April 24. Unrelated links. The Flora of the Future is about how it's good that opportunist plants are filling ecological roles in cities, and how designers should go with this and not try to fight it by sticking to "native" plants of the recent past. The article has some nice photos of thriving wild plants in developed areas.
From the Anarchism subreddit, a comment about how to motivate people to work, including a critique of the whole concept of work, and some different answers. Basically, in a bad society, "You steal their food and only give it back if they will work for you." And in a good society...
if you allow everyone to seek out and find their own niche, regardless of its permanence, temporariness, perceived importance, etc., and don't place value judgments on them, the important jobs will get filled, and the ones that people don't actually want to do, will either become communal tasks (everyone cleans up the bathroom when they see it's messy), or machine-assisted/automated tasks.According to new brain research, The future of depression treatment may come from inducing worse depression. This makes sense to me. As a general rule, if you're stuck in something, it's good to try pushing in many directions, not just the direction you eventually want to go. And here's an article critiquing the article about casual marijuana use being bad for you, calling it "quite possibly the worst paper I've read all year". This month I've been helping someone move in exchange for a Silver Surfer vaporizer, but I don't see myself ever using it more than once a week.
April 21. I've argued before that you can learn more from sports than politics, because the sports world is more honest and transparent. This is even true for the hidden stuff. Meet The Bag Man is an excellent article on every level, from the insights of the bag man interviewees to the web design. It's about secret payments to college football recruits, and the surprising thing is how well the system works. Colleges and the NCAA continue to make billions of dollars from TV contracts without giving the athletes anything but free education (which a better society would give everyone already). At the same time, athletes are being paid by wealthy alumni who can easily spare the money. Everyone wins -- except the colleges with little or no hidden payments, and the colleges where the bag men are sloppy and get caught. One of the most interesting bits is how the bag men can influence head coaching jobs by cutting off money for coaches they don't like. Of course the political system works the same way. This article describes how nobody cares what you think unless you're rich. In two charts, the opinions of average citizens have almost no effect on policy, while the opinions of the elite have a strong effect. This is much more sinister than football, where the elite are actually moving wealth down the pyramid, and the total number of football wins and losses stays the same. The political elite are conspiring to make the rich beat the middle class by an ever wider margin, and everyone loses, even rich people themselves, except the little part of them that sees making more money as a fun game.
April 18. Some happy stuff for the weekend. Happiness makes your brain work better. "Rather than thinking of success as the source of happiness, we should think of happiness as a source of success -- and one that's more under our control than we imagine."
From the Raptitude blog, 15 unexpected side-benefits to living in the present moment.
This tower pulls drinking water out of thin air. Not only that, it looks like Hieronymus Bosch architecture.
Finally, relax with 40 perfectly looped ambient gifs.
April 16. When ordinary Americans say they're busy, they're bragging. When I say I'm busy, I'm complaining. Posting will be light and sporadic for the rest of the week, and maybe for the rest of the month. Today, just a few loose ends. First, thanks RS for a $10 donation.
And two good comments from the subreddit. In the "what you can't say" thread, mooduleur notices something missing from the original Paul Graham essay: "I suppose it didn't even occur to him simply not give a shit what other people think of him?" This fits with my observation that in the modern world we're no longer burned at the stake for taboo ideas -- we merely lose social status. So the less status you have (while still having enough money) the more free you are.
And in the psychedelics thread, zenfulmind uses a Lamborghini as a metaphor for psychedelics, arguing that most recreational users are merely looking at the car, while skilled users are driving the car.
April 14. Today, four good reddit comments. Related to one of the subjects in my last post, Sivel comments on psychedelic drugs, describing how your personality gets taken apart and you can put it together differently, how the drug is a tool that can either help you or harm you, and how to reduce the risk of a bad trip.
Psychedelics should be viewed like climbing a mountain. The mountain peak has its appeal with the sublime feeling of standing atop it if one is daring enough to get there. And while some may find the experience meaningful a lot of people will only find themselves way too fucking high on a big rock. But most important is how the mountain does not move, it does not feel or love, and so it does not care if you live or die on it. The only feelings it will give you are the ones you reflect off of its steep faces.
KF2 explains depression with a role-playing game metaphor, in which a magic cloak gives you immunity to everything bad and also everything good, so you feel nothing and stop caring, you can't take the cloak off, and your original injuries can't be healed.Depanneur defines fascism, using a narrow definition that confines it to the early 20th century. Basically fascism tapped into the alienation of industrial society, the longing of WWI veterans for the strict order and community of military life, and the desire of the middle class to participate in a revolution without losing their perks. Of course the alienation of modern life remains unsolved, so we could do something similarly scary in the future, but fascism would not be the right word for it.James-Venn imagines a technological singularity that is similar to the Great Oxygenation Event more than two billion years ago:
Through us, the process of life itself is escaping the biological limitations of 'life'. What may be around the corner isn't artificial life. It is life, just in a new form. Life is a mathematical process currently operating on biological material. It is a process which could operate far more effectively on digital and mechanical life forms.
I like the general idea, but his weakness is being unable to imagine the existence of something for which he can't imagine the particulars. I think mechanics would be a step back from biology, and digital logic processors are unalive no matter how big they get. But our computers might serve as tools to create a new kind of physical medium through which some deeper principle of aliveness could manifest. Or computers could help us create a new technology that would enable our "selves", our continuity of perspective and memory, to transcend the world as we know it. For a lot of deep thinking on this sort of idea, check out this Ribbonfarm post from last month, Immortality in the Ocean of Infinite Memories
March 14. Unrelated links. First, a surprisingly good reddit comment
April 11. Lots of action on the after my last post, including someone arguing that I should try psychedelics because they're not a big deal, a discussion of forbidden ideas in which people talk about race without distinguishing between biology and culture, and for the second time in two weeks, someone has made a reddit account just to argue with me, in this case about science. I understand what HTG464 is saying, but my own ideas are harder to explain, so we're arguing past each other. Let me try a scientific metaphor: Newtonian physics is extremely powerful within a certain range. But it would be a mistake to think that Newtonian physics can explain everything, because there is a wider range that you can only understand with quantum physics or relativity. Science as we know it has given us amazing stuff like space probes and the internet. But it operates under deep philosophical assumptions that are not open for testing, and it is a mistake to think that we can explain everything while continuing to make those assumptions. If you make a different set of deep assumptions, objective materialist science is not wrong. It remains a valuable shortcut, an intellectual tool that works perfectly well within a certain range. Meanwhile, you can begin to understand experiences that modern science must exclude. We might classify these these under "the paranormal" or "fringe science" or even "conspiracy theory". Sadly, even people who explore this stuff with an open mind are rarely using the appropriate core philosophies, so they get frustrated and half-crazy looking for "proof" or "the truth", or they sound stupid trying to explain it. Do you "believe in ghosts"? Where is the end of the rainbow? Anyway it's Friday and I want to post music. The listen to us subreddit has more good submitters this month than it had last month, and I also got some good stuff from the 40th election thread. My favorite band at the moment is Manngold de Cobre, a "Psycho Kraut Rock'n Roll Cosmic Big Band" from Belgium that has not yet released an album. Here are two videos, an untitled first official video and a crazier one called IND If you can stand the raspy vocals, here's a long atmospheric metal song, Falls of Rauros - Awaiting the Fire or Flood that Awakes It. Something mellower, with the high squishy male vocals that are popular with hipsters lately, Trails and Ways - Border Crosser. And a beautiful electronic piece, Build Voice by Dan Deacon.
I don't use psychedelics, for the same reason a single-player video gamer wouldn't use cheat mode, but I've done more thinking on this stuff than on any other subject. When people suggest that it's easy for science to put consciousness first, they have no idea how deep the rabbit hole goes. This is a book-length subject, and the best book so far,
April 9. Today, some links around the theme of cultural reality filters. I am a North Korean defector describes the mental prison of North Korean culture, but it's all so unsurprising that it must have been edited to fit the more spacious mental prison of our own culture. One of the rules of propaganda is that it's always what you expect to hear.
This classic Paul Graham piece, What You Can't Say, tries to give us the tools to spot our own culture's hidden taboos and blind spots. One of his ideas is to look for stuff that people get in trouble for saying. Now that we're no longer burned at the stake for ideas, I would look at social status. What does a high status person never say? What could a politician say that would lose them every election? What could a college professor say that would guarantee they'd be denied tenure? Even on the internet there are things that no major blogger or cartoonist would ever say, and some of them will be uncontroversial in a hundred years.
A short diversion into politics: The less Americans know about Ukraine's location, the more they want U.S. to intervene. For me the most interesting thing is that self-identified independents can locate Ukraine twice as accurately as Democrats and Republicans. My interpretation is that the two major parties are targeting stupid people. There are things they won't say, that smart people recognize as true, and become independent.
Back to the main topic, I'm thinking of a philosophical idea that will get you in trouble, but only among the intellectual higher classes: that reality is something other than mindless matter and energy. On reddit, with 27 upvotes and 25 downvotes, Blisk McQueen comments on The Accidental Universe. He describes his background in reductionist hard science, and how he got in serious trouble for writing a paper pointing out the similarity between DNA and primitive programming languages, which would imply a programmer. Blocked from continuing to study genetics, he switched to neurochemistry, where he still believed "that human consciousness is merely an emergent phenomenon mediated by electrochemical signals" -- until he tried psilocybin mushrooms. Now he thinks science is in "a blind corner" by studying only measurable things and ignoring consciousness.
On the same subject, Embrace the Unexplained: how fantastic stories unlock the nature of consciousness. The author cites examples of unexplained visions related to people dying, but they're hard to study because they cannot be replicated or measured. He speculates that strong psychic phenomena are rare because they require intense emotion, that psychic visions are best viewed as hallucinations that somehow correspond to real events, and that the brain is like a radio tuner for some kind of collective consciousness.
I don't use psychedelics, for the same reason that skilled video gamers don't use cheat mode, but I've done more thinking on this stuff than on any other subject. When people suggest that it's easy for science to put consciousness first, they have no idea how deep the rabbit hole goes. This is a book-length subject, and the best book so far, The Trickster and the Paranormal by George Hansen, merely hints at it. I'll give one more hint: It is possible to explore consciousness with science in the sense that you can make hypotheses and test them, but you won't get anywhere until you abandon the requirement that your reality and my reality must be consistent.
April 7. Stray links. A Nation of Slaves by Charles Stross is another good explanation of how our cultural values around work are obsolete. I think this has been happening for hundreds of years: the economic benefits of labor-saving technology are sucked to the centers of control, while bullshit jobs are invented so that the worst parts of our primate brains don't get upset seeing that some people don't have to work.
Struggling to understand eating disorders? Read this webcomic. That's a review, and the actual webcomic is here. This is heavy stuff, and after reading 40 of the nearly 150 pages, I understand eating disorders even less than I thought I did. I suspect they're rooted in some powerful psychic injury that is so deeply buried that the only cure is the destruction of the self. (And I wonder how much of what we consider normal human behavior is equally dysfunctional and hard to change.)
I stumbled on this great reddit comment explaining how a big solar storm would effect the power grid. Basically, the more sophisticated energy companies are prepared for this and should manage to reduce the damage to a few weeks of scattered blackouts and brownouts, but the crude grids in places like India will be hit hard.
In a final loose end from a week ago, Anne comments on Amazon:
I'm trying not to order from them, since hearing the radiolab essay on their fulfillment centers. Which, of course, are independent companies on contract, so Amazon proper isn't liable for abuses that occur there.
One thing Amazon has in common with Google, which may end up playing a larger role in evil than their mail-order business, is their effective joint monopoly on cloud computing. Its not just local newspapers and small businesses that run on EC2 servers -- a majority of bioinformatics computation worldwide is clouded to Amazon as well, and probably heavy-lifting computation in a number of other fields. Even companies that could (and for privacy or espionage reasons probably should) run their own data centers don't, meaning that Google and Amazon set the costs for high-end data analysis.