I became insane with long intervals of horrible sanity.
Edgar Allen Poe

The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one's time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.
- H. L. Mencken

Many people would sooner die than think; In fact, they do so
-Bertrand Russell

What I have been telling you, from alpha to omega, what is the one great thing the sigil taught me — that everything in life is miraculous. For the sigil taught me that it rests within the power of each of us to awaken at will from a dragging nightmare of life made up of unimportant tasks and tedious useless little habits, to see life as it really is, and to rejoice in its exquisite wonderfulness. If the sigil were proved to be the top of a tomato-can, it would not alter that big fact, nor my fixed faith. No Harrowby, the common names we call things by do not matter — except to show how very dull we are ...
-James Branch Cabell

September 15, 2004 - 2:13 a.m.

and if you must put me in a box / make sure it's a big box

Why do I keep putting off updating till it is so late? Well Im going to write today even if I am tired.

Have I mentioned the trouble Im having with the schools computer network? I finally got an account and it doesnt work. Today Ana the admin asst. asked me to fill out a form for a new account. I hadnt told her that I was having trouble but apparently everyone is so she is getting us to get new accounts. It will be nice to have an school email address and not have to use webmail from school.

My classes went pretty well today. I screwed up a problem yesterday which always bothers me, I know this stuff inside and out. Today I got it right. It was a problem in epsilonics, the method of proving the existence of limits, something that I love. It is also something I dont stress to these students. If there were math majors in the class I would.

Julius is suggesting that I use my faculty status to write to publishers and ask for desk copies of math books I want. They will send free copies to teachers. This is the book I want Apostols Calculus. There are two sequels that I also want. They are the best calculus books ever. When I get my email working Ill request it from Wiley using my school email. If they need it in writing Ill use the school stationary. Yes my job does have another perk other than making long distance calls.

Speaking of calls who is around between 3:50 and 5:30 or at 7:30 on Tuesdays and Thursdays and would like a call? Sorry I cant call out of the U.S. any more.

Random thing I forgot to mention on Sunday. While I was waiting for the train after the Met game I saw a couple looking at the host of sparrows in the railroad yard. I wanted to see what was so interesting then I spied it, a spot of bright yellow amidst all the brown. There was a canary mixed in with them. I dont think Ive ever seen a canary, let alone one flying free in NYC. Im guessing it will die come winter. Maybe someone will capture it and keep it as a pet.

Now that would be a great jumping off point for one of my philosophical digressions but it just doesnt fit anything Ive been thinking about. So Ill just have to go to something completely different.


Have I ever discussed the research project I did at the Behavior Science Institute at Western Michigan University when I was in high school?

The first part was training rats to press a lever in a Skinner box. At first theyd get rewarded with food every time the pressed it. Gradually Id increase the number of presses it took for them to earn the treat. This could all be programmed into the box. It is known as a schedule of reinforcement. There are many several different basic schemes. The first is the one I just described. It is the most effective. Another type is pressing the lever only works at set intervals. Perhaps once a minute. That is, after the clock starts the rat will get rewarded the first time it presses after one minute, two minutes, etc. This is a common reinforcement schedule people encounter in the real world. It is how schools train you to study. You are supposed to study through the semester but only get rewarded when you take the test.

What I did my research on was switching them from the first schedule I described to a more complicated one. They would only get the treat if they waited a set interval between presses. If they did it too fast they would get nothing. The affect on the rats behavior was dramatic. I studied one aspect of it, polydipsia, excessive drinking. Once I switched the rats to the new schedule they began drinking all the water theyd normally drink in a day during the hour they were in the box. If it were a human youd call it neurotic behavior. It is tempting to assign human thought processes to them but as a researcher you shouldnt.

As an essayist on the other hand I feel free to run with idea keeping in mind it is just a metaphor. Imagine how youd feel if you learned that if you press a lever 20 times youd earn your reward then all of a sudden it doesnt work. You keep pressing it and nothing happens. So you give up. Of course youd go back and give it another press just to make sure then lo and behold youd get your treat. So you keep pressing again and nothing happens. You stop and go back and once again you are rewarded. Eventually you might figure out the trick, that you have to wait five seconds between presses. Youd do as well as my rats. The rats never figured it out when I increased the time to ten seconds, would you do better? Would this drive you into neurotic behavior? If the schedule was complex enough I think youd begin to wonder if there were any logic to it at all, perhaps it is all random. We hate to think that, we would rather believe theories we can prove to be false than believe that. At some point we give up though and accept it.

And thats the real point of the research, things like that happen to all of us. We learn that some behavior will lead to a reward then all of a sudden the rules change without anyone telling us. We are left pressing the once reliable lever and getting nothing for it. Isnt that the very essence of so many stressful situations? Sometimes the rules dont change but what happens is you go to where the lever always was and it is gone. Now what are you to do?

The lucky thing is that if we are in a Skinner box it is a big box, one with lots of levers. They arent always easy to find, they might be hidden, they might be far away from where you are but they are there. So the only thing you can do is explore. Try and find another lever that you can figure out how to work. Maybe it will take a long time, maybe it will take forever, but you keep looking. Sometime you can even go back to the original lever and try it again, maybe the program has changed to one that you can figure out.

So thats how Ive been thinking about the world, a giant Skinner box with many different rooms and levers not so close together. Many if not most of them do nothing or I cant figure out how they work. Ill just keep trying to find the ones that do.


I signed the Pro-Truth Pledge:
please hold me accountable.





Memories: Not that Horrid Song - May 29, 2018
Wise Madness is Now In Session - May 28, 2018
The NFL and the First Amendment - May 27, 2018
On The Road Again - May 26, 2018
Oliver the Three-Eyed Crow - May 25, 2018



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Horvendile September 15, 2004
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