Winterdämmerung 2014

The Twilight of the Winter has finally arrived here in Wisconsin.  It has been a long winter, and a cold one at that.  Unlike the rest of the world that has been enduring a hotter than average winter….as seen below…


.. we here in the midwest and eastern US have been party to the literal visitation of the North Pole to our area on at least three separate occasions–go look up polar vortex –when it decided to migrate down from Baffin island to come visit us.

Anyway.. this shit appears to be done in any serious sense.  Yes, it snowed this morning–but it’s now sunny and tomorrow will be above freezing again and it looks to stay there.

The Twilight of the Winter has begun.

Visually, the results can be seen in the ongoing melt that has commenced–something that was notoriously absent for the 3 solid months of temperatures not even close to the freezing point. Here is the front of our house… to the left…


and to the right….


Note the patches of greenery and darkness on the ground.

This is amazing stuff when you’ve only seen whiteness for nearly 100 days.

Although Spring has not yet arrived, Winter is receding.. and we have survived it.

If just barely…



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Grokking feelings, feeling music…

I’m certainly a weird one.

Let me explain.

I don’t really feel things.

Or at least, the way in which I feel things appears to be different than most–more like the vast majority–of the people I know.  In specific, when most people interact with each other, there is an ongoing communication of emotional states that is conveyed along with any kind of verbal information through body language, tone, facial expressions, volume, etc.

In a nutshell-with a lot of people–when you say something to another person and you are attempting to “connect” with them in some way–whether to persuade you of a point–to bond with them–to relate an experience–a good portion of the “meaning” in this conversation/communication is intended to be of an emotional nature–i.e. that the person will then “feel” the way you do in some manner.

The amount of this kind of communication that is consciously controlled by the people involved varies, of course, with some people being much more self-aware on this score than others.  This kind of emotional connection can often even the entire point of holding such conversations for many people.  The entire–or perhaps maybe just the primary–intent of communication is, for them, focused on this kind of emotional translation and transferral.

Now it need not be always uni-directional–it can also just be a kind of mutual interaction–the sharing of emotional information with each other.

This is what I’m talking about–and it is something that I’m often atrocious at, because when I’m communicating with people–this kind of intent is usually absent from my mind.

I don’t feel conversations.

Instead–they are almost always just factually driven and they are an attempt by my mind to understand reality in a fairly objective sense.

Now–despite this natural proclivity of mine in my approach towards communication–I have at least become smart enough over the years to recognize that my approach to communication is the abnormal one.   I have also recognized that there is truly SIGNIFICANT information that is conveyed in this kind of emotional transferral–and to ignore that is not only limiting to understanding–it’s downright stupid.

Now–I’m not sure when this recognition became a fully conscious thought.  I know that I learned as a teenager to create various masks to represent myself to others to help make communication easier.  This was most likely a defensive reaction though.. and it was not without its problems–as it was primarily reactionary and without forethought.

Then–in my twenties–I was in a relationship that I like to think of as emotional bootcamp.  It started off well, but ended up being amazingly stressful and destructive towards my identity.  But, perhaps that destruction was necessary for me to realize that a chest full of masks was not a healthy way to go through life–and that I did have a core identity that I would not ever again deny.

Towards the end of my twenties, I came across MBTI type of stuff–and it was here, I believe, that I first started to acquire a kind of language and perspective to think about these things.  Now the MBTI system, in my view, is not ever going to be an accurate representation of the totality of reality or human behavior.  Not at all.  But it was a step towards letting me understand how my brain and consciousness approached the world in a certain way–and that others did so in different ways–and that to truly understand my reality, I would need to focus and learn about how these different approaches interacted and manifested in human society.

So–it was from that point on (although it was based on stuff I had also learned in emotional boot camp) that I really paid more attention to how to interpret and understand human communication–and to not just focus on the specific words and language that people used–but also to try to get beneath to understand the emotional stances and foundations from which people acted.  To create better models and simulations of how other people in my mind.

That was over a decade ago.

In that time, I’ve become a lot better at communication with others, and I think my friends would say that I’m pretty good at communication.  At the very least, I’m really persistent at it–and always willing to go further to understand something and to revise my understanding with new data–rather than trying to think that I’ve ever achieved some sort of permanent and absolute knowledge of the GRAND STATE OF THINGS.

But I still don’t feel these feelings that people often see at the heart of communication.

Instead–I grok them.  I observe how people are acting, what they’re saying, what their history is–and from these perceptions, I then reason out–using accumulated past experience and reflection–what might be going on.

This is a conscious effort–at least at first–and it is a synthetic one–in that I bring a lot of different aspects together and try to integrate it into a model that I can then evaluate.

But I don’t feel the model.

I know the model.

Because of this–I sometimes get things horribly, horribly wrong, and my errors are also compounded by the fact that while I don’t often consciously feel things–I do ACTUALLY have feelings–but they tend to arrive much later in my experiences–and their influence is usually more like a subtle, but steady shading of my thought processes.

I grok feelings.

At least, most of the time.

Perhaps this will give those who know me and read this a better sense of my actions.  Perhaps others who are like me in some way will see this in themselves.

In any case, this whole realization didn’t really coalesce until I also then realized that there are places where I do feel things. Where feelings are natural and even primary for me.

One such place is listening to music.  More than any other activity, listening to music can tap into my emotions and make me feel things without there being any conscious deliberation or analysis.   Songs can bring tears to my eyes, whereas other major emotional events–say like losing a job or getting hurt–don’t even come close to provoking sadness  or any other kind of emotional response.

I recognized more of the truth in this when I reflected on the fact that I really don’t care to analyze music or to hash out the different and fine points of genres or songs.

With songs–I like them or I do not.  Trying to convince me that I should or shouldn’t like something because of facts about the song–that seems utterly and fundamentally foreign to me.

I could give a rat’s ass about those things.  I like songs because I like them.

I like them because they make me feel things.

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Creation of Worlds

Where do you create your worlds?

I create mine on the inside.

Within me.

Millions and billions of them.


I have always done this–it always came naturally–and part of me–despite knowing the differences between how people see and experience the world (see the numerous and detailed posts here about mbti etc…), it had not occurred to me that others didn’t do this with ease.

I mean–how else would you just solve certain problems and work through certain stuff.

But that’s just the point..

The act of creation is something that is not the same for people.  How people create, with which materials, and where they do so are particular to the person and to forget this is to become lazy and to forget the diversity that is present throughout humanity.

This has been clear to me for a long time, especially since I have so many artistic friends–in particular musicians–who are constantly creating new stuff.

I am entirely “non-artistic” though.. I don’t make music and I have never wanted to–I’ve never wanted to be a rock star.

This doesn’t necessarily mean I am not creative, however.  Instead, my creativity lies in different places–in making all kinds of spaceships with legos when I was a kid (each of which was like a Star Wars Battle Cruiser… )–or drawing huge murals with monsters fighting–or creating entire worlds for role-playing games–including maps and cities and city populations (see the Duchy of Hirakith that I created…)Maphir1

That’s where my personal creativity usually expresses itself.

These worlds all came from the inside of me… but that’s not the only way you can create a world.

Creating an abstract model.. a visualization of a complex process… this is also creating a “world.”   It may be a very small world–but it’s a world nonetheless–as it is a space that abides by certain rules and concepts.

Thus–constructing  an internal representation of a supply & demand graph in your head and then playing forward how different factors would shift this graph–that’s all something dealing with an internal world.

I had never realized this until my best half pointed this out to me two days ago.

Specifically, we were talking about the whole process of learning economics–she’s taking a class in economics–and she was noting specifically that it sometimes took her a bit of time to figure out these kinds of answers, because, “I have to create an entire world in my head to figure this out… “

And that’s when it struck me that she was 100% right about that.  You do have to create a world for that mental process.

This was something that did not come natural to her.  She was picking it up quickly (she learns fast as the dickens..)… but it wasn’t natural yet to create these worlds.

This does not mean that she doesn’t create her own worlds all the time.. She does, but she usually creates worlds in the external, objective reality.

She creates a world when she performs (as seen here as the lead singer of Sensuous Enemy…  )

She creates a world when she decorates our house.  She creates a world when she creates a menu or a schedule for the conferences that she helps to manage at her work.

She is an extravert–and her primary and natural reality is the external cosmos.  This is where things are “real” in the most easy sense for her.

Internal worlds, on the other hand, are the playground of introverts by and large in my experience.  That is where they are more comfortable–and thus that is where they first and most naturally create their worlds.

Not that there aren’t crossovers.  Being an extravert does not restrict you to the external world any more than being an introvert would restrict you to the internal world.  People may have natural tendencies–but they also can learn and become more than what they were.

I, for example, also create worlds when I cook and when I garden.  As it stands, I’m chomping at the bit to rebuild and expand my garden…


It is but a small thing so far–but it is a world for me–and not an internal one.  It exists out here and while it may have significant meaning on the inside for me–the reality of it is external and something I enjoy the physicality of it.

If anything–gardens are a great example of created worlds and I’ll leave everyone with a view of a very famous garden that I once got to walk through–the Herrenhaeuser Gaerten outside of Hannover, Germany.  Created by Sophia–the Electress of Hannover–they played an important role in the political affairs of the early 18th century..and they are a world unto themselves.



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The birth and death of a scene

All things have their time and place. Things begin, they grow, they flourish, they stabilize, they fade, they die. 

At least, this is how things that are natural and organic progress. 

But not everything is natural in this world. We have artifice. We have constructions.


Constructions are not inherently bad things. We often use them to make the world a better place.

Thus–it’s not the fact that something is a construction or is artificial that makes it bad. 

What can be bad is when people mistake the artificial for a natural thing, and make assumptions based on this mistake.

Let me talk of an application of this process by talking about something important to me, namely, a subculture that I’ve been a part of for more than half of my life…

I’m talking of the goth/industrial scene.



 I started to become part of this scene late in high school.  I had been introduced to the music (skinny puppy) by a friend without even knowing what it was.  By 1990, I had gotten to know more of the music and by 1991 had been introduced to a dance club where they played such music.  I was becoming part of a scene, even if I didn’t know it.. 

I was not alone in this.  There were many of us. We were there for various reasons–and I do not claim to speak for all of us, but I know why I was there.  I was there because of where I came from.. there were specific social and material conditions that led me to this place and made me fit in there.  I was one tree growing up in a forest… 

It was natural and unplanned.  We had our place, we knew the time, we showed up. 

But natural things grow, mature, and die. 

goth is dead

It has been over 20 years since I got involved in this scene.  I’ve been a part of it as much as I could.  I met my best half in this scene. I’ve found many, many friends in this scene–some of my best. 

But I’ve also watched the scene move into its latter stages.. and I’ve seen it start to fade, I’ve seen it struggle, and I’m pretty sure that it’s dead. 

The reason I think this can be summed up in one observation.

A subculture that is alive and thriving does not bother with advertising itself. It does not need to promote itself, it merely has to exist–because it exists through the communal desire of everyone to be there.

The goth/industrial scene is no longer at that place. It has been depleted.  Many who used to feel at home there, have left it.. moved on to other places.  To them, the need to be there is absent.  This does not mean that some people have not found the scene and become a part of it–they have–but they have not been there in nearly the numbers that were there before.

Because of this, the scene has had to compete for attention to survive.  This means that it has to promote itself.  It has to fight against other scenes to host its events. It suffers from failures of attendance at crucial events.

The scene has become a construct. It is no longer a natural thing. When it is just one of many options for people–then it has stopped being a scene and it is just a club, a flavor, a choice.

It has become something to consume, a product. That doesn’t make it wrong or bad or a failure–but it is not the same as it was before.  It is no longer an organic, growing thing. It is something that I will continue to support and will feel a part of, but it is dead, and I know it. 

Now–to be a bit snarky for a moment–I do have a recommendation for how the scene–or something like it could be reborn. Here are the steps:
1. People invested in the scene should reset their priorities.
2. They should move to the suburbs.
3. If they have a significant other, they should think about having some kids.
4. They should then raise the kids in a manner that prizes boredom, the normal life, and conformity above all else.
5. They should also start voting Tea Party Republican to produce the kind of political and social climate that helped generate industrial music in the first place.

Then, in about 15 years, there will be a whole new crop of youngsters who felt as we did.

And a new scene will be born. 


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Thinking in the Cold…

As I was walking to class this morning from my building into EH, I started on a–in retrospect–somewhat strange train of thought.  At least, considered objectively, it strikes me that this train of the would seem weird, but it’s pretty much how my brain tends to work and it’s not odd within the context of me.


Gotten from here:

But here’s how it went.

Wow, today’s not nearly as cold as yesterday.  I don’t need a hat or a scarf over my face because it doesn’t feel like death is trying to kill me with some scythe-like bone-chilling wind.

Today it’s just cold. Normal cold.  Perhaps not normal temperatures for someone from the south.. it’s still cold enough so that if you put food out, it would not rot or even decay at all.

That must be weird.  I mean, if you come from a place closer to the equator, there’s never a time when nature isn’t constantly alive and trying to break things down and create interesting smells and raw materials for new growth.

Here–it’s different.  Nature stops.. or at least it slows down so much that it’s almost like we’ve been put into stasis or slow motion…

And we do go so much slower here.  You have to or you just fucking die.

Wait.. why are humans even living here?  What the hell?

Well–I guess we have been living here for most of our existence.  Hunting groups have been running over the arctic tundra for all of our existence–and they were quite successful at doing so–mainly because there was so many animals for them to hunt. 

Well.. at least for a while.. 20-50,000 years at least.. until we hunted most of the large ones to extinction.. or helped them to it as the climate changed.

Humans as an apex predator.  Well–maybe not exactly–there are still things on the planet that could eat us.. Lions, Tigers, and Bears, oh my!

But we were definitely more effective than these competitors over the long run–mainly because we worked in groups.  

Primitive Human vs. Tiger–no contest. We are kitty food.

20 Humans vs. Tiger–someone has a new Overcoat. 

Apex Predator–but not because we were singly bad-ass.  But because we had cooperation and hunting skillz. 

So maybe like the comparison is like the difference between a T-Rex and a group of Deinonychus (Think Velociraptors from Jurassic Park–because the actual velociraptors were the size of dogs.. ).  We are like the pack attacking the larger creatures to bring them down… and are very unlike a giant T-rex single-handedly killing them.


Although I think a lot of people would like the think of themselves as T-rex’s.. but that’s just ego overcoming reality.

Oh look.. I’m here.. time to start teaching.

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Nature, Design, and the Efficiency of Messes

This post is likely to be a mess.  But let me start with a question:

How do you feel about Nature?

Do you think of Nature as being orderly due to the natural laws that it follows?

Or is nature more about variety, dynamism, and just plain messiness?

I ask this because “nature” is a very, very slippery concept and how people understand it often plays a fundamental role not only in how they understand reality–but also in how they then act.

But let’s make this concrete by talking about an article on Andrew Sullivan‘s blog last week.  This post was titled, “When Messy is more Effective,” and it talked about how the relatively recent attempts by humans to study other species architectural habits and adapt/utilize them for human purposes.  Humvee_tire_270x269
This process is called “biomimetic design,” and it’s been quite the rage recently (see this article about honeycombed airless tires that were developed here in Madison by some graduate students and a faculty adviser that was on my Dissertation Committee as a reader), although one can trace this development back a lot further in time.

In any case, the Andrew Sullivan provided this interesting excerpt about the process of biomimesis:
A telling example is the comparative architecture of orb-weaver versus tangle-web spiders. Imagine a spider web, and chances are you summon an orb-weaver’s work in your mind: A branch-hung mesh of silk spiraling around a central hub so orderly and symmetrical you would consider it beautiful, and certainly superior to the irregular skein of strands of a tangle web in a wood pile. An orb web’s beauty comes from the simple algorithm the spider follows to construct it within a single plane. By comparison, a tangle web is the result of a significantly more dynamic behavioral process of trial-and-error construction, methodically stringing and testing silk between any available surfaces until an ideal prey-trapping tension is reached. It looks messy, and primitive.


But the tangle web is actually derived from the more primitive orb web. A tangle web can be built almost anywhere, and it doesn’t require airflow to catch prey. Its marvelous, asymmetric design allowed the spiders that developed it to begin a great radiation into thousands of new species.”

This excerpt, which resonated with me deeply, was from an even cooler and longer article that you can find here (and that I encourage you to go read… fascinating stuff..).

The gist of the longer article is that humans have been looking more and more at nature to find better  ways of designing human technologies, but the process they’ve used to do this is often problematic–not only in that humans don’t understand (or misunderstand) the natural structures that they are trying to copy, but also that they often completely fail to think about some of the different values/rules/elements that profoundly shape natural creations and that may be antithetical to human needs.

The excerpt and the article use two examples.  One of them is the orb vs. tangle web design that is noted above.  The second (and primary example in the bigger article) refers to when an architect named Mick Pearce designed an office complex in the 1990′s based on principles derived from termite mound “design” in order to cool the complex more efficiently and cheaply.

While the complex did accomplish the goal of cooling at a substantially lower cost, the original understanding of what went on in Termite mounds that it was built upon was wrong.   The “science/engineering” ideas had been postulated in the 1960′s, but when later experiments and empirical data were collected, it was shown that these principles were incorrect and that the termite mound was not constructed to be a cooling engine (that was a side benefit), but rather its construction functioned more as a kind of breathing engine to bring oxygen in and expel carbon dioxide.  (Go read the article for more detailed analysis..)

Now, the reason that these articles resonated so strongly within me is that they were deeply intertwined with a number of questions involving the human desire for order and purpose and how that relates to the complexity, nuance, and basic messiness of the world around us. Some of these are:

a) The attraction of simplicity over complexity. One of my favorite quotes ever is by Alfred North Whitehead, who said, “Seek simplicty, but distrust it.”  To me, this has always been a valuable warning in that it acts as a brake on the natural tendency to embrace the easiest and/or most accessible answers to problems without thinking through the possible ramifications.  In other words, it is a hedge against intellectual laziness.

These articles relate to this issue in that they show how quickly we sometimes try to cram our human desires and understandings onto the natural world around us.  For example–as humans we have a concern with cooling structures–and that colored the thinking of the original researchers of termite mounds to the extent that they posited that these were the intentions of the termites.

But this kind of thinking also appears more generally when you listen to scientists talk about “elegance” in theories about reality.  An elegant theory, if you read a bit in the history of science, is almost always prized over a messy or complicated one in both science and mathematics.  This kind of attitude is often put into practice when such theories are simplified by, say, “neglecting friction” or making assumptions about “ideal conditions” when, in reality, such aspects can play significant roles in the material world.  In a very concrete way, these factors can play A HUGE ROLE in process development from lab/experimental scale up to industrial plant scale implementations.  What works in a small reaction chamber under carefully controlled conditions may not work when it is 1000 or 10,000 times larger because the small/negligible “issues of friction/turbulence/temperature variability” often increase in non-linear fashions, introducing a myriad of complications.

b) The second way it resonated with me related to issues of order/messiness when it came to human perception and understanding.  Humans–or at least human minds–tend to have an affinity for order, patterns, and symmetry.  As some relatively recent research has shown, perceptions of “beauty” with regard to human faces correspond highly with symmetrical faces, but this is not the only area where humans are attracted to examples of orderliness in reality.

On a more conscious and fundamental level, humans like order because it makes things easier for them to understand and that can give them a sense of power. As the excerpt in Andrew Sullivan notes,

“Humans like symmetry and order, I think because symmetry and order help us recognize patterns, and we like to think we understand things,” says [entomologist John] Wenzel. … “In my studies I’ve seen things many times that I think are anomalies, pathologies, almost like mutations,” Wenzel says. But what seem like pathologies … can become useful, even essential. And difficult to understand.”

That last sentence is where it becomes really interesting to me.  Specifically, that divergences from symmetry or order may actually be superior to the symmetrical or orderly designs in certain kinds of activities.

If you think about this for a second, the truth of it is obvious.  A mousetrap, for example, is not a study in symmetry.  A frog or grasshopper–with the asymmetry between front and back legs–also are able to produce dramatic results based on exactly the “over” development of their hind legs.

Furthermore–perfect symmetry–because it is easy to understand and adapt to–can be a significant weakness.  If you are trying to hide something or to be NOT noticed–a perfectly ordered structure will not help you–if only because it requires that so many other elements be perfect in order for it to function.  Disordered states–in contrast–are so much more common, which makes it harder to distinguish any one particular disordered state from any other.

A simple way to think about this is that there’s only one way for a mountain lake to be perfectly pure and clean–but there are a nearly infinite way for it to be less than perfect.   Orderliness, in other words, is that is going to be rare in nature, and it will be something that requires special effort to construct and maintain.

c) A final issue that I would discuss here is the way that different kinds of human values are intertwined here into the areas of both design and nature.  As the larger article that I noted earlier explains, the process of mimicking nature for design purposes raises all kinds of interesting issues. On the one hand, the way that “nature” finds solutions to design issues is fascinatingly inefficient if you were to put it into human terms.  Instead of doing an analytical cost benefit analysis and using basic principles and calculations to discover a solution, nature basically has a few simple algorithms with the possibility of mutations that it gives to millions or billions of different individuals, and the best designs survive better into the future.  Employing such a process on the human scale with regard to house design would be fantastically inefficient in terms of man-hours and materials if we hadn’t yet invented computers that can simulate such processes far quicker in a virtual world.

On the other hand, however, there are the issues with exactly the kinds of results that mimicking these “natural processes” would produce.   Natural structures–such as beehives or termite mounds or spider webs–are often remarkably fragile.  Although they often display incredible strength relative to the amount of material they use, this high level of efficiency equates to a far lower value of robustness or structural redundancy.  In a nutshell, it may not be the smartest thing to design a house that uses 80% less materials and therefore costs less to build if that house then also collapses upon its inhabitants whenever there’s a 10inch snowfall.

As humans, we also have an inherently different set of values that will guide our designs–for example that we are relatively long lived creatures who take decades to even achieve adult status.  As such, we are very different than a huge mass of creatures–the majority of which live and die within a year–and most of who are not individually essential for the continued existence of the group.  These fundamental differences need to be kept in mind–and too often I see people neglecting to pay attention to how crucial they are when they look to nature to provide solutions to their problems.  I will stipulate here that this problem appears more in relatively naive articles about these issues than in the more technical analyses of such things… But, in defense, it is the more naive and popularized takes on these issues that most people hear about..

In the end, I would note that we live in a disorderly, imperfect, and messy universe.  Life, itself, is much more like organized chaos than any kind of designed and orderly dynamic.  This does not mean that our actions are meaningless or that we cannot create some amazing examples of order and progress.  Instead, it just means that we should not essentialize order as some kind of higher good, and therefore lead ourselves astray by trying to force our perceptions of the disorderly world into some idealized and more perfect form.  Doing so will only lead to self-deception and hinder our efforts to grok the world around us.

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Hell and me..

This is about right when it comes to me… Lustful, a Heretic, and/or a bit of a virtuous non-believer.

The Dante’s Inferno Test has banished you to the Second Level of Hell!
Here is how you matched up against all the levels:

Level Score
Purgatory (Repending Believers) Very Low
Level 1 – Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers) High
Level 2 (Lustful) Very High
Level 3 (Gluttonous) Very Low
Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious) Very Low
Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy) Low
Level 6 – The City of Dis (Heretics) High
Level 7 (Violent) Moderate
Level 8 – The Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers) Moderate
Level 9 – Cocytus (Treacherous) Low

Take the Dante’s Inferno Test

A real post tomorrow.. hopefully… about messy reality…

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