The Book of Nature

Nature writes its greatest mysteries
On the wings of butterflies
The riddles in the songs of birds
Are more baffling than Zeno’s paradoxes

There is more wisdom in a single flower
Than the books of all the ancient sages

Inscribed on
the veins of leaves
the dapples of stones
the jewels in the sky
Is the book of nature

Is Fiction Useful?

I have thought about becoming a writer since I was very young, but my parents actively dissuaded me from this profession, and that’s why I became a programmer. However, the dream did not completely die, and I ended up writing a few novels, all of them unpublished.

It is hard to justify to any reasonable person why it is a good idea to become a writer, especially one who writes fiction. Does fiction do anything useful, or a mere diversion from the main task of earning a living. Scientists sometimes get flack for the things they do, but at least they can cure cancer or design practical things like computers. Is there a justification for the existence of fiction, besides the facts it helps otherwise useless people earn some money?

Some people argue that fiction does have very important uses, I have heard a writer making an online video saying that you need an understanding of fiction to persuade others. This comes from a long line of postmodern thinkers who argue that fiction is the way through which we understand reality. There might be some truth to what they say, but in the end I don’t believe that fiction requires any justifications for its existence, the same way that nothing requires any justification for its existence.

Most societies believe that it is important for the things we create to be useful. It is understandable, because societies that concentrate on creating useful things are the ones that survive. But the idea of usefulness is a human invention, it isn’t a part of nature. Things like honeybees and pine trees never had the notion of usefulness in their minds, and they are still able to survive. The idea of “usefulness” may have been an evolutionary adaptation by humans to survive, but it doesn’t express any ultimate meaning of the universe.

Some people have elevated the idea of usefulness to an absurd level of importance. The universe itself is ultimately pointless and absurd, but that may be the best thing about it. As some philosophers have pointed out, if the universe did indeed have some purpose for which we humans partake, human action would always be limited by some cosmic principle. For example, if it is true that we live in a universe where the goal of life is to he useful, we would cease to have freedom because we would always be compelled to take actions that are useful. It seems the only way we would have any meaningful freedom is if we are able to pursue activities that are not useful.

Any life that pursues only useful things is a life not worth living. In order for our lives to be meaningful, there has to be a fair level of meaninglessness in it. I have met many incredibly driven people who accomplished many things, and at some level they do what they do because they enjoy their work, not because what they do is useful to anybody, even themselves. The feeling of marvel at the majesty of the universe is what drives most people.

Life

Life is like a birdsong
A lilting serenade
Bursting forth in strident chirps
Before dying into silence

Showing its triumphant glory in a single moment
Then is lost in eons of unfathomable time

But what a song!

Filled with endless laugher
Bathed in unending tears
Overflowing with memories
Thinking of Infinity and Beyond

The entire experience of a life
Shorter than a flicker in a flame
Still contains the Universe

Infinity

I dream of Infinity
An endless line winding
through all of Space and Time
weaving together every Point
into the rich tapestry of reality

But was it all a dream?
The infinitesimal frills on lettuce
The infinite walls of the sky
Still haunts my waking visions.

This wrinkled brain I possess
Is nothing but a mote in space and time.
Can it hold all eternity and beyond?

Do I create Infinity
in my dreams?
When Infinity dreams
Does it create Me?

The Pressure to Be Creative

I am a writer and a computer programmer, both professions that require creativity. (Okay, admit that I’m not making any money off my writing, but I’m treating it as a profession nonetheless.) The thing is, being creative is not something you can follow a formula to achieve, otherwise it wouldn’t be creative. Most of my most creative ideas do not come from any brain-storming session or writing exercise, but when I am being utterly bored or having an episode of insomnia. Ideas, especially very good ideas, come to me when I am not expecting them to arrive. I would be walking in the middle of the street and a new scene for my novel would appear in my head. The same thing happens when I am working on a programming assignment. In fact, I often found that I was most productive programming work at times when I was not supposed to be doing it. For about a year I would take the train to work, taking about one hour each way. There were tables and power outlets on the train, so I would plug in my laptop and work on my programs. Those two hours were some of the most productive hours of work in my day.

A while ago someone did an experiment on creativity. The researchers took two groups of people and asked them to do a task that required creative problem-solving. One group was told they would get a small reward for doing the task correctly, while the second group was told they would get a large reward. The result was usually that the two groups performed similarly, or that the group given the large reward performed worse. It does not only hold for creative tasks, but for tasks that required “subjective engagement”, a concept I do not fully understand but I think means the person finds the task they are doing interesting.

Why do rewards fail to motivate people to do interesting tasks? Psychologists don’t yet have an answer, but perhaps this is the key to being creative. My theory is that creativity comes from taking risks, and when there is reward at stake we tend to take fewer-risks. Sometimes we have to come to the realization that not everything we do will be a resounding success. The creative process, along with many other human activities, will sometimes be beset by failures, and that’s okay.

But I think there is also another lesson to be learned, and that is we shouldn’t be afraid of being unproductive. Sometimes the only way to be productive is to do things that appear unproductive, but are really activity that gives rise to interesting ideas. If you have trouble coming up with an idea, take half an hour to do some light work such as feeding the cats or washing the dishes, and when you return you may find that you’ll have tons of ideas. Even day-dreaming can sometimes be a productive activity.

Finally, we have to face up to the fact that we can’t be creative all the time. Or that maybe we are not creative at all. The ancients viewed creativity as a gift given by the gods. But the modern world requires many of us to be creative all the time, which is impossible. The plague of procrastination does not reveal any laziness in modern society, it just is a symptom of a modern world that demands more from us than we can give. People are creative all the time, just not in ways that the economy finds productive. Just look at the vast amount of time people dedicate to writing witty comments on social media. Most of the time nobody asked them to do it, they just find the activity engaging and fun. The fact that most creative activity is economically unproductive is the reason why creativity seems so scarce in our world. It is not a flaw in human nature, just the way the economy is run now.

A Fight with God

I fought God on a twisted river shore
His charming face shone with allure
On the starry stage of an ink-dark night
Those tree-trunk limbs thrust with might

Arms like pillars pinned me to the ground
But with a cunning smile I turn around
Slithering from his grip like an eel
I twisted his body until he keeled

Through the night our bodies tussled
With no clear winner in the jostle
When daybreak came he wrenched my thigh
I screamed in pain while he stood high

“Who are you?” I asked,
my body laying quite odd
“I am what I am, and you are
‘he struggles with God.'”

Beyond Good and Evil

How far have the stars fallen
into a bottomless pit of ignominy
Who will we raise back up to the sky
to be the better angels of ourselves?

In a world beyond good and evil
Neither Gabriel nor Satan
can fill the void

Illusions conjured by electronic gods
fill empty men and vacuous women
with sound and fury
And glowing ghosts of a haunted past

In a frustrated, exasperated world
Do we deserve more than insults and venom?

See the beauty
Not the rage
Face the day with pride
Retreat to a night serene