Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Catch-22 of Induction

"Of all forms of caution, caution in love is perhaps the most fatal to true happiness."
  -Bertrand Russell

  Induction is the name for the kind of logic that comes from the ground up--where conclusions are drawn from generalizing about groups of isolated experiences.  Induction is the basis for science, and this kind of reasoning is incredibly natural in humans.  We use it to get dressed every day: we look out the window, decide what the weather is like, and dress accordingly.  If it's cloudy and we know it's January, we put on a sweater because in the past that has usually indicated that it's cold out.
     The problem with induction is that you are generalizing.  You can't ever be 100% certain that something is true.  Even in January when it's cloudy, it could be 70 degrees outside; it's unlikely, but it could be.  Using induction to make decisions is reliable, but it also makes it harder to identify and react appropriately to the abnormalities and outliers; and the truly insipid part of induction is that relying on it too heavily can cause you to change your behavior in response.  If you have only ever seen white swans, you may not even recognize a black one.  You won't be looking for it, and you won't be able to add the new information and adjust your generalization accordingly.
     Most of the time this isn't a problem; if it happens to be a freak warm day in January you can just go change your sweater.  Mistakes due to the problem of induction are mostly negligible.  But I want to talk about people.
    What happens when most of your experience has led you to believe that people are bad, or at best negligent, and can't be trusted?  Most of the time you will probably be right in your behaviors and assumptions, but you will also, without noticing it, change your own behavior to compensate for your generalization.  You will be less willing to go out of your way for others, less willing to accept new people into your life, and less likely to forgive people for their mistakes.  All of which are reasonable ways to conduct your life.  In many ways these behaviors are probably worth the few exceptions that slip through the cracks in terms of the pain and loss they spare you.
    But what about the real exceptions? 
    What about the people who will bring joy into your life, who really do care for you, and who may have a few sad histories they've generalized from, themselves?  I don't mean the guy on the street who really did need some change for a bus fare because he just got mugged; I'm talking about the man who really wants to be your friend and support you in all the ways he can; somebody who could be your lifelong friend--somebody who is not worth losing, no matter how many times you avoid being cheated out of your money by others.  The kind of friend whose value is immeasurable. How does your automatic behavior affect them?
     Be careful with induction. People are not a deck of cards, and a whole lifetime's experience is not enough to reliably predict a person's shade of grey.  Be careful with your money and your time and your heart, but take more care that you do not let your pain prevent your joy.  Take care that you do not look only for what you have already found.

Reason #30 Why I Love Bukowski

"the most horrible thing
I could think of
was part of me being
what ejaculated out of the
end of his
stupid penis."

-From Three Oranges

I almost fell out of my chair laughing at this one

Monday, November 22, 2010

My Very First Publication Ever Got Nominated For An Award!!

Jersey Devil Press, the bastion of magnanimity that it is, has nominated my story for the Pushcart Prize.

I cried into my eggnog latte at Starbucks, wearing the nerditard (aka the Science Center uniform).

Happy Freaking Thanksgiving!!!!!!!!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Well, I'm No Chilean Miner, But...

    I just ran my first half-marathon yesterday.
    I ran it at the Grand Canyon with my friend Meg, and I did not get swept by the "You're-Too-Slow" Van, which was pretty much my only goal, since I was running it at an altitude 7,000 ft higher than I'd trained, on a hilly course, at a farther distance than I'd ever run previously.
    I kind of grinned like an idiot the whole time, because it was beautiful outside (and the Grand Canyon was freaking right there through the whole race) and I felt pretty damn good.  Every single mile marker Meg and I would take turns making our spectators laugh with our routine, which went like this:
Me: "Hey, Meg!"
Meg:  "Hey, what?"
Me: "Want to go for a [insert however many miles we have left here]-mile run?"
Meg: "I sure as hell do!" (or, as we steadily progressed, "Not really," or, "If I do, can I stop f*cking running?")
    And in the last half mile, I discovered that, due to a combination of an entirely downhill last mile and the fact that the girl with the crazy-beautiful calf tattoo who we'd paced ourselves by was gaining on us, I had enough gas left to flat-out sprint to the finish line and finish with a time fifteen minutes better than I'd expected.
    Today, however, I feel kind of lost, and weird.

    Apparently this isn't an uncommon feeling; they call it the post-race blues, and it has not only a lot to do with the fact that you just balls-out ran 13.1 freaking miles as fast as you could UPHILL BOTH WAYS (not joking, it was partially downhill both ways, too, but f*ck) and are now sore in places you didn't know existed, but also with that whole thing where achieving your goals is only a momentary high and then you're all like "WTF do I do with my life now?"

    I think perhaps my weird feeling wouldn't be as weird if I hadn't also had the same thing happen in all the areas of my life in the last two weeks.

In the last two weeks, I have:  gotten my very first short story published, gotten a promotion to full-time at work, met a new guy, and run my very first half marathon.  I am freaking pooped.  I have been busting my ass for the last ten months at work in the hopes of getting this promotion, trying to get published for about a year and a half, and training in 110-degree weather for this race for six months.  (I'm not going to talk about the whole guy thing in-depth, because my dating history is sad and sordid and way too long to put here, but you know what "new guy syndrome" is like: no sleeping, on a constant emotional high, and using muscles for various enjoyable activities you sort of forgot you had.)  The last two weeks have been awesome.  And exhausting.

 The Buddhists say you should perform actions for the sake of the action itself, and not for the sake of its outcome: whether you lose or win, they say, doesn't matter--the point is the acting.  The results take care of themselves.
    I think I went into my work in these areas with that expectation; I love running, I love writing, and I love my job.  I had goals so that I had a focus to my work, but I didn't expect them to pay off anytime soon, and certainly not all at once.
    But I can't seem to remember what the Buddhists say about dealing with fact that your work has culminated in an achievement, whether badly or well.  I guess I could set new goals, but that's not really the way I want to approach these parts of my life that I love so very much.  I want to keep doing them for their own sake, and not become an achiever.  I want to get better to do justice to myself and my talents, and not because I need the high of reaching goals.  But it's hard.  How do you keep writing just for yourself, when you know you can get published?  How do you keep running just to get outside and enjoy it, when you know you've got a not-altogether-embarrassing half-marathon in you?  How do you make sure you're going in to work in order to make some third-graders excited about science, when all of a sudden you have dental insurance and 5 extra hours of meetings every week?
   And what in God's name do I do now, when all of my goals have been reached in the space of two weeks?  How do I relax and enjoy the fruits of my labor, without forgetting the purpose of the labor?

   For now I'm busting out a quart of cookie dough ice cream, but I'll need some new ideas tomorrow.