The Impulse

March 17th, 2016, 7am

There is a tool that is very commonly used in engineering, called the Fourier Transform, that allows one to take behavior that exists as a function of time and express it as a function of frequency (there is also the more generalized cousin of Fourier, the Laplace Transform, that allows mapping from the real domain to the complex domain). This can be very useful for simplifying the math behind certain problems, because behavior that is complex with respect to one variable may be very simple with respect to the other. But there is one Fourier Transform that grabs my attention not for what it says mathematically, but as a larger expression of human behavior: the Fourier transform of an impulse results in a constant.

Now I doubt that you came here for a math lesson, so I won’t dig too deep into the weeds on this. But mathematically, an impulse is infinitely tall and infinitely narrow; imagine a taut string growing straight up into space. A constant is just that, a flat, unchanging expanse extending out as far as the eye can see. And Fourier tells us that these two creatures are the inverse of each other, opposite and yet linked.

Maybe it’s just the writer’s high talking, but isn’t this alternation between impulse and constant the very form that most lives take? Grabbed by that sudden inspiration, we enthusiastically resolve to take on some challenge, work furiously on it for a short time, and then return to our plodding ordinary life. The vast majority of the time, that challenge that inspired us is discarded, half-completed at best, placed on the ever-expanding shelf of things we’ll come back to “some day” (i.e. never). And so the real challenge in all of this is to transform those inspirations from their initial impulse into a constant part of our lives.

I have a huge list of these abandoned impulses. There is my fully-designed, never-built adjustable-height desk. The rough outline of my sci-fi novel that never made it past that outline stage. A list of power-ups for the Metroidvania 2D platformer I’m going to make someday. Half-finished tutorials on Python and Unity, the tools I am certainly going to use to make that 2D platformer. I have a bag of old, felted wool sweaters that were meant to be made into cloth diaper covers (so cute!). The list goes on and on, and for most people I think it includes things like that fancy workout equipment gathering dust, random kitchen equipment that was used once, and self-help books that will teach us to finally fix our diet or get our finances in order.

Even what you’re reading right now was born of an impulse that will probably be forgotten shortly. “I need to write more!”, I say to myself every few years. And then I don’t. Instead I experience life like Don Quixote, charging recklessly from one impulse to the next like they’re windmill giants. Hopefully, a few of these will be slain along the way, torn down and added to my constant instead of towering over my past as reminders of impulsive aspirations abandoned. But I guess if not, at least those abandoned aspirations will have plenty of company.

Mr. and Samuel said thanks.

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Galway O.

When you were with her, there was a completely thrilling atmosphere - a need to create.

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