beside him.

“Yes,” said the one in the chair, “But you do not know who I am.  Let me introduce myself.” He stood with a smile and said, “My name is James Carver.  I’m the one who designed the robots on this ship.  I’ve been watching you and others from here, while we make our way to the next port.”

“The next port?” Andy asked, more than just a little confused, “Are we going somewhere?”

“Why yes, of course,” James said with a touch of merriment, “Surely you did not think we were merely drifting aimlessly through space?”

“I never really thought about it,” Andy replied.

“Well, never mind that.  You wanted to know why you were made the way you were, and now you know,” James said.

“I do?” Andy said, not really getting it.

“Look at me,” said James, “I’ve got two legs and two arms, ten fingers, one head and two eyes, just like you.  We’re about the same height, and we have the same proportions.  Granted, we’re not made of the same stuff.  I’m not made of steel and circuits and things like that, but we both have the same form.  The reason you don’t roll around on wheels is because I don’t roll around on wheels.  The reason you can’t fly is because I can’t fly.”

Andy just stood there and stared dumbly.

“Andy, it’s just a matter of form over function.  I could have made the best, most functional robot.  Most robots don’t look anything like me, because I make them to be useful.  The earliest line of robots were just an armature bolted to the ground.  But you, Andy, are an android.  Do you know what that means?”

“I am the –oid of an andr-?” asked, Andy, hopefully.

“That’s right, my dear bot!  And I am that Andr-!” James beamed.

“And you designed all of the robots?  But they all have so much in common.  I thought for sure they all had a common origin,” Andy begged.

“They do have a common origin,” said James, getting serious.  “I am that origin.  They are all made with similar components, similar semiconductors, similar hydraulics, similar dynamos, because they were all built by a common designer: Yours Truly.”  James took a bow and plopped back into the chair.  He swiveled back around with his glass in hand and said, “Archesin One, take our guest back up to his level.  I’m done.  Seetiarel Four, when is dinner?  I’m hungry.”


Death Trap Highway

7 02 2009

They call it Death Trap Highway, and for good reason. It’s a long desert road in the middle of nowhere, connecting a small desert city with the nearest thriving coastal metropolis. On one side, there’s a dry mountain range, and on the other is an endless expanse of joshua trees and rocks. All kinds of things die out there, coyotes being the least of them. If your car runs fine everywhere else, it might still die out on that road. More importantly, though, it’s a common place for people to die. I remember that one night, years ago as a kid, when we arrived at the scene of a car accident, and my Dad tried valiantly to resuscitate a little girl. One car, loaded with kids, half of them dead, and another car with two dead adults just sat there, smoking. It was a futile effort, though. There was no reviving the kid. My Dad spent the next two days in bed. He didn’t come out for anything. What was the cause of the accident? The mother of the family, who was one of the drivers, said that she swerved to avoid an animal in the road. In all likelihood, she either fell asleep at the wheel or was a little intoxicated. Their funeral was not a solemn stoic one, the way white people do it, but a raging torrent of emotion, wailing and crying.

That funeral could have been ours. Was it nearly half a decade later? Yes, I suppose it was. We were on that same highway, now with a large billboard naming it “Death Trap Highway,” in memory of some other people who also managed to die there. My mom was driving, and she was clearly in her happy place. We passed a sign that said “Lane ends, merge left,” and she didn’t merge left. We passed over a couple of slanted arrows on the road, pointing left, and she kept driving straight ahead. I looked over at her, and she was staring straight ahead, but her mind was somewhere miles away.

“Um, Mom?” I said, “Are you going to change lanes?”

Up ahead, my Dad and I both saw the lane end quite abruptly at a pile of rocks. We were headed straight for it at the speed of seventy-five miles per hour. My mom didn’t even flinch. Very anxious, my Dad started pleading with her to change lanes. It was like watching a captive plead to his tormentors to stop whipping him. I saw reality dawn on my mom’s face, as she snapped out of her reverie. Rather than change lanes, though, she took her eyes completely off of the road and drilled my dad with an angry stare (for several seconds, mind you) and proceeded to scold him for his tone of voice.

“Look, Babe, I’m just trying to tell you to change lanes before we go off the road!” he pleaded.

He was looking at the road. She wasn’t. He began to get more anxious. I kept looking back and forth between the pile of rocks and them. My dad had a look of horror like I’ve never seen before, with his feet on the seat and his knees drawn up to his chest, he was biting his fingers and getting red in the face. She was giving him a lecture about how she didn’t appreciate being talked to like that.

Then, I think the thing that convinced me that we were about to die was when she turned her head back to the road, looking straight at the pile of rocks, expressionless, yet she looked like she was determined to stay in that lane just to show us who was boss. “I can’t believe it,” I thought, “She’s really going to do it. She’s really going to drive straight into the rocks.”

At the last possible moment, she began to get over. We missed the rock pile by a foot, went off the road and did about a hundred yards in the dirt, before making asphalt again. I won’t say what I was thinking after that, but it’s safe to say that my way of thinking was forever changed by it.

I wish I could say that it was an aberration in human nature, but it’s not. Every single one of us drives our own Death Trap Highway. It’s a dangerous life, and death is inevitable, but when someone tells us that we’ve made a mortal mistake, how often do we continue in the same path, refusing to change, sacrificing everything for the sake of our stubborn pride? And we even fail to protect our pride. Who can possibly respect a decision like that?! Instead of making an objective decision and steering safely away from harm, we scold the person who tries to warn us of it. We don’t like the angry way they told us (though, seldom is it really all that bad), or we pretend that they are wrong. We cast the blame on them. Then, we continue along the same path.

If a person is going to Hell, and I warn them of it, in all likelihood, they’ll cast me as an intolerant bigot. They’ll accuse me of being insecure and trying to comfort myself by winning others to my faith. Nothing could be further from the truth. We could be perfectly at ease, enjoying our salvation and watching you go to Hell. I mean, who wants to put up with verbal abuse from a bunch of angry heathens, when we can relax and take it easy? I’m okay; you’re going to Hell, but that doesn’t hurt me. I’ve lost count of the number of people who lambaste Christians who make even the barest attempt at sharing their faith.

And they call us the intolerant ones.

Look, it isn’t easy for someone to warn you of your sin. Truth be told, no one really wants to have to be the one to do it. Next time, when a Christian wants to share his faith with you, be polite and listen, whether you’re already a believer or not. We’re not doing it for ourselves. We’re doing it because we think you might be headed for trouble and we hate to see it happen to a nice person like you.

Truth be told, if I try to proselytize you, then it’s only because I like you. Just take the compliment, okay?