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.

just like a game of craps

posted on August 30th, 2008

I understand John McCain likes games of chance, and I guess selecting Sarah Palin is his way of saying “jacta alea est.” Statistically speaking, McCain’s chance of mortality—even though ostensibly, he is at the peak of health for his age—is significant. So what this might suggest is that the Republicans are actually willing to elect a woman to the presidency. While I disagree with just about everything she stands for, that’s kind of impressive. I didn’t think it would happen in my lifetime, that the party that has been trying its damndest to preserve patriarchy and has at times even openly professed misogyny would actually allow even the slightest possibility that a woman would lead our nation.


Now, I don’t think I need to defend Obama in terms of the “inexperience” charge. You don’t have to be a doddering old geezer who doesn’t know how to use a computer to be experienced, and you can get a lot of leadership experience without ever having to be in politics. Just the bare outline of Obama’s career path makes me confident that we’ve got somehow who knows how to take charge. Community organizer. Law professor. State senator. U.S. Senator. I mean, that’s a lot of years of leadership, even if his political career only started less than a decade ago.

And clearly, this is far more experience than Palin’s scant two years of governing Alaska, the state with the smallest population in the nation. And those two years are already tainted with allegations of abuse of power, too.


But I found this e-mail from moveon.org informative:

Who is Sarah Palin? Here’s some basic background:


I can only speculate as to the reasons why McCain picked Palin. Certainly she appeases the Christian fundamentalists (except for the double-X chromosome, probably), and she upholds a lot of ultraconservative values. But if it was to try and pick up the vote of Hillary Clinton’s supporters, there’s a good chance it could backfire terribly. I spoke with my boss, who was a big-time HRC supporter but is now actually excited about Obama’s candidacy, and she basically felt insulted and patronized by McCain’s choice. Palin is like the anti-Clinton. There’s no way in hell any sane Democrat would find her appealing.

The foreign policy experience thing is huge. For one thing, McCain himself has no clue about what’s going on in the world. He has repeatedly confused Sunnis with Shias. He once stated that Al Qaeda was linked to Iran. (That is just completely nuts, like saying the Black Panthers were teaming up with the KKK.) He jokes around about bombing the hell out of Iran. And while he wants us to occupy Iraq for 100 years, which we invaded for no sane reason, he chastises Russia for pre-emptively invading Georgia in their attempt to “liberate” South Ossetia. (Pot, meet kettle.) So on the Republican side, we’ve got two jokers who have no sense of the world outside of our borders, and who have no sense of the world inside our borders either. (C’mon. Alaska?!?! What could an Alaskan who has never lived outside their home state know about the rest of the country? Oh, wait, she went to school in Idaho. Yeah, that’s cosmopolitan. And McCain is totally insulated from the real world by the vast amounts of wealth his wife has. Can’t remember how many houses he owns? Thinks that less than $5 million a year is middle class? Doesn’t know how to use a computer?!?!?)

What I’m wondering is how this sits with the average Republican. A lot of my family are diehard Republicans, and they sort of lost interest in the whole thing when McCain won the nomination, and have actually become resigned to Obama winning the presidency. I cannot imagine what it must be like to feel forced to support someone you have no desire to support.

or, more succinctly

posted on August 29th, 2008

Obama is the standard-bearer.

We are the army.

it was never about the guy (or gal)

posted on August 29th, 2008

I want you to ask yourselves: Were you in this campaign just for me? Or were you in it for that young Marine and others like him? Were you in it for that mom struggling with cancer while raising her kids? Were you in it for that boy and his mom surviving on the minimum wage? Were you in it for all the people in this country who feel invisible? —Hillary Rodham Clinton


But I stand before you tonight because all across America something is stirring. What the naysayers don’t understand is that this election has never been about me. It’s been about you. For eighteen long months, you have stood up, one by one, and said enough to the politics of the past. You understand that in this election, the greatest risk we can take is to try the same old politics with the same old players and expect a different result. You have shown what history teaches us that at defining moments like this one, the change we need doesn’t come from Washington. Change comes to Washington. Change happens because the American people demand it, because they rise up and insist on new ideas and new leadership, a new politics for a new time. America, this is one of those moments. —Barack Hussein Obama

The powers-that-be will always try to tell you that you can’t make a difference. But that is and always will be bullshit. This year, the Dems grok it. The promise of America has always been about the little people. This isn’t some brainwashed mob following some messianic figure out into the desert. These are people who have been kicked into the ground for the last eight years, who finally realize that, by banding together with like-minded people, they *do* have the power change things. Obama is only one person. At best, he can only try to get the doors open. It has always been, will always be, only ourselves who can get us over the threshold.

Maybe that’s why Obama supporters take it personally when Obama gets attacked. Never mind that most of the stuff flying out there is ill-informed, ignorant, fabricated, distorted. Rove-style, Republican talking points, all sensationalism, no substance, not even tenuously rooted in reality. Attacks on Obama get interpreted as a personal attack on one’s decision-making capabilities. It’s pretty damn insulting to call someone a hypnotized sheep who is following emotion rather than reason. It’s pretty damn insulting to call someone a fawning, fellating fanboy. But the fact is that Obama didn’t choose us, didn’t convince us, didn’t trick us, or bribe us into following him. We chose him.

I know that idea makes the powers-that-be shit themselves.

Ultimately, getting Obama elected as president is just a means to an end. That end has always been, will always be, to make America a better place, not just for ourselves, but for anyone who wants to join in and share the work.

This is not just wishful thinking, sitting on our hands while watching the talking heads practice their punditry. This is about rolling up your sleeves and jumping into the deepest part of the mud, about the long hard hours of work put in to build something great, in honor of all the lives ground down and sacrificed, all for this idea that we hold in our heads, this thing that we call “America.” Our history has always been one of struggle, of striving against impossible odds, and of nonetheless prevailing. And the present is no different.

Today I am damn proud to be an American. Here’s to always striving to make it a better place. Here’s to remembering that you and I, as small as we are, can always make a difference. Hope is not just some warmed-over, prosaic sentiment. It’s a way of living your life.

Go ahead and spout your gospel of despair. Talking shit and insulting people never got anything done, never changed anything. You can criticize. Or you can create. It’s a free country.

faze/phase

posted on August 24th, 2008

Bewilderment spins mercilessly around my heart
weaves/binds/patterns/stitches, embedded like magical runes
threads of fate, minutest of imperfections becomes a message
that I cannot decipher, much less interpret

the last few thousand days far exceed the extent of my ken
elude the limits of my perception
more like meaningless, patternless ribbons of light,
photons swarming hither and thither
sparking random garbled currents coming out to gibberish
in the quivering gray jelly encased, entrapped in my skull
what does it all mean? does it even mean anything?
how did this come to pass? am I really seeing what I’m seeing?


Foolishly I stumble down the broken, shattered road
and not even the stars light my way this night, nor any night
these fragments perhaps meant for me to find
not to fix, realign, re-grade
but merely to record what has come to pass
misrepresented/misinterpreted as an straight and unerring line to destiny
the story always comes long after the event transpires
and the ending is happy or tragic only depending on where you cut it short

8 minutes

posted on August 23rd, 2008

I’m not sure where I pulled the number ‘8’ from, but it may be from pathology class from the second year of med school. 8 minutes is the amount of time you’ve got before the lack of oxygen starts causing permanent damage (such that if you *do* manage to restart the heart and/or reopen the blocked vessel, you may actually cause even more damage than what has already been done—so-called reperfusion injury.)

Surprisingly, when someone is actively dying, eight minutes can actually feel like a terrible eternity.

But weirdly, this factoid has become enmeshed with another piece of (more accurate) trivia: 8 minutes is about how long it takes for light from the sun to reach the earth. Astrophysicists always like to talk about these hypothetical scenarios where you imagine that somehow the sun was extinguished, or went supernova, and it would take eight minutes before Earth actually went dark, or eight minutes for the blasting radiation to hit us.

in fits and starts

posted on August 22nd, 2008

So I finally met my neighbors the other day, after living next to them for several months, and hearing all sorts of snippets of conversations as they smoked their cigarettes outside my open window. It’s kind of funny that I plan on moving out at the end of the month, but, oh well. After four years of living in this pit, I’m about ready for a change.

dyssynchronous ventilation

posted on August 21st, 2008

  1. Questions that had answer choices that all had something wrong with them, leaving me to pick the answer that seemed the least wrong.

  2. I couldn’t stop coughing the whole time. It was terrible. I’m sorry if you had to take the test with me.

  3. “Can you read my mind?” type questions.

  4. I complained about the pixelated font in the survey. Hah!

  5. I knew it would be freaking cold in there. They weren’t kidding when they said to dress in layers. It’s like they set the thermostat to suit the person who has the highest free T4.

not in this timeline

posted on August 21st, 2008

a phantom lifestyle imagined by my fevered mind where there would be someone at home who would wish me luck and send me out with a hug and a kiss, and there would be someone to look forward to seeing once
it’s all over

some other lifetime, or some other branch
universe, splitting off from some moment
before I erred and made the wrong choices
before the stars went astray and awry
before the decisions were taken from
my hands

to believe that this was how it was all
meant to turn out—the thought makes my heart ache
my breaths painful to draw—that this was some
unavoidable, inescapable
doom

that God would be so cruel to condemn not
just me, but any soul to so hopeless
so desolate a fate, leaves me tired
aching and weary, my faith tattered and
torn

perhaps my only consolation is
that somewhere in this multiverse there is
a version of me who knows what it is
to be happy

smooth sailing = FAIL?

posted on August 20th, 2008

It occurs to me that each of the previous board exams I took have been taken under somewhat adverse conditions.

Just before USMLE Step 1, the girl I was really into hooked up with someone else.

Because of extraordinarily poor planning, I had to drive 150 miles to take USMLE Step 2 on New Year’s Eve.

While I was taking USMLE Step 3, my dad was sitting in the CCU, waiting to get cath’ed.

I almost wonder if some kind of severe stress is necessary for me to pass these things.

route

posted on August 16th, 2008

in this voiceless silence interrupted
by the whirring internal combustion
engines, rubber running across worn-down
concrete, these assemblies of metal growl
past, slashing through the air like two-ton knives
at 70 miles per hour, almost
like the tumult of a rushing river
or waves crashing down on the silver shore
my mind lost in the eddies and whirpools
of wind and debris, as the sunlight streams
in, vainly trying to evaporate
the dark mood crouching upon my soul like
a gremlin ready to ambush and havoc

seeking some faint memory, some trace of happiness
and not finding it, not in the hidden recesses
of my tumbled mind, that feeling of
having her beside me, the warmth
and tenderness of her embrace
in those murky memories of childish romance
certainly, no happiness in those fits of
jealousy, of possessiveness, of
feeling like every moment spent
away from her was losing her second by second
until in the deep darkness of the fall
I lost her at last, and she betrayed me
leaving this disfiguring scar upon my heart

and maybe the closest I ever came to happiness
was to know that someone like her, whose
smile, like sunlight itself illuminates
the bleak caverns of my crumbling mind
and even in this harrowed mood, a tendril of joy
wraps itself around my heart before
it bursts like a delicate soap bubble
to know her, and to have her in my life
though she was never mine, will never be mine
perhaps I was doomed to see the Promised Land
but to never dwell there myself

mushrooming beyond my comprehension

posted on August 15th, 2008

not just loneliness weighing gravid, doleful,
becoming this furtiveness rooted, still
seeming in the light to be seen, yet unseen
amidst the hundred thousand voices seething, roiling, teeming
the faces, the gestures, all worn-down by rehearsal
words spoken by rote, by habit, stripped of meaning

oh blessed sleep, at once elusive yet inescapable
in this heavy velvet cloak of darkness,
my mind reels and lurches and whirls without direction
picking apart the seams that hold my soul together
finding that there is no there there, just vapidity
sterility, confusion, and incomprehensible sorrow

is it just nameless fear preying? Parasitizing?
Like an occult tick engorged, ballooning with blood
leaving me paralyzed and without will?
in the morning as the sun encroaches
I dread the implacable stillness holding me fast
worse than iron shackles, worse than lead weights
while my roused soul writhes powerless
gnawing helplessly, uselessly upon the growing randomness
nonsensical thoughts, stale and tired schemes, evaporating dreams

paralyzed while time burns away like grass withering
under the baleful glare of the desert sun
still my soul twists and struggles in violent passion
undirected, blind fury, without hope of succor
though my limbs hang useless, my lips and tongue stay parched
and my voices dies in my throat, ere anything of meaning is uttered

each day like another set of bars, the guards taking me deeper
into the bleak, lightless recesses of the prison of my mind
with madness the only possible escape remaining

completely insane

posted on August 12th, 2008

So I was this close to getting to sleep at a reasonable hour last night, but then I heard that the Perseid meteor shower was supposed to peak the evening of Aug 11/early morning of Aug 12. I tried to think of the darkest place within a reasonable distance. The Anza-Borrego Desert came to mind, but that was a good two hour drive into the middle of nowhere, so I figured driving through the Temecula Valley on the way to L.A. would suffice.

San Diego to Los Angeles via Interstate 15

Unfortunately, as I headed east on the I-8, clouds obscured the sky, and I thought I’d have to go farther inland.

San Diego to the Salton Sea to Los Angeles


This is probably very obvious, but I just want to say: it’s probably not recommended to look for meteors while you’re driving. The clouds didn’t really break until I got over the mountains. While the mountains were pretty damn dark, you couldn’t really see too much of the sky. Once Highway 78 descended down into the desert and stopped winding so much, the sky just opened up. (My God, it’s full of stars!) Highway 78 is only two lanes, one in each direction, and I imagined this is what crossing the Mojave from San Bernardino to Vegas used to be like before they built the Interstate. I caught a shooting star blaze across the shimmering desert sky. I didn’t meet any cars at all once I left the mountains, which kind of freaked me out and made me think twice about stopping to look up at the sky.

I hit the shore of the Salton Sea sometime after 2 am, and I couldn’t believe it was over 90 degrees. Finally turning northward, I caught another meteor streaking all the way across the sky from east to west before fading out. There were more trucks on Highway 86, heading up from Mexicali. It struck me how many huge casinos now stood in the desert. Highway 86 is four lanes across, two in each direction with a good sized median, almost like an Interstate, except that there’s still cross-traffic. You could see the lights of the towns on the other side of the sea, kind of reminding of the Bay Area.

I finally made it to Interstate 10 at almost 4 am. Sometime before San Bernardino, I caught another bright meteor actually flaring ahead of me then fading out.

Even entering the San Gabriel Valley, I could still see a lot of stars, but by the time I got to Pasadena the fog had rolled in, and it was 30 degrees cooler than the desert. I made it to my parents’ house by 5 am. So much for meteor watching. I might try again tonight though.

positivism and God in the gaps

posted on August 10th, 2008

I know that this stance has been refuted a long time ago, but I can’t help but enjoy the delightful symmetry of it.

Positivism generally defines reality as anything that we can sense, or to put it more vaguely and unnecessarily mystically, reality is whatever our consciousness experiences. Unfortunately, we don’t really have a good grasp of what it actually means to sense something, nor do we have a reasonable definition of what it means to be conscious (after all, even an inanimate rock will score a 3 on the Glascow Coma Scale.)

Which brings us back to a para-Lacanian point-of-view: reality is something that language cannot describe. Meaning that if you can describe it, what you’re describing is probably not real.

The thing is, this fits neatly with my notion that reality always lies in between whatever black-and-white delineations we can posit. Particle or wave. Good or evil. Ideal empiricism versus unrepentant solipsism.

On the other hand, this position is completely falsifiable if we ever figure out a way to rigorously (mathematically) define what it means for something to be conscious. If we can describe this, then we can describe what sensory input actually means, and from there, the rest of reality can be accounted for.

charm (and my appalling lack thereof)

posted on August 10th, 2008

There is a woman whose name I don’t even know for which I have this desperate, raw attraction to. I see her from time to time, as we occupy opposite ends of an extremely large social millieu, as friends of friends of friends of friends. I don’t know what it is about her, but I find my eyes wandering toward her if I don’t monitor myself, even as she’s hanging on the arm of some guy. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I’ve never had an attraction like this before.

I mean, sure, there are women whom I’ve met whose beauty literally makes me tremble, but usually it’s never just how hot she is, or how much I want her. Usually there are other dimensions that I quickly learn about—her intelligence, her sense of humor, her kindness, her compassion—an entire package, as it were. This pure lust I’ve usually reserved for movie stars, singer/songwriters, and other celebrities who are as impossible to get to as distant galaxies (whereas the women I actually meet and talk to whom I harbor impossible crushes for are merely as improbable to get to as the outer planets)

There’s a first for everything, I guess.


But in the greater scheme of things, I guess I’d much rather have the entire package, and believe me, I’ve met some quite extraordinary people out there. It doesn’t mean anything, because, as I’ve mentioned, I’ve essentially given up. And I doubt that any of them have ever reciprocated any of these thoughts anyway, and pursuing this line of thought has always led me deep, dark bouts of depression. So we won’t go there, and I don’t want to hear anything about trying.

And I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s just that I live in such a tightly circumscribed little universe. You would think that in a profession like mine where I often need to ask quite intimate questions of people, socializing would never be a problem, but i suppose that it’s precisely because I do these things under the mien of my profession that it’s easy. Without the aegis of doing my job, I’m just another nobody that nobody wants to talk to, full of patent nonsense and mindless drivel and often times desperate loneliness.


So I find myself standing next to χ, for whom, unsurprisingly, I’ve had a crush on, which has manifested from time to time, but which I’ve mostly kept under wraps, since I don’t see her all that often, and there is a guy she is sort of paired-up with, even though nothing authoritative has ever been mentioned. It’s only just wild (and often profane and lascivious) speculation. Which in my universe might as well be true when it comes to women, but whatever.

And I can’t think of anything to say. She gives me a smile and walks past, and part of me is like, “Damn!” while the other part is like, “How else was that going to go? What could I possibly say that wouldn’t be damagingly awkward?”

what is "real"?

posted on August 9th, 2008

One of the books I’m currently reading is yesterday’s post at Cosmic Variance (a blog by astrophysicist/cosmologist Sean Carroll) which, in part, discusses the “measurement problem”, which is basically the quantum mechanic-specific version of the Observer’s Paradox. (Yesterday’s post also happens to contain a link to a very lucid description of non-destructive quantum interrogation, otherwise known as quantum computing. The best part is that he explicitly avoids any cat-killing metaphors.

In the description of the measurement problem, Carroll talks about the major different ways that QM has come to be interpreted: the Copenhagen interpretation championed by Niels Bohr, which states that wave function collapse indeed happens, but the non-measurable states have no real importance and may not even truly exist; the Many Worlds Interpretation, which basically says that every probable outcome results in a branching of the universe; and the hidden-variables interpretation, which states that while we can’t directly measure certain things, they do in fact exist.

I tried slogging through the comments, but what disturbed me was the recurrence of the misconception that consciousness collapses the wave function, when in fact is it physical measurement that collapses the wave function. (According to any of these major interpretations, there is no difference between me opening the box and seeing if the cat is dead or not, or if a robot were to open the box and detect whether the cat was dead or not. There is no need to invoke the anthropic principle here.)

The main issue I have is that we don’t even really know what Consciousness is. You can’t just wield it around like some magic wand.


Which leads me to yet another book I am reading: I am a Strange Loop by Douglas Hofstadter. So far, I’m getting an idea of what exactly he means by a strange loop. The easier part is simply the recursive nature of consciousness. In computer science terminology, it is a process that basically monitors itself. I haven’t gotten far enough into the book to know, but one of the thoughts that comes to mind is whether or not this process has some causal agency (does my consciousness necessarily allow free-will?) or whether it just happens to be a passenger attached to the actual causal processes that occur subconsciously and are the result of millions of years of evolutionary programming responding to external stimuli, thus giving us the illusion of free-will but never really straying from a deterministic system.

If we ever figure out what it actually means to be conscious, then we may have a chance at figuring out AI, and maybe even how to interpret QM, but until then, Consciousness in the context of QM has no relevance.


Which serendipitously leads me to yet another blog post that manages to encapsulate a lot of my thoughts: Gina Franco (author of reli{e}able signs) excerpts a passage from John Caputo’s description of Jacques Derrida’s thoughts on faith.” Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory vol. 6 no. 1 (December 2004): 6-9.”). Apparently one of the Jesuit priests who taught at my high school had also read Derrida. I will always remember that he told us that faith has nothing to do with certainty, and that certainty in fact eradicates the need for faith.


So we find ourselves perched between a scenario where the only things that are real are the things that you can sense, and a scenario where reality is just whatever you decide to make of it. But if QM and deconstructionism can teach us non-physicists and non-metaphysicists anything, it is the fact that reality typically eschews any black-and-white interpretations. Reality is always somewhere in between whatever we can describe.

off

posted on August 9th, 2008

I haven’t been able to shake this feeling that nothing is right with my world. Everything is in chaos. And everything I try to do to fix it ends in stagnating failure.

I have this nagging suspicion that nothing is ever going to be OK.

in threes

posted on August 6th, 2008

Somewhat inspired by this diatribe about 2008 thus far on a random blog I clicked through to, I realize that I had pegged my hopes on three things to happen this year, in order of estimated probability from highest to lowest:

  1. The Lakers would finally win the NBA Championship.
  2. Barack Obama will be elected president.
  3. I’ll meet Someone™

Seeing as how my first thing has already failed to happen (making this dream of mine eerily prescient, but hopefully not symbolically so), I’m extremely worried about the second thing. I cannot fathom the idea that people would be so idiotic as to allow a computer illiterate guy a seat behind the Shiny Red History Eraser Button. (Just because he’s in his 70s doesn’t mean he’s exempt from being savvy about the present, for God’s sake!) Then again, I didn’t think they’d let W run the country into the ground with a second term, although I have to admit that Kerry is such a tool.

As to the third thing, well, I’m good at meeting women. The trick has always been getting them to actually be interested.

Despite Bn’s exhortations, and my mother’s vain hopes for grandchildren, I have, once and for all, given up. I have come to the sad, awful realization that I’m in absolutely no shape to be with anybody, both physically and mentally. Until I get into shape and learn how to be more healthy (the irony, I know!) and until I get my life otherwise in some semblance of order, there’s just no point even in hoping, much less even trying. I realize that I may never reach such a point, so for all intents and purposes, that, as they say, is that.

loneliness

posted on August 5th, 2008

Is it a bad sign that I have to keep reassuring myself that it’s not going to kill me?