Rain on Demand

Rainy days like today are very productive. There is something about the rain that helps me focus.

Of course, not every day is like today. On those days I have Rainy Mood.

Yes, I know this note is looking a lot like an ad for aspirin or toiletries, but I’m not an affiliate, I don’t earn if you try it. It’s just another one of those times when I want to share something cool with you.

The free version is very generous, and I didn’t need to upgrade, but I bought it anyway, as a way to say thanks. The paid version has extra soundscapes – rain on the beach, for example – but for me it’s the original that delivers the goods. The only paid function that I use is the sleep timer. I set the app for thirty minutes as I go to bed, and I know it will stop after I fall asleep. It’s also good for meditation.

It works great with headphones, but with a good sound system, the effect is phenomenal. I’m even tempted to buy a bluetooth speaker system for the bedroom, just to use with this.

Photo Credit: Gunn Shots (On and off these days) Flickr via Compfight cc

Thanos and the Problem of Exponential Growth

Spoilers for the latest Avengers movie. You have been warned.

Yesterday I explained why Thanos’ victory – and the reasons for him achieving it – made the latest Avengers movie a more interesting and serious film. But it’s achievement is stained by a couple factors:

  1. This is not the end of the story arc, and the next film will surely nullify the events of this one.
  2. The “end” toward which Thanos has struggled for and reached does not make any sense at all.

Let’s start with #1, which is easier to explain.

Thematically, the former movies of the modern Marvel Cinematic Universe series have set a heroic tone (as opposed to tragic).

This latest film was a pleasant surprise, but let’s face it, it doesn’t make sense that such a series  – one where most movies up until now ended in a positive way – should be committed to a tragic outcome. It would be the equivalent of ending Sesame Street with a funeral!

And this is not too bad. I enjoyed the ending of this movie, but I also appreciate a body of work that has thematic consistency.

Point #2 is more problematic, as it isn’t coherent with the character of Thanos; a villain, yes, but a controlled, rational, and stoic villain. Let us start with a step-by-step deconstruction of Thanos’s quest:

a) Thanos’ concern: That life in the universe is spreading faster than the universe can sustain it. The exacerbated consumption of resources will eventually result in total extinction.

b) Thanos’ solution: Let’s eliminate half of all life in the universe.

c) Thanos’ initial method: Traveling from planet to planet and randomly executing half the population. (Not very efficient.)

d) Thanos’ plan: Combine the power of the Infinite Stones to gain the divine ability to manipulate reality. With this power, Thanos can, with a simple thought (and apparently a snap of fingers) annihilate half of all living things in the universe. (Very efficient.)

Concern (a) seems legitimate to me. But the original solution (b) does not look great. This is because life spreads exponentially, while the resources that sustain it do not. That is, the best that Thanos can hope for with his extermination strategy is to delay universal extinction by a googolplex of years, give or take a decade.

But given the extremely limited means that Thanos possessed (c), I could not find a better solution to the problem. It is extraordinarily easier to kill people (we have the adequate technology ever since the first primate grabbed a rock) than to generate resources at a rate that equals or exceeds reproductive factors.

The problem is that (d) changes everything. By acquiring the capacity to manipulate reality on a universal scale, a minimum of imagination and intellect – two things that Thanos has to spare, as he has proved through his victory – would be enough to come up with a better solution than (b).

There is no logical reason why a being with the ability to eliminate half the life in the universe with the snap of his fingers does not have equivalent ability to multiply resources. Certainly, a being of such power can create empty parallel universes, ready for colonization; or increase the expansion rate of our own universe; or originate new, infinitely increasing sources of energy.

Conceptually, none of these things should be more complicated than making half the population of the universe randomly disappear. And there is no logical reason for Thanos not to have the ability to understand this.

It’s a shame that Thanos’ brilliant character conceptualisation in this movie  has been tarnished by such a narrative hole. A great villain, yes. But he’s no Ozymandias.

Thanos and the Value of Sacrifice

Spoilers for the latest Avengers movie. You have been warned.

The best thing about the last Avengers movie was that the villain won. And he won not by dint of the heroes’ back luck, but because he deserved to win.

Thanos: Crafted a plan for many years, a plan which he executed meticulously, without letting himself be carried away by the highs and lows. In his most challenging moment, he sacrificed the only thing he loved for the plan.

The Avengers: They spent most of their time and energy in internal warfare, notwithstanding the shadow of Thanos looming over them since the first movie. When they finally realize that they are doomed if they don’t make peace with one another, they take up blind idealism as their guiding star.

By sacrificing a single one of their members – a sacrifice that this member was willing to make – the Avengers could have thwarted Thanos’s plans beyond any possibility of recovery.

And why not? Human history is littered with heroic sacrifices, stories, true or imagined, of people who gave their lives so that many others could live. We have even built religions around this theme, so exalted that it is by our species.

But no – to this millenarian value, the movie superimposes individualist American heroism: “No Man Left Behind.” Either we all survive, or none survives. The brother who is by my side is more important than half of the universe’s population.

The movie is a battle of values: of “cold” values ​​like rationalism, stoicism and persistence, versus fiery idealism and fraternity. The result is clear: the Avengers lost their friend anyway, and Thanos annihilated half the conscious beings of the universe. An absolute defeat for the superheroes.

Idealism and fraternity are phenomenal values, and I greatly exalt them. But they are not strong enough to use by themselves when waging a battle.

Sacrifice wins battles – the other values ​​can only support it and give it meaning.