Man’s Search For Meaning

Following my 2/3rds completion of The Gulag Archipelago, I selected to read this popular and highly acclaimed book by psychiatrist Viktor Frankl.

The first half is a tale of Frankl’s experience in the Nazi prison camps (including and mostly centering around his time at Auschwitz). He uses this basis of experience to justify and give depth to his understanding of human psychology: people in the camps were able to find meaning when they had nothing else. This meaning allowed them to live, he even states that meaning is a primary motivator in human Being, not a secondary effect of more ‘primal’ survival needs.

He shares, in the camps cigarettes were used as a commodity; they were hard to come by–sometimes as a reward for labor from the guards–, highly valued, not smoked, and traded for a bowl of soup and so on. When you saw a man smoking his cigarettes, you could be sure he was going to die soon: the man had given up his will to live, falling towards seeking immediate pleasure and comfort, and once lost the will was impossible to recover.

Frankl repeatedly references Nietzsche’s: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

The second half of the book provides an overview of Frankl’s Logotherapy, a now-field of psychiatry focusing on a person’s ability to generate meaning for themself. Frankl explores the paradox of happiness and success. If one is explicitly seeking happiness (or success), the goal becomes harder to access. He says: Success cannot be pursued, it must ensue.

Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.

Liberty devolves into boredom and chaos without the twin pillar of Responsibility. Frankl even mentions off hand that there could be a Statue of Responsibility on the west coast to complement the Statue of Liberty on the east. The lack of understanding of responsibility is a major factor in our society’s current crisis of western existentialism.

Heuristic: He urges the reader to live through each situation as if we are going through it for the second time. Imagine that the first time, you chose the absolute worst possible course of action, and then act with this knowledge in mind.

So live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!

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The Gulag Archipelago

I started reading The Gulag Archipelago on recommendation from U of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson. In his lectures he repeatedly references Gulag as a reminder of the cruelty capable by humans, a cruelty which lurks around the corner of our contemporary society and supposed civilized manner.

Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years.

Gulag is about the soviet prison camps from the 1920s to the late 1950s. While the institution of the Gulag was technically shut down in 1960, Gulags in softer forms persisted all the way until the camp Perm-36 was closed in 1987.

This is recent history.

Arrests

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn discusses at length the random arrests which occurred before our author himself was arrested.

Arrests occurred systematically, in the middle of the night, and to no public outrcy. Arrests occurred for no specific reason— most were legally admitted under Article 58 of the Russian Penal Cod, which blanket-banned all “counter-revolutionary activities”. Arrests were most commonly handled by the arrestee with a meager “Who, me? What for?”. And then off to the holding camps.

Solzhenitzyn makes it clear that there’s no clear point at which the injustice occurring around ones-self becomes unbearable. There’s no signaling whistle to rally the people to take up arms, or to fight ‘for real’.

After reading, it is altogether too easy to imagine the same happening in the US (entirely irregardless of whether we’re under the rule of the rabid Right or the rabid Left).

Wrecking

The stalinist-communist regime specifically targeted the intelligentia, especially the engineering class in the society— being in control of the train systems, water and sewage systems, and so on. The engineers were constantly under suspicion of “wrecking”, that is, engineers destroying state property (and of course, state property is your property, you would do well to inform on any wreckers!). Engineers were put under surveillance to make sure they were not wasting resources in their construction and maintenance (the grand irony of course is in those 5 idle individuals monitoring the one productive person).

Prisoners

Solzhenitzyn discusses in great detail the life of the prisoner, the process of being moved between camps. The conditions of disease, starvation, rape, and so on to which the prisoners were subjected (as their sentences grew for reasons or non-reasons beyond rational comprehension).

Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world: They struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being). It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person.

Thieves

He discusses the thieves in these camps— arguably the only members of the prison system who had done much to deserve their fate. The thieves were the upper class of the prisonfolk (below the guards of course, but close). According to Soviet Socialist logic, thieves were created as products of the corrupt society in which they were born, they are the true victims of our cursed non-communist society! If we had communism, the thieves would not have had to steal to provide for their poor selves. And they got away with whatever within the camps, to very little discrimination. Counter-communist thought was the true enemy.

Children

Children growing up in the Gulags of course grew into adaptation to their world, growing into horrible unsalvageable wretches who would steal in gangs from the frail and elderly, beat people for fun and so on. Solzhenitzyn relays one account of an older man who, when seeing an unsuspecting child, would sneak up and push the kid face down into the mud, pressing with his knee on their back until hearing their ribcage crack. Doctors would never be able to figure out what was wrong, and the child would die within a few months.

The Nuremberg Trials have to be regarded as one of the special achievements of the twentieth century: they killed the very idea of evil, though they killed very few of the people who had been infected with it… And if by the twenty-first century humanity has not yet blown itself up and has not suffocated itself—perhaps it is this direction that will triumph? Yes, and if it does not triumph—then all humanity’s history will have turned out to be an empty exercise in marking time, without the tiniest mite of meaning! Whither and to what end will we otherwise be moving? To beat the enemy over the head with a club—even cavemen knew that.

I am not the storyteller to do justice to much of what Solzhenitzyn has written.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in exactly what a totalitarian regime can transform into, especially regimes with fantasies of creating a better life for those who feel they do not have one.

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.

To do evil a human being must first of all believe that what he’s doing is good, or else that it’s a well-considered act in conformity with natural law. Fortunately, it is in the nature of the human being to seek a justification for his actions… Ideology—that is what gives evildoing its long-sought justification and gives the evildoer the necessary steadfastness and determination… Thanks to ideology, the twentieth century was fated to experience evildoing on a scale calculated in the millions.”

Learning to fly an airplane

I’ve been taking flying lessons, and wanted to share some of what I’ve learned.

Driving a car

When I first learned to drive my father explained three major phases of operating a car:

  1. Control: acceleration, turns, etc
  2. Spatial Awareness: what cars are around me, road signs, what speed i should be going at
  3. Navigation: the higher level of: where to turn, what lane to be in, GPS directions, etc

I like this, it resonates as a sort of hierarchy of awareness and automaticity (word?). As I get practice with one level it becomes more automatic and requires less of my ‘main’ concentration, and the next level up becomes more available to hold in headspace.

Flying a plane

I see flying as mirroring this pattern:

  1. Control: Stick & Rudder, throttle, level flight, turning without skidding or slipping. Takeoff and landing.
  2. Spatial Awareness: Air traffic, talking over the radio with other airplanes or the tower, knowledge of surrounding airspace
  3. Navigation: GPS and VOR navigation, talking to approach control, ‘flight following’, and more.
  4. (bonus round) Pilot In Command ability

Control

Driving has 2 major control inputs for 2d movement (though if we’re being real about it, it’s more like 1.5d. an example of a truly 2d drive is here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holonomic_(robotics)):

  1. Left and right pedals for braking and acceleration respectively
  2. Left and right rotations of the sterring wheel to turn left and right

Flying is like this, except has 3 control axes + 1 throttle = 4 major control dimensions:

  1. Throttle (controlled by a rod kinda thing which pushes in or out of the dashboard, in my right hand)
  2. Ailerons L/R (rotating the yoke (with your left hand primarily))
  3. Elevator U/D (pulling/pushing on the yoke)
  4. Rudder L/R (pedals)

A lot more than driving! These dimensions do collapse down a bit as you learn to fly:

Control Group 1

Aileron is the ’tilt’ control of the aircraft, and a tilted airplane will turn. The rudder plays catch-up to the ailerons (sublimating these two into a 1d control with 2 manually coordinated inputs). In other words, when I turn the yoke i accompany this with coordinated pressure on the rudder pedals. For (much much) more on what this means in flight: http://www.boldmethod.com/learn-to-fly/aerodynamics/slip-skid-stall/

Control Group 2

Throttle and elevator don’t quite collapse down, but become intertwined as 2 control inputs for 2 dimensions. Airspeed, angle of attack (the angle at which the wings intersect the relative airflow), and climbing/descending are all related together here.

Additionally, these 2 control groups are tied together: tilting the plane to turn shifts the aircraft’s vertical component of lift horizontally (this is why the plane turns, it’s the wings are generating lift “upwards”, but you’ve made up be sideways) — but this horizontal shift reduces the vertical component of lift! So turns must be accompanied by pulling up on the elevators, and/or increasing power while you pull up, all to maintain a turn with a given altitude and airspeed.

Aside: I wonder if this description is helpful to the reader… I’m having quite a good time writing it. 🙂 

All this is category (1) of driving: controlling the damn thing. Landings here are the trickiest part and require the most intuition about how the plane’s behaving. Maneuvers include ‘steep turns’ (180° turn @ 60° bank angle), S turns (2 perfect semicircles, taking wind into account), stalls, and so on).

Awareness

Situational awareness (2) involves airspace management: there are restricted airspace ‘shelves’ at certain altitudes, required radio communication with towers when you get in their airspace, communication with other pilots in the air as well as at un-controlled airports… A big killer of private pilots is CFIT: Controlled Flight Into Terrain. A poor seemingly joke of a term for flying into the side of a mountain, or into the ground because you weren’t aware of where you are and what’s around you.

Navigation

And (3) is navigation: via GPS, radio beacons, or compass.

PIC

My experience learning to fly has showed me a 4th category which isn’t properly taught to most drivers (or at least is quickly forgotten by most drivers), which I call my Pilot in Command ability. In the end, the pilot of the aircraft makes the final call, no matter what traffic controllers or restrictions say. I’m the one responsible for not getting myself (and once i get my license, my passengers) killed.

There’s a degree of judgement and awareness that I’ve experienced getting better at but am not fully sure how to describe. This last factor is the most important, and I see it as separating those who can follow directions from those who can call themself a pilot.

Foucault’s Pendulum, an excerpt

(by Umberto Eco)

“This is Diotallevi,” Belbo said, introducing us.

“Oh, you’re here to look at that Templar thing. Poor man. Listen, Jacopo, I thought of a good one: Urban Planning for Gypsies.”

“Great,” Belbo said admiringly. “I have one, too: Aztec Equitation.”

“Excellent. But would that go with Potio-section or the Adyn-ata?”

“We’ll have to see,” Belbo said. He rummaged in his drawer and took out some sheets of paper. “Potio-section…” He looked at me, saw my bewilderment. “Potio-section, as everybody knows, of course, is the art of slicing soup. No, no,” he said to Diotallevi. “It’s not a department, it’s a subject, like Mechanical Avunculogratulation or Pylocatabasis. They all fall under the heading of Tetrapyloctomy.”

“What’s tetra…?” I asked.

“The art of splitting a hair four ways. This is the department of useless techniques. Mechanical Avunculogratulation, for example, is how to build machines for greeting uncles. We’re not sure, though, if Pylocatabasis belongs, since it’s the art of being saved by a hair. Somehow that doesn’t seem completely useless.”

“All right, gentlemen,” I said, “I give up. What are you two talking about?”

“Well, Diotallevi and I are planning a reform in higher education. A School of Comparative Irrelevance, where useless or impossible courses are given. The school’s aim is to turn out scholars capable of endlessly increasing the number of unnecessary subjects.

“And how many departments are there?”

“Four so far, but that may be enough for the whole syllabus. The Tetrapyloctomy department has a preparatory function; its purpose is to inculcate a sense of irrelevance. Another important department is Adynata, or Impossibilia. Like Urban Planning for Gypsies. The essence of the discipline is the comprehension of the underlying reasons for a thing’s absurdity. We have courses in Morse syntax, the history of antarctic agriculture, the history of Easter Island painting, contemporary Sumerian literature, Montessori grading, Assyrio-Babylonian philately, the technology of the wheel in pre-Columbian empires, and the phonetics of the silent film.”

“How about crowd psychology in the Sahara?”

“Wonderful,” Belbo said.

Diotallevi nodded. “You should join us. The kid’s got talent, eh, Jacopo?”

“Yes, I saw that right away. Last night he constructed some moronic arguments with great skill. But let’s continue. What did we put in the Oxymoronics department? I can’t find my notes.”

Diotallevi took a slip of paper from his pocket and regarded me with friendly condescension. “In Oxymoronics, as the name implies, what matters is selfcontradiction. That’s why I think it’s the place for Urban Planning for Gypsies.”

“No,” Belbo said. “Only if it were Nomadic Urban Planning. The Adynata concern empirical impossibilities; Oxymoronics deal with contradictions in terms.”

“Maybe. But what courses did we put under Oxymoronics? Oh, yes, here we are: Tradition in Revolution, Democratic Oligarchy, Parmenidean Dynamics, Heraclitean Statics, Spartan Sybaritics, Tautological Dialectics, Boolean Eristic.”

I couldn’t resist throwing in “How about a Grammar of Solecisms?”

“Excellent!” they both said, making a note.

“One problem,” I said.

“What?”

“If the public gets wind of this, people will show up with manuscripts.”


This passage stuck with me for both its fantastic vocabulary and its critique of the absurdity of higher education (especially the more ‘niche’ sub-subjects). 

Decided to repost it for posterity, with links out to many of the words new to me.

Full text here, this book was an incredible read and I highly recommend it to anyone.

Bees (update 2)

We lost a queen.

Specifically, a queen from our hive of Italians. Truthfully we sort-of saw it coming, and one major mistake was made. In an attempt to prevent swarming, Jack removed 3 live queen cells from the hive on an inspection. Later we found literature which elaborated that these cells (which were located on the middle of a face of comb), were “supercedure cells” — as opposed to “swarm cells”, definite evidence that the hive was attempting to produce a queen to replace their current one.

Okay, mistake. Whoops.

Today we finally had some good weather and checked on the hives (this queen-cell-ectomy was last week sometime). We found zero brood (bee eggs and larvae) in the italian hive; plenty of bees, a decent amount of honey, but no brood. Luckily we don’t have a laying worker — just lots of comb partially filled with honey and pollen.

A laying worker occurs when a hive doesn’t have a queen, and one of the workers begins to lay eggs — she’s presumably hopeful to rekindle her dying colony. Unfortunately as an unfertilized female, our valiant heroine is only able to lay eggs which yield drones, and the hive is sure to collapse shortly afterwards

Our hive of Carniolans on the other hand looks fantastic! Full of brood, starting to build up honey reserves, a good amount of comb, and so on.

But of course our hive without a queen isn’t going to last long. So we decided to combine the hives.

Each hive had 1 full medium box of 10 frames (the upper of the 2 boxes): comb on every frame, good activity, enough bees to populate the whole affair. Both had begun to fill out their lower box (also medium sized).

We decided to combine the hives into a 3 box affair: mixing the populated frames from the two hives into the lowest box, then 2nd would be the Carniolans “core” hive (including the Carnie queen), and finally the devoid-of-brood Italian Core. So now we’ve got single hive of 3 fully comb’d boxes, and plenty of bees now living together.

Hopefully that makes sense.

Behaviorally, the Italians were clearly confused when we removed their hive. A large cluster of them buzzed around for a while looking for the entrance where it used to be — especially since the hives are (were) directly adjacent to each other. They figured it out quickly enough though. I have a hunch that mixing the two sets of frames together in the bottom-most box made it easier for the Italians to find something which smells like home.

Question: The comb in our hives has turned a much deeper darker color from the pure white it started out as (white from the original sugar water solution the bees were being fed but have since not been fed in several weeks). The cells which have darkened have only been used for brood thus far.

What causes the color changes?

I’ve brewed up some more 1:1 sugar water that I’ll give them before I leave for work tomorrow morning.

We’ve got a queen excluder handy but haven’t put it in the stack yet. Our reasoning is that the queen should get a chance to spread her pheromones around unencumbered, and everything I’ve read that amateurs using excluders can prompt a hive to swarm more readily.

Long story short: two hives have become one. We’ll see how this works out, but I’m pretty hopeful. Best case is that we may get a decent amount of honey by the end of the season!

Update (6/1): Got stung 3 times while setting down the bag of feed in the hive! I was being sloppy and hasty, I deserved it. This is the first I’ve gotten stung by these bees — it stings, but not nearly as much as I remember from when I was stung as an 8 year old. 🐝🐝🐝

Update (6/2): Three days later, the bees seem to be foraging happily and doing just fine (no swarms or anything). I’ll open up the hive this weekend to make sure there’s some laying going on, but things are looking good!

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Bees (update 1)

previously: Bees

Brood!

Yesterday I checked the hives for the first time in just over a week.

You can see white and yellow capped cells in the above picture.

The white are capped “honey”. Really, it’s the sugar water I had been feeding them. They ran out of feed a little while back and I won’t be replacing it for them… they’ve gotten the kick they needed and seem to be carrying on via foraging.

The yellow are brood cells, which means our queen is laying in full force! To the right of the main cluster of brood in the picture above, you can even see some growing larvae (look closely, they’re little while curled up horseshoe shapes at the bottom of the cell). And you can’t see in the picture but there are eggs in many more cells all over the place.

By my understanding, the bees like to keep their brood in the middle of the frame, and will pack in other resources towards the edges. This helps them keep the brood at a good temperature, amongst other things, and the food will help them last the winter (already building reserves!). You can also see pollen — which they use as a major protein source — being stored especially towards the top right of the photo (it’s the weird off-coloration stuff).

How excellent.

Royalty

 

Her majesty, the queen, is visible as the long black bee in these pictures.

For reference this is the Carniolan queen — in this checkup I checked for but didn’t locate the Italian queen in the other hive.

Drones?

 

The larger capped cells in the pictures above are drone cells (this is from the Italian hive, though both had quite a few drone cells). There are quite a lot of them across both hives.

  • Hives produce an amount of drones, especially in springtime.
  • If the hive were producing only drones, it would likely be an indication of a ‘laying worker’, and either an absent, weak, or dead queen.
  • Both hives are producing both drones and workers (by the looks of it — unsure if any have hatched yet).

So everything should be fine. (Question for more experienced beekeepers: Proportionally how many drone cells should I expect?)

I did find this queen-cup-esque thing in the hive of carnies…

 

It’s empty so this should also be fine, and I left it alone. The bees will do what they think is best, I’m not about to tell them how to do their beesiness (sorry).

Vigilantes

IMG_4685

Here you can see the girls lined up and watching me as I mess with their hive. (Note, due to recent events with my team at work, I actually have no idea what “vigilante” means anymore. Nbd.)