Friday, June 30, 2006

?Quien es el mas metal?

Hi, my name is Com$tock, and I'm a metal newbie. I didn't really think of myself in those terms until I read this incredibly detailed defense of metal against the hipster hordes of false metalheads. (Got some time on your hands? This essay is one suprisingly long labor of love.)

I feel this author's pain. I am awed by the detail in his work. And yet I feel kinda defensive. I love metal, but I feel caught in his crosshairs. I've banged my head to Sabbath, Clutch, and Pantera for more than a decade. But I started off as more of a punk fan, then I moved through alternative to indie. My full metal love didn't blossom until about a year-and-a-half ago, after I discovered Mastodon through--shudder, true metalheads--Pitchfork.

Since then, I've enjoyed a fair amount of metal, but probably some false metal, too. Meshuggah (my fave), Isis, Maiden, Don Cab, early Metallica, and Dillinger Escape Plan have all rocked me in that time. My metal collection is not massive, but I know about bands I had never heard of before, like Celtic Frost.

So am I a false metaller? I really love the music, man, and pretty much without irony. Bellowing about mythological entities is always going to be a little silly, no? But I guess there is fun silly and snide silly. To me, a band like Lair of the Minotaur seems to embody how I feel about this. How can I not fucking love a song with the name "Juggernaut of Metal"? How can I not also smile at that?

But I don't know a lot about the metal underground and its folkways. I'm a tourist there. I want to know more, but I'm not sure I really want to move in. Music scenes always obsess over who is in and who is out. I used to get very excited explaining why the Dead Kennedys were super punk but the Exploited were posers (trust me, my 13-year-old suburban self was a poser).

I hate to offer the outsider's defense, the voice of assumed maturity, but isn't it ultimately about the music? If you found a cd on the ground with no label--or to keep it up-to-date, if someone emailed you an untitled mp3--and it rocked you, isn't that enough? What if you then discovered that it was from a band who four years ago put out a rap-rock album?

I just wanna rock out, heavily. I don't want to worry about authenticity. There is always someone mas metal que tu.


Thursday, June 29, 2006

Pets 'n Pets

As I tell my therapist over and over, I'm the kind of person who thinks that, down deep, the world is a meaningless confusion. Don't get me wrong; I'm glad that for the most part we live our lives in denial of this fact. I like the order of our lives, the structures of our society, and our trust that we are deeply connected to others. It's just that, you know, we're all ultimately isolated and we all die alone, that kinda stuff.

Maybe this worldview explains why I am attracted to things that undermine our sense of a comfortable, understandable life. Take a story like this for example. I'm fascinated by people who live in such a crazy mess of animals, these animal hoarders. It seems to upend not only my ideas about what it means to live in a good and proper manner, but also the romantic notion of animals as pure and free things.

This story led me to this report from Tufts. The report is mainly concerned with how to best intervene in hoarding situations, and doesn't really address the "why". Why do people like to hoard, and frequently live lives oppressed by the stuff they surround themselves with. And, most interestingly for me, why animals? What is it about living things--rats, cats, or otherwise--that satisfies these people?

I can feel compassion for people who live in the squalor in which a lot of hoarders seem to live, but it is hard for me to empathize, to imagine my way in to their mindset. How different are they from me?


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Go Break Yer Brain on Infinity

Here's a math problem that's new to my biological brain.

Does 0.999999... (0.9 repeating) equal 1?

I might normally say, of course not, but reading this entry at Polymathematics, a math blog I just stumbled upon, has me leaning the other way. On first consideration, it seemed impossible to me that 0.999999... could equal 1. It is close to 1 but a little bit smaller, no?

Well, here is what has me changing sides: a little series of equations added together. The first two equations lead me inevitably to the final one.
1/3 = 0.333333...
2/3 = 0.666666...
3/3 = 0.999999...

I know that 3/3 = 1. So 1 must equal 0.999999...

Or how about this: Imagine you could take a pizza and divide into it three perfectly equal slices. Each would be 1/3, or 0.333333..., of the pizza. Add 'em together and what do you get?

It seems proven to me, yet it still feels wrong, and I can't help but wonder if it hints at some problem that stems from describing the universe in human, mathematical terms.

I've written and rewritten this portion of this post to no satisfying end, so I'll just get to the heart of the matter: My brain can't handle things like repeating decimals, or infinite time, or boundless space. These things just don't exist for me, and I find it hard to imagine how they could exist in the universe.

As one commentor at Polymathematics notes:

"Our intuition plays a much larger part in our everyday reasoning than we normally notice - and that's not a bad thing...However, it was never designed for reasoning on infinity or other weird mathematical phenomena."

What it comes down to for me is that 0.999999... is a strange animal. If I think of things out in the world, I can imagine 9 of them, or one of them, or 1/2 (0.5) of them, but I can't imagine 0.999999... of them. It just doesn't fit comfortably in my brain. I picture some continuous operation: some person writing out and endless series of nines, or trying to locate the number on a numberline, and always having to shift ever-so-slightly more to the right. My brain scrapes up against the infinite.

But then I think on some level all this worry is silly. (Want to see really silly worry? Check out the insanely long comment section in the original Polymathematics post.) I know repeating numbers are real, just like I know 1/3 is real. So the fact that it seems infinite must be a quirk of the base 10 numbering system.

Yet on a more philosophical level, I find myself circling back to this notion that simple problems like this reveal a profound disconnect between mathematics and the real world. Math has a lot of power to describe the world, but it is just a tool. I don't think it is somehow hooked in to reality.

This is one reason I become exasperated when physics snobs denigrate biology, suggesting that only when a science is expressed in mathematics is it sufficiently rigorous. Why expect math to be a perfect tool for describing the world?