Monday, December 1, 2008

A Change of Perspective

This past Thursday was the American holiday of Thanksgiving. President Abraham Lincoln instituted the holiday as an annual occurrence, although the story hearkens to a tale in 1621 of how the native American ("Indians") welcomed the British colonists ("Pilgrims") to American, and how the Pilgrims gave thanks to God for the safety of the Atlantic voyage. Over the centuries, the religious factor was de-emphasized and the holiday was rewritten as a story of the Indians greeting the Pilgrims with a feast, and the Pilgrims thanking the Indians for their hospitality.

It's a fabricated holiday in that the actual feast probably didn't occur, but instead captures the spirit of thankfulness the Pilgrims had. These days, Thanksgiving is a holiday to get together with family and (hopefully) be thankful for the good things in your life. So for most people that means travel, a big meal, and the stress of being with people you might not get along with. But you still have the opportunity for thankfulness if you want to take it.

There's a lot of value in thinking positively. I'm not talking about pretending bad things are good, or completely ignoring things that are obviously issues. Rather I'm referring to appreciating the good things, and not letting problems get in the way of that appreciation. When nine things go well and one thing goes wrong, it's easy to focus on the negative-- it's the part that needs your attention. Everyone sees their current set of problems as the biggest mountain in the world, even if it's really just a molehill in the grand scheme of things.

I've written a lot about the importance accepting that things can't be perfect, even though it's good to strive for it. But that's different from being happy. When you work hard on something and some parts work out while others don't, you can accept this fact with a depressed attitude or with a joyful one. The attitude you pick won't change the world at all, so you might as well pick what makes you happiest. Focusing on the positive things can be hard, but it's a simple thing that makes your entire life better.

So with that in mind, I'm taking this opportunity to remember the successful portions of BrainWorks:
  • Highly realistic aiming
  • Intelligent item pickup selection
  • Context dependent weapon selection
  • Awareness and scanning that lets players try to outsmart bots
  • Dynamic feedback systems that let bots learn as they play
If you've read this blog for a while, you'll know there's a few things I'm not happy with. But to me at least, the project was overall a big success. I met or exceeded the objectives I set and I'm very happy with the results of the AI.

Last, working on this project provided an enormous amount of personal growth which I am also thankful for:
  • Increased self-confidence
  • More self-responsibility
  • Freedom from the burdens of Christianity
  • Less perfectionistic
  • More optimistic
  • Greater joy in life
Working on BrainWorks forced me to take an enormous amount of responsibility. I thought my God would come through for me, but things only came together when I took responsibility for myself. I'm sure the Christian readers will say that this was just God's way of building me up in strength. My perspective is that I finally realized there was no Christian God. But if what really happened was God gave me strength by teaching me not to believe or trust in him anymore, then praise God for that, and I'll continue following his instructions of relying on my own strength.

In short, I feel like I've won at life. This isn't the hardest project I'll ever work on, and not everything in my life is perfect. But working on BrainWorks gave me so much joy and freedom that I know I can handle whatever else life has in store for me. I'm still relatively young (barely into my thirtys) and I figured out the purpose of my life. I love making awesome things, and I plan on doing that as long as I'm alive.


Claes Mogren said...

Nice post, made me smile. :-)

Crummy said...

Good on ya, mate.

dan said...

I personally find the lack of a Creator God a bigger hurdle to get over than chalking it up to some evolutionary process.
The intelligent creator's fingerprints are all around us.

Ted Vessenes said...

I never said I didn't believe in a creator; just that I was convinced that if there was a God, it wasn't the God described by Christianity. I'm firmly agnostic on the issue.

Honestly, this is one of the few questions that really bothers me. Either the universe came into being out of nothing, or God made the universe and God came into being out of nothing. In either case, something exists that has no creator, and that violates causality. And yet the certainly universe exists. That means we don't really understand the concept of causality. Why is everything in the universe so predictable (either through Newtonian physics or the reproducible probabilities of quantum physics)? How can something (God or the universe) have no creator?

By the way I don't buy the argument that "life is so complicated that it must have been created by an intelligent creator". Humans are notoriously bad at estimating probabilities involving very large and very small numbers. The size and duration of the universe is pretty damn near infinite, and the chance of evolution creating life is almost effectively zero. What happens when you multiply zero by infinity? It's not mathematically well defined. You can get any probability between 0% and 100%. Christians claim the probability of evolution is 0% while Atheists claim it's 100%.

Myself... I don't really know. And I don't know how anyone could even claim to know for certain. What if God used evolution to create humans? How does that fit into your probability estimate?

Shark said...

I like your blog Ted, but I always feel a little saddened when I read parts like "Freedom from the burdens of Christianity" though.

Ted Vessenes said...

I thought a lot about the precise wording of that line and I mean exactly what I wrote. Specifically I mean "burdens" (suggesting containment) and not "burden" (suggesting isometry). I believe there's a lot of good stuff in Christianity too, like the "love your neighbor" stuff, and I have no intentions of giving that up.

For me though, the burdens were all rooted in the doctrine that God will provide, support, and commune with me. I wanted to believe it was true even when the evidence went against it. So as an experiment, I tried living my life without trusting in God for these things, instead taking all the responsibility for myself. And to my surprise, it was a huge improvement. I didn't realize how burdened I was until I experienced true freedom.

That's a really core part of Christian dogma to throw out though, so I can't in good conscience call myself a Christian. I've had a few people tell me that I act more Christian than most Christians they know though, which I receive in the spirit it's given.

I've heard many reverse stories of people talking of the "freedom of Christ", where they felt responsible for their entire life and couldn't handle it. I can see how they find freedom taking a religion that lets them mentally relinquish these burdens to an all loving, all powerful, eternal being. To me that just says that as concepts, freedoms and burdens purely exist in the mind. That makes total control of your mind into the ultimate freedom.

dan said...

Enjoy your blog and you've obviously put a lot of thought into your decisions and your actions so I'm sure pithy arguments and sayings aren't going to convince you suddenly now.
With that said, to acknowledge a Creator should be followed by a desire to know him. You said this in your post actually I think.
If the God of the Bible is true and his words are true, then if you truly seek him, you should find him.

Ted Vessenes said...

Sorry for the delayed response. I've been thinking about what I wanted to say.

I very much agree with your line of logic. If the Bible is true and you follow its instructions, then you will find God.

I set out with that belief in mind. I never thought the Bible was 100% true, of course. There are some obvious logical contradictions, although none that invalidate the core theological truths. For a long time I went with the assumption that the Bible was 99% true. It was true "about the things that mattered", even if it got a few things wrong like whether it was bad to eat pork or for women to have short hair.

I followed exactly that line of logic, fully expecting to find God, and didn't. So I was forced to conclude that the Bible was less than 99% true, and it must have gotten some things wrong about God.

There's always the question of how much benefit of the doubt you should give God. Many in the Church argue that if you have to spend your entire life waiting for God to reveal himself to you, you should do so. But this is unreasonable to me, and does not logically fit what the Bible claims the nature of God is. If God really wants to commune with his people on earth, he would not wait until their death to start a well-grounded, intimate relationship.

After thirty years of doing what I consider a good-faith effort to find him, I decided that I had waited long enough. Maybe some people will argue I should have waited forty years or even fifty before giving up on God, but my life has greatly improved since I made that hard choice. Naturally I'm unhappy about the situation, but I still believe it was the best choice given the circumstances.

Joe Osborn said...

Just wanted to provide a pro-freedom-from-Gods post here to show my support. Congratulations on shaking off the yoke -- you're absolutely in the right to take your life into your own hands and out of the purview of an invisible sky daddy.
As for the intelligent creator business, even St. Augustine said that it's impossible to make an argument from logic for faith. Didn't stop him from trying, but it didn't work out so well for him.

dan said...

Excuse my delayed response as well.
I have found your blog and posts so interesting because I went thru a similar scenario but I ended up staying on this side of the fence.
Grew up the way you did and recently reached a point where I questioned God's existence.
At the end of the day for me, I found that it was about me wanting to run my own life.
I never reached the point of challenging God to prove his existence to me personally. It sounds like you did, at least that's how I interpret
your previous posts. I guess I see creation as proof enough of the existence of an intelligent creator. So rather the question became for me, is the God of the Bible that Creator?

Obviously, there are those who find evolution a perfectly reasonable explanation of the existence of the universe and human beings, etc....I'm not one of those people.