Saturday, April 28, 2018

Heavens

In my Optihumanist Principles, I wrote:
We build heavens for ourselves and our beloved in the here and now.
I think human-made heavens should have all of the good things that the supernaturalists have been promising us.  I see in this list a sort of compressed version of Maslow's hierarchy of needs:
  • Immortality and optimal health
  • A perfect environment of comfort, beauty, and bounty
  • Happiness and satisfaction
Recently I have been listening to science fiction with an immortality theme.  In one story, a man with a terminal illness uploads his mind into a virtual reality multiplayer role playing game.  Another transfers his consciousness from his old body into a much younger genetically enhanced clone.  The personality of a cryonaut is copied multiple times to different computers to control  spaceships.

All of these represent a special kind of mind-body separation which I call substrate-independent dualism.  By this I mean that the physical implementation of our soul is irrelevant so long as the functions are faithfully reproduced.  I tried to represent this in the Optihumanist symbol by putting a gap between the circle representing mind and the rest of the symbol representing body.

Whether described as the Elysian Fields or the Happy Hunting Ground, heaven is usually described as the kind of place where you would want to settle permanently.  I remember hearing one news story where a pastor was reported to have informed his congregation that the temperature in heaven was a perfect seventy degrees Fahrenheit.  My elderly parents have informed me repeatedly when I visit that seventy degrees is too cold.

I imagine that for us to be happy, there must be challenges to overcome.  Certainly there must be goals to achieve and progress to be made for us to maintain long-term satisfaction.  Toward this end, it is said that the immortal Einherjar of Valhalla pair off in combat daily for sport.

Speaking of the Vikings, it appears that the closest thing to heaven on Earth these days is Scandinavia.  Certainly it seems that the residents are the happiest and healthiest in the world today.  I plan to write about the Nordic Model after I do more research.


Saturday, March 31, 2018

Index Funds

I have been speaking with my daughter and other young adults about how to invest for retirement. I strongly recommend index funds. In particular, I recommend choosing an index fund based on the S&P 500 or some other measure of the American stock market as a whole.

My father said that if you invest in the stock market, you will get rich when everyone else gets rich. In times of inflation, stock values will automatically ramp up to keep pace. Fixed interest investments such as bonds, however, will require your constant attention.

If corporations respond to growth in the economy by rewarding shareholders rather than giving raises to workers, workers can benefit by becoming shareholders. Be warned, however, that workers who invest their retirement funds into the stock of their own employers risk losing both their income and their retirement simultaneously if the employers suddenly go out of business. Workers are better off investing in the economy as a whole by choosing a diversified index fund.

My father also said that if the stock market collapses, you will become poor when everyone else becomes poor. I would not worry about this because you can ride out the dips if you have no immediate need to withdraw your funds. A diversified collection of stocks held for decades is no riskier than bonds held for the same period.

Once when I spoke in praise of investing in the stock market, my uncle protested that he had lost almost half of his retirement funds due to a stock market dip. I responded that this was because he had not been investing in the stock market over his entire career. In fact, he had invested his retirement funds very conservatively over his lifetime until he decided to move everything over to the stock market just at its peak before a collapse.

Dollar cost averaging is a technique in which you invest a fixed amount in the stock market with every paycheck. This buys you a lot of stock when stocks are undervalued and less when stocks are overvalued. In the long run, this works out in your favor.

When it comes time for retirement, most recommend re-balancing your portfolio to invest some of your income in safer investments. There are a few who say that you should keep it in the market and let it ride. Keep in mind that you will probably live for at least a couple of decades past retirement.

Some people recommend investing in other inflation-proof assets such as real estate. Being a landlord, however, requires more effort than you expect. Even if you hire a company to manage your rental properties for you, you now have to keep an eye on the management company to ensure they are continuing to serve your interests.

Investing in individual stocks can also be more effort than you expect. After studying the complexities of corporate finance in graduate school, I realized I was better off focusing my attention on my day job and other pursuits. With dollar cost averaging into an index fund, you can set up automatic contributions once and then concentrate on more important matters in your life.

You might consider letting a money manager pick individual stocks for you. On the whole, these actively managed funds perform about the same as index funds. They cost you much more, however, as the managers take their fees.

So do not be a contrarian. Invest in an index fund. Set it and forget it.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Audiobooks

My New Year's resolution to listen to audiobooks at bedtime is working out great.  In the past I would fall asleep while watching videos on my smart phone using a streaming service such as Hulu or Netflix.  Over the last two months since I started consuming audiobooks from Audible instead at night, I have been falling asleep sooner, getting more rest, and waking earlier.

Reading traditional print books is less fun now that my eyesight has deteriorated due to aging.  Even with corrective lenses, it is somewhat uncomfortable to have to hold a book at a fixed distance to maintain distortion-free focus.  Compared to wearing spectacles, earbuds make it much easier to fall asleep while lying on my side.
 
Audiobooks are also helping me alleviate some of the symptoms of my bibliomania.  Folks with my condition buy more books than they have time to read and then struggle to find a place to store them.  Like e-books, audiobooks wait patiently for me in my online wish list or cloud-based library and only take up space on my smart phone when I am actually ready to download.

I no longer mind commuting now that I can listen to audiobooks on the drive.  Radio can get boring when the morning news cycle loops but a good audiobook keeps you engaged until the end of the story or the end of the road.  Until the day I can read my e-books in enlarged font on the dashboard monitor of my self-driving car, audiobooks are the way to go.



Saturday, January 06, 2018

James Bedford Day

I am adopting James Bedford Day, January 12th, as a new Optihumanist holiday.  Although he was not the first to be cryopreserved, James Bedford is the first of those still in suspension.  The story of his suspension is hosted on the Alcor website.

I will be celebrating with other members of the North Texas Cryonauts.   This will be our first meeting scheduled through our new Meetup.com website.  I am hoping that this can become a regular annual event for our group.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Optihumanist Principles 2017

The latest Brights Bulletin cites Dunk, et al. (2017) A multifactorial analysis of acceptance of evolution.  Quoting from the study: "Understanding of the nature of science was the single most important factor associated with the study of evolution [...]".  This suggests to me that we need to focus less on teaching acquired knowledge and more on the knowledge acquisition process.

I provided an explanation of the Scientific Method in a sermon some years ago. This seems insufficient by itself, however, as the whole process is wrapped in something larger which requires the application of logic. From what I read in Wikipedia, the word Reason is probably what I am looking for here.

Before I pulled it out, a previous version of my Optihumanist Principles included "Reason and the Scientific Method are paths to the truth."  I am re-inserting that back into my 2017 version in this form:

We uphold reason and science as paths to the truth.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Stability

I like to say that "stability is its own reward".  The idea behind this is that many unstable plastic systems continuously adapt until they stabilize.  Once stable, plasticity is limited because it was the instability that was driving them to change.

Usually my context for this is in the realm of neural network learning algorithms.  Some years ago, however, I identified a couple of instances of self-stabilizing systems that exist in the real world.  Each of these tongue-in-cheek examples might also be slightly cyclical -- and cynical.

First example: clearing traffic accidents increases traffic speed.  As lanes are re-opened, average traffic speeds can jump from a rush hour stop-and-go crawl up to maximum posted speed limits.  As speeds increase, however, accidents also increase -- which force commuters back down to speeds that are safe for congested driving conditions.

Second example: state lottery revenues fund education.  As participation in the lottery increases, education increases.  As education increases, participation in the lottery decreases -- because educated people do not buy lottery tickets.



Monday, October 30, 2017

Mortal Terror

The origins of Halloween, or Samhain, are connected to preparing for winter and remembering our dead.  Nowadays many associate Halloween with a good scare.  In celebration of this holiday, I would like to remind you that you will die.

You might be thinking that you still have plenty of time left but I would point out to you that time accelerates as you get older.  Note now how the many anticipated far future dates of a graduation, wedding, major purchase, or relocation have already come and gone.  Now imagine your future self in the nursing home.

In theory, you should be terrorized.  By this I do not mean the mortal terror of an infant separated from its mother.  I suggest instead of a creeping fear of the inevitable that makes you desperate and a little crazy.

If you are still alive in five months with another winter behind you, consider celebrating a different kind of inevitability.  So long as medicine continues to advance, a cure for aging must come.  When it does, will you still be around to partake?


Friday, September 29, 2017

Advancing Tasks Grid

In previous blog posts, I described how I use pushpin magnets as markers to track my progress on recurring tasks.  Today I created a webpage to document my new system which I am calling an Advancing Tasks Grid.

Having played the video game Plants vs. Zombies (PvZ) for many hours, I like to think of my daily tasks as zombies advancing toward me very slowly.  I have to continuously attend to each of them so that one of them does not eventually make it all of the way across my lawn to eat my brain.


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Motion Detection Bulbs

I replaced all of my incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs. I then replaced the CFLs with light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs. Now I am replacing the LED bulbs in our hallways with LED motion detection bulbs.

We use Energy Ogre so our monthly electricity bill tends to be very low. Nonetheless I feel compelled to turn off any light bulb as soon as it is no longer needed. Rationally I understand that I am only saving a fraction of a cent by doing so but the behavior is compulsive.

A smart home could turn the lights on and off for me as I pass through a room. A downside to this is that it would require adding the special hardware to detect motion and control the bulbs. Plus a smart home is a networked solution which can be hacked.

The new LED motion detection bulbs can operate without a network because each contains its own integrated motion sensor. They independently turn on whenever someone comes near and then automatically turn themselves off a minute or so after the person leaves. Some of them are smart enough to only turn on when it is dark or dim so there is no wasted electricity when the sun is shining through the windows.

My criteria for the LED motion detection bulbs that I buy is that they have to be warm white and bright. To avoid light that appears bluish, I look for bulbs with a color temperature of 3000 kelvin or less.  The bulbs also have to be in the 12 watt range which seem to be bright enough to replace the old 100 watt incandescent bulbs.

It is a bit confusing that some of my bulbs automatically switch on as I approach and some do not. My fix for this is to buy more motion detection bulbs.  At around $12 or more each, I probably would be better off financially just leaving my old LED bulbs powered on all of the time.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Gut Feelings

When you have to make a hard decision with long-term consequences, trust your gut.  Your feelings can tell you what your brain as a whole, not just your conscious rational part, has decided about the future well-being of you and yours.  If it does not feel right, postpone indefinitely.

Where this rule of thumb can lead you astray, however, is when you are not feeling well for other reasons.  When you are despondent about your plans and you want to scrap it all, first ask yourself whether this might be because you are currently sick or exhausted.  Do not assume failure and give up on all of your prior efforts when all you really need is just a few days to recover.

You will be the most optimistic when you are healthy, rested, and untroubled.  If you are not in that state, deliberately hold off on making any weighty decisions.  Until you are feeling better, stick to plan and keep chugging.