Novel progress…

On my current projects page, I started posting what I hope will be a daily novel progress wordcount. I saw someone else doing it on some other blog (which I can’t remember now), and stole the idea. I’m going to aim for at least 1,000 words a day, but I’m not going to beat myself up if I fail since Animation Mentor and work are of course my priorities.

Anyway, I got 700 words written today. I’m approaching the moment in which the characters will be introduced to the story’s main travel device: the airship. Yes, it’s cliche. I don’t care. I want an airship in my novel. Teddy Ruxpin should not have all the fun.

Arthur C. Clarke on the future…

Few things:

– I didn’t realize he had that sort of accent; I imagined something more Britishish
– I like how future cities always seem to be taken over by what that time period considered “modern” architecture. I can’t imagine our sense of style changing that rapidly over too short a period of time. But of course I only say that in retrospect…
– In some sense he’s right that communication (the Internet) has transformed business and economics, but so far not nearly as much as he predicted. We still have to commute for work, for example.
– I guess someone predicting the future and giving no dates can never really be wrong.

A gun unfired hurts my soul

I was listening to the latest episode of Writing Excuses, and Chekhov’s Gun is brought up at around 6:30.  Chekhov’s Gun is plotting advice from Chekhov (the boring old playwright) that basically says if you show a gun sitting on the mantle in your opening scene, then you better have that gun go off before the story ends.  Makes sense to me.  If you, as an audience member, see that gun, that’s what you’ll expect it to be there for.  It’s like a promise the author has made to you.  "Hey, this gun is going to matter!"  And an author shouldn’t make promises he can’t keep.  And I think it makes experiencing the story that much more fun.  You’ll be interested in how that gun will come into to play.  Who will get shot?  Will he or she die?  Who will shoot?  Why?  You’ll watch to find out.

But in this podcast, guest Patrick Rothfuss (author of The Wise Man’s Fear, which I’m still reading) says that he hates that, and that he thinks you might need to put a gun in there to mess with the audience; the audience shouldn’t know what to expect.  Otherwise it can be cliché.  You can read the setup and guess what’s going to happen.

What?  No.  You can’t guess the specifics of what’s going to happen, and that’s the fun stuff.  Plus, if you break that promise, you’ll upset most of the audience.  "You made it seem like the gun was going to be used, and it never was… so disappointing!"

Which is really weird, because at the end of the podcast, Rothfuss says that with drama you can know the ending and you can still be interested in the drama of the story.  Indeed, it’s true!  Otherwise we wouldn’t watch movies more than once.

Some random thoughts on mind and matter

Nothing new, I’m sure, but I do wonder…

The human brain is made of matter.  Atoms, sub-atomic particles, quarks, etc.  Perhaps we can define thought, consciousness, as a particular pattern of atomic movement.  This is not to say that thought is this particular movement, only that it emerges when such movement is present.  This would be compatible with a completely deterministic view of the world (and would also be compatible with Christianity and free will, depending on how they are understood).

This leads to some questions.  (Well, it leads to many questions, but these are the ones that come to my mind most prominently at the moment).

Firstly, can consciousness exist without physical matter?  A believer in an after life might be tempted to quickly answer yes.  But what Heavenly religious figure ever claimed that the after life would be separated from physical manifestations?  We can already claim that our consciousness isn’t merely physical; that is, it doesn’t exist just because a bunch of atoms exist.  It emerges from the particular positions and movements of many billions of atoms.  It’s like a marching band forming shapes and patterns on a football field; no individual performer creates the pattern; it is created by the collection of them, each in a certain position.  The pattern is created by their positions and movements relative to one another.  (That’s actually a strange analogy, however, since patterns and a sense of order in such assemblies actually emerge from the same thing: our consciousness.  We perceive the order.  That’s not to say that the order isn’t really there; it is.  But there’s nothing special about it relative to anything else until it’s perceived by a consciousness.)  Just as we can’t have a marching band formation without a certain number of members of a marching band, perhaps we can’t have consciousness without the necessary amount of atoms (and atoms to stimulate those atoms) existing in the proper order.

Does the nature of the physical matter matter?  If I represented each atom in the brain with a stone on an infinite concrete floor, and I represented its position in 3D space by moving stones around on a 1D line (like a Turing Machine), I could certainly represent any possible thought process (assuming determinism).  Would such a representation be just as conscious, because it was worked through with physical means?  What if I had an infinite amount of time and just thought about all the steps I would take to do so.  Could I create a new consciousness from my consciousness?  (Our consciousnesses would still be completely separate entities; I’m not claiming our conscious experiences would meld into one or anything.)  Or does it all have to be directly done with only atoms?

What if your brain existed in two places?  That is, what if there was a brain completely like yours, but on another planet.  It perceived the exact same things as you.  Assuming determinism, we can even say it would make exactly the same decisions you would, and even think exactly the same thoughts.  Would that other you be you?  I reckon so!  Different atoms, but exact same emergent property.

OK, what if it was a copy of you as you are now, but from now on would have different perceptions, different experiences.  A clone, essentially.  Now you are not the same emergent property.  But which one would you be?

What if you died, but I saved the state of your mind right before you died and recreated you.  Would that be you?  Or a new person just like you?  You might argue it would be a new person, because the atoms would all be different.  But would that really matter so much?

It’s strange, because even now, our brain is flowing; atoms are moving around, the physical manifestation of your current being is constantly changing.  Our brains need food and oxygen to continue functioning (e.g. hold your breath long enough and you’ll pass out; hold it even longer and you’ll die; the brains needs certain particles in oxygen atoms to work).

Are you the same you you were yesterday?  If not, what happened to him?

One thing that changes constantly, that we can’t function without, is memory.  But there are quite a few philosophical problems we can get when fooling around with memory.  Are you morally responsible for crimes you committed if you can’t remember them?  Would you even really be you if you forgot too many memories, or if you were implanted with new false ones?  Are memories of some sort an essential ingredient to consciousness?  In other words, is any sort of consciousness possible without memory?

If we continue being the same person even though the physical atoms in our brain change, and our memories change, why wouldn’t you be the same person if you mind had a new physical manifestation elsewhere in the universe?

Short Limitless review

limitless My little review of the 2011 film Limitless, which I just watched.  Might be some spoilers…

"You know how they say you can only use 20% of your brain?  Now you can use it all!"

Or something like that.  The movie’s about a drug that helps you remember stuff, stay focused, and make rapid and accurate logical conclusions based on your subconscious perceptions.  The "20% of your brain" thing is such a common cliche myth, I wouldn’t have put that in the movie.  I’d either think of some more scientific way to explain the increased intelligence, or just left it completely mysterious.

What does the main character do with the extra mental power?  The first thing I would try to do is figure out how the drug works so I can keep using it forever.  He saves that for later, and is never really able to do it.  But he writes a brilliant book.  OK.  I would do that too.  But then he gets into the stock market, with plans to go into politics later.

It’s amusing but annoying how some people seem to think that there are secret patterns to be found in the stock market, and if only they could find them, they’d be rich.  Even this movies makes a reference to an "algorithm for the perception of stocks."  Um… no.  Even if there was a pattern, or an algorithm, finding it would change it because you’d have to factor in your own finding of it.  It’s ultimately just a silly daydream.  Silly because it emerges from misunderstandings about how the world works.

And then he wants to go into politics?  Why?  I can only guess it’s because he’s less concerned about using his intellectual drugs in pursuit of science and creativity, and more concerned about climbing the social ladder and gaining power.  Vanity!  All is vanity!  For many daydreamers, I suppose that’s the real value of intelligence.  It gives you a social advantage.  You achieve fame and power, and other people admire or envy you, and that makes you feel good about yourself.  The main character enjoys getting attention, and having intellectual arguments with people, in which he participates in a laid-back I’m-so-cool kind of way.

I’d be more inclined to keep the increased intelligence a complete secret, using it to have fun (write books and symphonies and program things) and pursue other areas of intellectual interest (artificial intelligence, unsolved math problems, philosophy).

The writing was a bit odd in some parts.  There were some weird metaphors in the movie.

Something like, "One minute you’re his best friend, the next you’re a leaper."  A leaper?  I guess it gets the point across, but it conjures up the image of a leaper.  Why would you want that in the context of the scene?  (It sort of reminds me of a metaphor they mentioned on the podcast Writing Excuses, something like: "Her skin was the color of a 3-day old corpse."  It might be technically accurate, but conjuring up the image of a corpse might not exactly set the tone properly.)

Later in the movie: "… like Oliver Twist begging for gruel."  I don’t remember Oliver Twist begging for gruel.  He was forced to ask for more after drawing lots.  He didn’t beg for it.

There were some other weird ones, but I forgot them.

Overall, it wasn’t a terrible movie, but it was nothing very amazing either.  I can see how some people might like it, though; it was very fast-paced and captivating.  The cinematography was pretty interesting, with these weird perpetual zoom-ins every now and then, which were a lot of fun.  For example, here are the opening credits:


September 2011

A few things to look forward to in September 2011:

September 16th – Disney’s The Lion King returns to theaters in 3D for a limited time. I definitely hope I get the chance to see it. I think I blogged about seeing the 3D trailer before Cars 2. Some shots looked nice, but the character close-ups looked funky, as if they just “bubbled” the 2D images. But I still want to see it in its entirety.

September 16th – Class 4 (Intro to Acting) of Animation Mentor ends! If animation is this hard, do I really want to do it for a living? Yes, definitely. Will I be good enough to get a job after Animation Mentor? I guess we’ll see. After this class ends, we’ll have a 1-week break from classes, then Class 5.

September 20th – Neal Stephenson’s new novel Reamde comes out. So far, the only other book by Stephenson I’ve read has been Anathem, but it was fantastic; easily one of the best sci-fi books I’ve ever read (not that I’m all that well-read). The world was rich, and the characters’ philosophical discussions were so much more captivating than most authors tend to manage. So I’m really looking forward to reading his new book. I’ll try to finish reading The Wise Man’s Fear by then, but if I don’t I will have to temporarily abandon it for Reamde.

September 26th – Class 5 of Animation Mentor starts – Advanced Acting. Will go on for 12 weeks until December 16th, filling out most of the rest of 2011. (The last class will start in 2012.)