Alana Writes

A collection of thoughts.

Echoes ripple through empty hallways. On the walls, there are tidy holes where bulletin boards were attached. “Selena for Class President!” they may have read. Or perhaps, “Cross Country Tryouts Friday!” in colorful lettering so characteristic of the youthful spirit of American schoolchildren. Now those boards are oriented vertically, leaning against the windows, waiting to see what comes next.

Just beside the empty bookshelf is a supply closet. Maybe on some cold winter day, a student might have sneaked inside and cried after getting a C- on his first algebra exam. Perhaps a school janitor pretended that she didn't notice him; perhaps she remembered feeling so powerless and overwhelmed as a child. I wonder if the student still remembers that day.

I don't know when the school breathed its final breath. I don't know how the students reacted when it was announced that the doors would soon be shuttered for good. I don't know how the teachers and employees felt, sent scrambling to yet another district. I certainly don't know who the last person was, to step through the school's lengthy hallways.

I do know, however, that the last person to leave did not remember to switch off the power. Perhaps he didn't care. Perhaps he simply forgot. But every morning, the school rings its cheerful bell, again, for first hour.

Introducing a new series on this blog!

There is a fairly popular piece of popular wisdom which states that “software developer,” “programmer,” and “coder” are just different titles to refer to people with the same skillset. Part of me agrees with this judgement. Indeed, none of these terms have rigorous definitions. However, I often find myself identifying as a coder who needs to do more work to become a true programmer.

I have written programs up to a few hundred lines long for various personal and school projects here and there. I have read a lot about computation. I have done a ridiculous amount of programming exercises, and I obsessively worked through K&R. I am in my third year of taking programming in school. A good 50% of my friends are programmers, and I am fully steeped in the culture (for better and for worse). I have no problems with calling myself a coder.

However, the intimidating aura of complex, real-world projects make “programming” a much harder ask. I'm a good communicator. I'm outgoing; I'm an extrovert, and I'm very capable of observing IRC etiquette. But understanding a large project well enough to be able to make significant contributions to the code-base seems to require more than that. It seems to require insight, experience, and understanding that goes beyond coding. Fortunately, I think I'm up for the challenge!

In this series, I plan to document my process of working on increasingly larger programs and share the joys and challenges involved.

Near the beginning of quarantine, I went on my first virtual date with my then-crush. She was a US military dependent living on a nearby base, and like many Americans in Japan, had a special attachment with anime and Japanese pop culture. We decided to spend a few hours watching anime and chatting between scenes.

The date probably should've ended after I asked her about her opinions on panpsychism. Well, it's a- It's a philosophy, right? That like everything is actually conscious, but just to varying degrees... I stammered as I struggled to explain complex, new-to-me arguments for panpsychism under first date pressure. After a seeming eternity agonizing over the most precise terms for every facet of the idea, I smiled and asked her if my explanation was clear enough. “Yeah. That's stupid.” concluded her response. Instead of accepting her response and moving on, I decided to press, doubling-down to defend a philosophy that I only learned of weeks ago.

I don't think it's stupid. How do you resolve the... How do you decide what's conscious? I mean... Yup, I messed up.

However, the experience has left me thinking about cultural beliefs with regards to consciousness. Most Japanese people would probably be fairly receptive toward the idea that everything is conscious given its proximity to the concept of the kami in Shintoist belief. Americans, however, tend to subscribe to the Christian notion that only humans (and not even animals) have “souls” which are the source of sentience. Of course, the question of “what qualifies as human” remains a potential debate in Christian theology. As a side note, western Atheists have a habit of believing that some part or structure of the brain “creates” consciousness, which harshly clashes with panpsychism. I tentatively conclude that the western dismissal of panpsychism is much more frequently due to its disagreements with conventional western ideology and theology than actual flaws in the belief system.

With all of that said, I do not consider myself a panpsychist. I thought about discussing panpsychism as part of my piece on Joi and consciousness (read it here). However, I simply do not understand how the gradients of consciousness or sentience that panpsychists recognize can be defined or explained. I cannot evaluate how sentient Joi is using panpsychism if panpsychism doesn't provide a means with which sentience can be evaluated. The update would essentially be a single sentence: “perhaps Joi is necessarily conscious because everything is conscious.” Conscious in what way? Nobody knows. In that sense, regardless of its validity, panpsychism almost seems like a pointless philosophy that doesn't help us better understand consciousness.

My personal view of consciousness derives from Taoist ideas of unity. I like the idea that we are all part of a conscious whole, and that we do not have distinct consciousnesses. However, is the logical conclusion of such a belief that a thermometer is just as conscious as myself? I don't know.

Just thoughts.

Fediverse tags: #Panpsychism #Philosophy #Consciousness #Sentience #Writing

This is, again, not a polished piece. Just trying to get some thoughts out!

I am a firm believer in the power of psychotherapy. I have many friends who have been helped immensely by qualified therapists, and throughout my life, I have met many suffering people who would've been helped immensely by therapy. I have often heard therapy analogized to martial arts. It's training, but for your brain. It's practice, but for your emotions. Both therapy and martial arts are also nuanced and personal. They both requires experimentation, understanding, and trust. They both seem to demand a certain commitment to exploration and learning, even in volatile and scary spaces.

But whether because of the curious nature of martial arts or the strange requirements of therapy, the analogy doesn't really hold upon closer examination. While I would, in earnest, encourage you to participate in the amateur MMA promotions and BJJ tournaments littered in every major city, I would never tell you to visit an amateur therapist. You can't get a purple belt in therapy and start training other people's brains, and in fact, some absolutely brilliant therapists absolutely wouldn't earn a purple belt (untreated mental health issues are incredibly common in all medical professions). Most disappointingly, you can't teach your little brother how to do a brain heel-hook so that he wins every playground quarrel (“Oh yeah? Well! How does that make you feel?”).

I wonder where the fundamental difference lies. Therapy seems to be almost necessarily asymmetric, while martial arts is much more of a community exercise. Perhaps our minds are just easier to hurt. Perhaps conversational “submissions” are just harder to “tap out” to.

Just thoughts.

Fediverse tags: #Therapy #MartialArts #Writing

This is a piece taken from my writing portfolio, And Leaves Remain.

Death is painful, even when dying isn’t. Synapses needn’t fire in blood-red despair; neurons needn’t stretch and convulse in terrible panic. Death is painful alone.

Has a masochist ever chased the thrill of the blackened void when pliers and electricity began to disappoint? The suicidal hides in pain. Pain numbs pain.

I’ve lost a friend to pain. Pain never brought her to the blackened room, pain cannot do that. Carbon monoxide. Painless death. Painful death.

“Darling play your violin, I know it’s what you live for.”

Strings, chords, and tension. That is life. Mostly tension. Sometimes, strings snap and chords echo in dissonance. Painful dissonance. Dissonance is not death.

Music is music to my ears. Joy. Pain. Anguish. Truth. That is life. Mostly pain. Sometimes, pain mutates and forewarns of something more painful. Painful death. Pain is not death.

“And then the gradual and dual blue // As night unites the viewer and the view” (Shade, 1959). There’s a beautiful subtlety to the fading of the day. As a child, I tried to record the exact time when I’d fall asleep every night. I never succeeded, but I did learn to lucid dream.

We flew once, amongst clouds, as we always do, under the stars. On a good day, they would be all that you could see, and the landscape would fade softly against the dark. Death is different from dusk. There is no “tomorrow’s sunrise” for the girl who left.

Do you dream of death? Do you dream of living? Do you dream at all? Are those who don’t dream, dead?

Perhaps death isn’t real after all. The panpsychists and their sentient corpses. The gardeners and their forking paths. The death that isn’t; the death that never comes.

Corpses don’t dream. Or maybe they do. In my dreams, they dream alongside androids and sheep. But speaking of death is painful. Even when dreaming, they’re painful dreams. The end of death is painful too, it is another death all on its own. — Julian Barbour argues that time, as a concept, is illusory. History is a shortest-path through a configuration-space. Memories are not too different from imagination. And the future is just dreams. — Hopes and dreams are different. Hopes are fake, dreams are real. Dreams can be scary or happy or sexy or sad. Hopes are only ever sad.

Growing up, I never knew when to say “wish” and when to say “hope”. In papers, I pompously declare that I “anticipate” performance improvements and “eagerly await” further studies. Are those hopes or dreams? I’m not sure.

In my dreams, I resuscitate drowning children and overcome brutal occupying armies. There, I never worry about death.

Dreams are a funny thing. I dream of many things. I dream of landscapes and troubles and picnics and love. Sometimes, I feel that I only live so that I can dream. It makes me wonder: can the dead dream too? — Grief is painful. Death brings grief. So death is painful too.

Is death majestic or simple? Is it cold like stone or crisp like leaves? Is death the same for all who leave?

I’m a storyteller. I tell tales of fantasy worlds. Tales of romance and joy and happiness and mystery and gloom and loss. When I leave, I wonder if I would see the mountain that I crafted in my world, with its trees and grass and lakes and all.

The world of my stories is not what you picture to me, no matter how meticulous I am in sharing it with you. Perhaps death will be the same. Subjective. Exciting. Different.

Trees fall. Lives end. Even weeds, as resilient as they are, succumb to the waves that carry us all. In science class, we learned about biodegradation. After we depart, we’ll be absorbed and regrow as something unrecognizably different. Our souls are reprocessed, and our bodies reused.

Life leaves and leaves remain.

Hi everyone,

I have a few updates for y'all today!

Updates on My Post About Joi

Today, I added a bit more content to my post about Joi from Blade Runner.

While writing the update, I felt a temptation to create an additional version of the heuristic, namely, composition. After all, it seems like a common belief that sentient beings are “made of” or composed by brains, veins, blood, etc. Composition-based criteria also conveniently excludes computers, processors, and holograms (such as Joi). The problem with defining sentience based on composition is that it includes dead beings. The fact that we commonly understand death to mean the end of sentience (or for those who believe in afterlives, the end of sentience in the body) implies that composition is not employed alone to determine sentience; a “version” of a heuristic must stand alone, as opposed to a “part” of a heuristic which can be incomplete. Ultimately, I believe that it is the “behavior” enabled by our composition that is actually used to determine sentience. Lungs do not imply a person's consciousness, breathing does.

In the near future, I'd like to evaluate the idea of individuals and of distinct consciousnesses. For a long time, I've argued that the concept of individuals is illegitimate while continuing to subconsciously believing in its legitimacy.

Blue Clouds, Grey Skies I'm planning for my new writing project Blue Clouds, Grey Skies to eventually become a three or four-part short story. Part one is already available on my blog, and you should totally read it if you haven't already! As always, I am always happy to hear your thoughts about my writing. Since write.as hasn't created a comments function yet, an easy way to interact with my blog is through Tumblr.

Today You Should Read I don't know if reading recommendations is going to become a part of my blog, but please read Bullet in the Brain by Tobias Wolff. I only read it a few weeks ago and it is already my favorite short story. I plan to write a post about it soon.

That's all! Have a good day.

Isn't writer's block a weird concept? If someone asked me a question in person right now, I'm sure I could answer it. But when I'm the one asking myself questions, I somehow can't answer them?

I don't understand writer's block. Am I too tired to write? Am I intimidated? Am I too scared of what you would think about my writing to write? Maybe... This is a wild idea... Maybe writer's block is just super normalized so we feel more comfortable with the idea that we “can't” write than, say, the idea that we “can't” talk (which also happens!). I have no clue. Maybe there's research on this?

The problem with using research to guide our lives is that it's almost always tailored to populations. When I was younger, I used to wish that I could get a team of people to plan, manage, and run A/B tests on me so that I can live life the best way. Unfortunately, having only one study subject makes testing difficult. Maybe I could build some sort of app where volunteers offer ridiculous amounts of data about their lives, some sort of machine learning algorithm makes recommendations for new practices that they can try to improve some facet of their lives, and then (possibly with some remote human intervention) an A/B test is ran to determine how successful that change is. There would be some privacy concerns, but it just needs a really good privacy policy that basically commits to not sharing any data with anyone without explicit consent.

Anyway, that was a tangent. A tangent is much preferable to a day with no writing. See you tomorrow.

Hi!

I'm just letting you know that I added some new thoughts to this “living” post about Joi, Blade Runner, and consciousness. If you have already read the first part of that post, you can just scroll to the part that says “January 12 Update.” I hope you like it!

As always, the Tumblr mirror for this blog is a good way to discuss the ideas I present if you would like to reply. That would also be a great avenue by which to give me any feedback that you have for the blog. I am actively looking into other ways to enable engaging dialogue.

As always, please feel free to share my posts with your friends. At the end of the day, the point of this blog is just to encourage new ways of thinking both for myself and for you.

Love y'all!

Fediverse tags: #Meta #BladeRunner #Cyberpunk #Joi #writing #alanawrites

Lin sits in her room on the 38th floor of a recently constructed apartment building. She looks out of her newly cleaned, perfectly clear window upon the famously pristine Shanghai cityscape. Her attention shifts to ignoring the confident whirring of her newly installed air purifiers and the arrogant presence of the piles of filled cardboard boxes as she lies down on her bed.

“Not a day of blue skies since I moved in,” she texts her friend having already having lost interest in her discontents. “Just need patience.” “Winter doesn't see much rain,” Lin quickly replies and then closes her eyes, fumbling for an empty space on her nightstand where she could place her phone.

Urban pollution in China can largely be attributed to the particulate products of large, industrial processes. An hour of downpour is usually more than enough to bring about an afternoon of clear skies, as raindrops merge with the miscellaneous particles to form murky, dark-grey suspensions that find their way into the wide-open mouths of foolish children.

Her roommate, Mercy, was teaching math at a nearby elementary school. Mercy would tell you that her real name is He'ran, while conveniently not revealing that this name was reserved for only two groups of people: those who understood the intricate manner by which her relationship with her birth name changes at a rate roughly proportional to the product of the second derivative of the hyperbolic cosine of f(x, y), which yields a confidence score “z” as a function of the exact velocity (x) and exact position (y) of the second mass on a double pendulum located at the top floor of a building with security measures fitting of a heist-themed Tom Clancy novel, and those who are excited to help her test the effects of her newest chemical reagents on human subjects. Lin would tell you that they used to date years ago. Mercy wouldn't mention it.

Fediverse tags: #Romance #Fiction #QueerFiction #Writing #Cyberpunk #China

— To be continued —

This is my first real stab at fiction! I will write more soon.

I now have a Tumblr page on which you can interact with my posts. The main advantage of this addition is that you can use the form on the “ask me anything” page to engage in longer discussions related to my writings than other forms of social media tend to allow.

Fediverse tags: #Tumblr