20070419

Peak experiences: the open road

After ten years of voluntary car-free living, I ended that lifestyle last night.

I'd wanted to drive up to A Mountain at dawn, having never been to the city's birthplace in nearly a year of living here. But I settled for Gates Pass just after sunset tonight (I've only been there in the full dark), Richard Buckner's twangy blue ballads strumming out of the really decent sound system. I drove past the first lookout where everyone goes, downshifted into first where the speed limit drops to 15, and found the land swooping out beneath me, a faint haze hovering over a broad valley to the west, burnt sky beyond it.

Pulled off at the second turnout where the road turns west again. In the sky, at the fulcrum of the curve formed by two silhouetted mountains, were the barely-crescent new moon and bright Venus beside it.

"A wanderlust so palpable it makes my chest ache," read some sci-fi novel where a character agonized over leaving Earth and the open spaces she loved to travel out to.

I grew up in the Midwest, where everyone gets a car by sixteen, where everything social or practical involves driving. I ran from there, lived for years in cities, real ones, where the bus or subway or bike complement the feet Nature evolved for you, where your world shrinks to include the bar and barista nearest your apartment, the local music holes, your friends' places in other neighborhoods, and the occasional trip out to the hinterland. But then I moved here, where everyone is spread as wide as those endless fields of wheat.

I'm American. I'm from a small town. Driving is just who I am. I spent years living a better life, and I was proud of my hard choice. But I have missed these sensations I've had since I was a very young man. We'd drive out to fields and sit in the back of my pickup, watching distant thunderheads or the slow pass of lunar eclipse. Visions so beautiful that years later make my heart ache.

If there weren't work to be done, I'd be off exploring the new world this very night. I'll settle for A Mountain at dawn.

Game theory and playing around

Game theory can tell us something about how and why gay guys tend to hook up.

In the straight world, everyone's familiar with the dynamic. All over the nature channels, females bear the brunt of child-rearing by being pregnant, and produce fewer eggs than males do sperm, so it pays for women to be choosy about mates who can provide for many offspring. Men tend to want as many partners as possible, because that's what's going to get them the most offspring.

These aren't conscious choices. They're tendencies in our psyche that, over the long course of evolution, got the most genes into the next round. So they win.

In homo couples, though, the gender tendencies remain the same. I've noticed a curious dynamic among single guys, monogamous couples, and open relationships.

I've found that many single guys think open relationships aren't tenable. What's more, when they feel this way it's often vehemently against non-monogamy. You'll hear from single guys that open couples aren't as real as monogamous ones, that non-monogamous guys are cheating on each other all the time, that they're destined to fail.

I don't agree or disagree. I'm single and I'd like a partner eventually, so from my perspective it just doesn't make sense to sleep with part of a partnered couple, because there's no chance of it turning into what I'm really looking for. Even if the sex is great, there's little chance of me getting it all the time, because I'm essentially on the outside. And if I fall for the guy, I'm screwed.

So for a single guy, it's advantageous for more guys to be monogamous, because then other potential partners aren't distracted and taking up valuable time with partnered guys when they could be dating me.


But someday I might be partnered. What happens then?

Humans tend to mate for life, but in the situation where we evolved, a lifetime wasn't that long. What are people supposed to do now that relationships last decades past what we're designed to expect? For gay men, it's natural to expect that the eyes of one or both might wander. Why not save the marriage by laying out some ground rules?

So for partnered guys, the optimal solution is to have everyone on the playing field be either single or non-monogamous, too.

One group "wins" when everyone keeps with tradition. The other group, which started out keeping tradition by marrying off, eventually "wins" when everyone breaks tradition.

There's no solution to this one. You just have to hate the game.

20070410

Future Perfect, and other tired-but-familiar story lines

There are some ideas which, while eternally old, seem impossible even now, and so appear only in myths and science fiction. But one thing we can learn from science fiction is that it eventually becomes science fact.

The Foundation series, by Isaac Asimov (et al), describes a world where a secret cabal of mathematicians have devised equations that predict human history. They then use them to ensure that civilization's better traits remain when a social collapse threatens everything.

It's not so far off.

Consider some scientific advances:
- An understanding of the human psychology and how it arose from evolutionary principles, over the span of deep time, and how it functions today

- A complex woven history of wars, economic empires, the trading of technology, market forces, social trends - large-scale structures composed of individual human actions

- Data mining software so powerful it can successfully predict event states and likelihoods of events within very large sets of data (I used this kind of software when I worked at the IRS.)

- Algorithms powerful enough to predict the behavior of systems from the empirical data they produce - just from the data observed, without needing to look at the hidden cause of the observed event

It doesn't take a suspension of belief to see that large-scale algorithms will be able to predict human reactions to events. Not specifically, of course - not in the "Bin Laden Determined to Attack the US" kind of way, not in the "Gunpowder Treason on the Fifth of November", but probably in an "Amber Alert" kind of way, in an "invest in biotech" kind of way.

And maybe, someday, a "if we announce X voters will vote Y" kind of way.

Pre-crime. Pre-treason. We can't predict these things with complete certainty, but we can say, for example, that the guy who burned frogs or puppies as a kid is going to move on to take human lives. And we can't say when or who, but we can estimate a high likelihood that it will happen.

The ethical implications of this, I'll save for another post. The point of this post is to combine some current trends in science that will it is all beginning to happen. A familiar story line, but no less true just because it used to be fiction.

I know of no reason it should ever be forgot.