Cognitive Load and the New Phone



Dear Russell & Friends,

I mentioned my weekend adventure to the Apple store in the last post.  The day before I had gone to fix the battery problem on the iPhone 5.  If your phone powers down suddenly with apparent battery life left, check this link as we’re close to the end of the recall window.  They were efficient and repaired the phone.  I left with a great hand-me-down for P3 and . . . and iPhone 6.  Mrs. Pascal is groaning in the other room.  I really can not be trusted in an Apple store.

I used the store’s super-fast wi-fi to restore my data to the new phone through iCloud.  It worked really well and as far as I know there is little missing.  My wordpress e-mail populated correctly as did our home account.  Where was the work e-mail?  Hmm…  It did not import well.  No worries.  We have a tech desk at work with friendly people who would be able to re-establish the connection.  Family, blog community, work contact in my pocket all the time.

The weekend went on.  I knew when we had new followers here or when a comment deserved a read or reply and I knew when our home schedule needed to be revisited, revised or refreshed.  But why did the volume seem less?  Why did I feel like I had extra breathing room?  I checked the work e-mail once on Saturday, once on Monday morning as I wrote here.  In aggregate perhaps 20 messages — things slow down on the weekends.  Then I parked in my Star Wars space at work (far, far away) and walked in thinking.

Do I really want e-mail back on the phone?  I have a desktop computer and check e-mail several times during the day.  I am accessible to my closest colleagues and bosses by text message.  Do I want the cavalcade of 5, 17, 23 superscripts advancing through the day and demanding my attention?  I asked my closest colleagues – – so, what effect would it have on you if I no longer had e-mail available while I was away from the desk?  You could still text.  They smiled and shrugged – – “honestly Pascal, we don’t need you as much as you think we do” – – I’m liberalizing the response, but that was the gist.

So. I. Didn’t.  My whole life has not changed.  My walks up the stairs have.  I think and pray and don’t risk life and limb to watch the e-mail ticker rise.  My attention is not commanded.  There is cognitive margin. Cognitive load theory comes to us from education literature and is fairly simple:  your amazing computer has limited working memory.  You can’t multitask nearly as well as you think.

Family stay on the phone.  You here stay on the phone (I still risk life and limb reading on the stairs – – writing, not so much).  I don’t consider these streams to be a load or a burden, but a joy and a calling.  Work will wait for me to get back to the desk when I can focus and answer well.  Sigh.  Smile.  Panic attack?



photo credit:  Russell’s screenshot (actual) – – let us take a moment of silence for Russell & hope that he knows to read this.





The 5th grader noticed one of his apps had auto-updated on his quantum iPhone 72, so he opened it.

He watched as multiple fluctuations began to appear and disappear randomly in all shapes and sizes — sometimes bumping into each other and merging, sometimes exploding. He zoomed into one of the isolated bubbles and saw nothing but emptiness. In another bubble he saw white hot plasma. Time sped up and he watched it cool and dissipate into nothing as the bubble disappeared. Many more bubbles began to form. One expanded and collapsed again, causing part of the bubble to grow back out the other side. Some bubbles expanded so quickly some of the simulated energy cooled to form superheated matter, which eventually cooled further and began to clump together. He zoomed into one in time to see countless clumps collapse into beautiful stars which exploded into heavy elements that coalesced into planets. Eventually a chemical on some of the planets replicated, and in time, living things emerged. The small life forms evolved and some became intelligent and self-reflective like him. One of them wrote a speculative blog post about him and his app. He smiled, intrigued. His bus arrived at school. “Time to go”, someone said. With a small grin still on his face, he thought, “I’ll play it again on the ride home”. As he popped the bubble, trillions of virtual creatures ceased to exist. He closed iMultiverse and walked to class.

In another reality, fingers moved, and the bubble the fifth grader was in left the screen. The creature was excited to see that some of the bubbles on her app had developed life forms that could create virtual worlds of their own. However, the creature was heartbroken at the mindless loss of life. Did they not realize the simulation was real to those inside each bubble?! She suddenly froze, captured by a thought. Am I in a simulation, too?

Somewhere else, a smile formed.

Author’s comments…
What did the smile belonged to? Perhaps another simulator in an infinite regression of simulators? An uncreated creator with the special ability to create events in an existence that has no events? Nothingness itself? A random fluctuation in the first uncreated eternal nothing? An entity with a mind in an original uncreated eternal universe? Something else?

One point of this post is to illustrate that the cause for our universe could be eternal, or there could be no meaning to asking about a first cause if time/events once did not exist, or any number of things could exist outside it and causally before it. This story is one example of many potential a-priori realities in which a creator does not have to be all-knowing, all-good, etc. The events in any reality outside the universe we live in are not necessarily subject to our laws of causality (which, incidentally, may not even be laws in our universe). All we can have confidence in is the things that exist at scales we can measure in the known universe. We can know nothing of what might exist outside our universe.


  1. Is it justifiable to be absolutely certain about the cause of the Big Bang (assuming such a cause is even meaningful or required)?
  2. Are “an eternity of nothing” or “an all-knowing, all-loving God” the only options? Is that a false dichotomy?

We welcome your thoughts.

Gentleness and respect,

P.S. Here is the app’s skeleton code for my fellow geeks

defaultStateOfRelationalExistence = nil; // set the initial state to nothing, 0, void

while appOpen { // keep running this loop until the app closes

   function universeGenerator() {
      return (totalFluctuation + totalOscillation + totalInstability + totalExcitation + totalOpposition + totalForce + totalCharge + totalPotential); // etc; basically the sum of all values for all relationships between all real and potential forces in the default state of the default environment

   function checkStatusOfUniverse(previousStatusOfUniverse) {
      return previousStatusOfUniverse * defaultStateOfRelationalExistence;

   function continueUniverse(relationalExistence) {
      while (relationalExistence) { // keep repeating the loop until the value of relationships exactly equals 0
         refreshScreen(relationalExistence); // displays interesting patterns to the iPhone screen
         relationalExistence = checkStatusOfUniverse(relationalExistence);
         continueUniverse(universeGenerator()); // if a new instability exists at any reference point, recursively call continueUniverse

         if (relationalExistencePoppedByUser) relationalExistence = nil; // if the user pops a bubble, remove all its relationships

   do {
      defaultStateOfRelationalExistence = universeGenerator();
   } while (!defaultStateOfRelationalExistence); // keep repeating the loop until at least one relationship emerges in the default environment