Halloween

The story begins, on that fateful night,

Where nothing is sacred, not even the light,

And the howl of some creatures, echo from outside,

And no matter where you go, there’s nowhere to hide.

In the dark of the shadows, they lurk for you to find,

When you turn round to catch them, you’ll think they’re tricks of the mind.

And you’ll laugh a little, and you’ll kid yourself on,

Until bony fingers reach out, and with one snap, you’re gone.

 

You’ll wake up in bed, all at once with a fright,

While downstairs two foot spiders, creep in from outside.

Witches and monster bicker, for who gets your life,

At the same time you’re thankful; you think you’re no longer in strife.

If only you knew, the things they want to do,

If only you could realise, one of them will come true.

It could have been the clown, that waits outside your door,

It could have been the demon you’ll see, in your reflective floor.

But the monster that has won, and answers the call,

Is the boogeyman of horrors, except he’s no man at all.

 

The midnight hour, is within reach of clock hand,

You’ll cower in your bed, too afraid to stand.

And as sweat begins to pour, from under your skin,

You’ll stick your feet out of covers, instead of tucking them in.

You’ll repeat verses of bravery, terror you try to disguise,

But under your bed, is a creature with bulging eyes.

It takes joy in the hunt, it feeds on the fear,

It keeps its growl under breath, as it feels that you’re near.

It has teeth so sharp, and it creeps with a smile,

It won’t make a sound, not for a while.

And when you think you are safe, and your hand reaches to turn off the light,

A tongue will wrap round your arm, and you’ll hear whisper, “Good night.”

 

 

 

 

Discussion: Language, without barometer

Suppose that in ten million years, humanity has been long wiped off the face of the planet. Some life still remains, but it has regressed to a more primitive state, due to some cataclysmic event, caused by our own iniquity, or some element of chance.
No animal that could understand the basics of calculus has existed on the rock called Earth for a very long time.

When one day, entirely by chance, our no longer blue planet is discovered, by some nomadic civilisation, who managed to achieve travel into the stars without using that same technology to blow each themselves up. In the ruins alone, under the assumption that concrete has eroded into mere particles that blew in the wind, and pages from books lost their ink; this civilisation would be able to piece together very little of what we were. Even if somehow some homestead had managed to endure the withering of time – if it had been cocooned in a blanket of ice, for instance; where would you even begin to understand what objects were?

A slab of metal and glass filled with silicon lines, in the corner of a room, where every piece of furniture is pointed at it. Knives and forks on the dinner table, for fighting no doubt. Window frames on the second floor, because we could jump so high, and often used that for quick access. Cloth in wooden containers, powdered energy in glass jars, animal carcasses in large white frozen boxes. It would be a frightening world of guesswork without a basis by which to guess. Everyone has had that experience of trying to tell a story, that was funny at the time, but after telling it out loud you find the other person does not find it so. Think of this, except not only do you not speak the same language, but you share no history, no culture, no prospects, no allegiances, and perhaps not even the same galaxy.

Now let’s suggest that humanity as a collective decides that the idea of a future civilisation discovering our remains and not being able to fabricate who we were is just too harsh a thought to bare. So they decide to devise a solution to this, or at least to devise a means in which to help these future nomads. And as a collective, they have decided to accept applications from anyone on the planet, and accept any ideas anyone on the planet may have on how best to communicate with the future visitors.

The problem then becomes the focus of this article: How do you communicate with these visitors? How do you construct a language, without barometer? In our own world, translations of works are inherently different to the language in which they were originally written, mainly because there is no word which translates over 100% – but at least we have something by which we can vaguely relate it to. But with an alien visitor -you don’t even have a set of words, objects, animals, or plants, by which you could guarantee you share. Not only this, but you cannot even predict the senses this alien might use to perceive the world around them. It is not enough to suggest you could communicate in a language that is a concatenation of a number of languages that are most frequently used or most expressive; because you cannot guarantee this creature has ears. Or perhaps they do but do not hear in the same frequency as we do. Perhaps you wish to communicate in symbols? – Well it has taken us thousands of years to build up semiotics to the point we can look at something and register to which category it belongs to at a glance, and even now most humans struggle with all of them, they differ in time and they differ from culture to culture. Equally, as before, the visiting nomads may not have eyes. Or if they do, maybe they do not see colour in the same range that we do. Lets say that they do have eyes – well what do they even register as a note? Say they looked at English at a glance, they could interpret the white space between the letters as the symbols rather than the letters themselves.

The possibilities are near endless for interpretation. This would be fair to say of something that came from our planet, or even our galaxy. But this could be a visitor that we may not even recognise as intelligent life, and yet regardless, it is. So much so that it had travelled through the stars to find us.

Furthermore then, we have an obligation to protect intelligent life as best as we can. To avoid any kind of pain and anguish where we can. If something can intelligent understand the universe and perceive its own consciousness, it must be our responsibility to ensure it.
It is important then to have this discussion – say we are aware of what brought about our destruction. It is our obligation then, to warn these visitors of the dangers we could not avoid. Perhaps areas of contamination, physical or otherwise, should be left in the past and certain technologies either avoided or proceeded with caution. The question being, how do we do this?

How would you communicate to something that may not even perceive the world in the same way that you do? And on a more personal note… Would you? Would you personally make an application to share your thoughts on how best to do this?

Arguably our only efforts to communicate without language thus far, is music. For thousands of years, we have communicated celebration, happiness, fear and war to others through music. No lyrics required to communicate exactly how we feel. Perhaps this would be our best bet to begin. Perhaps the sound of children laughing, the rain forest, or the ocean reaching the shoreline. The times at which we as a species were most at peace.
But then, while this may provide an example of our environment – it doesn’t necessarily define who we were or are. When we were good or bad. When we loved, and when we hated.

If we continue on a scientific trend – would we leave behind a hologram of a child as an ark of information, to provide context to who we were? Would this be the most realistic option, to convey our messages of peace in as many images and as many words as we possibly could? Could this child hold out a hand, with the bumps on his hand spelling in braille, and his words echoed in every other language, and Morse code? Would what the child spoke even resonate on any parallel? Should we literally throw sounds and light in some form of pattern, and hope that something sticks? Data dump our history and languages in as many different patterns as possible? Perhaps an AI, that can use everything that we are currently to determine what COULD be encountered in the future? Statistically, this is probably necessary. As much as they would like to earn us, we may need to learn it first, in the form of some machine learning. To discuss topics not only do we not understand yet, but we may never even have encountered in our cosmically short lifespan.

What if we decided that we wanted to communicate, only that which we wanted to communicate. I.e. perhaps we would wish to leave out the horrid parts of our history, or tell much more embellished versions of it in myth, legend, and art rather than the much more hard to swallow science and objectivity. If we were to do that, how could we separate semantics from pragmatism? To say very clearly what is, and not what we meant to say. This applies to our language, and also our visualisation of our culture. Say we built, or painted, or sculpted a grand cathedral, and hid it in some frozen ark – we may try to convey how complex and grandiose we were in our architectural choice – only to find that our visitor friends interpret the use of space as inefficient. They may regard our distinct lack of compactness instead, as a sign we were not intelligent whatsoever. That we were too wasteful. Perhaps then, they would be right.

The questions are endless, and arguably you could discuss for the millions of years we are hypothetically wiped out discussing what we could and should do – if and when we should – why and where we should. In fact, this question, which its infinite possibilities seems to grand a task to bestow upon us, and too great a burden to endure.

But if something is important enough, you must always try. Even if the expected outcome, is failure.

However; the question remains: Would you? And if so, how? How would you begin to construct a language to speak beyond the stars, without barometer?

Go.

What Lies Beyond

As you look into the night sky; and remark on the beauty of the universe in the shape of stars and nebula, you may at some point if given enough time, come to a realisation. These beautiful wonders, that have guided humanity since the dawn of our time, that have inspired poetry and created great works of art; may no longer be there. Light is the fastest thing that we understand. Nothing we perceive is greater than the speed of light. And yet even it, is finite. And the great span of distance from where we are, to where the stars lie beyond, is so great, that it takes finite definable light considerable length of time to reach us, and display to us the grandiosity of the stars, and nebulae, and everything beyond our world.

Potentially, these works of awe may have existed a length of time so greatly long ago, that the stars have not only died – but have dissipated and spread the elements of life into the universe since then. They may have brought about life in other parts of the universe, a life that may be so intelligent they too have used it to guide themselves through the dark, and used it to create light in works of art. How fascinating it is to think, that balls of light, crucibles of elements and life may have in turn brought about more life in new form, in places we cannot even hope to see. They may have inspired entire civilisations worth of culture, in what lies beyond.

Image result for pillars of creation
Pillars of Creation – A long dead mix of star and nebulae. This is a real image, taken from the Hubble telescope. Courtesy of NASA.GOV

They have done this, and they have done it so long ago, that cultures we may never meet, have already came and went based upon them. Yet still we see their awe. With certainty – stars will come and go – and yet still they inspire long after their implosion. It serves as evidence – that long after something dies – it can still be experienced.

Imagine you are in a room, and you are with one other person, facing them directly, as it would not be uncommon for you to do. You’re talking about something trivial and generally just spending time with someone you enjoy. You may smile and feel so in the moment with someone at that time, which is beautiful and remarkable in every way. But on a scientific level – there is a delay.

There is a delay between what happens for the self, and what the other person will see. There is a delay in sound. Sound travels at the speed of about 345 m/s, meaning that if this was a particularly massive room, a ball room perhaps in some large palace in Germany, that was this distance from one end to the other, if you stood at one end and your companion at the other, then there would be a one second delay between what you said, and when they heard it.

Now, when we actually experience this in reality, talking to our friends in close proximity, this delay is remarkably small. So small in fact, that relatively it is negligible. However, let’s not forget… it is still there. There is a similar delay with light – except that light travels significantly faster than sounds, at about 3 * 10 ^ 8 m/s (30’000’000’000 m/s), meaning that the delay is even more negligible. However, it IS still there.

To reiterate, what this means is that every time you talk to someone. there is a delay in when they say it, and when you see and hear it.

The complexity intensifies however, when our understanding of the universe and technology increase greatly. Let’s suggest that some far away intelligent being can view that conversation you are having with your friend; that they can view it on their version of a telescope which can see unimaginable distances away, and perhaps even translate what you are saying via subtle movements in your mouth and vocals cords, into whatever language they speak, effectively meaning they can see and hear you. The problem is, that if they are doing this millions of light years away from you – by the time they see it, it will have happened a long long time ago. Millions of years ago in fact.

But they are seeing and hearing it right now, to them, and yet you and your friend would have lived and died millions of years before. So how can this be?

Well… actually… this is exactly what’s happening with humanity and the stars. The two examples differ in negligible ways. So why even provide the two examples to say the same thing?

The reason being, it is necessary to humanise the following question; if everything we do is technically in a delay – if everything that we see and perceive is technically a memory – if all of time is relative to the person observing it, and there is no definite point of certainty – when does something, or more specifically someone… die?

If your friend perished in some terrible accident, to you they would be “dead” and naturally you would be very sad about it, and yet at the same time, this intelligent being could be observing them in their now, and viewing some certain events that happened before they were killed off in the third act. So they are dead to you, but not to this other being, who still sees and hears them, millions of years later.

It would seem then, that as the problem continues, the true crux of the issue – is that the general person still views time as an absolute constant, rather than simply constant – to you. In other words, relatively constant. Which is of course is an oxymoron.

What lies beyond, is not only new worlds, homes, discoveries, people, and cultures, but also the past, present, and future, simultaneously and all at once. It’s all just based on the perspective by which you view it.

Some comfort you can take from this, is that friends and family whom you have lost, some time in the past. No matter how long ago it was, they are not truly gone. Sadly, they are only gone, to you. But they are still smiling, and being happy, and looking at you with adoring eyes, from someone’s point of view, somewhere. Someone, somewhere, may be looking at you both in the past, with wondering eyes, and thinking, “They look happy.” And if some future technology could transport you an unimaginable distance away in an instant ( perhaps some quantum entanglement one day may teleport us ) then you could too, sit and view this person and you, watch each other with those same adoring eyes.

What lies beyond, is the past, future, and present; it’s the now and then; it’s the you and I.

Think of that, as you look into the night sky.

 

 

Shorts: The Call of the Void – (L’appel du vide)

You’ve had a great day at work. Perhaps someone complimented your appearance, or your hard work received the recognition you feel it deserves. You’re going home to your favourite meal, and since you’re ahead in all your chores, there is little to do but put your feet up, and relax the night away. You stand at the train station, as a light rain pours down, with a smile on your face as you think of all these simple delights that await you. At some point, you glance over, and see that a train is approaching. It is not your train, and it does not stop at this station so it’s going at a fairly high speed. And although you are happy, a coldness washes over you. You stare blankly at the lights on the front of the train. And from somewhere in the attic of your mind, you suddenly think, “Jump.”

It’s a thought and a whisper and a command all at once. “Jump… Jump onto the tracks. Right. Now.”

The train blazes by. It’s gone undisturbed. The train driver is still smiling, completely unaware of what you just thought about doing. You watch the train for longer than usual, before staring blankly ahead. What just happened? Why did you think that?

L’appel du vide. The Call of the Void.

A french term, referring to that feeling we get, even for a brief moment, where we just think – “I could do something terrible in every sense of the word right now. For no particular reason at all.”

It can range from the example I’ve given above, to thinking you could just crash your car into a tree while the kids argue in the back. Or perhaps that you could push your beloved friend over a mountainside as you both stand enjoying the view. It could be to cause damage to yourself, or to a loved one, or just generally do something horrible, like knocking an ice cream cone from the hands of a child, simply because you can.

While this is a scary thought to think about, and we often feel at our most insane in these moments, the good news is… we all have them. You are not bad. We’ve all thought about doing something like that, and sometimes frequently. But most importantly… it’s completely normal. You’re not saying you WILL do them, or even thinking you should. It’s just a combination of a sudden feeling of power revealing itself at an opportune moment. It’s a sudden realisation that in this moment, you have control, and a power to do anything, regardless of whether it’s good or not.

It’s actually beautiful in a way, because for a brief second, we feel truly empowered. It just manifest’s itself negatively, because thankfully we don’t often think these thoughts, and so we seize our brief moment to do so.

The next time you do have one of these moments, be comforted by the fact that it is so common place, the French have a name for it. Be comforted knowing the kindest people you know, have thought these things also. And be thankful that while you thought them, you did not do them.

Instead, watch the train, or the tree, or the shrinking mountainside go by, smile and laugh to yourself, “L’appel du vide…”

What Are You Worth?

What are you worth?

It’s not a thought that often crosses the forefront of our mind, but I’d wager that for many, an arbitrary value exists somewhere in the recesses of thought.

This topic was brought about by a conversation I had with some close friends, where I proposed them the following scenario with a single question;


 

“Suppose you are diagnosed with a chronic illness. And unfortunately, the doctor informs you that this illness will bring about your imminent demise. In fact, you will die, tomorrow.

However, the doctor informs you that while there is no cure, there is a treatment, in the form of a single pill. Now what this pill does, is keep you effectively staving off the effects of the disease, for one day.

There are many of these pills, and they are readily available to you. The pill cannot be stacked, but it will work continuously.

i.e. You cannot take six pills and live for six more days, but for every pill you take, you get to live for one more day, specifically the following. So you must take this pill every morning, to continue living for the rest of that day.

Now for the question; at what cost, do you STOP paying for the pill?”

*Perhaps answer the question for yourself, before reading any further.


 

I found this such an interesting question to pose to my close friends, particularly because of the first response I got, when I had asked a clearly startled colleague

Although I am not afraid of death, and in fact, I struggle to identify when you can even call someone truly dead (a topic for another day), I still would always answer – “I would pay anything for the pill.”

I assumed this was an obvious answer, that everyone has the same zest and desire for life, and that my colleague would respond in kind. But instead she replied, “Nothing. I would not pay anything for that pill.”

I was shocked. This completely bewildered me. My colleague doesn’t come across as an unhappy person, and yet I must confess, this was my immediate reaction, although I did not vocalise it. But then immediately, she followed it up with, “I wouldn’t want to leave anyone behind, with a burden of paying for that medicine.”

In a roller-coaster of emotion, I now felt incredibly selfish. I had not even considered the people I would leave behind. In my mind, I thought I would do anything to continue paying for that pill, in the sense of I would accept every inch of the responsibility. But then on further examination of my conscience, I think even if I did leave a burden upon the living… I don’t know. I think my answer still might be “I would do anything for that pill.”

While I cannot know for certain, and it is indeed all a thought experiment, I cannot think of a time when I would condemn myself, to my final day on Earth, voluntarily.

And yet, I then decided to propose a different scenario upon myself alone, based on the famous trolley question;


 

“Suppose I am working in a laboratory, and there is an accident with a spilled contaminant. This contaminant bubbles and breathes gas into the lab. This chemical is lethal when inhaled.

You and your lab partner, the only people in the room, rush to the two hazmat suits in the corner. But unfortunately as you get there, you discover one suit has been ripped, and is rendered useless.

The person who does not wear the suit, will not die a painful death. But they will die over the next minute. There is no cure as of yet, and they will not be revived.

Your partner has abstained from making the decision, and will readily accept yours.

Do you take the suit for yourself, or do you give it to your partner?”

*Again, perhaps answer the question for yourself, before reading any further.


 

Now with this question, my answer immediately would be, “I would give the suit to my partner.”

But again upon closer and initial inspection, it seems that there is a bit of an oxymoron between these two answers on my part. It doesn’t rightly make sense for me to fight so unyielding for my life, and yet on a different breath, give it up so readily.

Now perhaps I am perfectly willing to sacrifice my life for another’s. And I’m sure most people would like to believe this also. Hopefully we will be fortunate enough never be put in that situation, and have to even find out.

But here is where I am torn. I believe you should work hard to leave some part of you on this universe. That you should leave it in some kind of better state than when you found it.

And the idea of granting someone a life, by sacrificing mine helps me fulfil that. But just giving up on my life, doesn’t necessarily fulfil it for me. I think that’s why I fight so hard for the pill. With the pill, I can still try. I can still try with every second of my life to make the universe better in some way. But what if in doing that, I actually make it worse for those I leave behind?

What I’m also concerned with, is I think I would fear the idea of my last day, and my last thoughts, not being good ones. The idea of going home, putting on some TV, calling up far away family members to tell them the news, and gathering with closer family to be with me, and then just passing away – I don’t think it makes the cut for me. I could not have, an ordinary day be my last, without knowing if I truly made the world a better place with my time spend on it. But with the chemical spill thought, I can at least die a hero. Regardless of what I’ve done, some of it may be redeemed, and my successor can continue to do good in this world, because I gave them that chance.

Ultimately; I don’t know.

I don’t believe for the time being I have an answer to these questions both. I think it will take many more conversations and much more time thinking about this before I could propose an answer. Maybe by the time I come to the conclusion, my thoughts on the whole thing might have changed. This, I really do not know.

But with my thought and opinions as they stand today fully out there, let me ask you; What are you worth?

Dear Dr Hawking,

If I could borrow your time for a moment.

As someone who is fascinated by the stars, by the infinite cosmos, all that way from the splendour complexity of galaxies and quasars, to the mischievous cheating of quantum mechanics, you inspired me. To learn. To grow. And to pursue a path of knowledge, everyday. I find myself fortunate to have many people in history whom inspire me, but I am undoubtedly touched by your universality.

There are names whom we hold dear in science, with the list exhaustive and debated.

Albert Einstein. Isaac Newton. Dmitri Mendeleev. Mary Curie. James Watson. Francis Crick. Maurice Wilkins. Rosalind Franklin. Alexander Fleming. Anders Celsius. Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit. Jane Goodall.

However, one certainly lacking in divisiveness, was you You were iconic. You are iconic. You were wonderful.

An irrefutable example, of triumph by the mind, when the body fails you. A scientist, a physicist, a teacher, a student, an unstoppable force. You showed the world how a bit of stubbornness to the cause that is the universe, and positivity in the face of literal certain death, could go so far.

You fathered theories on how our universe concerns to conduct itself, and helped us understand our brief history of time.

There are certain people whom I am saddened for the world, when the opportunity for fresh adventures with them is revoked. And you were certainly one.

At the same time, I am humbled by the fact that you shared your knowledge, so that even in your passing, we are left enlightened. And we will persist. We will continue our pursuits.

In this life, work to leave some part of you left, when you pass. And you undeniably did this. The whole world over will remember your name, and as they share unique stories, and opinions with you in mind, we will be reminded that you never will truly leave us.

Thank you for your time, Dr Hawking.

See you among the stars.

 

 

Important thoughts, thought last.

The fourth beat;

I know it’s coming, and I calm myself.

The body is still in shock, but my mind is settled in its own.

As I lay back in my bed, I know now that it is too late to bargain.

Death’s machination; It has already begun.

Instead, I quickly pray for my last thought, to be a good one.

Although, my current thought feels persistent in the back of my mind

Clinging on, as though it will not leave me.

And that thought; I simply do not want to go.

The third beat;

The light begins to darken at the edges of my eyes, and my ears betray my balance.

If I were not sitting down, surely I would have fallen.

My head slowly falls back onto my pillow. Its final resting place.

I look at the pattern on the roof, the cracks and the fissures.

Straining my eyes I try, to fully capture one final picture.

One final still frame, called a moment. A memory.

My head falls to the side; and I see my condensation encrusted beer on my bedside table.

Amber leaves out the window, falling in the wind.

Sunlight always finds a way.

The second beat;

Closed eyes. It goes on, doesn’t it? Life. Whether I am here, or not, it continues.

Leaves will continue falling.

Sunlight will continue to brighten.

Beer will continue to sweeten the lips of lovers.

And it could not end, for nothing ever has. Every end must surely be a beginning.

Every bad time came to a close, every good time did not last.

Even now, my final thoughts do not belong to the same person in which in this body was born.

Not one single part of me has been the same. I was someone different all through my life.

And so in many ways, so many of me never did die. Or perhaps they already have.

The final beat;

I do not want to go. I do not fear nothing, for nothing has never existed.

I have never understood. And as I reflect, my life seems iridescent.

The humbling of I being one of many; and yet the grandiosity of knowing

That the universe in all its grandeur, existed within the circumference of my eye.

And while my final thoughts are of understanding, acceptance, friends, family and cold beer.

I cannot help think, as the light comes down low.

I simply do not want to go.