Ten years ago

Ten years ago today, the heavens smiled upon Manila. Literally, because there was a planetary conjunction involving Venus and Jupiter, that conspired with a crescent moon to form what we would call a smiley, in the night sky. It wasn’t spectacular in the way other astronomical events like eclipses are, but it sure was an amusing sight.

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Coasting

La Union, The Ransom Collective, and embracing my youth (before it’s too late).

There’s a song that plays in my head when I think about my first visit to San Juan beach in La Union: Shelter (Oh No), by the happy little indie folk band named Ourselves the Elves. When I’m packing stuff for a trip it’s become my habit to load my phone with new music, which I would listen to on the bus (or plane), and in idle moments, as in that lazy hour before noon, before checking-out, while my travel companions mill around gathering their belongings. Pieces of music, once they imprint on a memory, can preserve moments in a way photos can’t. Pictures allow me to replay the visuals of a moment weeks, months, or years after it has passed, but they don’t always trigger the emotions. I have beautiful pictures from that trip to San Juan more than three years ago—sunset, waves, and lots of sand—but I can’t say that I truly remember that time, unless I hear Shelter, unless I feel the feelings only that song can stir in me.

It’s not that the words of the short but spirited song mean anything particular to me. The song is technically a duet, featuring Aki and Aly’s wonderful, interweaving boy-girl vocals, but I hesitate to call it one, because all the words seem to belong to the same persona—a character losing a metaphorical battle, and calling out to the listener to be her (or his) shelter and shield.

Well, I wasn’t quite feeling vulnerable when I listened to the song in a room by the sea, despite the relentless crash of waves resounding through the window shutters. I merely thought it a rather joyful song, in a swinging way, even if its somewhat foreign texture tinges it with melancholy. It was a great song, an appropriate addition to the soundtrack of my weekend in a carefree, blissful place.

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On the meaning and value of work

Work, as a concept, is a rich and multi-dimensional idea. As a starting point, I will take the definition I once heard (from a priest, if I remember correctly), that work is simply the transformation of our environment.

Defined this way, work becomes an encompassing aspect of life. Work can be physical and tangible, as in the work of mining and refining minerals from the earth, or synthesizing substances in a chemical factory, or constructing structures from pieces of wood, metal and glass. Work can also be intangible, as in intellectual work, gathering and synthesizing knowledge in various fields of science, or sharing them with others in education.

Work has a similar definition in the physical sciences, where it means the transfer of energy when a force is applied to matter resulting in motion of a definite distance. The idea is similar, because it also involves a transformation; without movement or results, mere application of force does not become work. To perform work in physics is to transform the shape and location of objects in our surroundings.

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A sense of time

Are we helpless in the eternal slippery march of time from present to past?

If one is feeling philosophical, one might be inclined to ponder the most basic features of our reality: space and time, the dimensions, for instance. One might then discover that these fundamental things, or objects or constructs, could be blamed for the struggles of people—the human condition, as they say.

Let us look at space. Distance is the backbone of so much human drama. It is the element present in conflicts of various genres: in romance, lovers yearn for closeness; in adventures, man attempts to overcome nature by reaching for the stars; in war, kings and generals win battles through the brilliant use of territories.

But between space and time, it is clearly the latter that is the subject of greater mystery, and deeper struggles.

While in space we are free to move forward, backward, higher, lower, and so on, under time we are in a tyranny. The future is always out of reach, the present is fleeting, and moments are always slipping into the past. Given unlimited time we could conquer any imaginable amount of space; but even with the seemingly boundless space that we have on earth and beyond, time remains invincible, unsurmountable.

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In the image of consciousness

(What follows is a vague, messy shadow of an essay. Maybe it’s the point. But as an excuse, consider it an impressionist work instead.)

The computer is a projection of the human mind. It is the physical and external manifestation of philosophical-mathematical thoughts, a machine that runs on theories of representations, logic, and physics. With 21st century computers, much of the machinery has been hidden, such that when the ordinary user taps on her smartphone—a contemporary computer—to create a document, share photos, and communicate with a friend, what is left is a deceptively simple, enchanting experience.

The human mind thrives on stimulus, just as the computer feeds on input. Both possess memories, perform logic, and visualize data. But for both subjects, it is perhaps the first attribute, the capacity for storage of information, that is the most valuable. It is where the treasure lies. It is how value, to put it in utilitarian terms, is retained.

However, especially in this aspect of memory, there are serious limitations in the computer as an analogy for the mind. Computer memory is rigid: unless running software instructs certain pieces of data to be transformed, the data will stay as is, even after years of storage. Whereas human memory is fragile: it is widely known that older memories are less reliable. Rare is the person whose powers of recollection is gifted with perpetual integrity.

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