the notes of X

Permanent Confusion


This or nothing / The moon / Fractals / Me and Alex / Explanations / Is the world mathematical

After walking through the woods for a couple of minutes I stopped seeing the facility I totally lost sense of where I was - the facility, although it was unfamiliar, I associated with my parents who took me there, the backyard, I associated with the facility, but there was nothing I could associate with the woods surrounding it. And I thought that the others felt the same, because the disappearance of the light, coming from the fence caused the conversation stop abruptly - there simply wasn’t anything to talk about in the current context. This was when I realized, for the first time, that my companions weren’t as close with each other as I imagined them to be, there were more like inmates, who became friends based on the type of crime that they are “in for”, as Anna put it. And together we were running away from the place where we were “supposed” to get better - as naive as this thought was, and as much it oversimplified the situation, it got struck in my head and I started thinking about my parents and their hopes for me to continue studying and do God knows what else and at the next moment the conflict was tearing me to pieces - it wasn’t that I no longer found their ideas stupid, but rather I was unnerved by the fact that I had nothing more clever that I could replace them with - it seemed to me that every different thought that I had or might ever have (even my brilliant insight about the world being continuous) either died or was dissolved (no suffocated) by the environment in which it was born. As if I too, although strictly middle-class, was stuck in Catherine’s prison with only temporary lapses of mental freedom, the only difference being that I was given a false hope of escape - the idea that the richer people had it better, that they had real choice over what to do with their lives. But seeing Anna and Cathy made me understand that there was no escape - it was “this or nothing” absolutely always, and for everything, every single time when I thought I had a choice all options that I was given were eventually blending with each other until the choice could very well be reduced to “this or nothing”. And not only that, but you would all the time hear voices that are making you act: “Come on, just take this. You are telling me that you would walk away with nothing

“This is what you want. There is no better than this. All other people take this. And you will like it. And even if you don’t, well, I am sorry to say it, but the alternative is nothing!”

I turned to Anna, who was walking with me, as Alex was making out with Catherine again, and tried to articulate the above thoughts to her, but by the time I began to speak I already had almost forgotten what the whole point was I ended up just repeating the phrase “this or nothing” many times and complaining to her in a very lame manner: “It’s like all the time everyone says ‘Make the choice!’ and you have to really make it, or you… You know how pressuring it is?”

“I mean, yeah,” she responded immediately like she wanted to verify if she understood me correctly, “But, like, if you consider choices that meaningless, then shouldn’t it at least be easy for you to make them?” she accompanied this question with her usual ironic gesture, that made it seem she was mocking me, although by that time I knew she was making it in a friendly way, “Or rather, like, go through them I guess, experience them…” and then she added an “I don’t know” at the end, swiftly as if she didn’t want me to think too long that she knew what she was saying. But although somewhat successful at erasing her words from my mind, her remark never erased the feelings they provoked. And it looked like this was just what she intended.

“Yyyou are right. So perhaps it’s not the choices themselves that bother me, then, perhaps it’s the way in which I make them. Like, we all do pretty much the same things in 99 percent of our time anyways so perhaps we just shouldn’t force ourselves to act when we don’t want to.” I almost immediately remembered the way Anna was complaining about our situation at the facility just a few minutes earlier and it struck me as ironic how she, like many other people, never learned to follow her own advice and to just get on with her life in the presence of “undesirable” circumstances (I am using the word in quotes because almost everything can be seen as undesirable when viewed from a given angle, and we often don’t know enough to really categorize what’s happening around us). But I couldn’t say anything as I knew I was the same.

I looked at the sky to search for the moon, but the trees were so thick that I didn’t spot it anywhere until we climbed much higher and reached a rocky area where there weren’t so many trees. There I could see that it (the moon) was partially hidden by the peak of the mountain as if in was making an unsuccessful attempt to conceal it’s presence from me, but was given away by the strong light that it was emitting, which was illuminating the contours of the peak itself as well as parts of the slope. Alex must had seen it at the same moment: “Whoa, full moon!” I saw him gazing at a peak, “You think so?” I asked, trying unconsciously to adopt the only role that I knew how to perform well, that of the know-it-all, “pretty hard to see from here,” to which Alex responded by an action - he left our group and started running uphill towards the peak. “He is going to the top,” I replied to Catherine’s question and we spent the next minutes observing the slope, looking to take a glimpse of Alex’s shadow.

As I watched him, I was filled with admiration, but was also baffled as to why was he doing what he was doing - jumping through stones in the dark had its risks and nobody takes risks without rewards (or so I thought, at least). Was the sight of the moon enough of a reward for him? Or he was trying to prove me wrong and impress his girlfriend? All those theories were plausible and probably partly true, but none of them satisfied my curiosity, and it wasn’t because I considered it impossible for a person to get motivated to do such a thing - I knew that there were many people who would give their lives for much less - rather it was that those theories only explained the fact that he was climbing, but did not explain the way he was doing it - fast, moving with big jumps and occasionally waving at us at times where he should clearly be holding onto the rocks i.e. he was doing what he was doing with passion, and passion never arises from sheer ambition - I knew that because I had had many goals that I wanted badly, but I would never be as passionate as Alex looked like and at that time I felt that I would never would be as passionate - I felt doomed to live a life that was regular and boring as the geometric figures that architects use to build robust structures, or perhaps like the statistical graphs, with all my true experiences stolen, and not really my own - if my life could be represented by traditional geometric figures, Alex’s were more like a fractal: elementary but infinite, and impossible to grasp fully, where the poor bastard who aims to do so (me) would just see more of the same, until he gets tired or dies, leaving their investigation incomplete. On the other hand, if Alex had fallen and died that day (as well as in any other day) his death wouldn’t have made any difference to who he was and what he was about.

It is the poor bastard (again, I am talking about me) who needs to worry about dying - the one who thinks that his advanced intelligence would allow him to become like Alex, and for his life to become a fractal - the one who reads about this dichotomy between the simple geometric shapes and fractals and thinks that these are just two extremes and that they can find a common ground, than is both authentic and safe. The one who then tries to reach it, although on some level they are probably aware that this common ground of course does not exist, simply because the dichotomy itself does not exist in the first place, as it contrasts the real (Alex’s fractals) with the ideal (my simple geometric shapes) which are things that come from completely different dimensions (or rather different kinds of dimensions as fractals have (besides their topological dimensions) fractal dimensions). But maybe I am stretching the fractal metaphor too far.

For more info about this, you can consult the book “Fractal geometry of nature” by Benoit Mandelbrot (which I haven’t read).

Looking at Alex, it looked to me like he was aware of his immortality - he had already reached the peak of the mountain and he was coming back, and he chose to run downhill instead of descending with his back facing the slope, again, running like he didn’t have a single care in the world.

When he was back I asked him if the moon was full and he said it wasn’t but he was still gleaming, as was Catherine, who almost pushed me down the slope in order to stay next to him and then started pushing her breasts towards his back: “So, will you take me there too? Maybe we can take a walk together?” and when he declined her invitation by explaining to her that she cannot approach the peak dressed like she was dressed, and pointing out that, with the shoes she was wearing, in which even an average Sofian sidewalk would pose challenge for her , but she was too preoccupied with her desire to be at the top to listen to him and kept on insisting, “We can have sex there, below the bright moonlight.”

“We can have sex in the room as well.”

“Yeah, but imagine how romantic it would be…”

“I don’t have a fetish for romantic stuff. Besides, how romantic it can be without me taking a shower first?”

At one point while listening to them, I started thinking again about my stupid story how I drew that X on my room door and I realized that what I did then was actually pretty similar to what Alex did - we can say that his climbing that peak was his version or my X, or vice versa. It occurred to me that this story probably represented the biggest common ground between us. And my sudden remembrance of it was probably a helpful aid from my brain to my partly subconscious effort to establish a connection with this person. And although I didn’t, at that time, necessarily knew why I needed that connection, I realized that I wanted it with a passion that somehow erased all those annoying dichotomies that my worldview had consisted off (Church VS Turing, nerds VS non-nerds…) in a way that was more satisfying that any kind of resolution to those dichotomies (not that such resolution existed). I felt that in the realm of fractals, of the real (as opposed to the ideal), things were self explanatory, or more precisely that they weren’t in need of any explanation.

This reminds me of that time I was playing with various binary functions and I discovered that that plotting all the points for which the function (x) AND (x XOR y) (equivalently x -> y) returns zero for given coordinates x and y generates a near-perfect version of Sierpiński triangle (if you are working in Javascript, the function would be coded as (x, y) =>(((x) & (x^y) === 0), by the way). I was fascinated with my discovery and after spending a couple of days analyzing the function I understood why it happens i.e. why does the function behave in this way, but I still don’t know why is that question interesting for me in the first place. This must be some peculiarity for humans, or more precisely for mathematicians to seek such explanations - a snail cannot explain why his shell exhibits fractal characteristics (or why it’s curve can be plotted using the number sequence of Fibonacci), but neither does it need such explanation. The explanation exists not for the snail, but for the poor bastard (me) who hopes that that understanding such thing would help them understand themselves - it is made by them and for them, like a sexual fantasy that you use to masturbate.

But I guess the masturbation metaphor isn’t quite accurate, as the only real purpose of these explanations manifested itself only when they were shared with other people, and only insofar as they were recognized by them (what makes mathematics so useful was that it had this property that anyone who is sucked deep enough in it would be completely unable to reject any of its fundaments). The issue that mathematicians are having, was mistaking the explanation (an explanation) for the object itself, thinking, for example, that a snail shell is an example of a fractal, whereas the reality of it was that fractals are a made up concept that are used to explain why the snail shell and other natural phenomena look like this. That belief, that the world was mathematical just because it could be explained with math was the root of all evil.

While he and Catherine were still talking, I turned to Alex and asked him to take me to the peak as well. I was so overwhelmed by my thoughts that I did it automatically not realizing how ridiculous my request was, I only realized it when both of them gave me confused gazes, trying to determine if I was joking or what “I am not taking anyone anywhere, Alex said, to us, overemphasizing the words as if he was talking to a bunch of kids. If you want to come with me, I don’t mind, and it’s not my fucking mountain anyways, but the responsibility is yours.”,

I responded immediately “OK, you mentioned that it (the moon) wasn’t quite full, right. But which side was flat? If it is the left side, then this means that it is growing, which means that it will be full tomorrow or the day after, if this is so, then I will come with you.”:

Alex had no idea from which side the moon was flat, but we said we would go again, the following day nevertheless.

Meeting my roommate Alex / Picking friends / Who am I / How switching places would solve both of our issues

Hallway Church and Turing / Being stupid

X Nerd stereotypes / How I got my nickname / Establishing connection with my younger self

Fence Outside / Not being punished / Discreet and continuous models

Outside This or nothing / The moon / Fractals / Me and Alex / Explanations / Is the world mathematical

The sleepover Anna's childish behavior / Critics / Boring robots / Adoring Anna

The sleepover contd Irony / Heroes and deserters / Retreat to where? / Real and ideal / Choices

Sex Anna's fantasy / What makes us weird / The establishment and being normal

Cigarettes Alex's good night sleep / About me and Alex again / Sex and love / The proof that P does not equal NP