Christian Wiman Quote

There is nothing more difficult to outgrow than anxieties that have become useful to us, whether as explanations for a life that never quite finds its true force or direction, or as fuel for ambition, or as a kind of reflexive secular religion that, paradoxically, unites us with others in a shared sense of complete isolation: you feel at home in the world only by never feeling at home in the world.

Wiman, Christian (2013-04-02). My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer (pp. 7-8). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition.

Tolstoy on Judging People

“One of the commonest and most generally accepted delusions is that every man can be qualified in some particular way — said to be kind, wicked, stupid, energetic, apathetic, and so on. People are not like that. We may say of a man that he is more often kind than cruel, more often wise than stupid, more often energetic than apathetic or vice versa; but it could never be true to say of one man that he is kind or wise, and of another that he is wicked or stupid. Yet we are always classifying mankind in this way. And it is wrong. Human beings are like rivers; the water is one and the same in all of them but every river is narrow in some places, flows swifter in others; here it is broad, there still, or clear, or cold, or muddy or warm. It is the same with men. Every man bears within him the germs of every human quality, and now manifests one, now another, and frequently is quite unlike himself, while still remaining the same man.”

― Leo Tolstoy, Resurrection

My Review of Samuel Johnson’s Prayers and Meditations

Doctor Johnson's PrayersDoctor Johnson’s Prayers by Samuel Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote to his friend Norman Malcolm that Samuel Johnson’s Prayers And Meditations was one of his favorite books. He noted that he appreciated the honesty of the prayers and had adopted some of them for his own. I find myself with the same appreciation, having been not only moved by the prose but also feeling a kinship with Johnson’s humanness, his continuation over a period of years to fighting the same temptations and habits, his undying love and prayers for his late wife, his guilt at unmet duty and unfulfilled destiny. An humbling book and you don’t have to be a Christian to appreciate it, just human.

View all my reviews

God and Math (a short story)

Note: Ideally, for context, the short story Immortality should be read before this one, although it is not absolutely necessary.

Editor’s note: This paper was written by Philip Berg when he was only 10 years old, demonstrating his appetite for math at an early age. This is an exact replica of the paper from his archives, as certified by Ann S. Teaseya.

In this paper, I want to walk you through a mathematical look at the concept of God. The purpose of this is NOT to prove or disprove the existence of God, but rather just to exercise our thinking.

Let’s start with the number of atoms in the visible universe, estimated to be 10^80, which is 10 to the 80th power, which is a 1 followed by 80 zeros:

100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

Now as we understand God, he would have to be aware of each of those atoms. Not only that, he would have to be aware of them at every moment of time and to remember them for all time. So, given that our best understanding of quantum theory is that the concept of space and time break down when you try to go smaller than 10 to the minus 43 seconds, and if that applies to God, then for him to remember one second of the visible universe would mean that God would have to remember the state of each of the 10^80 atoms for 10^43 Planck units of time, which would be 100 followed by 80 + 43 = 123 zeroes. I’m not going to write those out, but welcome you to give it a shot.

Just to add a little perspective, a computer the size of Earth working continuously for the age of the Earth (about 4 billion years) would process a number of bits equal to about 10 followed by 93 zeroes. Any number larger than this is known as a transcomputational number. So, any mathematical concept of God has to involve transcomputational numbers.

Continue reading God and Math (a short story)

Immortality (a short story)

Avril Origami was not unhappy being the director of bioengineering at Berg Biophysics. True, she had grown wary of constant administrative hassles without the excitement of discovery that can come from managing just one engaging project. But, for a young woman from Japan’s Miyazaki Prefecture, she was proud to be wearing Armani outfits and Ferragamo shoes and to bop around town in her $60,000 Audi S5 sportster, paid for with cash from her Christmas bonus.

On the other hand, Avril earned her PhD getting her hands dirty in the lab, not by playing fancy math games. She missed the excitement of hands-on genetic research. She was fully aware that biological research was being taken over by physicists, mathematicians and Big Data experts, who take the most real and valuable thing in the world, life, and abstract the hell out of it, turning it into a bunch of fucking equations. She understood that it was just part of our marching toward The Singularity, and she had no problem with that. What will be will be. Que Sera, Sera. In fact, most of her direct reports were physicists or mathematicians or nanotech engineers. Still …

So she decided to see Dr. Berg himself, to see if he would let her take on direct responsibility for a project in addition to being director of many projects. At worst, he would say no, and he might even say yes. And, if nothing else, she would have the pleasure of talking with one of the world’s most fascinating men.

For starters, Philip Berg had three PhD’s: one in mathematics and one that was shared between mathematics and philosophy, counting as a full PhD in each. His first doctorate is the one that led to his founding of Berg Biophysics. He performed an intensive mathematical study of the ~100,000 retrovirus DNA that make up about 8% of the human genome, and determined a pattern that was common to all of these. He then used pure math to theorize on the makeup of an antiviral that could eliminate all 100,000 retroviruses. Although the CDC will not yet let anyone test his antivirus, he had received a patent and is expected to win the Nobel Prize for it.

His other feat of mathematical (and philosophical) brilliance involved proving that nothing does not exist, i.e., that the “number” zero is a mathematical convenience but one which does not represent any aspect of reality. He had initially come at this view by proclaiming that Plato was right about the existence of an unseen world, but wrong regarding its contents. Specifically, whereas Plato believed there was a world of forms (for example, the perfect triangle), Berg was convinced that that world contained only numbers. Not mathematics, mind you. No equations. No forms. Just numbers themselves, which always existed in pairs of a positive integer and its corresponding negative.  Continue reading Immortality (a short story)

Why We Crave Sex (a short story)

About 13.82 billion years ago, on a July 4, God asked himself, “What is the most perfect thing I can create?” Instantly he knew the answer: the vagina. (Some theologians claim he knew the answer before asking the question. Issues of divine foreknowledge are too complex for us to treat here, though. Those interested in such topics are encouraged to read Bruce Keener’s forthcoming God’s Foreknowledge and Aftknowledge: What Did He Know and When Did He Know It?)

You can probably see yourself reaching the same, or a similar, conclusion, depending of course on your gender, testosterone/estrogen levels, and various ineluctables.

Anyway, God also realized, of course, that each vagina should be placed in a woman’s body, near its center, for its protection, and that women would need a universe to thrive in. So he did the Big Bang thing, not only to bring the universe into existence, but also and primarily to have it evolve a vagina and its woman.

A few nanoseconds later, as he continued to reflect deeply on this (having turned off his TV to avoid distractions), he knew that he also wanted the vagina to receive its due worship, its en raison culte. He thus tweaked the universe so that it would also evolve man and would endow man with the ability to please the vagina and its woman.

God then decided that if there was anything wrong with this creation, it was that it was too perfect.  Continue reading Why We Crave Sex (a short story)

Spare Parts (a short story)

Early October was breathtakingly beautiful in Connecticut, with red and yellow leaves so bright they seemed to have their own internal light source. That is, until that fateful day when everything started turning gray.

It started with objects that were not so bright, such as the few leaves that hadn’t turned, blue cars, green cars, tan leather couches, sparrows, white dogs, road signs, buildings, paper, flesh, hair, … Soon, even red and yellow objects turned gray.

Scientists all over the world were baffled. So, they began testing objects of all types, and learned that all objects, no matter what they were made of, were giving off about the same wavelength of light. Objects that had emitted/reflected light of red, corresponding to a wavelength of about 7000 angstroms, now emitted/reflected light that had a random mixture of wavelengths from about 4000 to 7000 angstroms, corresponding to the “color” gray. Yet, as far as the scientists could determine, there had been no material changes to the examined objects.

This really defied common sense, but experiment after experiment confirmed it.

As you can imagine, this created enormous problems, since it was hard to tell one object from another. Not all objects were the exact same shade of gray, but the trends suggested that all would be the same within a few days. Once that happened, all objects would appear to have fused together and it would look as if there was only one gigantic blob of gray. The whole universe would be gray.  Continue reading Spare Parts (a short story)

I Miss Me

I have a distant but haunting memory of a charity-funded TV commercial showing a child with a body that was hardly more than bones wrapped in flesh. The child looked like a bloated gut with a head stuck on top, with the latter being attacked by swarms of flies. He was surrounded by filth and disease. You could almost smell the stench of shit and death and disease in the air he was breathing.

I cried.

I did not have a credit card in those days, if memory serves, but gave extra money to my church. That eased my guilt, my sense of duty, but did nothing to help that child. Today he probably exists only in the past, or, worse, if the past no longer exists, he has become nothing more than one of my faded memories.

That is all too sad of course, sadder than language can even hint at, but what is just as sad to me is that I no longer cry when I see such footage. Both facts represent, in some sense, the loss of a human.

So here I am wondering what happened to the part of me that made me cry? I loved that me from so many years ago, but I have no idea where he went.

Did some sort of primal internal mechanism step in to defend my brain against “excess empathy” when it recognized that there’s not just one baby like that, but millions and millions? That if today there are 821,675,232 starving children, tomorrow there will be 836,928,555?

Continue reading I Miss Me

Short Story: The Creation

After publishing a book, I felt like writing a few short stories, which are largely still in the draft stage. I am releasing the following one, though. It’s a humorous piece, and with the world as crazy as it is, I think it’s time for some humor.

By the way, please check out my updated Amazon author page and, if you are so inclined, click its LIKE button, so Amazon will not think that nobody likes me.

The Creation

It’s hard to visualize the gods, since they are timeless and therefore lacking in spatial and temporal coherence. Interestingly, though, they have human names: Chris, Roger, Ishmael, Mary, Aomame, Paco, Belvedere (Belvedere?), John, Mike, Julie, Vickie, and Bruce. They also exhibit some human-like behaviors.So, it’s not totally wrong to envision them as sort of human, and it may be helpful for you to do so as you read below about their creation of the universe.

The idea of a universe belonged to Chris. He was contemplating the value of Pi to 80 billion decimal places, for the trillionth time, when the thought just popped into his mind, “Why not create a universe?”

He mentioned it to Bruce who said, “What’s the point? I can see the universe in my mind right now, for all time, and I know everything that would happen in it until its demise 2.367 trillion years from now when it would conclude its heat death and be exhausted of all content and energy. So, what’s the point, Chris? What’s the point of anything, my friend? We know everything that can be known, making life such a BORE for me. It’s too, too boring, Chris. You make a universe if you want to … I am going to invent suicide.”

So, Bruce killed himself, making him the first dead god. This tremendously upset the other gods, because they had been together like forever. (Forever is a long time, even for timeless beings.) None were more shook up than Vickie, though. She and Bruce had figured out a way to have sex, even without bodies and even in the absence of time and space, and it was heavenly. They loved each other so much, and now she would be without him forever.

Continue reading Short Story: The Creation

I Know You’re Dead, But I Still Worry About You: A Love Story

My ebook about the love of my life, and my grief following her death, is now available from Kindle Direct Publishing:

I Know You’re Dead, But I Still Worry About You: A Love Story

I’ve poured a lot of emotional energy into writing this over the past several months, especially the last few. I hope it is helpful for anyone who is grieving or who has a friend who is grieving.

All my best,

Bruce Keener