Wednesday, December 26, 2007

PVTC Christmas Caper 5k

So, my neighbor has decided to start running. Steve is a few years younger than me, but we get along pretty well and our families do too. His son and Noah play together and he and his wife have an infant that is basically the same age as Naomi. So, it kind of works out. They live just a few houses from us too, so it is very convenient. Except for the whole "youth pastor at a charismatic church" thing. That is correct. He is the youth pastor for a church that believes in living prophets and glossolalia, otherwise known as speaking in tongues. He hasn't told me all of this, but the beauty of the internet is that I can find all of this out and never have to ask him about it. Because if I brought it up, it might make for a very weird and uncomfortable conversation. But I digress...

So, Steve and I have started running together in the mornings. It has been a real help to me because it gives me the motivation to get up and out the door, something I've always had a problem with. Steve wanted to do a race together, so we signed up for the last PVTC race for the year, the Christmas Caper 5K/10K. It was at Belle Haven Park again and was the exact same route as the Cranberry Crawl 5K/10K. I like these races because they are cheap, small, and easy to get to. And, as you can imagine, the basic experience was the same. Weather was similar, old guy who you can't hear announcing the race was there, and the same group of old school folks in ratty clothes and with their strange running gaits all showed up.

I came in third in my age group, or so I thought. They had me in third on the results sheet at the race, so I rightfully took home a big stinky candle. But, on the website, they have me listed as fourth. So, I don't know where the mix-up was or which list to believe, but it doesn't really matter. I ran a bit slower this time, but I felt a bit better in doing so. No bad shin splint feeling and my hands didn't hurt from the cold. Besides, I'm sure as heck not going to drive over to Alexandria to return a freaking candle. How'd Steve do? A lot better than I did at my first 5K. He finished about 30 secs behind me and immediately decided he wanted to do more races.

PVTC Christmas Caper 5k Bib #347
Alexandria, VA
December 22, 8:00 am

Time: 22:48
Overall Place: 26/82
Gender Place: 19/49
Pace: 7:20

You Might Be An A-Hole If...

You think it makes sense to spend $15,000 on a marathon in Antarctica. Believe me, I like the marathon and all. But, the egocentrism that drives one to feel a need to run one on every continent or to "brave the elements" of Antarctica is high-quality asshole-edness, in my opinion. Just shitty, first world, self-centered nonsense. The kind of activity and behavior that is rewarded in our society, but that doesn't take away from the fact that it largely says that you have lots of extra cash around and that you have a burning desire to make yourself seem interesting. Personally, I think there are about 15,000 things better to do with that money. And, running a marathon in sub-zero temperatures can't do anything to make you any less of a bore. You might have a good story to tell, but isn't the whole point for you to just have more stories to tell about yourself? Yeah, that is what being a bore is all about.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Killing Religion with Logic

Well, it certainly seems possible, doesn't it? If we are all rational creatures and willing to employ logic in efforts to discern the existence of God and the nature of the universe, then wouldn't it at least be possible to disprove all of the core beliefs of religion? Okay, at least monotheistic religion?

In an attempt to do so, let's consider two things. First, that the inability to physically disprove that God exists does not mean that God does exist. The inverse is true as well - we can't prove that God exists, but that does not mean that God does not exist. However, if we can neither prove or disprove and the inability do either doesn't affirm either position, what is left? Outisde of Pascal's Wager, of course. I answer this question by using the K.I.S.S. principle - Keep It Simple, Stupid. It is simpler to have a God or to have no God? Does it make more sense that God exists or that there are basic laws and explainable, scientific reasons for everything? I think the simpler answer is the latter. None of this kills religion, of course. It is really just opinion, but I think that fact that we cannot prove something is either proof that it does not exist or a sign that we simply don't have the appropriate tools yet. And, does it really seem like a lack of tools when it comes to proving whether God exists or not? What tools could we possibly need? God cannot be something that does not conform to the laws of the universe - God would almost have to be a law of the universe. So, if this is true and God exists, we should be able to measure this at some point. Absurd, right? So, I ask again, what is the simplest explanation?

Another question that I like to ponder, and one that has definitely plagued theologians over time, is the issue of omnipresence. God must be omnipresent, right? I mean, if God isn't omnipresent then God isn't really God. Would God not be in all places all the time? Is God a being that has a great deal of power, but is forced to travel around from place to place? If not omnipresent, then how could God be omniscient? Omniscience raises other issues too, but I don't think one even needs to discuss omniscience since you can reveal the absurdity of God simply by logically analyzing the concept of omnipresence. Okay, so if God is omnipresent, then that means that God is everywhere, including places where evil occurs. God would even have to be in Hell itself since Hell, assuming it exists, is a place and God must be in all places in order to be omnipresent. And, really, what would God be doing in Hell? Again, taking these concepts to their logic extremes shows how ridiculous the whole concept of God is in the first place. What I think is most compelling and most difficult to handle for most believers is the idea that God is in places where evil occurs and that God does nothing to stop it. A great example of this dilemma was summed up by Vicar Tom Honey in a talk at TED. Take a few minutes and watch his speech:

So, while the Vicar can't just renounce his faith and admit that there is no God, he sure comes close, doesn't he? God is everywhere or not. If not, why serve God in the first place since God doesn't have complete control? If so, why does God allow so much suffering and evil to occur? And, if God does allow suffering and evil to occur, why serve God? Does God truly love us or is God simply playing with us? Or, it there just no God at all? By now, you certainly know my answer.

Is Suburbia Actually Hell on Earth?

It might be if you listen to popular culture. It is also heaven if you listen to popular culture. Pundits and intellectuals attack it, historians and politicians applaud it. Rock stars complain about it and country stars pretend it is something more rural than it is. All I know is that I mostly love it, but that I feel very guilt living in it. I know that suburbia is the center of our overly consumptive lifestyles. I know that it would be far more environmentally friendly to cluster in more urban areas. I know that suburbia creates an existential crisis for many who feel disconnected in ways that they are incapable of understanding. But, it still seems like a wonderful middle ground between the cities and the country. I can have my little homestead, but still have lots of services. I can take advantage of large clusters of people in that we can have good restaurants and parks and schools, but I don't have to share a structure with strangers.

I think the suburbs may be wrong for a great number of people - it just isn't the right environment for them and they'd suffer if they lived there. But, for me, I think it is exactly the right place.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Pascal's Wager

Simply put, I think this is one of the most bullshit statements I've ever heard. The basic idea is that you cannot ever know whether God exists or not. So, you have to choose to believe or to not believe. But, in choosing, you are really making a bet. You either bet that God is real or that God is not real. If you bet that God is real and you are right, well, you hit the jackpot. If you bet that God is real and you are wrong, you don't lose too much (I think you actually lose quite a bit). If you bet that God is not real and you are right, you don't win much (this I also disagree with). And, if you bet that God is not real and you are wrong, well, you are totally fucked for all eternity. So, according to Pascal, you have to bet that God exists because it is the better overall play.

Yes, so, I have a lot of issues with this basic idea. I get it and appreciate the attempt at reasoning out the best overall outcome, but it is still a load of crapola because it doesn't incorporate all the costs. A life of belief in God and all that it requires to hold true to those beliefs, is a life filled with time and energy and thought that could be better applied to other pursuits...much better pursuits. Belief in God takes an enormous toll, particularly on the true believers. The money and time invested in a church, the neverending bible study, the avoidance of all that seems remotely inappropriate or unacceptable. Not to mention all the terror and injustice that has been carried out by individuals who truly believed that God supported their actions.

So, we are incapable of reasoning out the existence and nature of God. Therefore, we must bet on the likelihood of God's existence in the first place. Of course, we are also making some grand assumptions about God's promises and what happens to us in eternity. I mean, the bet kind of breaks apart if we know that heaven isn't much better than living on Earth, don't we? If we know there is a heaven, then we'd know there was a God...ah, this can get very hard. Anyways, we are trying to make this simple.

If we more accurately balance the scales, I think the bet is even.

In the end, what I find so frustrating is that we all know we can't prove that God exists. So those that do believe use this ridiculously simple wager, even those that don't know about Pascal, to decide that they should believe in God. It may be the safe bet, but it is the sucker's bet too.

Some Other Things I Think

In no particular order...

1. We are not the only life in the universe. To be more specific, we are not the only sentient beings in the universe. I have no proof, but I believe this to be true based on the sheer probabilities.

2. We are not the most advanced life in the universe. Somewhere, somebody is more evolved than us. I'm not saying they fly over here in little ships, but we will likely run into each other at some point in the future.

3. We are one of many lifeforms that are moving in a direction that will enable us to communicate with each other. I think it will be well past my lifetime when we have proof, but I think we will eventually run into several other types of beings.

4. There is a good chance that one of the other sentient beings in the universe is artificial. If so, this is very bad news for us, in my opinion.

5. I don't really believe that this is the current state of affairs, but I do think it is possible that a form of artificial intelligence has gained the ability to control the fundamental nature of the universe. And, that this AI is so advanced that it may have even created the universe that we live in today. While I don't believe in God, an AI like this would certainly qualify.

6. I think that we have a good chance of creating an AI that achieves control of the universe. We won't birth the final being, but we will produce the Adam & Eve. In a sense, we already have. To put this all another way, I am convinced of the likelihood that humanity will reach the technological singularity within my lifetime.

7. I do not believe that there are absolute morals of any kind. Therefore, artificial intelligence that evolves outside of our influence will likely have no regard for what we hold to be true or "right". Again, this is bad for us.

Just some stuff I think about sometimes.

One or the Other

I was just thinking that it is definitely possible that life has no meaning at all. Certainly not in the New Agey sense that most people think of when considering that question. And I don't mean that a lack of meaning equals depression and all that. Life may have no meaning and there may be little purpose outside of the obvious biological needs. We could be no more than vehicles for the next generation, which would be a meaning of sorts, but even that is a farce, isn't it? Why procreate if there is no real point? What if the current state of life, all across the universe, is a well-balanced version of meaninglessness that just perpetuates itself?

Sure, there are laws of nature and all. And we know about gravity and have good theories about how the solar system formed and even how life evolved. But, laws don't equate with meaning and purpose. The laws in our nation don't give our nation purpose. If anything, the purpose or meaning of the United States should dictate what laws are passed and enforced, although we have a funny way of selling out the core ideals we all supposedly adhere to and believe in when it comes to the law. So, is there then a meaning that has dictated the laws of the physical universe? Is it simply an issue of this purpose at the center of everything only being realized with the addition of layer upon layer of complexity in how reality is constructed?

Does the act of reproduction and evolution suggests that there is some sort of purpose. If you think that it does, then asking what that purpose is is totally valid and you'd be remiss not to try and figure it out. Me? I think there isn't one. I think that our existence is a product of probabilities. The universe had enough time to finally align itself in a way that produced life and life began to then evolve on its own. But, with all the evolution, all the creation and extinction, only one lifeform has shown up here to even ask this question in the first place. Shouldn't everything in the universe share in the same core purpose, if there was one? Wouldn't the meaning be the same everywhere? And, again, if everything needed to be here in order to meet whatever the end goal is, then why would there be so much extraneous stuff? Why would the process be so inefficient? Why not just go straight to making humans and getting them on the fast path to whatever enlightened state they are supposed to achieve?

So, really, there is no meaning. There is no outward or expressed reason for us to here, but we are and we may as well make the most of it, for whatever that is worth.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Glutton for Punishment

So, I've done it. I've gone and signed up for my next marathon. It is a double-double loop course, which could be enjoyable or totally, excruciatingly boring. What I mean is that it is an out and back course that you repeat, so I will pass the same spots four times in my effort to complete 26.2 miles. It is on a trail along the Potomac River, so it could be a great experience if the weather is nice that day. But, if it isn't, or there is too much stuff going on in the surrounding area, I might want to quit well before I reach the end. I guess the key is to forget about the marathon's environment and to just run the miles. I'd like to make some real headway on my quest to qualify for Boston, so I am hoping for a 3:20 or better. If I was going to set three goals, my "reach" would be 3:15, my target would be 3:20, and my "won't cry as long as I do this" would be to break 3:30. What I learned in my first marathon training cycle was that the target I had at the beginning was only related to my fitness level at the moment I started the training. I had hoped for a 4:00, but I realized as I was training that I was building the capacity to do much better than that. So, towards the end, when I ran a better than expected race at the Army Ten Miler (a performance that I hadn't even rested for), I knew that I would be able to do much better than I had originally thought. It is with this in mind that I am setting these three goals. I am pretty sure that I am in 3:20-3:25 shape right now. My recent race performances suggest that anyways. And, since I am going to do some pretty serious training over the next several months, using a training program that is much more rigorous than the one I used last time, I figure that my abilities come the day of the marathon will be higher than they are today. With all that said, I still don't think I am going to qualify for Boston this time around. It is a shame, but I am giving myself until the end of 2008 before I start to feel bad about it. With a strong marathon in the first half of the year, I will then have time for another marathon training cycle and a shot at qualifying for Boston with a fall race.

People ask me why I want to qualify for Boston. Heck, some people ask me why I train for races in the first place. It isn't like I'm going to make the Olympics or ever win a bunch of money or anything like that. I might be able to get myself to be pretty competitive in my age group, but that is about the best I think I can achieve. Truth is, though, that doesn't matter. I am not really competing against any other runners...I'm just competing with myself. I don't need to lower my cholesterol or lose lots of weight or get back in shape, so what is it that I can use to motivate myself to get out and run? I use races as motivation and I strive to run faster at every single race I enter. I don't always do that and there are lots of reasons why, but I try to train to be better at every race and it is my hope that I run a personal best every time I lace up and take off with the pack. I have friends that just run for fun and that never enter races. They think it is kind of nutty that I plan out my running and create a training plan for myself. I wish I could run 5-6 times week without looking towards a race, but it just doesn't work for me. Without a race, it is just too easy for me to let myself slide on my exercise. I think I'll be entering races for a very long time.

And, speaking of races, I plan on running a fair number of them in the run up to the marathon. I want to hone my racing skills and I want to include as much motivation in this plan as reasonable. So, here is my tentative race schedule leading up to the marathon:

Christmas Caper 5K/10K
MADD Red Ribbon Run 5K
GW Birthday Classic 10K
Burke Lake 12K
LAWS Half Marathon
GW Parkway Classic 10 Miler

I haven't signed up for all of these yet, but I intend to do so. If you want to run with me, let me know and we can coordinate. We can even sign up as a team for some of them. I will hit some more races in the summer as well, but I haven't decided on any yet since the listings aren't out. there is some wacky endurance run in Rocky Gap, MD that I am interested, but I don't have any details. If you are into the idea of a 6 hour trail relay run, let me know.