Saturday, December 25, 2010

About Bella

I can't help thinking about you. You meant a lot to me even if I didn't mean so much to you. I know, I am ready to leap when I should walk, but I never quite learned how to crawl.

I loved your kisses because you had a way of kissing that made me feel like only I existed. Am I fooling myself because I felt good about myself? Maybe I am but I will miss your kisses.

I loved your smile and you often smiled. I am too simple to know a smile can hide sadness; how can I know? I loved your smile because you were beautiful when you smiled; you changed in a way no one else I know does. Your smile seemed to speak of knowledge, that I had made you know something you hadn't known. I am confused to learn that I showed you nothing new, but still I will miss your smiles.

I loved you to hold me because you made me feel safe. You made me feel the world could not be cruel. I did not know that you intended cruelty yourself. I feel betrayed by it, yet I know it is your right to feel however you feel about it.

I am confused because we spent so many hours that seemed right but you tell me they were wrong. I am confused because it seems like if something's sour you should be able to taste it. But you tasted good to me.

I feel sad because I hate to be powerless and I am powerless to change your mind. I feel like we could have done good for each other but what do I know? I am vain enough to hurt but not vain enough to think I know any better.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Reptile brain

I sat on the front steps, watching a lizard run through the links of the fence between my yard and next door's. I have seen him under the steps, the same lizard, or another like him. He always runs away.

I have hours to sit and think, if I want to sit and think, but it isn't healthy. Sooner or later, I tire of myself, of the incessant voice of a monkey who tells me I deserve loneliness, deserve spite, deserve unhappiness. I don't have anyone who wants me to feel good about myself, only small insistent reminders of what is wrong with me.

It's not that I don't think it's worth trying.


The moon is astonishing, full and clear. I stop for a moment because it strikes me how bright it is. I don't know what to make of it: we live under a sun so bright that even a distant reflection gives enough light to see by, albeit our vision is blurry.

And someone says somewhere that this could all be a dream, because it's like Zhuangzi said, and when you are dreaming you do not know you are living. But I always know I am not living when I am dreaming. I ask around and people have dreams that seem real, but mine are like disjointed, vague movies. They do not often seem to have any point, yet they are nearly always oriented at a goal.

I dream of success though and I am almost never made unhappy by a dream. Sometimes I have night terrors but they are formless and incoherent, not something you could describe. I know that this is when I have sunk below the part of me that creates pictures, to the part that knows nothing but to react, like a lizard on a sunny day.

That part is terrified but does not know how to live. That part cries out like a baby that wants to be held. Sometimes I hear a child in a shopping centre, screaming at a mother that won't indulge it. I understand babies better than I understand adults, because mostly all I want is for someone to hold me and make me feel as though there is nothing beyond the moment. I wish I could stop trusting it but it is more me than anything I have laid over it and even if I cannot nurture it and no one else will, it will endure.


I no longer feel depressed. The tryptophan and B12 fixed that. Now I just feel numb, and it's worse. I feel as though I daren't feel anything and I know that being risk averse has never been good for me. I never put anything into it and that results in only ever skimming the surface.

But when I have, I got burnt, and it's hard to feel that that is not just something about me, and I cannot avoid setting myself on fire.

It's not that I don't think it's worth trying, it's just that no one seems to think I'm worth anything much. And I have too much of me that wants to believe them to overcome. My girlfriend dumped me because I'm not solid, and it's hard to say, I can be solid, when you are to all appearances no more than a ghost.

But I can be solid. Nothing makes me believe I can't.


I was watching Lost and I was thinking about the dog in the plane. It would have no idea what was happening when the plane crashed. It would be entirely incomprehensible to the dog.

The dog would have an entire drama happen around it with no notion that anything in particular was going on. I believe the dog prospers though. It seems entirely unharmed.

I am sure there's a moral in that story but I haven't figured it out yet.


I believe in you though. When I am out in the cool night and I look up at the infinite sky and know that we are nothing, our lives meaningless and tiny; I believe in you still. Even though I know that you prosper in this world if you see the weakness in others, if you exploit others and you do, to the point that you leave me breathless with the feeling that you didn't think there was anything you should be giving me; even so, I believe in you and can't stop.

I believe you have good in you and it will always outweigh the bad, even if the bad makes me weep with impotence and frustration. I believe you have good in you that could flourish and I love you for it. I cannot help it. I cannot become bitter, even though I feel a shell of bitterness weigh me down; I still cannot stop believing that somehow there is a golden piece of me that will resonate with the gold in you, that you will see it in yourself and believe too that nothing else is worth quite as much.

I know that this is only an outcome of having no idea who you are, how you feel, what you consist in, and no real idea about who I am either. I know it is an illusion, which you have shattered often enough for me to surrender it, but I won't. Even though I know we have no souls, I will believe we do until I have no breath to proclaim my belief in you. I don't know why; I cannot control it; it lives in that part of me, that flickering faint light that yearns for a gentle sigh to make it blaze, which cannot be extinguished, even on a dark night that even the moon, hidden by clouds, sheds no light on.


Tomorrow, I am going to dismiss the first three thoughts I have. One for the lizard, one for the monkey, and one for the dog. I will think what's left and you can take me or leave me for it. I will succeed because you are wrong about me and so am I. Most importantly, so am I.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

On deja vus

So I was watching Fringe, and there was an interesting explanation of deja vu, which I felt was flawed, but it set me to thinking. In Fringe, a character explains that we feel we have done things before because there is a parallel universe that is very similar to this one, in which we actually have done the things we deja vu. However, there was no explanation why these universes should be out of phase, and as far as I can make out, they are not, at least not significantly.

But I think there's a way deja vu can be real. I've never been terrifically convinced by the standard explanation, which is I believe that your brain effectively interprets the same information twice, with a very slight lag, so that you have a "memory" that is formed twice in rapid succession, and you confuse yourself into believing you had previously experienced the thing memorised. Given the haziness of memory, this does work, I suppose, and we're aware that we confuse ourselves in perception all the time. I have another way of explaining it though that I like.

The problem with time is that it is effectively a fourth dimension of space, not really something separate. Among other things, this should make it directionless (in the same way that up is relative to where your feet are, not an absolute direction, and your left is my right). Time should not be seen as "flowing" in any real sense. I won't go any further into discussing why this is true; let's just take it that it is.

The problem of time can be resolved somewhat by the notion of the block universe. In this conception, everything that is, was and will be in the universe exists at the same "time", an eternal present, and we experience time because our consciousness navigates through it, translating a static universe into a dynamic experience, in a similar way to a film, where static frames--pictures--are run one after the other to give the sensation of action. With a film, all the frames exist before you watch the first one. You could in principle reassemble them in any order, and the number of combinations of frames would be very high (I don't know how many ways you can assemble two hundred thousand frames, say, but it must be a very large number, and isn't that the number of frames in a movie of about a couple of hours?). Even though most of those combinations would not make sense, very many would, even though they aren't the "correct" combination.

It's plain that in the block universe, at least in principle, we could "foresee" events simply because they are already there to be seen. We have deja vu because we get a glimpse of another part of the block universe. I have no idea what the mechanism would be.

But wait, there's more. Quantum theory has led many scientists to believe that we live in a multiverse, that at each moment of "decision" for a particle, the particle takes both paths that are possible for it, and two new universes come into being. So there are infinite universes in which everything that could happen does happen. So your deja vu does not need to be quite accurate, because you may be able to see a "wrong" part of the block multiverse.


One reason I like the block universe concept is that it makes a lot of sense in connection with the concept of God. God is supposed to be omniscient and transcendent. The latter means that he is not contained within space and time, which implies that all of time exists for him simultaneously. If God was positioned outside a block multiverse, he would be able to "see" everything in this way. (This does not imply that God must only be outside the multiverse. He may also be immanent; in other words, he can be within the multiverse too--being transcendent does not necessitate only being outside the multiverse, only that one must be outside it in some sense--however, my understanding is that Muslim theology struggles with this notion and has held that Allah is only transcendental, because he is not material: this gives him the problem that he cannot create anything because he has no means of engaging with the material--a technical problem because of course he can create by his will, he just cannot physically perform the creation.)

I say multiverse because if the universe were unitary, we could not have free will. I have been thinking about how human beings could have free will when God is omniscient. He clearly would know what choices you would make at the moment of creation, so could not fairly punish you for choosing wrongly. I am not sure how having a multiverse makes a difference, but it at least has potential.

Here's a possibility. See what you think. God chose not to know what his creation would be like and limited his ability to see the multiverse. Now he only permits himself to see his own creation through our consciousness, which is why he created us. Maybe he likes surprises? This makes humans satisfyingly central to God's plan.

It also allows him to make moral judgements, which are otherwise rather difficult. Fundamentally, God made us the way we are, with full knowledge of what we consist in, so he can hardly blame us for being "bad". We are doomed to be. But if he chose to limit his ability to see how we would be, he can then disapprove.


On that note, this gets me to thinking about Stephen Hawking. In his most recent book, Hawking embraces the multiple worlds interpretation of quantum theory and then handwaves that into an explanation of how the universe is the way it is. But here's the thing. A multiverse contains every possible universe. Hawking likes this hypothesis because he believes that we no longer need a god to have created the finely balanced universe we see, which is incredibly improbable, because with approaching infinite universes, even the incredibly improbable is inevitable.

But wait, what arrogance does Prof Hawking display here! If everything, even the incredibly improbable, is inevitable, then surely within the multiverse, there must be universes with God? Hawking must be saying that not only is there no God, but that God is literally impossible. But somewhere in the multiverse will be talking fish, right? Because fish could have evolved the ability to speak, they just didn't, at least not on this planet in this universe. It's very close to impossible, definitely incredibly improbable, but not absolutely inconceivable. So Hawking will have us believe that God is less likely than a talking fish?

If God is possible in some universes, of course, he can be possible in any of them. We couldn't know which he was in and which not a priori.

So there you have it. Not only did I just explain deja vus, but I proved that either God exists or he's less likely than a talking fish. If you're not convinced, don't blame me. I got it from Prof Hawking and apparently, he's a very smart guy.

Monday, December 13, 2010

On roadblocks to success in poker

Of all the things to try to be good at, poker was probably the worst of choices. But surely not? Surely poker is good for a smart guy who can handle the kind of analytical thinking it demands (and I must say it does; those who think that I'm "gambling" don't really understand how hard good players work to take the gamble out of it).

But I am smart in mostly the wrong ways, and I have character flaws that make it inappropriate for me.

1/ I find it very hard to focus. It's a mystery how I ended up as an editor, because I'm entirely unsuited to that too. I need to be doing six things at once (right now I'm watching Fringe on DVD while I write this, writing a poem in my pauses and I'm feeling underoccupied) or my mind wanders from my primary task. I was hopeless at studying at school. I like to read and can often focus fine on books, but I can't work through things methodically. To be good at STTs, the game I play, you need to study spots by looking at analysis, maths, and working on generalising what you've studied to real play. I've done some, of course, but what I need is to sit down and do a hundred hours of it. Fat chance. I can get through a few hands and then I start doing something else. It doesn't help that I become intrigued: I need to figure out equities, start looking at minor issues that don't help understand the spot, find patterns that are intriguing but useless. Luckily, in game I find I can keep track of other players quite well, because I'm a restless observer. I don't know them deeply but I have a basic idea of what's going on.

How do I resolve this? Well, I could try learning some discipline. I could schedule time for it and try to stick to it. I try to get my buddy B to study with me, but he's not interested enough in improving to bother.

2/ I lack empathy. When I say I lack it, I mean I don't have it. I never realised that was a thing about me until someone pointed it out and showed how it was clear that that was up with me. And it's true. I don't see your point of view. I can't. I'd like to, but I'm entirely unable. I have no idea how I seem to you, how what I say affects you: I can't imagine it. This hurts you in poker because you need to be able to understand how your bets are seen by others. I have to analyse my game in terms of value and I've had to focus on a game where a value game is rewarded because it's so difficult for me to "level" my opponents. In some spots I can, because I've analysed them and figured out why they should work, or because I've generalised from what works against me.

When I say I lack empathy, I don't mean I don't care about other people. I mean I can't understand them. I can't see into them. I don't think it's all that rare because I don't see much sign of other people having it either. But it means I'm not very good at manipulating other people. Socially, although I can often see the "right thing", I can't convince other people of it because I lack the ability to see what would work for them.

How do I resolve this? I'm clever enough to analyse other people in the same way as analysing a problem. I can think about why they do what they do. I mean, my first response to them is to be mystified, but I can relinquish that first response and think more about it. I can also stop projecting onto others how I would feel (and as a consequence, how I think they should feel; no one ever does, or ever is going to do, what they should). That's a terrible flaw in poker. Other people do not see spots the way I do. It's just as well. If they did, they'd be as good as I am and I don't want that.

It would also help not to get angry with other players. Nearly all poker players do this: they transfer their frustration with the randomness of the cards onto the other players. We want them to play bad! It's no use getting upset at the guy calling you with a gutshot. You want him to.

3/ I can't stand defeated expectations. I think if you don't share this flaw, you cannot begin to understand it. I create mental pictures of how things will be, and then when they don't turn out right, I find it incredibly hard to let them go. It feels like a disruption in the fabric of the world.

I know you don't get it. It's not rational. If something is disappointing, you shrug your shoulders and make the best of it. I don't. I struggle to set the world back to rights.

I am modestly good at poker. I can beat the game I play and I know I can. Rationally, I can look at my results over time and see that I am a winner and that that isn't likely to change. I'm aware of how relatively strong my opponents, and I'd know if the games got tougher (I won't bore you with how but it would be pretty obvious). Also, I know that poker has ups and downs. It's a game of chance that you navigate using skill. I have enough skill that I know I can't drown, but every time my head goes under water, it feels like I can no longer swim.

It doesn't help to be risk averse. One way I manage not being able to cope with defeated expectations is to avoid risk. I never approached women in clubs and bars; I don't like gambling with money I cannot absolutely afford to lose; I don't take many chances. But in poker, even though I know I can manage risk well, this is a big drawback. I should play higher stakes. I could probably beat them. But every time I try and it doesn't go well, I feel like I am not good enough, the world is ending, wah wah.

Note that the operative word is "feel". It's like a form of panic. Losing fires up my low self-esteem, reinforcing it, motivating the monkey.

How do I resolve this? In poker terms, it will resolve itself. The more I play and win, the easier it is to lose when I lose.

Wait though... isn't life the same? Yeah, idiot.

I don't feel incapable of dealing with any of this. I can rise above it. It's not anything like impossible. I am, after all, winning, and I can even make a modest living from poker, if I need to (although I don't really want to; although I don't have any moral objection to helping entertain people by playing them at poker, I don't see it as a productive or even particularly enjoyable way to make money).

What's more important is that Naughtyman has inherited the same character traits (I hate to say flaws when I am thinking of them in him). I need to be able to mitigate them in myself so that I can be a good father to him. Nothing means more to me than becoming a good dad, something I often feel a million miles from.

To cap this ramble, I have to tell you that the person to blame for all of it is Anthony "Looney" Toohey, who introduced me to online poker. I never played him online, weirdly enough, but one of my fondest memories is playing him heads up at his kitchen table. I crushed him obv. I should have let him win, given that I was his grateful guest, but really, he needed to be punished for cursing me with the frustration and pain of becoming a modestly good poker player. And while empathy is a bonus in poker, sympathy has absolutely no place. It's a contest, man against man (and woman, because there are some women who play--one of the names I hate to see in my STTs is riverkila, a fine female player), and although the best man doesn't always win, sometimes even a man like me, far from the best, rises to the top.