Characters

Rationalist Software Developer Encounters Paradox and the Supernatural

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I was freewriting a couple of days ago, trying to flesh out an idea for a new story. I wanted to explore the overlap between the rational and the transcendental. Given my own experience as a software developer, I thought it would be interesting to take a rationalist programmer, whose daily experience is with logic and code, and place him in a situation where his philosophy would be challenged by something that human reason alone would fail to explain.

I haven’t figured out what this story is going to be about. It’s been quite a challenge, because I want this to be fantasy rather than sci-fi, yet I also want the narrative to be driven by a technologically sound scenario.

His Profile

As I said, my main character is a developer. He develops for the web, though he has a more general background in computer science and develops many different kinds of software in his spare time. He loves that he can create something from nothing, that he can make a tool simply by describing to the computer how that tool should work.

He muses over the nature of data and instructions, over the difference between the two which is nothing more than semantics. He believes that thoughts and ideas, that everything abstract and seemingly transcendent about human nature, can ultimately be reduced to and explained in terms of software and computation. He ponders the nature of the soul, and reflects on the mystery of software as “the ghost in the machine.”

He wonders sometimes if reality is just data and instructions, a simulation in some cosmic-scale computer. He wonders if it would make a difference one way or the other.

He has the rare gift of being able to tunnel down into the code he’s writing, looking for potential bugs and vulnerabilities, while simultaneously maintaining a high level awareness of the software’s architecture. He has the type of mind that latches onto problems and won’t rest until patterns emerge. He has a strong love for logic, and will sometimes spend hours of his free time exploring alternate solutions to the same problems.

He’s a little detached from things that are outside of his own head; he sees the world through an abstract theoretical lens, through algorithms, heuristics and data. He often formulates logical probabilistic models to help him explain what he observes in other people and their behavior. He develops “risk models” in his mind that he thinks will help him to live his life while minimizing risk to himself. This abstraction leads him to dehumanize the world, so that he’s concerned primarily with his own self interest.

What I Want to Do With Him

As I hinted at in this blog’s title, I’d like to throw my main character into a situation that forces him to confront something paradoxical and supernatural. But I’m not exactly sure yet what that will be.

On the one hand, I want to stick as closely as possible to the technical realities of computers and software. On the other, I don’t want this to be too scientific because I’m going for fantasy, not sci-fi. I almost feel as if the story’s theme itself is paradoxical, because it seems to me that these two constraints are mutually exclusive.

One crazy idea I had was to introduce spiritual beings whose chosen incarnations were computers. But I think that’s far-fetched. I then thought about introducing the idea of a chaotic solution that, though rationally defined on the surface, always yields unpredictable results that eventually drive my main character, and perhaps much of the technical world later, mad. But that feels a little too sci-fi.

For the moment, I’ve hit a dead end and can’t go any further. No amount of freewriting will get me out of this dilemma, at least not for a while.

So…Why Did I Share This?

Because I thought it would be fun to share what I know about my main character so far. I think he’s interesting enough on his own that he’s worth sharing. Also, I guess there’s a part of me that’s hoping one of my readers will have ideas, since right now I’m pretty stuck. So please, don’t be shy! If you have any insights or ideas that might help me figure this out, let me know in the comments below. If I use anything that comes from you, I’ll be sure to give you credit.

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If Your Life Is A Story, How Do You Make Sure It Has A Happy Ending?

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There’s a reason stories resonate so strongly. They reflect real life in profound and mysterious ways. They teach us about ourselves. They teach us how to live. It’s in fantasy that we find ourselves, that we discover the meaning of our existence. Is it any surprise then that your life should actually be the greatest story of all?

In the grand sweeping epic that is your life, you’re the main character. Your story is an account of your progress as you gradually develop into the man or woman you were created to be. It’s about your struggles, your victories, your failures, your desires, your hopes and your dreams.

Like all tales, yours has a beginning and an end. And perhaps it’s the ending that concerns you most of all. Who will you have become when the last page is turned? Will you be a hero or a villain? Will you have lived a life worth living? Will your story have a happy ending, or will it be a tragedy?

It’s up to you.

You have the power to be whatever you want to be. Life isn’t just something that happens to you. You might be a character, subject to the mandates of your story. But you’re also one of your story’s authors. The choices you make shape and mold you as a person.

Of course, circumstances beyond your control will always, to some degree, dictate the course your life will take. But your story isn’t about that. It’s about who you are. Who you are is determined not by the things that happen to you, but by how you respond to them. You choose whether to react to conflict with anger or patience. You choose whether to react to fear with courage or cowardice.

You might be one of the lucky few whom fortune and fate have favored in abundance. Or, your life might be a roiling cloud of doom and gloom. But it’s how you react to the cards you’re dealt that will determine the outcome of your story.

If you’ve been blessed with good fortune, will you share it with others who are less fortunate, or will you squander it on yourself? If you’ve been downtrodden and forced to suffer for most of your life, will you allow that experience to serve as the crucible in which the impurities of untested human nature are burned away, making you wise, empathetic and caring beyond your years, or will you allow yourself to be consumed by jealousy, bitterness and hate?

Your choices will determine whether you were the hero or the villain. Your choices will determine whether or not you lived a worthy life. Your choices will determine whether your story ends in happiness or tragedy.

In the end, there’s only one person responsible for the kind of ending your life’s story will assume: you. So make it a good one.

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Am I The Hero or The Villain?

Hero and Villain
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In literature, there are two roles that manifest themselves over and over again: the hero and the villain.

The hero is the one who’s not only content with living a decent life, but goes above and beyond. The hero doesn’t just meet but exceeds expectations. The hero goes out of his way to save the day.

The villain is the one who not only does evil, but revels in it. The villain doesn’t simply do wrong out of weakness, but finds his purpose in the pain and suffering of others.

The friction between the hero and the villain is fierce, and it sparks the fire that fuels countless stories. Both the hero and the villain tell us something about the nature of humanity; they teach us about the internal forces that motivate our thoughts and actions.

Therefore, when considering who you relate to, you might ask yourself, “am I the hero or the villain?”

Evidence That You’re the Hero

Have you ever stood up for a just cause? It might have been a principle you believed in deeply. Or perhaps you defended a friend or loved one against bullying, gossip or slander. Maybe, in a remarkable feat of love and courage, you went so far as to stand up for a total stranger.

Have you ever loved at the expense of your personal needs and desires? You might have been a friend, a son, a daughter, a father, a mother or a spouse. Maybe you’ve dedicated your life to raising a family.

Have you ever given to someone in need? You might have provided for someone’s material necessities by donating money, food or clothing. Or perhaps you attended to someone’s emotional necessities by providing a shoulder to cry on. Maybe you were present in someone’s life when they were in need of comfort. You might have given something as simple as a smile.

Have you ever found something valuable, discovered who it belonged to and returned it instead of keeping it for yourself?

Have you ever expressed simple gratitude for what you have instead of taking it for granted? Even better, have you ever expressed your gratitude for someone else’s success, instead of envying them for it?

Have you ever been tempted by evil, but refused to act because you knew it was wrong?

While this is by no means an exhaustive list, if you answered yes to any of the questions above, then without a doubt you have played the part of the hero.

Evidence That You’re the Villain

Have you ever been a bully? Have you ever attacked and injured another, either with your thoughts or with your words?

Have you ever stood by and allowed something evil to take place when it was within your power to stop it? You might have refused to stand up for something you believe in, or you might have looked the other way while someone was under attack.

Have you ever stolen something that didn’t belong to you? It might have been worth as much as one thousand dollars or as little as one.

Have you ever lied to someone about something they had the right to know? Perhaps you were scared and wanted to avoid getting in trouble.

Have you ever spent an inordinate amount of time chasing after material wealth at the expense of family and friends?

Have you ever ignored a loved one, friend or stranger in need? Perhaps the need was material and you chose not to give food or money when you could have afforded to do so. Perhaps the need was emotional and you refused to acknowledge them or give them comfort.

Have you ever used someone as a tool for personal gain?

Have you ever harbored a grudge or sought vengeance against another?

Have you ever willfully desired that grave misfortune or harm befall another? Worse, have you ever acted on that desire?

If you answered yes to any of the questions above, then you have certainly played the part of the villain.

“I’m Confused.”

If you were honest with yourself, you probably found evidence that you were both. So, which is it? Are you the hero or the villain?

In practice, the terms hero and villain are relative. The archetypes are two ends of a vast spectrum, with each of us residing somewhere in-between.

Showing off my mad graphic design skills!
Showing off my mad graphic design skills!

Becoming The Hero

While none of us will ever be the archetypal hero we desire to be, with hard work and dedication, we can come close. It’s a slow but fruitful journey from one end of the spectrum to the other, a road paved with self examination and good works.

Everyday, you must sit down with yourself and ask, “how have I been the villain?” You must be honest and you must be willing to face some ugly truths. When you have the answers you seek, you must actively work to purge those villainous desires from your heart so that the next day, you can be better than you were the day before. If you make this a frequent habit, you will find in the fullness of time that you have drifted remarkably close to the role of the hero.

What Exactly Is A Hero?

To be a hero, you need not fight crime or pull people from burning buildings. You must only be courageous enough to recognize and face the villain within yourself, to turn your back on him by doing good. Extraordinary feats of bravery are certainly heroic, but they are not the criteria by which heroism is defined.

There are silent heroes all around us. They are the ones who love. They are the ones who attend to others. They are the ones who do their part to make their small corner of the world a better place.

The archetypal hero is an ideal that we will never fully realize in this life. But that doesn’t mean we can’t come close.

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