Archive for October, 2015


“All Ravens are Black” — a meta-investigation

Technique 1

Observe a sufficiently large number of ravens, and determine whether any are non-black.

Examples 1

Raven 1 – black
Raven 2 – black
Raven 3 – black
. . .
Raven N – black

Technique 2

Observe a sufficiently large number of non-black entities, and determine whether any are ravens.

Examples 2

White Snowball 1 – not a raven
Red Pepper 1 – not a raven
Brown Bag 1 – not a raven
White Snowball 2 – not a raven
. . .
Yellow Yield Sign N – not a raven


It may be necessary to make significantly more observations in technique 2 for the same degree of confidence.

On the other hand, it will be significantly easier to find appropriate entities for observation in technique 2.

When stating the results of technique 2, it is good practice (although not strictly required) to observe a single raven*.  If this is not done, the statement of results should include, for clarity of communication, the statement that the observations made do not establish that any ravens in fact exist.

* Note that it is not necessary to observe the color of the raven in this case.

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Gang aft agley

I have slowly come to the theory that other people plan (and make plans, and have plans, and do planning, and so on) in ways that (quantitatively and perhaps even qualitatively) I don’t.

I tend to operate by occasionally looking around to see where I am (in the broad sense), and then doing whatever seems appropriate.

Other people (some? many? most?) seem to tend to have a sort of prediction, in more or less fine detail, of what is going to happen in the next N minutes (for N anywhere from smallish to quite largish), and put quite a bit of mental effort into polishing that prediction, and comparing it to what is actually happening, or what seems likely to happen, or what they would like to happen, and so on.

Or perhaps the prediction is what they would like to happen (from among the most plausible alternatives?), and they compare it to what is likely to happen?  I’m not clear on the details.

At one level this seems like a lot of effort, to me, given how hard it is to predict stuff.  We (the culture that the planners and I share) have sayings about this; the “gang aft agley” one, and “life is what happens when you’re making other plans”, and so on.  Given that we know it doesn’t work, and that it takes effort, well…

On the other hand I’m sure that at some level I do it, too, at least in that “doing whatever seems appropriate” probably is somewhat driven by doing what seems most likely to lead to desirable future situations, and that might be seen as a kind of prediction.

Also there are some times when there is a complicated multi-step process sort of thing, and I have to like remember all of the steps in order to get to some desirable end through the process.  When that happens, I tend to write the list down, because otherwise I will forget.  Sometimes I forget anyway.

It’s certainly easier to fit the unplanned approach into the “this present instant is all that exists” idea that I’m working with. Since this present instant is all that exists, all that one can do is notice the present instant, and do something based on it. But if one is a planner, many of the things that exist in this present instant, and that one can be aware of (and even identify with, which is where I might claim some of the trouble arises), are plans; plans as ideas, as mental constructs, as expectations and desires and even fears, as worries.  And then one does things based not only on what is true in the actual world right now, but also based on what one imagines or expects or hopes or fears is true, or might (or might not) become true.

Not that I don’t do that.  It would be (what?) overly dramatic of me to claim that what I do is never driven by hopes or fears or expectations about the present or future.  It’s pretty hard to describe anything significant that anyone does without some sort of reference to those things, at least indirectly.

So it’s either that I’m just more or less ignorant of my own plans and expectations and hopes and fears (where “I” here means the conscious entity that currently has control of my typing), or it’s that I actually have fewer of those things and/or am less impacted (by which I mean either effected or affected, I can never remember) by them.  Or, quite plausibly, both.

I do think about what’s likely to happen in the not-too-distant (or even in the distant) future, but generally it’s more like a daydream than a plan.  Speculative fiction, so to speak.

Boats, Spuyten DuyvilAnd that’s perhaps why I can occasionally be found, say, driving in entirely in the wrong direction in the morning (toward the place I worked for the 33 years before 2013, say), or standing on the platform at the 72nd Street C station, not entirely sure how I got there or exactly where I ought to be going next.  But enjoying the flow of cars or faces going past, and the light on the boats in the river.

This is coming out sort of “look how admirably spontaneous and adorably absent-minded I am because of my Buddha-like wisdom”, I realize.  This was not my initial intent!  :)  There are probably all various advantages to making and having and following plans, and I probably do it even more or less just as much as anyone else.

But sometimes it doesn’t feel that way!

(Then there are these “beliefs” that people apparently “have”… hee hee)

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Interesting things

So here are some interesting things that have happened lately!

(I mentioned that whole “suddenly being in the U.S. Virgin Islands” thing already, right?)

I was sick for some number of days starting the Thursday after I got back; that is not all that interesting, though.

The other day, when I was standing on a Manhattan street corner fiddling with my phone, a man with wildish white hair and a beard and clothing perhaps a bit down-at-the-heel strode past me, and said not loudly not softly, “Ah, the matrix has got you”.

More recently, walking up 8th Avenue on the way to work, I put a dollar into the cup that a youngish man had put out, along with some packaged cookies and clothes and a skateboard, and somehow we got to talking.  I spent something like twenty minutes talking to him, and he told me that he was a Swiss Guard and a Mason, had taken a vow of poverty, and paid children to read various holy and spiritual works, and he read to me the part of the Koran (in English) that talks about the birth of Jesus, and he read to me a chapter of some epistle or other of Paul (I vaguely think it was Ephesians chapter 4, but reading it now it doesn’t sound the same; maybe it was a different translation, or just the context), and talked about how semen and (I will use his phrase) pussy juice are the most sacred substances (he got a hole all the way through his foot once, climbing a fence looking for a particular skate venue, and the juice healed it right up), and how everyone needs air, water, wisdom, and Woman (or Man, if you go that way), and when you’re depressed you need air, water, tobacco, and weed, and the whole time he was smiling and clearly having a good time.  I asked him if he’d read any Buddhist scripture, and he said yeah man, they’re my favorite!

While we were sitting there talking, two rather unkempt bearded guys sitting crosslegged on the sidewalk of 8th Avenue, a man came out of the little deli or bodega or whatever that is there, and looked at us, and went back inside, and shortly after came out with three sandwich-sized things wrapped in aluminum foil, and asked us if we’d like some sandwiches.  I said I was okay, but my interlocutor said sure he’d eat one, and he’d give the other two to people who needed them.  Which I can’t help but feel was wonderful all around.

(And then when I got into work 20 minutes late I discovered that I was just about to start an on-call shift, but it wasn’t until noon, nearly three hours away, so that was okay.)

And even more recently, having dropped M off on the G train to go to a class in Brooklyn, and riding back and forth between Grand Central and Times Square on the Shuttle just to see what that felt like, I met this amazing couple of little kids, the boy maybe 11 (maybe; I am terrible at estimating ages) who was rapping for tips when the car was full, and otherwise talking and bouncing around and doing pullups on the subway car bars, and asking me why I wasn’t getting off (“waiting for my daughter to text me back and see if I need to be anywhere”, I said, which I was), and his little sister maybe 9 (maybe), who he said a guy who was painting faces in the next car had rudely shoved aside and he’d better not try that again or he (the brother) would do him violence.

So many people!

And there are lots of metal rods with these plastic clamp-things on the ends on at least one platform in Grand Central, which I think are new (click for extra-giant version):

Clamp thing

I find myself not really approving of the plastic in terms of long-term durability, but that may be an irrational prejudice.

So how’s things?