Sunday, September 26, 2004

This is more like it

I FINALLY found a place where I can use wireless internet, there's this coffee shop at the mall. The result is that I'm currently on my own laptop, drinking an iced coffee and getting stared at by all the little kids who walk by. I dig it.

Anyway, here's my latest update, the news from the front as it were.


26 September, 12:43
My apartment

So, yeah. Let’s see, it’s Sunday, so there’s work tomorrow and for like 4 more days after that, during which I’ll be expected to write my September month report in Japanese. That sucks. But whatever.

This weekend was quite alright. Ah, the british English is creeping into my mental vocabulary already. I just said “quite alright.” That’s what you get for getting pissed and smoking fags all night with a bunch of brits. Curses.

But yeah, Friday we went to Pat’s and watched “I, Robot” which was really rather bad in its own right but had a few things that were very interesting. Specifically, it made me think about this sci-fi cliché business about robots with emotions. There was a bit in the movie where the old main dead scientist is talking about the “ghost in the machine”, this idea that we don’t actually know how computer programs work frequently, cuz there are billions of lines of code and nobody ever writes NEW code, we just kind of modify what we have, but it’s impossible to actually read through it. We know “Okay, these 15 pages of code take the input and do XYZ to it.” But we don’t really know how or why, etc, that sort of things. And that’s fine, that’s just how computer science has evolved – but then what we get is various anomalous behavior. We get computers that behave the way we expect 99% of the time and then lock up and crash for no reason in the middle of something routine, right? And in the movie, this scientist was talking about how robots have behavioral quirks that are sort of parallel to this, and it was this idea that they were “Evolving” on their or something like. And so he writes human emotions into one and yadda yadda yadda.

But here’s the thing, how do you define emotion? I mean, anger or sadness or whatever, right, it’s a product of all sorts of complex chemicals and hormones and electric shocks going on inside our heads. Very similar to these computers, we don’t actually know how this works, we just have a vague understanding of the results. So there’s this big cliché about trying to give robots emotions, right, it’s in all the big sci fi movies and tv shows; but, couldn’t you say that computers already have emotions? Every time your computer locks up and freezes, every time it suddenly runs quickly after running slow for 2 months, every time a program takes a slightly different time to start up, that’s a product of a hyper-complex system of stimulus-response, going on at such a far-off level that all we can really understand are the results. How is this in any way different from human emotion? Perhaps it’s misguided, then, to try to give robots emotions – perhaps what these movies don’t see is that they’re just trying to give human emotions to robots, which is of course going to smack of artificiality. I just wish someone would treat the idea of robot emotions. This movie was reeeeally close, like it scratched the surface, it tapped against the door but didn’t actually enter.

So that’s my take on that, thanks to Will Smith’s kinda crummy sci-fi movie fused with a kinda crummy cop movie. But the robots were slick. I wanna go re-read Asimov.

Last night we went to Tricia’s and played Cranium, then I stayed behind talking to Tricia and Jackie till about 3. First of all, I realized that I’m the only guy here without a Japanese girlfriend. There were like 4 couples over for Cranium and I was like “waaaaait a second…” Cranium is always a lot of fun, but you’d never think about how American-centric it is until you try to play it with a bunch of brits and Japanese. The trivia, the spelling, the pop culture references were all very American – so I had a distinct advantage. :-D

So after that Jackie and Tricia and I got into a discussion of hippies, of all things. Jackie and I both casually mentioned how you gotta hate hippies but at the same time they accomplished something amazing (basically the same thing I was ranting about the other day, scroll down, except this time it was Jackie’s idea), and Tricia was defending them. But I guess what it ended up coming down to, though, was that the animosity you tend to feel towards hippies (and I’m perhaps generalizing here, maybe “you” don’t) stems from the fact that, if you’re in my age bracket anyway, the only “hippies” you know are the ones you met when you got to college, right, and it’s ludicrous but they believe they’ll save the world but not going to class (Damn the man!), not bathing, and doing a lot of drugs. Now, it’s arguable, but the original hippies DID accomplish a lot by doing just that, they provided this outlet, they made the world recognize that you could do that if you wanted to and if you don’t like that fuck you, whatever. But…the change they were going for was made. You can’t accomplish anything big anymore by being a hippy, that’s been done. If you wanna live that life, that’s fine, I guess, but don’t get all preachy and “oooh look at me I’m a hippy” or something, right? Cuz you’re not accomplishing anything, you’re just vaguely dirty with disenfranchised political interests. It doesn’t make you special, especially if you come (as most of the “hippies” I know do) from upper-middle class families and you know that eventually you’ll get a job and make a lot of money and this is just your “hippie years,” right?

That was a bit tangled, I know, but basically the moral of the story is that it doesn’t make much sense to be a hippie in 2004 unless you’re aware that’s it’s just what you’re doing to while away a year or two before real life starts, but then it’s really more a fashion thing than anything else, right? And back to the real hippies, well, that whole lifestyle, while it accomplished something sure, was really self-destructive and based on ignorance and innocence even, in spite of the sex drugs rock thing going on. Looking back, all we can really appreciate about it was that it opened a few doors that would have never been opened, right? So yeah, that’s the hippie talk.

Then we did the religion thing, right. I confessed to Tricia that any sort of a serious discussion about life (re: hippies) always for me comes from the basic feeling that it’s all fucked, and Tricia told me that was the biggest cop-out, even worse than hippieness (and it may be) but Jackie was like “no, I got the same thing going on, and it’s like this pain in my stomach when I wake up every morning, but what can you do? I just try not to think about it.” Which is fair enough. Tricia then argues that that’s what religion is for is to try to fill that void, which is of course the truth, but once you lose religion what do you have left? And Jackie postulates the only other way I know of to fill that, which is love, but love is just confusing, right, because in some ways it’s eternal but in other ways it fades, and so if you’re looking for an answer to an eternal question love is reeeally tricky because it’s going to be in some important ways inadequate, right? And so at least according to Jackie, who is far older and wiser than myself, love doesn’t cut it and in the end you’ve got to become religious, and this is why all the great revolutionaries (well, some of them) if they live long enough become conservative and religious – Wordsworth, Eliot, etc.

So then Jackie says that in another 20 years she suspects she’s going to go Catholic, which I really like right because I’ve always had a bit of a soft-spot for the Catholics ever since religion sort of fell apart for me. It’s like the Joyce thing, right, Stephen, even though he loses the faith keeps a really strong affinity? Appreciation? For the whole Catholic bit. So yeah, Jackie’s deal is that Catholicism has the most to keep a mind occupied, it’s by far the most thought out religion, with the most complex system (which you can spend a lifetime studying) and fantastic art and amazing history and really big buildings, which is cool.

So my objection is “right, Jackie, but religion is supposed to be based on faith and how the hell can you just choose one?” I mean, if you choose a religion for ANY reason other than faith, isn’t the whole thing sort of based on a lie? They say the faith comes later, in those cases, but isn’t that a bit sketch? I wouldn’t like to think that my faith is based on the fact that I joined the church cuz I like the taste of communion wafers and oh yeah by the way two months later “sure god exists, why not?” So I suggest that if you’re just gonna join a religion for the artistic and aesthetic merits (which is something I’ve given a lot of thought to myself, in fairness) wouldn’t it make sense just to make your own? Or pick like an artificial one, like Blake’s? Blake has a whole cosmology, he’s even got all the religious art going on, but Jackie says no cuz Catholicism has the buildings and you just can’t compete.

So that was that half-serious discussion, and then we left. Jackie tells me to be honest with myself and that I’ll just become a Catholic eventually, which is probably true but I’d hate to think I could do that without finding faith first. And in the end it’s all just sort of a silly game, a bit of a joke, right, that the people with the pits in their stomachs tell each other so they can go on living another day. Is that terrible? I’m not even depressed as I write this, right, I’m just sort of incredulous and vaguely amused. But what can we do?

So yeah, in fairness I’ll likely become a Catholic at some point in my life, I think I’ve always kind of known that, but if it’s gonna be a last ditch effort to fill the hole, then I’ll do it later, I wanna try out living first, right? And I still need to find and fail in love a few times, right, to wear that one out.

Ha, so my “Journal of Japan” isn’t so much the cultural study I had half hoped it would become and more of an introspective foray into the unknown depths of the psyche, laced with vague emotional outbursts…but I suppose in the end, that’s why I’m here, right? To get to know me? Already I feel like I’ve grown quite a bit, so that’s cool.

Now I just need to learn Japanese, which is freaking hard. Makes me wish I’d worked a little bit harder in Japanese class and not missed so many days (sumimasen, kuwai sensei!).

Okay, I think my shower is about ready, which is exciting. I’m gonna shower and THEN I’ve been told that there’s a place in the mall where I can use my laptop internet for free, so how cool is that? (so I went to your room, and read your dia-reeeee-eeee). So perhaps I’ll chat with a few of you very shortly. Also, thanks for the mails, Sarah and Kate, I really appreciate communication from home!

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