Rafa\’s Corner of Nonsense, Part Deux

… where Rafa\’s thoughts see the light of day…

What makes you… you?

As almost all good philosophical arguments, this one was borne out of watching TV, “Battlestar Galactica” to be precise.

For those of you who are not watching this truly awesome show (you know who you are… and shame on you!), let me recap the basics: humans created the Cylons, a race of robots meant to serve mankind. They (of course), rebelled, and turned against humanity. Here’s the twist: the Cylons created human-looking Cylons that are indistinguishable from flesh-and-blood humans: they look, feel and sound human, have the same biological components and behavior as humans, seem to experiment human emotions, and some of them truly believe themselves to be human.

My first question is: why would they not be considered human, then? If they experiment human emotions (whether these are part of some “software” they are programmed to run, or the result of some electrical activity in neurons), doesn’t that make them human? If they truly believe they are having these feelings, and act accordingly, how are they any different from flesh-and-blood humans?

Another plot point of the show is that there are multiple copies of the same human-looking Cylon: some of them believe themselves to be the “real one.” So, the second question that arises from this is: what makes us who we are? Is it our memories? Is it our behavior? Is it our reactions to stimuli?

For instance, let’s say you have a friend who is 25 years old; if you could travel back in time and meet him when he was 8, and discarding any physical resemblance, how could you “tell” it’s the same person? Your friend at 8 years of age has different memories, different behavior, different reactions to stimuli than your 25-year-old friend. Is there any set of tests, quantitative or even qualitative, that you could administer to his 8-year-old self, that would yield the same result if you administered it to his 25-year-old self?

Is the 8-year-old version of your friend, then, a different person? If so, when are we ever “the same person,” if we are constantly gaining new memories, and being shaped by our experiences? Are we just a continuum of ever-changing selves that travel in time, shedding our previous incarnations at every infinitesimal moment, forever destined to being ourselves for only an instant?

Ok, I think I just wore out my keyboard’s question mark: now it’s time to hear your thoughts on this matter (knowing full well, of course, that once you reply you’ll be a different person than when you started writing). 😀

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August 24, 2005 Posted by | Thinker | 10 Comments

New term: “Str8jacket”

In my never-ending quest to coin a phrase (see my previous, and seemingly failed, attempt at coining the term “booger argument“), here I come again (like Whitesnake, but with less drug-induced brain damage) to introduce the term:

str8jacket: n. self-imposed constraint that prevents heterosexual men from showing emotion, feelings for anything other than sports, or affinity towards cleanliness or fashion

Case in point: the straight-man hug. Have you ever seen two heterosexual guys hug? It’s a delicious exercise in awkwardness and unintentional entertainment factor. The chests, if they touch, must be separated by the arm they keep in front of themselves; the pelvis juts out to prevent any kind of potentially sexual groin-area contact; the arm on the other guy’s back must never hold tight, but only pat the back in a pattern that, if you listen closely, seems to be Morse code for “I like poon-tang.”

Another good example is the organic impossibility of straight men of admitting they find other guys attractive because if they did I can only assume they think they’d automatically become rabid pillow-biters and would have to like flavored coffees and listen to Erasure. How is it that gay men can objectively find beauty in women, having grown up, after all, in the same society and having the same “ideals” of beauty reinforced throughout their lives, while straight men are unable to?

At least now there is this concept of “metrosexuality” (whose origin and etymology I find somewhat mysterious), which is some modern men’s outlet for expressing their appreciation for cleanliness, fashion and grooming without having people assume that they watch baseball just for the tight uniforms. Metrosexual men have truly broken free of their str8jackets (more likely than not to further confuse most gay men’s gaydar)!

Anyhoo, if any of you can think of other examples of men confined to their str8jackets, please post them! 😀

PS. I spelled it “str8jacket” instead of “straightjacket” because:

(a) It’s shorter and I’m lazy, damnit
(b) It can be considered “l337” and thus, immediately cooler to geeks, and I’m a geek, damnit
(c) I felt like it, and it’s my blog, damnit

August 24, 2005 Posted by | New term | 3 Comments

Parental twinge

On my last flight I was seated next to a little boy, around 10 years old, that was evidently travelling alone (he was escorted to his seat by one of the flight attendants). He was wistfully looking out the window, and after a few minutes he started crying quietly. It wasn’t the annoying, attention-seeking cry of a spoiled little kid, but rather the mournful, dignified crying of a boy that’s old enough to feel shame for crying in public, and yet not old enough to be able to do anything about it. As his big sorrowful eyes welled up with tears, for the first time I felt what can only be described as a parental twinge, this notion that this boy needed taking care of and that I should somehow do just that: I felt this urge to put my arm around him, hold him tight, and tell him everything was going to be all right, or to at least ask him what was wrong.

Of course I did none of those things: the Rafa rooted in reality is as cowardly as he is not destined to be a parent. I glanced at him once in a while, watching him regain his composture, and wanting desperately for him to engage in conversation so I could try to make him feel better. During the flight we did talk a little bit about what he was seeing through the window and about just how many swimming pools people in Orlando have, but after he had calmed down it almost seemed cruel to bring up the subject and ask him why he had been crying. I could not tell if he was sad for someone he was leaving behind, something he was going to have to face after landing, or some deeper sorrow that would have inexorably followed him to the farthest corner of the earth.

After we deplaned, the thing that struck me was that all through the flight, even after he had stopped crying, I never once saw him smile.

A ten-year-old should always be smiling.

August 15, 2005 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Travelling while Puerto Rican

Having flown to and from Puerto Rico this past weekend, it occurs to me that, as air travellers, we Puerto Ricans have several distinguishing features. I shall try to list some of them:

1. Every member of the family needs to come to the airport to say goodbye — if the aisles in a Puerto Rican airport seem crowded, it’s because 90% of the people there are not travellers, but actually their families and extended families: they will accompany the actual travellers to the security checkpoint and stand there watching until the traveller has completely disappeared from view or landed at his or her destination, whichever occurs first

2. Puerto Ricans never travel light. Ever — this whole FAA mandate of allowing only one carry-on luggage and one “personal item” clearly doesn’t apply to Puerto Ricans: we need 4 bags per person, since we’re bringing pasteles and quesitos to no less than five relatives on the mainland

3. Everyone must travel with a baby — presumably since Hispanics are dead-set on taking over the United States one unwanted teenage pregnancy at a time, all Puerto Ricans must travel with at least one crying baby: note that it doesn’t matter if the Puerto Rican in question doesn’t even have a baby: it’s a little known fact that 90% of kidnappings in the country are a direct result of baby-less Puerto Ricans with an upcoming flight

4. The right time to board the plane is now — it doesn’t matter whether the airline is trying to board the plane by row numbers, or more quaintly, by group numbers: Puerto Ricans will stand up as soon as they start announcing the boarding process and will try (repeatedly if necessary) to board the plane regardless of the section currently being boarded (someone, after all, may take their seat if they don’t board right fucking now)

5. Everyone must clap upon landing — to thank the pilot for not smearing their bodies on the landing strip, Puerto Ricans will clap after the plane has landed (to the embarrassment and chagrin of the younger generations)

All that said, on my last flight this was an older gentleman that made a cellphone call to someone (presumably his daughter or grand-daughter) just because he hadn’t been able to properly say good-bye to her, to wish her well and give her his blessing: I found that to also be a typically-Puerto Rican gesture that kind of made me nostalgic for my long-gone grand-parents.

So, did I miss any? 🙂 I’m sure I did, so post away!

August 15, 2005 Posted by | Uncategorized | 6 Comments

No longer a bastard! Weeeee!

I went to Puerto Rico this past weekend (just a short Friday-to-Sunday stint) to be at my parents’ church wedding (well, technically a vow renewal, as they got married by a justice of the peace 30 years ago). I guess this means I am no longer the Hell-bound bastard fruit of a Godless marriage, yeay! Well, I suppose it’s still debatable whether I am still Hell-bound, or a bastard for that matter (feel free to post your opinions on either account). 😉

The ceremony was nice, short, and just for the handful of close friends and family that attended. The day before the actual wedding, during the rehearsal, the priest roped my sister and me into doing some readings during the ceremony: and I thought I just came to walk Mom down the aisle and eat good food and cake! I guess God moves in mysterious ways (mainly because His representatives on Earth are quite sneaky)!

The funniest part of the ceremony was when the priest read a passage that insinuated that my Mom, over 60 years old, was “fertile soil,” which I guess is priest-speak for “barren rocky terrain where not even cacti would grow.” I think some of the passages should be tailored to the people being wed (the whole part about raising their children in the Church was particularly laughable: I am sorry to say that that ship has sailed, gotten lost at sea, and eaten by a sea serpent).

The reception was held at our house and I have to say I had a good time, as I got to see many relatives that I barely get to see anymore (the worst of which, in small doses, are still fun to be with). I did get plagued by the same question over and over: “So, when are you getting married?” Ok, let me state this plainly: that is ostensibly the stupidest question ever. Unless I had an actual fiancé, a wedding date, and the law on my side, the inevitable answer to that question is “I don’t know”: what answer are they actually expecting?

I am used to being asked that question by elderly folk: it seems that after a couple of generation gaps there are really very few topics of conversation that may be broached, from the banal (like the weather) to the horribly personal. I was surprised, however, that I was also asked the same question by other unmarried cousins, some younger, one about my age, and one even slightly older. My staple answer (since with the younger relatives I could afford to be more of my own smart-ass self) was: “Five days after you get married” (hopefully by then they will have forgotten all about it)! It was funny because, since my sister is getting married in December, even the priest had asked me: I felt quite tempted to say: “Well, never, if your Church has anything to say about it!”, but visions of fire and brimstone danced in my head and I decided to keep my trap shut.

I also found it curious that whenever an older relative asked and I said, as politely as I could, that I don’t know (not being a prescient seer and all), they always seemed a bit embarrassed to have asked and quickly replied that it was all right, that there was no hurry, and that I should just enjoy my bachelorhood (as if I had indicated any discontent in not being married), which leads me to ask why they were so intent in asking in the first place… but what can you do, right? Family: can’t live with ’em, can’t kill them and bury them in the cellar because there are no cellars in Puerto Rico.

And with that lovely murderous thought, I bid you adieu. 🙂

August 15, 2005 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Bad Paragraph! Bad Paragraph!

I was reading this year’s winners of the 2005 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. If you are unfamiliar with this contest, they basically challenge people to write really really bad first paragraphs for a potential novel or short story (apparently Edward George Bulwer-Lytton was the pretentiously-named novelist who gave us that staple of suspense novels, “It was a dark and stormy night”). Many of the paragraphs were indeed very funny, and I particularly liked this entry for the “Vile Puns” category:

Falcon was her name and she was quite the bird of prey, sashaying past her adolescent admirers from one anchor store to another, past the kiosks where earrings longed to lie upon her lobes and sunglasses hoped to nestle on her nose, seemingly the beginning of a beautiful friendship with whomsoever caught the eye of the mall tease, Falcon.

Jay Dardenne
Baton Rouge, LA

I shall now try my hand at this, evoking the spirit of Agatha Christie if she had been a pill-popping crack addict:

The butler served the afternoon tea to Lord Nigel Thurpleton III, and gave him a smile clearly saying “The Butler Did It!” that went unseen, which explains why they found Lord Thurpleton III dead four hours later with a dagger in his heart with a note saying “Go fetch your own damn tea!” written in perfect penmanship.

Can you come up with a bad first paragraph, too? 🙂

August 8, 2005 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment