25 Harpers Ferry, WV
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My self-summary
In the summer of 2012, I traveled the world. I was on a grand quest to break myself of habits, free myself from preconceptions, and learn to live in the moment. I gave myself over to Fate, and Fate brought me to a small island at the edge of the world. A three-thousand-year-old fortress stood at the top of a hundred-meter cliff; its makers had witnessed the dawn of civilization. As they piled the stones of the walls, they called out prayers to their wild gods, and the sea below surged against the cliffside. These ancients placed great significance on thresholds - this harsh and unforgiving boundary between land and sea was also a portal between this world and the next. For me it was a threshold between different phases of my life: sitting at the edge of this cliff at the edge of the world, I felt myself transformed and vastened by the calm of the sounds of the sea, by the immensity of the star-speckled sky.

Gazing at the bright black sky,
You only see yourself looking for yourself
When you look into the eyes of God,
They go on and on forever.


I am enamored with learning, knowledge, and epistemology. My life is an endless quest for understanding. If absolute truth exists, it's surely unattainable. Our senses are noisy channels and our minds are too small to contain all there is to know about the world. Thus, as mere humans, we must be content with building models of the world. A good model should be elegant and make accurate predictions about the world. But even optimizing my model according to these criteria is insufficient, since my understanding of the world informs my senses, which in turn inform my understanding of the world, leading to an endless feedback loop that could be perpetuating illusions. So I've come to the conclusion that the pursuit of truth is quixotic, and yet still I pursue it. I am endlessly refining my models, searching for an understanding of the world that is both accurate and elegant.

On the other hand, I am enraptured by the vastness of existence and the mystery inherent in the universe. I revel in the unknowable, and I rejoice in how small I am compared to the world. I do not want to know everything; I want the world to remain a mystery. I find so much beauty in the complexity of nature, and I am perpetually amazed by the sheer quantity of information that is present all around us at all times. The generality of language belies the detail that exists in the world. I see the universe as a hierarchy of emergent structures. Atoms coalesce into molecules, cells coalesce into organisms, neurons coalesce into minds. I imagine that there are much higher levels of emergent structures that we as humans cannot even begin to perceive, for we are merely pieces of them.

"I am half sick of shadows," said
The Lady of Shalott.


I find myself endlessly torn between experience and analysis. On one hand, I’d like to immerse myself fully in perception, to revel in the beauty of the universe, to let each moment suffuse me with wonder. I would like to pause for long moments in the park to watch the way the light shines through the leaves; I want to entwine myself completely with nature and the universe, to become just one more raindrop in the river of eternity.

But on the other hand, some duty calls me on — to achieve, to accomplish, to create something important, to leave a lasting footprint in the soil of our collective memory. It calls me forth, and I must turn away from the simple beauties of the world. To create, I distance myself from immediate perception; I look downward from my tower at the world below. I constantly analyze and separate and divide the unity of perception into a thousand threads that I weave into my tapestry. I must never view the world directly, only through the mirror of my highly analytical worldview.

I am seeking a way to reconcile these desires. It may simply involve balancing my life between these two states of mind.

"The bird fights its way out of the egg. The egg is the world. Who would be born must destroy a world. The bird flies to God. That God's name is Abraxas."

The process of becoming is not an easy one, but we are guided through our journeys by mythology, which has filtered down through a thousand limestone years of collective unconscious, the stories purifying, crystallizing into archetypes.

Sometimes it seems that we live in a society where unhappiness is unacceptable. "Purge your soul of sadness with our latest medication!" the advertisements cry. "Gorge your minds on endless technological distractions!" Drown out any semblance of independent thought; introspection can only reveal that which we do not want to see.

I believe that the only way to grow as a person is through confrontation with the darker aspects of ourselves and our world. One of my biggest fears is that we will build technology that will obviate the need for true personal growth. Then we will lose ourselves in an eternal, blissful infancy of constant stimulation, and forsake our potential for transcendence.

And no one showed us to the land
And no one knows the where or whys
But something stirs and something tries
And starts to climb towards the light


In January 2013, my friend and I drove to the arctic circle to see what it's like when the sun never rises. We followed the north road into the thickening snow, into the thickening trees; we bore onwards into that inhospitable land where civilization has chased the last of the wilderness. When we reached our destination, we found that there was no light pollution, only the blinding radiance of the universe. Never in my life have I seen such stars! They filled every corner of the sky; the air was thick with them. We laid down on the snow-covered ground, looking outward at the stars, and we clung to the earth's fragile gravity lest we fall into the sky. We watched in silence until the cold ground had swallowed all the warmth from our bodies; then we rose, turning our backs on the majesty of the universe, and fled back to our man-made refuge of light and heat. But the stars had ignited a fragment of fire inside me, and I carried it with me, burning, back to the lower latitudes of neon-blinded cities. I feel it still - it burns in my veins. It lacerates the veil of the ordinary, and the light spills out to shine through everything.

The kingdom of the father is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it.
Every man and every woman is a star.
He whose face gives no light shall never become a star.
Who would bring light must endure burning.
What I’m doing with my life
Wandering through realms. Encountering strangers. Trying to follow the rivers that run through my blood. Learning to embrace the madness and confusion of existence; fighting against the compulsion to constrain and control the world. Trying with every thread of my being to understand, but also struggling to accept that I cannot understand, that some experiences lie beyond the domain of verbal description, that some ideas are too fluid to be spoken because they slip through the cracks between the words. And some experiences are so intense that they fill the entire window of my awareness and banish everything else from my mind. These are the moments I long for; I seek them at the edges of the earth, where the veil grows thin between the worlds.


To be more concrete, I'm a fourth-year PhD student at Johns Hopkins, studying something that I've been calling "computational epistemology" because I don't actually know which field I belong to: my PhD will be in computer science, my department does natural language processing, and my research is some cross between AI, NLP, and computational cognitive science.

At the moment, I'm studying concept compositionality: how do we put individual concepts together to get bigger, more complicated, or more specific concepts? How are concepts learned in the first place? How are they structured in our minds? How are abstract concepts grounded in concrete experience?

In addition to isolated concepts, I'm also interested in semantics as a whole. I'm working on a probabilistic model of natural language semantics, which draws on ideas from Bayesian epistemology, frame semantics, machine learning, and concept learning. (This project is a large undertaking, and I expect it to last me through grad school and beyond.)

Additionally, I'm fascinated by metaphor, analogy, and framing. How does the wording of a sentence guide us implicitly towards thinking certain thoughts and drawing certain conclusions? I think that any model of semantics which wants to be taken seriously will have to address this question.

Also, what role does emotion and connotation play in the meaning of sentences and our understanding of the world? What makes descriptions ugly or beautiful? How can we learn to weave beauty into our words and our perceptions? What bearing does semantic meaning have on existential meaning?


So that's some of what I'm currently researching, and what I hope to research in the future. But research is only one facet of my life; I'm trying to balance my time between so many goals. I want to make substantial contributions to the field of cognitive science, but I also want to write a novel someday, and I want to release at least one album of music.

At the same time, I'm also drawn to the simple life: getting married, having kids, raising a family in the quiet of the forest. I'd love to cook a big dinner each night and live close to the land. Sometimes I want to forget all my intellectual strivings and fill myself up with the sky.

My ideal life, I guess, would balance these two sides of my desires. My two overarching goals are to have children and to make a substantial intellectual contribution to the world; these will be my two forms of immortality. I'm not interested in the traditional sort of immortality, the kind that actually involves living forever. Eternal life to me seems like a kind of stagnation. The world is always shifting and changing. New lifeforms arise as others perish; each idea enjoys its hour of existence but soon is slain by its successor.

The earth is alive as long as it continues to shift and change in this way. The old growth must die to make way for the new; the dead must return to the soil to nourish the living. And so the immortality I seek is not eternal life for myself, but a way to join my body and mind to the great continuity of life and ideas that has stretched across the millennia. I want to become part of that greater process, so that even when I die as an individual cell, the body that I'm part of will live on forever.


UPDATE Februrary 2015: I am no longer so attached to the two forms of immortality. True, they are less base than the standard fear of death, but they are still a fear of death and a lack of true acceptance. I am slowly finding the answers; part of it I wrote up here, and part is contained in some links a friend sent me. We will see where the paths of life take me. I am no longer so fixated on finding the one clear way. I walk through the fog and know not where I'm going, but the cosmic forces guide me, for good or ill, and they will take me where I need to go.


UPDATE August 2015: This summer I have spent a lot of time in the forest, hiking and camping and the like. I went fishing for the first time in my life, and caught a small fish. I found a place, just an hour from my house, that teaches primitive survival skills, and I've been taking classes there. So far I've been to one class on making fire with a bow drill, and soon I'll be attending another about tanning animal hides.

My life is still fraught with existential dilemmas, but I hope that wherever the river of life takes me, there will be more things like this. More forest, more hiking, more chances to work with my hands.

I've fallen in love with West Virginia. I wouldn't mind staying here for a very long time.
I’m really good at
Sleeping on the floor, singing in the shower, exploring perspectives, following knowledge like a sinking star beyond the utmost bound of human thought, taking ideas seriously.

Practical feminine skills, like cooking and cleaning.

Memorizing songs so that when the apocalypse comes, I can pass them down through the oral tradition.
The first things people usually notice about me
I'm short. My hair is long. I am wearing glasses. I am not wearing make-up. I don't shave my legs or armpits.

People ask me all the time whether I'm Native American. At first I thought it was the braids, but people have started asking when my hair is loose too. One time an actual Native American asked if I was Native American. Sadly, though, I'm not Native American; genetically, I am 100% Ashkenazi Jew.
Favorite books, movies, shows, music, and food
Fiction: A Requiem for Homo Sapiens trilogy and especially The Broken God (David Zindell); Radix (A. A. Attanasio); Demian, The Glass Bead Game, and Siddhartha (Herman Hesse); The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett); The Thief of Always (Clive Barker); House of Leaves (Mark Z. Danielewski); I Never Promised You a Rose Garden (Joanne Greenberg); Out of the Silent Planet (C.S. Lewis); The Way of Kings and Warbreaker (Brandon Sanderson); and anything by Jorge Luis Borges. I'm currently reading the Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer.

Nonfiction: Metaphors We Live By (George Lakoff), Cosmic Trigger (Robert Anton Wilson), The Righteous Mind (Jonathan Haidt), The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (Julian Jaynes), The Sacred and the Profane (Mircea Eliade), and many many books by Joseph Campbell. The following are very technical, but have completely reshaped the way I think: Probability Theory: The Logic of Science (E. T. Jaynes) and Mappings in Thought and Language (Gilles Fauconnier). And just for fun: The Algorithmic Beauty of Plants!

Poetry: The Lady of Shalott (Tennyson), The Highwayman (Noyes), Kubla Khan (Coleridge), The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (Fitzgerald), The Lovesong of J Alfred Prufrock (Eliot), Darkness (Byron), Ulysses (Tennyson), The Raven (Poe).

Mythology: the Lady of Shalott, the story of Persephone, the story of Cupid and Psyche, the story of Jumping Mouse, the quest for the Holy Grail.

Movies: The Fountain (Darren Aronofsky), Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky), Lost Highway (David Lynch), Twelve Monkeys (Terry Gilliam), Brazil (Terry Gilliam), Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro), The Machinist (Brad Anderson), Fight Club (David Fincher), Biutiful (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu), American Beauty (Sam Mendes), anything else by Lynch, and anything by Jean-PIerre Jeunet. I'm a big fan of surrealism, and I love films which use symbolic imagery to communicate with the subconscious mind.

Shows: I don't watch TV. It's not enough to say that I don't own a television, because lots of people say that, and then they watch TV shows on the internet. I abhor TV. (I will make an exception for Twin Peaks, but its swift degeneration is evidence that wonderful things cannot last long on television.)

Music: OSI, Porcupine Tree, Pink Floyd, Riverside, VAST, Opeth, Katatonia, Wintersun, Kamelot, Sonata Arctica, Ayreon, Stan Rogers, Simon and Garfunkel, Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, Pentangle, The Dubliners, Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer. Generally I listen to prog rock, melodic and symphonic metal, and lots of folk music. My favorite song is "Crazy Man Michael" by Fairport Convention.

Food: The tastiest thing I ever ate was my Thanksgiving dinner of 2011. It consisted of venison cooked medium-rare with garlic and rosemary, mashed butternut squash, and on both things a savory sauce known only as "cranberry experiment". I have a particular love of Korean food and any kind of spicy soup. When I travel, I like to try weird local foods; I've had raw horse meat in Korea, moose and reindeer in Finland, black pudding in Ireland, and so on. I also really like a lot of the traditional foods recommended by the Weston A. Price foundation: lacto-fermented vegetables, soup stock made with marrow bones, and raw milk.
The six things I could never do without
Above all other things, perspective. Metaphor, mythology, long walks in the forest, the feeling of wind rushing past me as I ride my bike downhill. Late-night conversations with close friends, but also occasional evenings of desperate, aching loneliness. More books to read and more things to learn. Pencil and paper. Stories and poetry.
On a typical Friday night I am
a way for the cosmos to know itself.
The most private thing I’m willing to admit
I like men about ten years older than me, especially ones who like teaching me things. I used to be ashamed of this and some of my other eccentricities, but these days I just think of myself as a statistical outlier, an experiment on the part of nature. I could be an evolutionary dead end, or I could be carrying essential adaptations that will help propel the human race towards transcendence. Only time will tell!

This isn't private, but I have a rather unusual approach to relationships. I seem to have defaulted into polyamory, but I dislike that label and I don't really think of myself as polyamorous. Ideally, I would like to get married, and I'd prefer that the marriage be open to other short- or long-term romances. But if I had to, I would choose monogamy over full-blown many-partners-with-equal-status polyamory.

I am vaguely traditional (insofar as a profound relativist who invented her own religion can call herself traditional). I see marriage as a romantic union, but also (and primarily) as a stable social unit for raising a family. I think my biggest disagreement with the standard polyamorous worldview is that I don't see relationships as being about love. Love is wonderful and important and necessary, and I wouldn't marry a man I didn't love, but even more than that, I am looking for someone who would be a good father for my future children. I dislike the standard polyamorous terms "primary relationship" and "secondary relationship", because they imply that the two are of the same kind and only differ in degree. I won't count something as a "relationship" unless there is marriage potential. So I am romantically involved with a couple of men right now, but I've kept myself listed as "single" because I don't expect any of these things to lead to marriage.

Oh, and this still isn't private, but if you're interested in reading more stuff that I've written, I have a (rarely-updated) blog lurking here, and an (excessively-frequenly-updated) tumblr over here.
You should message me if
You value both intuition and rationality.
You like to explore perspectives.
You have reverence for emergent structures and the vastness of the cosmos.
Your profile is not an agglomeration of labels and you haven't been subsumed by some subculture.
You know the difference between "is" and "ought".
You prefer to focus on the "is".
You affirm the universe in all its raw, brutal, uncomprehending glory, and rejoice in the turning of the wheels of Fate.
You follow the rivers that run through your blood.
You feel at home in the wilderness.
You laugh at yourself.

Oh, and you should definitely message me if.

See the "most private thing" section for details of how I tend to do relationships. If that's not how you do relationships, feel free to message me anyway, as I'm quite flexible. If you can make a strong case for another way of doing things, or if something different arises organically through our interactions, then I will gladly embrace it (which is how I arrived at this strange relationship-strategy in the first place).

You're also welcome to message me for non-romantic conversation purposes. I'm rather busy with grad school, though, and I don't have much energy for new friendships. I apologize to everyone in advance if I fail to respond to your message! I hope you will not take it too personally; I've ignored some truly excellent messages here just because I was busy. Feel free to try again a second time if you think the first message was unjustly discarded.