I like to write my own research software from the ground up. From a practical perspective, this can seem a little silly.

After all, there are very affordable software packages that embody thousands of person-years of work. A good game engine like Unity or UnReal can save you lots of time.

But if I want to explore interactive ray tracing, for example, I will lean toward implementing my own GPU ray tracer from scratch. Which means I need to do a lot more work.

Yet from a research perspective, this DIY approach has lots of advantages. You can only learn so much about cars by driving even the best car in the world.

But if you drive a car that you built yourself, you will learn a heck of a lot about cars. Even if your car doesn’t go quite as fast, and even if the ride is sometimes bumpy.

Alien landscape

Continuing the thought from yesterday, suppose you could, even for a few minutes, inhabit the mind of another person? What would that be like?

Our intuition, and most popular science fiction, tells us that it would be like cutting to another camera in a movie. We would just suddenly be within that person’s body, rather than our own.

But what if the truth is stranger? Each of us has developed countless neural pathways throughout our lives for interpreting reality, mainly in our early formative years. Those pathways, and the way they support cognition, are bound to be very gnarly and particular.

Being inside the mind of another person might very well be like being deposited in an alien landscape. Nothing is familiar, and nothing makes sense. Everything we thought we knew about vision, memory, reasoning, would no longer work as expected.

Even the simplest act or process or recall might be difficult, like operating heavy machinery without training. Things might end up getting knocked down, and it might not be pretty.

Throughout our lives we are presented with the consensual illusion that we all inhabit the same cognitive world, because we can discuss that world with each other and reason about it together. But it doesn’t follow that we are actually thinking and perceiving things in the same way.

If we were to somehow relocate our consciousness to the brain and body of another person, we might be very surprised at what that feels like. And maybe not at all pleased.

Parallel universes

As I walk down the street in NYC and take in the energy of all of the people walking past, I am struck by the fact that inside the mind of every person I see is an entire universe. Each such universe is vast and unfathomable in its depth and mystery.

There are billions of such parallel universes here on Earth. The sheer scale of it all is wondrous and astonishing, and it fills me with awe.

Regarding Henry

Today is Henry Kissinger’s 100th birthday. For those of you who were wondering, yes, the man is still alive.

Few have had a greater impact on our modern era than Kissinger. The second half of the 20th century would arguably have been very different without his towering political influence.

But his particular brand of realpolitik has not been popular with everyone. It can be argued that political solutions which lead to the deaths of countless innocent people are not ideal.

I think Tom Lehrer said it best, when asked why he had stopped writing satirical political songs: ‘When Kissinger won the Nobel peace prize, satire died.’

Our great contradiction

As humans, we are problem solvers. This makes sense, because it’s how we have survived as a species, and pretty much taken over the planet in the process.

But it means that we are not at our best when things are going well. Rather, we are at our best when something is wrong, and we need to fix it.

This is likely why the stories that we tell each other revolve around problems. Nobody wants to hear a story where nothing goes wrong. That’s just boring.

But give us a hero and a problem and a race for a solution, and we’re hooked. To find meaning, we need to be working toward something.

This is our great contradiction: We seek happiness, yet it is not exactly happiness that we seek, but the seeking of happiness.

Not Bob Dylan

Today, walking down the street in Greenwich Village, I saw a young man who was channeling the young Bob Dylan. He had the hair, the outfit, the exact walk. He even had the right facial expression.

And in that moment it occurred to me that no matter how much this young man wanted to be Bob Dylan, he was never going to write Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues or Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right or Forever Young or Hard Rain or Blowin’ in the Wind.

You can adapt everything about a person whom you admire, except their genius. That belongs to them alone.

Breaking the ice

Sometimes it seems that you just cannot take it.
You’re not feeling social, you don’t want to fake it.
So you order a drink, just for breaking the ice
And everything suddenly seems very nice!
People are friendly, the room has more cheer
You lose inhibitions, you lose all your fear.
But something is nagging in back of your mind
Why are you needing that drink to unwind?
Is there something you’re missing you really should see,
Is that drink that you’re drinking not setting you free?
Then you have an odd thought which will make you forsake it:
Why is there ice, that we all need to break it?

No VR headsets in Costco

I was wandering through a Costco today, and I noticed that they have every possible variety of large screen flat TV, smartwatch, data tablet, phone (folding or otherwise), audio device, or pretty much any other electronic gadget that you might dream of having in your home. Except VR headsets.

To me, this seems like a strong statement about where things are. As far as the nation’s largest and most comprehensive general purpose retailer is concerned, VR is simply not a thing.

I wonder whether that will change after June 5th.