Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Beer-Pong through College-Colored Glasses

     It is the noblest tradition among those entering the latter years of education to undertake a pilgrimage in quest of knowledge divine and extracurricular. These pilgrimages are said to be fraught with peril, and often end in shame; but to those sturdy enough to complete the journey to frat house, their neighbor's up the street, or perhaps even their own living room, questions may be asked of sage Players older and wiser than themselves: "What is Beer-Pong? Whence does it come? By what codes and precepts do its participants abide? Can I just sit out this first round and watch?" And if the proselyte presents himself with obsequious, trembling humility, answers may be given.
     "Beer-pong is the Eternal Game; the game of our roommates and of their roommates before them; the passage from innocence and youth into manhood; and the substance of life. Its origin is unknown, lost to the chaotic drunk that its own creation birthed. It's rules are lewd, numerous, and relative. And you have no choice but to sit out and watch the first round; you aren't even on the list."
     As the initiate takes his place as spectator, waiting the interminable duration to his virgin game, he will see and hear many things unknown to him. He is as a nestling watching its mother fly for its first time. He observes acts that are unexplainable and imagines sensations beyond his experience, all with the growing excitement that he, too, will soon become part of this fantastic alien world. He sees giants of unmatched proportions bearing the weight of monstrous distended bellies, flinging, with the utmost delicacy, opal spiraling spheres. He sees steezy sunglassed playboys swaying like the leafy branches of spring, stumbling and recovering, casting and scoring. The mystery of how one so intoxicated could act with such precision will stay with him, and in shroud, for the next half hour or so. He listens to the powerful intellects in the crowd shout recommendations for re-racks, respectfully deliberate over progressive legislation, and muse over the more philosophic aspects of The Game. Should the cups be arranged with consideration given to horizontal and vertical alignments, or does valency reign supreme? Without a spokesman for the household present, what rules should be established as defaults for in-cup ball retrieval? Does the purity of one's water cup truly reflect the compassion of one's soul?
     The powerful impression of myriad new sites and ideas weigh heavily on the initiate, and he is encouraged to drink of Economy's golden nectar. First he makes libations to the owner of the house and parsimonious supplier of beer; the remainder is drank personally and induces him to frown the Frown of Economy's Golden Nectar. His cheeks flush, and his cup is found wanting.
     Finally his turn is called and he may take his place at the stately game table; the table which is gilt with hardened Venetian leather, heavily embroidered with gold; whose surface is responsive, glistening, and redolent of countless prior games. There is an inscription in the center inlaid in a glowing argent fire:

          Though Beer-Pong be a game
          Beer-Pong be that what shall remain

     The initiate's partner brushes against him with damp and fashionable raiment, entreating him to play with the dignity of a warrior and to not, "fuck up." Unbeknown to him, his opponents are the peerless "Clarence" whose birth was the accident of the passion of a 14 game winning streak consummated in 1985, and the redoubtable "Floyd, bulwark of The South" who himself is now in the midst of a 14 game winning streak. The outcome is set; his fate is sealed with the promise of much more to drink.
     Though his first game has been lost, the initiate is not dismayed; he knows something of Beer-Pong now and sees that it is like life with its changing seasons, victories and losses, joys and sorrows. Whichever way the evening goes, the initiate has taken his first steps to becoming a man, he has tasted of the best life has to offer, and he will surely suffer a formidable hangover come morning. His story is the story of all men throughout the ages who have ascended to the exalted peaks of human knowledge, and who from this eminent platform have truly progressed the vanguard of human experience. His story is eternal and yet timeless; it is the story we all live and learn from. His story, is the story of Beer-Pong.

Mechanistic Beauty Via Conversation

[Wherein two eccentric old friends drink whiskey and talk about serious matters under the stars.]

Cannon: "By Jove's sable brow! Didst thou just drink all thy whiskey?"

*Cadwalader's face is contorted in a manner that suggests "yes", but he is unable to reply. Moments later, he sets his countenance straight and clears his throat.*

Cadwalader: "Yes. Unfortunately I had no choice: I know of nothing better to combat those vile change-of-season pathogens."

Cannon: "I see..."


Cadwalader: "Anyway.. You were asking me something just before?"

Cannon: "Right. I had meant to ask: do you not think that by taking a purely mechanistic, physicalist view of reality that you limit your own ability to perceive its beauty? And more than that, disregarding how things actually are, and stepping beyond the bounds of your own beliefs, do you hold that the belief would be benevolent, generally applied?"

*Cadwalader lets his head drop near his knees to better consider the proposed question. After a moment of deliberation in this position, he raises his head and begins rubbing his bristled chin, checking a few final details for consistency.*

Cadwalader: "I think it is a powerful view... It has great potential; but it may be misapplied, misinterpreted, and simply incomprehensible for some I'd imagine. Or.. at least they wouldn't be willing to put the work into comprehending it. I say this because to fully understand it requires a reasonable amount of imaginative effort -- not to invent something about reality, mind you, but to understand something about it that is invisible to human minds and eyes."

Cannon: "Well, that's rather vague isn't it?"

*Cadwallader laughs a moment and then thinks silently for another before continuing.*

Cadwalader: "This is where the viewpoint's problems begin: the beauty it has the potential to reveal is everywhere within it; and yet, just as atoms are everywhere and invisible, so to might this beauty be. Both atoms and the beauty in physicalism are at first transparent because of limitations inherent in humans for dealing with: the extremely small, in the case of atoms, and the extremely numerous, in the case of physicalism -- which will require some explanation. However, just as we were able to find an indirect route to atoms in physical reality, an indirect route to beauty in physicalism may be walked."

Cannon: "Why though? Why put effort into 'locating the beauty'? Isn't it a sign that we're on the wrong track if we have to strain to see it?"

*Cadwalader smiles*

Cadwalader: "Not at all. This is an easy mistake to make; one of the many pitfalls along the way to a safe comprehension of physicalism. Just because we have to put effort into seeing the beauty initially does not mean its radiance will be dimmed once spotted; you won't be perceiving beauty through squinted eyes, you'll just have to furrow your brow in the effort to reach it. This is done beforehand. You're still free to relax and enjoy yourself at other times; in fact, it's encouraged.
     The other reason you should bother is because it's useful and gratifying to know the truth. Physicalism is an accessory viewpoint automatically installed when a mind is furnished with man's most current knowledge of the universe. And while this knowledge expands, bits will be revised and scientists will work in changing paradigms; but you can be certain enough that we won't ever take back the universe's deterministic nature (despite what that daft pseudo-scientist who misinterprets quantum theory for you might say); this is all that physicalism requires."

*Cannon takes it all in while contemplating star-ward, then turns back to Cadwalader.*

Cannon: "Okay then, how is the beauty located? As far as I can determine, physicalism sounds dull and plain, uninspiring and.. mundane. I can surmise no redeeming qualities which it might posses in the way of enjoyability."

*Cadwalader acknowledges with a nod.*

Cadwalader: "Well, the first obstacle you have to overcome has to do with comprehending large numbers. When people see numbers like 10 to the 42nd power, the only thoughts they can have regarding it are along the lines of: that's a damn lot! But what's important is how damn much it really is.
     As humans evolved, they were not required to deal with quantities in that range; we are still without the capacity to proceed otherwise, directly. The national debt is incomprehensible, the number of sand-grains on a beach is more incomprehensible, the number of atoms in your thumb is far more incomprehensible. Once you understand how greatly concentrated the units of matter in the universe are, try for a grasp of how large and complicated the universe is.
     Take a moment and try to visualize each step: the lot which your high school and all of its grounds rested on was a great deal less than a single square kilometer; the surface area of the Earth is over 500 million square kilometers. The sun we revolve around is millions of times larger than our Earth. The observable universe contains more than 50 billion trillion stars organized into more than 80 billion galaxies. Now, think about how many atoms must be in the universe.
     This is such a hugely, extravagantly, vast number of interacting parts that I can conceive no limitations of beauty and wonder afforded to the system containing them. Not only that, but the unsurpassed elegance and genius of the laws of physics which define how the parts interact, giving rise to all of the coordinated grandeur of stars, planets, DNA and life, rather than to chaos, is more worthy of reverence than anything else known to me.
     This is the compass of the physicalist viewpoint, this is what it allows for. I have no doubt in my mind that a system with this level of complexity could give rise to perceived emotions as rich as the most profound love or diabolical, raging hatred; to our most awe-inspiring works of art in music, architecture, painting, poetry; to entities which can be moved by them as we are; and finally, to delicate flowers, gurgling streams, epic sun sets, and all of the rest of natural world.
     Once you realize the full import of these statements, you can feel free to discard them. Perceiving beauty has nothing to do with whether you believe in god or atoms; it has a lot to do with observation unclouded by thought. Not just visual beauty either, beauty of the moment, as I like to call it. This is something that can be found when you tune into sounds, smells, appearance, temperature -- in short, everything around you -- without thinking anything about it, just appreciating and waiting for more. All that's required to perceive beauty with physicalism is to remove the obstruction which a false impression of it may leave you with.

*Cannon is silent for a moment.*

Cannon: "I'll have to think about it."

*Cadwalader smiles again.*