Position and Momentum

I’m not a scientist but I have a casual interest in what might be called “popular science.” I subscribe to the science channels on youtube and I learn what I can when I can. Sometimes things go right over my head but other times I end up with an elementary understanding of something.

An example of the former is Heisenberg’s Uncertain Principle which says that the more you know about a particle’s position, the less you know about its momentum – and vice versa. In simple terms, if I know where it is then I know less about where it’s going. If I now more about it’s movement, I know less about it’s position. It’s unintuitive but Derek from Veritasium can explain it better than I can.

uncertainty-principle

I’m not a scientist but I am a poet. So I try to find the links between ideas. It’s hard (but not impossible) to reconcile poetry’s appeal to beauty and science’s appeal to empirical data, but here’s what I think the uncertainty principle teaches us about ourselves.

We’re often so busy, goal-oriented, or career-minded that we forget to think about our surroundings. Where are we? Who are we? What kind of person am I? These go unanswered as we constantly look to where we are going. But sometimes things go wrong. We have some kind of crisis and have to do some soul-searching. We ask ourselves these questions about ourselves but we’re scared because we don’t know where we’re going.

The more we know about where we’re going, the less we know about where we are – and vice versa. We can turn out attention to the present or the future but not both at once.

This means that sometimes we have to get lost to learn about ourselves, and sometimes we have to forget ourselves to pull forward.

Since graduating university, I’ve felt completely lost. I don’t know at all where I’m supposed to be going or how to get there. I know nothing about my momentum. But in a state of having to slow down, I’ve come to learn a lot more about myself.

Now, the uncertainty principle is rather pessimistically named. If my analogy is valid then life is a choice between being uncertain one way or uncertain another way. I want to make this more optimistic and say that my alternative is Aaron’s Certainty Principle – that we will either be certain about our momentum or certain about ourselves. The choice is not between doubt and doubt but between certainty and certainty!

…But I’m not sure about that right now.

GW344H261

Advertisements

How To Have An Opinion

At the beginning of the summer, I came to a life-changing realization.

“Wait… I’m allowed to have controversial opinions!”

This mainly came up through my study of religions, in which controversy is inevitable. Also inevitable is that controversial figures survive. When someone disagrees with them, the world doesn’t end.

Man_yelling_at_computer

This may seem entirely obvious to some. I remember back in 9th grade when my class was first taught how to write essays. We were told that we must take a stance or assert a point. As my university theater professor told us, “Say something!” I continue to resist this. I don’t think you have to have an immediate opinion on new information. I prefer to withhold judgement for as long as possible, taking time to consider the different sides.

The grass is greener on the other side, but not so when you’re sitting on the fence!

Of course, eventually one should come to a conviction. We should discover truth, not just assimilate perspectives. On some of my university essays I wished I could have written “I don’t know how I feel about this!” But those discoveries should eventually come.

So I am now allowing myself to have opinions that invite controversy. And, it seems, a lot of people my age are also discovering this for the first time. Some discovered it a long time ago (perhaps sooner than they should have) but the opinion-holding newborns have found some consistent ways to broadcast their novice status.

When someone posts an article on facebook in defense of a position, some detractors will tirelessly patrol that link making sure that swift rebuttal comes to any comment with the slightest disagreement. This strikes me as a sign of insecurity. To me, it says that their position is so weak that if the other position gets even a moment to defend itself that it’ll be game over.

I also see lots of exaggeration. It’s not enough to assert that “A” is right and “B” is wrong, then to provide some reasons for the strengths and weaknesses of the positions. “It is always the novice who exaggerates,” as C. S. Lewis said. The rhetoric becomes much more polarized when the novices are around. “A” has to be beyond reproach and “B” has to start a slippery slope into total immorality. The conversation turns into a competition of who can construct the most elaborate straw man.

These are a couple faults. I’m sure I’ve been guilty of that last one, albeit in a less strong way than many of my facebook friends or twitter followers. I really don’t understand the mindset of those who can’t allow the other side to speak. I’ve written pieces condemning the Black / All Lives Matter argument and a piece critiquing Pokemon: Go (perhaps harsher than merited) but I’ve never tried to silence or intentionally ignore the other side.

So how do you have an opinion?
Step One: Have your (informed) opinion.
Step Two: Let others have their opinion.
Step Three: Discuss opinions fairly.

I think that’s pretty much the crux of it. We can obviously challenge each other, we most certainly should, but we should do so while really listening to the other perspective. Things like Trump or Clinton, Christianity or Islam, Corporal Punishment or Not – these are not matters of life and death.

Heck, even matters of life and death don’t progress if everyone’s just screaming past each other. A pro-lifer and a pro-choicer aren’t going to learn anything from each other if they’re just angry and don’t listen.

So that’s my opinion on how you should have an opinion. What’s yours?

Bastion – A Christian Retrospective

Context: I’m beginning to look at venues for my writing and publications that will take my work. I expect a slow start, but I’m trying to build contacts and get all the practice I can get. I’ve recently been in contact with the editor of a Christian paper focused on a reformational worldview and that immediately made me think of Bastion.

“Bastion? Hey, 2011 called! It wants its game back!” Why is it that old books become classics but old video games become forgotten? Very sad. I’ll have to fix that somehow. For now, this:


“Proper story’s supposed to start at the beginning. Ain’t so simple with this one. Now here’s a kid whose whole world got twisted, leaving him stranded on a rock in the sky. He gets up…”

Bastion_Rippling_Walls

These are the first words of the 2011 XBLA hit Bastion, a videogame by Supergiant Games. These words also apply greatly to you and me. Bastion is a game about a broken world. Playing as “the Kid”, you start the game by waking up on a bed lying on a rock suspended over the ruined landscape of the world below. As you get up and begin to move, terrain rises up from beneath and gives you room to move forward.

When you wake up in Bastion you aren’t sure what happened or how you got there. All you know is that there’s been a “calamity” and the world has gone horrible wrong. As the land rises up beneath you, the story of this broken world become clearer.

The world of Bastion is made up of two nations: the Caelondians and the Ura. Latin students may instantly recognize the word Caelondia shares a root with the word Caelus, meaning heaven or sky. With that in mind, Ura may very well be a reference to Uranus, the Greek equivalent of Caelus. We learn that the Caelondians and the Ura once fought a war. Worried about the war turning against them, the Caelondians built “The Bastion – where everyone agreed to go in case of trouble.”

What follows is a story about how this world broke and how to put it back together again. Obviously for Christians, this is a story we know well. Bastion evokes the Fall and Redemption themes in the narrative of Creation, Fall, and Redemption. We are born into this fallen world, “stranded on a rock in the sky,” and we have to piece together what we’re going to do about.

Of course, we know that we can’t do anything about it. The only one who can fix this world is Christ. That’s why the player character, The Kid, is the Christ-figure in this game. He’s the one that can fix the Bastion, the Bastion being a refuge from the ruined world and an in-game equivalent for the church. The Kid carries a crest, a symbol of Caelondia, that causes the fragments of the ruined world to rise so he can stand on them – fight on them, even.

Now some spoilers: In the final levels of Bastion, you are presented with two choices. The first has to do with an Ura, one of your former enemies named Zulf. Zulf sabotaged the Bastion and abandoned it only to be later betrayed by his countrymen. In the final level you fight the Ura while carrying a heavy battering ram as a weapon. When you reach Zulf, badly beaten, you have a choice to leave him for dead or abandon your weapon and carry Zulf to safety. If you choose to save Zulf, you throw the battering ram away, abandoning your weapon, and carry your enemy to safety. You’re attacked as you walk but the attackers eventually cease out of respect when they see that The Kid isn’t giving up. I can’t help but think of Christ when I see the Kid carrying the battering ram on his shoulders like the cross and then giving up his only defense to save his enemy.

The second choice is to either reset the world or carry on with your newfound friends in the Bastion. When you reset the world, the relationships you’ve built throughout the game disappear and the narrator enigmatically says “See you in the next one,” suggesting that in a reset world, the same Calamity would take place. But if you choose to carry on, what you’ve built from the broken world remains. The world is not reset, but it is redeemed. I find parallels in this with God’s choice to spare some of the creation that grieved him from destruction in the story of Noah and the Flood. He did not destroy all that he had built but chose to redeem it, culminated in the sacrifice of Christ.

What does all this mean? So much. This is just a snapshot of the biblical parallels and themes in Bastion. This is a game that asks a lot of interesting and challenging questions. It is a great lens to consider our place and our works in a broken world, but I think it also says something very specific to Christians. So often we look over the medium of videogames because we assume it to be childish or else immoral. But there are also thoughtful game designers trying to craft rich and rewarding experiences for their players. These designers are working in a broken medium and they are trying to reform it. Moreover, they are succeeding. Supergiant Games might not be trying to push a Christian perspective, but they are creating venues of dialogue in which the Christian message can be spoken.

We’ve all woken up in a twisted world, stranded on a rock in the sky. We know there’s been a calamity, but we know Christ. “They remember. That’s why this place is comin’ together. That’s why things are gonna be alright.”


I’d love to write similar material on Talos Principle, Myst, and dozens of others titles. Videogames have so much more to offer in terms of interpretation and discourse than we ever do justice to. Some like Extra Credits are putting in a solid effort. Props to them.

Anyway, I could say a hundred more things about Bastion, but bed.

But seriously, how do you concisely explain the role of Zulf to Christians who have never played Bastion? I’ll have to work on that.

Great Britain is an Island, But English Isn’t

What even is English, anyway? “A language,” say those unimpressed by my attempts to sound profound. “A West-Germanic language of considerable Romance influence,” says the linguist. “A really dumb language,” says the linguistic novice who resents his native tongue’s inconsistencies, unaware of its rich history.

The common denominator above is that it is a language. But what is a language? Sure, Xidnaf made a video asking that question but you might have never heard of Xidnaf (and I want to fix that). And I want to offer my own experience and perspective.

A linguist (or an amateur language enthusiast like myself) can easily identify which of their friends are polyglots and which only speak one language. There are as many tells as there are monoglots. Here are a few from my own experience.

“How can diversity of language be a good thing?” – Said the speaker of the international mosaic language.

“It looks like Arabic.” – Said of the D’ni Script, subjective and understandable.

“I don’t know how to read Old English.” – Said of Shakespeare who did not write in Old English. Said by a student of theatre, curiously. By the way, each of these people is brilliant in their field. Anything I said about sociology or film would sound extremely stupid to them, I’m sure.

I find that last example particularly interesting because, despite Shakespeare’s works being written in Early Modern English and not Old English, it’s probably still true. He doesn’t know how to read Old English and neither do I!

IMG_20160802_153908

Beowulf – Seamus Heaney’s Edition

What even is this?

IMG_20160802_160925

The Wanderer – 1917 Library Discard Bin Edition

Oft him an…What?

“Wait, you’re telling me that that’s English?” Yup. So how is ‘Oft him anhaga are gebideth’ the same language as what you’re reading now? If you don’t already know the history, it’s hard to see how Old and Modern English are the same language. So why is that English while other languages aren’t? How do you draw those borders? I don’t know myself and the jury seems to be out on that, but let me submit this for consideration:

IMG_20160802_154508

The Aeneid – Trans. Gavin Douglas, Modern Spelling (Blue because that’s how my phone camera makes me feel)

Parts of it make sense, right? Some of it looks like familiar English, some of it looks like English spelled wrong, and some of it is just bizarre. This is Scots! Is it a dialect? Is it a language? Who knows! But it demonstrates a common phenomenon – dialect continuums, when you have a series of dialects that change from region to region, mutually intelligible (understandable) with their neighbors but not with their neighbor’s neighbor’s neighbors.

Here’s one of my favourite examples of Scots, taken from the Wikipedia page on Scots in Scots.

Yeirhunder

Yeirhunder? … Year hunder? …Century! Hundred years! Delightful! We can deduce from sound and context what this word means even though we’ve never seen it before. ‘Aunshint’ looks completely alien until we say it out loud and hear ‘Ancient’.

While English has loads of pidgins, creoles, patois, and dialects to consider, we see this phenomenon more often (at least, more obviously) in romance languages. Occitan is a beautiful and sadly obscure language that blends aspects of French and Spanish and throws in some of its own idiosyncrasies straight from Latin. Catalan is a more popular neighbor to Occitan. If you speak Castilian Spanish or French, check out this comparison of the Lord’s Prayer in romance dialects.

Lords Prayer

Source? I’ve lost it.

Sanctifié, Santifique, Santificat, Santificado. Père, Paire, Pare, Padre. Ciel, Cèl, Cel, Cielo. French and Spanish are not mutually intelligible, especially when spoken and not just written. The differences in sounds further obscure what was already very different on paper. But there are shades of these languages that blend into each other and create something new.

No language is an island. Max Weinreich once said “A language is a dialect with an army and fleet.” I could go on for pages and pages with further examples, but all I want to leave you with for now is that Scots and Occitan are awesome and language is so much more dynamic than we often realize.

I encourage everyone to learn another language, but failing that you can at least learn some different kinds of English. There are plenty more where that came from.

(If you’re a french speaker, I recommend this video by youtuber Linguisticae on Dialect Continuums.)


 

Appendix: Aaron’s Terrible Theory of Mind

I generally assume that anything I know is already known by pretty much everyone. This belongs to a series of self-belittling attitudes I have towards myself. Having articulated this attitude, it occurs to me that it probably isn’t true.

So far I’ve only written things on this blog that are very new to me, such as some poems, a poem analysis, and a terrible song I wrote as a poem analysis. I was subconsciously refusing to write anything that wasn’t fresh to me because I assumed that everyone had probably figured it out already. Now I’m going to try just sharing things that I enjoy or am interested in, whether they’re fresh out of the oven or stale bodies of interest such as Scots. If I assume everyone already knows everything, I’ll never get to share anything with anyone.

So if you’re an expert with five doctorates and you already know everything about language, literature, religion, the decline of our moral constitution through pocket monsters, or anything else I’ll end up writing about, I just want to say I’M SO SORRY!

(I am only a little bit sorry)

Tim Horton’s and Identity Crisis

I’ve written very little lately and the reason is Tim Horton’s. I was hired as a ‘baker’ recently and that has taken up a lot of my attention. It’s been an exhausting adjustment for a variety of reasons. I’ve had bad experiences working in kitchens in the past and this is the first real job I’ve ever had, meaning I didn’t get it through a family member. It’s also the first job of any sort that I’ve had in two years as most of my recent life was dominated by being a full time student.

But the main mechanic in this attention-hijacking operation was an identity crisis. I have been a student all of my life. Even now that I’m not a student, I am still a student. I might not have any classes or exams but I still read and think like mad. I read philosophy, poetry, religion, languages, and all sorts of other academic things. Most of my friends have been like-minded.

In university, I developed something resembling a fashion sense and I started dressing based on how I wanted others to perceive me. I learned to pride myself as a fanciful speaker. Then came Tim Horton’s which is the opposite of all that. You don’t think about about poetic devices of medieval drama when you’re in Tim Horton’s, you think about donuts. You don’t dress like the artistic flower you are, you dress like a Tim Horton’s ‘baker’. You don’t speak fancifully, cleverly, or subtly. You speak as darn fast as you can cuz the angry family with the crying kids wants their donuts and they want them now!

Some realizations followed. I don’t know how to not think about arts or literature or all the other things I brag about. I find it quite distressing to not think about those things! I find it quite distressing to wear the Tim Horton’s name with oppressive possessive “S”! And I can’t speak quickly! I don’t want to say “We’re out of apple fritters.” I want to say “Lo, fair ‘bakers’, how ironic be the show case’s name for it has none to show in the way of apple fritters.” or perhaps “The apply fritter basket is as empty as Jesus’ tomb, Hallelujah, AMEN!”

Actually, we don’t even say “We are out of apple fritters.” We say “wur owda-ablfrdrz.” This lack of elocution offends my inner theatre major. This job is – in its mechanics, atmosphere, and linguistic landscape – completely unlike anything I’ve been a part of before.

Oh, yeah, why do I keep putting quotation marks around “baker”? Because we don’t do any baking! Baking is an art! Baking starts with flour and water and big boxes of shortening that you squish your hand into. The final product is an expression of the one who made it. Tim Horton’s ‘baking’ involves putting pre-made, pre-packaged baked goods into an oven to warm up and then throwing them to the crying family that’s grumbling in a language I don’t know because the ‘bakers’ only made 100 vanilla dips when they should have made a 101st for poor little Ahmed (and Ahmed loves the sprinkles)!

So, I’m out of touch with the rest of the world, I’m out of touch with myself, Tim Horton’s is out of touch with what constitutes “Baking,” and the only reason I’m still working here is because I can use the money to buy books to learn Arabic.

And then I’ll know what little Ahmed is crying about. We will have come full circle. Until then, expect lots more blog posts because writing keeps me sane!

Edit: It doesn’t have to be Ahmed. It can be a Francoise, or… a common Indian name. Or it could be my colleague asking for the aforementioned ablfrdrz. No one there speaks a language I understand.