A piece by our donor Joël Kuiper

We (the YearbookCee of 19-20) asked for a quote, and this is what we got. Have fun reading!

As many coming of age stories, it goes like this: there is not enough time.
It is tempting to look back at your past self with rose coloured glasses.
As if things were somehow better when you were young. More colourful. Well at least there was more sex, that is for sure.
Except that it is not true. Interpret that how you will.
Memories are strange things: we tend to remember novelty. And when we are young everything is novel.
But as we grow older, things tend to get stuck in patterns.
"You know the drill".
This allows us, as humans, to be very effective at repeating actions. Even predicting the future.
Memories, however, are very bad at keeping track of time.
As Einstein once put it: "When a pretty girl sits on your lap for an hour, it seems like a minute.
When you sit on a hot stove for a minute it seems like an hour".
So time, in essence, is meaningless. We remember things in an almost dreamlike state.
Or rather: exactly like a dream. Memories and dreams are echoes of ourselves.
A shout in to the distance, only to be heard later. Distorted by the momentary flashes of life.

But still, when it is late at night and the music plays through the headphones, I ask myself: how much time do we have left?
There are at least two ways you can look at that.

How much time do I have?
That is the great unknown. As Carlos Casteneda puts it: death stalks us every step of the way.
So personally, that question is easy: you do not know when you will die. When time will run out.
The best you can do is stand behind your decisions, fully knowing that most things are arbitrary.
To take responsibility, see things through, and have no regrets.
That seems almost dogmatic. As if you cannot change your mind: of course you can. Change your mind often.
Change your mind when you are wrong, because you nearly always are. Change your mind when you feel like it.
But, when you do change your mind: do it with the full intent of seeing it through.
"Strong beliefs, loosely held". Or as he calls it "controlled folly".
I guess to some extend he borrowed the idea from the existentialist zeitgeist: to live an authentic life.
What authentic entails is a uniquely personal affair. Existence precedes essence.
Nothing and nobody in this world is born into it with a purpose, a meaning.
We, as humans, give meaning to things. And that includes life.
The age-old question "what is the meaning of life" has a deceptively complex answer: "it is up to you".
That struggle is one we all go through when we have time to sit and think.
Deeper you go.
What does it mean to be moral when you, and only you, has to give purpose to your life? Does a moral life necessitate an authetic life?
If there is no higher being, no moral absolute, how do we know even know what a good life is?
Are there points I can score?
"Tell me what to DO!" one might shout quietly. But nobody will answer. It is up to you.

But how much time do we have left?
That I do not know. Not a lot.
You can run the math yourself. Two generations tops before the whole thing collapses.
Ah yes. Armageddon. The great revelation.
One last puzzle to solve.
There is a knot in my stomach.
People around me have started getting children.
As if they are just something you buy at a grocery store.
It all seems so stupid. So futile.
The same feeling Richard Feynman had when discussing the atomic bomb: why even bother with anything, it will just be gone anyway.
And it will be gone anyway.
At the projected changes in climate we will face major food shortages in the next decade.
Food shortages compounded by social instability means economic collapse.
Economic collapse means war. This is not rocket surgery: any high schooler with time can figure this out.
But we are not figuring this out are we? Or maybe it is already too late.

If memories are like dreams, then this my nightmare: it is already too late.
The apocalypse already begun decades ago. There is no stopping it. The wheels have been set in motion.
Like the proverbial train wreck, no slamming of the breaks will ever be enough.
The train will run us over, through no fault of the driver, just by sheer momentum.
And we will point fingers, build walls, and buy bigger guns. But the only thing to blame is a Kafkaesque system.
A maze of moral ambiguity. The banality of evil. No right or wrong, "we just did a job". We did not know.

But then the question becomes: how much time do I have left?
There is this overwhelming tension between what I know, in my heart, to be true. And the actions I take.
I sit here, just bought a house, a computer, a camera.
And I just sit here, write code for "Big Pharma", statistics, Machine Learning, "Artificial Intelligence".
But there is no salvation: we will all be dead soon.

What does it mean to give purpose in the face of the apocalypse?
That is the question I struggle with.
Is there difference between making breakfast on an ordinary day, or making breakfast on the day you will die?
Is there meaning to a last supper?

I tend to look up at the stars. That might have been trait I learned this decade.
Learn a skill every year if you can. It helps to keep your mind sharp.
"Sharp" as if that is a trait you can give intelligence; it will always just be a dull knife.
Maybe we were never smart enough to see it: time and space.
Sometimes I wonder if this whole "human" thing was doomed from the start.
We have harnessed the atom, our computers are so stupidly complex that no single human can understand them anymore.
We build systems that vastly surpass our own individual capabilities.
Space is so impossibly vast that we have only just begun to realize there are stars missing in the night sky.
There might be life on Mars, and we might have discovered it when the first robot ever set down.
We just kind of ignored the results.
But if time is running out: what about space?
The only solution I can think of is to send probes. A lot of them. Broadcast everything we know.
They will never be found. Nobody will ever see them again.
So what is the point you might wonder?

There is a fringe theory, or conspiracy theory if you will: there might have been intelligent life on this planet before.
Or on Venus. Through millions, possibly even billions, of years of erosion and plate tectonics every trace has been wiped out.
This is of course just a theory. But if it is even a remote possibility: let's just leave a note.
"We were here, learn from our mistakes".
Or maybe there are such notes, and we have never found them. Who knows?

I love the term echoes. And Echo State Networks, and all things related to it.
To capture time and space in a single idea.
A single idea as I continue to struggle with the very basics of meaning.
It is okay to say "I do not know".
Maybe these echoes in my head about the end of time, the apocalypse, are just that.
Momentary flashes of thought, bouncing off of the walls of life.
As if it is something a psychiatrist can solve. Something to "talk about".
Something to "work through", as adults do.
But maybe time is running out, for all of us.
And if that is the case. Truly the case. Then I do not know what to tell you.
You have to give meaning. And it is okay to cry.
It is okay to despair. And it is also fine to ignore it.
The next decade will be a bumpy ride. But to quote Bill Hicks "it is just a ride".
Just remember to be kind to all living things. No matter how tough it gets, there is always room for compassion.