Where I am right now
Right, so this will probably come across as self-centered an pathetic. But it’s what I feel right now. I’m a 28 year old male, have a significant other, good income, and an education in Artificial Intelligence and Epidemiology (PhD drop out to start my own business). So nothing to be ashamed of, I don’t think. I run a small team, with nice, friendly, competent, and hand-picked colleagues. I have family that cares about me. But every day, all day, I spend looking at a computer screen. Day in, day out, I’m glued to my screen. Some days it’s exciting, some days it’s mind numbing and boring. Some days I go for a walk, alone. And no days, for the past year or so, I’ve felt like I connected with someone. I tweet about 10 tweets a day, I get favorites, a retweet occasionally. I work from home. I’ve alienated all my friends. I’m barely in contact with the people from high-school or university. I don’t know why, I just forget or neglect to message back. You can do that twice, then they forget about you too. I rarely forget though, they still linger in my mind daily.
So what’s the problem? Is there a problem? I worry a lot. I think we’re headed for a disaster. As a species, as a culture, our days are numbered. I read the reports, I’ve done enough math to see the implications; climate change will kill us. There might be some things to stop it, but they’re too few, too late. I worry, a lot. In my day to day business I don’t deal with this. I do machine learning for evidence based medicine, natural language processing basically. But what occupies my mind is the disaster we’re headed. It’s all connected. That sounds like something a mad man would say, in a delusional rage rant of incoherent sentences. Maybe it is. But, the thought fills me with a cognitive dissonance, a numbing and parallelizing feeling of nothingness. Are we even worth saving as a species? Why are we here? Why am I here. I did some philosophy reading. I like Sartre, Camus, Karl Jaspers. The absurdity of your own choices, your own life. Am I doing the right thing? Wouldn’t it be better to spend my, arguably well educated, skills on the more pressing matters in life?
I made the choice not to have children. It’s stupid to have children. We’re overpopulated, and our resources are stretched thin. Unless we make space colonization or transhumanism a priority there’s just a finite amount of “stuff”. We’re reaching the finiteness of that stuff. Maybe not today, but growth is exponential, the cup will be half full before it’s full. Things change slowly, then quickly. Some people think it’s arrogant not to have children. But what makes your genes so special? I sequenced mine, all of it, it’s nothing special. I might get a tattoo with my special genes (the ones with a low minor allele frequency). Perhaps some people get children because they’re lonely. I’m lonely. What’s left in life? What will be my contribution? If it’s not another random soul on a planet headed for disaster, then what is? I’m thinking about planting trees. A lot of them. I spend months thinking about preventing climate change, and “trees” is all I could think of in the end. Besides, I cherish and romanticize the post-melodramatic idea of walking in my own forest.
What is the cause, what is the symptom? Where does my own hubris end, and do the problems of the world start? I am not so sure anymore. I don’t have anyone to talk to about this. My ideas go unvalidated, they run amok in the days glued to my screen. The moments I’m in “the zone”, and can focus on nothing but the code in front of me, are meditative. There’s a spirituality in connecting with computers, alone. It’s often neglected in the hipster computer science culture, with their faux new-atheist movements. Experiences can be mystical, there is a desire to transcend. I used to identify as an atheist, read the cruft by Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins. I don’t think they hold water anymore. Mostly because they turn out to be assholes. I like the term Humanism. I like rationality, science done proper without the dogma. Our human condition is more than that though. I guess Jaspers would call it the “encompassing”. Or some such, never got that figured out. Neither did he, probably.
Why am I here. I’m 28. With my health habits, I’ll probably die of myocardial infarction at the age of 50. A BMI of 26 and bad genes does that to you. Male European genes are bad, mind you. Males are the weaker gender, don’t be fooled; just look at the flimsy Y-chromosome. What will be my legacy? Does it even matter? I’ve been thinking of moving to Iceland. It makes sense to me: good sources of energy and water, small population. With the increasing climate change it might even be good for farming. Climate change has upsides. Migration coupled with fascism is the big downside, that and death of course. I had an idea for a short story: I’ve migrated to Iceland. Under a bright aurora I decide to go outside. The world has gone to shit. I didn’t see the aurora coming. The NOAA satellites were deemed strategic assets for what was left of precision agriculture, and hence shut down for public access. I look up and see the bright green filaments move across the sky. I decide to take a look uphill, take my camera. I’ve made it, I’m happy. I still got it, I got my self-sustaining home, my books. I watch our insignificance as I ponder the implications of basic nuclear physics. I trip. And as I fall down the hill, breaking every bone, I gasp in my last life’s breath “well isn’t this ironic”.
It’s all been done before hasn’t it? It doesn’t matter, what matters is that you do something with your life. I’m a mess. Not on the outside, I give talks in my domain, I’m respected in the very narrow subfield I’m in, do the laundry, keep my teeth clean. I even take care of my body, although not as much as I like. But it’s my mind. It’s my goddamn mind. We’re headed for disaster: I can see it when I close my eyes.
Once you’re caught in one of the migration streams, trying to catch the next plane or boat, you’ll think of the endless queues in Disneyland. That is what will happen. And here I am, alone, sitting behind a screen.