Driving Myself Crazy

They say a coward dies a thousand deaths, a hero only one.  It should be updated to say an imaginative person dies a thousand deaths, a dull person only one.  In neuroscience, it’s been shown that the pain of loss is twice the joy of comparable gain.  We feel loss more.  The problem with an imaginative brain is that you can see all the possibilities and know you get to choose one, or perhaps a few, out of thousands.  The thousand possible roads never taken–weighted or not, it’s overwhelming.

I look at my life and my one main regret is that I don’t write more.  I procrastinate.  I weigh choices, feel the ebb and flow of my emotions, and do nothing.  It is an ongoing regret, but apparently not one I feel keenly enough to do squat about.

This summer, after Sandy’s death, I kept waking up in the middle of the night, scared of my own mortality.  The feeling was, “Shit, I’m gonna die.”  Which is hilarious, because I’m always thinking about how I’m going to die.  I’ve been thinking about how I’m going to die since I was 11.  I made a conscious choice to be Christian at that age to diversify my eternal risk–if there was no god, then I had nothing to lose, so might as well believe in one.

But now I’m at a weird age where my parents are really going to die in the soonish future, anywhere between now and twenty years from now.  I have a teenager who is questioning her purpose her life, her meaning, probably because she’s thinking about how she’s going to die.  (No, actually, I think she worries more about my mortality than hers.)

And you know the regrets of the dying?   At least the ones in the book, “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying”?  I’ve got them covered.  Here they are:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish I had let myself be happier.

I feel good about all of those points.  I should be ahead!  But I have this desire to make the world a better place by having lived in it, and I feel I’ve let the world down.  What is my meaning?  What is my purpose?  Do I really have gifts that the world needs?  (I sort of hate even writing that because it sounds a little too New-Agey for me)  How self-effacing is that?  It’s a weird mix of “who am I to feel like anyone special” versus “do what you gotta do then to make the world better, so why haven’t done it already?”

You know what brought this on?  I was supposed to write a post for my business group last week, and now it’s two weeks late.  And I just feel so lame.  I had fun doing the exercise, but I have some block about actually writing stuff down.  Woot, I get the prize for being lame.

It’s this feeling that my job isn’t what I want to be doing for the rest of my life X I don’t want to die having nothing to show for the life I’ve lived X the worry that it won’t matter, really, whether I’m great or mediocre or nothing at all.

The feeling will pass, of course, it always does.  (And of course, it will also come back)  I know that in my small circle, my life does have meaning, at least to others.  But it is irritating to me that I still have to wrestle with this stuff.  Does a mind ever calm down?

 

 

 

30 Days of Life Advice, #1

For awhile now, my oldest daughter has been bugging me to write a book about  “life advice,” which is very sweet.  When she gets home from school, we often take a walk and talk.  I kind of laughed it off at first, but she kept bugging me about it, so I will write my thoughts.  It may not (i.e., probably won’t) be 30 consecutive days, so we’ll see how long it takes.  And this way, I can record it here and then put it together for her.  Because I admit, there are things I wish someone had told me earlier.

Life Advice #1

People overestimate how much they can control outside of themselves, and underestimate how much they can control within.  

We all wish sometimes that life wasn’t so cruel; that people were nicer, that we had more money or better looks; we desire people to look up to us and respect us; we hope that the people we love will be around for a long time.  Sometimes we get all of these things and sometimes we get none of these things, but wherever we are, it will change.  Even if you win the genetic, financial, and social lottery, your prize for a fantasy life is to eventually die.  And though you may delay or change certain aspects of life, it will keep flowing and you will never fully control all circumstances outside of you.  Bad things will happen to you, along with the good.

But what you can control, far more than you may initially realize, is your inner self.  What happens outside of us just is.  What we attribute to it is us.  Feelings are a part of who we are, but they are not all of what we are; something we forget when we say things like, “I am angry.  I am sad.  I am happy.”  To be more accurate, you have angry thoughts or you have sad feelings or you are experiencing happiness.

As a parent, my greatest fear is losing one of you.  I am very grateful I have not experienced that (and hopefully never will).  But I wonder if it did happen, would I regret every having a child?  Because the pain of losing that would be so awful?  Would I prefer that you had never existed to spare me suffering?  I would like to think that however long your existence is, the benefits of having known you, of having lived, loved, and grown with you, would outweigh the pain of saying goodbye.

So if I choose something far less traumatic, such as some of the actual “bad” things that have happened to me over time, I can see the power in reframing those experiences.  It sucked to have my heart broken, but I’d like to think it made me more empathetic.  It sucked to have a job where my boss hated me and tried to fire me, but it gave me the impetus to go into another field.  It sucked to almost drown, but damn I have a healthy respect for water now.  A lot of “bad” experiences can be parlayed into better character.  Choose “I don’t know why this is happening right now, but I will look for the good” over bitterness.  And if it’s really bad, accept that there will be sadness and anger for awhile.  Just don’t give up on happiness down the road.

So I Marched

I don’t like politics.  I like to understand people.

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I have my beliefs, of course, but I also know that I don’t know every person’s experience.  I only know my own.  But here is the thing–the one who tries to be everything to everybody becomes nobody.  The person that has no enemies, who offends no one, stands for nothing.  I wrestle with that–kindness versus confrontation.  Understanding versus taking a stand.

Let me be honest, I didn’t really want to go to the march for women’s rights today.  Because I’m lazy.  Because I worried about parking.  Because I wasn’t convinced that it would change anything, really.   But my friend convinced me to go, to do something that backs my beliefs.  So I did, and I was glad it did.  I was glad, in the end, to stand up and be counted.

Does it matter in the short term?  Probably not.  But in the long term, this is how you win the game.  Brick after brick, short term sacrifices for long term gains.  I didn’t go to the protest because I thought we would overthrow the president, I went to show that I believe in equality for all humans.  It’s sad that the word “feminist” has such negative connotations, I don’t believe in the superiority of any gender.  I just believe in humans.  We are capable  of grace and horror, but we have a choice.  I want us to do great things, I want us to choose grace.  I want us to get beyond naming and shaming.  I want us to fulfill our potential.

We are this weird animal, we are sentient yet we understand the divine.  Kahlil Gabran, the Sufi poet, once said,

“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”

That is us, my friend.  That is humanity.  Forgive the new-age postulating, but we are earth’s longing for life.  Or from a different perspective, we are God’s longing for life.  We will have ups and downs as our animal, lizard-brain nature conflicts with the desire to be be above all that.

I was proud to be a part of something higher today.  To assert my right to dissent, to put my time into something I believe in, to be a small piece of something greater.  I don’t assume to be great on my own, but at least I can work towards it.  And that is why I marched today.

 

 

 

On AI, Abortion, and Souls

gheyn-muisjeDo you ever follow a thread of thought from one link to another, until you get to a story that you wonder how it ends?  I was reading a paper from 2011 written by James Boyle, “Endowed by Their Creator?  The Future of Constitutional Personhood.”  It starts like this:

“Presently, Irving Weissman, the director of Stanford University’s Institute of Cancer/Stem Cell Biology and Medicine, is contemplating pushing the envelope of chimera research even further by producing human-mouse chimera whose brains would be composed of one hundred percent human cells. Weissman notes that the mice would be carefully watched: if they developed a mouse brain architecture, they would be used for research, but if they developed a human brain architecture or any hint of humanness, they would be killed.”

So what happened to the mice, I wonder?  Did they develop human brain architecture?  And what is the military doing right now?

When I was at Defcon last year, one of the speakers showed slides of a mouse with another mouse’s head.  It reminded me of those terribly morbid experiments doctors did at the turn of the century, sewing two dog heads onto one body and that sort of thing.  There is a biological empathy we have with life; the closer to our species it is, the more we feel.  (Though personally, primates for me are close enough to the uncanny valley that they creep me out.  Not that I could experiment on them, creeped out or not.)  Meanwhile, the turn towards artificial intelligence will mostly likely not be a bang, but a whimper.  A small voice that gradually grows louder until we are faced with a perplexing problem–the problem of personhood.

I have wondered if the future of humanity, if our evolution will end up as an intelligence that is no longer bound by our biological flesh.  The ethical challenges of personhood for non-humans is this strange, vague thing that like a painting, will probably not be drawn out or seen clearly until we are closer to it.  But when we come to that point, we have to evaluate all of our beliefs that deal with personhood.  What does it mean to be human?  What does it mean to be a person?

In the paper, Boyle focuses on two things:  the Turing Test for electronic artificial intelligence and genetic species identity.  It is really the head and the heart, because I can discuss the Turing Test and feel perfectly rational, but the idea of human cells within another animal, the feeling that human cells are trapped within something that is non-human, makes my stomach turn a bit.  So it was interesting to read this comment:

“But I dont think that any artificial intelligence will EVER have to be defined as a person. They dont have souls, though the discussion tends to take an ugly turn and no real answer is reached.

All I know is that even if a computer could feel pain, it wouldnt be actual pain, but rather an interpretation of stimuli that WOULD cause pain in a human.”

The idea that artificial intelligence would not feel pain and not have a soul might be a faulty reasoning.  After all, the father of gynecology, J. Marion Sims, famously experimented on black women because he believed they didn’t feel pain the way white women would.  The sounds of their suffering was just the braying of animals that didn’t know any better.  In his mind, blacks were fundamentally different and certainly not as human.  Frankly, the idea of race is still a vestige of this idea, when really humans simply come in different shades of beige and brown.

And souls–well, that is a belief system.  There isn’t a way to prove the existence of a soul.  But, if a soul is “endowed by a creator”, then might not AI be endowed with a soul by us, because humans are the creators of AI?  A transmission of sorts, like a holy roman vampire?  Eve came from Adam’s rib, and AI came from Eve’s brain?

In any case, it has implications for the arguments for and against abortion.  After all, those who are pro-life are being protective of the soul that was endowed to that embryo.  A soul that by original sin is damned.  Sometimes, the arguments pit the mother against the unborn child–what is versus what could be.  Who get rights first when there’s a conflict?  But these beliefs are based in the idea that humans are special, that there is nothing else like us.    If artificial intelligence has potentiality to become a person just as an embryo does, then is there a moral right to help it come to pass?  Should AI fulfill what it could be? And what would mean for us, as we rewrite what it means to be both persons and human?

Of Love and Sadness

fullsizerender-2I fell off the blogging every day thing.  I’m still working on my book though.  🙂  God, I just feel sad.  So, so sad.  And there’s different pieces to that.  One has been work.  One has been my parents.  One has honestly been the election and the denial of science and the elevation of hate.  Spheres of influence; my head, my family, my outer world.  My work has always been important to me, a calling that invokes my mind and my soul.   My parents are important to me because they are my roots and my challenge.  And science is the way we know the world, the way we see past our own lies and how we deceive ourselves.  It is the way we elevate ourselves beyond being merely selfish animals.  To deny that, wholesale, seems like a terrible step backwards.  Not that the earth will care.  It will continue no matter what we do.  But still, do we have to be this stupid?  Do we have to be so selfish?  Can we care about no one but people like ourselves?  I do not believe that love is zero-sum game.  These are the thoughts that I grapple with as the days grow shorter and nights colder and long.

But on the other hand, my inner-inner circle is really good.  My relationships with my kids are still so fun, so satisfying, so deep and happy.  True love.  It pierces like a thorn to the heart of who I am and grows like roses.  Wild ones, the ones you can smell, happy and sprawling and free.  And things with Kevin are really great–easy and happy.  It is a good thing, even if it feels strange, to be with someone who accepts me more than I do myself.  But the darkness sometimes is deep too.

So.  One thing at a time.  Bit by bit, I will change things.  However, not all things can be changed at once.  The first step is my job, and that has now been taken care of.  A pity to leave the one I’m at, I did not leave it lightly.  But you come to a point where you no longer fight the good fight, and it is time to move on.  I have a new position with a startup.  I am excited, it will different.  I will be able to do a lot of good there.

As to the other things. . .well, one does what one can.  I worry terribly about my parents.  I don’t know how much I can help them for afar.  I want them to be happy, but they are so alone out there.  And I have my own responsibilities to my own children who come first.  I don’t know what will happen there.

To everything else, I am not sure.  That is a harder question, one about meaning and how much one can influence anything.  I don’t know what I can influence.  In the meantime, I will do the best I can.

 

 

 

I am just tired.

I going to visit my parents in a few days.  I’m sure we’ll have fun things to talk about, like how my father is dying and his legs are giving out.  I also really enjoy breaking my mother’s heart to point out that his condition is terminal; the cancer has metastasized to his bones and they have put him on hormonal (i.e., palliative, not curative) treatment.  That he probably won’t die right away, but it’s coming, maybe a couple of years, hopefully more.  She will probably outlive the spouse that she loves more than life itself.  His last treatment was 10 years ago, so it gave him time.  But he is still young, and it is somewhat shocking considering how old his parents were when they died.

Then there is the guilt–the guilt that though I am decent with money, I still don’t have enough to buy multiple airplane tickets or the vacation time to make lots of trips.  And though I could do FMLA, that won’t pay the bills that continue on.  So I don’t know how much I can see him, or how much I can afford to bring the girls to see him.

And normally, I am good, I am strong, I am the one to ask questions because they need to be asked–but I am tired and spent, and frankly, I find myself crying.  I have spent my whole life trying to contain my emotions, containing the feelings that mess with my mind, and rationally I should forgive myself an incident of weeping.  But I am a mess, really.  Because as much as I may disagree with someone who was a keystone in my life, who could push my buttons like no one else, he was also probably the most influential person in my life.  I don’t want him to die yet.  But that’s not for me to decide.