Today I wandered out of Manhattan and spent time in Brooklyn. Brooklyn is a beautiful place, and the energy there is wonderfully different from the energy in its denser sister borough.

Also, I was reminded again that Brooklyn has one thing that Manhattan could never have: Really spectacular views of Manhattan.

I think there may be a philosophical point to be found somewhere in that thought.

The last line of the movie

I just watched me Barbie movie, which I liked very much. I was struck by how succinctly the dramatic arc of Gerwig and Bombach’s story was encapsulated by the very last line of dialogue in the film.

This is true of other great scripts as well. One obvious example is Robert Towne’s screenplay for Chinatown.

I wonder how many films can be described in this way: The last line of dialogue neatly encapsulates the arc of its hero’s journey.

The day after sheer dumb luck

Today was both really productive and really enjoyable. I am sure that a lot of that was due to waking up this morning and thinking about the disaster that didn’t happen yesterday.

It feels as though a giant hand from above has pointed at me and said “I’m going to give you a chance here — make the most of it.” Respecting those wishes (you do not want to cross a giant hand from above), I have indeed done just that.

If I could just bottle this feeling of “things almost went really really badly, but they didn’t”, and use it to power each day, I might become both the happiest and most productive person I know. Unfortunately, I realize that after a while such states of mind begin to fade back into the ordinary.

Oh well. I am going to enjoy this feeling as long as it lasts.

Shifts in reality

If you were to go back in time, even a little bit, everything would seem weird. That’s because we don’t notice when things change.

By definition, our current day-to-day life is labeled as normal. So we don’t really notice the ways that our life is different from how it used to be.

Case in point: If you were to go back to before March 2020, you would find a world in which pretty much all meetings were in person. To attend a meeting, you needed to show up with your physical body.

Now that we routinely meet over Zoom, we forget how much of a change this is from the very recent past. I now have colleagues around the world with whom I meet to collaborate all the time, and I don’t really think much about it.

Similar radical shifts in reality happened when SmartPhones came out, and before that when libraries started to be replaced, for many purposes, by Wikipedia. To me the most fascinating thing about all this is not the radical shifts themselves, but how quickly we collectively absorb them and then forget that they ever happened.

The quantum nature of intelligence

As far as we know, all intelligence is contained within brains. Some of those brains belong to humans, others belong to dogs or other species. The important point is that we have no evidence that there is any actual intelligence in our Universe outside of the brains of living beings.

I think of this when I see a crowd of people walking around, and I also see around them the manifestation of human intelligence in the form of human made things, be they cars, buildings, clothing, books or smart phones. All of these objects are the result of collective human thought, yet none of those objects possesses any actual intelligence — only brains possess intelligence.

This in turn makes me think of quantum theory. For most of human history, the Universe was thought to be continuous. Solids and fluids were believed to be undifferentiated masses of homogeneous stuff.

Then we learned that matter actually consists of little components called molecules, which are built from still smaller components called atoms. Still later we learned that those atoms are themselves comprised of still smaller particles called electrons, protons and neutrons.

Eventually we learned that even the behavior these elementary particles is discrete in nature, since an elementary particle can exist in only a finite number of quantum states.

All of this reiterates the way intelligence works in the world. We see its manifestation all around us, which creates the illusion that it permeates our world as a sort of continuous property. But in reality, it is entirely contained in relatively tiny things called brains — which collectively hold, as far as we know, all the intelligence in the Universe.