Universality of Empathy

HazyIt is easy to assume that, because everyone’s life is different, everyone’s motivations and goals are different. But that is just not the case, we all want the same things out of life, and we all do what we think is reasonable to get there. We react to our environments as best we can given our perspective in the moment.

Imagine that you are with your significant other you have had a long day, you are hungry and tired and would like to decompress a bit. your significant other is likewise stressed because they just found out that they are making budget cuts is their department and might not have a job for much longer. so when they get home and you have not made dinner, even though is was your turn to do so and now you will have to order something, your spouse or girlfriend makes a slightly sarcastic remark like “And I suppose I’ll be paying for that?” not especially mean but you don’t appreciate her tone and it sets you off a bit, enough for you to want to retaliate. You respond by saying, “at least I have enough money to cover it” which is in part a reference to last time you order out and she couldn’t cover it, which was actually funny in that moment, but now it’s fighting words, and you just declared war. The conversation quickly escalates and while neither of you much cares if you order out for dinner, you are both now thoroughly invested in winning the argument. As the food arrives you are both still very heated and you being the one you has to pay for the food, go to the door and grab the food away from the delivery guy, slap a twenty in his hand which barely covers the cost and slam the door in his face. You don’t have time to figure in tip and your mind is still formulating the next blow you will strike in an effort to win the fight. As the delivery guys walks away he does the mental calculations and decides you are a prick and a cheapskate. As you both started to eat your mood improves and you begin to see how stupid the argument really was. Your spouse explains the situation at work and you realize that your comment about money might have struck a nerve. You both apologize make up and settling for a nice night eating delicious food and watching your favorite shows.

None of the behavior that I have described was unreasonable of hard to imagine, but take any thirty seconds of the situation and make it the core of someone impression of you and they might think you are, a bitch, an asshole, a cheapskate, a shallow person, an inconsiderate douche, an over sensitive jack ass, or any of a dozen alternatives you might think of. But the truth of the matter was you were having a moment and in the moment you were behaving just like anyone else would, you are not a monster, or some unfeeling jerk, you are a person with a life story and a reason for acting like you do. Just like everyone else.

There are no monsters in the world, just people, people trying to make their way through life as best they can. We are all the protagonist in our own life story. None of us are out to make the world suffer because we are heartless. But some of us are in a tough spot and feel like they are out of options, some of us have been taught that violence is an acceptable solution. Some people do believe that there are evil people in the world, and that peace comes at the sacrifice of those people. Even the worst of humanity acts in accordance with their own moral compass, their own ideas about what is right and wrong. The closest thing to an evil person we know of is a psychopath who has no or a lowered sense of empathy. And in most cases psychopaths don’t go on killing sprees that just go through life faking empathy, and the worst most of them do is manipulate the emotions of others, which is nothing that a normal person wouldn’t do given the opportunity. So in the end the best thing that you can do is use a different mental shorthand, instead of thinking that this person is just an asshole and going about your day, maybe you should assume that this person is just having a bad day and go about your day. The different in a specific instead is practically non-existent, you still get through the day and don’t waste an excess about of energy worried about some stranger being rude, but the net effect is much greater, you will being to see everyone in a better light and feel a greater sense of optimism about you fellow man, and in the end you will all the happier for it.

And that’s my take on the universality of empathy.

Here today painting. Sorry about missing yesterdays post.

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Empathy And Google

FalconSorry about not posting yesterday, I’m still sick, and just wasn’t up to posting. I am feeling much better today so I’m going to try and get some extra stuff up to day to make up for it. Now for today’s written post.

If you are here for today’s Painting follow the link.

When Google was first hitting it big my dad became very annoyed. He was annoyed because he had read up on how the search algorithm worked. See, he knew that the algorithm looked at what everyone else was clicking and moved those links to the top, a bit of knowledge which has since lead to untold amounts of abuse. What he would say was “just because it more popular doesn’t make it better.” No as a logical statement this is perfectly sound. just because a thing is popular, does not make it better. But there are two things that my father had failed to realize. The first is that all of those people you had started to use Google back then had access to all of the other search engines that he has access to, including his favorite, Dogpile. Dogpile is actually  a meta search engine, which is to say that it searches other search engines. This is actually a great idea in principle, but in practice leaves something to be desired, since in the results are mostly not what you want, and since it searches Google anyways you usually end up clicking on its link, not always but still.

The second thing, and this is the one that made me want to talk about the subject this morning, is that in many cases something being popular does mean it’s better. Let me elaborate. There are two scientific principles that are essential to this line of thinking, the first is the regression to the mean, which states that the more test samples you have the less extreme the average will be over the course of time. the second principle is the law of large numbers which says that the larger the sample pool is the more precise the average will become. These two closely related principles combined with a fairly new theory called Crowd Wisdom, reveal the true power of Google.

Crowd Wisdom works like this, if you have a large number of level headed individuals, from a diverse set of backgrounds and have them all just guess, their average will be incredibly accurate. The Ideas is the all of the outliers, the high guesses and low guesses will nullify each other leaving only the most accurate guesses. The same principle is in action with the Google search algorithm, they bank on the majority of inquiries will be satisfied by the best available link. It also makes an assumption that is more and more at the heart social values today, that we are all essentially the same. It assumes that if I am interested in a certain website when I make my specific search, that you will be interested in it too.

This level of assumed empathy is incredible, and I think that it is an indication of this to come. I think that the world is really finally coming around the idea that in essence we are all equal, that are values, as far as what really important are the same. People are being to see that there are no bad guys, there are no good guys we are all just people trying to do what we think is right.

And that’s my take on Google and empathy.

And for

Integrated Learning

IntegratedLearningIn my attempts to get myself up to snuff as far making concept art goes I have been brushing up on various painting techniques. In the past I have had some experience with watercolors and acrylics. I dabbled in oil painting but was never really trained in it, but as I have started reading about some of the theory behind oil painting techniques I find myself getting more out of the lessons due to my lack of experience with oil paints. Let me explain. When you get a tutorial in some technique of another you may learn a trick as you follow the instructions, but when you are forced to take the advice and insights for one discipline and apply it to another, I think that you get more from it. You have to find what is important about the lesson, find what is most useful about what they are saying and apply it to a foreign practice.

I think that there is something there. As I move forward in my self education I plan to do this with more purpose. I want to find texts talking about photography and film, music and dance, and extract what I feel is relevant. To draw parallels between disparate fields of creativity to find common traits. One of the best ways to learn is to explore the very edge of your experience. Your go out to the limits of what you know, and take one more step, simple but powerful. Its the same way we conduct scientific discovery. We find a field of study the has a knowledge base, go out to the edge of our understanding of it and take a look, when you do this you are guaranteed to discover something in short order.

For example, I have been reading a book about using color in oil paints. The book cover everything from the basic color theory like what I discussed last week, to the more advanced methods of manipulating color. One of these techniques is using a continuity color to create harmony in your color palette. The way it works is by adding a little bit of the color in question to every color you mix as you paint, this ensures that the whole painting is harmonious and that none of the color clash. This technique is essentially replaced in the color balance feature in Photoshop, which finds the average color and brings all of the colors closer to that, creating greater harmony in the picture.

And that’s my take on integrated learning.

PS

I will be trying a shorter format, and going back to posting every day. So from now on the posts will be about half as long, but accompanied by a new painting every other day.

Two Months In

TwoMonthsWriting so frequently for these past two months has been a real saving point in my life. for about a year before this I had been getting progressively more depressed. Now this was nothing compared to the year I spent unemployed, but it was nonetheless a tough year. I have  beautiful fiancée, and a job I like, but they can only afford to give me eighteen hours a week. this would be fine if it didn’t mean that my fiancée has to work forty to fifty hours a week to make up the difference. in the past seven years we have been together and especially the last five since we have left school, she has been a solid rock for me, and I’d like to think I have been one for her in return.

I cook, I clean, I do the laundry, and help her relax when she gets home. It’s a fine situation for now but when we start a family it just won’t due. These are the thoughts that keep me up at night. I want to know what I can do. what can I put on my resume that will convey my intelligence, and work ethic? What can I say in a cover letter that will tell a potential employer that they would be saying my life if they only gave me a chance? How do you convince someone that when you say “I will at the very least, do this job better than anyone else you’ve interviewed, and at most I might just give you a run for your money in a year’s time” without seeming cocky or rude? And this is the sticking point for me, really, I feel like there is no position that would yield itself to me if I were only give the opportunity. I know I am not some perfect genius, but I also know that I am capable of learning anything, and if someone could give me a guarantee, I would have no trouble devoting all of my resources behind it.

As it is I can’t help but feel that the chance has passed me by and that in ten years time I will be no closer to my goals and that I will have worked myself into a debt that I can’t see because I have build a wall of delusion around myself and don’t want to see the truth. I have been told that you can make your own luck, and when I hear it it seem to make sense, but once I sit down and think about how to make my own… I am left without an answer. I have no friends with influence, that I know of, I have little influence myself and see no way of breaking into any industry this late in my life. I find myself chasing every job listing in my mind seeing the future at the company and how it will change my life, only to be crushed once again in a week or two when I hear that they have “gone in another direction”.

On top of all this I always worry about how it will affect my fiancée. Will she be able to cut down on her hours? Will she be able to quite? Will we have to move? How far would she really move? Would the new job take up too much of my time? And none of the answers ever make the decision easier. How high should my standards be? Do I go for anything that I can find, or make an earnest effort to establish a career?

It’s funny, how much your perspective can shift. Just two years ago I was overjoyed just to get the job at the library, it made everything better. We were able to start paying off our debt again, we bought a car. It feels like we’ve come a long way, and yet here I am bemoaning my current state. Will there ever be a time when I am fine, where I can stop scrambling just to be content? If what I have learned for my various readings and podcast listening holds any water, then the answer might be no. I hope that’s not true. And even if it were true, what am I to do? Give up now? move in with my parents? Stop trying?

No, that not an answer either, I’ll still have to go on living my life, you have to hang in there, keep applying to job offers, keep educating yourself, just keep going. Yeah that the only option really. It’ about this time in my mental argument that I remember that I am an optimist. I shouldn’t be so down because, things tend to work out. I may have had a rough five years or so, but what will that matter when I’m old and grey and happy, I’ look back on these days as the time when I floundered around; when I found my self. Yeah, that’s right. Anyways if I give up now, what will I do to occupy myself? No, I think I’ll keep up with this little project of mine, hope that something comes of it.

And that’s my take on… I dunno… Life.

Developing a Style

StyleWhen you are first starting out as an artist, it may occur to you that all of your favorite artists have a particular style even if some of them are very similar. Now when you are at the begin of your career it is expected that you will imitate your role models; your teachers, artists you admire, your peers, even your parents if they have some artistic interest. This is what role models are for, it is would we learn to eat, drink, speak and walk. but eventually we all develop our own gait; our own voice. And so it is with art.

You may feel a pressure to find this style immediately, but what you should keep in mind is that you voice as an artist comes through as a byproduct really. What I mean is that, no great sculptor or painter ever sat down and decided what their style would be from then on. it developed from years of practice, and finding the forms and colors that spoke to them, it came after hours and hours of trial and error; finding the little tricks and shortcuts that made the marks they wanted. In the end the only prerequisite to finding a style that speak to who you are as a person and artist, is to know who you are as a person, and what you like as an artist.

That’s it. Now three step plan, no curriculum to help you through the process. Just figure out what you like, and start making that. One tip that I would put out there is: Don’t be afraid to pull from different mediums, genres, and professions. If you like a thing, let it inspire you and shine through to your work. Like video games? Put it in your work. Like fantasy fiction? Put it in your work. Are you religious? Put it in your work. Like the circus? Put it in your work. It is true that one of the best tools an artist came develop is the ability to edit, to remove that which is modeling the real essence of a piece, but this thought process does not extend to your style. A style , a perspective, came not be edited, because it is a part of who you are. Throw everything you love about the world, even everything you hate about the world; anything that stirs you deep inside, and inspires you to create should be acknowledged. You can’t edit a style, you can only censor it, and people can almost always tell when something is missing, or when a piece feels halfhearted.

If you throw your whole self into a piece, the viewer can see it. If you have fun while making a piece, the viewer will see it. If you have to drag yourself to the finish line? People will see that too. Your work is a reflection of who you are as a person. which is why you can always recognize student work. It not necessarily because its bad. Even people with immense talent start out as students, and even though their work might be good, it is still student work, it is the work that you make before you know what it is you really  want to make. The only way to figure out what that is, is to make, and make, and make.

Trust yourself. You know what you like, even if you are not sure why it is you like it. if you just let yourself play, eventually you will begin to feel the important bits, they will be the bits that stick. And if a series of pieces aren’t working, is is not because of the subject matter. I promise you that one thing. you may have trouble grasping the technique end of things; form, color, composition. But these are visual problems, maybe you are being too literal with an idea, but, the idea; the heart of the piece, that is a deeply personal choice, as long as it is a choice that was made with purpose. This is an important point to make. Make decisive marks. It is fine to start a piece without a clear direction, but then somewhere in the midst of creation, decisions must be made. Decisions about the direst of the piece, and decisions about editing back. If you are being decisive then you are letting you voice come through.

In some ways this is the most important thing to remember. Because it does not matter, if people don’t like your work, or  if people don’t understand what you are trying to accomplish, as long as you do. If you are making conscious decisions about what your work is doing, then you own it. Then at the very least you can say that it is true to yourself. Once you start to make marks because you were told to by others, or worse, make them for no reason at all, you have lost your voice. In a fully developed piece, that is complete, there should be no area of the composition that was not considered. There can be loose areas, even blank areas as long as they are that way with purpose. If you can manage that, then it doesn’t matter what decisions you went with, you can be sure that they were your decisions, and that no one else would have made them. That is where you style is.

And that’s my take on developing a style.

The Afterlife

The AfterlifeIf there is an afterlife, and that’s a big if, then it doesn’t look anything like what we expect it to.

The reality is that there is no way that the world simultaneously works the way we know it too and somehow also works the way many of the region say it does, there are just too many contradictions. I do think that it is fun and rewarding exercise to think about what it could be like and what that would mean. So of my favorite fiction does just that, in the movie What Dreams May Come Robin Williams character discovers that the afterlife in a kind of thought cloud where you soul go when it no longer has a body to anchor it to earth. You can say in your own private section of the cloud or you can share your space with others. Hell is simply your own subconscious desire to make amends for and evil filled life. If you were greedy and mistrustful and out for only yourself in life you will spend you afterlife punishing yourself out of guilt and self loathing. This is a very interesting version of the afterlife as it does a fair job of covering the salient details of most of the world’s religions, though I think that representatives from those religions might choose to refute that point.

Another great work of fiction dealing with the afterlife is a book called Sum, which is a book of short stories each outlining a different view of what the afterlife hold for us. Most of them are satirical, meant to point out some point or another about our daily lives and the many ways which we find to waste our lives, including the title story, Sum, tells the reader about the experiences of a newly dead person, and how he is shown the event of his life in real time but in a different order, the events have been reorganized by quality, so that he spends 30 years sleeping and 1 year blinking, and so on. The story is interesting and hilarious, and really makes you think about how much time is wasted in an average day, and how it adds up.

I imagine two such scenarios that, relying on science, would approach a real afterlife. The first and more hippy dippy version is on where your consciousness, being an emergent quality of the alignment of the molecular structure of your brain cells, is ‘reincarnated’, or an approximation of it is, in some other part of the universe. I envision a whole host of Earths out in the universe populated by different versions of ourselves living different lives and loving different people, make different choices. Or maybe Some sort of cosmic analog is generated in a nebula where our neurons are replaced by a more disparate medium and the reality we experience is in turn generated by thought. After all it is a big place and even if quantum entanglement doesn’t make any such claims as this, it certainly allows for the possibility.

The second and slightly more plausible but also slightly less pleasant sounding is predicted on the fact that the our perception of time is subjective, and can be altered by our various filters. The best example of this is dreaming, sometimes it feels like weeks have past in a single night. So what if and the end, when you are dying, you consciousness beings to skew, and right at the edge of death your perception of time is so warped, a moment is extended into infinity and you spend the rest of ‘eternity’ in that moment. The quality of that moment is determined on the person you are and the way in which you died. If you die comfortably and at the end of a well lived life, you experience a kind of heaven. If you die some agonizing torturous death and you mind is riddled with regret and self hatred, then you get and eternity that reflect that.

Neither of these is exactly what you hope for but there is very little hope that we, the unlucky masses forced to spend the entirety of our lives on this side of death without ever really knowing what is on the other side, will ever know what the truth is. But like so many philosophical problems is is at least interesting, if not fun, to speculate and theorize on the possibilities.

Oh and one last example of a theory of the afterlife that I’d like to share, is a short story written by Andy Weir called The Egg, I mentioned it in another post but I thought it worth another plug. Also check out the video adaptation.

And that’s my take on the afterlife.

Brain-in-a-Vat Theories

BraininaVatI think that of all of the pseudo philosophical conversations that I have had over the years my favorite one have been ones discussing the possibilities of the matrix, universe simulator, or brain-in-a-jar theories. They aren’t a very serious area of  philosophical debate, primarily because when you consider all the facts it becomes apparent that if the world is an illusion of some kind then it is a completely thorough one, and that we might as well move on to areas that can be proven or disproven. I would argue that his is a prime example in favor for moving on from all such nature-of-the-universe theories, but that is a conversation for another time.

The big issue with trying to debate whether we are all really here or if we are actually rats plugged in to a machine that makes us all believe we are human being and not subjects in a simulation, is that when we look at the world around us we see no seems and that would suggest a simulation so complete that even if we had some power of perception that could pierce the veil of our physical universe, we would still see the continuity of things. That is to say, we can’t empirically test the realness of our world because any test that we could possibly devise must by definition exist in the simulation and can therefore only be measured against itself. The only hope we could possibly have is if we could get some sort of control sample, a bit of the ‘real’ world to compare to, and what would that even look like? Would we be able to identify it for what it is if we actually found one, or would we think it some kind of artificial particle, maybe even a virtual particle, which I realize is a term already used by physicists but let me clarify that I am not using the term in the same capacity.

In the end the problem is one that is impossible to resolve using the only other tool available to us, outside of experimental testing, logic. In fact using logic tends to result in the overwhelming conclusion that we must be a simulation of some kind and that in all likelihood we are part of a continuum of simulations one nesting inside of the other. But even when you apply this logic, it cannot be ruled out that we are possibly the original world and that we will start the chain with us. This is the case because even in the face of pure logic the fact still remains that there is now way of standing outside of our universe and looking in.

That being said, I do still enjoy a good concocting of some strange version of the simulation theory. The Matrix is probably the most popular of these theories. We are all heaters plugged into a computer simulation of the real world designed and run by an artificial intelligence that has finally beaten us in a war for dominance over the earth. Not bad, and it has the added bonus of being dramatic enough to set a movie to it. One older theory that runs along the same lines is that of Plato’s Wall, which I go into greater detail here, it is an interesting version because it predates any such language that we have today dealing with virtual reality and computers.

You could can imagine that the first time that it was put forward as a human brain in a vat being run by a computer, was written after the brains physiology was better understood and also after computers were invented. The theory was first phrased in the terms of “a brain in a vat” by Hilary Putnam in 1981 in his book Reason, Truth, and History. He said, what is now at the heart of the theory, that since the human brain experiences the world as a series of electrical and chemical signals it would be trivial to simulate an artificial world, as long as you could get around the two problems of keeping the brain alive and having the processing power to make the experience feel real.

I’d go a step further, and say the you don’t even need that significant amount of processing power and that is because, our brain doesn’t just experience the world as a series of electrical and chemical signals, it also actively creates at least a portion of it, internally. We find example all over, that the brain does a lot more editing of what we see and remember than anyone cares to admit. What this suggests to me is that, if a simulation even began to approach a level complexity the match what we see and hear, our brains would fill in the blanks and let us keep on going, this, in my opinion, does a fair job of explaining some of the strange inconsistencies that we see when people try to recall the same experience but have different recollections. Oops! Look at that, I just slipped right into making one of these theories without even meaning to. These types of theories are surprisingly tempting to come up with, and if you have a head for tying up loose ends, surprisingly easy too.

The really cool ones also have a malevolent force running the show, but then you start to get into the territory of conspiracy theorists and leave the realm of philosophical debate. There is one example I can think of where the author thought of a very unique take on the basic premise. The piece is called The Egg and instead of the force being malevolent, it was nurturing, and instead of aliens or robots, it was a supernatural being. I highly recommend you give it a read, and if you really don’t have the patience watch the video, they are both fairly short and with have you over scrutinizing the world, just like all such theories.

As I said before these sorts of discussions don’t even really lead to any kind of significant moments of realization, but they do stimulate thought and reflection, and that is always good for the mind. They are also just fun to try and poke holes in, and even more fun to try and repair the holes.

And that’s my take on brain-in-a-vat theories.