So who am I?
I am William Jonathan Keith. I am the author of this web page. I am the only trombone-playing Physics and Math major in the '99 alumni class of the University of Texas Longhorn Band, the Showband of the Southwest. I am the only Texan grad student in math here at Pennsylvania State University. I am one of many American mutts, part Dutch(maybe German), part Irish, and part Cherokee and maybe Choctaw, because I am the oldest son of my mother, who I am reasonably sure is a descendant of Cornelius Beaver, someone I would like to know more about. I am the owner of a stuffed puppy named Brownie who sits on top of my TV. I am a fan of anime, The Daily Show, and The West Wing. I am the kind of guy who will confess to doing something wrong even if I know I won't get caught. I am 5'9", and have good posture from being a proud person and marching with a trombone for seven years. I have green eyes, brown hair, glasses, more weight than I should, and a remarkable facility for being remembered by people whom I haven't the faintest clue as to the identity of(perhaps I've met YOU). I am one of the many people who has shaken the hand of a President, spoken personally to my Congressional Representative, and taken a picture with my Governor, but possibly the only one who discussed politics with my State Legislature Representative to fulfill a Boy Scout merit badge requirement while he was first campaigning. I am single and looking, and determined to show natural selection who's boss. I am the owner of a sense of humor which is pretty peculiar but keeps me laughing enough at strange or subtle situations to stay happy. I am the writer of a number of amateur short stories, some of which are in production, some virtually abandoned, and some of which are on the Web or otherwise stored under various names.
To you, I am what I do that affects you.
To me, I am what I think.
Maybe I can tell you some of what I think, so that you can know who I think I am. A little, anyway.
...that reality exists.
I exist as a delineated portion of a larger world that includes my environment and other people. These people experience a similar condition, with individual viewpoints. These viewpoints differ from my own but perceive the same world: if we define measurable characteristics of the world and independently engage in such measurement, then communicate truthfully to each other, we will learn that our findings comport well, producing agreed-upon facts.
...that reality is irrespective of belief.
Truth must be respected, because it will not placidly conform itself when I am in error. Being not all-knowing, I understand that the world exists beyond and in some ways in contravention of my impressions. These facts give me the opportunity to grow by investigation and to improve by correction. The twin motivations give rise to attitudes of scientific inquiry and self-reflection, lacking either of which would stunt my existence at the root.
...that reality is understandable.
The experiences I and other collect can be organized systematically. This organization expands my existence by allowing my understanding to encompass reality beyond my personal experience communicated to me by others, and allowing me to communicate my experience to others as well. In this enterprise, trust is important: error should be sought and corrected, and those involved must adhere to the truth. I should strive to remain trustworthy. Readily extending trust rapidly expands the experiences available to me, a significant benefit which means I should rescind trust only with significant proof of the need.
...that reality is amenable to action.
I am part of the world. My actions affect it in generally predictable ways. I thus have the capability to change the world. I do so quantitatively with every action I undertake, and opportunities exist for me to drive qualitative change on a variety of scales. These changes are most beneficial to myself and others when based on an accurate understanding of the world and shaped by careful consideration. Changes beneficial to myself and not to others are so rare as to merit extreme caution before undertaking such actions.
On more specific issues, I think:
- That before you do anything, if you're not sure about it, you should think about why you're doing it.
- That in place of trying to "do good," or "fight evil," there's something you can do
which covers both, and is a little easier to do concretely: "Make the world a better place."
- That morality is the hindsight of a culture. I.e., there are always going to be unforeseeable consequences of your actions, and when you make your decisions, there's not much you can do to plan for these. Only in hindsight can you say, "Ah, I should have
done such-and-such." Good news - there's a set of general principles that can, at least in some small way, account for such factors.
- That the best sleep I've ever gotten was on a thin mattress and a sleeping bag under a tent in the middle of a Texas summer at a Boy Scout camp, and ever since then I have
understood the phrase, "The sleep of the just."
- That thinking long-term is the only way to go. Sustainable use is the only sane use.
- That the vote does not obtain its power from the strength of the majority to enforce its will, but from the faith that an average person will come to the right conclusion most of the time.
- That the average person will come to the right conclusion most of the time.
- That space exploration is the only thing other than war which we've seen requires vast amounts of national resources, can be fueled by competition, calls for those among the strongest, healthiest, and most capable of our young population, and that space exploration has the possibility of being war's equal in the only area which war is good for, namely, the stimulation of technological leaps and economic advances.
- That the outcome in which somebody dies is usually by default the worst answer to the problem.
- That voter apathy is the biggest threat to American democracy today.
- That an uninformed vote is still worse than no vote at all.
- That early to bed and early to rise... works.
- That a good vocabulary of quotes, excerpts, and other kinds of 'bits of concept' (even(gasp) sound bites), readily accessible, is as essential to the creation and communication of a well-formed idea as a good vocabulary of words is to the creation and communication of a well-formed sentence.
- That to this end reading, listening to music, watching movies, studying art, watching the occasional sunrise, anything that can be done to crystallize another of those neat but amorphous ideas floating around in your brain into something you can express to other people, will enhance your ability to make yourself known and productive (and whatever else might matter to you).
- That if you're certain you won't get caught... you're wrong.
- That one of the greatest strengths we have cultivated is our ability to learn - whatever we touch, changes us... but that whatever we touch we change... that herein lies our greatest weakness, as well as our greatest strength.
- That this is the deal with solitude: some of the time people don't quite get that all those other people are actually different people from themselves - so they want those other people around them. I mean, you want to know where you are, right? But during the times while you do understand this(and it can be a frightening thing to realize, that there are a lot of 'not-me's in existence), the world gets a lot more complicated, and hence one has the urge to pretend other people aren't there. This is much easier when you're alone. It can help you understand things; it's an idealizing approximation, just you and the world. But it's only an approximation; one comes back into people's company in order to re-experience the real world in the light of whatever new understanding one has gained.
- That someday I'm going to sit down, make a 3000 X 3000 or so array of population density in North America by square mile, write up a pretty simple computer algorithm, calculate the spot in the Lower 48 States where I would be the farthest possible total distance from every last person on the continent... and vacation there. For a long while.
- That dealing with large numbers of people is kind of like dealing with particle statistics: you get different results(each valid in different ways) depending on whether you consider people as distinguishable or indistinguishable particles.
- That teachers get less respect than they deserve.
- That silence is a strong argument, a stout shield, and a beauty of its own kind.
- That silence is not an end in itself, but a fine means.
- That there are more kinds of silence than not saying anything, the silence of sound: waiting is silence of action, for example, and restraint a silence of passion.
- That life is good.
- That this list would probably go on for as long as I can type if I let it. But I'll stop here for now.
Oh, did you want to know what I look like? Well, what does that have to do with who I am? [chuckle] Actually, I'm well aware of how much it has to do with that. So here you go: