Friday, August 30, 2013

Nothing from Something


The universe has always existed. At least, that's the sole logical conclusion I came to after having watched the 2013 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate, which was about nothing, no really; the subtitle is The Existence of Nothing.

I'm not going to go over the details of the debate. That's not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about how I came to this conclusion.

Much of the debate, or a substantial portion of it, involved journalist Jim Holt (Why Does the World Exist?) debating with physics professor Lawrence Krauss (A Universe from Nothing) about what nothing is. Really. Or more accurately, as Krauss put it, what something is. We understand nothing, basically; it no thing, not even space or time or atoms. But then there are some arguable "things": such as the structure of empty space or the laws of physics or fluctuating energy such as in quantum particles. Holt was unsatisfied with any of the propositions of nothing given, and Krauss provided three so-called flavors of nothing. Holt just doesn't believe nothing, as defined by the physicist, could have created the universe because there was still always something in all of the theoretical nothings: be it energy or random fluctuations that birthed the universe.

And I have to agree - philosophically. Nothing has no potential. It never changes. It can never change. It cannot really be imaged. (Panelist J. Richard Gott, astrophysical sciences professor, described it as the indescribable "thing" behind your head that you can't see and has no shape.) In fact, nothing, I think, is merely a philosophical idea. The opposite of everything. We can try (if to a limited degree) to imagine it. But we don't know whether it has ever existed, whether or not it's real.

And yet if it has, it still must exist. It's timeless. And nothing can affect it because there is nothing to affect.

Let me try other words. If nothing has no potential, we can never get something from nothing. The universe would have nothing from which to be birthed. There would be no laws or energy or random existence of anything. (My idea of nothing does not allow for random genesis for no reason; even biological mutation depends upon cosmic rays from the sun, as I understand it.)

So if we were never nothing, we have always been something; the universe must have always existed. The original idea was called steady state theory, which Einstein, among others, handily demolished by scientifically supporting its opposing theory: the big bang. (I'm not actually arguing against the big bang. That would be stupid and unscientific and better left to the anti-evolution people. What I'm saying is that whatever process generated the big bang, ultimately, it is timeless. This is not in contradiction, actually, with string theory, which suggests that there could be a multiverse where genesis happens all the time and has been happening since, well, always.)

But the idea of the universe always existing is mind-boggling, to say the least. I can't really understand that. And it's a bit disturbing. How can things always exist, even if its an endless cycle of birth and death? But perhaps this is better than believing in something from nothing.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Pre-Semester Post: Fall 2013

Last semester! I actually find myself somewhat sad. A part of me wishes that this thing we call the MFA program would last a lifetime because, really, learning to write takes a lifetime. Cliched, I know, but true. And it will be a while before I get to teach creative writing!

I'm taking three classes.

Past, Present, and Future

Really cool because this is the first time the professor is teaching the course. This experimental course is a critical practice, essentially part lit class and part workshop. We'll read two "historical" books and two science fiction books and some steampunk stories (see reading list below). The course, like steampunk, examines how we look at time from our own temporal (or present day) lenses.

We'll read five books and write one short story or novel excerpt and critique those of others.

Here's the reading list:

- To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
- Middle Passage by Charles Johnson
- The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin
- A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick
- The Mammoth Book of Steampunk edited by Sean Wallace

Fiction Workshop

I took a fiction workshop my first semester and I thought it would be fit to take one my last semester and gauge how much I've improved. I already know I've learned a lot because I've looked at my bad writing from when I came into the program. People were being really nice when critiquing me!

Unfortunately, I didn't get to finish some pieces I planned to write during the summer. I wished to have more newer stories. I only finished one new story, I think - due to a new novel in progress. Luckily, I have a lot of stories, though.

Thesis Tutorial

So the requirement is basically 150 pages of a substantial work of fiction. I unfortunately chose to write something that is a bit short, so I'll have to write another short novel and combine the two to meet the requirement.

All this is a lot of work! I'm scared and excited, as always, before the start of the semester.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

How to Live in a Post-Privacy World

Ignorance is bliss, they say. Perhaps that's the best way to deal with our loss of privacy, which many of us had already known about but Edward Snowden's revelations confirmed. Sure, you can pretend that no one is watching you, that the US government is full of "good guys" who would never take advantage of such previously classified programs as PRISM or X-KEYSCORE, programs that record virtually everything you do when using a phone or computer. (Apparently, Obama, as stated in his recent press conference on topic, was going to reveal all of this to us eventually. It's just that Snowden did it before he got the chance.) But it's kind of hard to ignore the revelations - think about every phone conversation you've ever had or Web site you've ever visited or Google search you've ever made or picture you've ever taken with your phone or email you've ever written (sent or not) or ...

But maybe you trust the government. Howard Dean recently said in an interview with Breaking the Set that he trusts Obama with the NSA surveillance program more than he would Bush. I would, too. But why do I have to trust the government, again? Aren't there supposed to be checks and balances so that we don't have to trust the government? Well, proponents of warrantless mass spying by the government against its own people argue: if we don't give up all of our privacy and invite the government into our living rooms and bedrooms and chatrooms, we'll suffer more terrorists attacks. They ask: do you want privacy or safety?

Both, please. It's a false argument. Sure, giving up all our privacy would make us safer from terrorists attacks, hypothetically. (Though, in reality, they are more likely to make us less safe since they create a haystack of irrelevant information the government has to comb through to find the proverbial needle. No one here is arguing against focused, purposeful, lawful [i.e., with a warrant] surveillance against suspects. After all, that's what the Fourth Amendment says.) But I suspect we don't have to give up all of our privacy to stay safe. Many say that they, the extremists, hate us because of our freedoms. If the government takes them away, then don't the extremists win?

But at least the mass espionage is not illegal. The secret Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) has to grant warrants to NSA officials who want to examine the content of an individual's data. And how many times has FISC turned down a warrant request: 11 out of 33,949 (33 years)! Or 0 in the last three years (out of 4,976)! (Source.) No check. No balance. Just power.

But they're not looking at the content. They're just recording, just in case one of the 200 million or so Americans is a terrorist. But if it's being recorded, then all it takes is a perfunctory warrant request.

But I'm not doing anything wrong - I have nothing to hide! So? This tool can be used against political opponents or just people some people don't like just as it can be used against alleged terrorists. Snowden covered this in his interview with Glenn Greenwald. Anyone, given the plethora of information that is recorded, can create a false narrative of anyone (with some creativity). Using your "virtual you," you can be made out into a racist, a pedophile, a sexual harasser, gay, a thief, someone who hates his family, etc. It's all about leverage. That's how the spy game is played. If "they" get something on you that you don't want out, that's called leverage. And we all make mistakes (i.e., do embarrassing things we wouldn't want others to know). But in some cases you don't even need to do something embarrassing, let alone something illegal because with this technology one could easily give the impression of wrongdoing by combining the data from different mediums and from different times and, as Snowden put it, "derive suspicion from an innocent life."

How do you live in a post-privacy world? You don't. The trick is not to find yourself in one. Snowden said, "I don't want to live in a world where everything that I say, everything I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of creativity, or love, or friendship is recorded." I don't either. But all hope is not lost. Congress came within 7 votes of limiting the NSA's surveillance program, the program most of Congress had no idea existed. Considering the self-preserving instinct of Congressmen not to oppose the establishment and that many were bribed by the defense industry, I think that's pretty damn good and a hopeful sign.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Writerly Update: 8/2013

Here's a quick update to keep my loyal fans, Noguereros (if they exist, I'll call them this), happy and informed:

Short Novels

I have recently finished the third draft of a short novel, which I'll call Notorious for reference purposes. It's part memoir, part roman a clef - about the harassment I've faced at the hands of some truly sad individuals who call themselves cops. This novel will form part of my master's thesis. Unfortunately, it's a bit short and I'll need another long fiction piece to comprise the required 150p-length.

Therefore, I've started to plot a short novel (I really tend to write shorter works, but it's early and, who knows, it might develop into a novel). I'm calling it Solutions for now. It's about the upcoming technological singularity. Perhaps I've been reading too much Kurzweil. I've been doing a lot of research, unfortunately. (My research philosophy is: do as little of it as possible; it gets in the way of the story.) I don't want to give away too much. And it's early. I'll just say that, at some point, a nuke may go off.

Chapbook

I'm putting together a poetry chapbook, which I'm calling Remember (working title). I actually have to prepare for the upcoming semester, which will be my last. So this is a bit of a distraction. However, I have about 18 poems I want to group together. They cover life, death, forgetting, and remembering. They're honest and mean a lot to me. I care more about meaning than language.

Poems and Stories

I finished a draft of a story called "Cry" (working title), which was fun to write. It's my first work of fantasy (as opposed to SF) and comments, to say the least, on religion.

I've sent out numerous poems and a few stories throughout the summer but editors aren't picking them (so I haven't published anything this year despite putting out way more, and better quality material, than last year, in which I published two stories and poem, my firsts). I'm doing and will continue to do my best - that's all I can do.

I have some other stories either drafted or ready for the upcoming semester, in which I will be taking a fiction workshop, work on my thesis, and take a Critical Practice course on steampunk/SF. That's what I'm focusing on mostly.

Reading

I will be doing a reading in September. But it has yet to be announced and I'm unsure of the appropriate "etiquette" in this case, so I will say no more - except it will be in New York and I will read my short story "I Love You More" (unpublished), about an unlucky man who loves his mom, maybe too much. I may do a few more readings this year.