concert pianist / technologist / etc.


serene | 2017-03-27

(Restoring this old essay from a long time ago, because people said it helped them recover from depression.)

The Universe unfolded over 13.7 billion years to create you and I.

In that time, the Universe also created the device you are reading this on, and all the context which enables this reading to occur. Early in the first galactic cycle, primordial stars forged lighter elements into ever heavier elements via stellar nucleosynthesis. Upon the death bursts of those stars, gravitational localization pulled those heavier elements -- lanthanides, actinides, metals -- into systems of matter with sufficiently complex interaction repertoire to compose interesting stuff. These cultivated ecosystems capable of supporting a lineage of entangled carbon based lifeforms spanning eons on this particular planet. Evolutionary incentive structures eventually led to the ascension of homo sapiens sapiens .

Humans are lovely and often complicated, and the Universe continues to unfold.

Grappling with existence and the task of relating to each other and the environment, tools improved and social structures grew ever more complex, eventually realizing agricultural stability which cultivated higher systems of thought, the written word, and the advent of civilization. Despite a litany of self-defeating cultural and cognitive biases and society’s tendency to cling to procrustean legacies, and despite a long history of past societies succumbing to violent self-destruction, we have somehow survived this far, and our capacity to understand and manipulate natural phenomena improved vastly. The development of industry incentivized ever denser global networks to facilitate the flow and accumulation of resources, information, and culture. Advancement of the arts and the sciences accelerated at times, languished at other times, whilst morality and epistemics generally struggled with bigotry, racism, misogyny, greed, self-sabotage, and so on, in fits and starts. There remains much to be desired as far as our liberation from every form of anti-human and anti-life phenomona, and hatred remains to be transcended.

Civilization is lovely and often complicated, and the Universe continues to unfold.

Within various disciplines, specialization and sufficient expertise sometimes grew concentrated in some individuals and communities. In pursuit of solving concrete problems, sometimes with luck and perseverance, fun reality shifts occurred such as the expansion of the overall life expectancy of humans, and the manifestation of silicon-based turing completeness in physical reality. By mining and reorganizing those heavier elements forged earlier within ancient stars — metals such as silicon, copper, palladium, gold, zinc, tin, along with other more complex materials synthesized by modern industry — into ever more intricate and efficient patterns and von neumann architectures powered by marginally efficient methods of energy transfer, humans have configured atoms to manipulate bits, to allow bits to manipulate bits. A towering ecosystem of hardware and software, of ever more sophisticated abstraction has rapidly grown in just a few decades. Ever more effective components, instruction architectures, kernels, languages, protocols, applications, physical and social networks, all evolving together by leveraging the electromagnetic force into ever expanding function and scope. From receiving basic inputs or displaying visual content in light arrays such as this screen upon which these words are rendered, to storage and retrieval of arbitrary media, to the transfer of information instantaneously around the planet, to underpinning countless communities of post-geographic origin, to the creation of entire new fields and art forms, digital systems have evolved and will continue to evolve. Whether for human empowerment or suffering, and without much regard to sustainability, and with plenty of unintended and intended side-effects given individual and mass psychology, economic and cultural incentives have scaled ever more optimized devices into the homes and then pockets of billions.

Computers are lovely and complicated, and not just in the technical sense. The Universe continues to unfold.

Of those billions of modern day homo sapiens sapiens , you and I are among the most privileged subset with sufficient literacy and resources to afford these devices while having enough of a shared language to parse content like this blog, overcoming my deficiencies as a writer, enabling at least some communication to occur.

The fact that the Universe exists and is beautiful is enough to ignite within me constant urgency and wonder. We operate on time gifted to us by the Universe. To me, that responsibility is immense. By that regard, it’s tragic to squander the Universe's time, both on the individual level and on any zoom level above.

Most of the planet remains mired in the struggle for basic survival, while many who are not, largely distract themselves with hedonic treadmills and the accumulation of wealth, or at least the simulacra of wealth. This rift is a great meta-squandering of time and resources, and manages to foment hatred across every conceivable categorical separation of humans, and causes suffering for everyone.

Despite current infrastructure and technology, we are experiencing a pandemic of squandered time and underutilized human agency. It is tragic for most of the planet to spend inordinate time on basic survival when human progress has made the privilege of abundance tangible to all, yet this privilege remains out of reach of most for lousy reasons such as the brain chemistry of a handful of individuals who would rather wage various wars which reinforce feedback loops which rejustify such dysfunctional brain chemistries, which then generates a fractal war. It is tragic to spend inordinate time mitigating unnecessary conflict or human suffering whether arising from simple misunderstanding, imbalanced focus on highly expensive repair over efficient prevention, or convoluted epistemic train-wrecks in culture, economics, and policy. Even seemingly inoccuous phenomena such as boredom in the first world has tragic roots relating to this misallocation and squandering of time and resources. Unattached, the Universe continues to unfold.

Let’s find a better way.

In the search for the optimal intersection of skill, need, and impact one can make in life, learning and growing is primary. This implies choosing which skills to spend precious time developing, if such bandwidth is available. Unfortunately, such bandwidth is systemically limited. The delta between survival and having the freedom to pursue an actual life is described by feedback loops of privilege and wealth.

But what is wealth, really? It certainly isn’t atomic number 79, highly regulated pieces of paper, or electrical impulses describing ones bank account balance. Real wealth appears to relate to mental and physical health, along with the freedom to spend time however one wishes. Wealth is time. High-quality time, the same time gifted to us by the Universe. Everything else is just a proxy for wealth, or a proxy for a proxy. And when these proxies get twisted all the way around, we get fun things like late-stage neoliberalist hyper-capitalism.

In the context of capitalism, wealth is realized to a degree when you do not have to trade time for money. Freedom for many individuals is realized by a surplus of money, often due to arrangements which provide either direct and automatic access to survival-solving resources, or degrees of passive income detached from personal time-bound obligations, which can occur in an enormous variety of contexts, many which unfortunately are not truly actually sustainable, with potentially a darker aspect. This must be distinguished from the state of not being able to trade time for money, which describes a more insidious failure mode at the edges of the needless fractal war as described earlier.

While markets solve many problems, unfortunately, we have incentivized those already advantaged at this game to easily and continuously reallocate time wealth and freedom from those who need it most to those who already have it and are potentially even supersaturated without expressing the requisite agency and wisdom, and are therefore at risk of causing more harm than good. We have ossified coercive structures based on the fallacy of scarcity and effects of spatial and temporal bias on human cognition. Overcome by delusion and suspicion, we consume toxicity, place the unqualified on thrones, and expend disproportionate resources building bombs or enacting slow-motion genocide, and occasionally genocide at tempo. We really should stop doing that.

What to do?

All I know is I am but one instantiation of homo sapiens sapiens , and must begin with my personal sphere of influence. This includes optimizing how I spend my time, acquiring more time, and applying this time towards various optimizations and evolutions.

I started writing this post to both appreciate the Universe, and articulate my thoughts on how and why I value time. This thought process has been fun for me, and I hope the resulting piece of writing might be interesting and relevant to you if you've read this far.

It’s true that over the past few years, I’ve filled most of my time by not writing, and so my blog is currently sparse. Beyond maintaining health and personal sustainability, using my accumulated privileges to generate financial independence (to be explained in a subsequent post), maximizing the number of hours of piano practice each day, working on internet freedom tools , and autodidacting broadly to better understand the world (though such understanding feels like it only moves farther away), writing has not been prioritized. But in admiration of those who have made words their weapon of choice, and in recognition of the value in this skill, I’ll level up as I can. So here we are.

As the Universe continues to unfold, the evolution of self-regenerative systems of ever increasing complexity, capability, and maturity is beautiful. This is true progress. It takes place over immense spans of time, though timeframes appear to be accelerating and crashing at the same time. Each of our individual existences is but one part in the symphony of the Universe’s progress as well. In order to spend our Universe's time well, we must begin by not squandering individual time.

Optimal usage of time requires optimal mental and emotional states. While I deprecated the anger module long ago, it might now also be time to deprecate other modules like upset, and any other truly unhelpful mental states. Otherwise, distraction and squandering occurs. Maybe such suboptimal states are acceptable sometimes, but if it's chronic over a lifetime, the outcome becomes the loss of much time. Unfortunately this happens quite often for everyone, it seems. Those buttons are particularly easy to push especially with the present state of the world, entangled with our online landscape of abysmal signal-to-noise.

Remove all distraction, note the wonder of our existence, extract yourself from existing scripts if you haven't already, and realize what we can do.

This planet is bathed with a surplus of life-sustaining energy thanks to our local star, and civilization has advanced to the point where it’s entirely possible to establish a healthy and sustainable global existence indefinitely, modulo thermonuclear war or the end years of our local star We need to upgrade our crumbling, debt-driven, cancerous & suicidal physical infrastructure with far stronger, sustainable, post-fossil-fuel, health-producing future infrastructure. We must upgrade our informational infrastructure to maximize human agency, freedom of thought and expression, antifragile against censorship, manipulation, and splintering, and incentivized towards compassion and not hate. We need to figure out those networks of livingry Buckminster Fuller was talking about. We need to dismantle the surveillance state and reverse the trend towards a balkanized online world, by baking secure mechanisms fundamentally rooted in consent and privacy into core internet protocols. We need to solve the efficient transfer of competence, wisdom, and perspective of larger timeframes and systems, not by sheltering and coddling children into permanent helplessness, but by given them agency and igniting innate excitement, and hopefully we'll begin to have a chance of developing future generations of homo sapiens sapiens with much more of a clue than us.

If more people had freedom from existing incentive structures, and were wealthy in True Universe Time, we could study, we could elevate, and organically expand default wealth and privileges to all humans. We could live. And build a reality where we fulfill our potential as a civilization and exceed the expectations of this Universe.

The alternative is extinction. What will you do?

Either way, the Universe continues to unfold.

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Last Update: 2022.03.21 | Thoughts my own. | © 2013-2022 Serene