Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Occam's Ninja (essay)

Perchance you have heard of Occam’s Razor, perchance you haven’t. Regardless, I find it most key to define it, and so shall do so forthwith: assume the most probable.
    So, if you’re studying the pyramids and notice that the images resemble purported alien life from the Yucatan; then yes there’s a chance that the Anunnaki built the pyramids, but the chances are far and above more likely that they were built by humans, so you should assume that.
    Needless to say, I mislike Occam’s Razor. I mislike it precisely because of its highly presumptive nature: the most probable is the most probable, not the definite.
    For example (since practitioners of Occam’s Razor value evidence and tell us that it increases probability exponentially), say a friend of mine and I chose to go for a walk in a thunderstorm. I went in a tee and slacks and she sat astride a warhorse in full medieval plate with her iron lance raised to the sky.
Now, she is far more likely to get hit by lightning than I am, but this does not mean that it is improbable that I will be hit too. In fact, while lightning probably will not hit the same place twice, the most probable is not definite: we could both be hit at the same place, or at the same time and by the same bolt, or perchance she should live and I should die in flame and thunder. All are possibilities and, while not the most probable, must be considered.
    Another concern I have with Occam's Razor is its dictionary wording (I used  paraphrasing), which pertains to rejecting methods which require the least assumptions. For argument’s sake, let’s state an assumption to be any statement not grounded in fact. In such a case, it is important to remember that we as a species always have a reason for assuming something: this reason being that our assumption correlates with our reality.
    Take Vitalism, for example. Due to our lack of knowledge about disease, it was highly natural for us to assume that diseases and spoiling occured naturally, via spontaneous generation. It was only the challenging of this assumption that let us discover germs. Conversely, our society assumes that the cell is the smallest unit of life because we haven’t found a smaller one. But this is not to say there isn’t; future societies might discover that atoms are, in fact, intelligent.
    I could also point out that while Vitalism made the assumption that there was nothing smaller than the eye could see, it required the assumption that this was wrong for us to disprove it, but I have neither the time nor the space to conduct such debate on the nature of logic so I’ll just let that thought germinate and turn to matters that require less assumptions on my part.
    The last flaw I’d like to point out is Occam’s Razor as it is practiced in real life versus how it is used in science, its primary field of use. The examples I have laid out above are primary ones that apply on a day-to-day basis, and while they are applicable to science there is something else that must be considered.
    Science does not use Occam’s Razor. Sciences believes in falsifiability, which is similar but with a subtle distinction: assumptions are acceptable in science, so long as they are provable assumptions. (eg. atoms not being intelligent life, because there is no evidence for it and a great deal of evidence against - quantum physics.) In this way, science falls behind the principle I am about to endeavour to explain to you.
    This is not to say that Occam’s Razor is wrong, just that it must be accepted only with moderation. To this end, I would like to propose the Ninja Potential Theorem: never discount the exceedingly unlikely.
    This theory’s name acts as a reference to its most extreme example, a spontaneous attack by ninjas. There is always a chance that, one fine day in the warmth of spring one will, while harmlessly wandering the streets in search of tasty coffee, be suddenly set upon by a vicious pack of ninjas and slain on the spot.
    Now, these chances are obscenely small, and so one should never assume it will happen (because that would most likely cross the line between prudence and paranoia), but the chance can be confirmed to exist, if only in the purely theoretical sense (its probably more likely than winning the lottery, but then most things are).
    This brings me to the crux of my argument, which is that one should never countenance the Ninja Potential Theorem either. The chances are just too small: while, if I may bring this back to the Lightning Bolt and the Armour analogy, there is still a chance of my being hit by lightning regardless of whether or not I’m wearing armour, the chances of my being hit are drastically smaller (in slacks) such that it would be considered highly prudent not to wear medieval warplate when strolling in the thundering winds.
    Since the Ninja Potential Theorem shouldn’t be considered necessarily correct as it applies to practicing it in real life, this means that the most probable (but not definite) course of action would be to create a counterargument or, if you will, an Anti-Ninja: never consider the exceedingly unlikely.
    Herein a practitioner of the Razor may disagree with me, on the grounds that in theory Occam’s Razor already does this. If practicing Occam’s Razor successfully, then one should presumably consider bizarre and outlandish first and discount them almost immediately as the bizarre and outlandish theories they are. To this I have two replies;
    i) Firstly, discounting is different from not considering. You never need to consider baseless theories or absurd arguments as fact, but it cannot harm you to remember their existence. After all, all lies are predicated in truth (at least to some extent, however tinily), and so no theory would exist unless someone had some reason to believe in it (however absurd that meaning may seem to you).
    ii) Secondly, it is always important to remember why an argument is outlandish. Sometimes the reasons you cite may not be as effective as they first seem. For example, one of the main arguments against alien life on earth is that it would have been seen in modern times. But, and consider seriously, if you had the choice then would you rather be here or elsewhere? The answer, unless your most important character trait is selflessness or you style yourself a bodhisattva, is probably elsewhere.
    I suppose, therefore, the base of my argument is balance. Occam’s Razor exists as a sort triangle, itself the point, with the Ninja Potential Theorem and the Anti-Ninja the base. When one debates the probability of a given event, one must neither discount nor consider the exceedingly unlikely, but rather be aware of it. Be aware of it in the distance, like one is aware aware of the despair of love, or the righteousness of the dragon over the knight, or to the chaining of the moon.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Barachois (postmodernist flash fiction)

    Braced in shadows, lost in mist, I wandered lonely. My feet sunk in mud, clattering against the cobbles, and I felt within and without. My stomach heaved, and I stumbled forwards, but all that came out was laughter. I could barely see what was about me, until I set foot within it.
    It was high, those vaulted heavens, their sky a speckled granite. Staring at it, I leaned so far back I fell to the floor beneath me. My head slammed down, my breath caught, and the speckles swum like stony stars. Then a hand held out, and I dragged myself to my feet to shake it. Or perhaps it helped me to my feet: it really is hard to tell in these situations.
    Greetings then, as greetings usually come, and just as useless as greetings usually are. Afterwards the hand, now seemingly familiar to either myself or its supposed owner, tugged gently, leading me like a rabid sheep down halls of liquid stone splashing underfoot. Gargoyles spun down from the heavens, their gaze dragging me down and their claws rending; their gaze rending and their claws dragging me down.
    I could see the ribbed roof of the building heaving far above mel like breaths, or perhaps sobs at their children’s descent. Throughout all this the guiding hand shone like a torch, leading me until… clack. Dry land.
    Hollowed and hallowed, I collapsed to my knees, and the gargoyles that had so bebothered me passed harmlessly o’erhead. I bowed, the floor a slab beneath my body. The hand vanished into darkness, its torch light bobbing into extinguishment. But it was unneeded; the figure in front of me flared like a beacon. As their words washed over me like a siren’s song upon the beach, a lighthouse, I keeled over, and was drawn gently into their lapping bay.
- End -

Sunday, 14 May 2017

World's Shortest Mother's Day Poem

‘Tis now time for the day of Mothers,
When we thank them for our brothers,
And sisters, and cousins too.
For we wouldn’t exist if they didn’t bother.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Into the Alien Void

I awoke, smothered and confused, and found myself in a place I could only describe as inimitably bizarre and unexplainable, though I forced myself to do my best.

I lay on a field of white sand, great in its size; far larger, in fact, than any grain of sand, or even perhaps boulder, had any right to be. Although, conversely, it was also the softest sand I had ever lain upon (or so I conjectured), a veritable pillow, and warmer than one would expect given the inky blackness which seemed to coat everything; filling me, suffocating me in its tendrils.

I stood up, brushed myself off in an attempt to reduce the cloying sensation I felt crawling up my lungs, but to no avail. I looked up at the dim and shrinking sun, struggling to clamp down on my panic. I set off, through the sands, determined to find my way but opposed at every turn by the shifting and sinking molasses that was the desert.

There was no life, here: not one animal stirred in the mists that seemed to drift off the very ground, nor were there any plants stretching up towards the vanishing unlight, unfurling vague or putrid leaves, or even the barest sign of greenery upon the terrain; twas merely a white, cracked plain, stretching endlessly before me in every which way.

Occasionally, I would see another person through the fog, drifting with lost eyes over the fields in sand-encrusted cloth, loose and floating about them as sails, but it was odd. One would expect us to conglomerate, meet, be drawn to one another to aid in our mutual escape from wherever ‘here’ was, but no. I felt no desire to meet these people, to join them or approach even for a minute, and instead we would merely gaze hollow eyed at the space where the other stood, as if we hadn’t seen each other or just didn’t care.

Then, without a pause or a consideration, they would vanish into the mists as ephemerally as they had arrived. Or, perhaps, it would be me who would depart first. I really didn’t notice.

What I did notice, eventually, were the stones, great clear crystals that poked up and out and about the terrain, though their semitranslucent nature meant that they blended so perfectly with the sands that I did not perceive one till I walked right over it. As I leaned down, grabbing my foot in an agony that had veritably awoken me from my stupor, I heard something.

Rumbling, shaking, as of some gigantic many-legged insect forging its way over the hills. It seemed to be coming towards me from the East, and as I turned to see it, pain forgotten, I realized what it was in all its truly magnificent horror.

It was a giant wave, a wall of water that scooped up, crumpled, and destroyed everything in its path. I began to panic, run, but then stopped as the weight of my own futility came crashing down on me. I knew, then, that I couldn’t escape, and all the energy seemed to drain from me. If I couldn’t escape, couldn’t save myself, then why bother? A foolish response, perhaps, but that was what I did, and that’s my explanation for it. And so I sat and watched the wave shatter rocks, dissolve sand, suck up people, and hummed softly and sadly to myself as it crashed into me.

I was viciously picked up and hurled sky high, surfacing from the rough collision for a mere moment to breath the gritty air under the dying sun before I was sucked back in again. I was tossed, hurled from tumultuous crests to stormy seas and blinding skies till, at last and blessedly, it subsided.

I landed on the ground with a squishy thud, and sunk deeply into it. Only my head and parts of my upper torso remained free, unentangled. The sand had turned into a lethargic and ineffectual sinkhole, and the desert a swampland of mud and filthy puddles. Where once it had been molasses, now it was a morass, and little better nor a difference between.

I must confess, my ordeals had gotten to me, and I found myself incapable of creating an effort to free myself from the muck, and instead didn’t choose, but did, end up sitting there throbbing.

And so it was that I didn’t move when the second great cataclysm struck. Huge tendrils of flesh descended from the sky beyond the darkness, colliding with the earth with a force like thunder and a sound like iron. The ground was picked up and launched like a second wave, and I was thrown with it.

I flew like a pleasantly stunned rag doll across the fields, colliding with a wall of dirt for a only a moment before the tendrils lifted themselves up, and, screeching as with the laughter of ten thousand madmen, slammed back down. I was picked up and tossed out once more, hurled through the fetid air. I passed another person as I went; her arm broken and trailing behind her but her expression strangely serene as she gazed at me with a blank fondness, a slight smile upon her face as she flew by in the opposite direction.

This process of tossings and thuds repeated for a while. Mud and sand, rock and water all collided with me and each other till it was difficult to breath amidst the debris of the stony sky.

At last I; confused, unfeeling, uncomprehending of where I was or what I had done to have some sick entity inflict this psychosis upon me; was absorbed, sucked in if you will, into the sand. I lay under the ground, entombed in a sticky filth, and felt panic overwhelm me. So this was how I would die.

Suffocated in a world incomprehensible to myself. I wondered what I had done to deserve this, for I had no recollection of my prior life, nor even of the near past or how I had ended up in this earth. Merely a vague collection of impressions, warnings and pleasant images. Now, it appeared, I would not be able to have any recollections in the future.

My body felt burned, hot, as if someone had hold of a giant fire underneath the planet, and was feeding it to increase the temperature. Around me I felt the desert beginning to harden, solidify, brown, sealing me underground till death do us part, or till kingdom come, or perchance till the ends of time, whichever of the three came fırst. As I began to run out of air I felt as if I was filled with toxins, poisonous butterflies flapping their nightshade-dusted wings.

Sweat streamed from my tattered body, soaking the earth about me which, before my stupefied and maligned eyes, began to expand and widen. It formed a beauteous air bubble, which I thought might help me breath a little.

As it turned out I was wrong; instead the crushing weight and the heat overwhelmed me, their pressure too much for my tortured frame, and I slowly felt myself succumbing to their insidious wiles. I felt the toxic feeling leave my chest, a little ways before the end, and a deep and tranquil calm came over me. Perhaps, perhaps it wouldn’t be too bad…

Ding.

The man took the loaf of bread out of the oven and showed it proudly to his son, who stood nearby, watching eagerly yet with that strange anxiousness of fire so often found in children, after they had first been burnt. “Now, see here son, the yeast has produced air bubbles which has caused the bread to rise, so that it can be nice and fluffy.”

His son looked at the bread, interest clear in his eyes. “But daddy, what happens to the yeast?”

“Ah, son, you don’t have to worry about that.”

But worry he did, and rightfully so.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Meow!

Curiosity killed the cat,
Curiosity made it silent,
Curiosity made it fade to black,
A shrieking shadow, loud and strident.

But curiosity overcame,
Brought back in a light of flash,
A sudden, unliving flame;
A ghoul, a wight, a ghast.

For curiosity cannot be slain,
Nor art’s breath overlain
By the steadiness of the ignorant’s bliss.
With solely but one sweet kiss
These fools to near death bring
Literature, that beauteous thing.

And with its final exhale
Glittery forms and jittery figures rise
And fight back with fang and nail
And animae clash before awed eyes.

Curiosity may kill the cat
But ideas will always persist;
Mighty spirits floating through the air
Guarding beauteous realms of mist.