Category Archives: Philosophy

Comedic impedance mismatch

Could you be a comedian?

Imagine the mind of Robin Williams, Jim Carey or Sarah Silverman? (Or any of the hundreds of manic, amazing comedians of our time.)

I could never be a comedian, even close to their caliber. However, my mind is capable of understanding and instantly embracing what those folks relate through their stories and monologues.

How can this be? I can know exactly what Louis C.K is saying and how it relates to me and the world and why it’s funny — but I couldn’t possibly recreate his material? How can I know but not produce?

Now, this is not an art craft like painting, dancing or sculpting. Activities that would take me decades to master (if ever). No, all this is is the simple knowing of a thing. The information, available for the taking from the world around us and presented, matter-of-factly, to me, through animated presentation.

Obviously this view is malformed. Although the information that comprises a comedian’s material is right there — in front of me — the mixing, the timing, the delivery the sequence is all much, much more than just the information.

This is what I call comedic impedance mismatch. When you’re done enjoying a comedian’s routine, you’ve not really amassed any new respect for the skill-acquisition of the human race. The information used by the comedian came from everyday life, the news, books and media and movies and songs — stuff we’ve all already experienced. They didn’t learn a new way to be a human and absorb information differently.

But somehow, a comedian can blend these mundane features of our world in such a way that transcends our simplistic views of that same world. They see the world differently.

Painting you can learn. Dancing, visual and material arts can be practiced. But comedy? I’m not sure that that can ever be taught. We can enjoy those comedic moments as recipients of revelatory, recombinant info-bytes. But to create them? I’m not sure that is a learnable skill.


Transitory associations

If you’ve have had a number of jobs in your life, you’ll understand that, although some of those friendships you developed at prior workplaces may linger, if you don’t share some fundamental feature of human understanding — they’ll probably fade.

The same goes for neighbors you’ve had as you’ve moved your body around the world. As well as friendships you’ve had in high school or college. People come and go in your life, some last a day, some a year and some much longer.

Perhaps the hardest part of friendship is letting go.

I had a dear friend in high school. My only friend in high school, really. We played hookie together, were on the same sports team (rifle team) and worked the same strange summer job our 17th and 18th years (running a blueberry farm in Frankford, Delaware). We went our separate ways our last September and lost touch but for a faint spiderweb tendril that joined us and wavered in the wind every so often. Strangely, we got married the same calendar day, and married a woman of the same name, all unbeknownst to each other.

He committed suicide a few years ago. I have never learned why he didn’t bother to say goodbye. I would have understood.

We ride this train and people step on and off our personal Pullman car. Yet in the end we pull into the station alone. Waving goodbye, along the way, to those who have ridden with us through the rough spots, the early track, the long lonely stretches — is hard.

But you get used to it and learn that people come and go. And that is just the way of it.

Friendships melt like winter snow and are followed by blossom-like faces of new acquaintances, who, if you’re lucky, may sing to you songs of the fresh season.



Mirror, mirror

Here’s a curious concept you might ponder today:

cavemanmirrorHumanity has only, within the last 3-5000 years (and really only in the last few hundred) been able to few their own visage in a mirror.

Prehistoric humans never knew what they, themselves, looked like. Sure they could look into a clear pond (or often a wide darken bowl) and hope it was still and thereby get some idea of their appearance. But mirrors came to be — for the wealthy — only a few millennia ago (copper and bronze polished things that barely worked “through a mirror, darkly”) and with silvered glass, only about 200 years ago.
[Wikipedia has a brief history of the mirror.]

My thoughts are with those folks before the Greeks, Egyptians, and Sumerians (Narcissus did looked into a pool and fall in love, and Socrates talked about being able to see one’s image). Imagine going through life never knowing what you looked like. Do I look like pa? Or ma? Oof! The mystic man there is one ugly dude, do I look like him?

We take so many things for granted today. Being able to see one’s self in a mirror is one we seldom consider. Is is possible that superficial vanity, the vanity of appearance, came to be only in the recent past? How would your thoughts of yourself change were you to have never seen yourself in a mirror?

Which one are you?

In ninth grade (freshman high school) I sat, dull-eyed, at a desk while the English teacher, a fellow who, I’ll admit, was pretty animated, proceeded to, oddly enough, perform a statistical test on the class.

“Who wants to bet that at least two of you (a class of 30) have the same birthday?”

We all, as group, took the bet.

He then went around the room, alphabetically, asking each of us our birthday.

When he got to Billy Baker, Billy announced his date.

I was dumbstruck. It was the same damn day as mine. Now, Billy was somewhat of a student to be admired: played the trumpet, was good looking, clear skin, got straight A’s. I instantly thought to myself, “Whoa, that’s too cool. Me and Billy have the same birthday (and birth year), we’re exactly the same age! Neat-o!”

And so I blared out this fact to the class. Well, Billy sat just to the right of me and he immediately turned and shushed me down. “Shut up you fool. We can’t let this teacher win.”

Billy possessed the presence of mind to be able to react in a way that would no doubt favor him later in life. I, on the other hand, reacted with total, gleeful abandon, without any regard to the bet or the fallout of the experiment. I was oblivious.

So, class, which one are you?

A: Are you a Billy and on constant street-smarts awareness as to how any situation (and your reaction to it) might benefit you?

B: A foolish dunderhead who is just damn happy to have had some relation, albeit remote, to one of the cool kids in school? And generally incognizant of how to play the world to your advantage?

Would you rather…

Would you rather:

  1. Have your vision expanded to see in infrared or ultraviolet?
  2. At any time, once a day, be able to levitate one foot and float at will for one hour, or fly as high as you like for one minute?
  3. For one day the year, be given Harry Potter magic or Cassandra prophetic vision?
  4. Be President of the 2000’s United States for a year, or King/Queen of 1600’s England for a year?
  5. Die in poor health at 150 or die in perfect health of the most tumultuous orgasm any human has ever had at age 50?
  6. Play poker with Albert Einstein or Richard Feynman?
  7. Wake up in a pool of blood surrounded by dead baby goats, or dead baby deer.
  8. Have lunch with Judy Garland or Audrey Hepburn?
  9. Lose an arm-wrestling match with Arnold Schwarzenegger or The Hulk?
  10. Fall asleep reading about the zombie apocalypse or watching The Simpsons?
  11. Be 10% happier or live 10% longer?

A philosophical minute


Our lives are simultaneously accelerating, while becoming ever shallower.

We’re like skipping stones glancing off the pond of life.

To truly live, we must slow and sink into the world around us.


Death to Success

I’m going to conduct an experiment.

You can participate as well. Or you can watch this spot for progress reports. Or both.

The hypothesis for this experiment is as follows:

The mind is plastic. Evidence of this is that the internet and specifically, social media (through PCs and smartphones) has, unbeknownst to us, rewired our brains and we are now victims of our own desires to engage the world through the dings and tweedles, red and orange notifications dots and numbers we yearn to see on our computing devices. Our brains have been remolded making us all social notification addicts.

It therefore follows that, so altered, the mind, my mind, can be altered back. Specifically, my fixation with death, and the nihilistic attitudes I’ve cultivated for the last few years, which, if the theory holds true, I’ve inadvertently wired my brain to gravitate towards, will be attempted to be transformed to — not thoughts of death and the end of the Universe — but to a simple idealistic desire for success.

Every time I think of death and any and all of the terms and constructs that surround it, I will intentionally divert my thinking to the word “success”. This word, I believe, can embody a diametrically opposed belief system opposite of Morte.

Along the way I’ll be attempting to also alter my use of the internet, trying to curb my insidious predilection toward the dopamine-drip fed feeling of social acknowledgment found in said software dings and dots.

The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains — Nicholas Carr, a book recommended by Zarah Parker, has me convinced that this experiment can be attempted.

The null hypothesis would be that, in six months or so, I retain the tendency to dwell on my mortal demise (or I’ve shoved an ice pick into my ear) and will report such results (or not). To reject this null hypothesis, we’ll have to see where my head is right around the summer solstice.

It’s a fun and exiting experiment you can do at home, work, or traveling. So, come along and join the joy. Let’s all change our minds together.

[And now for a dram of Inception’esqueness: Where Brian has eloquently, if anachronistically verbalized the above verbiage.]