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Month: February 2012

Pain and the worth of life

The question is: is the worth of life determined by how good you feel?

While emptying the dishwasher a week or so ago, I overheard some dialog on the TV show Glee in which suicide was a topic of discussion.  The characters went around and stated something they were looking forward to in, I suppose, an effort to thwart depression.  It reminded my a lot of the “It Gets Better” campaign that went around the Internet not long ago.  The message is: your burdens are worth bearing now because it will get better.

This seems to suggest that life is worth living because of the good feelings felt while living it.  So what if you were a 93 year old with a terminal illness and went through excruciating pain every day, and it was only bound to get worse?  Is it OK to go ahead and kill yourself because it doesn’t get better?

There was recently an article in our local paper about a man who had the phrase “No CPR” tattooed to his chest.  Should he stop breathing, he did not want to be revived.  Is that morally OK?  If so, would it not also be morally OK to just go jump off a bridge?  Since both rely on you making a conscious decision about living your life, what’s the difference?  Does the nature of the physical manifestation of the cause of death outweigh the nature of the preceding intent?  (That is, the intent to die to prevent further physical pain?)

At what point is physical pain so bad that it is OK to not want to live anymore?

If you are reading this, you are probably alive.  Do you want to stay alive?  If so, why?  There may be a few possible answers:

– I am afraid of death because I don’t know what awaits in the afterlife
– I am afraid of the pain before death; I don’t want to experience it
– There is joy waiting for me in the future and it’s worth waiting for
– I am experiencing joy right now that is worth remaining alive to feel

Is it not all about joy or the prevention of pain, either now or in the future?

I’ll certainly admit that I do not currently have a concrete set of answers.  I continue to ponder this issue.  But wanting to die to prevent physical pain seems morally wrong to me, at least while such pain does not interfere with the mental faculties that allow you to wish for death.  That is, tattooing “No CPR” to your chest is morally equivalent to jumping off a bridge, though it’s probably less physically painful.  If you are wishing for death, then you are obviously in a mental state in which you are able to think of something other than just physical pain (such as the absence of it).

I do think it helps to not think of the joy of this life as an end in and of itself.  That is, if we can understand that there exists an objective truth outside of our own existence, then our life must be eternal.  (Showing why this is so may make an interesting future blog post, for it’s a leap many philosophers can’t or won’t make, such as Ayn Rand and Bertrand Russell.)  If life is eternal, then it doesn’t end with the death of our physical bodies in this world.  (Though the nature of our existence without physical senses is unimaginable to us at this time, keep in mind that our consciousnesses are already not physical things.)  If life doesn’t end with the demise of our physical bodies, then a lot of things we are naturally conditioned to care about don’t actually matter so much.  Such things include: perfect justice, fame, power, money, attention, school grades, perfect physical well-being, material items, and goals and dreams that are physical in nature (e.g. “I want to be a movie star!”; such materialistic dreams are very much encouraged by American culture, while watching others achieve them is often considered vulgar (“Grrr!  I hate the 1%!”)).  If life is eternal, material wealth and social status are ultimately irrelevant in and of themselves, because death in this life will rid you of such things.

The thing is: we’re naturally conditioned to get joy from these things, and if life is worth living for the joy of it, how can these things not be life-worthy pursuits?

So I’ll claim that, yes, pleasure and joy are worthy pursuits.  But not in this life, where such pleasure and joy can only be imperfect.  One must find joy in something not competitive or physically-based, something that is as eternal as life itself.  (Such as, perhaps, love.  And not just conditional love for some singular sweetheart, but love for all, even those that would do evil.  Talk about unnatural!)

I suppose this all relates back to the old conflict of living in the present versus living in the future.  For the most part, we naturally live in the future.  The reason we do just about anything physically is to achieve some physical end; ultimately joy or the prevention of pain.  But this also brings about anxieties.  You don’t kill yourself or let yourself die to take away the pain you feel now.  There’s nothing you can do about that.  You do it to prevent yourself from feeling the pain you would feel later on if you weren’t going to be dead at that time.  (Of course, if it’s just a few minutes or seconds into the future, we may refer to it as “now”, but it’s not really.)  But if you only live in the present, you wouldn’t eat, for example, and would soon die.

So I’ll further claim that we can’t stop living at least somewhat in the future.  This is necessary.  But we must balance how much we live in the future.  If we find ourselves getting anxious (which naturally happens to everyone), then we are focusing too much in the future.  We must physically live in the future to maintain our lives and well-being, but we must emotionally (or perhaps a better word might be spiritually) live in the present.  We don’t stop ourselves from killing ourselves because our emotions will get better later, but because we’re not focusing on the world in the right way in the present.  Which isn’t to claim that it’s always easy to do so, just that it’s worth living to try to.

Again, these are issues I’m still pondering.  But the thought that life is only worth the joy you’re capable of feeling (or think you’re capable of feeling), whether in the present or the future, strikes me as incomplete.

Melody Generator 2.0 progress update

I have just about finished rewriting the main algorithms of my Android Melody Generator, though I have not yet reprogrammed all of the features. Here’s a ZIP file with 100 MIDI examples.

A few things about the examples:

– I am forcing every melody to end on the tonic
– I am forcing every melody to end with a perfect cadence
– All the melodies are 8 bars in length and in 4/4 time
– 8th notes are the smallest notes I allowed

Do the melodies sound better? They’re not on a human-composer level yet (well, I guess it depends on the human in question), but I do think they sound better than what the current version of the Melody Generator can produce.

The other big advantage of the rewrite should be the generator’s speed. I haven’t tested it yet on my phone, but my computer (which is, granted, a lot faster than a phone) can crank out over 1000 melodies a second. This is quite good, since my ultimate ambition is to have the generator crank out Mozartean symphonies, so we can’t have it wasting much time coming up with short simple melodies.

I am not exactly sure when I’ll upload the update to the Android market; there is still plenty of work to do. But I’m currently aiming for sometime in April or May.

A problem of chains

As you’re traveling the road, it’s a strange and frightening thing to look around and suddenly realize that most of the world is not walking with you, that what you believe is right and wrong is actually not at all what most of the world accepts or lives by.

At first, it makes the world seem so sad and dark, almost post-apocolyptic, despite the smiles on everyone’s faces. How can I be a part of this world? I can’t live by these standards.

But then it doesn’t seem so bad. You’re just looking at the world the wrong way. You are the enlightened. It’s everyone else that will eventually discover the sad darkness of their world; they’re only smiling because they’re looking down most of the time. They haven’t reached the ends of their chains yet, so they don’t yet realize that they are slaves. But you are not a slave. You know how to look around for chains, and you can’t be chained if you’re always on the look out for them.

Oh, how vain this all sounds! Do I think I’m better than everyone else?

Not intrinsically, and certainly not everyone. They all have the capacity to shed their chains if they want to anyway. But the chains feel good. I’ve been in chains before. I admit that I unfortunately still even let them slip on from time to time. But without them, I can certainly see more than many others. I can understand more. If that sounds vain or prideful, so be it. I am not fooling myself into thinking I can see everything, after all. But I am not going to say that what I see might not be there just because so many others can’t see it. I am not going to disbelieve my eyes for the sake of people who aren’t even looking where I’m looking.

But isn’t it arrogant to think of them as slaves?

No. Why should it be? It would probably seem arrogant to try to help them out of their chains by saying: “Hey, look around! You are a slave!” That wouldn’t help.

And it would be prideful to presume that I’ve got all my chains off, wouldn’t it? Maybe there are chains I can’t see, or chains I’ve let slip back on without noticing. But I can’t deny the existence of chains just because of this. Nor can I stop caring about them. At least I am aware of them and can work to get my own chains off.

Isn’t this a bit wacko? Haven’t I met others who have warned me about chains that are foolish to believe in? Don’t some people see chains where there are none? Yes. They see some real chains, and then they mistake so many other things for chains. “Your shoes are chains!” “Your glasses are chains!” No, they’re not. I think they are mad. And don’t those who don’t see chains at all think I am just as mad? Is there any way to deal with that?

Perhaps not. I can only be honest with myself.

So what about the chains of others? Should I do anything about them? Can I do anything about them? What relationship am I to have with this world that I think is so dark and sad? I certainly can’t force people out of their chains. If only it were so easy. Chains can only be removed by the person in them. Should I ignore the chains of others and just encourage them to look around for them by my own chain-free actions? Perhaps that is the best way. Perhaps the only way. And if they never get out of their chains, so be it. I cannot blame myself for it.

But I still struggle with what I should feel about them. In their chains, they do things that hurt me and each other. They kill (“that’s not a person” or “he deserves death”), they imprison unjustly (“we must force each other to do things”), they lie and steal (“he doesn’t need this; I should have it”). I often feel inclined to hurt them back. But that is the tug of a chain I shouldn’t be bearing. But they don’t have to be in chains! I am so angry with them!

Should I feel sad that they are in chains, or happy that I am not?

I don’t think sadness will get anyone anywhere, as natural as the reaction is. As long as I keep vigilant with my happiness, that is the path I must stick to. If I am happy that I am not in chains, then at least I am keeping the chains away. It is hard, because the chains do slip on sometimes and are comforting, and tearing them off can be painful at first. But the happiness possible without them is a clearer happiness.

A constant struggle, but the road always ends in light, and it will be easier to travel if I keep that in mind, if I am looking forward and not backward.

8 1/2 and Jean de Florette

Here the latest films my explorations in cinema have led me to:

Overall, I did not much care 8 1/2 from 1963. The story centers around a director who is directing a film, but doesn’t know quite what he wants. This premise, in and of itself, is perhaps only interesting to artists who pride themselves on being intellectual, but rather hate the thought of having to think much. The “modern art” mentality. But themelessness is not an actual theme. This film was not intellectual; it was stupid and lazy. What does a plotless film end up as? In this case, a collection of pointless dream sequences, often based on the director’s memories, but otherwise worth nothing to the audience unless such sequences can, in their pointlessness, remind an audience member of some element of his own imagination that he can inflate and find something to be interested in, and perhaps trick himself into thinking that the director’s unique vision had anything to do with the phenomena. The wise know better. Personally, I’d rather spend my time watching the work of a director who actually has something to say. Saying “I have nothing to say” is not worth the time spent saying it.

Jean de Florette and its sequel Manon of the Spring from 1986 were much more to my tastes. Taking place on a couple of farms in old France, a hunchback moves in and his evil neighbors secretly block his water source in an effort to get him to want to move away so they can have his land for themselves. Water is vital for farmers, you know, and they didn’t have indoor plumbing back then. Tragedy ensues, and the storyline remains interesting to the final scene. Great acting, great story, great use of music. Really enjoyed it.

Animation Mentor, Class 6, Week 7

It’s very scary (but also a bit exciting) to think that I’ve only got 5 weeks left of Animation Mentor. Time has flown by way too fast.

Anyway, here’s some of my recent work:

The first shot is from last semester, when I was just starting to learn to do facial expressions. The second shot is a more polished version of the first shot. The last sequence, with the kid and the old man, was what I was animating over the last month or so. I’m still not done with any of these shots, though; still more polish to do. I’ll work a bit more on that gun-lady shot over the weekend. I’m also polishing up some more physical-action shots from past semesters: the back flip and the box lift. Will post them later.

Ikiru

I recently subscribed to Netflix so I could catch up on watching a bunch of movies (old and new, but mostly old) that I’ve been wanting to see.  So I might have some random blog posts every now and then about random thoughts on random old movies.  (There may be some spoilers in such posts as these, in case you care.)

The latest film I watched was Ikiru from 1952.  The film tells the tale of an old civil service worker, Watanabe, who is quite bored by his job but bears it anyway.  When he learns he has stomach cancer and has less than a year to live, his life suddenly seems incredibly wasted and he’s not sure how to cope.  Overall, I thought it was quite good, though the pace was a bit slow for me at some parts.  Also, the second half of the film was quite strange.  Half way through the film we jump forward in time to after Watanabe’s death, and are given the rest of the important moments leading up to his death in flashbacks recounted at his wake by those who knew him.  On the one hand, telling the second half of the story in flashbacks allows us to see how Watanabe affected others with his behavior, and allows us to easily skip around to the more interesting moments, without having to see resolutions to each and every scene.  I guess the problem I have with it is that the style of storytelling is just too different from the first half.  I think flashbacks would’ve worked if the director had actually told the entire story that way, instead of just the second half.  Instead, we go from seeing the world through Watanabe for half the film, to viewing him from the outside.  Perhaps that was the point, but I think the story would’ve been stronger if the director stuck with one method throughout.  Or even overlapped them throughout.

One thing I loved about the movie was the cinematography.  There was some awesome use of deep focus, which we seem to get hardly any of in movies today: shots in which almost everything is in focus; what’s close to the screen and what’s far away.  Here are some shots I particular liked:

Watanabe’s head is taking up half the screen, but our focus is on the guys on the other half, as they look at him and are surprised and not very pleased to see him back at work.

A few similar shots, with only three people in each shot, each at varying distances and heights, making each pleasing:

A couple shots with more people, all arranged so we can see all their faces clearly, and know what they’re focusing on:

I love all the enormous stacks of paper in that office in the first shot; probably a bit tongue-in-cheek to show how wasteful such work is, with paper and energy and time. And I love the composition of that second shot, with the faces all arrayed so nicely and clearly. Who these days would take the time to create a shot like that?

Some nice frames-within-frames:

(OK, that last one’s a bit of a joke – because it’s literally a frame.  Heh heh heh.)  I especially love that playground shot.  Symbolic?

Here was a great little sequence.  In the first shot, we have our characters talking in the foreground, a man sitting behind them, and other people way in the back.  As the conversation continues and intensifies, Watanabe moves and blocks out those people way in the back.  As the conversation intensifies even more for Watanabe, he switches sides, coming closer to the camera and turning from the speaker.

Some nice “shots from behind”:

There were some nice two-way dialog shots in which, with the deep-focus, the background between the two characters was quite clear, almost to the point of distraction, yet the subject matter of the conversations kept the attention on the characters’ interactions:

Here’s a very nice silhouette shot.  The focus (and subject matter of the characters’ dialog) is the sky.  Too bad it’s not in color.

This was an interesting moment in the film.  Watanabe is walking downstairs; he’s just had a flash of inspiration.  He’s just come to terms with his death.  It’s a pivotal moment in the film.  It’s the “break into three” after the “all the lost” moment.  So he rushes down the stairs and the people behind him are singing “Happy Birthday” in English to a character who’s off screen.  But the song might as well be for him.  It’s such obvious use of . . . some thematic device.  I almost burst out laughing.  (Actually, not almost, I did burst out laughing.)  He finally comes to terms with his impending death, and this group of happy young people are singing “Happy Birthday.”  It’s almost silly.  I certainly would never have thought of something like that.

In the shot afterwards, we see the girl he was just talking to.  She’s not sure what just happened.  But, with the deep focus, it looks as if she’s watching that group of happy people across the room, looking down on them.  A group of privileged young people around her age that she’ll never be a part of.  It’s almost rather sad.  Someday, when mortality is knocking on her door, she may suffer the same inner-trials as Watanabe.  We don’t really leave her character on a happy note.  Or maybe she’s just sad that Watanabe took her toy bunny.

Here’s an excellent mirror shot.  How else can you have two characters facing each other, yet not facing each other?  Gotta love shots like these.

Then we zoom in on the mirror so we have this great line-up of talking heads with shiny glassware lined up underneath.  Nice.

And, finally, my favorite shot.  Watanabe is dead, and this character has vowed to be more like him, or at least how he was after he changed in the months before his death.  Here, this character just had an opportunity to hold true to his vow.  He stands up and looks at his coworkers as if to say: “C’mon!  Did Watanabe teach us nothing?”  But then he cowardly changes his mind and sits back down, slowly disappearing behind the enormous stacks of paper, letting himself sink back into the drudgery of life.  Sadly, nothing will change for this man anytime soon.

Facebook Parenting… is sad

Ugh, this just makes me sort of sick. I obviously am in no place to judge the whole situation, but I can judge the side of it shown in the video. If your child treats you with disrespect and breaks your heart (or at least embarrasses you publicly), you do not respond in kind. That is irresponsible, immature, and objectively morally wrong. Seeing people applaud the man fills me with sadness. Why would you ever applaud someone hurting someone else? Even if this punishment was just, it would be a tragedy for it to be needed.

According to posts made later by this man, everything is OK, the teen is not scarred for life, the computer wasn’t that important, etc. That’s good, but it doesn’t excuse the objectively bad parenting, and him claiming “because that’s the way I was raised” as justification seems to imply baseless judgment. Do you think you were raised perfectly?

I’m not saying that I think parents can be perfect all the time, but they do have the higher position in the relationship, and they should at least try to use that position to admit their imperfections, ask for forgiveness when necessary, love unconditionally, guide with behavior, and keep themselves from descending into petty shouting matches or games of revenge. Easier said than done, of course, but they should at least agree that that is the standard they should hold themselves to. If this father doesn’t realize what he did was wrong, what will the child learn? How will the vicious cycle break?

Finally, here’s Inigo Montoya to sing you a song…

Work started on Melody Generator 2.0

I’ve finally started working on a new version of my Melody Generator for Android. I’m pretty much rewriting all of the code for it, attempting to make the algorithm work more efficiently. Currently, parts of the program work by generating random sets of data and then looking through the data to see what’s usable. It works, but it can be pretty wasteful. (A bit Monte Carlo-ish — which is easier to program for melody generation, but not really needed.) I’m trying to redesign those parts so that they’ll just go “bing, bang, boom, done!” straight through, wasting no time generating and analyzing random piles of possibly unusable data. The new algorithms should also make it easier to add new features to the generator in the future.

Also, the resulting melodies should, according to my theory of melody, sound better, but I haven’t re-programmed enough of it to test it yet. (My theories work well enough for me as a human, but I think the ultimate test of completeness for a musical theory is getting a computer program to do it so all your human-based biases are sure to be out of the way.) If interested, let me know what new features you’d like to see… here are the features I’d like to add for Melody Generator 2.0 (in no particular order):

1. Any key possible, major or minor
2. 2-bar, 4-bar, 8-bar, 16-bar melodies possible (maybe more)
3. Triplets possible (16th note, 8th note, quarter note, half note)
4. Chromaticism possible
5. Pentatonic scale only possible
6. Note amount preference (do you want more notes or less notes?)
7. Syncopation preference (more or less syncopation?)
8. Fix interface problems (e.g. text buttons too small, etc.)
9. A few more bass note accompaniment options (e.g. play arpeggios?)

Heh… that’s a lot of work to do. It will take some time. Anyway, for now, I’m still on step one: rewrite the algorithms. Stay tuned…

Evolution cares not about overpopulation

Every now and then I’ll hear someone say something like: “This [insert trait here] makes perfect evolutionary sense! It prevents overpopulation!” But it shouldn’t take much thought to realize that this doesn’t make much sense.

Firstly, any given trait of any given animal cannot be said to exist only by having provided an evolutionary advantage to past generations. That is, some traits can be passed on from one generation to the next despite being a burden to the quality of that organism’s life, as long as it does not too greatly hinder the reproduction of the population as a whole.

Secondly, how would overpopulation reduce reproduction of the population as a whole anyway? Overpopulation comes about when the ability to breed is easier than the ability for all members of a population to access needed resources to live long enough to continue breeding. This will prevent the reproduction of some members of the population, but it would not affect the reproduction of the population as a whole. Therefore no evolutionary traits could possibly be passed on to prevent overpopulation. If a trait by itself hinders reproduction, it won’t be passed on. Overpopulation does not hinder the reproduction of the species as a whole — therefore it causes no evolutionary effect in and of itself. (The fight for needed resources may have evolutionary effects if those without the necessary access to the resources die off, but the cause of the scarcity of the resources is irrelevant; it doesn’t matter if the scarcity of a resource is caused by overpopulation, by competition from other populations, or if the resource is just naturally scarce.)

Every population will continue to reproduce until it reaches the limits of its needed resources, or until the limits of the resources change or the population is gobbled up by some other population (or controlled by humans). In this way, you could say it is natural for every population to breed until overpopulation occurs. The only population that can escape this nature is the human population, because we can make the conscious decision to not breed.

So, if you ever find yourself asking: “Hmmm, I wonder why [insert trait here] is passed on from generation to generation even though it does not aid reproduction?” and then find yourself answering: “Oh, to prevent overpopulation!” — please take a moment to consider your lack of logic and amend your thinking ways.