In this week’s episode of “The Gilded Age,” Agnes warns another character that a man who seems nice is actually an “adventurer.”

The meaning is clear enough from context: He’s no good. Watch out.

But I vaguely remembered that “adventurer” had a specific meaning in the Gilded Age, and it’s been bugging me since we watched the show Wednesday night. I finally looked it up on Merriam-Webster this morning, and found this as the second definition of adventurer: “somewhat old-fashioned : one who seeks unmerited wealth or position especially by playing on the credulity or prejudice of others.” Which is, clearly, exactly what Agnes intended to say.

I woke up early this morning, fizzy with ideas and energy, and when I got to my desk my Mac said, “Oh, good, you’re here—shut down Word so I can reboot and update the operating system. That’ll take a half hour. You’re good not doing anything useful for a half hour, right?”

Then my fingers and brain decided it would be super-fun to to mistype my password a half-dozen times for no reason at all so I’d be locked out of my computer entirely for a few more minutes.

That means today is only going to get better, right?

Public domain mythology

Last year I read “Lonesome Dove,” by Larry McMurtry. It took me much of the year. It’s a looooooong book. Then we watched the series. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed many Westerns.

After finishing my mini-Lonesome Dove binge, I got to thinking about shared mythology and folklore. 75 years ago, the US had Westerns, and we exported those to the rest of the world. Anybody could create a story featuring Wyatt Earp as hero, or set in Dodge City, and plug into an existing framework.

You didn’t have to pay for it, or ask permission.

Now our shared mythology is all Star Wars, Star Trek, Game of Thrones, LoTR and the Marvel and DC superhero universes. It’s all owned by big companies. Creators and fans are sharecroppers on other people’s land.

Sure, Westerns were racist, imperialist, sexist, and heteronormative. But we lost something valuable when we traded them for corporate licensed intellectual property.

I have a bunch of nutritional supplements I’ve started taking with meals, and also there are nutritional supplements that I give to the dog, and all the containers are mixed up together on the kitchen counter, and so if I start barking at cats or licking myself inappropriately in public, that means I got the containers mixed up.

I enjoyed the second episode of “The Gilded Age” even more than the first and felt guilty about it so at the end I shouted “THEIR CAPITALIST BLOOD WILL FLOW LIKE WATER TO FERTILIZE THE SOIL OF THE PROLETARIAT!!” and I felt better.

A philosopher explores the nature of reality using “The Matrix” and other science fiction as thought experiments

The universe of “The Matrix” is an illusion constructed by malevolent godlike AIs. Nothing in the Matrix is real. But we might also think of objects in a simulation as real, but digital rather than physical.

On Ars Technica, Jennifer Ouellette interviews NYU philosopher David Chalmers, author of the new book, “Reality+: Virtual Worlds and the Problems of Philosophy.”

Exploring mind-bending questions about reality and virtual worlds via The Matrix

Chalmers:

I partly got into this about 15 years ago through watching my five-year-old nephew play with SimCity. He built up the city and the environment and all the people. Then he said, “Now, here’s the fun part,” and he just set fire to it all, sent in earthquakes and tidal waves. I thought, “OK, now I understand the Old Testament God.”

Even if we’re living in a simulation, if I stub my toe, the pain is real.

The metaverse already exists, and it is very old

The metaverse has existed since the invention of language and art.

The metaverse is the universe of information the human race has been building for 200,000 years, beginning with the emergence of modern homo sapiens in Africa. Our ancestors began to make drawings by daubing red ochre on cave walls, and probably had language and other modern behavior too. They began to build the metaverse then, an information architecture that exists outside any individual mind, in illustrations or speech that was memorized and shared between people and from one generation to the next.

Writing accelerated the construction of the metaverse, emerging 5,000 years ago and providing a much improved means of preserving and communicating information. Writing started with financial records, records of transactions, and laws and administrative orders by political leaders. That is the principal form of the metaverse today.

Of course, computers accelerated the development of the metaverse even more. You exist both in the real world and the metaverse. The metaverse you is your financial, employment, and criminal history, the records of your interactions with governments and most businesses. If you’re stopped by the police, or try to take out a mortgage, or you need lifesaving medical care that costs as much as a new car or house, your metaverse version is as important to your life as your physical self.

Wars are primarily fought in the metaverse. “Amateurs talk tactics, professionals study logistics” has been attributed to Gen. Omar Bradley. (More quotes about military logistics here) Logistics is the science of getting bullets, uniforms, vehicles, guns, food, shelter, and all other essential equipment from the real echelons to the front, where soldiers can use them. Logistics require a whole lot of record-keeping. Logistics happen in the metaverse. It’s been said that World War II was won with the typewriter.

Those of us who work and socialize primarily through screens, and did so even before Covid, live much of our lives in the metaverse.

The recent talk about the metaverse, with virtual reality and avatars, is just the latest step in a journey that’s been going on for hundreds of thousands of years. Personally, I’m skeptical that people are going to want to live large parts of their lives with their eyes covered by screens. But it doesn’t matter. The metaverse is already here, and it’s nothing new.