noun. [noun] -noun.

1. any word that describes a person, place, thing or idea. Alright, students, please circle the noun in this sentence.

Using language to describe language can be difficult, but the common definition of a noun as, “a person, place, thing or idea” is downright foolish. People, places and ideas are things.

Sore Spot

Truth be told, we all endure scrapes, cuts, bruises, burns and rashes during our lifetime, and most of the time it’s our own fault.

Often times these wounds are only a minor inconvenience, causing slight discomfort for a short time.

Pain can be a serious problem, however, for it can vary in intensity and duration, but the true measure of pain is the product of both its intensity and duration.

One small laceration could cause a fleeting wince, but a pulled muscle, though not as intense as the sensation of torn skin, projects pulses of pain for much longer and would be deemed by most to be the worse of the two.

Fleeting pain can be very intense, but because it lasts for such a short time we usually aren’t concerned about it.

However, when we experience extended periods of low-level pain, we are often driven to search for aid.

Experiencing a small abrasion, scrape or cut can become a more serious and prolonged matter if it is complicated by infection, but there is another factor which can extend the pain.

A wound can occur anywhere on the body, and if it occurs in a high-use region, such as the palm of the hand or bottom of the foot, the pain can be drawn out as the sore is scratched, rubbed and reopened repeatedly.

Deciding where the wound would be on our body would be interesting, for we would have to examine which part of our body is least contacted – the answer could be anything from under our chin to the back of our hand.


If you’ve ever watched a science fiction show, such as Star Trek or Babylon 5, then you likely find the idea of space travel very intriguing. Imagine stars streaking past your solar windshield as your ship comfortably cruises from world to world in a matter of hours. But aside from the technological and physical impossibilities of such travel, there is another limitation which ensures that we will never command a Galaxy-class starship: our dimensional perception.

In the world of Star Trek, whenever two ships encountered one another, they would always be aligned to the same axis. This makes sense to us because in classical flight, which takes place on Earth, all soaring vessels are tethered to the ground by gravity, requiring that they be oriented in a unified manner to combat this force. In space, however, there is no gravity or pole to which we can reference our orientation, so there’s no reason why two ships should be aligned the same way when they meet. But we aren’t here to poke black holes in classic works of science fiction, however entertaining that might be, we’re here to find out why we aren’t fit for duty in the Federation.

We live in a three dimensional world, but we do not interact with all three dimensions equally. The prime dimensions of our experience are the x and z axes because they are the ones in which we move the most freely. We scarcely travel up or down, except to reach another horizontal plane on which we can interact. Even fish and birds, though they move up and down freely, experience the world in the same way we do, for their bodies must remain aligned in relation to the Earth.

Our bodily systems of digestion and circulation are also intended to function most effectively when our bodies are properly oriented with the ground beneath our feet. In addition, our eyes are engineered to take in a wider range of horizontal information than vertical, converting that information into a two-dimensional mental image. Likely because of our upbringing in a world dominated by two dimensions, and the nature of vision itself, our imagination is conditioned to perceive the world in this way. When we imagine a location, we do not imagine a three-dimensional rendering of that place, but merely a two-dimensional picture. This is why maps are drawn from a top-down view – the y-axis just isn’t as relevant to our experience. Another reason could be that we have traditionally used use two-dimensional means of communicating images, such as drawing on paper, which only allow us to effectively portray two dimensions at a time.

To illustrate the difficulty in interpreting space this way, let’s take a look at some grids plotting three three-dimensional points.

Here’s what it would look like if we combine these grids into one three-dimensional chart:

Try to solve for the position of the three points in the final grid of the image below.

Our two-dimensional approach to spacial interpretation makes us totally unfit for life in space, where free movement and rotation is available in all three dimensions. This has been proven by the limited success of video games which feature six degrees of freedom, such as Star Luster and the Wing Commander series. Though many of these titles are ingenious in concept and design, gamers found themselves both astonished and confounded by total planar liberation. Many developers have abandoned such design in favor of a two-dimensional interpretation of space travel, where vessels maintain a consistent, unified orientation.

Behold, the Earth from a perfectly legitimate perspective:

Whether engaging in a starship dogfight, navigating an asteroid field or simply plotting a leisurely interstellar cruise, those of us raised on the surface of a planet are dangerously unqualified for such tasks. It is possible that we could be conditioned through the use of holograms and flight simulators, to interpret our surroundings in a manner consistent with the demands of space travel. If that didn’t work, raising children in space could enable them to comprehend and navigate three dimensions quite easily, but there’s only one way to find out, NASA.

Lex Talionis

Crime is an inevitable part of our world. No matter how much freedom and plenty are available inside the fence, some people will inevitably climb that fence, either due to boredom, curiosity, selfishness or mental impairment. Though we may be able to reduce crime through social programs and education, the question remains: what do we do with those who break the law?

Throughout history this question has been answered in many different ways, including fines, hard labor, torture, mutilation, exile, execution and incarceration. Imprisoning convicts has become the established method of administering punishment in the developed world, where physical discipline is considered barbaric. Of course, it is likely that a society which used beatings and public shaming to punish its criminals might consider the idea of removing people from their belongings, friends and family for decades to be much more brutal.

Incarceration is a luxury that many societies have not been able to afford, and many questions have been raised about the how correctional the facilities actually are. British Politician Douglas Hurd, regarding the effectiveness of incarceration, stated that, “prison is an expensive way of making bad people worse.”

Each society has its own view of law and criminal justice which defines what behavior is considered criminal, which crimes are, in general, grievous and the aim of punitive action. No matter what the method of punishment, the intent behind criminal justice is to satisfy one or more of four major objectives:

  1. Retribution: To exact punishment on the person who committed the crime.
  2. Deterrent:  To set an example to the rest of society in the hopes of discouraging others from similar activity.
  3. Protection: To keep the citizens safe from criminals.
  4. Correction: To ensure that criminals do not continue to offend.

Different methods of punishment accomplish these four objectives in different ways, as illustrated by this chart:

Objective Punishment
Pain Mutilation Fines Exile Incarceration Execution
 Retribution Strong Strong Strong Strong Strong Unknown
 Deterrent Fair Strong Fair Strong Fair Strong
 Protection Weak Strong Weak Strong Strong Very Strong
 Correction Weak Strong Weak Weak Fair Very Weak

Obviously the level to which each type of punishment achieves its aim depends on implementation. Incarceration, for example, provides a great opportunity for corrective programs as well as negative influence from fellow criminals, while mutilation, which may prevent future crime, can render recipients permanently debilitated. The method of punishment which consistently generates the most controversy is execution.

The death penalty holds the most absolute consequences of any punishment, which is what makes it so attractive to its supporters and so unbearable to its detractors. Although execution grants permanent protection from further crime, critics argue that because death is irreversible we cannot offer compensation to the wrongfully convicted. This argument is based on several unprovable presumptions. First, that every wrongfully convicted individual will be exonerated, second, that those who are exonerated are, in fact, innocent and finally, that we can adequately compensate for incarceration. It’s true that we cannot revive the dead, but neither can we travel back in time to restore lost years to these whose lives we have ruined.

There is much debate over whether increased punishment leads to increased deterrence. As we have already discussed, there is at least a meaningful relationship between punishment and deterrence, which means that the death penalty would offer the greatest deterrence of any form of punishment. So capital punishment offers impenetrable protection, tenacious deterrence and non-existent correction, but how does it fair at dispensing retribution? Death penalty supporters often tout its retributive power, but we can’t actually be certain how effective it is.

By incarcerating an individual we can control almost all aspects of their lives, but when we kill someone we relinquish control of their fate to the icy coils of death. Sure, there’s the fear and mental anguish endured by those poor souls on death row, but what happens after they die and how can we be sure that it’s bad?

There are many theories and beliefs about what awaits us beyond the grave, including heaven, hell, Blisstonia, non-existence, parallel realities and reincarnation, but ultimately we don’t know what exactly happens in the afterlife because scientists stubbornly refuse to die and study it.

If the criminal were to go to heaven or a parallel world after death, then there wouldn’t be much of a punishment. Non-existence seems frightening, but we all had no problem not existing before we were born, so it can’t be that bad. If we only had some evidence that there was, in fact, eternal torture awaiting the victim, then capital punishment might be viable. But as it stands, there’s a chance that they could end up in paradise, and death shall have no dominion.


Since the development of quantum theory in the early twentieth century, those outside the scientific community have furiously grappled with the spiritual, corporeal and moral ramifications of its counterintuitive nature. Because mathematicians and physicists are solitary, eccentric individuals, they concern themselves only with producing sound theory, not the bothersome implications. But for the rest of us sociable, emotionally-stable beings, we can’t help but ponder the fate of Schrödinger’s cat.

By preying on our curiosity and misunderstanding of quantum mechanics, many authors and cultists, both well-meaning and deceitful, have greatly profited. The 2004 film What the Bleep Do We Know!? is a recent example of an attempt to bridge the gap between quantum physics and human experience by oversimplifying and distorting portions of quantum theory. The film falsely asserts that our perception influences the world around us, that we can bend reality to our will through the power of conviction. This idea stems from Thomas Young’s infamous double-slit experiment, which revealed that by observing an individual particle as it passed through the double-slit apparatus, the behavior of the particle would change. The theory is that the unobserved particle actually passes through both slits and interferes with itself in what is known as quantum masturbation. By observing the particle, the wave of potentials is collapsed into a single outcome.

Another recent interpretation of quantum theory is the idea of a quantum conscience. The concept is based on the adventures of Dr. Sam Beckett, who after prematurely entering the project accelerator, was transported beyond the scope of his own consciousness. Quantum conscience proponents believe that, like Dr. Beckett, all of us have the ability to access consciousness outside our own, specifically the consciousness of our alternate selves residing in parallel universes. Those behind the quantum conscience movement also claim that after death our consciousness transcends the boundaries of the universe, and that our afterlife is actually a continued existence in a new dimension. Learning about the possibility of alternate dimensions and the power to manipulate reality sparks the flames of our imagination, but what does quantum physics really mean for our everyday lives?


A newborn child has no understanding of how the universe is supposed to work, yet it is bound by the laws of physics in the same way as the rest of us. The universe operates in a consistent manner, regardless of what we believe about it. Take, for example, a strongman who attempts to lift a heavy object, but fails. It is neither his knowledge of the limitations of his strength, nor his belief about the weight of the object that limits him, for if the weight was incorrectly labelled, his attempt would yield the same result. Another example would be of a person who, upon entering a dark room, flicks the light switch to illuminate its contents. The bulb may be burnt out and fail to light, ignoring the desire and expectation of the one flicking the switch. These examples are based on the fundamental observation that reality is greater than perception.

Regarding the quantum conscience, if it were possible to tap into otherworldly knowledge by accessing dimensions where every possibility has happened, wouldn’t there be a universe where we have already discovered how to communicate with these other worlds? If there are infinite parallel universes and none of them have figured out how to talk to each other, then why would we arrogantly assume that we are the ones to figure it out?

While quantum theory may have shaken our faith in a traditional understanding of reality, it has not justified the claims of quantum mystics who swear that the only thing standing between us and perfect existence is positive thinking.

You don’t understand quantum physics. Physicists don’t even understand quantum physics. So don’t tell us what it means and how it can change our lives.

The Levels of Conviction

We all have beliefs that dictate what we say, think and do. These convictions are a part of our identity. We define ourselves and others, and the world defines us, based on professions of belief.

We hold beliefs regarding a diverse array of subjects, for it is our nature to form an opinion when we encounter anything that seems abhorrent, praiseworthy or peculiar – we just can’t help it. Even if we were to take the position that we have no belief about a given topic, that position reflects the belief that a conclusion on the matter is either unattainable or unimportant.

Our beliefs reach across history, language and culture, to every event, ritual and habit. Common subjects of belief include religion, war, sexuality, drugs, politics, health, eating animals, economics and toilet paper orientation. Though our convictions can apply to anything, unirregardless of relevance or proximity, the level of our conviction can vary greatly. These are the four levels of conviction:

Disposition Frequency of Practice Summary of Belief
Level 1: Casual Participant Relaxed Sporadic All beliefs on the subject are equally valid. It’s okay for others to believe whatever they want, if it makes them happy.
Level 2: Earnest Zealot Aggressive Constant Other beliefs on the subject are distorted or fabricated. Unbelievers must be converted.
Level 3: Docile Apostle Tranquil Regular Other beliefs aren’t entirely accurate. Unbelievers shouldn’t be forced to convert.
Level 4: Disenchanted Cynic Apathetic Sparse or Nonexistent All beliefs are equally invalid. No one should believe too strongly about anything and just be happy.

Many of us are familiar with the image of the derelict doomsday prophet shouting from the street corner, or the hypocritical churchgoer who, upon exiting the doors of the cathedral, immediately reverts to their deceitful and indulgent self. Though it’s possible that both of these stereotypes could profess similar beliefs, there is an obvious disparity in conviction. In fact, it’s a disparity of exactly two levels.

The four levels are not ranked according to effectiveness, popularity or validity, but according to chronology. Of course, it is possible to descend down a rank or skip levels entirely, and each individual is inclined to progress at a different rate, but the order does reflect a general trend of familiarity, zeal, devotion and, finally, indifference. Not everyone will reach the fourth level; some will never make it past the first. Again, a higher rank does not imply superiority, but merely a point further down the path.

Each position has its own advantages and complications, but determining the correct level of conviction is something that you have already begun to work out.


There is an explanation for everything. Our world is comprised of matter and energy that behaves in predictable ways, allowing us a degree of certainty when imagining hypothetical situations. Yet, despite the massive leaps forward in science, we occasionally find ourselves in the midst of events so absurd, so seemingly unpredictable, that we can only respond with the words, “well, that was random.”

It wasn’t.

Although we may not have been able to predict such scenarios, they weren’t random; they only seemed random because we didn’t know why it occurred. There’s likely a perfectly legitimate explanation for the any situation we find ourselves in, no matter how strange. Before we continue, let us make some important declarations and distinctions about how the universe operates:

  1. Nothing is random, because everything has a cause.
  2. Some things are pseudo-random, having a nearly incomprehensible cause.
  3. Some things only seem random, but actually maintain a comprehensible cause.

Although no occurrence can be truly random, by categorizing all measurable events as either pseudo-random or seemingly random, we may better understand what is meant when something is characterized as random. First, let’s deal with those things that we might consider random, but which are actually just unpredictable.

Random number generation has been used throughout history for many purposes, most notably gambling. By creating devices that use high speeds and complex vectors, such as dice or roulette wheels, we can produce outcomes which cannot be predicted, at least not with the human eye. More recently, we have used computers to generate pseudo-random numbers using algorithms and seed values. Though much more elaborate than physical random number generation, the results are still derived from a concrete source, so they cannot be truly random.

A popular example of perceived randomness, often used to prove some point about the universe, is the idea that an infinite number of monkeys on an infinite number of typewriters will produce the complete works of Shakespeare. The premise being that the typing pattern of monkeys is random and, therefore, it will eventually produce every outcome. This is not true.

Monkeys will never produce the works of Shakespeare, and we don’t need to lock a monkey in a room with a typewriter to find that out. If we were to simply imagine the result of such an experiment, we would likely conclude that the monkey had been hitting keys randomly, but this is not the case. The mind and motions of a monkey are not random, they follow a pattern. Much like the roll of a dice, we might not be able to predict the outcome, but there is most certainly a pattern, and it is most certainly different from the pattern found in Shakespeare. If we were so inclined, we could observe and record the results of monkey typing on a massive scale and eventually produce some algorithm which would describe the most commonly used keys, key combinations and punctuation. For all we know, it’s possible that monkeys might detest pressing the Q key and avoid touching it at all costs, or maybe they would continuously press the Home key in a depressing attempt to communicate their longing for freedom.

Now let’s discuss the second type of event, which includes those things that might seem random, but are actually quite predictable. It is possible that rolling dice might belong in this category, for if we were watch the roll in slow-motion or merely increase the size of the dice, the outcome would be much more predictable. Also, rolling a dice on a smooth surface makes the process less complex and, thus, further from the unattainable state of randomness.

Benford’s law is another example of finding a predictable pattern where we would typically expect randomness. In 1881, Simon Newcomb, a bearded man, observed a peculiar statistical phenomenon. While spending a relaxing evening beside the fire, sipping a glass of wine and thumbing through logarithm books (as all of us do), Newcomb noticed that the pages which contained numbers that started with the number 1 were more worn than other pages. He then analyzed a variety of different data sources and found the same anomaly, but his discovery was largely ignored until it was verified years later by similar examinations of data.

Basically, Benford’s law says that if we examine data from almost any source, we will find a definitive pattern in the value of the first digit of those numbers. The most frequent number is 1, which is found to be the left-most digit in a staggering 30.1% of data values. The frequency of each number decreases as we approach 9, which appears as the first digit a mere 4.6% of the time. Benford’s law can be used to detect tax fraud, since forged numbers contain a more even distribution in first-digit frequency.

Unusual behavior is much easier to predict than a dice roll, for it can often be traced back to previous experiences, trends and habits. In fact, these events are not at all difficult to predict; they are merely unexpected. If we were to attempt to prove the existence of randomness by, for example, saying a random word, the word would be inevitably predictable. The process of choosing that word would merely be a brief expedition into the subconscious – nothing more. After blurting out the unchosen word, one would likely need only to probe recent memory to find its inception.

Go ahead, try to say something random.