25 Things About Me

Facebook meme (login reqd). Overdue, and in the third person. Deal.

1. As a child, Jonathan used to sit and read from novels and fat encyclopaedias every day for hours on end, while licking his finger and dipping it in the family sugar bowl.

2. Jonathan is compelled to either court or ditch people he meets, purely to keep the number of active friends currently in his life a prime number.

3. In his late twenties, Jonathan took to applying neat turpentine to his scalp so that his bald head would make him look more intelligent and academic.

4. As Jonathan writes this, he is wearing his wife‘s jeans. They are at once too tight and too loose in various unfamiliar places.

5. Jonathan named his pet rabbit Benny, after his brother. When we found out about the skin cancer we had Benny put down straight away. It wasn’t until a full eight weeks later that Jonathan finally got an appointment to have his tumour removed.

6. Jonathan distinctly remembers an innocuous seeming moment when he was twelve years old. Doing math homework. Somehow or other he knew that the answers he kept getting were wrong. He was hacking away at it, determined to figure out his mistake, when suddenly, out of the blue, he had a small realisation. He could just submit the exercise with the wrong answers intact. It wouldn’t matter one iota. He would get a few questions marked wrong, but would still be in the top handful of people in the class, and that would be that. Nobody would ever know that he hadn’t tried his absolute hardest. Regardless of whether one interprets it as the onset of slackerdom or as joyously claiming his own freedom of will, academically it was all downhill from that moment.

7. As a child Jonathan loved ice skating, although you’d never know it to see him now. He was put off it by an accident on the rink when aged about 12, which left him house-bound for three months, waiting for his prosthetic ear to take.

8. Jonathan’s first job after graduation was R&D on systems to analyse radar echoes. As well as perennially hot-button topics like identification of ‘non-co-operative’ aircraft, other applications included the early detection of hairline cracks in the internal blades of jet engines, without having to actually take the engine apart. In simulating the typical damage a jet engine suffers, for a few hot sticky days in the summer of ’94, Jonathan got to be the guy who tossed thawed supermarket chickens into the shrieking intake maw of various Rolls Royce low-bypass turbofans.

9. Jonathan’s favourite food is Christmas pudding (in England, a dense moist alcoholic fruit cake, you wouldn’t like it), although this probably has some unfair weighting in the grand scheme of comparative gastronomics, due to the traditionally prescribed infrequency of its ingestion. Next up would be good (not medium) sushi. While I’m being picky, can I also echo Douglas Adam’s exhortation that tea should only be made using water which is boiling, not boiled.

10. Jonathan hypothesizes that the normal operation of the human mind’s stream of conciousness must include a supervisory mechanism, to detect and inhibit recursive or cyclic patterns of thought, viz. thoughts that trigger a chain of associations causing the original thought to re-occur. It is clearly useful for us to be briefly reminded of all related concepts whenever a new stimulus hoves into view. Equally clearly, it would be disastrous if we were to mentally bounce back and forth between two or more closely related concepts, each reminding us of the other in rapid succession, ad infinitum. The chain of associations must be damped down once each related concept has been highlighted in our awareness. Jonathan further postulates that one of the effects of certain mind-altering substances, and of some mental illnesses, is to inhibit this inhibitory mechanism. In such a state, the host mind is unable to maintain a train of thought or singularity of purpose, since every step along the conceptual route is strewn with tar-pits of associations, trapping the conciousness in a vegetative trance of cyclic ideas, or else in a disturbingly repetitive cycle of behaviour. Incoherent dysfunction such as this is an outward symptom of the unblinkered mind’s new-found ability to gaze, for the first time, directly upon the face of an actual, literal infinity. The depth of recursion only limited by the bandwidth of conceptual reverberation. This results in sensations of considerable awe. Both the positive and negative aspects of such a state are compounded by the common additional effect of lowering the mind’s threshold required for one concept to be considered as ‘related’ to another. This leads to streams of conciousness in which entirely unrelated or even contradictory ideas can be subjectively perceived as not only being deeply related, but as actually being identical. Hence black is white, false becomes true, life is death, one is all and all is none. The feedback causes these thoughts to occur with great intensity, lending them a feeling of spiritually deep profundity. The subject’s stereotypical inability to coherently reformulate these ideas when sober is directly due to the fact that such thoughts are, under normal circumstances, quite literally unthinkable, except for the kind of indirect and abstract representation that comes from merely describing them, as opposed to truly, deeply believing them. (Update: These ideas had clearly been stirred up of late by my being halfway through Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, a novel about addiction, related mental dysfunction and their relationship to freedom of will. Imagine my lack of surprise, then, when I reach page 1,048 (footnote 269, sub-footnote a, no joke) to discover Wallace had already written a rant of his own, very similar to this one, on ‘labyrinths of reflexive abstraction’, which he had clearly been leading up to for a long time. Like, say, for most of his writing career.)

11. Jonathan writes down his selections for the national lottery, but never buys any tickets. To date, he has chosen the winning numbers five times.

12. People who are into nice clothes are just pathetic beacons of insecurity. I mean, all well and good to pick a nice color of (T-)shirt off the rack if you’re confronted with a rack from which to choose. Or to dress up with your friends for a particular event, which is a giggle. But if you’re going to more effort than that, or if you propagate the fallacy that your industry demands it, then you’re a moron and I despise everything you stand for. Ditto for expensive jewellery or nice watches or fancy cars or all the other claptrap accoutrements with which people distract themselves from a witheringly inadequate life. As I write this, I’m planning to go out this afternoon to accessorise for a black tie event later tonight. Stabbed in the back by the dark tides and treacherous undercurrents of my own very human psyche. (Update: From my office, the windows overlook the preposterously over-dressed Nathan-Barley-esque cavorting which takes place outside a London fashion house.)

13. Jonathan enjoys stalking round the house naked when his housemates aren’t watching.

14. Jonathan very much enjoys dreams of flying, and notes that for him, it requires a symbolic flapping of arms to supply a motive force, and an appropriate arching of the body to pull off manoeuvres, not entirely unlike the motions of snorkelling. Which he also loves.

15. Jonathan wishes his friends lived closer. On the same street would be nice.

16. Jonathan should have set off for work ten minutes ago.

17. Jonathan is deeply envious of people who can juggle.

18. As has been remarked upon elsewhere, there’s nothing quite like a freshly-shaven scrotum. Truly breathtaking.

19. Jonathan has spent a few weeks learning about 500 digits of pi. The world record is 67,890. (Update: The challenge for you is to determine which 500 they are.)

20. Jonathan has only in recent years begun to realise that he isn’t actually a very good computer programmer after all. For the time being, he consoles himself with the philosophy that understanding this is probably a necessary step on the long road to enlightenment.

21. Jonathan would like to learn how to disagree with idiopeople more constructively, without putting both them and himself on the defensive. Was very impressed last week listening to Iain Simons talk about setting up the National Videogame Archive, who’s response to some fairly cutting criticism appeared to be a deep and abiding curiosity. (Although when I tweeted him about the discussion afterwards he half-joked that ‘of course I was boiling with rage inside’) Nevertheless, this seems like a very promising approach. How to nurture it?

22. Jonathan believes that if there was ever a God or Gods, it or they have fucked right off, and don’t seem to be coming back. We’re on our own in this. Get over it. However, he is very willing to entertain the idea that the act of prayer or meditation may well be a helpful psychological device, you can keep doing that if you wish. Just don’t dress it up with all your stupid bullshit. (Ah! Oh! I mean, I’m deeply curious about how you reached these conclusions, please share your enlightenment with me.)

23. Jonathan loves each and every one of you. Yes, even you.

24. Jonathan is beginning to realise that it is actually way more taxing to write 25 false things about himself than it is to simply write 25 things about himself. He may have to mix and match. But can you tell which ones are which, and identify the pattern in which they are arranged?

25. Jonathan is trying to come to terms with the fact that people are almost never able to consciously think in a rational way. I’m including you in this derogatory generalisation, but that’s OK, because I’m including me too. This would all be fine if, as the startlingly prescient and insightful Paul Graham pointed out, ideas were still just badges used to demonstrate affiliation. But nowadays civilisation has given our ideas real leverage, such that the ideas we choose to hold now actually have some effect on the world around us, more than simply acting as banners under which social groups gather in the voting alliances of human power struggles. Which, again, would all be fine, if only we recognized all of this, and took account of it when judging the worth of our own decisions and opinions. For the most part though, we just wing it through modern life using the subconscious instinctive emotional responses that have served humankind and its animal forbears relatively well through all of prehistory. The relevance of these instincts, though, and the value systems they have bequeathed us, are now dwindling in the face of rapid changes to the world, wrought by our overwhelming dominance over our environment, and our resultantly multitudinous populations. The problems we face, both day-to-day as individuals, and those which must be surmounted for the long term survival of our species, are drastically different from any that we have previously encountered. Our normal modes of operation will not suffice. We rush forwards on behavioural inertia, destructively applying the hard-won lessons of distant millennia, which taught us that survival absolutely depends upon ruthless conquest over other species, and dominance over our environment. However, these behaviours are no longer in our best interests. In fact, they lead to a unhappiness, social instability, and needless cruelty and destruction. To break the cycle of escalating competition and subjugation as resources are depleted in an increasingly crowded world, there is only one desirable solution. A future in which everybody wins. Kindness and enlightenment spread across the globe, allowing people to happily make best use of our limited resources. This one solution is this: People are going to have to learn to be rational. This is not going to be easy. The first step on the road to wisdom is to acknowledge and embrace the fact that we are not, unaided, capable of rational thought. We need to integrate checks and balances into our decision making processes, both personally and institutionally, in order to preserve and build upon any glimmers of sanity in our outlook. There is already a name for living like this. It is called science. Science is not wearing lab coats or slavish adulation of technology. It does not mean an automatic refutation of religion or creationism or any of its other traditional foes. Science is inherently neither for nor against any particular politics, ideology or lifestyle. It simply means to humbly question ourselves and our innermost assumptions, to diligently maintain objectivity, and to let our beliefs follow tentatively wherever the evidence leads us. Those who distract from the truth by forcing their assumptions upon others, by espousing their own party or special interest group, or encouraging the adoption of deeply-held beliefs – they shall not be tolerated, and we shall remove them utterly from the decision-making process. Only with such discipline and dedication will we uncover the path to happiness, save ourselves and fulfil humankind’s manifest destiny. Come, wherever you are, and kneel with me, kneel before the mighty altar of science, saviour of us all. The geek shall truly inherit the Earth.

25 Things About Me : Recipe

Once you’ve been tagged, write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it’s because I want to know more about you (and/or I think you might go to the trouble).

(To do this, go to “notes” under tabs on your profile page, paste these instructions in the body of the note, type your 25 random things, tag 25 people (in the right hand corner of the app) then click publish.)

3 thoughts on “25 Things About Me

  1. “he is very willing to entertain the idea that the act of prayer or meditation may well be a helpful psychological device, you can keep doing that if you wish. Just don’t dress it up with all your stupid bullshit.”

    Great way to rationalise away something you have never experienced. Now you never need to think about it again… ;-)

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