Monday, June 30, 2014

The Confusing Life of a Polymath

There are blogs about keeping parrots, ones about pornography, ones written by the fans of a particular porn star...there are an infinity of political blogs, an infinity plus one of writer's blogs, even blogs about cats pretending to be written by cats. Don't expect such consistency here.

I'm a polymath. To be fair to the polymaths of the world, I may be an eclectic and not a polymath...or am I both? I find it extremely hard to confine my thoughts to just one area. A narrow perspective is a horror to me.

It's a curse to be a polymath. No matter what day job I have, I write every day. No matter how much I try not to, I do a few math problems before going to bed. No matter how much I try to resist, I read in science and history - or sometimes the history of science, a twofer - every day. What's it get me?

Nothing, that's what.

We live a in a culture where everything I value is devalued. The only high point of recent months, Cosmos came back. Neil deGrasse Tyson temporarily reminded us of the grandeur and importance of science...which everyone forgot five minutes after it left the air. The only people who seemed to notice it were those opposed to science, because science asks hard questions.

Hard questions are seriously lacking elsewhere. For instance, Penn of Penn and Teller likes to brag about his Libertarian chops. Someone should say this in his exalted presence: It's awfully convenient for a rich man to believe in Libertarianism. Enshrine the winners, no matter that they might not be real "winners," and cast the losers in the dirt. Not exactly the path of the Buddha - Gautama Buddha, aka Siddhartha Gautama, was a prince who gave it all up to found Buddhism. By "give it all up" I mean he fucking gave it all up, all his wealth, all his power, everything, to beg for food, exchange his wisdom for simple nourishment. Either way, big fall from neoliberal grace for a Libertarian. There's also this question, which I'd also like to ask Rich Guy Penn: What is to prevent the concentration of wealth and power in a Libertarian state, since all but the most necessary taxes are banned? Gonna bring back Athenian ostracism? Assassination? We live in a quasi-Libertarian state now, with neoliberal economic doctrine dominating every aspect of life. How's that working out for us? Wealth and political power are being concentrated among fewer and fewer people. A majority in a recent poll of MILLIONAIRES demanded more taxes to reduce income inequality - you know the 1% are out of hand when the top 10% ask for more taxes. A quick historical peek at neoliberal economies will show that they naturally tend to the concentration of wealth, power, and societal control among a shrinking class of elites. How are Libertarians going to prevent the loss of their liberty? The easiest and least violent means would be taxes and regulation. Ah, can't do that, then they wouldn't be Libertarians. So it's violence then. I'm all for whacking billionaires, but in a Libertarian state they'd be expecting it, so they'd have a private army around themselves with nothing to prevent the formation of that private army. Libertarianism leads in the fullness of time to tyranny. Nothing preventing it, like, say, a government with laws about illegal tampering with the democratic process, a government that can cure wealth inequality through taxation.

Every now and again, I restart my study of mathematics from the beginning. I'm up through algebra now. I'm reading and working my way through two books, either of which, if I had them when I was a kid, would have made a tremendous difference in my life. Functions and Graphs, written by three Russian guys in the middle of the last century, translated into English and published by MIT Press in 1969. You can find a Dover reprint for sale at their site or Amazon. If I had access to this book - shit, if I had access to the first ten pages -  man, would my life have been easier than it was. The second book, published originally in 1976 and in print since then, is How to Solve Word Problems in Algebra, by Johnson and Johnson. This one is a feast of riches. It teaches more than math. If one takes the book seriously and does all the problems, the potential for duplicity in the use of language very rapidly becomes apparent, along with ways to tease truth from obfuscation. The reader's confidence only grows when it is revealed how to come to a solution while only knowing one solid fact and the relationships between that fact and the unknowns. Simple things, both books show simple ways to find underlying realities.

In science, I'm reading The Infinity Book. In history, The Wizard War by RV Jones. In fiction, reading an Ian Fleming short story collection.

In writing, three short stories in process, one science fiction, one fantasy, and one crime fiction...also working on a novel.

In computer technology, taking apart a faulty graphics card confirmed to me that the fan failed and the microprocessor has heat-induced hardware faults. It's fried, gotta get another one.

Gonna havta get a day job in a few months...hope not, it will slow things down.

That's a day in the life of an eclectic...or a polymath. Since this is the blog of an eclectic, I might discuss quantum mechanics next time...or the plot to a videogame...or my favorite novel...or why I hate ties. Death to routine thoughts in the everyday world!