Saturday, August 9, 2014

Incidental Reincarnation

It's not very much fun for me, but I don't believe in anything magical. I don't believe that I was born to fulfill a certain purpose, or that the universe metes out happiness fairly, or that our souls are more than what's encased in our skulls. So I find it hilariously fun that I've come to believe in a kind of reincarnation.

Reincarnation is you coming back--existing again--in some form or another. To settle your beliefs about reincarnation, in my view, there are two things you need to decide:

(1) Who is "you"?
(2) How often does "you" happen?

The first question is the tricker one to answer, because we have no recourse to math.

Traditional adherents to various beliefs in reincarnation have universally allowed for a reincarnated person to be something other than an atom-for-atom re-instantiation of the person before.

Every belief in reincarnation that I've heard of allows for people to come back with different genders and hair colors. Buddhists allow for us coming back as sheep and dogs, and the Sikhs had one guy come back as a book.

I wouldn't feel very much like myself as a book, but I'd tolerate some differences between the me who writes this thing and the Next of Ken. If I were to wake up tomorrow with most of my memories gone and big tits, I wouldn't consider it the death of Ken Before. You may have a different threshold for your own you-ness. Some of my family grieved my grandfather as lost after his brain surgery.

The calculus of you-ness can vary so drastically that at one extreme you can identify your pattern with every living person, so that they are all sufficiently "you" to stand as your continuation, and your death doesn't matter as long as someone else stays alive somewhere (man MDMA is cool), and at the other extreme we can speak of a lost you-ness inside the span of one lifetime.

If you draw your you-circle very widely, you can be assured of your reincarnation, because your incarnations are already living out their overlapping lives all around you. If you draw a tighter circle, though, I still believe that there's hope.

If the universe is infinite (it isn't) and random (it is), then as a logical consequence, every thing that can exist does, somewhere. In an infinite universe, the dice would be rolled so many times as to guarantee another atom-for-atom earth, complete with an exact you reading this exact blog post. (Max Tegmark's math says that this mirror you is about 1029 meters away.)

But even if the universe isn't infinite, it's vast. If you draw your you-circle like I draw mine, you've been around a few times. Maybe sometimes as a girl in Iceland. Maybe sometimes as a squid overlord on Zebulon. There have been people who think and feel like me, who feel as me as I feel--much more than the Dalai Llama feels the same as his alleged past selves. With enough rolls of the dice, it's even likely that some of my incarnations have had false memories of each other's lives.

And so I've come to believe in a kind of reincarnation. Incidental reincarnation.

And yet it's nothing special. There are no magical levers, or god-made plans.

Like the galactic spiral on a seashell, I am just a pattern that the universe tends to repeat.

Everything Good Correlates (a bash-scripted thought experiment thing about the clustering of sexually desirable traits)

I was on Ashford Street in San Juan, Puerto Rico, 2011, at a video bar called Video Bar, drinking a Medalla and sitting across from an outlandishly handsome man of Chinese descent whose competence in English I was trying to ascertain for my wife so she could challenge him to a game of pool.

-"You here for spring break?"

(English level: native)

-"Where do you go to school?"
-"In Boston."

(A bit evasive, answering with a city, there)

-"Oh cool, what school?"

Bobby answered almost under his breath: "Harvard."

Fucking Bobby Chen. Bobby and Ben. Toned bodies, high IQs, musical virtuosity, money in the bank, social graces and handsome faces. They made Puerto Rico a blast. I hope they perish in a fire.

Some awesome people inspire you to be more awesome. Some inspire you to give up and die.

Others inspire you to write crude population genetics simulations in bash. Here's what I was thinking:

Let us imagine that people's genetics don't make them die anymore. This is totally untrue, but it's closer to being true than it ever has been before. Nowadays and hereabouts if your eyes suck you get glasses, and if your legs don't work you get a wheelchair.

Let us continue imagining that of the four drives of natural selection--feeding, fighting, fleeing, and fucking--the only one that continues to have a significant impact on population dynamics is fucking.

Now it's a fact (we don't have to imagine this part), that people size each other up as potential partners-in-reproduction based on a complex and multivariate equation that's mostly handled subconsciously.

Women seeking men seem to value height, brawn, brains, wealth, and a slew of other things that are helpful for keeping children alive who will have more children and keep them alive. Men seem to emphasize waist-to-hip ratios and youth.

Ok, let's go back to imagining.

Imagine everyone has five numbers tattooed on their heads that correspond to a really oversimplified genetic code, where the number 1 means you rank low for something and the number 5 means you rank highly.

In this made-up world, the first number on your head indicates how smart you are, and the second has to do with how pretty your face is, so that someone with the numbers 5,1,2,3,3 tattooed on his head is as smart as can be, (5), but at the bottom of the ugly barrel (1), and mid-range in everything else.

In our imagined and oversimplified people-tank, there are only 100 people, and they're all sharing a one-room universe, and they all choose one person to produce offspring with (it's one of those parties), and they all pick according to each other's sex ranks, which are the sums of the five numbers on a person's head. They have no religions or politics, and no weird fetishes. They aren't drawn in by each other's life stories or anything like that. They play strictly by the numbers.

The hottest person in the room is a freakish 55435. Adding these numbers together, she gets a sex rank of 22. Because everyone is playing by the numbers and going for the best match they can get, she can have anyone. Because she, in our imaginary world, is also compelled to play by the numbers, she goes for the best thing she can get: a 35534 (20 total).

They do the reproduction dance and immediately produce two offspring and then fall over dead of old age. For each trait (physical attractiveness, intelligence, sense of humor, whatever), there's a coin toss which determines whether each of the offspring takes their mom's number or their dad's. Heads for mom, tails for dad.

The way things play out for their first offspring is like this:

I'm a master of info-graphics

Not bad. Offspring #1 is a 35535, and comes out as the new best hottest thing with a total sex rank of 21.

Offspring #2 had shitty dice rolls and got the worst possible outcome: 35434. Still not bad though. She's a 19.

This process happens over and over, all throughout the party, with all of the best possible couplings reproducing their two kids and then dying.

Now we should keep in mind that this world is not like the one we live in. In the world we live in, a trait that might make a man desirable might make a woman undesirable. In the world we live in, the two people with the lowest sex rank might decide to have 26 kids and the two at the top might have none.

I the world we live in, a low sex-rank person might kidnap a high sex-rank person and brainwash them.

In the world we live in, a 55555 might be born in an inescapable village with only two potential mates who only have half of that sex-rank between them.

BUT, in my efficient and simplified world, at least, something interesting happens.

I wrote a program that made a bunch of random 5-number strings and efficiently matched them, playing out the story of our simple world for generations.

The population of this microcosm started out looking like this (random):

. . . and so on.

When things were over, the population looked like this:

. . . and so on.

If mate-finding is efficient and there are no environmental pressures, in the end everything good correlates.

Years after meeting Bobby and Ben, I've heard other first-generation Harvard students lament their relative ugliness and lack of charms when compared with the Harvard-bred.

Even though the real world is not our one-room world of tattooed numbers, genetic determinism, and reproduction parties, it is my suspicion that the trend towards the aggregation of sexually desirable traits is a real thing.

What does this mean for average people like me? Not that much. We will play, as we have, at our stations in life, and our offspring will play their best hands, too. We will hold our genes, for a season, and pass some on. That which is exceptional about us will be passed up the ladder, and our flaws will be passed downwards, until, as in a centrifuge, the layers of human qualities are cleanly distributed by their weights.

When things find their fixity, Jim LaPeyre's wit may find itself in the same person as Megan's eyes, Chandler's voice, and Patti's skin. Maybe some part of you will be there too.