Jul 10, 2016

What does it mean to feel sharp?

Today (the day I started writing this, whenever it was) I did not feel sharp. I felt decidedly dull. Other metaphors might apply: slow, versus quick. And thick, versus -- not thick?

What does that even mean?

For me, it felt this way: thinking was hard. It took effort. If reason is a knife, mine was dull, not sharp. If thinking takes time, I was slow, not quick.

Moving a rock takes effort of two kinds. First, there's the physical effort. Your muscles have to push against the rock and the earth. But there's mental effort required as well. When a physical task is easy, "you" can just tell "your body" what to do, and it does it. But when it's hard, you've got to do more. To get "your body" putting out maximum effort, "you" need to "push it" in some way.

No doubt you understand this, absent the scare-quotes for emphasis, because you've done it. To push hard, physically, you have to push hard, mentally. You have to "concentrate yourself." When your muscles tire, you can still get them to do work, but only by pushing them, mentally, with "the will." The amount of will you can direct toward your muscles per unit of time is your "will power."

Thinking, at least some kinds of thinking, involves manipulating mental representations. This requires two different kinds of mental effort. The first is like the effort expended by the muscles: it's the mental work, effort, energy, power required to carry out the manipulation. The second is like to the energy of will in making muscles work. For me, the feeling of "sharpness" or "dullness" correlates to the amount of the second kind of mental energy I need to use to get a given amount of mental work done.

We can actually measure some of the work done by the mind. Mental rotation is the ability to rotate, in the mind, representations of two or three dimensional shapes. The rate at which a person can do the rotation can be measured. Give them two shapes, the the second shape is a rotated version of the first shape, or something else -- perhaps a rotated version of its mirror image. Determining whether the shapes match takes an amount of time that is roughly linear with the number of degrees through which the first must be rotated to match the orientation of the second -- at which time the test subject can decide whether it is a match.

When I'm dull I can't spin those mental images. I can't move ideas from here to there. I can't carry much: when I look up a fact over there so I can use it over here, I drop it before I can get it from where it came to where it's going to.

Intellectually, of course, all these things are illusions. I'm not fast or slow, or dull or sharp. I am able to stop, wake up, and see through the illusion -- for a moment. But the illusion seems to be a ground state, and it seems to take energy to see through it,

Perhaps that, too, is an illusion.

Jul 9, 2016

Blogging in bursts

Once in a while the need to write grows and grows and grows, until it overtakes whatever ideas or machinery or habits I have that stand in the way of writing.

Then, sometimes, I write. Like now.

But not always. Most often I solve it the easy way: by finding a way to keep on not writing. To do that I have to contend with the parts of me that want to write.  They can get quite upset with their lot, and with me. I've evolved strategies for dealing with them. But periodically those strategies break down.

Like now. And I write something.

Sometimes I solve the problem methodically, by writing a bunch of stuff and back-dating it, or by using the blogger option that lets me set a future date. Or by writing a draft, intending to come back to it later. Or by telling myself I'll write the other stuff, and then not writing it. That usually leads to frustration and a lot of mental energy spent dealing with the frustration, rather than just fucking writing. But sometimes to bursts of creativity.

Like, I hope, now.

These methods have drawbacks. The not writing method makes the parts of me that want to write (and there are many of them) unhappy. The "parts of me that want to write" also includes (as I learned today) "the things in my head that want to be written." That's something I plan to write about, too. Maybe even today.

The back-dating approach seems like cheating. And the people who get my posts emailed to them (I think there might be three of us) won't get them emailed. Sucks to disappoint what little audience I have that way.

Forward dating is a problem because I want to post on G+ when I write a new blog post, and that does not happen automatically. Why do I even care to do that? It's the sharing compulsion, something else I need to write about.

If I cared about sharing, and not just about finding excuses not to write, I could remind myself to share after I post. I do, after all, subscribe to my own blog, and I do get email then day after I post. So I can fix that one, easily, thank you.

The writing a draft solution does not work because I often don't go back to my drafts and finish them. Right now I've got 97 unpublished drafts, for this blog alone. But I could do something about that.

Why don't I do something that makes sense?

So here's my current plan, subject, as always to revision and to dereliction. I've got a spreadsheet with my writing ideas. That includes this one. As I write stuff, it will get checked off. If it's planned to post in the future, that goes in the spreadsheet. If it's not complete, then that, too.

So here's another post on posting. Sometimes that leads to a flurry. Sometimes not. We'll see.

In any case: one down.

Jul 2, 2016

Hamilton, genius, and genius.com

I've been obsessing on the musical, Hamilton, for a couple of weeks. Amazon Prime Music has the whole album streaming and downloadable. Now whenever I go for a drive I put it on and play it. Top volume.

I had forgotten about Genius.com, but a search for a phrase in one of my favorite songs in Hamilton took me there and reminded me. Ahh! Internet. How I love you!

Genius.com bills itself as "the world’s biggest collection of song lyrics and crowdsourced musical knowledge." People put lyrics on the site, and others annotate, comment, and discuss. It's kind of wikipedia for lyrics.

So here's the page for "It's Quiet Uptown" the song that led me there, and my favorite from the show. (I have yet to hear it without bursting into tears.) If you go to the link, and click on the highlighted lines in the page (better on desktop than mobile) you'll see the annotations.

For example, the annotation on the line "there's a suffering to terrible to name" says this:
"There’s a saying that while a person who loses their spouse is called a “widow” or a “widower,” and a person who loses his parents is called an “orphan,” there is no word to name the person who loses a child because the grief and loss is unspeakable."
Also commentary says:
Some possible influence from the line “There’s a grief that can’t be spoken” in “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” from Les Misérables.
Reading Genius is like reading the book "Hamilton, The Revolution" by Lin and Jeremy McCarter, but with hyperlinks instead of beautiful bookmaking. 

Lin-Manuel Miranda is a contributor to genius.com with a verified account. His comments on Hamilton are highlighted specially. For the line I'm only nineteen but my mind is older" he says:
It was a no brainer to put that line in because that is something Hamilton would absolutely say. There’s a lot of ‘90s references in that opening tune; it’s the stuff I grew up falling in love with.Hamilton is just like a ‘95 Prodigy“Shook Ones Pt. II” by Mobb Deep is one of my favorite hip-hop tunes period.
And the line taken from that tune.

Other discussion that leads to the letter Hamilton wrote about the hurricane that led to people paying for him to leave the island and go to New York.

Ahh! The internet!