Hey, it's been a minute. Happy summer! My past month was hectic. I'm slightly behind on, uhhhh... everything. Slightly! Could be worse! I've been getting way up in my head about this newsletter, tripping over my own expectations. (What else is new?) I owe you an introduction to Hedgehog — follow us! — and a Wanderverse update. But those'll have to wait a little longer.
It's a bittersweet reason why I'm scrambling to keep the plates spinning. (To some extent I always am, but like, more than the default.) In late May / early June I traveled to spend time with two family members who are dying. One of those visits was unexpected. My first trip, the planned one, had to be truncated so I could bounce back across the country. A sudden crisis, yet not quite a surprise. And the immediate foreknowledge, while stressful to receive, came as a mercy. It enables us to cherish her especially before the release... before she disappears into realms reachable only by faith.
I don't believe that dead people are gone, but neither are they here as they used to be. There is no rationalizing the impending loss into something else, since the loss will indeed be devastating. She is too young, by most human measurements. Yet the-body-that-is-her proves inexorably committed to staying the course. Even as we yield her up to God — even as she has yielded herself, long ago and every day — no less do we mourn the separation inherent to her departure.
Christians believe there are multiple post-death outcomes on the way to the ultimate inversion of the age. But I don't think we're the same sort of self in any of them. The same self, yes, the same glimmering immortal pattern so ineradicably delightful to the Entirety. But not the same sort of self. This is, in fact, a central tenet of my religion: the soul can metamorphose.
My other family member's departure is dragging on, according to him! "I'm dying," he says, perplexed, a tinge exasperated. Then: "I'm dead." Well gosh Grandpa, which is it, currently dying or dead already? I put my hand in his and said yes, it's true, he is dying, on a prolonged schedule that nobody else understands either.
Even as the flesh fails from instant to instant, even as it performs the very labor of perishing, it nonetheless persists. God poses this final challenge to my grandfather, whose grip still resembles the irascible, insatiable, invincible core of himselfness that likewise remains distinct — and acerbic — as ever.
He's dying. He's dead. Close enough, I guess? Usually Grandpa is rebuffed on these points: "Boring!" his nurse or his wife will sing out. I only addressed the issue because I had yet to hear those lines ad nauseam.
God demands that Grandpa endure a lengthy return to infant dependency, all accoutrements of worldly pride stripped from his ken — all but the inalienable conviction that he has been diminished. Why? It is true. If it weren't true I wouldn't have named him, as I didn't name the other family member. His lamentation is poignant and somehow, miraculously, incisive.
Don't get me wrong, Grandpa strove to pile up his treasures in heaven. Real life ain't a hackneyed morality play anyway. This is the affliction of many old people now, propelled forward in an heartbreaking simulacrum of past vitality. In fact, the condition is suffered most easily by an adored, wealthy man like my grandfather. Though not by a man of his temperament. But I don't think there was ever a time when the privilege of old age was readily granted sans aches, sans pain. Sometimes savage pain... physical or not.
I can already feel your kind wishes through the screen, and they are appreciated. None of what's happening is about me in any substantial sense, and I'm sad but I'm okay. Even needing to catch up on work is fine — like I said, I feel that way by default, the dial is simply turned up this month. When the choice is letting things slip or nosediving into burnout, I let 'em slip! Mainly I'm grateful to be able to spend time with these people before they're beyond my earthly reach.
Mom taught me a Buddhist mantra that has stuck: Death is real. Comes without warning. This body will be a corpse.
And now, pretty abruptly. Links:
- "The True Esoteric Meaning of Bitcoin Pizza" by yours truly
- also "How to invest in cryptocurrency without losing your shirt." (inb4 "don't 😏" y'all ain't slick)
- Proud of Alexey Guzey et al:
New Science aims to build new institutions of basic science, starting with the life sciences.
Over the next several decades, New Science will create a network of new scientific institutes pursuing basic research while not being dependent on universities, the NIH, and the rest of traditional academia and, importantly, not being dominated culturally by academia.
Our goal is not to replace universities, but to develop complementary institutions and to provide the much needed "competitive pressure" on the existing ones and to prevent their further ossification. New Science will do to science what Silicon Valley did to entrepreneurship.
New Science is a research nonprofit incorporated in Massachusetts with 501c3 status pending. The board of directors consists of Alexey Guzey, Mark Lutter, and Adam Marblestone. New Science is advised by Tessa Alexanian, Tyler Cowen, Andrew Gelman, Channabasavaiah Gurumurthy, Konrad Kording, Tony Kulesa, and Elizabeth Yin.
- "Setting up a Gratitude Journal" [video] by Helen Colebrook — cannot recommend this practice enough, and Helen is an absolute sweetheart
- "The Hypostatic Union of Kanye West" by the Applied Divinity Studies guy, whoever he is
- "Nine One One (feat. dimo)" [music] by Roger Clark
- "Call for Participants in Observational Study of Volition" by Shea Levy
- "The time to withdraw" by Justin Murphy — pairs well with...
- "A Time to Poast and a Time to Log Off" by Grant Dever
- "Love Is the Plan the Plan Is Death" by James Tiptree (née Alice Sheldon), originally published circa 1973, h/t Gwern
- "Fluxus, the anti-art, interdisciplinary collective that built on top of what Duchamp and John Cage taught: experiment, use mundane objects and techniques, take art less seriously." Case study by Laura Sinisterra (one of those intimidatingly-cool-but-also-nice people!)
- "Caught in the Study Web" by Fadeke Adegbuyi
- Missing Axioms: Philosophy for Disorientation by Samuel Barnes
- "A Retrospective on TextSpark.ai" by Liminal Warmth
- "Non-Fungible Taylor Swift" by Ben Thompson
- Charles Haywood's review of The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow's World by Charles C. Mann
- "Verwoerd's Revenge" by Razib Khan — side note, can someone plz buy me a subscription to Unsupervised Learning?
- "'Science' and Safety Porn" by Mike Solana
I still have a bunch of links on deck but that's probably enough for now, right? ttyl, you know where to find me.
Header art: Danse Macabre by František Kupka, 1896.