Odds And Ends

If you could see the state of the room wherein I am composing this post, you would understand my absence from these parts over the past week or two. Sufficient to say that, yes, I have indeed moved. But that seems to imply that moving is the only step to the process.

It turns out moving is just the first step. Unpacking is the second and, in my case, far lengthier step.

I’m not sure whether it was foresight or foolishness that kept me from documenting the process. A week and a half ago, there was no visible floorspace in this room. The living room was “box canyon,” which is the result when a packrat dragon is forced to move his accumulated hoard into a smaller space. I had a lot of stuff that I’ve collected over the years and I had both a full-sized walk-in closet and an outdoor storage shed to house all that stuff.

While cleaning out the stuff, I found $50 dollars in unused gift cards. I found a $25 check that was, sadly, expired. I cashed in my coin bucket for $80 and that’s just the shit I had rolled; the quarters still need to be accounted for.

I’ve pared down the stuff over the past few weeks. I’ve scythed through it. I’ve cut close to the bone. Everything that’s left is either of tremendous sentimental value, such as my very first manuscript or my favorite childhood teddy bear, or is actively valuable and useful, like my camping gear.

At this point, you can see the majority of the floor in my new space. I’ve taken to calling it my study, because I’ve always wanted a study and it sounds much more dignified than my lair or my man-cave.

There’s still a particularly unsightly shelf that will be hauled out once everything has been organized, but the space is usable. My Xbox is hooked up and I spent much of my leisure time playing Borderlands 2 which I was able to purchase with one of my found giftcards. It was ten years old for a company that went out of business, but the company that bought it evidently transferred all the accounts because the card was still redeemable!

The fact that it’s almost November and thus nearly NaNoWriMo 2014 is a thought that fills me with terror and dread. What will I write about this year?

NASA Study Says Rich People Will Destroy Human Civilization

In the wake of yesterday’s contemplation of my own poor money habits, I thought it fitting to share a story that confirms my poor impulse control in actually helping save human civilization as we know it. Woo, go me.

Apparently, a new NASA study has determined that modern civilization is doomed to collapse and that it’s due to happen in the next few decades. And the reason for this collapse? It’s not climate change or nuclear war; it’s due to rich people. More precisely: social stratification and unequal distribution of resources:

Motesharri investigated the factors that could lead to the fall of civilization, which included population growth and climate change, the New Zealand Herald reported. He found that when such issues interact, they can cause the breakdown of society through the “stretching of resources” and “the economic stratification of society into ‘Elites’ and ‘Masses’.”

Using different scenarios, Motesharri and his fellow researchers found that collapse is difficult to avoid under the current conditions. In these scenarios, they discovered that elite wealth monopolies are affected much later by environmental collapse than common people, which allows them to continue their “business as usual” way of living despite the catastrophe, according to the Guardian.

Human civilization is in its twilight and it’s mainly due to income disparity and the control of resources. The next time someone on Fox News opines that it’s wrong to punish success by taxing the rich, you can point out that if we don’t tax the rich to make them less rich, human civilization ends.

I don’t know about you, not being rich myself, but I’d feel really bad if I was the cause of the collapse of civilization.

Worry not, for there is hope! But if you have a lot of money or if you watch Fox News, you’re probably not going to like what that hope requires. That’s right, it’s time to pucker up and kiss communism right on its big, Marxist-Leninist-socialist-whatever-ist loving lips.

However, the researchers stated that society can avoid collapse with the right policies and structural changes, which can also lead to the creation of a more stable and advanced society, the Guardian reported. The two key solutions are to reduce economic inequality to make sure resources are distributed fairly, and to reduce the consumption of resources by relying less on limited resources and bringing down population growth. With these changes, the “business as usual” model can end and civilization can be saved and evolve.

I don’t know about this. Sounds more like class warfare and typical liberal propaganda to me. Instead of unpleasant policy and structural changes (socialism!), we should “something something something job creators something something it’s what Jesus would have wanted.”

Okay, enough jokes. I actually do believe there’s a real story here, so I’ll turn off the sarcasm for a moment and speak directly. Is the end really “extremely fucking nigh?”

Maybe. On all matters of doomsaying, I remain cautiously optimistic. I generally think that people are good and we’re capable of saving ourselves from destruction. Predictions of doom are a dime a dozen, both from street prophets and well-meaning scientists alike.

On the other hand, civilization is a remarkably fragile thing. It is rather like a spider-web; beautiful and strong but still fragile and in need of constant repair. Civilizations before ours have fallen to war, to social collapse, to neglect, to the failure to adapt to new paradigms.

We’d be arrogant indeed to assume that just because we have the Internet and smartphones, we’re immune to the pendulum of history and the caprice of nature.

Wealth inequality is a real problem, not just in the United States but across the entire world.

Virtual Worlds And Dreamscapes

I tend to have pretty intense dreams. Somewhat arrogantly, I attributed this to being a writer. “Well, of course my dreams are intense and vivid,” I’d think smugly to myself. “Mine is a fertile and creative mind, capable of spinning entire worlds into existence.”

I might be a bit premature in patting myself on the back for my wonderful, creative mind; it turns out my vivid dreaming might just be due to the fact that I play a lot of video games:

In her most recent paper, published in the latest issue of Dreaming, Gackenbach and her colleagues further solidified a key earlier finding: that so-called “hardcore” gamers were more likely than their peers to experience lucid dreams. Gackenbach first reached that conclusion in 2006, after noting that gamers and lucid dreamers both displayed traits like intense focus and superior spatial awareness in their waking lives. Indeed, when she surveyed 125 gamers and non-gamers on the frequency with which they experienced lucid dreams, Gackenbach found a strong association between the two.

Gackenback defines “hardcore gamers” as having “regular playing sessions of more than 2 hours, several times a week, since before the third grade.” Yeah, that’d be me. I do have lucid dreams fairly often, maybe on average of 2-3 per month.

Here’s the other thing from this study that really tracks well to my own experience:

And Gackenbach’s findings don’t stop at lucid dreaming. She’s also noted in other studies that some heavy gamers seem to be non-plussed by dreams that would qualify as nightmares — namely, those that present frightening or threatening situations. In fact, gamers seem to readily take control over (and even enjoy) such unpleasant nighttime illusions. In other words, while a non-gaming person might wake up in a cold sweat, a gamer would simply carry on with their slumber.

It’s actually a bit of a relief to learn that this might explain the frequency of dreams that would qualify as nightmares as well as my typically blasé reaction to them. Again, this was long something I attributed to creativity, but if it’s due to my predilection for virtual worlds, that’s cool with me.

One thing I’m especially curious is to see what effect the upcoming Oculus Rift has on the ability for games to influence dreams. I’ve played a few tech demos on an Oculus Rift dev kit. Dread Halls was my favorite. Even though the graphics were fairly dated, it was a terrifying experience and I legitimately screamed when I saw my first monster.

The strangest part is that I now have fully formed memories of being in a place that I know doesn’t exist. I can remember moving down the hallway and peeking around the corner to check for monsters. I can remember running. It’s very much like remembering a place that exists only in a dream, except that my recollection is flawless.

I can’t wait to see what prolonged exposure does to my dreams.

Happiness Is Being An Aging Liberal

A friend (who also happens to be my most dedicated commentator) sent me a link to a new study on what makes us happy. Now, typically I approach such things with a bit of skepticism. It is, after all, common to see studies touting sample sizes of mere handfuls or studies lasting for very short lengths of time. Not this one, however! This study followed 268 men for seventy-five freaking years. That’s pretty damn impressive, in and of itself. Another impressive fact, aside from the length of the study, was the breadth of it:

. . . measuring an astonishing range of psychological, anthropological, and physical traits—from personality type to IQ to drinking habits to family relationships to “hanging length of his scrotum”—in an effort to determine what factors contribute most strongly to human flourishing.

Now that is some thorough research. I’ve honestly never wondered whether the “hanging length of the scrotum” might contribute, positively or negatively, to one’s level of happiness.

Some of the data proves what common sense already dictated: drinking is bad for your happiness, smoking kills you. Nice to have a scientific confirmation for these things, but nothing really earthshaking yet. Don’t worry, we’ll get to that bit soon.

It was interesting to me that “there was no significant difference in maximum income earned by men with IQs in the 110–115 range and men with IQs higher than 150.” It seems a little bit counter-intuitive, but if I might speculate, perhaps this is because the 110-115 range is the IQ most likely to have a decently paying job while individuals in the 150+ range are more likely to pursue intellectually stimulating professions that offer only comparable or inferior salaries. Like I said, this is speculation on my part; the study itself indicates that it is a higher number of “warm relationships” rather than IQ that contributes more towards high income and personal happiness.

For me, here’s the statistic that I found both the most interesting and also the most personally satisfying:

Aging liberals have more sex. Political ideology had no bearing on life satisfaction—but the most-conservative men ceased sexual relations at an average age of 68, while the most-liberal men had active sex lives into their 80s. “I have consulted urologists about this,” Vaillant writes. “They have no idea why it might be so.”

So while my liberal ideology won’t make me more satisfied with my life, it will mean I’ll likely have more sex. And while that might not lead to happiness on its own, I certainly can’t imagine where it’s going to hurt my chances at happiness. I don’t know about you, but this fact makes me feel a certain smug sense of satisfaction and vindication, which is not to say that I felt my beliefs needed vindication. It’s just one of those things.

If you’d like to find out the true cause of happiness, since it’s not a higher IQ or more sex, check out the article.