dendritic arborization • I like that phrase

disordered thought processes

hidden in the seeming chaos is beautiful, elegant order—at least, I hope that's true.

inspiration

posted on April 30th, 2006

Three things today:

(1) Stephen Colbert humiliates George W Bush right in front of his face in front of an audience

(2) The Lakers win Game 4 in overtime in one of the most dramatic games I’ve watched in a long time. After Smush Parker drops down a 3 pointer despite being 1 for 10, and then immediately afterwards forcing Steve Nash into a huge turnover, Kobe Bryant sinks a difficult high-arcer, sending them into overtime. And then, after some more unprecedent defense (defense? The Lakers are playing defense?) leading to a jump ball, Luke Walton wins the tip-off, giving the ball once again to Kobe Bryant, who hits the game-winner in front of two defenders, just a hair before the buzzer sounds.

(3) I serendipitously caught “The Last Unicorn” on Showtime today at my parents’ house. This animated movie (which was, incidentally, done by a team of Japanese animators who later ended up working for the legendary Hayao Miyazaki, who directed high-caliber anime such as “Spirited Away,” “Laputa: Castle in the Sky,” and “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Winds”) is based on the book The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, which is one of my favorite books. (I have a collection of quotes from The Last Unicorn on the web.) Of note, the ubiquitous Christopher Lee (who most recently played Saruman in LotR and Count Dooku in “Star Wars,” and was also the Man with the Golden Gun), is the voice of one of the main characters, King Haggard (who I disturbingly identify with in some ways.) Also of note, the rock band America did the soundtrack, which may not sound all that appealing at first, but actually works pretty well not that I’ve seen it a couple of times.

All in all, it was a pretty good day.

One of the concepts in Perdido Street Station is “crisis energy.” From what I understand, it is a magical energy created from crisis situations that ends up acting in opposition to what seems inevitable. For example, one of the possible applications discussed in the book is the act of flying. Let’s say you cast yourself aloft by throwing yourself off a balcony. If you have a crisis energy engine, the impending catastrophe of splattering on the street below ends up propelling you upward instead. The higher you go, the more catastrophic your plunge downward would be, the more crisis energy is generated.

Knowing China Miéville’s leftist-leaning politics, I can’t help but think that crisis energy must be related to Marx’s crisis theory. I only have a two-sentence understanding of crisis theory, but an example that I understand is how while initial investment into a particular economy quickly accelerates its growth, as the economy matures, further and further investment actually begins decelerating growth and, going beyond the law of diminishing returns, actually starts antagonizing growth. What was once a constructive force becomes destructive.

In an abstract way, this can be summarized in the trite truism that anything in excess is bad for you, but I think it is more subtle than that. I can’t help but think of a biological equivalent, where the same enzymes in the same concentrations might make a cell grow in a particular part of the cell cycle, but as the cell matures, it might actually start killing the cell. Or how usually certain enzymes and messenger cascades keep a cells growth in check, but when the cell becomes malignant, these same enzymes and messenger cascades actually allow the cancer to spread. (I can’t think of a specific example right now, but I know the phenomenon exists.)

Interestingly, in some modern theories of cosmology, the force of gravity has been endowed with new, similar properties that might explain the evolution and end-stage of the universe. For example, the current incarnation of the Big Bang Theory cannot explain (1) how the universe managed to expand in size faster than the speed of light in the first few moments of Time, before slowing down to match our current observations and (2) how the distant parts of the universe are actually accelerating The idea is that there must be some hidden force that actually causes space to expand and accelerate, countering the (normally) attractive force of gravity. One idea is that perhaps gravity is attractive at (relatively) small scales, and repulsive as the distance between collections of matter increase.

Anyway, I thought it interesting that while “crisis energy” only makes sense as a real phenomenon in Miéville’s created universe, certain phenomena in the real world are actually (or at least possibily) quite analogous to it.

words continued

posted on April 28th, 2006

I find it amusing and disturbing that China Miéville repeatedly uses the words “judder,” “nacre,” and “moil,” to name a few.

words and nothing more

posted on April 28th, 2006

I am reading a book whose main character is a linguist, so I can’t help but ponder the use of words. What is language for, really? If not for connection?

Here I am sitting by myself, tip-tap-typing to no one in particular, almost abusing language, in a sense. (Sure, my writing is perhaps ill-begotten and misshapen, but that’s not what I mean.) Instead of using language to connect, I can’t help but feel like I am shouting into a black hole. (Oh I know that perhaps there are 2.5 of you who read this drek, but you know what I mean.)

And I ponder the fact that this is sort of the only thing I have to use for the purpose of connecting me to the human race. I feel like I’ve really spent a long time in exile, skulking in shadows, avoiding the throng of humanity. Alone in the midst of millions of people.

I can’t help but feel that when I’m at work, there is a clear plastic shield blocking me from the people I interact with (both patients and colleagues.) I mean, we interact, but there’s this barrier that I don’t dare transgress.

I don’t know. Maybe all I really want is someone to talk to.

Someone who gives a damn.

And since I’m making wishes, please give me a million dollars. And, oh yeah, huge pectoral muscles.

pretty colors

posted on April 27th, 2006

This quiz reminds me of one I took a while ago which now apparently defunct.

From ColorQuiz.com:

Your Existing Situation

Working to improve his image in the eyes of others in order to obtain their compliance and agreement with his needs and wishes.

Your Stress Sources

Wants to overcome a feeling of emptiness and to bridge the gap which he feels separates himself from others. Anxious to experience life in all its aspects, to explore all its possibilities, and to live it to the fullest. He therefore resents any restriction or limitation being imposed on him and insists on being free and unhampered.

Your Restrained Characteristics

Remains emotionally unattached even when involved in a close relationship.

Feels trapped in a distressing or uncomfortable situation and seeking some way of gaining relief. Able to achieve satisfaction from sexual activity.

Your Desired Objective

Needs a change in his circumstances or in his relationships which will permit relief from stress. Seeking a solution which will open up new and better possibilities and allow hopes to be fulfilled.

Your Actual Problem

Feels restricted and prevented from progressing; seeking a solution which will remove these limitations.

Your Actual Problem #2

The fear that he may be prevented from achieving the things he wants leads him into a relentless search for satisfaction in the pursuit of illusory or meaningless activities.

random links

posted on April 27th, 2006

I am randomly scouring the net. You’d think that using del.icio.us would satisfy my need to bookmark random sites that I will likely never visit again (a technology that I wish had been available when Netscape had first come out—you should’ve seen the madness of my humongous bookmark file.) Alas, that is not to be. Of course, a sideblog would probably work better, but, I’m too lazy to write code right now.

In any case: someone else agrees with me about trusting flatfiles more than databases. Sure, I think that Wordpress renders my blog more efficiently than Blosxom does, but then again, the code the runs Wordpress is completely opaque to me, while Blosxom is (relatively) more transparent. I am sort of itching to try a Ruby-based equivalent to Blosxom, namely Blosxonomy, but it appears that Blosxonomy is also moving into the RDBMS direction, although maintaining backward-compatibility with Blosxom-like flatfiles.

And when exactly am I going to do this kind of hacking? Probably never.


Another link: Gregory Chaitin discusses the incomputability of Omega (also called Chaitin’s number) which connects to the ideas of Alan Turing’s unsolvable Halting Problem[wikipedia][Turing’s original paper] and Gödel’s Theorem of Incompleteness[wikipedia][miskatonic.org], all of which basically say that there is no system of mathematics that can encompass all truth.

The philosophical implications are that even math, which hitherto had been considered pure, as close as to Platonic idealism as we are likely to get, has gray areas that are unknowable and essentially incomprehensible. And if this is the case, how can physics—which is, in many ways, applied mathematics—how can it hope to accurately describe the universe?

In any case, quantum mechanics is another layer of obfuscation that boggles my simple mind.

To put it simply, the Mind of God will forever remain beyond the ken of creatures of this universe.

To put it more atheistically, you’ll never know if there is an end to the Matrix. Who knows how many levels, how many supersets and subsets exist above and below us? How many times do you need to escape the Black Iron Prison before you actually surface in “reality”? If you believe Gödel, Turing, and Chaitin, the answer is, you can’t.

I am reminded of a random reverie I had today. I was, for some obscure reason, pondering glycolysis and the Krebs Cycle and I remembered an insane diagram containing hundreds of thousands chemical reactions that occurred in the average cell which my biochemistry professor showed us, and these were only the ones we understood. I then quailed at the idea that we may never be able to enumerate every single chemical reaction that occurs in the average cell, never mind the interactions between the trillion or so cells that make up the human body. Think about it, evolution has had billions of years to screw around with different processes, create new processes de novo, experiment and tweak, copy and recopy. Surely it will take us at least just as long to decode everything. In other words, I doubt that life is a reducible algorithm.


Psychology Today has an article on the different reasons for procrastination, and it wasn’t until I started reading Undoing Depression that I realized that my insane habits were a cardinal manifestation of my depression. Basically, this about sums it up:

Because depressed people can’t feel much pleasure, all options seem equally bleak, which makes getting started difficult and pointless.

from the ground up

posted on April 26th, 2006

On one of my therapeutic albeit expensive trips to the bookstore, I was arrested by a book entitled Undoing Depression. What I found unique (in comparison to the many books about depression that I have browsed through) is that the author writes as someone who simultaneously helps other people with their depression, being a psychologist. At the same time, he is dealing with his own problem. He is a fellow sufferer, and yet he does have some practical suggestions that might help. It’s a lot more cheering than various books that describe the author’s depression simply from the point-of-view of suffering (and on occasion, overcoming it.) Mainly, this is because the author has the other perspective of taking care of people who are depressed. And it works better than all those books written by people who may never have been depressed. While they say things that are really no different than what the author of this book says, the fact that they don’t identify as a sufferer of depression makes it, I think, harder to swallow. But maybe that’s just me.

In any case, while reading through this book, I completely identify with what many depressed people go through: latent self-destructiveness, horrific perfectionism that prevents me from ever starting anything, an insane desire to control things I have no control over, an inability to be honest and let my feelings show. I am amazed at how I’ve managed to survive life this long without recognizing the disease process I’ve been experiencing. Some of my old blog entries [1][2][3][4][5][6][7] are completely pathognomonic for depression, and yet I think that deep down inside, I still haven’t accepted the fact that I am experiencing a disease process.

But the whole premise of the book is that medication and psychotherapy can only get you so far. Without changing the way I go about life, I won’t ever snap out of this. And, akin to the mantra of “small, non-threatening things,” it is important that I chunk this transformation into actually accomplishable steps. That way, instead of never getting started because of a vertiginous feeling of being overwhelmed, I can make slow, yet lasting, progress. It’s the whole “a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step” thing.

Let’s see if I can actually pull this off.

Already the self-destructive part of me is laughing.

northbound on the I-5

posted on April 24th, 2006

As I was driving to work this morning, I thought about how it’s been a while since I’ve been up to the Bay Area and how long it’s been since I’ve seen my friends from college. Immersed in this reverie, I almost passed my exit, and I thought about just driving all the way up the I-5, past L.A., down into the Central Valley, out to the Bay.

In the end, I cut across two lanes to get to my exit and went to work anyway. But I still fantasize about just heading up there on Friday then try to drive back down on Sunday. Madness, and 16 hours of my weekend gone. I don’t think I have a three day weekend coming up anytime soon, and besides, the 5 is always a clusterfuck whenever there’s a three-day weekend (After an insane 12 hour trip from L.A. to Berkeley in 1997 when my bladder almost burst, I vowed never again to drive the 5 during a long weekend.) But, still. Who cares if gas costs $3 a gallon?

Hmmm.

waste

posted on April 23rd, 2006

I foolishly decided to take a nap at 6:45pm, but my alarm failed to go off, so I didn’t wake up until 10:30pm, which is a shame, because I had intended to go to the bookstore. Ah well.

meaning (and the lack thereof)

posted on April 21st, 2006

So I should know better than to write when I am intoxicated, but I don’t know, I’m overcome once again by this sense of numbness. What does any of this matter?

No, that’s not true.

I figured something out. Call it insanity, call it what you will. I’ve realized that my mood is something like a wave in the ocean, and that getting out of my funk is all about catching that wave, like a neural surfer, or something hackneyed like that.

Yesterday I had come home and crashed despondently into bed, but I couldn’t sleep anyways. So I caught that mental wave, and inexplicably felt a lot better about myself. I headed out to a cafe to just kick back, sip some coffee, and read. Turns out that they have monthly belly dancing there. It was pretty cool and fun to watch.

Today I just didn’t feel quite as inspired. I actually got home around 3:30 pm but all I did was go to sleep, and I didn’t wake up until 6pm.

I did my tarot cards last night and got one of the cards that always freaks me out: The Tower. It actually makes me think of the WTC. I think if they ever do a modern version of the Rider-Waite deck, they’d have to use the twin towers crumbling for that card.

Now I know that what it means is sudden cataclysmic change, which is not necessarily a bad thing. God only knows that my life could use some sort of change. But it’s still kind of freaky.

I don’t know. What am I doing tonight? I’m going to finish an entire bottle of wine. I really don’t know what else to do these days.

Life. Don’t talk to me about life.

whenever i feel terrible

posted on April 11th, 2006

…and I don’t want to face the world, I am reminded of this conversation from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”:

Cameron Frye: I’m dying.
Ferris Bueller: You’re not dying. You just can’t think of anything good to do.

random thought

posted on April 10th, 2006

OK, I admit it. I’m weird. But I’ve been reading up on the Roman Empire lately for no good reason. (Maybe it’s because it’s Holy Week, and I’ve been thinking about Rome and it’s relationship to Christianity, specifically Roman Catholicism.) And you know that saying, “All roads lead to Rome”? Well, with all the driving I’ve done this week going home and back, I’ve realized that all freeways lead to Los Angeles.

dark elves and sithi

posted on April 9th, 2006

Just pondering Memory, Thorn, and Sorrow still. I think I thought this the first time I read it, and I’m not usually the gushy, romantic type, but I think the thing that sticks the most with me is the relationship between Simon and Miriamele and how painstaking Tad Williams actually fleshed out its nuances. I think my most favorite scenes are when Simon and Miriamele head out on there own to return to the Hayholt in their bid to try to stop the Storm King and to prevent the End of the World, and they have to seek shelter in people’s abandoned houses, and I was struck especially by the scene where she is doing common, domestic things that you wouldn’t expect a princess to know how to do (not that I’m suggesting that that’s women ought to do)—there is a sort-of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves quality to it. I guess the mundanity of it all really struck me, and how what moved that section of the plot along was the developing romance between the two characters. For some reason, these scenes actually seem to capture the sense of Home for me (which also happens to be a major theme in this book.) Whereas Tolkien touches upon the fact that “you can never really go home again,” particularly when he turns the Shire into a totalitarian state, Williams reiterates the (admittedly disgustingly trite) idea that “home is where the heart is,” which may or may not actually represent an physical place. In retrospect, I suppose maybe Tad Williams had the same idea that I did when I read Book IV and VI of LotR: how different the scenes would’ve been if Frodo and Sam weren’t both male (or, I suppose, alternately, how different it would’ve been if J.R.R. Tolkien wasn’t an old school Catholic and had tried to tap the homoerotic side of it all) and indeed I do find it very touching.

But the main thing I was thinking of (which the title of this post alludes to) is that I think that J.R.R. Tolkien’s Fëanor from The Silmarillion probably serves as the prototype for Williams’ Ineluki. Now I haven’t read The Silmarillion as much I’ve read LotR so I may have this wrong, but the story of Beren and Luthien describes a similar conflict between the kindreds of the Sindar and the Noldor which presage the conflict between the Sithi and the Norns. (Hey, check that out, the two kindreds even start with the same letter…) The mistrust between the two kindreds was born with the Kinslaying in Alqualonde, however, but the fatal oath that the sons of Fëanor took eventually led them to attack and completely destroy the Sindarin Realm of Doriath in an effort to retrieve a Silmaril. Somehow, the mortal Eärendil manages to bring the Silmaril to the Uttermost West, out of the reach of the sons of Fëanor. But can you only imagine what would’ve transpired if Fëanor had survived? Would he have mowed down Thingol and Melian? Slain Beren and Luthien? It would be terrible to imagine.

Both Fëanor and Ineluki are driven by loss—while the tragedy that Fëanor wrought was directly the result of his terrible Oath, the back-story makes it seem that the darkness had started within his soul prior to this, with the death of his mother Miriel and with his father Finwë afterwards marrying Indis. He then completely goes over the edge when Melkor kills his father and steals the Silmarils. At this point Fëanor leads his people out of Valinor, kills his kindred the Teleri for their boats, and then burns the boats to leave his half-brother Fingolfin and his people behind to try to cross the Grinding Ice on foot.

Ineluki’s loss is the same loss that Elrond and Galadriel and all the other Elves are forced to endure: the weakening of their respective realms, and the ascendancy of that upstart race, the race of humans. This brings up an interesting theme that I’ll bring up later.

Another similarity: both Fëanor and Ineluki are described as the best of their respective races, the most skilled, the most intelligent. They are both consumed with passion, and are described as fiery spirits. And they both create things that wreak havoc on the the balance of Nature—the Silmarils, which doom everyone who touches them, versus the sword Sorrow, made out of the antithetical materials of iron and witchwood.

Anyway, the theme about the weakening of the elder race and the ascendancy of the human race intrigues me as a child of the Filipino diaspora. Especially in Osten Ard, which draws directly upon European history, the process of conquest and colonization has been at work (the Herynstiri and the Sithi displaced by the Rimmersmen, the Rimmersmen conquered by the Nabbanese, the Nabbanese declining and allowing the Erkynlanders to take center state), and the Sithi, like many indigenous cultures, are forced to abdicate their ancestral lands, and their numbers decline, often at the hands of their conquerors. The difference between this and the real world, though, is that they theoretically have the advantage of magic, which, while it doesn’t necessarily translate into technological superiority (particularly since they can’t use iron), still suggests a sort of technological gap that for example, separates sword-wielding cultures and rifle-wielding cultures.

So, in a way, Ineluki is a force that attempts to resist the tide of conquest and colonization, and in that sense, I can’t help but root for him, although I’m not a fan of the whole death and destruction for all humans thing.

I suppose it is more akin to the rise and fall of Great Empires (which is another, slightly different process at work)—Rome after all was supposedly somewhat technologically superior to their Germanic conquerors, and, well, some folks just can’t let go of the past.

nausicaa of the valley of the winds

posted on April 8th, 2006

[info about the movie] Watching the Disney redub on the Cartoon Network right now. I still think it’s pretty cool. The first time I watched it was as a fansub in 1999, I think. I don’t know if being in the original Japanese makes it just seem more epic or something, although at least the Disney version doesn’t have any cuts like the first dubbed version which most Miyazaki fans find completely abhorrent.

The story is an ecological fable about a post-apocalyptic world that is almost completely inimical to human life, with toxic spore-infested jungles and lakes of acid., with the jungles inhabited by gigantic insects known as the Ohmu. Somehow humanity has clung on, however, and sadly many of the survivors have not learned the lesson of the destructiveness of war, and in fact some want to revive one of the ancient biomachines known as God Warriors that were responsible for the destruction of the earth. But I won’t add too many spoilers. Nausicaa herself is a princess of the Valley of the Winds who has a preternatural ability to communicate to the Ohmu as well as other animals who must save her Valley from destruction, caught between warring nations that want to revive the monstrous God Warrior as well as the enraged giant Ohmu.

I swear I had never read anything about Nausicaa before I first watched it, although Nausicaa was first released in the ‘80’s and also existed as a manga. I find the parallels with the land with the toxic desert and the poisoned ocean that I was trying to map very interesting.

the gospel of judas

posted on April 7th, 2006

This meme suddenly popped up on the blogosphere, but has also been published in The New York Times: ‘Gospel of Judas’ Surfaces After 1,700 Years. [original text of the Gospel of Judas][the coptic ps.gospel of judas]

The gospel is steeped in Gnosticism (a branch of early Christianity that believed that it is the hidden, secret scriptures that allow humanity to be saved.) I was first truly introduced to concepts of Gnoticism by Phillip K. Dick (the author of Blade Runner and Minority Report) in his book Valis[amazon.com][wikipedia][philipkdick.com][google], which is in fact the first book of a trilogy which includes Divine Invasion[amazon.com] and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer[amazon.com][wikipedia][google]. One of the interesting concepts he divulges is the idea that this world we live in is actually the creation of a mad god named Samael, who is blind and does not realize that he created the universe at the behest of the One True God. This is apparently derived directly from Gnosticism, although Dick added his own spin to it. Samael has also been identified with Satan, although it is by no means clear cut, and various scriptures have identified Samael with both the Fallen and the Faithful, performing both acts of good and evil. However, Samael also has the name Yaltabaoth and Saklas (which are the different aspects of the Demiurge.) Saklas is the name that is mentioned in the Gospel of Judas and referred to as the false god that most people worship out of fear and/or in hope of gaining favor.

I have always been intrigued by stories with complex characters who end up betraying the protagonist of the story. For example, there is Lancelot in the Arthurian Legend, Brutus in (specifically Shakespeare’s version of) the life of Julius Caesar, Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, and of course Judas Iscariot. Mainly what is intriguing is how they don’t truly hate the person they are betraying, but are instead driven by some other cause. In the case of Lancelot, it was lust, in the case of Brutus, he felt he needed to save the Republic. In the case of Gollum, he was driven by the madness of the Ring. The scene where Gollum ponders what he is going to do next, where he is just watching Frodo and has feelings of regret has always haunted me because Tolkien did a good job of making him like someone who was indeed redeemable, and then Sam arrives, snapping Gollum out of it, and allowing him to continue on his plan to betray Frodo.

Judas, though, has always been a mystery. I have actually pondered his fate for a while, and I doubt that it was sheer greed that led him to betray Jesus. After all, he was an apostle for a long time, and it would seem that he would be friends with Jesus. I don’t know what 30 pieces of silver are actually worth, but it really doesn’t seem like a realistic motivator. It doesn’t evoke enough pathos.

What I found satisfying as an explanation is the Sin of Pride, specifically, thinking that you know exactly what is supposed to happen next. Perhaps he began believing that Jesus was leading them to dangerous territory, so to speak, believing that Jesus was going make their mission fail, and in the process, get them all killed. Maybe Judas really believed in Jesus’ ministry, but perhaps thought that it was Jesus who was straying from the True Path.

I then stumble into less clear ideas. I had been taught that the Israelites believed that the Messiah would save them from the Romans, and some were expecting a military leader or a prophet who would use their supernatural powers to expel the invader, so many who heard that Jesus was being proclaimed the Messiah were disgusted and refused to believe. Maybe deep in his heart Judas thought that Jesus would lead them to salvation in this life and betrayed him because he was bitterly disappointed.

Of course, the thing that seems most supported by the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John is the idea that Judas’ betrayal was preordained, that it had to be so that Jesus could die for us, and that Judas’ motivation probably doesn’t matter. However, this is simply made more explicit in the Gospel of Judas, stating plainly that Jesus actually instructed Judas to do it.

But the thing that I like most about this gospel is that it elucidates how Jesus feels about hypocrisy and supposed “holiness” and “righteousness.” Truly, this feeling is present in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John, what with his constant clashes with the Pharisees, who followed their religion in as so much as it didn’t clash with their comfortable lifestyles and in as much as being religious gained them the esteem of their fellows, or with the Saducees, who upheld the forms of the sacred rituals but often did not follow the spirit of them—the difference between observing the letter of the law or actually following the spirit of the law. How Jesus throws out the merchants from the Temple is also illustrative of this. And in the Gospel of Judas, Jesus explicitly prophesies that a new religion will be founded in his Name, and even they will continue the hypocrisy of simply following the form but not the spirit of his ministry, and that many people simply worship out of fear of punishment, or because they are trying to curry favor from God.

And 2,000 years later, his prophesies are sadly true. There are people who use the name of God, and in the effort to save life, will actually kill people. There are those who are more interested in damning the unbelievers instead of saving them. There are those who follow their religion only to conform to the accepted norm, but in reality do not follow basic tenets of Jesus’ message. I, of course, speak of Christian fundamentalists and also Republicans who talk a lot about how this Nation is supposed to be a Christian Nation, and yet espouse such hateful ideas as making it a crime to help a fellow human being simply because he does not have the proper papers, or by cutting funding to help the poor.

Personally, I distrust people who wear their religion on their sleeve. I am always reminded of this passage from Matthew (which also happens to contain the Lord’s Prayer):

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
“Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. —Matthew 6:1-18, New Revised Standard Version

From what I learned in 12 years of Catholic school, the essence of the ministry of Jesus is based in love, in humility, and in inclusivity. So anyone who espouses hate, believes that what he/she thinks is right and what everyone else thinks is wrong, or uses their faith to exclude people and take away their rights and dignity as human beings—these people in my eyes are doers of Evil, and while it is not for me to Judge, and while it is wrong for me to be hateful, I really wouldn’t mind if they were wiped from the face of the earth.

(Interestingly, as I wrote this little screed, I had the TV to a show that was describing the Big Bang Theory, and how this theory seems to actually prove intelligent design and the existence of God. I have issues with their assertion that the universe is well structured, because as far as I can see, the universe is weirdly clumpy and non-homogenous. And while it is incredibly beautiful, it is not what I imagine when I think of order and structure. What is more convincing, perhaps, is their explication of the Strong Anthropic Principle which I suppose does smack of intelligent design. If the fundamentalists clung to this idea instead of the laughable notion that the world is only 6,000 years old, implying that human beings and dinosaurs lived side by side in the Garden of Eden (a discussion which apparently was incorporated into an episode of “The Sopranos”), then I think there would be fruitful discussion. What really interested me was that this TV program names Allah as the creator of the universe. Turns out that I was watching Malaysian television, making me think again about Southeast Asia, but anyway.)

on the nature of fear

posted on April 7th, 2006

I think I just realized that it’s not the loneliness itself that’s getting me down. It’s the fact that I’m starting to dread the future. I can’t get rid of this idea that I’m on this doomed path that’s leading to nowhere, and that things are at best going to remain forever unchanged and unchanging until I die, but more likely, things are going to get worse.

I’m beginning to fear the simple little things that comprise my sad and monotonous life—last night I started getting anxious because I didn’t want the day to be over and had this feeling that time is quickly running out, and this morning I was truly dreading going to work, even though it really wasn’t that bad. I fear I am going to spend this weekend worrying about having to go to work on Monday, with each hour frittering by, full of nothing but anxiety and indecision.

What is happening to me?

I finished rereading Memory, Thorn, and Sorrow by Tad Williams, which has been (like many other fantasy novels such as The Sword of Shannara and The Wheel of Time series) compared much to The Lord of the Rings. While there exists much older literature that could considered fantasy (for example, The Faerie Queen by Edmund Spenser written in the 16th century), I believe that it was Tolkien that allowed booksellers to actually have an entire marketing category devoted to such stuff.

If you haven’t read The Lord of the Rings, of course I would recommend it to you, but I have a feeling that if you didn’t read it in your childhood, it may not really appeal to you. Of course, you can always watch the movies, which were actually mostly faithful to the story (and in fact introduced something that I found superior to the story: the intercutting of scenes with Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli with scenes with Frodo, Sam, and Gollum. I had always found it anticlimactic to get to the Battle of Minas Tirith then have to go back in time chronologically to figure out what’s been happening to the Ringbearer. But, as usual, I digress.) Still, I realize that there are lots of people who really aren’t into fantasy at all (and you’ll probably want to just skip the rest of this blog post.)

Anyway, the point being, there may be spoilers that follow, so if you haven’t read either trilogy (Lord of the Rings or Memory, Thorn, and Sorrow) and actually really intend to read them some day, I would go somewhere else.

For better or for worse, The Lord of the Rings was basically my inspiration for trying to write. I’ve waxed about this before about how it makes me think of all the Septembers of the past, and the sense of melancholy I’ve always attached to it. I suppose thematically The Lord of the Rings fits—September is all about the end of Summer while the book is about the end of an entire epoch and how loss is one of the few things we can count on in this world.

After reading LotR for the first time, I became obsessed with drawing fantasy maps. I suppose I have always been obsessed with maps, drawing fantasy cities and freeways practically since I could pick up a pencil, but this was the first time I started thinking about creating an entirely imaginary world.

Of course, I was also greatly influenced by the various role-playing games I played as a child on my Commodore 64 and then on the Nintendo. The Bard’s Tale is, I think, the first cRPG I ever played. For some reason, I never really did get into the Ultima series. I also played the very first Dungeons & Dragons cRPGs (such as Pools of Radiance and Curse of the Azure Bonds) Then on the NES, there was The Legend of Zelda, Dragon Warrior (neé Dragon Quest), and, naturally, Final Fantasy but there was also Wizards & Warriors and Faxanadu. The first map I created was very transparent about where I got geography and city names from. I suppose that is when I first started thinking about copyright law.

I remember that first piece of paper I used for my map (let’s call this Map 1 or perhaps the Darunaig or Arlandia map): it came from a frame and was, I think 16” x 20” or something like that, and one side was blank. Remarkably, this wasn’t enough for the lands I eventually ended up mapping out, and I started taping on extra sheets to the sides. Of course, with a strategy like this, I never ended up filling the entire thing, nor mapping out every continent I had drawn. Maybe an entire world is too much—even Tolkien contented himself to simply the Northwest corner of a continent. After much revising and re-revising, I even started inking in the core parts of the map with marker.

Actually, now that I think about it, the core of the map actually came from a short story that I wrote in 5th grade (likely based entirely on cRPGs, since I hadn’t read LotR yet), which then became the basis of a choose-your-own-adventure-type game I was writing for my computer class (in Logo, of all languages.) Anyway.

But eventually, I stopped working on it and even accidentally partially destroyed it at one point (I’ve only been able to find part of it remaining.)

This is where my disturbing obsession with Disney movies kicked in. It was, to be fair, their renaissance era, coming out with classics such as “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast.” I started on a completely different map. Frankly, I ended up creating a world (let’s call this map #2 or maybe the Maedhrain map or maybe Western Miriador)that was based on Tolkien’s Middle Earth (in terms of Middle Earth) and extrapolations on what happened after Ariel married the prince (in terms of potential story line.) This also happened to be the time when I started learning Latin (freshman year in high school) so that creeped into the thing too. And then I almost immediately lost this map, not to be found for at least a few years after.

Inspired by Anne McCaffrey’s series of dragon books and her world of Pern (the manifestation of this inspiration is indeed tangential), I ended up creating yet another map (let’s call this map #3 or the Cournor map) about kingdoms that clung to the Eastern Coast of a poisoned continent. Trying to go beyond the westernmost mountain pass would end you up in a land where it rained corrosive acid and where the air was unbreathable. And yet the sea was hostile too—it was also filled with corrosive acid, and no one dared take a boat out into it. I never figured out how and why the coast was habitable, and eventually abandoned the whole thing, except for maybe some place names, and of course, the morphology of the place.

Sometime in high school I merged map #2 (using my memories of the original map that I had lost) and map #3 (so Cournor became Eastern Miriador). At this point, my maps were being obviously influenced by Memory, Thorn, and Sorrow.

So we will talk about the book a little. Interestingly, the morphology of Osten Ard (the world of MTS) is very similar to Middle Earth. The Northern parts extend farther west than the Southern parts (so that, for example, the Grey Havens are very far to the west of, oh, say, Pelargir, despite both being ports and the same geography holds for Rimmersgard’s Skipphaven, which is well west of the Hayholt) There is a major north-south mountain range as well (the Misty Mountains versus the Wealdhelm) and on the eastern side of these mountains lies a vast forest (Mirkwood versus Aldheorte) The seat of greatest (human) power lies on that bay I described (Gondor versus Erkynland) Another ancient seat of former human power lies on the southern edge of this bay (the city of Umbar and old Harad of the Numenoreans versus the remnants of the Empire of Nabban) What is missing from Osten Ard, though, are blasted lands that would be Mordor, and a great north-south river that would be the Anduin. Still, Naglimund is kind of where Rivendell is (both which are the first destinations of their respective protagonists) up against the western slopes of the north-south mountains and in front of mountain pass into the forest (the High Pass versus the Stile) Elvritshalla, the capital of Rimmersgard, is kind of where Annuminas or maybe Fornost Erain would be. Hernysadharc, the capital of Hernystir, is kind of where Edoras is (although there are no east-west mountains like the White Mountains)

Since we’re on the topic of map similarity, the world of The Wheel of Time kind of has this geography as well, with the obvious parallel between the Mountains of the Mist and the Misty Mountains, although I must say that the rest of the parallels are more stretched. Tear would perhaps correspond to Gondor (or maybe Illian would), the Dragonmount is where the Lonely Mountain is, and the River Manetheren is north-south like the Anduin would be.

And since we’re on this topic, for even more bizarre map similarity, there is the State of California [morphology][place names], although the east-west dimension is extraordinarily compressed compared to Middle Earth, and the north-south dimension is tilted somewhat counterclockwise. The Coastal Ranges correspond to the Blue Mountains. The Transverse Ranges (including the Santa Ynez, the San Gabriel, and the San Bernardino mountains) correspond to the White Mountains. The Sierra Nevada are the Misty Mountains. The San Francisco Bay corresponds to the Gulf of Lune. Lake Tahoe would then roughly be where Rivendell is. Donner Pass is the High Pass. Yosemite would then be Eregion (and Tioga Pass becomes the Redhorn Pass.) The Los Angeles Basin is then Gondor, and maybe Orange County or San Diego would be Umbar. And while there are no mountain fences around the Low Desert, this would correspond to Mordor and the deserts beyond, with the Salton Sea corresponding to the Sea of Nûrn. Sacramento would be Annuminas or maybe Fornost Erain. Point Concepcion corresponds to Andrast. OK, I am definitely stretching it.

Someday I will scan the maps I drew and post them. Someday.

Anyway, when I got to college, like many minority students, I found myself searching for my identity, particularly my cultural identity. While I did submerge myself in Pilipino Cultural Night, and wrote for a Filipino American literary magazine, I think I also ended up trying to fulfill the same task that J.R.R. Tolkien had set on himself. In the way that his work was an attempt to create a mythology for (relatively) modern-day England, I overlayed Map #1 (Darunaig or Arlandia) with my own attempt to create a fantasy mythology for the modern-day Philippines from the perspective of a child of the diaspora. I changed place names on Map #1 to less resemble Germanic or Romance constructions and more resemble Austronesian place names. And, inspired by Tad Williams, I tried to make parallels from the multiple colonizations of my world to that of Southeast Asia. (There is much written about how in MST, Tad Williams cribs from European History and plugs it into Osten Ard, adding more complexity to his world.

Eventually, however, the initial morphology of Map #1 started to make less sense to me. You could tell very much that I had cribbed a lot of material from disparate sources. There were multiple lands connected by thin isthmuses. It looked very unnatural. And given the scale of the world I was trying to create, I was starting to run into problems with projection—how do you represent a spherical world on a flat piece of paper? In time I ended up merging Map #1 with the hybrid Map #2/#3. While much of the core actually remained the same, some lands disappeared entirely, many connections cut. This is the world I’ve been working on now, and I can’t help but ponder how I’ve spent about 17-18 years on it. Scary. And I can’t help feel that I’m really never going to get anywhere with it. Sad that my aspiration is to simply write a Tolkien clone.

But, back to MST: I first read it when it came out in 1990. I remember reading The Stone of Farewell (the second book in the trilogy) while I was on a family vacation in the Canadian Rockies. What was kind of neat was that part of the story was about how it was snowing in the middle of summer, and in the Canadian Rockies, despite it being August, I found myself walking across snowfields and trying to row a boat in ice cold waters. When I reread The Stone of Farewell the other day, I marveled at how the first time I read it was almost 16 years ago, and the pages were definitely now yellow.

Now that it’s over, I feel like I need to start reading another similar adventure. I thought about re-reading LotR since I actually haven’t read it again since 2001 and sort of had my fill after watching the movies but the timing is all wrong, and I’d want to wait until September.

on the nature of loneliness

posted on April 4th, 2006

In the sad, sorry state that I am currently in, I can’t help but wonder if loneliness is in fact a cumulative thing.

For all intents and purposes, I’ve been (relatively) OK with my solitary state for at least the past (gasp) 7 years (and I’ve been solitary for far longer than that.) Sure, I have the occasional descent into abject depression but these are transient, and I can get up in the morning and go to work and be OK.

But these last few days have been really trying. The last time I think that I felt like this was post-breakup. I’m in this contrary state where I quail at the thought of hanging out with other people, particularly other, well-adjusted people who are in healthy relationships, and yet I can’t stand being by myself.

Whereas last year I went for a few days [1][2][3][4][5] without talking to anyone except to order food or pay at the register, I can hardly contemplate doing the same thing for the next 36 hours or so, to the point where I feel compelled to drive up to L.A. tonight and mope around at my parents’ house until Thursday, just so I can have some sort of company—even if my parents aren’t around, at least there’s the dog. (Man, having a dog would cure some of my insanity, I think, except for the fact that the dog would likely be dead from neglect in less than a week.)

Which leads me to ask the rhetorical question: does loneliness accumulate? Have I simply reached that tipping point where I’ve had too much and can’t bear any more? (Naturally, my thoughts wander to Popeye: That’s all I canst stands and I canst stands no more!) Honestly, I have no illusions about getting out of this state anytime soon, and in my saner moments, I really have no driving desire to do so, but it troubles me horribly that I have a hard time enduring hour upon hour of my soul longing for someone to talk to.

I suppose I have this blog, which is remarkably comforting despite being incredibly pathetic. What I really ought to do is hire a psychotherapist.

it’s a trap!

posted on April 2nd, 2006

Here I am pondering the chances of actually breaking out of the Black Iron Prison when I am reminded of a quote by Douglas Adams, author of the cult classic The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (who by the way was an atheist and is a big influence on my philosophies regarding the universe):

There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something more bizarrely inexplicable.
There is another theory which states that this has already happened.

And again, we enter the Matrix and ask the question “What is Real?” (I think they really should’ve done the whole Matrix within a Matrix within a Matrix thing. That would’ve made much more sense than the crap they ended up with, but that is neither here nor there.)

How far down the rabbit hole can we go?


I don’t know what’s gotten into me. I realize that my sudden soul-searching and my angst with regards to trying to figure out the ultimate structure and meaning of the universe is a response to the sudden anxiety that has weighed down on me.

Part of it is because of work—after various interactions with a particular supervisor, I have come to seriously doubt my ability to do what I had set out to do, and these doubts, valid or not, are really eating away at my soul.

Part of it is because someone I know has had an unexpected death in the family, and all of the sudden I am plunged back into last summer, when my dad had his heart attack (and which thankfully he is doing very well from.)

I don’t think I ever really delved into my feelings about that episode. Once he recovered and was back to his normal self, I think I prematurely squashed down all those feelings. But I guess I should know better. It’s a mistake to not process those kind of emotions. You’ll note that I did not blog at all in the month of August, and at most I alluded to it cryptically.

I remember the sense of panic that overcame me when I serendipitously called home, and my brother told me that my dad was having chest pain and they had called an ambulance. I was stuck in a traffic jam at the time, and I remember contemplating whether I should just cross the median and turn around to get back home, but I didn’t, and they kept me updated over the phone almost hour by hour. I actually tried to go to work the next day, but my mind was most definitely not into it, and I ended up asking to leave early. Around 2:30 pm, I hopped onto a train bound for L.A., then trudged up the couple of blocks to the hospital where they took my dad, and I remember being scared shitless but trying not to let it show. My dad never gets sick. I’ve never seen him ill once, but here he was in the ICU with an oxygen mask barely holding his sats above 90%, with at least three different medications dripping into him, none of them lessening any of the pain, and I remember feeling cursed for having medical knowledge, and I remember, remember how much I was concentrating to not let it show how scared I was.

The memory that freaks me out the most is when he could barely open his eyes, and when he did, he really couldn’t focus on any one of us. Even though I don’t have much experience as a clinician, it was one of those looks that give you an “oh shit” vibe inside your bones. I remember going home with that feeling and how futile it was to try to go to sleep.

I think I commuted from L.A. to San Diego for at least three days in a row, hopping on a train around 5:30 pm then waking up around 4 am the next day to get to work, making sure I could spend all my free time visiting him. They had to transfer him to another facility to cath him, and it was just one lesion, in the LAD. They call those kind of heart attacks “widowmakers,” but my dad had dodged the bullet there, and I remember the day he was discharged, he was pretty much back to his normal self, with his wry, fatalistic humor, and the sparkle back in his eyes that had been missing that first day I had seen him.

And that was that, I got on with my life, nagging him about staying on his medications (which is harder than you would think, mostly because my dad is a physician himself—the worst patients ever.) I figured the cardiologist must’ve thought it was pretty serious because he put him on carvedilol (Coreg), isosorbide dinitrate, and aldactone, which I recognized from the CCU as a regimen we would put people on if they had heart failure. (And naturally they put him on Plavix because of the stent, and this has intermittently become a point of contention because of the fact that it thins your blood, but that is another story.) But he seems to be doing pretty well, a lot better than most of the heart failure patients I saw in the CCU (but then again, the ones I saw were frequently candidates for heart transplant, with really bad dilated cardiomyopathy from too many heart attacks.)

So I guess that’s part of it that’s been awakened in me. Again, I should’ve known better than to try to suppress these kinds of fears and anxieties because they always, always come back to bite you in the ass.

As to my other fear of whether or not I’m good enough to do my job, well, I have a performance evaluation coming up on Thursday, so we’ll see then. I have always been someone who perpetually thinks I suck, but I realize that it’s important to have a more objective sense of my abilities. There are still things I have to undergo which really make me freak out and keep me up in the middle of the night, but, as Nietschze once said, whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. I guess.

What I probably need at this point in time are some happy pills and maybe an hour a week of some good ol’ psychotherapy, but the ironic thing about having depression and anxiety is that you’re probably less likely to look for help because you’re too depressed and think that it’s not going to help and/or you’re too anxious and are afraid to ask for it.

Damn.

over and over

posted on April 1st, 2006

Days like this I feel like I am trapped in some kind of existential loop, a la “Groundhog Day,” forced to live and relive excruciatingly painful parts of my life. I suppose it is simply the fact that I really haven’t learned any of the lessons I was supposed to have learned, so I haven’t really learned to avoid these situations that make me want to weep, and maybe even sometimes writhe in agony.

So for some bizarre reason today, my thoughts strayed to the movie “Donnie Darko,” of which I’d written about some time ago (and since it is quite the non-linear narrative, and if you don’t have the time or patience to actually watch it, wikipedia has a pretty good synopsis, including commentary from the director which I wasn’t aware of before.

As you may have guessed from the allusions in my intro, this movie discusses temporal loops, or more specifically, pocket universes. As the director explains, what happens is that a tangent universe spontaneously arises from the pre-existing timeline. Unfortunately, most tangent universes are extraordinarily unstable, and this one happens to have a finite lifespan of 28 days. The goal of the protagonist is to close off the tangent universe before it destabilizes and destroys the pre-existing timeline.

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, there is the allusion to “The Last Temptation of Christ”. Given my recently ramblings-on regarding religion [1][2], perhaps this is the thread that my mind chased.

Interestingly, another time-loop I have been obsessed with is Phillip K Dick’s conceptualization of the Black Iron Prison, which, briefly, is Dick’s concept that a tangent universe arose sometime shortly after the Death of Christ, and which continued until the Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace. So Dick acknowledges the existence of this time-loop by stating that “The Empire never ended,” which can be taken to mean the Roman Empire specifically, but can be easily read to include all forms of state-sponsored tyranny. (Of note, one can say that the U.S. is the heir of the Roman Empire through two routes: the British and the Spanish, which were both great empires in their day, and which were once provinces of Rome) It is somewhat disquieting to see that the spirit of Nixon doesn’t seem to be completely defeated, and apparently lives on in the current Bush administration, but that is a topic for another blog post.

In any case, the trigger to collapse the tangent universe is the destruction of the Empire, which, despite Dick pinning it to Nixon’s fall, may still be some time in the future. Until then, we essentially live in an unreal world stuck in apostolic times, still waiting for the Second Coming™

But I kind of wonder if the First Coming wasn’t itself a way to collapse a tangent universe. What if Jesus Christ had to die by the Cross so that we wouldn’t be stuck in a temporal loop caused by Adam and Eve’s (and Satan’s) Sin of Pride? What if that is what the Old Testament is? A narrative of the tangent universe, the Unreal universe, in which reality is distorted, in which God is misrepresented and the Original Sin™ is obscured?

Interestingly, these Gnostic ideas pervade “The Matrix”, which is perhaps the only redeeming quality of the sequels, but I digress.

But I don’t know, I guess I’ve also been mulling over the nature of time for a while now. In simplistic terms, it is ever the conflict between the Western idea of linear time and the Eastern idea of cyclic time, and much like the dual wave-particle nature of matter, the reality is probably that time is both linear and cyclic.

It is interesting that the reason why the Western idea is sometimes decried is because of its effect on colonial thinking and the way it touches upon the concept of the White Man’s Burden. The idea of linear time (in the Victorian Age that was obsessed with the Great Chain of Being) was that time meant “progress” and advancement, which many interpreted as meaning “primitive” is “bad,” and “modern” is “good,” something which this post-modern age proves to be wrong. (Can we say impending nuclear apocalypse, global warming, perturbed weather patterns, non-sustainable urban growth and development, chemical and biologic warfare, designer illicit substances?) In truth, linear time in of itself does not necessarily bear any of these connotations, but if you contextualize it within humanities and social sciences, this is what you end up conveying.

So. Time is in many ways cyclic. History is doomed to repeat itself. And yet, and yet, Time continues to run out.

god’s role in this debacle

posted on April 1st, 2006

I have been thinking about God a lot lately. Which is interesting because I have been experiencing a severe crisis of faith for the past five years at least, and it has only become worse and worse and worse, to the point where I have considered becoming completely atheist.

But I suppose the decision to become atheist reeks too much of the Sin of Pride for me, because, how can you be sure? How can you prove the non-existence of a benign intelligence at the root of the universe? Oh, there are plenty of examples suggesting the non-existence of God (the existence of hate-filled fundamentalist Christians and Muslims being one of the most convincing), but there are plenty of counter-examples, too.

I suppose that my stance is less radical and considerably verbose: I believe that all organized religion is corrupt, but I believe that there are beneficent intelligences that exist in the universe whose form we cannot perceive and whom we cannot understand, who are much greater than us, and who try to strive for peace and harmony. Now I realize this could include anything from God to ancient extraterrestrial civilizations, but I can’t help but believe that there is something greater than human barbarism.

Maybe it’s all just wishful thinking, but I think sometimes you’ve got to hold on to your fantasies.

In any case, I stumbled upon this little blurb on kottke.org, asking the question: If God does exist, is He a jerk?, a question which has often come to my mind more than once.

But the example used is perhaps a bad example. My take on the whole Garden of Eden thing is squarely against humanity.

For one thing, since, despite supposed divine intervention, the Bible was still written by human beings, it goes without saying that the author probably tried to spin things to make humanity not look so bad. So I think the account is suspect at best.

But I think that when God created the Universe, he made a big deal about Free Will™. Nevermind the whole problem of being Omniscient and all that. That is another topic that requires more thought on my part and I’m not going to address it here.

Although as an aside, it makes me think of something that frequently happens to physicians who have long discussions with their patients regarding life altering interventions so that the patient can make informed consent. Not uncommonly, something goes wrong in the intervention, and the patient complains that they would never have agreed to undergo the therapy if they knew that this could possibly go wrong (assuming that what went wrong wasn’t that they died.) Sometimes it happens that it’s true, that the physician failed to mention this particular possible outcome, but sometimes the patient simply wasn’t paying attention the first time it was mentioned.

So I’m kind of wondering if that’s what really went down during the whole Garden of Eden debacle. Because it strikes me as cruel and not a little irrational to plant a thing called The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil™ and then expressly forbid eating from it.

What I think happened is that God put this tree there and told Adam and Eve: Look, you can skip this tree and just live here happy and carefree, or you can eat from it, gain the ability to discern Good from Evil and all the responsibilities inherent within. I leave it up to you.

So, not really understanding what those responsibilities were, they went ahead and ate from it, and then suddenly everything changed.

The point being: every action has consequences, and even if someone, even God, tries to discuss what those consequences are, chances are, you won’t understand them until they actually happen.

And I think that God makes it a point not to press the shiny-red History Eraser Button™. (The story of Noah and his Ark notwithstanding, but I tend to parse the Old Testament with a lot of skepticism—especially that part about an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth, something expressly repudiated by good ol’ J.C.) I mean, if I had been working on something for 15 billion years, and then someone involved in the project makes a decision that has dire consequences, and they ask “hey, I screwed up, can I have a redo?” and this redo would require screwing around with the very basis of your project, well, I think I would be a little reticent about screwing around with the basic structure of the universe, but, well that’s just me.

I think that God, more than anything, wanted people who could make their own decisions without him or her having to tell them what to do, and simply fixing their mistakes is not what a good parent or creator does, as much as we’d like him/her to.

So what about the part that states that we are all doomed, and can’t be saved without God’s intervention? I don’t know. Given my current mindset, I think that the Afterlife was invented by human beings as an afterthought. I think that humans as a whole are simply incapable of understanding nonexistence, so they made up all these loony theories about what happens after we die.

Personally, I believe that my ancestors’ thoughts regarding this dilemma are the most realistic. Before they were converted by the Arabs or conquered by the Spanish, they believed that when we died, our lifeforce was released back to the universe. The life we live is all there is, there ain’t no mo’. This is also consonant with such philosophies as Taoism which I have been in the process of learning about.

In any case, I think that the concept of the Afterlife has been exploited to allow or cause great Evil. For one thing, it can be used to justify the suffering of the unfortunate: sure they’re suffering now, but they’ll be fine in the World to Come™. I think this idea has driven European History for more than a millenia, and has been implicitly responsible for such atrocities such as serfdom, slavery, colonization, and outright genocide. (I am reminded Arnaud Amaury, Abbot of Cîteaux, who in his campaign to flush out heretics is said to have uttered the oft repeated words: “Slay them all. God will know his own,” often quoted as “Kill them all and let God decide.”) Or take, for example, the horrific idea of being rewarded with hundreds of virgins for killing as many people as you possibly can by, for example, flying a plane into a building.

So here I agree wholeheartedly with the atheists: this life is all you’ve got, don’t piss it all away. This actually fits rather well with my view of God as someone who refuses to hit the history eraser button, even if it means the humiliating torture and killing of his only Son.

So yeah: the Garden of Eden: we were given a choice, and now we have to live with it. The Sin of Pride can be taken to mean the idea that Adam and Eve felt they wanted God-like powers, or it could be the idea that they could simply do whatever they wanted and that God would fix whatever they screwed up, or finally, blaming God for the decisions they made, despite the fact that they have free-will.

I don’t know. Maybe God isn’t omniscient. Or, even better, maybe he/she can be omniscient, but refuses to be so, so as not to interfere with Free Will.