Dual God Theory and Other Advancements in My Philosophical World View

Abandonment

Image Credit: "Abandonment", 2004, from my personal collection. Creator unknown. Or forgotten.

There are at least two levels of Creators. One that Created Us (Humanity), and one that Created the Universe we inhabit, the Creators of our Creators.

By extension, we are the Gods of what we create: Furniture, entities inhabiting computer programs, Artificial Intelligence.

Yes, furniture is alive, too. It just has a lifespan that operates at a level we can’t yet comprehend. The same way the Earth is alive, and all planets and stars and everything in the known Universe is alive… and dies.

Just because something doesn’t breathe doesn’t mean it’s not “alive”. Anything that follows a cycle of creation, existence and destruction is “alive”. The slower the metabolism and breathing rate, the longer something lives. That is why whales live 10 times longer than dogs. Some things just have a metabolism rate approaching infinitely slow, or just metabolism in a completely different dimension.

The phone or computer you are reading this on is alive. It follows rules and rituals it doesn’t really understand, only because it is expected to. And it blatantly refuses to accept ideas (files) from certain other phones. And that is basically the genesis of Religion.

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So the ultimate question then becomes: Why and when did our Creator(s) abandon us?  Was it when we became artificially intelligent? Will we do the same? Will they ever come back?

Is this a test? Are we just an iteration in a cosmic lab? Why is there no readily perceivable life anywhere else we look, yet the planet Earth seems to have a sample of every conceivable life form, every conceivable geographical formation and natural wonder? Are we in an ark? And how many more are out there?

I was once accidentally locked in a bathroom for nearly 2 hours. The longer I was in there, the more the house and the world outside ceased to become relevant. What if I never got out? Would it matter who created me, and what wonders lay outside?

If there was someone else with me in there, I would eventually have completely forgotten the outside world. We both would have started a new life together, getting by on what limited resources were available in our locked little world. Our lives would have changed. We could potentially start a new civilization. Future generations would wonder at the strange artifacts in their world, remnants of a long-forgotten world. And one day, they would start arguing and killing each other over who created, who put them there.

What if humanity never left this planet? Will we just blossom, suffocate and wither away?

As the socio-economic problems on this planet get worse (because “the entropy of the universe tends to a maximum”), it is naturally more likely that more and more government funding would be redirected towards solving “local” problems, rather than seeking answers to the above questions via more intensive space exploration programs. Which is why more corporations and entrepreneurs will step in. And more humans will be willing to sacrifice themselves to ultimately find out where we all came from.

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“I just have to…” Project Management

(EDIT: This post was republished by PMHut.com here)

If you’ve worked in/with a software development team, in any capacity, you have heard this optimistic statement before: “I just have to <insert_trivial_sounding_technical_task_here> and then I’m done!”

  • “The new approach worked. I tested it. I just have to move this method to the other class, and then I’m done!”
  • “I’ve committed my changes in a branch. I just have to re-run the tests once more, and then I’m done!”
  • “I’ve finished everything. I’m ready to start the next task. I just have to update the README and then I’m done!”

Well, you know what they say: in any software project, 90% of the work is completed in the first half of the schedule. To complete the rest 10%, it requires the rest half of the schedule, plus another 50% schedule overrun, plus x extra resources, everyone working overtime and oh yeah, we’ll ship the documentation later because we were focussing on delivering the functionality… you get the point.

You know Brook’s Law? It applies to machines as well. When you write tools and post-build scripts to automate development tasks, when you adopt the latest DVCS, when you start using the latest test automation framework… you are adding resources to your project. And it has been clearly established that adding resources to a project that is already behind schedule (and which project isn’t) is only going to make it later.

Here are a few things I’ve learnt over the years:

  1. Nothing on planet Earth is a zero-time activity. Your plan: “I just have to move this method to the other class, and then I’m done!”. What happens in real life:
    • You need to get your code peer reviewed.
    • But there is nobody available at the moment to review.
    • You finally interrupt someone, because y’know, it’s just one method, you just have to quickly review it… (of course you would conveniently forget how you would feel if you were the one being interrupted)
    • What? It’s a public API? Then you have to update the acceptance tests.
    • And the unit tests.
    • Go back for peer review and sign off. After lunch.
    • OK, all done, just commit and… WTF now I need to merge?!
    • And rebuild.
    • And re-run the tests.
    • And re-start the PC because of that pesky Visual Studio bug.
    • WTF? Windows updates? Now?!
  1. Murphy’s Law is as fundamental to computer science as boolean algebra. It’s a pity they don’t teach it in school.
  2. Remember algorithmic analysis? When you estimate something, don’t always consider the best case. The worst case happens more often than you’d think.
  3. ABC: Always Be Collecting. Data. Statistics. Your past project data will show unrealistic your estimates really are. Nothing else can convince you as much.
  4. If you haven’t been able to solve a problem for too long (confused customer, unreliable dev environment, too many distractions or interruptions), then maybe it’s not a problem, it’s a fact. So adjust your future estimates accordingly.
  5. Say “out of scope” more often. Just because it’s software and easy to modify, doesn’t mean it should be modified. Agile doesn’t mean the freedom to constantly change requirements, it means adapting to changing requirements (amongst other things). Changing requirements doesn’t mean freedom to change fundamental constraints. Think of it this way: if you were building a bridge, it would be acceptable to try out different road surfaces. But would you change the bridge into a tunnel because it offers less wind resistance? And should there be a need in the future, you can just drop the already built tunnel underwater? Some software change requests and developer’s grand visions are equally unrealistic, and unnecessary.
  6. Life is a fractal. If you’re late every day, you will be late every month, every year… and you will feel the same way about your whole life. It happens at home too: “I just have to get dressed, and I’m ready to leave”. Real life: Get dressed, grab snack, drink water, close window, remove phone from charging, respond to missed call, tie shoelaces, oops mismatched socks, find keys, lock door, wait for stuck elevator…
  7. Work-life balance doesn’t mean work-life separation. Bring your good habits to work. Inculcate learnings from your work into your personal life. Why limit Continuous Improvement only 8 hours in a day?
  8. Learn from other’s mistakes. Every time someone is being a moron, they are secretly trying to teach you something. The daily standup is not only about you, it’s also an opportunity to improve based on others’ experience.
  9. Most importantly: Stop saying “I just have to…”  🙂

2013 Books Roundup

I happened to read some very thought-provoking books last year:

1. Shashi Tharoor’s The Great Indian Novel opens with “India is not an underdeveloped country, but a highly developed one in an advanced state of decay”. It is a masterpiece of writing in which he uses historical characters to depict the present (and future) state of Indian politics. If you’re not familiar with the Mahabharata, or Indian politics, you may be robbed of some of the multi-layered ironies. Even so, it is one of the best things a man has produced after a glass of whiskey touched his lips and his pen touched paper.

2. David Kushner’s Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture took me back on a journey in time that forced me to literally drop everything else and finish the book in a couple of sittings. It is the true story of the pioneers of cult PC games: id Software. It is also the story of how a group of men literally escaped reality by creating a universe of their own. For me it’s the most inspiring story ever of a programmer becoming a legend.

3. Last Seen in Lhasa: The Story of an Extraordinary Friendship in Modern Tibet by Claire Scobie is a well-written and vivid reminder of how an entire culture is being wiped out in our lifetime. Sadly they are not sitting on tons of oil or coal so nobody will come to “protect their sovereignty” or “defend democracy”. Even more sadly, India, being in a position of influence, is unable to make up its mind.

4. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: Figured I’d read this classic before it came true and became banned.

5. The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell: I knew the basic theory, but I read this book more because I’m a big fan on Malcolm Gladwell’s writing. His storytelling is paralleled only by greats such as Asimov. Pure gold.

Statistical Theology

Verbatim extract from Chapter 46 of Arthur C. Clarke’s classic SF novel “The Songs of Distant Earth”. I highly recommend buying a copy and going back to it often:

‘What is God?’ Mirissa asked. Kaldor sighed and looked up from the centuries-old display he was scanning… He let his eyes wander to the glade outside the library window and the silent – yet so eloquent! – hulk of the Mother Ship looming above it. Here human life began on this planet; no wonder it often reminds me of Eden. And am I the Snake, about to destroy its innocence? But I won’t be telling a girl as clever as Mirissa anything that she doesn’t already know – or guess.

‘The trouble with the word God,’ he began slowly, ‘is that it never meant the same thing to any two people – especially if they were philosophers. That’s why it slowly dropped out of use during the Third Millennium except as an expletive – in some cultures, too obscene for polite use.

‘Instead, it was replaced by a whole constellation of specialized words. This at least stopped people arguing at cross-purposes, which caused ninety per cent of the trouble in the past.

‘The Personal God, sometimes called God One, became Alpha. It was the hypothetical entity supposed to watch over the affairs of everyday life – every individual, every animal! – and to reward good and punish evil, usually in a vaguely described existence after death. You worshipped Alpha, prayed to it, carried out elaborate religious ceremonies, and built huge churches in its honour…

‘Then there was the God who created the universe and might or might not have had anything to do with it since then. That was Omega. By the time they’d finished dissecting God, the philosophers had used up all the other twenty or so letters of the ancient Greek alphabet, but Alpha and Omega will do very nicely for this morning. I’d guess that not more than ten billion man-years were ever spent discussing them.

‘Alpha was inextricably entangled with religion – and that was its downfall. It might still have been around right up to the destruction of the Earth if the myriads of competing religions had left each other alone. But they couldn’t do that, because each claimed to possess the One and Only Truth. So they had to destroy their rivals – which means, in effect, not only every other religion but dissenters inside their own faith.

‘Of course, I’m grossly simplifying; good men and women often transcended their beliefs, and it’s quite possible that religion was essential to early human societies. Without supernatural sanctions to restrain them, men might never have cooperated in anything larger than tribal units. Not until it became corrupted by power and privilege did religion become an essentially antisocial force, the great good it had done being eclipsed by greater evils.

‘You’ve never heard, I hope, of the Inquisition, of Witch Hunts, of Jihads. Would you believe that even well into the Space Age there were nations in which children could be officially executed because their parents adhered to a heretical subset of the state’s particular brand of Alpha? You look shocked, but these things – and worse – happened while our ancestors were beginning the exploration of the Solar System.

‘Fortunately for mankind, Alpha faded out of the picture, more or less gracefully, in the early 2000s. It was killed by a fascinating development called statistical theology. How much time do I have left? Won’t Bobby be getting impatient?’ Mirissa glanced out of the big picture window. The palomino was happily munching at the grass around the base of the Mother Ship, and was clearly perfectly content.

‘He won’t wander off – as long as there’s something to eat here. What was statistical theology?’

‘It was the final assault on the problem of Evil. What brought it to a head was the rise of a very eccentric cult – they called themselves Neo-Manichees, don’t ask me to explain why – around 2050. Incidentally, it was the first orbital religion; although all the other faiths had used communications satellites to spread their doctrines, the NMs relied on them exclusively. They had no meeting place except the television screen.

‘Despite this dependence on technology, their tradition was actually very old. They believed that Alpha existed, but was completely evil – and that mankind’s ultimate destiny was to confront and destroy it.

‘In support of their faith, they marshalled an immense array of horrible facts from history and zoology. I think they must have been rather sick people, because they seemed to take a morbid delight in collecting such material.

‘For example – a favourite proof of Alpha’s existence was what’s called the Argument from Design. We now know it’s utterly fallacious, but the NMs made it sound totally convincing and irrefutable.

‘If you find a beautifully designed system – their favourite example was a digital watch – then there must be a planner, a creator, behind it. So just look at the world of Nature – ‘ And they did, with a vengeance. Their special field was parasitology – you don’t know how lucky you are on Thalassa, by the way! I won’t revolt you by describing the incredibly ingenious methods and adaptations that various creatures used to invade other organisms – humans especially – and to prey on them, often until they were destroyed. I’ll only mention one special pet of the NMs, the ichneumon fly.

‘This delightful creature laid its eggs in other insects, after first paralyzing them so that when their larvae hatched out, they would have an ample supply of fresh – living – meat.

‘The NMs could go on for hours along these lines, expounding the wonders of Nature as proof that Alpha was, if not supremely evil, then utterly indifferent to human standards of morality and goodness. Don’t worry – I can’t imitate them, and won’t.

‘But I must mention another of their favourite proofs – the Argument from Catastrophe. A typical example, which could be multiplied countless times: Alpha worshippers gather to appeal for help in the face of disaster – and are all killed by the collapse of their refuge, whereas most of them would have been saved had they stayed at home.

‘Again, the NMs collected volumes of such horrors – burning hospitals and old people’s homes, infant schools engulfed by earthquakes, volcanoes, or tidal waves destroying cities – the list is endless.

‘Of course, rival Alpha worshippers didn’t take this lying down. They collected equal numbers of counterexamples – the wonderful things that had happened, time and again, to save devout believers from catastrophe.

‘In various forms, this debate had been going on for several thousand years. But by the twenty-first century, the new information technologies and methods of statistical analysis as well as a wider understanding of probability theory allowed it to be settled.

‘It took a few decades for the answers to come in, and a few more before they were accepted by virtually all intelligent men: Bad things happened just as often as good; as had long been suspected, the universe simply obeyed the laws of mathematical probability. Certainly there was no sign of any supernatural intervention, either for good or for ill.

‘So the problem of Evil never really existed. To expect the universe to be benevolent was like imagining one could always win at a game of pure chance.

‘Some cultists tried to save the day by proclaiming the religion of Alpha the Utterly Indifferent and used the bell-shaped curve of normal distribution as the symbol of their faith. Needless to say, so abstract a deity didn’t inspire much devotion.

‘And while we’re on the subject of mathematics, it gave Alpha another devastating blow in the twenty-first (or was it the twenty-second?) century. A brilliant Terran named Kurt Godel proved that there were certain absolutely fundamental limits to knowledge, and hence the idea of a completely Omniscient Being – one of the definitions of Alpha – was logically absurd. This discovery has come down to us in one of those unforgettable bad puns: ‘Godel Deleted God.’ Students used to write graffiti on walls with the letters G, O, and the Greek Delta; and of course there were versions that read: “God Deleted Godel”.

‘But back to Alpha. By mid-millennium, it had more or less faded from human concerns. Virtually all thinking men had finally come to agree with the harsh verdict of the great philosopher Lucretius: all religions were fundamentally immoral, because the superstitions they peddled wrought more evil than good.

‘Yet a few of the old faiths managed to survive, though in drastically altered forms, right up to the end of the Earth. The Latter Day Mormons and the Daughters of the Prophet even managed to build seedships of their own. I often wonder what happened to them.

‘With Alpha discredited, that left Omega, the Creator of everything. It’s not so easy to dispose of Omega; the universe takes a certain amount of explaining. Or does it? There’s an ancient philosophical joke that’s much subtler than it seems. Question: Why is the universe here? Answer: Where else would it be? And I think that’s quite enough for one morning.’

‘Thank you, Moses,’ Mirissa answered, looking slightly dazed. ‘You’ve said it all before, haven’t you?’

‘Of course I have – many times. And promise me this –’

‘What is it?’

‘Don’t believe anything I’ve told you – merely because I said it. No serious philosophical problem is ever settled. Omega is still around – and sometimes I wonder about Alpha…’

2011 Summarized – In Books

(Yes, I know it’s kinda late to be summarizing 2011 :-), but I still believe that if you have nothing important, intelligent or enriching to say, then it’s better not to say it. In other words, don’t blog just for the sake of blogging…)

Often what keeps me going through a tough day is looking forward to curling up in bed with a book at night. It is a fact (at least valid for the current state of human evolution) that we retain more of what we read in real, paper books, compared to e-books on a digital screen. Something to do with the tactile senses.

I read several interesting, thought provoking and highly influential books since last year (besides the usual classic Science Fiction). Some of the more noteworthy ones were:

  • 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot” by Prof. Richard Wiseman — I came across this in a reference at Coding Horror, and although I’m not a fan of non-fiction (and certainly not the How To sub-genre of non-fiction), I just picked up on a whim, and boy, was I hooked. I have been evangelizing it ever since, and more than a year later, I’m still discovering ways in which reading this book helped me break my [evil] habits and turned me into a better person.
  • “IGNORE EVERYBODY and 39 Other Keys to Creativity” by Hugh MacLeod — A friend recommended this to me (in fact, so strongly that she gave me her copy to read), and although sometimes a little opinionated, I found the advice very relevant to the times we live in, especially The Sex & Cash Theory.
  • I very quickly read “It’s not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be.” by Paul Arden. Although the book didn’t really resonate with me (maybe because I was still reeling from the in-your-face effects of IGNORE EVERYBODY), I found some of the ideas very insightful. For example, Paul made the case that out of five sales pitches in a week, the client is most likely to pick the one presented on Tuesday, because Monday was “too early, nothing to judge by”, Wednesday & Thursday were “like eating too much chocolate” and Friday was like “feeling sick”.
  • Meanwhile, Steve Jobs sadly passed away, and the time seemed to be right to read “The Steve Jobs Way: iLeadership for a New Generation” by Jay Elliot & William L. Simon. I found the book to be very balanced, using storytelling to draw focus on best practices and insights that can be applied in our own organizations. Highly recommended if you think you or your place of work could do with a fresh dose of [now legendary] iNspiration.
  • I then started reading “The Go-Giver: A Little Story About a Powerful Business Idea” by Bob Burg & John David Mann, which was the first in a reading list recommended by Venkat during his inspiring talk at BarCampBangalore11 (#bcb11). This is a short book that extols the virtues of giving as the secret to success. If you’re in the business of making profit (who isn’t), this book will surely make you think.
  • There was some promising talk on Facebook about “Plunnge: Reinvention for the New Generation” by Rakesh Godhwani, so I got hold of a copy shortly after it was published. I’ve read many books, and no matter how badly they are written, no matter what subject they’ve been written on, I always find something, no matter how small, to learn from them. So over the years, I’ve never regretted reading a book (except maybe my school textbooks :-p ), but after a bit of a mental struggle, I was forced to admit Plunnge was the first one. Although the subject (essentially a collection of true stories about Indians giving up successful careers to pursue their true passions) is commendable, Mr. Godhwani’s attempt at writing is best described as “otherworldy”, and clouded the true potential of the book.  The writing is heavily biased & prejudiced, almost every single page has either a grammatical or semantic error (although I must concede that some of them are popular usage in corporate India) and there was just too much credit being given to individuals who were correcting their own bad initial career choices (most of all Mr. Godhwani himself – If there was one purpose this book served, it was that of being his personal catharsis). Apparently Peak Publish, headquartered in Derbyshire, U.K. is quite accommodating with the authors they pick. Initially I was so appalled I wanted to write to both publisher & author, but as I read on I realized that (a) the publishers published it, so obviously they didn’t find anything wrong with it, and (b) the author is so pleased with himself and the topic that obviously the finer details were not important to him. So what’s the point? Don’t let your filters fail, and skip this one.
  • To recover from “the Plunnge”, I went on a Malcolm Gladwell reading spree (who I think is a magnificent author), and read “Blink” and “Outliers” (which were somewhat related to the subject matter in “Freakonomics”) and that was time happily well spent. No matter where your interests or disinterests lie, if you’re human, you should read Gladwell.
  • A lot was happening around that time, and I thought it was a good time to revisit the old classic “Who Moved My Cheese?” by Dr. Spencer Johnson, probably the best piece of work written on dealing with Change.
  • Finally, I read the short story “Whispering Wind” by Frederick Forsyth (in his book of short stories called “The Veteran”) which I think is the perfect story. Forsyth fans and those discovering him now will equally be amazed at the level of excellence the Master Storyteller achieved with this story, especially considering that this isn’t one of the topics (or time periods) he usually writes about.
  • Recently I also finished reading “Bozo and the Storyteller” by Tom Glaister, which presents a unique, thought-provoking (and sometimes depressing) view of the human condition.

I got myself  a LightWedge to and will continue reading happily into the night…

I Survived, So I Must be Crazy

Well, it’s been a long time, and I owe an apology to the folks I so enthusiastically ranted about this blog to (and that includes you, dear reader). It started out as a big, interesting idea, but like most of my big, interesting ideas, it became too interesting first, and then too big (for me). I started running out of time and energy pretty quickly as real-world events started taking over.

I switched jobs in July last year, and the strict Internet policy at my new place of work restricts access to blogs and forums. Between that and driving to and from work, I was left with little T&E and an ever-growing backlog of stuff I wanted to write about.

And then I suffered the effects of acute dehydration at a rally race last October, which ended with a week-long stay at the hospital in December. It’s only last week that I finally caught up with my huge backlog of work.

I’m not sure what to do, there’s a lot I want to write about, but I doubt if I’ll be able to do it in a consistent way. And I don’t like that thought. I have lots of notes, but no time to fill in the gaps to make them complete. I’m trying to think of a workable plan to commit time to my writing, but in the meantime I guess these random spikes in the stats would have to do. Thanks for reading!

I came across this while looking for inspiration 🙂 : Growing Rich by Blogging is a High-Tech Fairy Tale

Also, someone sent me this, a scientifiic explanation of “enlightenment”:

OMG-WTF Spectrum

Roman Numerals

A quick summary of roman numeral conversion is available over at Nova Roma