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What I've been thinking about...

owlturdcomix:

I have a vision.

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"Perceptual Adaption is responsible for making you see ‘right side up’ when the images are actually flipped in your eyeball before reaching the retina."

The really crazy thing to realize is that this only makes sense if you are imagining a little homunculus or “inner self” inside your brain viewing an image that is corrected to be right-side up.

By comparison, think: "Do we expect something resembling the actual soundscape around us to be passed into our inner ear?"

(I say no, the stuff in our ear is just three tiny vibrating bones, right?  And yet we can hear a symphony - along with audience coughs - in it’s full 3D surround complexity.)

The Server Needs To Die To Save The Internet | TechCrunch

This is a long article, but it was worth the read for me, and it sounds like a kind of exciting experiment is already underway.

Here’s my naive outsider’s conception of the monetary setup of the Internet: People have their home PC’s, connected to one another via a paid provider (usually company’s evolved out of older phone companies).  But if lots of people want to connect to the same information (or the information is quite vast), then more memory and computing power is required.  Servers provide this.

So, companies wanting to provide a high-traffic website pay a server to store their data, and manage their traffic volume.  Presumably this is worth it to the companies… they either get add revenue from their website, or use it to sell real-world products, etc.  So the money starts with 1. Advertisers and 2. Consumers and ends at the Servers.

Here’s the alternative suggested by this article: Do away with servers.  On a network consisting entirely of individual PC’s, individuals can choose to make space on their hard-drives available for network memory and computation.  Doing so is rewarded with an inbuilt currency - SafeCoin - that can be used on the network to access paid content or apps.

I haven’t fully thought through the downsides, but it just sounds elegant.  A network consisting *entirely* of it’s users.  Distributed information… sounds more resilient, and maybe safer?  And the currency loop is fully closed.  It might take some of the pressure off the mounting advertising we see on the real internet today.

The Anthropic Principle for Subjective Experiences

Let me spit out the awkward assertion right at the start: I think it’s likely that conscious experience is found NOT ONLY in animals with complicated brains.

Grant me these two points:

  1. Conscious experiences exist (ie are not an “illusion”, whatever that would mean).
  2. These experiences are Subjective - despite being real, they are not directly observable by a third party (though maybe they could be inferred).

With these points in mind, I think there’s a good argument that we’re mistaken to conclude that Consciousness only happens in creatures sufficiently similar to us.

So, let’s begin with a consciousness - some haver of experiences.  I’ll call it “Fred” for reference.  Fred enjoys conscious experiences - pain, pleasure, color, texture, mood, emotion… Fred has some sort of movie playing in his head.  It is like something to be Fred.

Fred has access to experiences, but only *his own* experiences.  He might be sitting, enjoying the color red, while some other consciousness right beside him is experiencing the emotion “impatience”.  Fred can’t feel that impatience directly.  He might infer that he has a conscious and impatient companion indirectly, but since Experiences are Subjective, it is never a direct observation.  He has to guess.

How would Fred guess at whether or not he was around other consciousnesses?  Fred would have to use the only example he knows of consciousness - himself!  Thus if he saw a being similar to himself behaving the way he does when he feels impatient, he might guess that the  other being is conscious and impatient.

Fred is bound to assume that exactly those things which are sufficiently similar to himself (in makeup or behavior) are the things that are conscious.

With this in mind, what is the intuitive belief humans hold about what is conscious? 

That’s right… other humans.  We’re also willing to consider things that are very similar in either behavior or structure.  So, higher mammals with brains almost always make the list.  Comatose humans might.  Any creature with a nervous system may be considered by the adventurous.

Those willing to let go of structure, but hold tight to behavior are willing to think about robots or artificial intelligence having consciousness.

But these are all still cases of drawing a “similarity circle” with my one example of consciousness in the dead center.  Any conscious thing must be tempted by this move.  Perhaps conscious fluid-flows imagine that we humans are too unlike them to have consciousness like they do.

I still think that once one realizes that the physical properties of the brain are only contingently attached to conscious experiences, the most even handed guesses of where to find consciousness given my one, directly confirmed example are:

  • There is only one Consciousness (Solipsism)
  • All things are Conscious (Panpsychism)

Though I think it’s *possible* I am the only conscious thing around, my intuition rejects any ontology that makes me so special.  I am left with Panpsychism.  Thoughts?

I am one week away from the switch from working mailman to full-time student.  This means that my utter wealth of headphones-time will soon be cut down to near nothing :(
(actually, it will be decimated, which technically means cut down to one tenth… I learned that on a podcast)
There are some radio shows / podcasts / lectures that I’m going to make an effort to continue listening to:
Spark from CBC
Very Bad Wizards
Welcome to Nightvale
Theory of Everything
Searle: Phil of Mind at Berkeley series
That adds up to, like, 3.5 hours a week?  I think I can do it.  You can take inclusion in the above list as high praise, and a strong recommendation for other listeners with attention to spare.
But so, so many shows will be left behind:
Ideas from CBC
This American Life
Radiolab
The Bugle
99% Invisible
The Partially Examined Life
Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe
Philosophy Bites
The Truth
…plus innumerable bits and videos on current events, one-off lectures etc.  I’m so excited for the learning of school to begin again!  But for the moment, “I salute you!" audio-learning.  Thanks for bringing so much to the last few years of my life.

I am one week away from the switch from working mailman to full-time student.  This means that my utter wealth of headphones-time will soon be cut down to near nothing :(

(actually, it will be decimated, which technically means cut down to one tenth… I learned that on a podcast)

There are some radio shows / podcasts / lectures that I’m going to make an effort to continue listening to:

That adds up to, like, 3.5 hours a week?  I think I can do it.  You can take inclusion in the above list as high praise, and a strong recommendation for other listeners with attention to spare.

But so, so many shows will be left behind:

…plus innumerable bits and videos on current events, one-off lectures etc.  I’m so excited for the learning of school to begin again!  But for the moment, “I salute you!" audio-learning.  Thanks for bringing so much to the last few years of my life.

do you have any advice for an aspiring journalist?

npr:

Be yourself, be curious, don’t do things that go against your personal ethics, write, read, ask questions, see the world, experience things, talk to people. 

do you have any advice for an aspiring journalist? life?

If Determinism were to proved as a scientific fact, would you accept it?

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If you think about it, it’s really hard to answer this question consistently!  Supposedly somebody posed this question to John Searle after one of his lectures, and he responded:

"You mean, if rational free choices were proved impossible, would I rationally, freely accept that?"

It seems that whatever the “Truth” about determinism, our conceptions of ourselves have to be Free.  We can only conceive of accepting determinism if we *choose* to accept it.

(via memeengine)

Whether you accepted it or didn’t, that “choice” would have been determined.

(via salmonidae-of-doubt)

Yeah, but we have to act like it isn’t!  Here’s another great Searle anecdote paraphrased:

If the waiter comes up to you in a restaurant and asks if you want the fish or the chicken, nobody would answer “Hey buddy, I’m a determinist, so I’ll just wait and see what I’m going to get”.

Even if determined, we have to play out the act of choosing.

If Determinism were to proved as a scientific fact, would you accept it?

-

If you think about it, it’s really hard to answer this question consistently!  Supposedly somebody posed this question to John Searle after one of his lectures, and he responded:

"You mean, if rational free choices were proved impossible, would I rationally, freely accept that?"

It seems that whatever the “Truth” about determinism, our conceptions of ourselves have to be Free.  We can only conceive of accepting determinism if we *choose* to accept it.

To the capitalist, the laborer represents wealth; to the laborer, the capitalist represents existence.

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Wendy Lynne Lee, interpreting Karl Marx.

According to Lee, if Marx were asked to define Capitalism, this novel social/dependence relation between laborer and capitalist is at it’s heart.

Which 10 Philosophers Would You Recommend to Someone Just Becoming Interested?

soycrates:

Go ahead and reblog with your list of philosophers you’d shove at a newcomer (and explain why, if you feel inclined).

For me, I’d have to say: Plato, Simone de Beauvoir, Noam Chomsky, Arne Naess, Peter Singer, Bertrand Russell, Immanuel Kant, Descartes, Karl Popper, and Judith Butler.

This is a *bit* of a smarmy answer, but I think reading the opinions of others should come somewhere down the road.  Walking around the regular old world with your sense of wonder on alert is the way to begin for my money.

The perception of other people and the intersubjective world is problematic only for adults. The child lives in a world which he unhesitatingly believes accessible to all around him. He has no awares of himself or of others as private subjectives, nor does he suspect that all of us, himself included, are limited to one certain point of view of the world. That is why he subjects neither his thoughts, in which he believes as they present themselves, to any sort of criticism. He has no knowledge of points of view. For him men are empty heads turned towards one single, self-evident world where everything takes place, even dreams, which are, he thinks, in his room, and even thinking, since it is not distinct from words.

- Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Phenomenology of Perception (via nminusone)

Why does Steven Novella say “There are no grown-ups”?

I’ve been seeing the following quote pop up on my dash:

I’m a grown-up, but not like a real grown-up" - Anyone between 21 and 30

It’s so true!  (For the record, I’m 36, so I’m not being self-referential here).  But it reminded me of this one-liner that Steven Novella from The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe Podcast threw out sometime in one of his shows:

"There are no grown-ups."

He went on to explain what I thought was a very insightful observation.  This is actually a claim about Authority and Responsibility.

Have you ever said “They should fix that”, or “They should do that differently”, or “They sure messed that up”.  I started saying things like this as a kid.  “Why don’t they put sidewalk beside that busy road?"  "Do they let me skip school if I’m sick?"  "Do they make strawberry soft-serve ice-cream?

In all these sentences, who is “THEY”?

In theory, I could be asking whether a select group of ice-cream vendors makes strawberry flavor, but I’m not. When I said “THEY” as a kid, I meant a nebulous, authoritative “OTHER”.  You know, a group of authority figures, the archetype of which would be one’s own parents.  Grown-ups.  THEY.

Put this way, there it’s obvious there is no such all powerful group.  But psychologically, I think it’s not so easy to let go of this idea.  People really latch onto possible substitute authorities.  The government.  Scientists in a lab somewhere.  Bureaucracy.  Even, dare I say, God or Gods.  *Science!* *Truth!* (in capitals).  In some ways, these are all possible psychological stand-ins for our childhood notions of Grown-ups.

It’s this Dr Novella is referring to when he says “There are no Grown-ups.

We forget that all these stand-ins are made up of humans too.  People that started out as kids and grew up with ideas about “THEY”, and are fumbling along just like the rest of us.  They may never realize that there are no grown-ups, always assuming somebody just higher up the organizational chart is the “real” grown-up.

I feel like I discovered there were no grown-ups when I became a parent.  It seemed strange that no bolt of lightning (imbuing me with grown-up parenting powers) had ever struck me to teach me how to do this.  I was the same guy I was as a kid with no clue.  And if that kind of bolt never hit me, then it never hit my mom and dad either.  Or the school principle, or my Member of Parliament, or the CEO of the company I work for.  They are all just kids doing their best.  JUST.  LIKE.  ME.

It’s scary, but it’s empowering too.  That means that I can effect real change, because all real authority derives from plain old humanity.  I just imagine all the potential things I could do, or that I could become.  And that imagining is the limit of what authority can be.  Whatever trust I feel can’t be placed in the authority of others, I now have to move back to myself.  And in all those sentences above, “they” must be replaced with “we”.

There are no Grown-ups

- Dr Steven Novella (age 49) of The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe fame.

Amia Srinivasan
"On Genealogy"
Philosophy Bites

A particularly good episode.  You can find the info and/or download here.

If “Genealogy” makes you think of Nietzsche you’re on the right track.  But I found this a really interesting discussion of how the origins of our knowledge should or should not influence our trust of that knowledge.  Because, well known logical fallacies aside, I think trusting the source is how an awful lot of knowledge comes our way isn’t it?

The idea that improved technology is going to solve all the problems caused by technology seems to me a bit quixotic.

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David Foster Wallace

Always a rebel against the zeitgeist!  With much respect to the spirit of rebellion though, I think it depends how broadly you let yourself define “technology”.

Humans Without Work

Here’s a cartoon sketch of a reblog/exchange from a couple days ago:

  • Article: Burger making robot will make human employees unnecessary.
  • Me: But the jobs are more important than burger-making efficiency.
  • placeofpluto : Only if you assume jobs are attached forever to quality of life.

(you can see the actual exchange here.)

It’s a good point.  One can envision possible futures in which humans do little or none of the work required for food, shelter, and all the necessities, and yet they are all fairly provided those necessities.  If one views job-displacing robots as a step in this direction, then they’re really not a bad thing, right?

As always, my current reading affects my thoughts on this…

I’m not very far into a little primer on the philosophy of Karl Marx.  I may be missing some subtlety here, but it seems to me that Marx has a pretty unique view of work, often referred to as “Creative Work”.  Where he sees animals laboring for the necessities they need, he sees humans transferring the goal/value from the necessities to the work itself (maybe including artifacts produced by the work).

Even further, it’s something about this process of going from valuing survival to valuing “work for survival” that makes us human!  Without this, says Marx, we’d simply be a clever animal with no more consciousness than they have.

My other book is semi-singularitarian sci-fi: "Glasshouse" by Charles Stross.  He’s writing about just such a future as that explained above.  Material necessities are easily met.  The humans in this book (and other, similar books by Stross) are primarily engaged in having relationships, and doing bits of creative, but non-necessary work (designing new cocktails, genetically engineering spiders to weave complicated garments…)

I don’t know if it’s intentional, but I have trouble relating to the characters in Stross’ stories (though, I continue to read them for the rich ideas).  They just seem so free of danger, and free of purpose.  I feel distaste the same as the distaste I feel when someone claims the existence of calculators means they don’t need to learn math.  It just feels lazy, and somehow detached in an unfair way from its roots.  (To be fair, what I want in my fiction may not be what I want in my life…)

Does this mean I agree with Marx?  Is humanity with no work a sort of non-humanity?  It’s too early to tell.  I know some things about myself that lean the other way too:

  • Offer me a burger that’s faster at the same price and I will buy it.
  • Offer me a one-hour shorter workday for the same pay and I will take it.

I can’t help but try to do things the easiest way… just like everyone else I guess.  But if I were given the opportunity to take this to its limit, and have all my necessities provided for free… well, I would do it, but would it really by good for me?  I have doubts.