Category Archives: Prose

Everything’s an Algorithm (well, almost everything)

I started out at Ohio State University majoring in Fine Arts. Two years later, I switched majors to Psychology. When I graduated OSU, I went looking for a job, thinking I’d combine my fine arts background with the psychology I’d learned. Five out of five companies I interviewed showed little interest in fine arts, psychology, or any combination thereof. It was 1969 and all the companies were looking for computer programmers back then, so I went to work for Sears, Roebuck and Company as a computer programmer.

Sears had an excellent training program and I fell head over heels in love with computer programming. I remember my first day of training. We were told to draw a flowchart that would direct a hypothetical robot to enter our office building, go up three elevators, get off on the 47th floor, and go to our office cubicle. We hadn’t learned any computer language yet, so we had to write our instructions for the robot using basic English commands that wouldn’t lend themselves to misinterpretation, like “walk straight until you reach the first elevator” or “press the button with “47” printed on it”.

I later found out, after reading Donald Knuth’s “Fundamental Algorithms” (The Art of Computer Programming Vol 1), that a flowchart is a graphic representation of an algorithm. Knuth stated that algorithms were similar to processes, methods, procedures, or routines, but also possessed the following attributes:

  • finiteness: algorithms have to terminate after a finite number of steps. They can’t go on forever;

  • definiteness: operations (steps) have to be rigorously and unambiguously specified for every possible case;

  • inputs: data may or may not be given to an algorithm before or during its operation;

  • outputs: data generated by an algorithm’s operation that bears some relation to its input;

  • effectiveness: an algorithm must be able to be precisely performed within a finite period of time and must be exactly repeatable.

These attributes imply that not everything is an algorithm as the title of my post suggested.

Algorithms are the cornerstone of all computer and robot programming, including machine learning and artificial intelligence. The implementation of algorithms requires that the operations, cases, inputs, and outputs specified for each algorithm be converted to a format that can be processed by a specific machine or operating system. Computer hardware is built to perform certain basic operations efficiently. Unfortunately, the formats a computer can “understand” are usually incomprehensible to the average human. Computer software allows general or special purpose algorithms to be written by humans (or other machines) to operate on a specific set of computers.

Remember that algorithms are processes, methods, procedures, or routines with extra attributes. We’ve implemented them on computers and robots. Nobody ever said that algorithms are limited to just those systems though.

What about cellular organisms, bacteria, fungi, plants, and animals? What about human beings? Why couldn’t we substitute plastic for flesh, organs, and muscles, metal for bones, gold and wires for nerves, or vice-versa? What about life itself, the brain, consciousness, or love? Could there be an algorithm for life, consciousness, or love?

It seems reasonable to me to assume that life, consciousness, and love possess the following attributes:

  • they are processes;

  • the processes are probably composed of a finite number of steps;

  • the processes probably have inputs and generate outputs.

but life, consciousness, and love are currently missing a couple critical attributes:

  • we don’t know all the operations required or the cases in which those operations occur;

  • we don’t know how to go about encoding the algorithms to make them effective.

Maybe we don’t need to know all the operations involved in life, consciousness, and love. Maybe we just need to know enough to create viable processes or processes capable of bootstrapping whatever else they need whenever they need it.

There are more questions on this subject than answers. I’m ok with that. There’s no known algorithm for whittling a huge block of ignorance down to a beautiful piece of knowledge or for whittling a piece of goodness out of a huge block of evil. That’s probably because those are processes that go on forever,

or at least as long as hope springs in the human breast.


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Adventures and Normalities

The only way you’re going to have an adventure, good or bad, will be when you are alone. The reason is that two or more people make a normality.

A normality is a mutually agreed worldview and set of rules and beliefs establishing the boundaries of possibility and safety. Once we agree about what kind of world we live in, we get to decide what is or is not possible, proper or improper, acceptable or unacceptable, true or false, beautiful or ugly, visible or invisible, etc.

An adventure is everything a normality is not. You don’t know what kind of world you’re in. You don’t know the rules. Maybe there are none. An adventure is boundless. Anything is possible. There are no safety nets, no guarantee of safety. You may or may not survive a war, a revolution, a pogrom, or a holocaust. You might discover and explore a new world and come back home famous and rich beyond your wildest dreams or you might be tortured and die far from home, unknown or forgotten. You might marry the love of your life or be rejected.

An adventure is deeply personal. Although you may share an adventure with someone else, your foxhole buddy, your squad, your company, your battalion, what happens to you all, happens to each one in a very different way, the fears and the loves, the successes and the failures. No matter how many people are killed, only you can die your own death. No matter how many people fall in love, when you fall in love, it’s you and no one else that falls in love.

In a battlefield, army buddies will try to turn the adventure of combat into a normality, into something safe or boring. It’s just a way of trying to deal with the terror of war. There’s a limit to how much terror an individual soul can take. Shutting down the terror works, until it doesn’t work anymore, until its insistence can’t be ignored.

I remember back in 1983 riding through Beirut on the way to our base in the Shouf mountains in a convoy of Safari trucks. We called them duce-and-a-halfs when I was in the US Army. Now I was in the Israeli Defense Forces. The truck sides were open, a guy behind a machine gun on each side, and the rest of us, bullets chambered, weapons looking for targets. I tried to look as mean as I could and didn’t talk during the whole trip. When we finally pulled into our base in the mountains overlooking Beirut, the soldier sitting next to me said in Hebrew we’re safe now. No need to be afraid anymore. I told him I wasn’t afraid before but, the truth was, I didn’t feel any safer inside the base than outside of it. At night we went to sleep in full battle gear with rifles under our thin mattresses on metal cots, serenaded by the Druze and the Christians lobbing mortar shells over us at each other. During the day I had to lay field phone cable a mile or so from Syrian shooting positions.

People often wish wistfully for an adventure. I think they’re highly over-rated. That said, I believe adventures bring us closer to reality than normalities.


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The Paradox of the Heap

There is an ancient Greek paradox, called the Sorites Paradox, originally attributed to Eubulides of Miletus. “Sorites” is Greek for “heap”. The paradox goes like this: suppose you have a heap of sand and then you start removing one grain of sand at a time. At what point does the heap of sand stop being a heap.

You can reverse it: start out with one grain of sand and then add another grain and another. At what point do your grains of sand become a heap?

Now, we can apply this paradox to more interesting categories of subjects.

A child is shamed by a number of his classmates and hangs himself as a result. Let’s say hypothetically the number of classmates involved in shaming the child was five. Say one less classmate shamed him. Would he still hang himself? Say two less? Three less? Let’s reverse it: say one person shamed him. Then two. Then three. At what point would the child be so ashamed that he would take his own life?

During an average week, there are one or two mass shooting incidents somewhere in America. A mass shooting has been defined for statistical purposes as gun-related deaths or injuries of at least four people. We could go back over the years and add up all the gun-related deaths and come up with a mind-boggling number. My question is this: at what point in the future will we collectively decide that enough is enough and pass laws to regulate who gets legal access to guns and rifles? A million? Ten million? A hundred million?

At what point does the murder of non-combatants become genocide? At what point does it become a Holocaust? A thousand? A million? Six million? We know by studying history that the actions of Hitler and the Nazi party led to the Holocaust. How many of those actions does another nation’s leader have to take before we can say that these actions will lead to another holocaust? One? Ten? A hundred?

We can study history and learn its lessons, but that does not necessarily mean that we will know how to apply those lessons to our present or future situations.

Shimon Peres once said that we should spend more time studying the future than studying the past. How do we study the future? We start out by asking ourselves what we want and then figure out what we have to do to get from now to then.

But there are things we can never know with any kind of precision, like how much cruelty, injustice, unfairness, deprivation, derision, ridicule, or invisibility can a person or a group of people take before they can’t take any more? What can we do? How do we know that what we are doing to someone is the last straw for him or her? Immanuel Kant provided the answer in his Categorical Imperative. He said we should consider what would happen if everyone did what we are thinking about doing. Kant asserted that if everyone did it and it would lead to the destruction of society, then it would be immoral; otherwise, it would be moral, or at least not immoral. I would suggest a slight alteration of Kant’s assertion for our purposes: if everyone did it before you and it is something you wouldn’t want done to you, then your doing so should be treated like the last straw, should be avoided, and another way should be sought.

The Freedom Paradox is that we are free to do or say whatever we want, but we are not free of the consequences of what we do or say. Everything we do or say has consequences, like the ripples a stone thrown into a pond cause. Although we can never know all the consequences of our actions, we must take responsibility for them as adults. The law may let us off the hook on certain of those consequences, but the laws of morality and reality do not let us off any hook whatsoever.

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What We Know and What We Believe

For most of us, who don’t have direct access to experimental evidence, there’s not much difference between what we know for sure and what we believe. Please reread the first sentence. I am not being a Doubting Thomas or a cynic. I’m just asserting an obvious fact. Only a few people, scientists and lab technicians, have direct access to experimental evidence. Only they can test a hypothesis, control the inputs, and measure the results. When the results are valid, interesting, can be replicated and pass peer reviews, then and only then can we read them and form our own opinions about the results. Our opinions are based on our beliefs: our belief that the tests were rigorously controlled and statistically significant, the results were replicated independently, the peer reviews were objective and the hypothesis is consistent with our other beliefs.

Most of us may say that we know something for sure, but what we are really saying is that we believe that something to be true.

I’m not even saying that science is a religion because that would be a disservice to both science and religion. Both have their own domains and rules of validity. Not many of us possess the time or the resources to verify hypotheses about objective reality. If all of us had to verify scientifically whether the ground beneath our feet is solid (which it is not), we never would have descended from the trees of our local savannah a million or so years ago.

I am saying most of us don’t have direct access to objective reality, which makes what scientists do exceedingly important to us.

Even the things we believe that don’t correspond to objective reality can be very important to us. There are “provable” fictions we believe that organize and synchronize us, that make multitudes of us coherent over space and time, and that provide us social identities that outlive any individual member.

Fictions give rise to religions, nation-states, armies, corporations, tribes, families and mobs. Organizations based on fictions can be temporary or can last thousands of years. They can comprise two or more people, or billions.

One of the fictions important to me is the fiction of the soul or spirit. Today, I wrote a poem about the relationship between body and spirit.

The Spirit and the Body

Raanana, January 6, 2018

The spirit and the body live symbiotically,

Though neither needs the other,

They both enrich each other.

The body imagines the spirit

Upon which the spirit incorporates the body

With its traits of goodness and beauty

And they grow by consuming each other,

Though neither is lessened in doing so.

The spirit sees all things, but not the individual,

The body sees only the particular and not the allthing.

The spirit can see forever, but knows not the time of day,

The body knows this moment, but not what was or what will.

Together, they are God and the universe.

Because of them, there are acts of God

And the day-to-day happenings of the world.

Mike Stone

Raanana, Israel


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The Rational Series Is Out with an Amazing Deal

The Rational Series - 41QmCzx+ReL

The Rational Series, The complete set of novels from The Rational Series by Mike Stone, including “Why Is Unit 142957 Sad? (or The Tin Man’s Heart), “The Rats and the Saps”, “Whirlpool”, and Out of Time”.

Digital version available on Kindle: ($5.00)

Paperback version available on Amazon: ($29.95)

The first novel is about a love affair between a robot and the beautiful programmer who created it, in an epic spanning millions of years and two galaxies. The second novel is about a war between Sapiens and a new species of humans, called Rationals. The third novel is an experimental psycho-science-fiction story taking place sometime in the future, involving an author in a mental institution and his characters. The fourth novel is about a battle to save the universe, between Rationals and Sapiens on one side and a species far superior to them. All this in one book!

If you love science fiction (or if you love someone who loves science fiction), this will make an amazing Christmas present. The four novels in paperback would cost you $75.84, but from now until Christmas you pay only $29.95!

Don’t wait! Click now. It’s the rational thing to do.

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Out of Time

Just a heads-up here. I’m starting on the third and final part of my fourth science fiction novel in the Rational Series. It’s called “Out of Time”. If you like sci-fi, especially from an author who does his homework, I think you’ll really like this one.

Like my other books, you can read the book “over my shoulders” while I’m working on it but, once I finish and publish it, all you’ll see are the links to purchase the book.

So take a look, over my shoulder, and let me know what you think of it. Just click the following link: Out of Time.

Mike Stone

Raanana, Israel



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Venus de Milo

“What can I do for you?”

“Well, Professor Palmer, I’ve been browsing the Internet and came across your work on false memories and external indicators differentiating false and true memories,” Axel answered the man sitting behind the oversized mahogany desk.

“That was based on research and clinical experience with childhood traumas such as those of rape or incest victims,” the professor explained.

Axel laughed, “That’s not my case, not that know of, at least that’s not why I came to you. Something’s been gnawing at me for the last few years now. Something that I took for granted since I was a child, something I believed to be true like the solidity of the ground I walk on.”

“Please go on,” the professor was skeptical but interested. The man sitting in the highback chair across from him seemed somewhat older than himself, physically fit, and not given to believing every passing nonsense.

“It’s something that is of consequence only to me but none-the-less has considerable impact on me,” Axel continued.

“What has been the impact on you?” the professor asked, looking for some classic symptom to latch onto.

“The impact on me has been to call into question all of my childhood memories related to my relationship with my birth mother,” Axel answered, taking the time to choose the precise words.

“Your birth mother?” the professor repeated, raising his eyebrow.

“Yes,” Axel explained. “that would deserve some elaboration. My father and mother divorced each other when I was seven years old. Dad remarried when I was nine. After some initial difficulties in accepting my new mother, I came to refer to her as “Mom” or “my mother”, and to the woman who gave birth to me as ‘my birth mother‘ or ‘my biological mother‘.”

“How did your birth mother feel about your referring to her as that?” the professor probed, thinking he might be getting closer to the core issue.

“Sorry,” Axel offered, “a little more elaboration is necessary. After my parents divorced, my birth mother also remarried. He was an army psychiatrist at the time, a nice enough man, although I didn’t have much to do with him. At first they lived just across the court from us in the same apartment complex my father and I lived in. Then they moved down south, a good day’s drive from us. They came to visit me a couple times a year, sometimes staying at a motel in town, sometimes bringing me back to their home. He never stood between my birth mother and me. I remember him always in the background. Some years later he was transferred to the Philippines. Of course my birth mother went with him. They were there three years. During that time they adopted a little girl. I remember getting a photograph of her in a letter. She must have been two years old or so. She was awfully cute. Three days before they were supposed to be rotated back to the States, my birth mother was doing some shopping in town when she was hit by a car and died. I was thirteen at the time. Her husband returned home with the infant and a coffin. She was buried in a cemetary in his home town. I never had any further contact with him.”

“That was quite a story,” the professor exhaled. “How did your birth mother’s death make you feel?”

“I was devastated,” Axel said, “but I got over it.”

“How did you get over it?” the professor asked.

“That’s the crux of the matter,” Axel also exhaled. “I never inquired into why my parents had divorced, at least not until a year or two before my father passed away. I have memories of my mother taking a switch to me when I was two years old. I remember her walking out of our house with a suitcase, getting into a cab, and driving away. I remember her coming to visit me after she had remarried, my running to wrap my arms around her waist, and her arms hanging limp at her sides. Later, after I’d studied Art History at college, I started associating her with Venus de Milo, because she had no arms to wrap around me. I assumed she never really loved me. Maybe she loved me in the beginning, but sometime afterward stopped. I assumed that might have had something to do with my father divorcing her and getting custody of me. My father always loved me, as much as I loved him. Of that, there was never any doubt in my mind.”

“So what caused you to call into question your childhood memories related to the relationship with your birth mother?” the professor probed further. It seemed obvious that this man was self-analytical to a fault. He might have made a decent psychologist, he thought, although the professor didn’t have much faith in psychologists with their talking therapies.

“A couple years before my father passed away, I took him out for a drive,” Axel answered. “We ended up driving past our old home, which Dad sold soon after the divorce. I was in my sixties at the time. Dad had recently turned eighty. I stopped the car in front of the house and asked Dad why he’d divorced my birth mother. He told me it was because she didn’t love him anymore, at least not the way he expected to be loved. I asked him what he meant and he told me she had said she loved him like a brother. Was that the only reason? I asked. Well sure, he answered, I didn’t want to be loved like a brother. I wanted to be loved like a lover, like a husband. I couldn’t wrap my brain around that. I told him married love is multi-faceted. There are many aspects to love when you are attracted to a person but, at the same time, care for her deeply like a husband but also like a father or like a brother. The existence of one aspect doesn’t preclude another aspect. Anyway, that’s why I divorced her, Dad told me, turning red. That’s the silliest reason for divorce I’ve ever heard, I said and we drove on.”

“Why did that cause you to question you childhood memories?” the professor asked Axel.

“A few years later,” Axel said slowly, “a woman came across my name on one of the social networks I belong to, quite by chance, she explained in a private message. She identified herself as the Philippine infant my mother and her husband had adopted. She confirmed the details I remembered about my mother’s second husband and the events surrounding her death. She said she had been rumaging around the attic of her adopted father’s house soon after he’d passed away. She had stumbled on a shoe box full of returned unopened letters addressed to me. She apologized for opening one of the letters but, after I told her it was ok with me, she read me the letter. The letter told me how much my mother had loved me and how much she missed me. The woman, my half-sister I guess, told me her father had talked about the divorce. He told her that my father had tricked or forced her to accept the conditions of the divorce. That was difficult for me to swallow since Dad had always been a gentle fair man, except when his back was against the wall; however, I could believe my grandfather was capable of being forceful to get his way. Dad had dropped out of college to elope with my mother, who came from a simple background, not that I cared an iota about that. My half-sister asked me what I wanted her to do with the box of letters. I told her I’d love for her to send them to me. She said she would. That’s the last I ever heard from her. I looked for her on the social network and sent her a followup message, but she never responded to me. It might be because of my political views, I don’t know.”

“So how do you think I could help you?” the professor asked.

Axel looked into Professor Palmer’s eyes and said, “After hearing Dad’s explanation about why he had divorced my Mom and then receiving those messages from my half-sister, I don’t know what to believe about my childhood up to the age of seven. Did my birth mother love me or did she not love me? How can I know what happened to me? How can I interpret what happened? How can I assimilate what happened? Were my memories my memories or were they implanted? If they were implanted, then when and by whom? The ground on which I walked as a child has disappeared from under my feet.”

After a moment the professor asked Axel, “What is it that you think I can do for you?”

“Obviously you are a psychiatrist, so you probably don’t put much stock in talk therapy,” Axel replied. “So I was thinking that, if you had experience with and access to a transcranial stimulator, say, a transcranial magnetic stimulator or a transcranial direct current stimulator, you might be able to do an fMRI of my head while showing me a picture of my mother and mapping the cells or regions that lit up. Then you could stimulate just those areas while I reported which memories popped up.”

“A nice idea,” the professor said, “but the TMS and the TDCS coils are only positioned for regions of the brain dealing with depression and other moods. Besides, what you’re asking for is a function not approved for those devices by the FDA. What you are requesting would require deep brain stimulation; which would require open brain surgery while you are conscious. Are you sure you’d want to do that?”

Axel thought about the professor’s words a long time before answering, “If it turned out that my memories were true and my mother didn’t love me, I could deal with that. If it turned out that my memorieswere false, that they were implanted, I could deal with that too. What I couldn’t deal with is thinking my mother didn’t love me when she did. It’s like a major chunk of my memory is missing, like I have amnesia, not being able to trust any of my childhood memories. So, yes, I’d be willing to undergo open brain surgery for the chance of getting back my childhood memories before I die.”

The professor tried to talk Axel out of what he considered to be a rather frivolous dicretionary but dangerous medical procedure. “We wouldn’t be able to differentiate between a true memory and a false memory; neither could we be able to tell apart a self-acquired memory from an implanted memory.”

Axel told the professor, “I’d be satisfied if you found a memory in which her arms are wrapped around me.”

The professor told Axel to go home and think it over, talk to his wife and children about it, and then give him a call if that’s what he’s decided. In any case, an elective surgery such as this would take up to a year to schedule, what with all the real life-and-death cases requiring surgery.

Axel thanked Professor Palmer for his time and patience, and promised to call him one way or the other.


The surgery was scheduled for 2:00 New Years morning. He reported to the hospital reception desk the day before the surgery, accompanied by his wife and children. He was assigned a private room and told to don the hospital pajamas. The nurses stuck him and probed him. He was taken to get an EEG, EKG, X-Ray, MRI, and fMRI.

“Do you still want to go through with this?” the professor asked Axel.

“Yep,” Axel answered.

“Can’t you talk any sense into him,” the professor asked Axel’s wife, glancing also at Axel’s sons.

“No,” Axel’s wife answered, her energy depleted. “Just make sure you bring him back to us, alive and functioning.”

“You know open brain surgery is never a slam dunk and Axel signed a waiver form protecting the hospital and us from any liability if the procedure has complications,” the professor said

“Yes, I know,” she responded. “He explained you wouldn’t perform the surgery if he didn’t sign the waiver. We wouldn’t sue you or the hospital if he were to wake up a vegetable, or didn’t wake up at all.”

Axel’s sons gathered closer around their mother, putting their hands on her shoulder.

A male nurse shaved Axel’s head. His wife gasped. Then she stood up and bent over him, kissing him on the cheek. “I love you,” she said. “See you on the other side.”

“Good luck, Dad,” the sons said and, one after the other, kissed their father.

The male nurse wheeled Axel out of the room and down the hall to the elevators.


The timeline bifurcated again, as it does every moment; afterall, we live in a quantum multiverse.

In one universe Axel’s surgery was a success in every way. The professor had stimulated a memory cell in Axel’s brain that triggered a memory of when his mother had hugged him warmly.

In another universe Axel’s surgery was a success but all the memories were of a mean cold-hearted mother who had no arms for hugging Axel.

In yet another universe Axel’s surgery was not quite successful. The young doctor assisting the professor had been handed an unsterilized scalpel. There was an infection and the inflamation spread through Axel’s brain. He went into a coma and, three days later, died; however, the professor had managed to trigger a memory of Axel’s mother hugging him. Then he lost consciousness.

Venus de Milo

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