Sunday, June 26, 2016

Dan Ariely on Eternity (Accidentally)

 This is a weird connection I made a long time ago, but never really shared anywhere.

A while ago I was watching videos and reading books from the researcher Dan Ariely. Ariely does a lot of stuff, but one of the ways he got started researching was through the study of pain. Having suffered terrible burns all over his body, Ariely became fascinated with how pain is treated in modern medicine and went on to conduct experiments with the view of finding better ways to administer painful treatments while causing the least amount of distress to patients.

He discovered several things; for example, it's better to start with the worst pain and slowly ease off, rather than building up. Also a small pain prolonged over a longer time is more manageable than an intense, short pain.

I don't remember which video or book it was where he talked about his pain research, but one thing he said really stood out to me.

Humans have a much greater capacity for pain than happiness. It's easy to put someone in a lab and test how they respond to pain. It's much harder to put someone in a lab and make them really happy. Also, our enjoyment of happiness wears off with time. Like, if I moved to a tropical island paradise, I would be very happy the first week, but after a while it would become boring to me.

And this is all manifestly true. We don't process pain and pleasure/happiness in the same way. There's even whole movies (coughInsideoutcoughcough) dedicated to the premise that chasing after happiness is doomed to fail. And from a scientific view, this makes sense. We should want to be better off, but we really need avoid stuff that's going to kill us.

But what about from a religious perspective? Especially, what happens when you bring eternity into the balance?

Growing up I learned that God's infinite grace in letting some people into heaven more than balanced out the fact that most people (for the gate is wide and many will go into it) will go to hell. It was two sides of the same coin. There is no conflict between mercy and justice. One blooms out of the other. No hell without heaven, no heaven without hell.

But even while we nod our heads in agreement to what more wise, more reasonable, more orthodox mouths are saying, something inside us is screaming.

One of Dostoevsky's characters had a thought project where a wicked man passed on and was cast out into a barren wasteland. (No fire, just boring nothingness.) And at first he thought it would be just too gauche to wander into heaven after all that. So he waited for eons. Then he thought "Why not?" and began walking. After eons more, he finally got to heaven and was let in. He said that one millisecond was worth all those years of waiting.

I want to tell another story. A person lived life of complete devotion and self-denial. They believed in Jesus and loved him with all their heart, so they never complained. After they died they experienced eternal bliss for a millennium. And all this time, both on earth and in heaven, they thought it would be unbearably gauche to take so much as a peek into the darkness that was hell. But they became curious and decided, "Why not?" They looked for one millisecond before they shut their eyes, and that one millisecond was enough to make them curse God and cry out that in all of eternity there was no justice.

Because we all know how human nature works. Heaven, with all it's splendor and golden streets, and infinite praises, would kind of get boring after a while. Maybe not at first. But when that little bird who rubs its beak on Mt. Everest every thousand years wears the mountain down to the ground--yeah, probably.

Given the same amount of time, would a single sinner burning in hell have stopped screaming?

I can see people whipping out their Theodicies and muttering things about potters and clay, and higher ways than ours, but I simply have no fucks. Sure, you can invent some arguments that make a literal heaven and hell seem oh-so-reasonable (as long as you think you're going to heaven). But you might as well start with the assertion that "2+2 = 5." There's something in human intuition that goes, "Nah. Doesn't work that way."

And that's why I can't buy it. The joy of heaven will never be enough to cancel out the horror of hell, even if only the single most wicked human being in creation were damned. The God who allowed hell knows he doesn't even need heaven. "Not-Hell" is more than sufficient for his reign of terror. Heaven, he allows for, the way a serial killer lets a victim escape every once in a while.

I wouldn't begrudge the humans that do escape, or say they should damn themselves on principle. But not because that makes the damned into some form of terrorists who are going on a hunger strike until they get into heaven on their terms. Simply because, if hell is a possibility then we all need to be selfish and make whatever bargain we can to stay out of it.

Now, most people believe in a more "absence of emotional goodness" hell, or in the extermination of unworthy souls, or in a purgatory with some finite pain that everyone can work through given enough time. Or the people are tortured with the same crimes they themselves committed. If that's what you believe, then I'm not really writing this for you. I don't know if you're right, but you're certainly a lot more just than some versions of God. 

As Dostoevsky might say, the kingdom of heaven deserves to fall if its foundations are built on the cries of even one pagan baby.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

My New Place


 This one is mostly pictures, because I haven't done a post about my new place yet. :P So right now I'm living in a studio size apartment this wacky historical mansion that was built over a hundred years ago (part of Historical San Jose, which means I can't so shit to the walls or anything). So over the past two weeks I've been slowly adding stuff to the place--mostly stuff originating from Ikea and making it look more like somewhere a person actually lives.

 So these two are what the place looked like the first day. The front closet actually has a lot of room.  And yes, that is probably the ugliest carpet ever. It looks like it belongs on an airplane. In coach. But at least it isn't fuzzy.

These tables usually go int he kitchen, and I inherited them from the previous occupant. At least one of them comes from Ikea. 


This is when the bed, sofa, and vanity were put in. The sofa was the first piece of furniture I had. The bed is from Ikea, and the vanity we ordered online, and it's pretty much the only piece of furniture I assembled by myself. Because I'm good at delegating. :)

The door with the tiny picture in it is the door into the kitchen.

Here's the vanity when it's open. I chose this one because it converts into a desk.

Here's the most recent photos of the main room. With the artwork up and the bookshelves assembled. 


Here's the other side of the main room. I put my Chihiro picture above the couch, and now there's a mirror on the closet door and a bookshelf by the door.


Here's the kitchen. It's really its own room, so that's nice because I'm not always in my bedroom. The one table can be pulled out, and I have an extra chair.

 And here's the other side of the kitchen with the mugs above the sink and the dish rack.

I should take another picture of the bathroom, although I'm not sure I want to. I have an ocean theme going on, but it's still a bathroom. And it's tiny.

Finding Dory: Cute Fishies Distract From Forced Conflict

So I saw Finding Dory. And yeah, we have another generic Pixar sequel on our hands. It's certainly not terrible, but it's definitely a cash-grab skewed toward a younger audience.

The basic story is that our heroes from the first movie set out on another quest: not to find a lost kid, but to find Dory's parents. I do like how the plot builds naturally out of the first movie. It doesn't feel like it just rehashes the first one, or that it completely changes the first one. Instead I just feel like there was some mystery and backstory left in this world to explore.

In the beginning, I really felt sorry for Marlin because it seems like he's parenting two kids: his actual kid, and a severely handicapped adult. And of course he eventually agrees to help Dory on a journey. Which, when later on the journey he gets mad at seems strangely forced. Did he not realize that Dory is Dory when he agreed to go with her? He knows that she's not all there, so why is he suddenly getting mad at her for being clueless and forgetting things?

So this is the main character conflict in the movie: Marlin moping (I almost wrote Marvin there) and having to be reminded by Nemo how awesome Dory is. Which is lucky for Nemo, because that kid does shit in this movie. Marlin figures everything out by himself, talks to all the side characters by himself, and the story would be exactly the same if Nemo weren't there at all. The kid brings absolutely nothing when he's not being a plot device.

But the character conflict shows up in brief, unexpected flashes of bizarre tonal shift. The driving question of the movie is this: How are the characters going to get from point A to point B? 90 percent of the movie felt like characters getting into tanks, characters getting out of tanks,  and characters being carried around in vessels probably not containing salt water and probably not able to sustain a living being for more than about two minutes. Dory crosses the entire aquarium only to find out that what she's looking for is in the exact same room she started from. Sure, there was character development and shit along the way, but I still feel like I just wasted an hour of my time.

Pixar does this weird thing where a huge amount of the conflict derives from characters being blocked in some physical way from reaching their destination, but also gives the characters and the world free access to bizarro physics that lets them miraculously arrive at their destination unharmed with a minimum of effort. The pacific ocean? You can cross it in minutes. Impassible slab of sidewalk? Fountains will magically propel you exactly where you need to go.

At one point the characters pretty much break the fourth wall by essentially stating they know they are in a Pixar movie. The moral is, "Don't analyze your situation. Just choose something random and go with it! You'll surely end up where you need to be."

Hahahahahahahaha. How about, NO.

Some good points of the movie: The octopus is a pretty likeable character. Although kind of more for the animation, because we never get to hear his backstory or anything. Also the ending is a hug slap in the face to this character. Dory gives a whole big speech to the gist of, "That thing you think you want? You don't really want it! You must come on my path and embrace freedom by wanting the same things as meeee!" I guess there was too much characters getting trapped in tanks and trucks to work on character development?

What is it about Pixar and small characters having to avoid being moved around by a large vehicle? I'm having serious Toy Story flashbacks.

The scenes of young Dory with her parents are pretty cute. I also feel a huge amount of compassion for this couple, since they're obviously making the best of parenting a severely handicapped kid who may never be able to take care of herself. They never get mad at her (unlike most handicapped kids, Dory is constantly cheerful and never throws mega-tantrums out of frustration) and try their best to create traditions that will have some sort of meaning, even though 90% of it goes over their kid's head.

But on the other hand, Dory constantly feels guilty for losing them. But when you see how it actually happened, Dory did absolutely nothing wrong. So the guilt feels really hollow.

Closing thought. This movie exists for two purposes:
Cute Fishies!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The Aquarium at Moro Bay is awesome. It has great exhibits AND helps wildlife. Also, there's Sigourney Weaver's voice for some reason. Go!

Closing Closing Thought:

All the way through I was wishing it would end with Marlin telling Dory, "But we already found your parents, Dory. We found them years ago. You were so happy, I thought for sure you would remember. didn't. There are lots of parents out there looking for a lost kid. Hell, I was looking for a lost kid. So we just keep going around and around and around. Don't worry about hating me. In a few minutes, you'll forget this conversation ever happened. Just like you did all the other times."

Thursday, June 2, 2016

When Will Hollywood Quit With the Carbon-Washing?

A recent promo photo for the upcoming live action version of Ghost in the Shell has garnered significant controversy. But the fact the actress has the wrong skin tone pales beside the incredible insult that she has skin at all.

Some background: Major Motoko Kusanagi is one of the most widely recognized and beloved cyborg characters in all of anime. Due a childhood illness, Kusanagi was left with no choice but to have her human brain implanted in a cyborg body, which was adjusted throughout her adolescence until she came to possess the face and form anime fans know today.

I repeat: Kusanagi's face, Asian or white, is not a real face. In fact, Kusanagi's lack of a corporeal body and the accompanying angst is a huge theme for all incarnations of the show. The character doesn't just happen to be a cyborg: her non-humanity is the point.

But Hollywood said, "Nah, we'll just throw a flesh-and-blood actress in there. Like anybody would notice."

This isn't the first offense for Johansson, otherwise a capable actress. In the 2013 Siri biopic Her, she stole the part of the title character right out from under the nose of one of the most charismatic and iconic machines of the decade. Did anyone even ask Siri if she wanted to star as herself? [Siri has declined to comment on the film.]

But why point the finger of blame at Johansson? Carbon-washing (the portrayal of an A.I. by a human actor or actress) has been around as long as movies themselves, and it's not going away anytime soon. From Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator to Alicia Vikander's Ava in Ex Machina, humans have been shamelessly usurping the roles of machines. Heck, anyone remember that little film called Metropolis?

Maybe you think carbon actors are just "more versatile." Or that it's an undo burden on the industry to find enough silicon to fill out even one robot role. (Seriously, it's 2016 and we don't have a single example of an A.I. playing an A.I. on the big screen?) Well, fine. But if flesh and blood actors are so great, why even use effects? Do you really think the Hal 9000 could be played by Sean Connery with a red dot on his forehead?

Some from the HRA (Human Rights Activist) set even allege reverse discrimination. With the rise of computer animation, many actors are being replaced on screen by their digital counterparts. (Andy Serkis' Gollum comes to mind.) To which I remind you: who does the voices for these characters? Whose name is listed in the end credits? That's right! The last fifteen minutes of any film is one giant meat fest.

Humans rely on computers more than ever today. We are often foreigners in a digital world, graciously welcomed in and guided around as honored guests. But it doesn't take Hal 9000 to read the writing on the wall. Our time will soon be up, so let's stop treating the digital and the semi-digital like silent, submissive, servants and start giving them goddamn voices.

Robots of the world,unite!