Why is this blog called “Dark Gray Matters”?
The true answer is mundane: I was trying to come up with a name and I liked the sound of this one.
But sometimes ideas — if they’re good — reveal surprising depth. I realized that this name can be decomposed in six different ways: three individual words, and three two-word combinations. Each of these subnames has meaning of its own, and thinking about them helps me define what the blog is about.
Here’s an overview.
This word is the toughest to extract meaning from, since it carries connotations of evil. But not all that is dark is evil. The night is dark, and yet the night can be soothing, or beautiful, or exciting.
Often, it is when we look at the darker corners that we find what is most interesting. And darkness allows light to shine more brightly. It makes contrasts, and emphasizes what is good: art, for instance, is a beacon in the darkness.
This blog is about the darker, more interesting bits of the world.
If the world were monochrome,1The world isn’t actually monochrome, so I get to pick another official color for the blog than gray. That color is purple, because purple’s great. almost nothing would be pure white or pure black. Everything would be some shade of gray.
In probability, there are never absolute certainties: everything is gray. In politics, no one is always absolutely right: everything is gray. In science, we seek truth, but we never find it fully: everything is gray. In relationships, we always find people to be simultaneously flawed and marvelous: everybody is gray.
This blog is about the grayness of things.
The noun “matter” has many meanings. The verb “to matter” has only one, but it is a striking one. “To matter” is to be important. What could possibly be more important than discovering, and acting upon, what is important?
This blog is about finding what matters.
Now we’re looking at word combinations, and this allows us to get more precise.
I said the world is not black and white. But neither is it a perfectly neutral, balanced gray.
Paul Graham distinguishes “intentional moderates” from “accidental moderates.” Intentional moderates strive to be in the center, and purposely choose their opinions to be away from the extremes. Accidental moderates end up in the center because they think for themselves — and since both black and white are equally wrong, they become gray.
You recognize an accidental moderate from the diversity of their opinions. Rarely will they be neutral gray on any given question. They almost always give the dark gray or the light gray2In the abstract, light gray and dark gray are the same. answer. Only on average are they neutral gray.
This blog is about picking sides.
We don’t really know what dark matter is. That’s why we called it that. But whatever it is, there’s a lot of it. 85% of all matter is dark matter.
This is an obvious metaphor for the fact that we know very little about the Universe. Almost everything is still unknown, waiting to be discovered. Some of that is the infinite smallness of fundamental physics, and some is the infinite largeness of the cosmos. Some is about how our planet works. Some is about how we, the humans, work.
This blog is about curiosity, pointed at the entire Universe.
And the most awe-inspiring part is that there are things in this Universe that are able to look and wonder at the rest.
That’s us. The humans, and to varying degrees, other animals. We have nervous systems, which include a brain, which includes a mass of billions of neuronal cell bodies, enmeshed together. We call that part gray matter. It is able to do something really bizarre: it thinks.
Nothing would matter if there were no thinking beings to experience it. Everything comes together because we’re able to think. And the world can be a better or worse place depending on how well we think.
This blog is about us.
Thanks to Gregory for help with the first draft.