Pedram's stream of consciousness

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Self, Salvation, and Suffering

Is being selfless actually selfish? Think about the philosophy of Buddhism to reject the earthly world and all its temptations in order to cleanse the soul in order to reach enlightenment. This strikes me as odd because while it is not focused on the physical self it does preach a life that is totally devoted to the self (defined as the soul). Ok fine, now I'm not focused on what I eat or the clothes I wear so you can't really call me selfish (in the traditional sense that most people understand) but all I care about is my salvation, "f**k the rainforest, f**k global warming, can't you see I'm getting jiggy with my soul"

Instead of engaging the world, they totally reject it and focus on nothing (in an attempt to cleanse their souls). It seems like the true path to salvation/enlightenment/etc would be to realize that they want to cleanse their soul and instead they go to Las Vegas to gamble, eat at all-you-can-eat buffets, and date showgirls until they have no money, cholesterol problems, and enough STDs to kill a horse.

I realize that this line of argument isn't flawless but it is kinda fun to think about (given I have been coding all day and all I can think about is exceptions being thrown while my MD5 hash implementation keeps loading a deprecated library). So the true path to salvation is to realize the path but to totally reject it.... but if you realize that the path to salvation is to realize the path and reject it, then that is selfish so maybe you should take the path... no, you shouldn't take it.... wait, I think I had it right the first time... nope, that was wrong... shoot it was.. AHA I GOT IT. So what you have to do is see the path and then if you want to take the path, actually go the opposite way but if your heart leans away from taking the path, then you gotta take it. WOW, I understand now; the path to salvation is suffering... DAMN IT, the Buddhist were right in the first place "Life is Suffering" as said by the Bodhisattva.

Argghg... Ok, so here we go: In order to get from A to B, you must take the most painful route. Is there a connection between this and bottled water? I don't know but for what it's worth, when I was young and I would watch the Pee Wee Herman show, the talking couch always freaked me out.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Multiple paths

I think it is really interesting that when a baby is born, it has an unlimited number of different paths it can take. Right now, while you are reading this blog, there is a set of actions and words that could make you a billionaire, janitor, pope, or even Elvis impersonator. That is pretty cool! Think about what would have happened if the Dali Lama had decided, at the age of 5, that he didn't like Tibet and he wanted to move to LA. He could have come to LA and become one of the biggest porn stars on earth.

On that same thread, there are probably a dozen Einsteins mopping floors or chasing zebras but because of the circumstances they find themselves in, they can't harvest this ability and share it with the world. If Bill Gates hadn't made Microsoft what it is today, maybe Kenny Melvison from Oklahoma would have made the equivalent.

If JFK wasn't assassinated, maybe your parents wouldn't have spent that extra 5 minutes reading the paper and their paths would have never crossed. Or maybe they would have met but conceived their child a month earlier or later. His death meant that the particular egg and sperm that you came from could one day collide.

Think about that the next time you decide to cancel a trip, or hit the snooze bar, or get drunk in Mexico and let a guy named Jose tattoo his name on your butt.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Making decisions

Greedy algorithms are simple approaches to solving problems in computer science. The basic principle is that you have an agent who makes decisions to maximize utility/reward based on the current state. The principle seems logical but when you apply the approach to hill climbing, for example, the basic flaws are exposed. The basic problem is that the algorithm can get stuck in local maxima or minima depending on what you want to optimize for.

This is not meant to be a lecture on computer science and in fact my point in writing this blog is to see how this approach applies to life. It seems that the basic approach of always maximizing for the short-term can lead to situations where you get stuck because you aren't willing to make short term sacrifices for long term rewards.

Basic lesson: This myopic way of thinking has been proven sub-optimal in computer science, so there is no reason to believe that it will work in life.