I recently read the biography of Albert Einstein by Walter Isaacson for the second time, Einstein has fascinated me ever since I went through a course on physics: his ideas captivated me then, and have stayed with me ever since. Einstein was more apt to use descriptions and visual imagery to show his ideas rather than just dumping his formulas bare and cold onto the world. He was a visual thinker and an amazing mind, someone who worked hard to solve problems but confronting them from many different angles, and worrying them to death until they gave up their secrets. He once said:
“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”
In the first 2/3rds of his life, he revolutionaized our concepts of time, gravity, and the very fabric of space and time. He was a simple patent examiner trying to knock Newton off his throne, and was at first ridiculed and ignored, then finally as fame and recognition came, he was lauded, and made into a reluctant public figure. He was unafraid to dabble in areas outside science where his opinions weren’t always welcomed, but over time many of his predictions and proclamations came true. Especially as WWI and WWII were brewing.
Einstein was a man of peace, he held radical pacifist views early in life, and though he was often accused of naiveté, he persisted in his desire to avoid military conflicts throughout his life. No doubt his views were heavily influenced by his experiences in Germany during the first World War, and the resignation of his professorship in the Prussian Academy as the Nazi Party took power in 1933.
When I first read the biography, I was interested most in the early part of his life, and the ideas that drove him to formulate his Special Theory Of Relativity, and the later the more broad General Theory, and his futile attempts to find a Universal Field Theory to unify the troubling randomness of Quantum Mechanics, and Relativity into one set of equations that could explain the sub-atomic level interactions of matter, all the way up to stars and whole galaxies. In the end Einstein never found his grand unifying theory, but equations found in the notebook beside his death bed show that he was still trying to figure it out right up to the end.
This time reading through the book though, I was most struck by his thoughts and ideas late in life, as the youthful fire of brilliance burned perhaps less hotly and mellowed down into great red burning coals of wisdom and pondering. Many of his more profound ideas don’t have anything specific to do with science at all, but with the condition of humanity. He was a pacifist, and yet his relationship with weaponry was complex: as he was instrumental in seeing that the US was the first to develop Atomic Weapons. This troubled him greatly in the ten years that he lived after the first atomic bomb was used against Japan in 1945. He wrote this explaining his motivations for the letter to Rosevelt, but throughout the rest of his life he was bothered by the idea that mankind now had the power to destroy itself. He said:
“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”
Where do we go from here?
Anticlimax is the word I would use to describe the state of the world at the moment. As humanity as a whole we no longer really have a goal. The world has shrunken and become less interesting as more and more exploration and discovery have lessened the mystery around us, replacing full questions with half-answers.
In the time of the Reformation and the Renaissance: the intellectual pursuits were knowledge and discovery for their own sakes. In the industrial revolution that came after; thinkers were replaced with consumers, and nation-states with alliances of nations that span the globe. What used to be petty wars between small entities became global conflicts that pushed humanity to the edge of destruction, and spawned the construction of weapons that for the first time in history have the power to destroy completely their own creators.
Tell me, where do we go from here?
To the stars? Or do we turn inwards and lose ourselves in the process?
I would be happy to say we will someday have colonies on Mars and perhaps in the high cloud-tops of Venus, but I fear that we are so close to a tipping point, that a mere breath will push us over the brink into destruction. The ‘modern world’ has been saved from the edge of destruction before, can we save it from ourselves again?
That is the cause that drives all of us; we meat-puppets, bio-piles, self-motivated obsessed carbon life forms that we are. The reason we do everything that we do is because we die. The meaning of life is that it ends.
The scrawled hearts on the park bench, the scratched names under your desk are cries from the past; reaching yearning, calling from that abyss where all things must go. We build cities and businesses, and lives because they are graffiti to the gods, and we want them to be hard to scrub off the walls.
Think about laborers under the beating sun dragging blocks for the great pyramids, think about the lives that were spent to turn great blocks of stone into a massive tomb for the ruler of a sand patch at the end of a muddy river. Thousands and thousands of hours of back breaking work, of lives spent like devalued currency, and for what? So one man could have a glorious tomb and take his riches into the after-life? Yet ten thousand, thousand men and women and children were buried in shallow graves in the sand. No embalming for them, no hope for an afterlife for them.
You think we are any different today? We work and sweat and labor to build high-rises that will be used, and then neglected, and then dilapidated, and then razed. Gone. Cities rise, cities fall, ruins fill the landscape and the flesh-toned tide of humanity rises and falls, ebbs and recoils, fades and though it is always dying, always being born, it is a continuous thread that stretches back into history, one meager life at a time.
Do you really think you are going to make your mark on the world?
Time is death, death is time. Eventually I will be gone, you will be gone, and perhaps if we are fortunate, we may be remembered by our descendants, or if we have done something famous or infamous we may be remembered long into the future, though that future does not really matter much to those still trapped like a fly in amber locked in the past.
I look at those scratchings on a park bench, and wonder at our own mortality, the great mystery that is death. What deep scratches are you trying to leave behind?
When your obligation to an item outweighs its utility, it is time to cut the connection to that item.
I have fallen into the trap of saving something because I might need it someday, and so I have carried things half-way across a continent in the imagining that I will have a use for it again, and so I shouldn’t get rid of it. That almost never ends up being true for me, and I end up collecting all this junk that piles up and never seems to diminish. I go thorough periods where I will purge stuff, but that usually only leaves room to collect more.
Just this week I finally got rid of a set of flush-mount LED tail lights that I originally bought to put in my 93 Jeep Wrangler, (way back in like 2002) I ended up going with another style of light, and so I kept these lights (4 round tail lights, and 2 side-marker lights) in the thought that one day I would need them again, after all, they were BRAND-NEW!! why waste them?
Time went by, I sold my first Jeep, and moved, and moved again, then after a few more years I bought another Jeep YJ, so yay! I am going to use these lights!!
Nope…. The Frame-off restoration project I had in mind never happened, and 2 years later I sold that Jeep. I still had those lights.
I moved to Florida….And brought those lights with me.
I moved stuff around, in and out of storage… I still had those lights.
Last week I sold them on Ebay, and shipped them out to someone who hopefully will use them as I originally intended. Funny thing is that I could have done that at any time since I originally went with a different style and no longer needed them, and if I had ever wanted them again, I could have just gone on Ebay and bought more. It’s not like they are particularly rare or hard to find, in-fact I would have been better off if I had sold them right away, because they are about 1/5th the price now that they were when I bought them over 10 years ago, so I wasted that money, I wasted the opportunity cost of having to carry the things everywhere with me. I wasted the space they took up; I wasted the mental energy that I spent thinking about my obligation to do that project someday. In-fact each time I saw a jeep sitting for-sale somewhere, I would think: “I miss my jeep, I want another one, and then I can use those lights”
Now they are gone, my mind is at rest at-least as far as jeep-lights are concerned.
Time Is Money, Time Is Life, Therefore Money = Life
Spend your money wisely.
How much is your time worth?
Each one of us sells ourselves every working day of our lives, you sell little bits of your life to your employer every day you go to work. How much is your life worth?
The most basic economy is a barter economy, this is where I can take the milk my cow produces, (costing me lots of time and energy to prepare, care for and manage) and then barter it to you for some of the corn you grew last season, (which also cost you in time and effort) I then have what I wanted, and you have what you wanted. I don’t need to grow corn since I can turn my labor into milk from my cow, and then turn that milk into corn by trading to you. This system works only when you have something I need and I have something that you need, but what happens when you don’t need or want the milk? Perhaps you want a new rake instead?
So I take my milk down the street to the blacksmith instead and trade him the milk for the rake, and then the rake for the corn I need….. you see the problem of-course. This system has major limitations because I can never be sure I can turn my product or service into the things I need efficiently, so the market comes up with one step in-between. That step is money.
Money is simply abstract time/labor, you might not realize it, but we are still very much using the same kind of transactions as a barter economy, but what we are doing is using a sort of universal labor credit (the currency we use to make transactions) to facilitate those trades.
I still work hard to care for my dairy farm, I still expend time, energy and labor, and in return my cow gives milk which is a commodity that I can use to get other things or services with. I sell the milk to the market (anyone who wants it) and get money in return. This money is an abstract representation of my labor. It is a portion of my life and energy made into something I can hold in my hand. Money is abstract time, money is your life.
Every dollar you earn is a little bit of your life that you have sold to someone else, it is your life energy made into small paper bits that you trade with other people to get what you want, and for them to get what they want. The more money you have, the more life you have. Think about this:
If I want to build a house, I can do it 2 ways: I can either expend a great deal of time and effort and do it all myself, (very difficult in modern times because of various restrictioans, but lets imagine it on a more primitive scale) or I can have that same house built with the money I have accumulated over time, (my savings) since that money is my time turned into a tradable item, I am really just using my own time to build that house. I choose to hire a crew of workers to build it, but since they are selling me their time for bits of my own time that I have saved up, it serves the same purpose. My house gets built by the expenditure of my own life and energy.
Money is life. Perhaps not your own, since you can inherit money, or perhaps come into a windfall of wealth, but fundamentally the money in your bank account is time, and the debt you have, is a debt of time.
Spend your time wisely.
“What do you do?”
This is a question for which I have no answer. I get asked this often, and it is the prerennial american question, we are defined by what we do. We are our jobs. I don’t have an answer because I don’t get my identity from my job description, I don’t see the connection between what a person does to earn a living and their self description. If one is to answer the question truthfully it can’t just be the description of your day-job, since that is only a small fraction of your duties in life, but that is what the questioner is asking, ‘what is your day job?’
Why does it matter if I scrub floors in a hotel, or meet with investors, or drive a truck? Perhaps your janitor is also an amateur electronics engineer, or the professional negotiator is an aspring actor, or the truck driver writes mystery novels…Of what use is the question: ” What do you do?”
I do everything.