hugo :: ideas :: metaphysics
"only as an æsthetic phenomenon is
existence and the world justified"

- nietzsche

 

             
 
       
               
 
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emotus ponens picture
::: my fractal life ethic :::

 
 


Fractals are geometric patterns which repeat themselves at every scale. Usually they are self-similar at every scale, but not necessarily. Benoit Mandelbrot originated fractals in mathematics in 1975, the term originating from the Latin word "fractus" meaning, "to break". In recent times, computer graphics have used fractals to describe realistic objects whose geometries are fractal, such as clouds, mountains, turbulence, and coastlines. Recently, I've been thinking of fractals in terms of human behavior and human identity.

Throughout my recent and ongoing quarter-life crisis, I constantly grapple with the idea of consistency and identity. "Foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds," said Ralph Waldo Emerson. I've always prided myself on the fact that I am not overly consistent. I am a person of revolving ideas. I constantly experience change in my own aesthetics. But this is unsettling to me, and a major source of anxiety. Perhaps it originates from societal pressures, but I am compelled to want to describe my essential self. What is my essence, in a few words? Am I disciplined, motivated, good-hearted? I am all these things, but not at every level of my life. On the grand scale of my life, I am very disciplined and very optimistic. Long term goals, I hardly ever question, and even if questioned, I still give them the benefit of the doubt and persevere. For example, I am disciplined enough to never give up my PhD program. I am disciplined enough to not go and run off to a new job. I am optimistic that in the long term, my life will succeed and work out. I only need the occasional, small motivation from daily life to reinforce these goals. These goals are internally reinforcing.

But what of discipline? On the day to day level, I am a procrastinator, I favor comfort over hard choices, I always do what's easy and what feels right. I never plan ahead and prefer to keep options right up to the last minute. I am not disciplined at all. Or am I? I think it's fair to say that my behavior, and I suspect the behavior of many people, to be fractal in nature. It is in my nature to be disciplined about the big picture, but not in the little picture. Clever friends often try to deconstruct my policy of discipline but illuminating my inconsistencies, but I am rarely phased. Kierkegaard has also challenged me. In "sickness unto death", he describes that a person cannot have an essential sense of self without accountability to God. The Christian notion of God and judgement is that our character is judged holistically. To me, this feels like we are unnecessarily distilled down to an essence, and a consistent one at that. Christian ideals rarely allow people to see grey. If I behaved contradictorily, then I must have been possessed by the devil on one occasion or the other. Christian belief doesn't allow for contradiction because it is belief that we are by design. Contradictions are inferior designs. Our maybe our notion of design hasn't seen the light of fractal math.

I am at a loss to describe how I am able to maintain seemingly contradictory values. But then again, why should I have to explain? I am just another fractal system. My fractal beliefs and fractal character render me as a more realistic and rich personality.

 


 

 

articles copyright (c) 2002-2003 by hugo@media.mit.edu.
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H U G O . . L I U ...
POSTDOCTORAL ASSOCIATE

program in comparative media studies, mit

the media laboratory, mit
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hugo at media dot mit dot edu