Monthly Archives: September 2010

Sleep

An average human (if such a thing exists) typically spends approximately a third of its life sleeping. This seems like a massive inefficiency. If humans did not waste so much time sleeping, just think about how much more they could accomplish in a day! A human that sleeps for 8 hours a day could potentially increase its productivity by 50% simply by not sleeping. Right?

OK, maybe not. Empirical evidence has shown sleep to be essential to human functionality. Indeed, many (though apparently not all) humans cease to function effectively after sleep deprivation on the order of days. Though they have learned to use chemical stimulants such as caffeine to help them stay conscious for longer periods of time, they inevitably fall victim to sleep. This seeming need to waste years of each individual’s life on totally unproductive sleep is not yet understood by this researcher, so it shall be an area for further study.

That was my attempt at imitating biologists and sociologists. Which one did I actually imitate? I believe that biologists and sociologists are more or less isomorphic, so it doesn’t matter.

And now, after that little bit of excitement, we’ll abandon the world of biology and sociology and return to the standard mindnumbingly dull content that we all know and love.

I haven’t been sleeping enough recently. That’s unfortunate. It’s not because I have too much work — as work expands to fill all available time, I could sleep more and the same quantity of work would still be done. Instead, I’ve decided that sleeping for more than eight hours in a night is a waste of time. In fact, even sleeping for eight hours is a waste of time, as the biologist/sociologist said above; however, I’ve demonstrated that I cannot function without sleep.

So I don’t consider sleeping until eight hours before my alarm. Then, I remember other things on my to do list and deal with a bunch of emails, and then I regret staying up so late. It’s a failure of rationality and intelligently designed planning. Any suggestions?

Maybe sleeping isn’t such a waste after all. But the thought of spending 20 years (in the unlikely circumstance that I live as long as expected value predicts) of my finite life sleeping instead of doing math just seems ridiculous and depressing. Am I insane?

As we all know, I probably am insane. So life will go on as normal… that is, until life comes to an end.

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Six months (and two days)

It has officially been half a year since the creation of this blog on Pi Day. Well, actually, half a year and two days… I’ve been busy recently and lost track of time. It amazes me that it has been that long; it seems like the birth of this blog happened only a few days or weeks ago. The passage of time can be strange. There have been times in the past few months when I’ve felt tortured by the slowness of time, but now, I wonder where that half a year has gone. I only get a few dozen of these years, and that half a year might well have been 1% of my entire life. On a more happy note, looking back on those six months (and two days), I can’t think of anything negative to say. Rather uncharacteristically, I’ll instead report cheerfully that the preceding 1% of my total existence has been quite positive.

In the first six months of this blog’s existence, I produced 26 posts. In addition, there were 15 comments, 192 spam comments, and 1639 hits. That comes out to an average of about one post per week (and one slice of spam per day). Unfortunately, I didn’t actually post every week; I tended to forget about this blog for weeks at a time and post in bursts. Indeed, on March 14, I predicted that the blog would not be updated often. Rather unfortunately, I was correct.

What I did not write six months ago was that I did not expect the blog to survive at all. Like my old blog on AoPS, this blog was originally created as a procrastination tool; sadly, that old blog has died. The fact that this blog is still alive is therefore cause for celebration. Let’s light half a candle for Rambling Thoughts!

What will happen in the next six months? I’m sorry to say that I can’t see the future. I’ll try to update this more regularly, and I might post some of my live-TeXed notes as they begin to be produced. The hope is that we’ll be able to light a whole candle on Pi Day of next year.

The meaning of life

Much of this post was originally written to be a comment on Liberal guilt at Categorically Nerdy. I’ve expanded it into a full post.

People are often infected with liberal guilt, which is basically a collective conscience. You might ask yourself: “How can I justify living the way I do when I could spend my time / energy / money into making the world a better place?” Taken to a more extreme level, you might then think: “Due to climate change / economic efficiency / population control, the world might be so much better without me. What right do I have to exist?”

Instead of considering your right to exist, it might be interesting to consider liberal guilt’s right to exist. But then, I’d prefer to claim that “right to exist” is undefined, so it might not be so interesting after all.

What is the meaning behind phrases such as “right to exist” or “should exist”, or even more simply, the words “right” or “should”? Those terms depend on the existence of some objective definition of right or wrong, good or bad, should or should not. Without such objective definitions, the whole idea of “should” degenerates into subjectivity; you might think that you “should” exist based on your idea of “should”, and someone else might have a different definition of “should” that concludes that you “should not”. The argument regarding the “right to exist” becomes entirely vacuous. Just as mathematical arguments cannot be made without proper definitions, philosophical arguments should not be (but too often are) made without proper definitions.

If the “right to exist” were well-defined, there has to be some objective way to determine what is right and what is wrong. But where would such an objective measure of goodness come from? Assuming an entirely physical world (as in a world based only on physical laws), goodness is not meaningful, as the world is simply a collection of particles and particles can make no judgment on right or wrong. So there must therefore be something supernatural, which goes against my world view and drags us inevitably into the realm of religion. I do not believe in the existence of a supernatural being, and for the remainder of this post, I’ll assume the same; if there existed a being that could violate physical laws, liberal guilt and right or wrong would all be well-defined, making this post rather meaningless. In any case, though the existence of a supernatural being might be psychologically comforting, it is not at all intellectually comforting.

Given those considerations, the only reasonable conclusion that I can make is that the “right to exist” is entirely vacuous. Thinking of the world as entirely physical, it seems obvious that a collection of elementary particles and their interactions cannot possibly generate higher meaning. It may seem unethical or immoral for certain people to exist or for certain actions to be done, but that is simply an artifact of interactions in the collection of atoms known as your brain. Indeed, even the potential destruction of the world by human stupidity is neither good or bad; it’s just one state of particles transforming into another. In that sense, liberal guilt has no rational reason to exist.

By the same argument, your existence is also utterly pointless; you came into existence by a coincidence of random interactions of particles, and logically, you can have no purpose in life. Your actions simply transform states of atoms and carry no meaning. Regarding your actions, your thoughts, your existence: Nothing matters.

Now go back to living.