Periodic “about me”

Since I’ve just had a small surge in readership thanks to Pithom linking to one of my posts, I’m providing some of the more static info about myself in case anyone is curious:

  • Sex: male
  • Race: white
  • Age: born in the mid-80s
  • Nationality: American
  • Regional location: lower Midwest
  • Household: married, with children
  • Occupation: tech industry, with a focus on applied human-centered research

I don’t have a description of myself or an “about” page on this blog because I don’t want to paint myself into a corner, and in any case I’m always seeking steelman arguments for views I oppose or don’t know much about, which means my own beliefs end up changing often. If you want to know what I think about this or that, read the blog. Or ask me in the comments.

Thanks for reading!

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What “Life of Pi” really says about belief in God

[Contains spoilers, not that it should matter.]

(This post will make more sense to readers who’ve seen “Life of Pi.”)

I thought of something about “Life of Pi” this morning that I think I missed in my initial reflection on the movie. I saw the movie about 5 days ago.

Consider the two lifeboat stories: the one with the animals and the one with the cook. When the writer said he preferred the story with the animals, Pi said “So it goes with God.” I thought I understood that line, but over the next few days I realized I wasn’t sure.

In the story with the animals, all characters were morally neutral. It wasn’t any more “wrong” for the hyena to eat the zebra or attack the orangutan than it was for the zebra to kick the hyena or the orangutan to slap it. It’s a hyena: it’s hungry and eating tasty zebras and orangutans is just what it does. Then the tiger pounced out and killed the hyena: again, that’s just what tigers do. When Pi was going to let the tiger drown, that too would have been okay: since when is a person morally obligated to put his own life in danger by taking a grown Bengal tiger into his lifeboat?

In the story with the cook, by contrast, there was a consistent, single morality to the situation: the cook’s actions were immoral; Pi’s mother’s actions, and those of the sailor, were not. Even the cook acknowledged this when he didn’t fight back against Pi as Pi killed him. Pi described his own actions as evil also.

We tend to think of the existence of God as implying a universal morality. So of the two lifeboat stories, the one with the animals took place in more of a Godless universe than the one with the cook.

Pi’s story was advertised as “will make you believe in God.” When the writer said he preferred the story with the animals, the typical audience reaction might be that he chose the story more reminiscent of religious mythology, and so Pi caused him to experience the allure and magic of religious belief. But in fact, the writer chose the more Godless story. And yet the Godless story is in fact much more of a fantastical candy-coating on hard reality. The whole reason the hard, gritty, realistic story seems hard and gritty and realistic is because of God. Realizing THAT is why the writer comes to believe in God.

Or that’s my new working theory anyway.

How to NOT sell your car on Craigslist

These are things people actually do on Craigslist all the time:

  1. Don’t post any pictures of the car
  2. Post only one picture of the car, which you took out your 3rd floor apartment window
  3. Post 25 pictures of different parts of the car lying on the floor of your garage
  4. Don’t include any useful information about the car
  5. Include 2,000 words of information about the car in one long run-on sentence in all caps
  6. Post information about the car that is obviously false
  7. Include emotive words like “Wow” or “Nice” anywhere in the title

Tips for searching for lost items in a dumpster

Lessons learned:

  1. Plan to enter the dumpster as soon as possible after you suspect it is where you lost your item.
  2. Cover as much of your body as possible, including your face, in non-permeable materials that can be easily hosed off. Where this is impossible (for example over the mouth) wear items you don’t mind throwing away afterwards.
  3. Under no circumstances should you ever breathe through your nose. If you do breathe through your nose, that’s it. You’re done.
  4. Acknowledge beforehand that it is impossible to know exactly how your item may have fallen.
  5. Do not judge what you see except to determine if it is the thing you lost. Accept no other information into your brain.
  6. If you don’t find the thing you lost, stay positive. At first it seems like the worst possible outcome is to not find it, because that would mean you just undertook a Dantean trip into the Inferno for nothing. But upon further reflection you should realize that you have increased certainty about where the lost thing is or isn’t.
  7. Once you exit the dumpster, wash immediately, but expect to experience phantom sensations of being within the dumpster for hours afterwards. These may range from unwelcome smells or tastes that linger on your fingers, mustache, and tongue, to vivid nightmares.