Ill-labeled

H1N1 is going to be this winter’s favorite flu, mostly because of its widely publicized and now well-known moniker: “Swine Flu!” I wrote an early script for a play with this title that I would like to share with you here.

Just kidding but that’s actually not a bad idea…

The dark cold of winter is a cruel mistress. She drives us indoors where we cloister together around warm fires, enjoy each others’ conversation at indoor gatherings, and just generally spread our infectious effluvium into the stagnant air of those around us. We remain cheerfully unaware of the invisible invaders, save a few consciously withheld handshakes with particular persons of ‘ill-repute’, until about a day later when everything goes downhill fast.

Your back and body ache, you’ve got chills and a fever, your nose is becoming awfully uncooperative, and you look like bleary-eyed death the first time you see yourself in the mirror. “Wow,” a part of your brain thinks, “why do I look like this? What’s this alarming anomaly called? I need to deal with this!”

Given symptoms common to the typical slew of winter bugs, it’s not particularly satisfying to label a disease, a disease uniquely affecting you at this very moment, under a general category like ‘the flu’. Your brain, naturally being a smart organ, thinks “Well, I can determine it’s a flu-like problem and I’ll treat it that way, but it would be awfully nice to get a little more specific so I can get this problem over with faster!”

Now H1N1 is undoubtedly a serious health risk for certain segments of the population, and these segments should perhaps assume the worst when sick and play it safe. However, the vast majority of people that get the swine flu won’t experience symptoms particularly worse than the other antigens circulating around with it. The key distinction is that H1N1 has the brand name backing; Swine Flu and all the ills it portends dominate our instinctively fearful minds seeking answers to the simple questions above. When all your mind can think of when trying to diagnose your condition is “Swine Flu”, you’re hard-pressed to end up with a diagnosis that doesn’t involve the term.

I suspect many people will self-diagnose themselves with Swine Flu when they get sick this winter season. In the best case they will be correct and take steps that will have additional effect in alleviating their disease. In the typical case, I suspect the self-diagnosis will be inaccurate and the treatment no more effective than the usual handling of comparable disease. However, the psychological benefit of labeling the disease is realized as long as that focused belief persists, whether labeled correctly or otherwise.

I do not fault an individual using labels to seek sympathy and mental self-assurance during a time of uncertainty. Your ill becomes your challenger. When you proclaim victory and name a well-known challenger as the defeated in the same breath, you reap the feeling of satisfaction that comes with such victories. Others, able to relate strongly to a shared fear of the same challenger, sincerely congratulate you when you announce you have conquered your condition.

You feverishly seek to know the true nature of your opponent during your battle, but once you give it form and defeat it, it doesn’t matter to you whether it was really the Swine Flu or not.

One might even argue that labeling is an example of the utility of self-deception, but I wouldn’t want to ruin the plot of my play.

Brain Dump

I yearn to have the machine put my thoughts to paper, for this blog to write itself full of my thinking with nary a brain cycle devoted to the task.

Yet implicitly I acknowledge that real thought is the communicative effort itself; formulating a sentence from the mess of brain activity that we call a thought, in such a precise manner so as to stimulate a similar mess of brain activity in another, is a hard problem with no singular solution. Using language, we structure our own patterns of thought into a standardized format digestible by minds around us, and in so doing our minds architect themselves in a manner that allows the others to likewise trigger thoughts in ourselves. The arrangement is what makes the thought, not the simple sum of the pieces. I wish to circumvent the effort and have a computational middle-man hand me my thoughts gift-wrapped.

One could suppose that, in time, information technology will allow us to interpret the seemingly incomprehensible data of the present. If this is the case, should I perhaps simply seek the best possible means available to me to record my brain activity and write with that instead of words? Utilizing the recording technology of the present, will I yield the benefits of future interpretation technology? Will the utility of that interpretation, however much more accurate it may be deemed, retain the value of the original act? Do the words that I wrote with that brain activity become less relevant than the brain activity itself?

Now Hold On

It occurs to me that you might get the idea that this blog is going to wax poetic consistently. Well you can just stop that right now.

It further occurs to me that these posts are likely listed in reverse chronological order and that you might read this before you even read what I’m referring to above. In that case you can just not start instead of stopping. On the other hand that means you’ll have also read whatever it is that I will have written between my writing of this and your reading of it now, and those posts could be really simple and stupid for all I know. In that case prepare to be wowed.

Consider this my get-out-of-jail-free card for anything that you deem sub-standard in this blog. I know I probably will.

Entirely original thinking, as far as I know

Creation becomes all the more daunting when one has so much available to absorb.

In the Information Age, how does one write a meaningfully lengthy blog post when one can be certain they haven’t learned all they can easily learn on the subject? What is to say I won’t unintentionally duplicate another’s work, or that my words even now aren’t just a simple mix-and-match of more popular content? Have I created something of value, or is it only by virtue of my beholders’ limited perspective that I appear to have generated it?

Readers absorb from readers, then mentally rearrange and piece together their own content for presentation within their own spheres of influence, wherein the content will be perceived as original given that the constituent components are non-obvious to the new readership. The author’s value, then, is in repackaging ideas and rephrasing them in their respective cultural microcosms.

With the Internet as medium, I place my words on display on a personal site, this blog. It sits neutrally alongside countless others of immeasurable quality, equally visible by anyone on the network anywhere at anytime. Though each site’s potential is the same, the scope of any one readership cannot encompass the entire spectrum of content, and thus I may achieve the aforementioned value of ‘original’ authorship in words, at least for the time being.

Perhaps soon, when information technology allows us to pull back and take in the wider perspective of the Internet’s expanse of information, will we see otherwise-disparate content from a single viewpoint and realize the similarities with a glance.

You and I don’t know that this post is nearly identical to another one from an introspective farmer somewhere in rural China.

Ungodly quips on atheism, a meaningless leap to nihilism at the end

Atheism is difficult for the human mind to reconcile. Blissful ignorance must be willingly cast aside. It takes perseverance and yields cold reward. Certainly, it is good to no longer fear the irrational. Conversely it is hard to shed the warmth of love, protection, after-life, meaning.

Atheism leaves a void, but it is filled by human perseverance and passion. We delve with intense focus into the means of our existence, but to justify what end?

What drives the nihilist? We edge closer to the threshold of immortality, hoping answers come before we must face this question of purpose.

Probably Pointless Ponderings on a First Post

“First Post!” the Internet commenter cries! Well, a few years in the past moreso than the present, but the practice persists despite near pointlessness. So I muse:

First post, an intriguing claim; the semantic and syntactic connotations indicate not an active but a reactive communicative burst. Semantically, the author is both claiming and proclaiming status by virtue of his or her immediacy to a content-rich antecedent, such as foundational media or original commentary. Syntactically, the words “First post!” are ordered such that they may be construed as unintentional mockery of the author’s semantic intent, using “first” to adjectivally describe a word that implies ‘after’.

Eventually a community reaches its tolerance limit and the number of genuine occurrences drops off, with a brief spike in facetious use some time shortly after the stigma of use is widely recognized. Group policing has a more literal effect in “thumbs up/thumbs down” forums like Digg as “First post”ers quickly fall below the default visibility threshold.