Thursday, August 31, 2006

Do you see the same colors I do?

I still remember when I first encountered this mind-blowing question. I was in elementary school, and it stunned me.

"How do you know we see the same colors? Maybe when I see red, you see what would look like green to me. But since we were both taught to call what we see then "red", we'd never know if we saw it entirely differently!"

An important step in one's philosophical development, in understanding the relationship between name and thing it names, and the vagaries of perception. But ultimately, when you get right down to it, it doesn't really make sense.

What would it mean to say that you see what would be green to me when you see red, on a physical level? When you see red, certain parts of your eye, your optic nerve, and your brain all have particular electrochemical reactions. If those same electrochemical reactions were to happen in my eye, optic nerve, and brain in the same places...

Wait, same places? My eye, optic nerve, and brain aren't even wired the same as yours. The neurons are in entirely unrelated places. One of us probably has more rods than the other, one more neurons in the optic nerve. They don't have analogous functions on the individual scale, only collectively.

It's like saying, if you took the electrical state of the photoreceptor in a Samsung digital camera and put it onto a Kodak digital camera, would it produce the same image? Well, the two cameras probably have a different number of components which are connected in different ways and serve different purposes, so how could you even figure out which bit of the electrical state in one to express in which way in the other? And even if you did, not only wouldn't it likely be the same image, it probably wouldn't even be an image at all. The Kodak would probably short-circuit from having voltages in the wrong places.

The sequence of steps that goes from "photons of a particular wavelength coming at you", through all the intermediate steps in the eye, optic nerve, and brain, and that ends with the concept "red", involves a huge number of arbitrary mappings of one thing into another, each of which is unique to each individual's particular biology. In fact, it's not even consistent for a single person. The electrochemical signals in your head that mean "red" today are not the same ones that will mean "red" next year.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

House dreams

I rarely remember my dreams and when I do they are often inchoate and formless, jumbles of images or brief scenes that transition into one another without much connection. Of course all dreams are thus to some extent, but mine so much that it's impossible to describe them. Instead of a few minutes of one continuous sequence of activity featuring some settings and characters, which then inexplicably transitions into different activity, settings, and characters, my dreams tend to be just the inexplicable transitions back-to-back, without anything between them.

Of those dreams that I remember, and that have enough form to survive a retelling, the majority of those are house dreams. That is, a dream (or part of a dream) focused on a house, which is invariably my own house (at least in the dream world, though it rarely resembles my real house, or any real house I've lived in), and which I spend some time exploring. Almost invariably the dream spends a lot of time with me discovering rooms or other features in the house I didn't know about. These may range from mundane things like a second kitchen or a wing of extra rooms, to exotic things like a bowling alley, an indoor chicken pen, a locked vault, an entire department store, a subway station, or a room with only a thin strip of normal floor surrounding a rich, fertile garden plot.

I have read that this is one of those common dreams that many people have, almost as common as the "I forgot my pants" or "there's a surprise test" ones. Furthermore, I've been told this dream has a "standard" meaning. The house represents the self, so this dream represents your subconscious mind noting that there's things about you which you need to discover, explore, recognize, or develop.

I am generally suspicious of the idea that dream symbols have any universality to them, especially any universal meanings that do not correspond to similarly universal symbols in the waking world in our culture. However, after several years of having these dreams quite often and struggling in vain to figure out what, if anything, they meant, I heard this answer and it clicked, it felt right. I could tell what it was telling me and why it started when it did and even what the specific things I was finding in my house likely meant. Over the years since, every time house dreams have popped into my head, they seemed to make sense in this interpretation. Sometimes the specific rooms didn't -- they might end up being images from things I was thinking about that day, for instance.

The skeptic in me wonders if it's not a matter of selective perception. Like how horoscopes "work": there's always something in my life or my mind I can match this interpretation to, within the very generous precision limits expected of such a thing. Maybe so, at least for some of them. But the times in my life when I didn't just have house dreams, but had a lot of them, were always times when I had a very clear thing in my self that demanded further exploration or development or application.

Amusingly, the completion of my dream house hasn't altered these dreams at all. My house-dream houses don't resemble my dream house any more than they did any other houses.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Inbound port forwarding redux

I would really appreciate some input on this problem!

My old Linksys router died, so I got a new one. However, I am unable to get inbound port forwarding to work on this one. You can see my settings and there's not much that can be wrong.

One day by accident I stumbled upon a clue: it seemed as if the connection started, and then died immediately. This didn't produce any new insights, nor did anyone suggest any new ideas in response to the blog post.

I had two services being forwarded; port 81 to HomeSeer, and port 22 to SSH on my Linux box. Neither worked. I had an idea this morning and set up a third, on port 5555, running to a MUD I have on the Linux box (for development purposes; I don't actually host a MUD... obviously, since my port forwarding doesn't work). Then from work I tried to connect to it, and it connected long enough for zMUD to say "Connected to host", but then I never saw the login screen. Subsequent attempts to connect didn't even get that far. Same as the web logon, really.

So it is establishing the connection, but it only lasts a few seconds. Does that suggest anything?

Monday, August 28, 2006

Frozen lunches

Most frozen lunch things people bring to offices with them say to leave them frozen and cook them from that state. And most people do exactly that. It's conceivable one could be designed in such a way that it did cook better from frozen, but I have never encountered one where it didn't turn out better to put it in the fridge, or leave it out, when I get to work. Partially or completely defrosted by lunchtime, it cooks better, with more even heating, in half the time. Is there any reason other than liability why the manufacturers say to leave it frozen? And any reason other than just doing as they're told why everyone does?

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Choosing to be vulnerable to disasters

I recently read an interesting comment in a syndicated column in the newspaper, a comment which keeps coming back to mind as I hear more about hurricane season and the effects of last year's devastating hurricanes. The column is one in which people write ethical questions and they are answered by an ethicist. The question in this particular column is:
We spent countless hours and thousands of dollars over the past two years preparing for hurricanes, even installing a generator. After Wilma, lots of folks came to our home to use percolators, charge cell phones, etc. Many have done nothing to prepare for this hurricane season. What do we do after a power outage when they knock at our door at 7 a.m., Mr. Coffee in hand? (Keep in mind, we plan to continue living in this neighborhood.)
The second paragraph of the ethicist's answer was surprising and a little haunting:
I sympathize. We 284 million non-Floridians ask similar questions every hurricane season when you put in for public money to rebuild. Year after year. After year. While we are responsive to people in dire straits, we think it significant that many of you choose to live in a place called Hurricane Alley.
I found myself recoiling and yet at the same time nodding. Okay, so the answer is a little pat. Clearly people can't just abandon all the hurricane-torn parts of the country en masse and leave them all abandoned. And if you asked them to, what about the places vulnerable to earthquakes, tornados, and other potentially devastating disasters?

But there's still something to what he says. There was, very briefly, some talk about whether New Orleans should be rebuilt at all, last year. I never thought that really had any chance of coming to anything. Too many people have too much invested in the city historically and personally and financially to really seriously reconsider whether it should be where it is. But it's hard to deny this conclusion: if there wasn't already a city there and someone proposed building one, even at a cost of a quarter of what the rebuilding efforts have cost, the proposal would be laughed down in a second. Build a major city below sea level, perched between a huge lake and the ocean, near a river, in a prime area for hurricanes? If New Orleans didn't exist and you saw a movie depicting a fictional city in that situation (presumably being threatened by underachieving villains) you would groan at the implausibility.

Even if we could start over in settling North America, with no history and no prior investment, it's impossible to imagine we could avoid putting millions of people and billions of dollars into the paths of tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, and other disasters. There's just too much land we'd have to waste, too many areas that have other benefits we'd have to give up. But maybe there's something in saying that a few of the most extreme examples of bad risk/benefit ratios can't be justified, and I think New Orleans is at or near the top of that list.

If I were Supreme Dictator, maybe I would have chosen to relocate New Orleans a little bit inland; build a new, well-designed, efficient city, relocate the most important historical monuments to it, and endure the groans and lambasts of people calling this "a surrender", "cold and calculating", "heartless", etc., in favor of those fifty years from now who will appreciate living in a city with a strong infrastructure, few traffic and parking problems, good support for commerce, minimal environmental impact, a fertile ground for cultural development and preservation, and a reasonable level of safety against disasters natural and man-made.

I don't know if that's really the right thing in this long-term view. Maybe if I knew New Orleans beter I'd know why it's a bad idea. But it bugs me that the question couldn't seriously be asked, because of emotional reactions -- people wanting to live where they used to live, people wanting to feel that they have triumphed over Katrina, etc. Valid emotional reactions, of course. I'm sure if I were in that situation I'd feel the same way. And the historical significance of a place, both personally and culturally, is not worth nothing. But a hundred years from now, will textbooks be praising the plucky spirit that insisted on rebuilding a major city on top of a disaster waiting to happen, or mocking the foolishness of just begging for the next disaster in our refusal to embrace change?

Saturday, August 26, 2006

I'd be card-carrying, if someone gave me a card

I had an amusing moment of self-awareness today. After picking up 50 pounds of prime locally grown Blonde Aquitaine beef from a local rancher, I went to the farmer's market. I had gotten my Nature Conservancy magazine a few days before, so I brought it with me to read in the car. So there I was, with a reusable canvas bag full of locally grown organic produce in one hand and the Nature Conservancy magazine in the other, walking to my hybrid automobile. And I thought, if I had set out to make a political statement about myself on purpose, I couldn't've done it better.

An extreme contradiction

I've written before about an odd thing I see in MUDs, where features that are used without problem in one MUD (or many) are forbidden in another, because they would "inevitably be abused", with no rhyme or reason to the inconsistency; and the idea that it's just a "one bitten twice shy" attitude causing it.

One mild but amusing example came up shortly after I started playing Harshlands. In many MUDs and most MUSHes, there's a command that lets you set what you're currently doing, as will be seen by people coming into the room. For instance, pose is juggling eggs and singing. This is good for RP; if you come into a room why can't you tell that Bob is juggling eggs and singing? Harshlands does this especially well, even lets you do this on objects (omote cloak is hanging by the fire, drying) and on your movements from room to room, and I have never seen it abused.

This got proposed in Lusternia, and people went berserk. No way, that would be abused! People posted some absurd abuses, like pose stands here with the Creator God kneeling before him. Who would really do that, and who would get away with it? And why are't people already emoting things like that? But Lusternia would not hear of it.

About the same time, the exact mirror image of this discussion was happening in Harshlands, with regards to the suggestion of being able to make changes in your description. And it wasn't even because the result would be badly written descriptions with grammar and spelling errors (at least half the descriptions in the game now have grammar or spelling errors anyway). No, it was ludicrous abuses. People will completely change their appearances after doing crimes to avoid being caught (doubly ludicrous because people doing crimes do them hooded and/or masked anyway, so you can't see the descriptions). Even the idea of having a single line you could control, to reflect things like "has a freshly shaved chin" or "has red eyes from crying", was summarily vetoed without consideration. Naturally, Lusternia, like many MUDs, allows anyone to change their description on the fly, and while I've seen a lot of spelling errors, I've never seen it abused like that. But Harshlands became convinced this would be unavoidably abused.

Recently, I've been thinking about another matching pair of issues like this in Harshlands which, the more I think about it, the more ridiculous it seems. The Harshlands admins take the most extreme possible viewpoints on one issue, which is bad enough -- but they take both opposite extremes on that issue simultaneously, and I can't see any way to justify that.

The Harshlands rule is that no IC information can ever, ever, ever be shared by OOC means. You may have heard a rule like this somewhere else and think, that's not so extreme, but this version is far more exaggeratedly strict in Harshlands. The assumption -- and I'm not exaggerating here, this is essentially a paraphrase of what admins actually have said -- is that no one, no matter how mature, no matter how good a roleplayer, can ever be trusted with IC information their character wouldn't know, passed from another player; that allowing this will inevitably, unavoidably, lead to changes and corruptions in their roleplay. This goes so far as to not permit people to mention on the forums things their characters have done.

So that's a pretty over-the-top extreme thing, no doubt caused by having been once bitten, but at least it's conceivable. I mean, I don't agree with it. I've seen OOC knowledge compartmentalized on a regular basis by far less mature, far poorer roleplayers than Harshlands has. For instance, Lusternians. So you can't tell me it can't happen when I see it happening all the time. And when it slips, it rarely leads to the end of the world, or indeed anything hard to deal with. But it feasibly could have bad results. Okay, let's grant that for now.

I have never seen or heard of any MUD in which admins are allowed to have player characters, because admins don't just have access to a little bit of OOC information that a player willingly offers up, they have access to all the OOC information they want, without the player even being known he's been spied on. People can compartmentalize, sure, but there's a limit to how much you can rely on. Thus, admins with active characters is verboten everywhere.

Except Harshlands. The admins there are allowed active player characters.

Seems the height of hypocrisy and hubris and condescension to me, for them to tell me I can't even go tell someone in IM that I just went wolf-hunting, because that leak of IC information will ruin the game, while they're watching character actions and viewing their hidden stats and checking their logs and spying on them, and then going on to play characters that interact with the people they were just spying on. It's entirely irreconcilable.

Just one of a number of reasons why I have been looking at Harshlands as someplace where the fun is directly proportional to how much admin attention you can avoid. Still trying to figure out if I can make a place for myself that entirely avoids needing any, and how much admin attention I'll have to endure on the way to that place, and whether the result is worth it.

Sounds familiar. Am I just having terrible luck, or is everywhere like this?

Friday, August 25, 2006

Look out for that reuben!

The local Friendly's Restaurant is decorated with a collection of pictures that always make me chortle when I see them. I don't know if these pictures are used in a lot of places; I haven't seen them in other branches, but they can't be made just for one store, either.

Each picture depicts some location -- a farm, a small town's downtown area, a charming suburban home -- with some bit of Friendly's food looming over it in mega-giant-size. I'm not sure what the effect is they're going for. Friendly's food is huge! Friendly's food is part of your neighborhood. Friendly's food is everywhere!

But the actual effect is: Oh my god, that giant Friendly's food is going to destroy the city and devour us all! Run! Run for your lives!

Particularly menacing is the giant reuben sandwich, on a farm around twilight, lurking out behind the barn, peeking around the corner. It's late autumn or early winter, and the whole place looks spooky. This is the kind of setting where, in a movie, someone is probably about to get jumped by a person holding a sickle. And there is the Giant Menacing Reuben Of Doom, trying to hide behind a perfectly functional, if moody, barn. Is that blood, or just Thousand Island dressing? Quick, run, it's coming for you!

I wish I could find a picture of this picture to post. Maybe I'll sneak my camera in next time I'm going there.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

A very small rant

The ability to print something on a piece of paper and then tack it up on a wall at the office is, surprisingly, not the same as the authority to actually make rules and proclamations that anyone else has to listen to.

Maybe I should make a sign that says that, and post it above the photocopier.

Sources for the news

Most people who follow the news do so through TV news. Radio news is second, with text news coming in a solid third. To me, this is entirely backwards.

Text news puts me in control of what I read. I can easily skim articles and decide which ones to read, and at what level of detail. Some articles only need reading the headline, some skimming the first few paragraphs, some reading the entire article, some even inspire me to follow links or look things up to read more, and there are whole sections I skip outright. If I missed something I can easily go back and reread it or refer to it.

Radio loses all of this. If I miss something, I can't rewind to it. And I get no choice at all in how much detail I get on which stories. Generally speaking, every single story they'll cover, they'll either give me too much or too little. The odds of them giving me exactly as much as I want are very low. In exchange for that, I get one marked advantage. Text requires me to be paying attention; I can't be doing something else at the same time. Radio lets me catch the news while doing something else that occupies my hands or eyes, but not my thoughts. Like driving, eating, washing, dressing. This is handy, but it's not enough to outweigh the disadvantage for me.

Of course, there's also a difference of content. Radio news doesn't have to just be someone reading the text news in a flat monotone. This factor is probably worth more to other people than to me, since my tone-of-voice-deafness reduces the impact to me. But even I can see times where hearing someone speaking is a notably different experience. While I don't find this outweighs the benefits of text, I can at least understand people who feel it does, and I can even imagine specific stories I'd choose in audio if the choice were simple.

But TV news seems like the worst of both worlds. There's all the lack of control that radio has: most articles are either too much or too little detail. Even worse, generally, since TV news tends to almost universally do a worse job at choosing which stories to cover in detail. I can learn more reading the headlines only than I can watching TV news, and in a fraction of the time. Plus TV demands almost as much of my attention as text. I could maybe watch TV news while eating, though at the cost of missing some of the video (I do need to look at the food now and then). Possibly while exercising, depending on the exercises I was doing. Maybe even while washing, if I had a TV in the bathroom (sounds absurd, but some people do!). But I sure couldn't be watching TV while driving.

So what does TV have to offer to make up for all that? Obviously, video content. However, when I look at TV news, it is virtually always the case that the video content provided is not anything that informs or educates me better than text did. It's virtually always something whose purpose is to engross or entertain. Don't get me wrong: TV news could use video's capabilities to provide a much more educational or informative experience in a number of areas, it just does not do so, save occasionally by accident.

So while TV news squanders its one possibly compelling advantage, leaving itself with nothing but disadvantages to anyone who is there to learn and become informed, let alone to do so in a more efficient way, even when watching the news), the convergence of media afforded by the Internet gradually provides text with all the advantages of the other formats without their disadvantages, as it integrates audio and video into the under-your-control experience of text news.

For the purpose of educating and informing people about what's going on in the world, TV news grows gradually more inferior, and yet it will remain triumphant for a long time. That's because that's not really its purpose. It's primarily geared to people who want an experience. Actually educating or informing them is entirely beside the point.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


So let's start with a rant and go from there to something more broad.

Lately, someone around my office, probably one of the janitorial staff, has taken to doing something I find not only dumb but infuriatingly so. If the toilet paper is down to a quarter of the roll, she'll take it off, set it on top of the toilet tank, and put a fresh roll onto the spool. (Facing the wrong way, of course, but that's a whole different rant.)

What is the sense in this? Saving me the effort of taking the wrapper off, in exchange for the effort of having to use toilet paper in an inconvenient place, not on a roll? All factors in this equation are so trivial that it doesn't even make sense to make the comparison.

But what it really leads to is this: if I'm away for a few days (since I'm the only one in the office with enough sense, and/or pathetic obsessiveness, to reverse this) we end up with three or four quarter-full rolls piled up on the top of the toilet tank, which no one is bothering to use.

Of course, it all eventually gets used, because I make sure of that, so nothing goes to waste. But I just can't see what would motivate someone to do this in the first place. In a tangential way, it seems like a broader kind of stupidity: not understanding throughput.

Most people don't buy a new can of antiperspirant until the first one is nearly empty, and thus, run the risk of running out. Suppose instead you bought two, then always bought one right after one ran out, so you always had two, and never were at risk of running out. How much more would that cost you, over the years? Amazingly enough many people would say it costs twice as much. But ultimately it costs you essentially nothing more. At most, over the whole period during which you're using this antiperspirant, it costs you the cost of one can, and that's assuming when you stop one day, you can't use up your stock first.

It's like the difference between your monthly income and your current bank balance. In fact, there's really no difference between the concepts of "cash flow" and "throughput". The same concept occurs in lots of situations where there's some resource moving through a system, and has many names. For instance, your CD player's skip protection buffer is the same thing exactly, and the reason a CD-audio player should be 2x is to be able to fill the buffer faster than it empties. And of course, if you don't understand the relationship between throughput and latency, you won't be able to understand how a computer network works.

Yet so many people don't seem to understand it, and I don't know how they can function. How do they budget their money? (It amazes me to think most people don't.) How do they keep from running out of everything? (It amazes me that most people go to the grocery store a couple of times a week or more -- the perfect instance of being penny-wise-pound-foolish.)

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

That new blog smell

Clearly the new blog smell has faded. It's not that I don't have anything to write about. I have a long list of topics I'd like to write about and I add to it fairly often. It's just that the calculation of comparing the time it'd take to write something, how much else I have to do with the time I have, and what writing something would be worth to me, has shifted. I've been busier; and it's felt less worth it, perhaps because of the paucity of response.

More than that; it's just that some of the more interesting things I wanted to write about, wanted to be part of a conversation, not just a one-sided expostulation. For that fraction-of-a-percent of blog writers who are widely read, a blog is perfectly well a medium for that. But I think there's maybe four or five people who check my blog at all, and there's not likely to be a conversation from that.

I found myself writing a lot of rants. That's an easy sort of fun, and it gets an easy response (relatively speaking), but it's too easy, and not much to it. It's like blog fast food.

I feel a compulsion to write that I'm going to start it back up, and to ask how to get more people interested, and then I wonder if that's just a knee-jerk reaction without any reason behind it. Maybe I'll write, maybe not.

But I do wonder if there's a way to get more people to look. I'm sure 99% of people wouldn't be interested, sure. But most of the few who could be, will never see this. And any way of trying to get them to is just crass and ineffectual, increasingly impactless as information exposure expands exponentially. So I doubt there's really a way.

(That next-to-last sentence just came out like that on its own, I didn't even realize until I reread it.)

Monday, August 07, 2006

An arrogance of mine

I always wonder what's going on in other people's minds because mine is always doing something. The idea of emptying my mind is entirely alien to me. It's hard to keep it down to a level where I can type or talk fast enough to keep up with it. Naturally, most of these ideas are not particularly useful; there's a constant background hum of random snatches of songs with the words jumbled up, meaningless juxtapositions of ideas and concepts, and an endless sequence of detours. Sometimes my mind fills the empty space by working out, sometimes more than once, how I would go about explaining something to someone, or asking someone something, in some extremely unlikely hypothetical situation.

Sometimes I imagine if a telepath ever met me, he'd die of boredom, though not before I died of embarassment. This is so fundamental to my mind's inner workings, yet so hard to explain without sounding bizarre and like I'm just kidding, that I can't help imagining that everyone else's mind does some of the same stuff, and they just don't see a point in talking about it.

All those semi-random juxtapositions of ideas and combinations my mind is trying out, like some cheesy 1980s movie depiction of a computer breaking a password (letters and numbers spinning, settling into place one at a time), produce an awful lot of very weird, surrealistic, and interesting insights which pass before my mind's eye and then move on, displaced by the next one.

Once in a while, I'll hear someone praising some public figure for having remarkably weird ideas. A stand-up comedian whose act explores things people take for granted, or an RPG author who creates surrealistic explorations of real-world phenomena, or the bizarre turns of phrase in a song, or the exotic imagery in a film. And it's not that they're praising the execution, the quality of the writing, the realization of the vision; it's the oddness itself they praise, and wonder what kind of mind it takes to come up with such ideas. And I can't help but think: I have ideas that odd in the shower every day. Ideas that are just as far off the orthodoxy center, but hold together with themselves with just as much jarring internal consistency. Ideas that, if I took the time to write them down, would be just as bizarre and yet just as compelling as any of them.

Whether I could realize them as effectively, that's another matter. I am a pretty good writer, so maybe I could give Kenneth Hite a run for his money, if I could put as much time into it as he can (which, clearly, I can't). But I am no songsmith, so They Might Be Giants have nothing to fear. I couldn't deliver a joke on stage to save my life, so Steven Wright can rest easy. And Terry Gilliam can keep making his films in peace.

My life is plenty full, so I know I'll never have no better use for my time than to put the quality of my weird to the test, and prove whether this is just unfounded arrogance, or founded arrogance; and sometimes I wish I could, just so I'd know. For now, I'm content to observe that, contrary to common opinion, execution, not inspiration, is usually what makes great work; there are far more great ideas than great results. So it really doesn't matter. For all I know (and as some stubborn part of me insists on believing), everyone is secretly having ideas just as weird all the time anyway.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

More on the unity of the organism

You look at an apple, and you don't see "an apple". You have no perceptions that can tell you what something is, you can only tell what it looks like, smells like, how it behaves; in other words, all you get about the apple is that part of it which impinges, in one way or another, on your senses. You perceive not an apple but the appearance of an apple.

But so what? Every time you perceive an apple, it's the same thing as other people perceive when they perceive an apple, and the same as you perceive when you perceive an apple. So, when all is said and done, does anything change at all when you amend your definition of an apple to include "the thing which I seem to perceive as..."? No, not really. Since everything is pushed back one level of abstraction together, the result is exactly the same as it was.

Now consider a lump of wax. You can't know what it really is, only what you perceive it as. And yet, what is that? Heat it up, and every aspect of what it looks like changes. The color will thin out, it may even turn transparent. The texture becomes far more shiny and glossy. The shape will completely transform as it melts. The feel is entirely different. So too its sound and smell and even, if you dare to try it, its taste.

Descarte tried to find the "essence" of the wax in his Meditations, a seminal work of metaphysics, but his conclusions are widely regarded by later thinkers as specious. He phrases the question sensibly enough: that which can change about a thing cannot be its essence, and yet everything we can perceive about the wax can change; thus, we cannot perceive the essence of the wax. Yet from this he concludes simply that we must perceive the essence of the wax by some power of pure reason independent of the senses, not really considering the possibility that he does not indeed perceive it at all, or that it is not there to be perceived.

This brings us back to where we started: does there need to be an essence behind the appearance? Perhaps there is, but its absence changes nothing for us, who are limited to our perceptions. As Nietzsche wrote in answer to the question of what appearance is, "Certainly not the opposite of some essence: what could I say about any essence except to name the attributes of its appearance! Certainly not a dead mask that one could place on an unknown x or remove from it!"

It seems plain to me that there is no immutable essence to the wax. Speaking in absolutes, the wax now is not the wax that was there a moment ago. The apple is not the apple you saw earlier. And you are not the same person you were when you started reading this post. Change cannot be divided, save arbitrarily, between small and large changes, changes to essence and changes only to appearance; this is a difference of quantity only. While you're reading this sentence, billions of changes are happening in your body, changes which cannot be reversed. You will never be precisely what you were before those changes. That a particular atom of carbon is a nanometer farther to the left now is a change, differing only in quantity, not kind, from that you had your appendix taken out, or that you decided you don't like art nouveau. Even if you hadn't melted the wax, it still would have been changing, just not as much. There is no unity of the organism, there are only changes that haven't gotten big enough to perceive yet, or that we choose to ignore.

This is not a new idea, of course. Heraclitus put it in its most famous form: "You cannot step twice into the same river; for other waters are continually flowing in."