Wednesday, June 27, 2012

What and How I Read, 2.0

I first published a post about this some time ago. As I stated, the way I read was liable to change. Recently, due to the start of the summer and having more time on my hands, it has. Again, I read according to a list of categories (some have sub-categories) to read from each week. This can get quite complicated, so I'll try to keep things as simple as possible.

The List:
(When I finish longer works, I read a shorter one before moving on to another longer work. For example, after having read The Metamorphosis, I'm reading Poe's "Fall of the House of Usher" before moving on to HHGG. I also sometimes substitute articles for reading a chapter of something on the list. So if I read a lot of articles a certain week about writing, I'd save myself the time of having to read a chapter of Craft & Business.

So, that's about seven chapters a week, at least. I usually read more chapters after I'm done with the minimal requirements of the list. I also use Instapaper 1/wk to read all the articles I come across or get emailed that I don't have the time at the moment to read. Also, to stay current, I read articles on Google Reader or Google News every week.

This is how I get to read a little of everything that I think is important or interesting. It works for me. For now. It's still liable to change. As am I.)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Poem: 25 / The Difference

This is my first poem published in a magazine. I wrote it for my 25th birthday - I write a poem and wear black every anniversary of my birth. It's a melodramatic tradition started when I was a teenager. The earliest of these poems I still have in my possession is "Four and Twenty," which is published here. Check "Five and Twenty" in Inwood Indiana's super issue Harvest Time. (The stanzas are not divided up as I intended [five four-line stanzas]. However, this was the Editor's choice. Because of this, and because I've since edited the poem, I've decided to publish the poem here, as well.)

25 / The Difference

I am the man who stands there
Alone at times, but never without a cause
Life's challenges:

my vigor

I am the man who breathes here
I do so as anyone else,
only when I do, I like to take my time,
holding each breath to the fullest

I am the man who dies and who is born
I am him every day
I play both parts,
making sure to play them right

I am the man
who stands there,
who breathes here,
who dies and is born

I am this man
That is what’s most important
While I see myself in everyone,
I cherish the difference

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Thoughts: Does Free Will Exist?

Let's presuppose God exists - for argument's sake. Then let us attempt to answer the question: does free will exist? (Inspired by an argument with a coworker.)

First, we must define free will. Let's take the definition with the broadest scope: to be able to do whatever it is you want to do (to have the ability), presupposing that it is possible.

If you put your hand on a stove and get burned, will you touch the stove again. No. But this does not mean you don't have free will. You can touch the stove again. It would be stupid. But you could. People have, after all, set themselves on fire. Pain is not a constraint, it's more of an incentive, one that has kept our species alive and well.

What if you are given a choice between two things, any two things (a bicycle or a tarantula, say)? What forms the basis of the decision you make and does that basis limit you?

I argue that our actions are a product of three things. First, nature, our biology. We have biological predispositions that create a tendency or temperament. Cats, for example, are predisposed to be endlessly fascinated by yarn. Humans not so much. Parents have reported that their children have completely different personalities from the start, that that is just the way they are.

But we are not slaves to our biology. Nurture also plays a role. We can learn to conquer our fears. We can train to run marathons, even pale white guys. Our experiences can alter how we see things or how we tend to act or who we become, despite our predispositions. IQ might be strongly correlated with your genes, but if you never study, it won't help if your dad's Einstein.

Then there's chance. Sometimes we make seemingly random choices. Cocoa pebbles or Cap'n Crunch? Red shirt or blue shirt? We simply don't have time to properly analyze all the decisions in our daily lives. Jonah Lehrer describes this in How We Decide. He basically says that we have to trust our gut, our instincts, that that's an important part of the decision-making process without which we would endlessly contemplate what cereal to choose in the supermarket. So we just have to make random choices sometimes. And with all the random stimuli we receive (what sounds are in the background, whether you're hot or cold, how much lighting there is) we can't make an accurate prediction of all the decisions we make on a daily basis.

These things produce us. So we cannot say that they limit us. They are us. Only physics, or what is possible, limits us. We cannot fly, for instance. Not naturally. But, with technology, more and more is becoming possible. It may be, in fact, that nothing is impossible, that technology will enable us to do whatever we can think of. That, surely, is free will. But it may not be so. We may all be doomed when the universe ends in a Big Freeze, or we may never be able to travel faster than the speed of light. Presupposing God exists, why would He not give us this free will in its purest form? Well, if He did, then there would be nothing to separate us from Him. We would be equal. That could be bad. It might also mean that there would be no distinction between Him and us, which could cause a bit of an identity crisis.

Just some thoughts.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Inferior Books

"Life is to short for reading inferior books." - James Bryce, 1st Viscount Bryce

I completely agree with this quote. Particularly because I've read some bad books in my time. That is, books that I feel violated the first of Kurt Vonnegut's eight rules of writing a short story: "Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted." I am no critic. I'm not even saying these books are bad, or not insightful in some way. But the following are some books I read that I didn't like, for one reason or another, and would not recommend (sorry in advance if you like any of them):

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein. Read this some time ago and still upset. It deals with a computer technician with a robo-arm and a self-aware computer initiating a revolution on the Moon (against the rule of the Earth gov't). I originally read it because of a story I was writing. I don't even remember most of the plot. It wasn't memorable for me. The main problem I had was that it was quite boring. The first third was good, but then it became very political, very slow, very boring. Whenever this happens with something I read, I have two choices: stop or read faster. I did finish it. But that's why I'm still a little upset.

Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. I did write a review of this book. Overall, it was good. But not memorable, and I had to skim through some boring patches. Only in the last few pages (perhaps the last tenth) does the plot really pick up. But by then I don't care. I would only recommend this book to diehard Vonnegut fans (such as myself).

The Island of Dr. Moreau by HG Wells. Very intelligently written. Wells is (IMHO) the best Victorian SF writer. And there are interesting parts in this book. Unfortunately, I found most of it quite boring. The chapters are too long given how little actually happens. It takes way too long for Prendick to get on that damn island (why not start with him on the island?) and then too long for him to find out the truth of the vivisections, and then too long to get off the island. If the tale were to have been condensed, it would've been really good.

From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne. First let me say that I enjoyed 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. But, in addition to the first, this novel also violates Vonnugut's fifth rule: start as close to the end as possible. The novel actually ends before the exciting thing happens, which is the explorers landing on the Moon. I kept waiting for, expecting this to happen. It didn't. I was pissed. The whole book is about the preparation for the launch and the mechanics of the the rocket. If you like large sections of info dumps without much action, you'll love this.