Skip to main content

The world's longest suicide note: ONE MILLION words.

I write about life with bipolar disorder (a.k.a. manic depression).

All opinions are my own.


Insignificant Speck

5 min read

This is a story about sonder...


Is it useful to have a realistic appreciation of your own insignificance? Is it useful to correctly perceive that you're not significantly different from any of the 7.6 billion other people on the planet, or the 108 billion humans who lived and died since homo sapiens first appeared as a new species? Is it useful to be conscious of your cosmological insignificance, where the entire human race will be obliterated so completely that it will be as if we never existed? Is it useful to understand the fundmental laws of physics well enough to know that there isn't going to be a technological breakthrough which might allow us to travel to another star when our sun dies? Is it good to know that in the long run, nothing matters, because we live in a godless universe with no afterlife, and we are destined to be forgotten?

Just as we might become aware that every other person has a rich and complex life of their own, we can equally become aware of humanity's wider insignificance.

Warp drives, wormholes, time travel, cryogenics and hypersleep are all lovely sci-fi fantasies, but we can't even solve the basics, such as the fair distribution of wealth so that we can all have clean drinking water and enough to eat. There isn't going to be a colony on Mars. We're as likely to kill ourselves in nuclear armageddon as we are to die because of runaway man-made climate change. Yes, we've made great strides in science and technology in recent years. All those advancements are being used for killing each other in increasingly nasty ways.

The population growth trends are easy to extrapolate, along with predictions about our ability to use the available land to produce food, leading to the unavoidably obvious conclusion that we're going to have mass-starvation of billions of people, in barely a couple of decades. If you like to trot out the tired old lines about what a monster Stalin was, you ain't seen nothing until you've seen what capitalism can do to billions. It's already easy to see what industrial capitalist society has done to the environment, causing all manner of extreme weather events and natural disasters, which are anything but natural, because things are exacerbated by man-made climate change.

It's easy for me to write about the need to show some restraint and forego some luxuries, because I've been lucky enough to have enjoyed those luxuries for quite a long time. What about all those people who haven't yet had a taste of Western imperialist decadence? Isn't it unfair that those who've only ever known poverty and deprivation will never get to live a decadent lifestyle?

Many in the guardian class would prefer it if you just damn well knew your place, and stopped trying to improve your standard of living. How else are the guardian class going to snobbily believe they're a cut above the rest of the society, if every man and his dog is able to have a nice lifestyle? Get back in your place, you proletariat scum.

Thus, we arrive at the new class warfare. We ALL think that we should be at the front of the queue, and we ALL know how to get there, thanks to the internet.

The internet is a humbling place. Where else can you face such an enormous deluge of individual people who all think they're special, unique and different? Everybody's going what they think is an important opinion to share; that they have a voice that needs to be heard. Everybody thinks they're good looking, talented, intelligent. Everybody thinks they're capable of original thoughts and ideas; that they're creative.

It's hard to maintain your own sanity when you see all those social media accounts controlled by all those individuals, who've carefully chosen their name, bio, profile picture, and then carefully creates and curates their own content, according to their personality and the image they wish to project. It's hard to be a homo sapiens with the same hardware that evolved 350,000 years ago, when the population was 99.999% smaller and we didn't have any technology except fire and pointy sticks. Our brains really aren't built to cope with constant reminders that we're an insignificant speck.

We might hope to build up our social media following - our celebrity status - and begin to broadcast ourselves to big audiences, hoping to make ourselves feel somewhat less insignificant, but it's delusional. A judge and jury might convict a person of a serious crime, locking them up for life, but all 14 of those people will die at more-or-less the same time, be cremated or buried. In 4 or 5 generations, those 14 people will be completely forgotten - the criminal will be indistinguishable from those who sat in judgement. For a psychiatrist to diagnose a patient as having delusions of grandeur, is also a delusion of grandeur - both are suffering from the delusion that they have any importance at all, when clearly they are both equally insignificant.

Significance is an invention of the human mind, as a coping mechanism for the increasingly inescapable realisation that nobody matters, nothing matters, we're all dead in the long-run and every piece of evidence that we ever existed is destined to be obliterated some completely, that even alien archeologists with futuristic gadgetry, would never know anything about our entire race; our whole history.

It's pure vanity to think that you're important; that you'll be remembered.




Eccentric Orbit

5 min read

This is a story about resonant frequencies...

Wet wheels

Little things can send me into an unexpected tailspin. Little things matter. Molehills get magnified into mountains and there are storms in teacups. My life appears to be quite normal, ordered, sensible and stable, but it's an illusion: everything is really quite fragile under the thin veneer.

Last week I spent several hours trying to get the sound working on my battered Macbook Pro, which had been recently repaired after some water/moisture damage. There had been a small puff of smoke and the smell of electrical burning at the weekend, which had been rather worrisome, but the laptop seemed to soldier on unaffected... I hadn't noticed that it had become mute.

Software is my job, so I threw all of my 21+ years of experience at solving the problem, plus all the other years of my youth which were mis-spent tinkering with computers... I should have been able to fix the problem. Alas, I decided that it must definitely be a hardware problem and therefore it was going to be expensive to fix and well beyond my very amateurish soldering abilities: I'm a software expert, not a hardware expert.

It's rare that a technical problem like that defeats me. Having already spent the best part of £600 having my Macbook repaired, I was pretty disappointed that something had gone bang inside it, leaving me with a partially-broken Macbook.

I knew that I could buy an adapter for my headphones for less than £10 which would be a cheap workaround for the problem, but every single thing that's a bit tatty and old and partially-broken in my life adds up to a bigger feeling of being overwhelmed by life; that everything's falling apart.

It seems like everything that's damaged tells the same story: stuff got messed up when I myself was in a messed up sick state.

I've replaced a lot of things like-for-like and that really helps. Rather than having constant daily reminders that I broke, damaged or lost things of importance, I've spent the money to get things back to how they should be. Fixing those little things has cost me a lot of money, but the benefit is greater than you might imagine. You probably think you could put up with all the annoying little things, and the things which seem to be superficial, but I can't; it upsets me.

I forgot to wash, dry and pack a couple of T-shirts for my working week. At lunch I managed to drop some food onto my nice clean shirt that I was wearing, so I won't be able to wear that again this week. The nice hotel I was staying in near the office had a laundry service, but the one I was forced to book as an alternative doesn't have those facilities. Tomorrow I have to choose between wearing an unironed shirt, an unironed T-shirt or a smelly T-shirt. I already had to spend all afternoon sat at my desk with a stain on my shirt, because I knew there was no point in going to the car to swap my stained shirt for any of those unappealing options.

These little things - the laptop sound, the hotel, the shirt - they sound like nothing, but they have a far bigger impact my my sense of wellbeing than you would expect.

One might imagine that it's only catastrophic events which truly affect us, and everything else can be tolerated, but all the little things add up: it's death by a thousand cuts.

The things that bother me are quite mundane and boring, and some sound quite easy to fix if you don't actually have to do the fixing... for example a couple of bits of damage to the paint and plasterwork in my apartment. Any idiot knows that a bit of filler and a bit of paint will take care of the problem, but of course to repair anything properly is a lot easier said than done. Perhaps nobody notices the little blemishes and the bodge-jobs, but I do and it's me who has to see them morning, noon and night, every day of my miserable life.

It seems so petty to be whining about tiny blemishes, but the only way I can think to describe it with the analogy of a heavy flywheel which is rotating extremely fast. A tiny chip out of the flywheel's metal will cause vibration. The weight of the flywheel creates tremendously high energy from the centripetal force of its rotation, and the vibration puts a lot of stress on the axle. Before long, the whole machine which the flywheel is attached to will shake itself to pieces.

All of the disruption to my routine, my stability, my living, working, travelling, eating and other such arrangements... it's all highly stressful. Chuck in a few seemingly insignificant other things, and I worry that I'm going to fly off the handle unpredictably, or something apparently minor will trigger a major breakdown.

Why make things any harder than they need to be?




How to Become Irreverent

14 min read

This is a story about the values you raise your children with...

Church window

It seems like I have had the sentimental attachment most of us feel towards everything we revere in society systematically thrashed out of me. If you pick one thing that summons feelings of safety, security, comfort, respect for authority and faith in the divine/spiritual, then I will tell you how exactly how I came to question everything: every institution, everything sacred, every tradition, every profession, people who are normally considered beyond reproach and ultimately even existence and its purpose.

Starting with my birth, I'm literally a bastard. I was born outside of wedlock. My parents never married and always planned to remain unmarried, such that I took my mother's surname instead of my father's. Ironically, my mother had once been married, and I have the surname of her ex-husband instead of her maiden name. Confused? Imagine trying to explain that to your fellow pre-schoolers when you're 3 years old. I didn't really understand it at the time, but I understood that I was different; unusual.

My schools would often address letters intended for my parents to Mr & Mrs Grant, and my father would always tell me that I was the only Mr Grant in the house and therefore the letter was addressed to me. My mother would tell me that she was no longer Mrs Grant and she was Ms Grant. "Why not Miss?" I would ask, and she would explain that she had been married, and Miss was only used by women who hadn't been married. If anybody telephoned the house and asked to speak to Mr Grant, my father would hand the receiver to me and say "it's for you", which it never was, of course.

I understood that there was divorce and some of my school-friends were raised by a single parent, or a step-parent. My peers would often ask if my father was my step-father, to which I would reply "no". Nobody could understand how I came to have a different surname from my biological father, or entertain the notion that I could have been given my mother's surname, not my father's.

At some point, a fairly clear question formed in my mind: "why aren't my parents married?". 

The reasons why people get married had become quite clear in my mind, for the very simple reason that I had endured years and years of people's reactions that suggested that not getting married was very atypical behaviour. Nobody wants to feel unusual; freakish. Nobody likes to feel odd.

When I posed my question - "why aren't you married?" - to my parents, they replied with their own question: "why should we get married?". I had a pretty easy answer for them, as I've explained: because that's what everybody else does. "Do you want to be like everybody else?" my parents asked. "Yes" I replied.

[I just burst into uncontrollable sobbing. If it wasn't what you experienced, I don't think you can begin to understand what it's like to spend your entire childhood as the freakish weirdo; the odd one out... the one who's different from everybody else]

Having covered marriage there is a natural segue into the topic of religion, and the origins of my atheism.

For a number of formative and important childhood years I lived in an attractive terraced house in an area called Jericho, on one of the most desirable roads in central Oxford. These houses are the most expensive in the world, far exceeding real estate prices in London, San Francisco and Hong Kong, in terms of their affordability. However, these £1.5 million houses were bought by the first wave of gentrifiers, when academics and young professionals with families started to move into slummy areas because they couldn't afford family homes in the more desirable parts of the city.

When your immediate neighbours include an MP, a barrister, a heart surgeon, a City banker and a number of promenant Oxford dons and professors, their children were raised in an environment which was knowledge-rich and encouraged the exploration afforded by a curious rational mind; critical thinking. Nobody went to church. My friends, whose father was a consultant at Oxford John Radcliffe Hospital, went to Quaker "friends meetings" occasionally, but my peer group - the sons and daughters of the intellectual elite - had little place for God and church in their lives.

We should rewind a little bit, back to the village our family lived in before we moved to central Oxford. If one were to imagine the most quintessentially English picturesque Cotswolds village, with the manor house, the village green, the workers' cottages, the post office and village shop, the village pub, the village school, one should not forget the church and its graveyard. The church's presence and influence is not to be underestimated. My religious indoctrination began as soon as I started school, with the vicar regularly present. Village social events are very often church-linked, like harvest festival, and of course everybody who grew up in such an idyllic village wants to get married in that particular church, have their children baptised there and be buried in that graveyard.

Essentially, the church's opportunity to exploit a child's vulnerable immature mind were scuppered by my father. For everything that the church had a comforting but incorrect explanation for, my dad cited a lack of evidence and instilled in me the skepticism which gradually became integral to my developing personality: "show me the evidence".

When we moved to the centre of a city whose university is globally recognised for its academic excellence, I never encountered another simple-minded fool who had been persuaded to believe in Gods and other aspects of religion, which are so obviously irreconcilable with the pursuit of knowledge. Religion encourages ignorance but I had been raised to question everything and remain skeptical until I had seen convincing proof. "What are atoms made of?" I remember asking one of my friends who lived on my street. "Quarks" he replied. We were perhaps only 5 or 6 years old - the product of a childhood immersed in academic culture, as opposed to the sentimental and traditional.

The disturbing and unpleasant consequences of an irreverent life can impose themselves on a child at a worryingly young age. I've already been uncontrollably sobbing about just one thing - the tradition and sanctity of the institution of marriage - and I haven't even mentioned how a child deals with the concept of mortality and threat of death without the comfort of religion.

A US Air Force pilot who drank at the village pub which my parents later bought and now live in, drunkenly boasted about the ability of the United States to wipe humanity off the face of the earth. I was definitely no older than 4 years old. With my friend with whom I had discussed subatomic particles, we talked about the temperatures which could be reached near ground zero of a fission or fusion nuclear bomb, and how the radiated 'heat' (electromagnetic radiation) had instantly vaporised human beings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with only their shadows left behind, permanently etched into the walls of buildings.

If you believe you live in a Godless world with no afterlife you naturally want to know what everything's made of if God didn't make it; you want to know why it's here. How did it get here? Why is it here? You start to pick everything to pieces by iteratively asking what each thing is made of: humans are made of cells, and cells are made of molecules, and molecules are made of atoms, and atoms are made of quarks and leptons... and you can in fact keep asking the question. There's good proof that the electron is not a fundamental particle, as had originally been thought.

When your schoolmates are smart-arse little shits, because their parents are brilliant academics, teachers and school loses its awe and authority. If you're being taught science that's almost 100 years old, and sometimes even 200+ years old, the whole exercise is nothing more than a box-ticking exercise to be endured.

The other thing to consider is that my parents used illegal drugs on a daily basis, and had strong views about the legitimacy and usefulness of the law, certainly in the instances that suited their own addictions. As with many drug users, they were very paranoid. They viewed the police as corrupt and not to be trusted - the enemy. My father's criminal conviction for drugs not only poisoned his views on the police, but also made him very anti-American, as he believed he would never be allowed to enter the country due to his criminal record.

[I'm crying again]

It was only because of first-hand dealings with the police that my viewpoint changed from skepticism due to lack of evidence: the police had never caused me any harm, and in fact I had never had any dealings with the police at all for most of my adult life. You might be surprised to learn I adore and respect the police. My accumulated experience of police encounters has consistently shown that they are some of the most kind, patient, empathetic, forgiving, reasonable people, who have always gone out of their way to bend the rules and simply help as opposed to ever enforcing the letter of the law.

One shouldn't mistake my respect for the men and women of the police force for reverence. I would never for a minute expect that a 999 call is somehow going to be the answer to my prayers. I don't feel safer or more secure, knowing that I can call for police assistance. I wouldn't feel any more comfortable in a stressful situation if there was a police officer present. Of the very many police men and women who I have had first-hand dealings with, they have always treated me very fairly and kindly, and it's quite clear that they deal on a daily basis with a huge number of very vulnerable and damaged people, which they do so with incredible compassion - they are the living embodiment of humanity not deities who should be worshipped and revered.

[More crying]

So if I don't revere priests, vicars, teachers, headmistresses, marriage, religion, military superpowers, soldiers, the police, the law and my own parents, what else is there left for me to lack reverence for?

Cumulatively, I've spent almost 6 months having my life saved in hospital - often in high dependency and intensive treatment unit (ITU) wards. Shouldn't I revere doctors; surgeons?

I think that if there was one thing that would make almost anybody feel more secure and happy in a stressful situation, it would be knowing that there's a doctor present. It's such a clichéd question: "is there a doctor here?".

To explain my irreverence for doctors, we merely need to explore the reasons why I have ever had to deal with one, and the outcomes of those interactions.

Having been lucky enough to escape congenital abnormality, it doesn't take a rocket surgeon to figure out what I want from a doctor and why. You don't need to spend 5 or 6 years at medical school to know that the human body has been dealing with pathogens since the species first came into existence. You hardly have to be brain of Britain to figure out whether you're dealing with a viral, bacterial, fungal or parasitic infection, and furthermore, which is likely to be treatable. In actual fact, I've never been to my doctor for antibiotics: every infection has always cleared up on its own. Fungal and parasitic infections can be dealt with without a doctor obviously: head lice shampoo is available in every pharmacy, without a prescription, for example.

At the age of 28 I went to my doctor wanting treatment for depression, but I knew which specific medications I was prepared to try and which medications I didn't want because the side effects were not acceptable. Having my choices limited only to SSRIs provided firm evidence that doctors were an obstacle to be overcome, not a panacea.

When we think about the first time I was hospitalised, do you think I didn't know that I was going to end up there and what the problems were going to be? Do you think it was an accident that I ended up in hospital?

Again, you don't need to spend 5 or 6 years at medical school to know that the human body needs water, salt, glucose, proteins, amino acids, vitamins, minerals and myriad trace elements, or else the bodily functions haven't got the fuel, carrier fluid and raw materiels they need. You don't need to be a doctor to know that human body temperature needs to be homeostatic as much as possible - much like every other measurable thing in the human body - and any extreme variation too high or too low is going to have dire consequences.

When you are making choices in full knowledge of the likely consequences, medicine ceases to be lifesaving magic, and instead it becomes another simple case of what do you want and why?

One must consider the very last time I was hospitalised to truly understand my irreverence.

Not only had I quite carefully pre-planned my suicide attempt, when I arrived at hospital against my will, I gave very clear instructions: do not put activated charcoal into my stomach, do not perform gastric lavage, do not intubate, do not provide life support and most importantly of all, do not resuscitate. "Do you know what's going to happen?" the A&E doctor asked. "Yes. I'm going to die of a combination of organ failure and serotonin syndrome, with a lot of seizures" I replied. "Do you think you'll be unconscious? Do you think it'll be painless?" the doctor asked. "No. I expect that it will take a long time to die and I'll be conscious and in a lot of pain for most of it" I replied. Then I started having seizures.

Doctors see a lot of people who are scared and they don't understand what's happening to them. They're desperate for somebody who seems to know what they're doing and what they're talking about; doctors are an authority figure. I have no doubt that for feckless simpletons and those who lack access to medicine, the arrival of a doctor or a priest/shamen/witch-doctor is incredibly soothing and comforting. If you don't know what you want and why, your reverence is misplaced, but it may still ease your passage from life to death.

When shit goes bad, who are you going to turn to? If you have to pick your team of people to survive on a remote island, who are you going to pick and why?

Why revere anyone? Why kiss anyone's arse and tell them they're great because they did the study and training that you could've done if you wanted to. You could have passed those exams. You could have gained those qualifications. You could have followed that path if you wanted to. If you wanted it bad enough, you could put on that uniform; you could get that job title; you could prefix or suffix your name with the bit that tells the world just exactly why everyone should drop to their knees and worship you.

Nothing's sacred to me. I could do your job if I wanted to.

I'm not smarter than anybody. I'm not better than anybody. That's the whole point: I'm lucky enough to not have anything that's holding me back; limiting my potential.

I really don't recommend telling your kids they can follow their dreams and be anything they want to be. I really don't recommend telling your kids to question everything, and understand everything about how the universe works, to the point where they reach the very bleeding edge of scientific research. I really don't recommend raising your kids to challenge the status quo and resist the urge to fit in with wider society and their peers.

Take it from me: there's a mind-destroying kind of cold uncaring "nothing matters" bad feeling that comes from being too rational; too much of a free-thinker. Take my word for it: understanding the absurdity of existence will destroy your mental health.

You should probably experiment with hard drugs. That's probably way less likely to fuck up your life than going down the rabbit-hole of picking everything to pieces and trying to reason from first principles and pure logic.




Without hope, why go on?

6 min read

This is a story about motivation...

King of Bohemia

In a godless universe with no afterlife, if you're not fulfilling the will of your genes and reproducing, what's the point in being alive? We all die and we're all forgotten; everything is meaningless. Entropy will destroy everything that's structured, ordered and regular - we are being systematically destroyed; in the blink of an eye it will be as if we never even existed... all of human history, all civilisations, all buildings, all scientific knowledge, all great men and women, all works of art... it will all be gone.

Replication; reproduction is the force that fights against entropy. While entropy seeks to return everything to a jumbled and unordered chaotic mess, molecules that are mathematically probable to exist turn into more complex hydrocarbons, acids, proteins and all the other building blocks in the primordial soup, from which emerged the first self-replicating entities. Replication is as inevitable as the force that destroys everything that is ordered and regular, and returns it to disorder and chaos. Replication is the yin to entropy's yang.

The fact that you are conscious today, and not at some earlier point in history, is proof that you're the only consciousness in the cosmos. When you die, the universe dies with you too. You are the sole observer of events from your frame of reference, which means that your universe is unique to you. There are lots of other universes that are similar, but you cannot be conscious of those where you are dead, because your consciousness has ceased to exist, or never existed in them - you can only be conscious when you are alive. It's inevitable that there would be many other self-replicating entities in your universe with you, in close proximity, because of the spectacularly improbability of all the circumstances being right to create a consciousness - of course there'd be billions of very similar entities, with all very similar experiences, and all similarly 'conscious'... but your consciousness is unique in your universe, and your universe will end when you do.

If you're fulfilling the will of your genes, you are not conscious, you are merely one of the hundreds of billions of human animals that lived and died before you - unthinking fucking baby-making machines, making yet more beasts which will fuck and make more babies... and so on. You're just a disposable bundle of chemicals that has been used to replicate your genes. You're spent. You're trash. You're a husk; a shell.

In a godless universe with no afterlife, there's no point in anything, so you might as well do whatever you want. It could be a good excuse to live a hedonistic pleasure and sensation-seeking life that will maximise the amount of euphoria that you feel. However, you might sadly discover that you're immortal and find that your morals are completely corrupted. If you believe that the reason for living is to maximise your pleasure, what's to stop you raping and killing, just for fun? What's to stop you from raping the earth for your own pleasure? What's to stop you using and abusing the whole human race, and leaving the surface of the earth scorched and barren, plundered for every single drop of pleasure that you could possibly extract?

Thus, we arrive at a vision of hell: a planet made uninhabitable by an all-powerful immortal overlord who believes in nothing except their own pleasure, and damn the long-term consequences. It's pretty easy to see the evidence for that all around us.

Is there a middle ground?

I like to think that one day I'll be able to quit the rat race and become an artist. You might say that I'm already an artist, because I'm a writer, but the bulk of my time and effort is diverted into very mundane bullshit. My day job exhausts me. The need to pay rent and bills and service debts is a huge stress and a strain; a distraction. I'm completely unable to immerse myself in art, because of the arduous job of simply keeping a roof over my head and putting food on the table.

I've worked very hard during my 21+ year full-time career, and although I've been able to pursue a period of hedonism up to the point where it nearly killed me, I've not been able to ever pursue something I really love and am passionate about. It seems like the opportunity to indulge my passion for art might never be realised - it's somewhat unattainable.

I work, always with the slim hope that through hard work I'll be able to dig myself out of the hole and be able to then follow my dreams, but the realisation of that hope is eternally just out of reach. Hard work just isn't paying off. It doesn't matter how hard I work, and how long I work for... I can never reach my goal.

Why bother? Why bother with the early mornings and the dreadful boredom? Why put up with the stress and the anxiety and the slog of it all? Why put in the effort? Where's it getting me? Where's the payoff?

If life is about the hedonistic pursuit of pleasure, I can do that today and not have to work a single day more. I can end the struggle and return to my hedonistic life. Why bother struggling any more?

However, if life is about following your dream, and ideally pursuing some aesthetic abstract thing, like art, then I don't think I'll ever get there. I think being an artist would be perfect, because it's a change from the relentless pursuit of things that simply consume and exhaust resources, like procreation and hedonism, growth and conquest, business and capitalism, war, slavery and all the other things that inflict untold human misery.

I feel like I should be more comfortable than I am; more able to be an artist; more free.

Why go on? Why struggle anymore?

I'm not sure if I want to kill myself, or if I just need 2 weeks lying on a beach in a hot country.




Don't Scare the Horses

6 min read

This is a story about comfort...

New Forest Ponies

Halley's Comet will next be visible in our skies on the 28th of July 2061. If I live that long, I'll be 82 years old, which is not inconceivable given that the current life expectancy of a man in the United Kingdom is 81.6 years old. As a lifelong non-smoker, I've also enjoyed a highly nutritious diet and not done a lot of manual labour or worked with particularly toxic chemicals - in theory, I can reasonably expect to live longer than the current national average, which increases quite steadily. In fact, on average, most men my age can expect to live into their 90s.

Edmund Halley was able to calculate how regularly the comet that now bears his name, would be visible in our skies, in 1705 - just 18 years after Isaac Newton published Principia Mathematica which famously contained the inverse-square law of gravity.

Today, we are lucky enough to have telescopes capable of tracking celestial objects with incredible accuracy. We are also blessed with Albert Einstein's General Relativity which allows us to calculate the movement of the heavenly bodies, in agreement with our observations. Before Einstein's GR superseded Newton's law, the orbit of Mercury had not matched up with the predictions of the prevailing theory.

The question that we are left with is this: were the scientific community to discover a huge space rock hurtling towards Earth on collision course, would it be ethical for them to tell the general public?

I'll rephrase and repeat that question again for emphasis: if it were to be discovered that we're all going to die when a massive asteroid smashes into the planet at 38,000 miles per hour, then should we know about it?

Ignorance is bliss.

There will be a certain proportion of society - those who believe all the plants, animals and the Earth were created by a sky monster in just 6 days - who would be resistant to anything that challenges their dogma, no matter how incontrovertible the evidence. There are people who are ridiculously wilfully ignorant, despite the facts, scientific consensus and oversimplifications that spell things out in words of four letters or fewer, complete with cartoon picture-books.

However, one would have to assume that a large proportion of society would accept that they're going to die in an incinerating fireball, earthquake, tsunami, shockwave or some other catastrophic consequence of a huge rock vaporising at millions of degrees, as it collides with the globe.

We could know the specific day that almost everybody is going to be wiped out. Any survivors are likely to die soon after the asteroid impact, due to a cloud of dust and ash that will block out all the heat from the sun. If we were to burn all the coal, oil, gas, trees and use every other energy reserve we have on the planet, we'd only be able to keep ourselves alive for a matter of hours.

Leaving the planet to go and live on the Moon or Mars is a ridiculous idea - only a handful of people would be able to go, and they'd soon die without shuttles from Earth to restock them with everything that moons and planets lack to support life.

The choices are: stay and die, or leave and die.

Given that most of us are going to die in a horrible catastrophe here on Earth, do you think we're just going to sit back and calmly let the billionaires leave and watch our death from space, like some kind of firework show?

Knowing that we're going to die on or around a certain date, along with our family, friends and virtually everybody else on the planet, do you think we're going to act like normal until it happens?

Obviously, there would be anarchy, chaos, looting, barbarism.

If the general public were to learn of the impending doom, wouldn't they plunge civilisation into such chaos that any efforts to save the planet would be derailed - it would become a self-fulfilling prophecy, because the scientists and engineers who might be able to save the entire Earth and its residents, would be ripped limb-from-limb by a crazed mob.

The public might not mean to shoot themselves in the foot, but they surely would. Some people who've seen too many Hollywood movies would endlessly insist that we fire off our entire nuclear arsenal to vaporise the asteroid in space, which would in fact cause masses of fragments of highly radioactive rock to be rained down on half the globe, in a far more destructive bombardment than anything we'd suffer in a single impact.

Deflecting an asteroid could never be done on its impact orbit - the object would be too heavy and travelling too fast - so we simply wouldn't have enough time once we'd discovered the huge rock on collision course to kill us all.

We would be rabidly demanding the impossible, or simply wanting to live a few hours, days or possibly months longer, at the expense of 7.6 billion other souls - diverting our precious resources into lifeboats that would carry us into the hostile vacuum of space: out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Those who grasped the hopelessness of the situation would resign themselves to their fate. Knowing that it would be unethical to bring children into a doomed world, would we kill ourselves, live with the melancholy or become hedonists in our remaining time on Earth? Why bother going to work? Why bother paying your rent or your mortgage or otherwise attempting to lead any kind of life like your ancestors, when an extinction event is inevitable?

If the general public learned of their imminent demise, the collapse of civilised society would be inevitable. So, is it ethical to tell people? In some ways, I'm glad that the world is full of climate change deniers and people who believe that the Earth is flat. It seems plausible that we may have already reached the point of no return, and there are individuals who know beyond all reasonable doubt that we're all going to die, but they are comforted to know that the general public are sufficiently stupid to not realise until mere moments before their death.

Don't scare the horses.





9 min read

This is a story about depression and burnout...

Lime cordial

If there's one thing I hate, it's a long drawn out journey to the grave. I really don't want to be on my deathbed, remembering the past, but unable to distinguish one day from any other. So many of us are in a routine of waking up, pressing the "snooze" button, having a shower, getting dressed, going to boring bullshit jobs, coming home, watching TV, preparing some food, loading the dishwasher, doing washing & ironing, and having joyless sex or masturbating to pornography - all purely to relieve the animal urges to copulate, eat, drink, piss, shit and sleep.

Life offers very few opportunities for memorable experiences, especially if you have made the ethical decision not to clone your genes through the impregnation of yourself or somebody else. This does not automatically mean that I consider myself morally superior or in a position to hand down judgements from my high horse. To write emotively on one topic does not logically confer that I hold negative views on those who have embarked up the one-way street that is motherhood or fatherhood. Please; do not send me your protestations that being a parent is both tough and rewarding. I KNOW that parenthood is something that I have no first-hand experience of. I DO respect everyone's unique set of life decisions - everyone's gotta live their own life as best as they see fit, and are able to do, playing the cards that have been randomly dealt to them.

My approach to life remains very much the same as it's always been: high risk, high reward.

I joked with a girl - mocking her - that I had fathered a string of illegitimate bastard children, and was being mercilessly pursued by the Child Support Agency (CSA) for money to pay for the upkeep of these offspring that I had carelessly brought into the world. She thought I was being serious.

So, where is all my wealth hidden? I've been a top-bracket taxpayer for most of my working life. Surely I can't have squandered so much disposable income on drink & drugs, and also been able to have a successful career. This is either unthinkable, or grossly unfair that I've had such a surplus, but yet still managed to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory.

I've paid for convenience whenever I've been able to. Why would I clean my toilet, when I could pay somebody less than I earn per hour? While the cleaner has the close encounter with the porcelain throne, I could be working on a more glamourous project that pays very handsomely. It's a false economy to clean your own toilet, just as it is to do all of the many household chores, which can be done by a professional housekeeper.

When you apply this cost:benefit analysis to your entire life, you end up spending 37.5 hours a week reading news websites and planning your next holiday; enjoying a lifestyle that is approaching the much vaunted "age of leisure".

If you think I'm lazy, you're wrong. Only a crazy person would do the same repetitive tasks that they could easily automate, or train somebody who's prepared to do the work - subcontracted or outsourced - for less money, which leaves you with a net profit AND you don't have to do the shitty job. Repeat this process, because it is scalable, and you're on the right path... assuming you want to be rich and have lots of spare time. Perhaps you LIKE punching meaningless numbers into spreadsheets. Perhaps you WANT to clean toilets.

I looked at a list of the seven deadly sins, and realised that I could be a poster boy for Christian immorality.

If you've ever taken an interest in astrology and the signs of the zodiac, then you're easily fooled by writing that is deliberately ambiguous, leaving the interpretation to the reader, to apply to his or her own life. Religion has made a healthy living out of contrived platitudes that are completely meaningless in the context of the realities of human existence. The Bible, the Qu'ran, the Torah and all the other religious texts are so written as to be [mis]interepreted by the faithful flock.

One might as well say that if you breathe air, drink water, consume fats, proteins, carbohydrates, salts, amino acids and other vitamins and minerals, as well as trace amounts of every element & chemical compound, then you're a doomed sinner. If you urinate, defecate, ejaculate and perspirate, you're going straight to Hell. The demons that walk amongst us, corrupting our innocence and threatening to plunge society into chaos and destruction, are those who fornicate, copulate and enjoy fellatio or cunnilingus. The fact that all of these things are encoded into the very fabric of our corporeal vessels - the DNA of almost every cell in our body - is a fact that seems to have escaped the notice of those who are so easily conned by priests, vicars, preachers, witch doctors, shaman, tarot card readers, astrologers and other snake-oil salesmen and women.

I imagine I'd be pretty bummed if I found out I had an incurable terminal illness that was going to cut my life short, versus my expected lifespan. What would I do about it though? Which god should I pray to?

As a wise friend of mine said, you can be tricked by your genes into believing that love and hormonal bonding are real and tangible. If you think that parents, grandparents, great grandparents - and so on - are somehow going to end up 'less dead' than the people who didn't try to clone themselves, you're wrong. Even in the most anthropocentric & egocentric of interpretations of theoretical physics, you will have to witness the death of everybody you know, as well as the destruction of the planet, the solar system and the galaxies. Eventually entropy will be victorious over the entire universe, with time itself ceasing to be a meaningful concept and nowhere for you - or indeed anything - to exist.

If you believe in god(s) capable of making man and a world fit for human habitation, then you must also accept that this power is equally capable of destruction. He taketh away as much as He giveth - you can surely see this with your own eyes. This is the other side of the same coin that says that an infinitely small point, with infinite density and infinite energy, suddenly exploded into a universe. Following the same reasoning, either the universe will eventually collapse back into itself, by the force of its own gravitational pull, or it will expand until it is so uniformly cool and sparse that it is indistinguishable from the most perfect of vacuums - absolute nothingness.

I look at the world through a madman's eyes - I've read so much and delved so deep into the realm of the theoretical, proven in physical experiments as well as experiments that one can conduct through logical thought alone. I've seen, in my mind's eye, things that cannot be unseen. As Douglas Adams joked, if you see too much of the universe all at once it will destroy you - it's the ultimate torment; the ultimate death.

In an uncaring universe, I can see why people would seek comfort in the fairytale worlds of sky monsters and star signs, but it's pure childishness and immaturity. However, I envy the blissfully ignorant; I envy the blindly faithful, unshakable in their wilful stupidity.

I've worked very hard to master the machines of pure logic and reason - the computers - as well as spending most of my hard-earned wealth on lengthy periods, where I have absented myself from the demands of menial day-to-day existence. I told you that you were wrong about me having squandered my money on drink and drugs. The vast bulk of my conscious waking hours have been spent in startling sobriety; completely crystal clear thinking.

I carved three deep gashes the length of my forearm, with blood gushing out aplenty, before the arrival of two Metropolitan Police officers interrupted me. I can give you the long and exact chain of decisions that led me to do this, which were robustly defended by a logical thesis. That the police arrived was not a surprising outcome for me; in fact I had already anticipated everything that happened that day. The only thing that surprised me was that I was able to bandage my self-inflicted injuries using an actual first aid kit, which I discovered by chance, rather than having to resort to sanitary towels, kitchen roll and sellotape.

You would think that I would be completely insane, completely alcoholic, completely drug addicted or perfectly healthy, contented and conspicuously rich. Scratch the surface, and every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.

If you think the world's gonna end, why hasn't it already? If you think everything's held in stable equilibrium, you simply haven't looked outside your front door: it's fucking war out there and nothing is stable at all. Civilisations destroy themselves and species go extinct - there's evidence of it everywhere.

Thus, you discover me - a distilled and concentrated form of sinner; completely unrepentant and embodying everything you were told in church to fear and shun; the very epitome of evil. Yet, I'm made of the same stuff as you.

I invite you to judge me; to critiqué me. I invite this criticism, because how can good exist, without evil?




Hello, Bachelor Life

6 min read

This is a story about convenience...

Local shop

I emerge from my apartment building, take a right turn and walk down a street I've never walked down before, in a city I've never visited before. I reach a T-junction and I look left and right. Which way will lead me to what I want: somewhere to buy a roll of toilet tissue? I turn right again and when I reach the end of another unfamiliar road, I see a shop which is open until late at night. My instincts have guided me swiftly and directly to the nearest supplier of nearly everything that a man could need.

As I step inside this branch of a well-known chain of miniature supermarkets, the first thing I see is a range of 5 different flavours of noodles. To the plastic containers, one merely needs to add boiling water, producing something that tastes and smells like a small meal in around 5 minutes.

I had already eaten half a Chinese take-out, when I realised to my horror that in my haste to make way for home and satiate my hunger, I had forgotten to procure anything to drink - to wash down my food - or to deal with any digested remains.

I dismiss the dishes that can be prepared with very little cookery, and continue to peruse the shelves. I almost forget the reason why I left the house, when the next thing that catches my eye is a fridge full of cold beer. It was only an hour or so ago that I switched my fridge on - it had been switched off and left empty, while my apartment was unoccupied.

Now with a basket containing 100% alcoholic beverages, I find some concentrated juice drink to balance out my diet. Then, I force myself to get the one thing I left home to come out to buy, before I forget... distracted by dizzying array of choices, colours, prices and imagined tastes, as I browse the different foods on offer.

Making my way to the cashier to pay, I realise I have nothing but shampoo and shower gel - no soap for my hands and no detergent for the cups, plates and cutlery that I'm going to make dirty. I return to the shelves which I already visited, and drop more things into my shopping basket.

Emerging onto the darkening streets with plastic bags in hand, I curse as I remember that I will have to go out again to purchase my next meal. Forward planning, I am not.

I grumble with frustration as the part of my fridge designed to hold milk and orange juice will not immediately accept the alcoholic beverages in their boxed container - the first thing that I put into my fridge; my priorities are clear. I have no milk and I have no orange juice... I can buy those in the morning.

I realised I can never be a bachelor again, because I've been married and divorced. I recalled a time when I owned a house and cooked a 5-course meal with canapés, dining with the girl I had yet to marry, along with another couple. It was a suburban cliché that could have been lifted straight from the 1970s - domestic bliss.

If the operating lever of my life had been on the "suck" setting up until a certain point, it got flipped to "blow" and the contents of the vacuum cleaner bag were ejaculated back out. In a few short years, everything that had taken decades to grow and build was a dusty unrecognisable mess. Like belly button fluff - which is always blue - the colourful fabric of existence ends up as homogenous greyish crap that you toss into the trash can.

Anybody brave enough to pick through the remnants of what has been chewed through the machine may find recognisable things, but most people are repelled by something that they associate with dirtiness - I'm somehow unclean; untouchable.

I make a bet with a boy about the date of Kurt Cobain's suicide. I win a pint. The boy wasn't even alive on that day. There's something timeless in this moment where we compare notes from the past: both of us having lived in a school boarding house. How is this possible? How is it that I'm heading backwards, while this boy is heading forwards? On the day he was born, I went to my very first all-weekend music festival, yet our lives criss-cross and the dates are irrelevant. His face fell as I got an Apple Macbook out of my backpack, and I knew he'd lost another bet, having expected me to be a corporate man in a grey suit. I was that corporate man in a grey suit, but wasn't I supposed to just get older and then die?

I write and I mix the tenses; I jumble up the sequence of events. Who knows which way the arrow of time points and if time flows linearly? Does my story make more sense if I tell it backwards? The way that our memories work dictates the convention of telling stories in the past tense, but humanity does not dictate the laws of the universe... most of us subscribe to a worldview that is conveniently bitesize, but not at all correct.

I've flown through the turbulence of existence, experiencing ripples in the fabric of spacetime - like unseen variations in the density of air, which cause an aeroplane to suddenly drop and spill the passengers' drinks.

Today has been the most stressful day of my life. I woke up shaking, as if I was shivering with cold.

Despite the vast amount of things I've experienced and can remember, all I can really tell you for certain is that I've survived until today, which is a minor miracle. It sounds incredibly egocentric - the universe, after all, does not exist for my benefit - but to all intents and purposes, the sum total of all available sensory inputs that my brain has gathered in thirty-something years, has shown me precisely the opposite, despite my most diligent investigations into the underpinnings of our scientific understanding of the world around us.

I now need to stop pulling on that loose thread, because the wooly jumper of my mind has unravelled completely and now I'm gathering it back up into a messy spool.

I collapse into a bed I've never slept in, with brand new bedding.

I'm exhausted, of course.




Science and the Decline of Religion

10 min read

This is a story about changing beliefs...

Church window

Imagine being marooned on a rock in the middle of a vast ocean that's so deadly to life that you couldn't survive for more than a few seconds if you fell in. The ocean is lifeless and has no utility: it can't be purified or harnessed to generate energy. The rock has a fragile ecosystem that keeps you alive, but there is a relentless wind that threatens to blow away all the life-giving nutrients at any moment. You don't know how you got there, why you're there, or how the hell you're going to get off the rock if it can no longer keep you alive.

Welcome to the world according to science.

Isn't it much nicer to imagine an anthropocentric world, where some kind of paradise was created by an imaginary sky monster, just for us. Imagine there's some invisible guiding hand, making things happen, always with us Earthlings in mind. Imagine there's an all-seeing eye that only gives a shit about one particular species on one particular planet. Imagine that this universe isn't all there is: there's also some kind of afterlife. There... that's much more comforting, isn't it?

You could say that scientists believe in nothing. They don't think we were put on Earth for a reason: it's just a cosmic accident. Energy condensed into matter; quarks combined into protons and neutrons, which were fused into atomic nucleii; atoms bonded into molecules and reacted to create amino acids and proteins; the primordial soup created life, through pure chance. There's no reason for us to be here, except that given enough time - 14 billion years ought to do it - life as we know it becomes inevitable, given the laws of physics laid down at the birth of the universe.

When you start to study cosmology, you get some perspective on just how insignificant we are. When you start to deal with things on a cosmological scale, the numbers boggle your mind. There aren't even rulers that can measure the distances between objects in the night sky, because space and time are warped by matter and energy. Things are so far away, and we only have a tiny planet to move around on, so it's not like we can triangulate the position of anything. Everything in the universe appears to be just a point in space to us: the twinkling dots of light in the night sky.

If you think about time and evolution, you begin to see the staggering number of living creatures that died - our ancestors - so that we could be alive today in our current form. Take a look at an ear: it's a fucking weird looking thing, isn't it? Why the hell would it look like that? I can't tell you, but I know that I can take a shower without getting water in my ear canal, which is pretty awesome for listening out for any approaching sabre-tooth tigers while I'm washing myself.

Then, what about consciousness? Why is it that you are you? Why were you were born at the exact moment you were born? Why are you alive, right now, and not a hundred years ago, or a few thousand years ago?

So far as you know, you're the only you. Everybody else is somebody else. You've got your own unique set of experiences. You've got your own unique set of senses, and your own consciousness processing the sight, sound, smell, touch and taste of everything around you.

Ultimately, we can reach the conclusion that each universe is actually tailored to a single individual. The reason why there are lots of other people around who look very much like you is an inevitable consequence of the universal laws of physics. If I tweak the numbers one teeny tiny bit, we might get an almost identical universe, but there's a different person whose mind is "the one" that is truly conscious.

You feel pretty conscious, don't you? You feel like you've got free will and memories and you're seeing the world, right now, for what it is. But, that's only in your own universe. In your universe, I have no free will or consciousness: my world is dictated by your actions. In your universe, I'm not deciding to write these words... I'm not even aware of what I'm doing, even though I think I am.

The test is this: what would happen if you killed yourself?

Right now, there are about 7 billion people in the world. If I was to kill myself, 7 billion people would agree that I was dead and buried. 7 billion people would say that I just killed myself. But what about me? What about my opinion?

Here's how it goes: I get a gun, aim it at my head and pull the trigger. Guns are pretty reliable these days, so lets say I have only a one in a million chance of surviving a point-blank gunshot wound to the head. This is my free will, right? I make the decision to commit suicide, because I'm a conscious being with free will and that's my prerogative to do so.

So, what happens if the gun misfires? What happens if I put the gun down, pick up a different gun and that one misfires too? What happens if I pick up a machine gun, aim it at my head, pull the trigger and it just goes click-click-click-click-click as it keeps misfiring?

Essentially, if you take our very best scientific theories and follow them to their inevitable conclusion, this is what is predicted. If you keep asking "why?" over and over again, until you get to the deepest possible understanding of the universe as we observe it, you will conclude - from reproducible experiment - that the world is influenced by us, as observers. Our very consciousness is inseparable from reality and the laws of physics.

It's quite possible to answer the question "why are we here?" with the answer: so you can ask that question.

That might sound like begging the question, but it's actually perfectly logical.

Without consciousness, the examination of the world around us is not possible. Arguably, without being conscious of the existence of the universe, does the universe really exist?

Taking this reasoning a stage further, you can start to argue whether anybody in the universe in which you inhabit has ever truly been conscious. The evidence would suggest that they haven't, given that they are not able to experience the universe as you do: they are not able to answer the quantum suicide paradox, so they are unable to prove or disprove the reality in which they inhabit.

You and you alone are truly conscious, and everybody else is just an inevitability of the laws of the universe: entropy will destroy anything so ordered and sophisticated as a conscious being like you, but once you get one (you) it's inevitable that there will be billions of knock-off copies that didn't quite make the grade in your universe.

Ultimately, you are immortal and you will witness the end of the universe. It's the only logical reason why you were born when you were born.

"But what about all those people who die before me?" I hear you ask.

Well, they were never really conscious. I'm sure that in their own universes, which were nearly identical to yours, they were perfectly conscious, but the one universe in which you live, is made just for you: you're going to witness the death of everything and everybody, even if you try to kill yourself.

Taking this a stage further, we then wander into the territory of the theological.

What about heaven and hell?

If you're immortal, how do you think the world's going to be shaped by your actions?

Once you realise you're immortal, are you going to be naughty or are you going to be nice?

How's anybody going to stop you doing anything you want, if they can't kill you? You might as well be a thief; you might as well rape and murder; you might as well take anything you want and enslave all of humanity. As you rape and pillage, the world will become scorched and barren: Hell on Earth.

Alternatively, you could live virtuously, impart your wisdom and not abuse the discovery of your immortality. You could influence the people of the world to look after their home planet and try to preserve it beyond the longevity of their mortal lives. Over time, the world will become a place where everybody benefits from the generation before them, and it becomes received wisdom that it's better to co-operate and act with restraint, rather than act selfishly: Heaven on Earth.

Thus, we have arrived at a scientific reason for morality, as well as the negative consequences for 'sinning'. Science has drawn the same ultimate conclusions as religion: don't be a dick.

The chances are our species will wipe itself out before we are able to terraform nearby planets. The idea we're all going to fuck off to Mars on one of Elon Musk's SpaceX rockets, is actually just a massive excuse to continue raping and pillaging. The billionaires think that they've got an escape capsule, so there's no reason to rein in the corporate excesses and end the inequality that's destroying the planet.

Scientifically and through historical study of past civilisations, we're utterly fucked. The pursuit of pacifism, debt forgiveness, abolishment of usury and the creation of a fair and equal global society, has been completely abandoned in favour of rape and pillage. Capitalism must inevitably lead to the destruction of the natural world, overpopulation and enslavement of the developing nations, in order to fulfil its insatiable demand for unnatural growth. Things can't grow forever on a planet of finite resources: the laws of physics say that we can't just magic all our problems away.

We're acting like a blackjack player who's got a score of 20 but asking for another card, hoping to get an ace. Chances are, we're going to bust.

I really don't want a Tesla electric car: I'd rather not have to go to my bullshit made-up job. I really don't want a rocket ride to Mars: I'd rather people in Africa had some bicycles. I really don't want a NutriBullet food blender: I'd rather we abolished economic policies that leave nations starving, while others waste vast quantities of food. I really don't want an iPhone 8: I'd rather not have wars over mineral resources needed to make throwaway electronic gadgets. I really don't want private schools and top universities: I'd rather educate young women so they can make smart family planning decisions.

Just remember where the fuck you are: you're floating on a rock in the vacuum of space, with an incredibly thin layer of atmosphere just clinging to the surface because of the extremely weak force of gravity. The only reason the air isn't blown away into space - leaving you suffocating - is because planet Earth has an iron core which generates a magnetic field, diverting away the solar wind. Only 29% of the planet is land, and the rest is salty water you can't drink or use to water the crops. Have some fucking humility.

"But I'm some hot-shot CEO of a massive global corporation"

Yeah, right buddy. Try counting your money while holding your breath.

"But Elon Musk is going to fly me to Mars"

Yeah, and what are you going to do when you get there, you fucktard? There's no breathable atmosphere. There's no fertile soil.

"Scientists and engineers will find a way"

You mean the guys and girls who are telling you that the climate is fucked?

"God will guide us"

Good luck with that.




Selected Short Stories of 2016

2 min read

This is a story about a year in review...

Woz Ere

Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then I'll begin.

For anybody following along at home, there are a few highlights buried in the 600,000+ words I've written to date. There's some required reading for anybody making a study of my psyche.

I decided I wanted to write something more popular and so I drew some graphs explaining mood disorders, like bipolar. It was my most read blog post of 2016.

Along the same lines, I wrote about the onset of depression and attempts to treat it.

I wrote a letter to myself.

I was an inpatient on a secure psychiatric ward, so naturally I came up with a bizarre thought experiment. I even did a drawing of my quantum suicide experiment.

When I was bored out of my mind at work one day, I wrote a short story called The Factory.

If you ever wondered why I have a semicolon tattooed behind my ear, this is half the story.

Everything you never wanted to know about addiction.

But, is it art? This is a good example of me rambling while strung-out. I'm surprised I could even see the keyboard. I just like the title and it's a bit of a private joke, sorry.

There's a 3-part account of the time I lost my mind and started hearing voices.

That'll probably do. There's a lot to get through there.

Of course, there's also the first draft of my novel if you have time to read 53,000 words. I'm going to start editing it tomorrow, so any feedback would be gratefully received.

I've slightly bent the rules, because I have a bit of a warped sense of time, but these are all significant pieces of writing for me, that I associate with the events of 2016.

Happy New Year's Eve.




Dead Reckoning

6 min read

This is a story about projection...

Curve fitting

Do you want to predict the future? Would you like to be in the right place at the right time? Ever wonder how ice hockey star Wayne Gretzky gets to where the puck is going to be, not where it's been? How does a torpedo fired from a submarine intersect with its target, while following a relatively straight trajectory? Welcome to the world of dead reckoning.

Imagine I have a single data point - a latitude and a longitude - which tells me the location of a target at one point in time. I don't know how fast it's going, and I don't know what direction it's going. Fairly useless information. In the parlance of physics, I know location, but I don't know momentum. All we can say is that the probability of its next location spreads out from the point of origin: the thing being tracked is very unlikely to be a long way away, and it's more likely to be somewhere near where it was last seen. This is a probability cloud.

Next, we've measured two data points. We're sure it's the same thing that we're tracking, because we have identified some unique characteristic about it. In the submarine example, the sonar operator will be listening to the sound of the propeller, so they will know if it's the same ship, because it's got the same number of propellors generating the same kind of sound, underwater.

If we have two data points, we can draw a straight line between them, and assuming the same course and speed, we can predict where the object we are tracking is going to be next. We measure the distance between the two points, and divide by the time it took to travel between them, and we have the speed. Then, we simply extrapolate the line between the two points, and we can guess where the target will be on that line, at a future time.

But, the simple extrapolation model is flawed. Perhaps currents are pulling the ship in a different direction from the direction steered. Perhaps the captain of the ship is steering an arc-shaped course, to go around an obstacle, or to change direction.

With three data points, we can now fit an elliptic curve to fit those measurements. The elliptic curve shows us whether the captain is steering or drifting right or left. Additionally, we know whether the ship is speeding up or slowing down. If the ship is accelerating, but steering a constant course, it will be further along the line we plot than we think it will be. Equally, if the ship is decelerating, it won't get as far along its course as we anticipate.

Finally, with four data points, we can come up with a mathematical function that fits the data. To give a very simplified example, if the captain of the ship is zig-zagging to avoid submarines, we could fit a sine wave to the data, and predict when the ship is going to make its next turn... assuming that the captain tacks with regular frequency, of course.

As we gather more and more data points, plotting the course history of the ship we're tracking, we can come up with ever more sophisticated mathematical models to predict where we're going to see the ship next.

The arc of a ball travelling through the air is fairly easy to model. We just need to model momentum, gravity and air resistance. Momentum would be constant in a vacuum, so if you whack a tennis ball with a racquet while floating in the outer reaches of the galaxy - where there is little gravity - then the tennis ball will continue on a straight trajectory, at the same speed, more or less forever. Back here on Earth, the tennis ball will be pulled down to the ground by gravity, and it will also slow down, due to air resistance.

Given that air density and gravity are more or less constant at ground level, where you expect to find tennis courts, we probably only need 3 data points, and we should be able to make an accurate guess as to where the tennis ball's going to land. Even with gusts of wind, the flight of the tennis ball is relatively short, so the wind speed is unlikely to change dramatically during the flight of the ball. It should be a case of simply fitting an elliptic curve to the 3-dimensional co-ordinates of the 3 points of measurement, and then working out where that curve intersects with the plane of the ground, to predict where the ball's going to land.

"But what about spin?" I hear you ask. Yes, good point.

Spin is angular momentum. For our tennis ball example: the fluffy exterior of the ball will exert a 'grip' - friction - on the air. Therefore, the spin of the ball makes a reasonable difference, as more air gets pushed towards one side of the ball, by the rotating face. Just like a wing, the ball will experience a small amount of lift: the ball is 'pulled' towards the side that is spinning in the same direction as the air flow. That's the Magnus effect.

If we had hit our tennis ball with spin out in the vacuum of space, it would not create a curved trajectory, because the fluffy tennis ball has no air to grip on - a vacuum is frictionless. However, the centripetal force of the spinning ball will cause it to stretch to be slightly bigger than it would be if it wasn't spinning, because the outside is being thrown away from the centre, like a centrifuge. The elasticity of the ball will be trying to pull it back inwards, and in so doing, energy will be released in the form of heat. Eventually, all the energy of the spin will be radiated away, and the ball will slowly stop spinning. This effect is far too minuscule to even bother calculating, for our tennis court example here on Earth.

Of course, all this maths is just to model a dumb tennis ball, which can't make decisions and alter its own course, once it has left the racquet. To predict the behaviour of even a single individual is hard - this is the work of top poker players - and when we try to model complex systems made up of vast numbers of individuals - such as financial markets - the systems become chaotic and unpredictable. Thus, past performance is not a predictor of future results, unless you're a tennis ball.