When I was a kid I read a lot (at least, that’s how I remember it). I loved the Famous Five; later I devoured Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and many less known fantasy series. But on the journey of growing up I lost the drive to read. I don’t know why or how. Looking back, it was presumably the natural limitation of time that struck and other hobbies that took over. I also never missed it consciously.
But lately, Mädchen Klitzeklein is pushing me to read again. I have the great advantage that she recommends me only those books that she seems fit and, thus, I feel obliged to pick up one of those books and start to turn the first page. As with movies, I specifically appreciate to not know anything about the content besides what the cover tells me. And then, I start to read; it takes a while to get used to a physical book after so many years; but it has its unique charm: no distractions, no home button to press, just the next page to turn. For some books I was hooked from the first page, in other books it took a while until I oriented myself and felt home in their unique world. And what I found should not surprise myself, as I already knew it as a kid: it can be an absolute joy to read – so why did I stop reading in the first place?
In my late teens, computer games replaced the story telling of books for me; and some games do it really, really well. Just to mention at least two, because they are very dear to my heart: There is for example Celeste, the heart-breaking story of Madeline, a girl plagued by depression and panic attacks who has the near-impossible goal of climbing a mountain. The game design is perfect as the player suffers and struggles together with the main character in this hard-core platformer. Very rarely have I been more engaged in reaching the end of a game. And then there is Ori, a visual master piece with a straight-forward but wonderfully told story about an orphaned child who saves the forest. These games have provoked strong emotions within me that felt real and unique as I find it rarely in stories. But with games, as with movies, your own imagination is never as provoked as when reading books. The words cannot stimulate your eyes and ears, and hence, what they create within your head is up to you and can become even stronger.
And here I sit and read, turn the page, and the next, and the next. First, it’s a small dip into another story, another century, another life. But with every page, I immerse myself more and more, get lost in the pages, dive deep into the narrative until the surroundings vanish and I participate, experience it myself to the fullest extent. I witness pleasure and delight, I undergo heartbreak and sadness, I live in another universe at another time, even if it’s only for 30 minutes.
What do novels mean? I have absolutely no idea, I just liked the title. But for me, they gave me a long forgotten glimpse into other worlds, into my own imagination, a reason to slow down, another perspective on life. Thank you for motivating me to take this journey, Mädchen Klitzeklein.
The last two books I read were Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy and Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. I don’t think they are for everyone, but I can still wholeheartedly recommend them both.
The sun sets with golden rays.
Thoughts creep in, are here to graze
the mind. With rising haze,
expands, obscures, distorts, delays.
What was, what is, appraise the days
to come: never ceases to amaze
in a multitude of ways.
And I ponder here and phrase
lose myself, the world ablaze,
deep within my inner maze.
Remember March and Love is in the Air? I wanted to photograph our local storks in front of the moon back then – it took way longer than ‘the next full moon’, but I finally visited them again this week. This time, I initially planned to shoot the sunrise but didn’t know where to go, so I payed the storks another visit. And fortunately I did not only get the sunrise, but also the moon behind their nest.
Getting usable pictures turned out difficult: At first, the moon was too high and at that angle it was impossible to have the storks in front. With the setting moon the angle got better, but the rising sun caused the moon to fade in turn. There was only a brief time window where it actually kind of worked.
Besides the anyways marvelous morning, it was also lovely to observe the three youngsters and their parents. Storks have a wingspan of 2 meters, weigh 3.5 kilogram, and can reach the age of 35 years. They always come back to the same nesting place during their lifetime. They also migrate over 10,000 kilometers (twice) every year. Because they exploit thermal winds, they avoid the Mediterranean Sea and either migrate on the East through Turkey, or the West through Spain. While they were quite endangered around the end of the last millennium with only 3000 breeding pairs, they slowly recover and the current estimate is around 7000 breeding pairs. The stork was also selected as bird of the year in my birth year.
When we are not away on weekends I mainly do two things: Writing blog posts or printing photos (however, this weekend we also prepared our van for the upcoming holiday!). By now, I have stashed quite a few prints and I need to figure out what to do with them; I think we still have plenty of free space on our walls (my significant other does not agree…), but it also takes time and money to properly frame the prints. So far, I have created mainly A6 postcards on matte paper, A5 prints on semi-gloss paper, A4 matte prints with white margins, and occasionally a large A3+, all on fine art Hahnemühle-paper. I also tried some lower quality paper, but have to agree with their slogan: ‘Paper makes the difference’, visually as well as haptically it’s outstanding. While in the beginning I needed several tries for the right settings, now I can get (most) prints as I want them from the get-go. Additionally, I slowly figured out which pictures do work as print in the first place, and which pictures just do not translate to paper. And as mentioned earlier: The printing also changed my progress of photographing itself, regarding the settings, lighting, composition, and subjects. The first charge of cartridges is empty and already replaced for the next prints to come.
In my first post on Decidability, I wrote about the Halting problem and how everyday life decisions seem undecidable. Still, we are deciding many things, from minute to minute, from hour to hour, that shape our life, surroundings, and possibly the future. But: Do we decide in the first place or is it arbitrariness? Does it matter which one it is? And if it is not arbitrary, how can we decide?
Only those questions that are in principle undecidable, we can decide.
Heinz von Foerster, Ethics and Second-order Cybernetics
Some time ago, I would have said that decisions are guided and derived from environmental data. The deciding person merges and weights the available data to arrive at a conclusion on how to decide. However, this model has flaws: If the data would lead to a clear answer, there would be no need to decide in the first place; the data just gives the answer. Consequently, only if the data is insufficient to derive a clear answer, the need to really decide arises. Thus, decisions also always result in uncertainty; inherently, we are deciding only the things where the outcome is unclear. Also, in most cases it is an arbitrary choice which data is considered and how it is weighted; infinitely many and equally reasonable decisions are always available – the decision itself is arbitrary.
If you can’t decide between two options, throw a coin. Before it touches the ground you will know which side you want it to land on: Decision made.
My best friend; around when we were in 6th grade
I always liked the idea of this approach to decisions. While in essence it’s not very spectacular, this proposed trick addresses the time component of decisions: If a decision is difficult, we tend to postpone it to an uncertain moment in the future in the hope for more data (or that someone else decides for us). Throwing the coin makes the decision pressing and imminent; and, if, the correct decision cannot be induced by data but is arbitrary, this trick lets us make a decision right now. And this decision comes down to the gut feeling of the deciding person, but it doesn’t matter because the decision is arbitrary whatsoever. My version, by now, is simpler: ‘If you can’t decide between two options, throw a coin and take the option it selects.’
Thus, the coin method is congruent to the proposed mark or cross by G. S. Brown as used by Luhmann: There is no way to decide correctly. You never know the outcome, otherwise there would be no need to decide. The only thing that matters is thatyou decide in the first place.
Thanks to input from my dad. This post probably deserves a re-write as soon as I have more time to properly study the provided material. Since I decided that all posts also have pictures, I chose some older ones from a vacation last year in Sächsische Schweiz. Back then, I still had borrowed his camera and had even less knowledge about photography than now…
Last weekend we walked a hiking trail around the mountain Hoher Meißner. Unfortunately, the only time the alarm clock wakes me up lately is on weekends. The sun rose at 4:30 a.m., so in order to have good light, one needs to be up on time. While we were early, the sun already was high above the horizon when we started hiking. Nevertheless, the cold air and wet grasses made it feel like morning. The landscape was wonderful, but difficult to photograph during plain sunlight; thus the abundant insects had to serve as objects, including additional species of the soldier beetle, ladybugs, and bees.
Exactly a month ago, in my post on botanical gardens, I made the promise to inform myself (and you) about one combination of plant & insect I am coming across. Thus, I think it is time to fulfill this promise even though I did not manage to visit the botanical garden in the mean time.
We stumbled across many individuals of this beetle species already on our hike on P23. However, we had no idea what kind of species it exactly is:
Last Friday, I finally managed to go outside again and did some macro photography. And, again, I saw multiple of these bugs in the grasses, weeds, and fields. It also felt like the first genuine summer evening: Warm air coated the landscape, undulating fields of barley stretched in golden rays, the city vanished behind endless rows of trees, and its inhabitants escaped the asphalt towards the deep blue bathing lake.
And I stood in the fields and waited. Waited for this bug, waited that it flies in front of my lens, and that I don’t miss to press the shutter. And then it came:
It is (presumably) a Cantharis fusca, a species within the family of Cantharidae, in English also known as soldier beetle or leatherwings. The last name refers to its soft body; this is also why it is called ‘Weichkäfer‘ in German. There are many different sister species and often they only differ by minuscule details, at least to the untrained eye. In Germany alone, there are 86 different described species; worldwide more than 4500 – for a single family of beetles! The diversity and complexity that nature creates can be mind-boggling. They are mostly colored red, black, or golden. A wonderful visual overview is given here.
The plant it was landing on seemed rather uninteresting; most of all because it is so common on the fields in our area. At least, that’s what I thought at first:
It’s simple wheat – isn’t it? By now, I am not even sure anymore. Wheat is one of the most cultivated crops and it is an important source of food in uncountably many countries. The first record of wheat seems to be around 9600 years BC. This means, today we are 2000(!) years closer to Abraham, the patriarch of several religions, than Abraham was to the first use of wheat. I find it difficult to comprehend such time scales. However, this also means that there are countless different cultivated wheat species by now, including Common wheat, Spelt (‘Dinkel’), Durum, Emmer, Einkorn (the wild form), and many many more. Genetically speaking, a large difference between these species is the number of copies of each chromosome they have in their cells. While humans and many animals are diploid (they have two copies), it’s rather common in plants to have even more than two copies of each chromosome – this is referred to as polyploidy. (It also makes our life more difficult when dealing with their DNA sequences; but more on that at a different time.) The wild form of wheat is also diploid, but the other species are mostly tetra- or hexaploid. I still think that what I photographed is the most common form Triticum aestivum, but there are several more detailed distinctions to be made within this species.
Also, all information here is pure speculation from dubious internet research, also see this post on information.
Life is about decisions, large and small ones. What should I study? Which bread do I buy? Should I reach out to a long lost friend? Which approach to life should I take? What values are important to me? Do I buy the next lens or do I save up the money? Do I go outside for sports? Do I keep working for another evening? How do I want to spend the limited time I have in my life?
Some questions seem irrelevant, others may determine several years of our future life. So, how can we decide all these questions? Or: Is it even possible to decide all these questions? How should we approach and deal with any possibly life changing matter and decide: This or that? Now or later? Yes or no?
The more difficult the questions become that I face, the more I am convinced that they are inherently undecidable at any given moment in time. We do not have enough information to know all outcomes, the uncertainties are always large, and we cannot weigh in all factors because of their multitude and complexity. This also won’t change in the future. Maybe the options we decide on shift. Maybe it’s too late for a decision and we did not even have the opportunity to deliberately decide it ourselves. Some things we were sure that we chose correctly turned out to be terribly wrong; other things work perfectly even though we thought we made the wrong turn earlier.
Decidability is also infamous in computer science. In its simplest form it is known as the Halting Problem and was presented by Alan Turing. The problem formulation is as follows: Given an arbitrary algorithm and its input, is it possible to find another algorithmic solution that decides whether the given algorithm stops on the given input, or continues to run forever? If a solution can be found, then the problem is decidable. If no solution exists, then the problem is undecidable. In the case of the Halting problem, it can be shown that no algorithmic solution exists that solves the stated problem; thus, it is inherently undecidable. If you’re interested, keep reading for the proof:
We proof the above statement by contradiction. Imagine there exists an algorithm that can decide our problem statement: Given, as input, an arbitrary algorithm and its input, it can always decide whether this algorithm stops on the input or not. We call our deciding algorithm h and our input x. Given h, we now define a new algorithm h* that is a modified version of h: If h determines that the input algorithm stops, then h* keeps running in a loop. If h determines that the input algorithm keeps running, then h* stops. What happens if we feed our algorithm h* as input to itself (of which our original deciding algorithm h is part of)? This can be seen as a self-referential operation. We refer to the h* that is the deciding algorithm to h(h*) and to the input h* as x(h*). Both, h(h*) and x(h*) are the same algorithm. We have two possible outcomes: Either h decides that its input x(h*) stops – however, in this case h(h*) would keep running: a contradiction because x(h*) and h(h*) are the same algorithm. Or h decides that its input x(h*) doesn’t stop – but now, h(h*) would stop: again, a contradiction. Thus, the halting problem is not decidable.
To be continued in one of the next blog posts about how to decide anyways.