Monday, September 30, 2002

The Below post, besides a desperate grab for webspace, whilst getting kicked out of the Library(which is apparently closing earlier on weekends now.. ) is an illustration of what I call a nested context. Don't bother googling, I'm pretty sure it's a neologism. Basically, this is a simple way of looking at the larger environment which thoughts and concepts live in. If you're familiar with the concept of memes, it's a little easier to explain. In fact, if you aren't, please go read on that..

A nested context is like a matrioska doll. Each memeplex of ideas is contained within another, with the top layer reacting against your base personality. In the below example, Zen is the outermost layer. Not Zen Buddhism as such, but a derivative state of mind or rather, no-mind. It's a mental stance I assume when I'm preparing to do some mental work. So all the contextual feelings and concepts related to this Zen state fill my mind. And then, the next layer, I attempt to focus. Focusing your mind, for me, is a specific process, where I deliberately set aside most concious processes, in a very specific and identifiable mental action. Leaving only the next conceptual layer.

Which is Python. When I think of Python, I'm filled with concepts I've learned recently, code I admire, code I plan to write, and documentation I've read recently. I then turn to my Code, the second to last layer, and possibly the most specific. The code in front of me, completes my focusing of mind, and is where I do most of my work. But there is another layer, of Application, which is the larger purpose of that code. I tend to vacillitate between these two layers, but neither is far from my mind.

Now, obviously, this is not a rigid or literal construction of mind. If I were to be shocked, and lose concentration, I would not, for example, find myself in a higher level of the nested context. But rather this is a way of representing both the process of thought, and of the elements that make up concious processes. And it may be useful to you as a tool, for analysing the real source of thought. Now, I could expand the nested context, and include even more outward layers, all the way to basic processes of mind, but I limited my radius of attention in this case, in order to illustrate the concept. You may expand with this technique as far as convenience and your own knowledge of cognitive science allow.

Friday, September 27, 2002






what is this?

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

I'm going to include a post of mine to SL4. This is because it encapsulates an opinion of mine rather well, and I have no wish to rehash the topic. This occurred because of a discussion on the above forum, where it was claimed that psycho-active substances, such as DMT, LSD, or non-hallucinagins such as MDMA, could represent a method of 'mind-expansion' or creative enlightenment. I am not opposed to drug use, I see it as a victimless activity, and people should be allowed to do whatever they wish to themselves if they possess an understanding of the consequences.

What I am opposed to, is irrational behavior, and misrepresentation of irrational behavior as superior to, or even alternative to, rational thought and behavior. With that in mind, I'm going to repost my rebuttal to an apologist for mind-expansive drug use. In an earlier post, he basically re-submits Dr. Leary's suggestion that hallucinagins can function on the level of a re-organization of mental state, which can have beneficial effects in terms of insights, moral transcencion and lasting attitude adjustment. my reply follows.


I am not a neurochemical professional, even so, as an interested bystander,
I am struck by the way that this thread has progressed, with very little
attention having been given to the relative biological danger inherent in
most of the drugs under discussion.

MDMA and it's parent MDA, which David Cake upholds as "quite reasonable for
particular purposes" is a stimulant, and a relative of the extraordinarily
negative Methamphetamine or "Crystal Meth". Even excluding the research of
Dr. George Ricaurte of John Hopkins, which suggests that significant
'structural' damage is incurred through MDMA use over time, we know that
MDMA plays a major role as a serotonin re-uptake inhibitor, and the
relatively negative neurochemical effects of this are well documented.

In order to explain my objections to LSD, often touted as a very safe drug,
as it is neither openly neurotoxic, nor does it have well understood side
effects, I'm going to adopt a more narrative tone. Having been involved with
drugs in my youth, I can say with some certainty that there are few, if any,
effects, culture, or side-effects of common psychoactive drugs which I have
not experienced or witnessed first-hand. This experience makes me doubt
people who use arguments to the effect of "If you haven't tried drugs, you
can't talk about them". In my experience, people who are involved in drugs
gain no special knowledge of the safety, chemical aftereffects, or effect
upon intelligence of the drugs, which they believe they are electing to

These "observers" are collecting their special information with minds that
they are simultaneously dosing with unknown levels of psychoactive drugs,
many of which are psychologically and physically addictive. The mind is a
delicate thing. Our primitive cerebrums only weakly support rationality
under the best conditions, and screwing around with hormonal or chemical
balances within that complex system has predictable results. Most drug users
I have observed are under the impression that the insights they produced
while under the influence of psychoactive substances were intensely moving,
complex and significant, and that as they 'come down' they lose the ability
to appreciate or comprehend their previous insights. Some of their
conclusions are, I submit, very weird. Few appeared to me to be either
coherent or inspired instead appearing as permutations, distortions or even
perversions of earlier insights held by the user, or at best irrational

The claim of LSD "opening up one's mind" or allowing "new insights" is a
result I lay mostly upon the fact that it functions both as a seratonin
analogue and increases dopamine production significantly. Both of these
clinical effects lead towards premature, unwarranted and precipitate
instigation of mental closure, which leads the subject to assume that since
mental closure is reached, a conclusion must have been forthcoming. Since
memories are filed according to the observer�s interpretation of events, the
subject remembers such moments as possessing great clarity and insight, when
in fact the biological structures for detecting clarity of thought and
mental completion are merely being triggered inappropriately.

The negative side affects of LSD (other than it appears not infrequently
inspire irrational behavior and beliefs, bad-trip nightmares,
self-mutilation, and dangerous behavior) lie in the fact that it functions
both as a serotonin re-uptake inhibitor, and is psychologically addictive.
(I consider most addictions to be bad news, as they introduce irrational
behavior, and introduces a new thought factor not grounded in reality basis,
aside for the desire to repeat the experience).

This above discussion ignores the fact that most psychoactive substances
illegal in many countries, and because of this available drugs tend to be
uncertain composition, and often arbitrary dosage. The wisdom of ingesting
completely unknown substances advertised as psychoactive drugs, obtained
from people who smuggle, steal, murder, and occasionally write incoherent
poetry is a decision, which under these circumstances cannot be entirely
separated from the inherent toxicity of the supposed makeup of said drugs.

(replies and criticisms welcome)

Some editing for grammar, syntactic inclarities, and spelling.

Monday, September 23, 2002

Once more into the breach, as the internet has not yet been restored to my household.

The wonder of the Library is that it's almost free. What you give up, is privacy and a little bit of pride. It's always amusing to see the difference between Barnes & Noble, with it's pristine carpets, new books, wide selection, designer coffee, and the Public Library, with it's dingy carpets,unilluminating help, and ratty reference section. The Library can sometimes have works the store does not, but the funding tends to even it out a little bit.

The perfect marriage between these is the University Library. With the mandate to support their local scholars, a budget to match, and the subscriptions to research periodicals a mad scientist can envy, the University Library is a much more pleasant place to steal internet access, and get a little real-worldish research in. It's sad that when I was a child, my mother was always telling me to get my face out of the book and join the real world. Now I see books, and think of them as more real than where I usually am.

In other news, a recent brush with the MAN has given me a new respect for the powers that be. In respect for that, I've upped my PGP Key size, and renewed my CCW. Kidding aside, I would like to say one thing. It is a dangerous thing when people need not take responsibility for their actions personally. Hierarchy and impersonal organizations allow one to "just follow orders" or be "defending the country". As Bertrand Russel once observed "murder is against the law everywhere, unless it is in large numbers to the sound of trumpets and flags.". Be wary of allowing someone to do for a government or organization, what you could not concience allowing him to do for himself. For he is still doing it, in his name's or another.

That said, lets all be grateful that we have come so far, and improved upon our ancestral situation. To Past Improvement be grateful, and to Future Improvement be helpful.

here are some informational sites I recommend unto you.

Anarchy has come along way, and now, it almost makes sense: The Anarchist FAQ

Some people look past national borders, and try to help or hurt the world. You be the judge if they are succeeding, and at what. United Nations Organization

There are only two things that run the world. Money and Technology.

Be good.

Thursday, September 19, 2002

Today, my cable internet is again fritzing, So I hail from the wonder of the public Library. Now, as much as I love the internet, I'm not sure it will replace the lovely ambience inherent in stacks and stacks of books. The problem, is that it's lovely if you know where your desired information is. But if you're searching for information in a library, why it's the most frustrating thing in the world. By the end of your search for a decent book, you're making plans to forcibly install a Google interface.

But it's not all bad. Being a physical person, there has always been something reassuring about the weight and heft of a book in my hands. Unfortunately, there are still many books, and references that haven't been made free to the world yet. And in some cases, the Library is the only place to find them(without purchasing, which everyone can't do).

In more outside news, the force of nature that is Sprint PCS has debuted their 3rd Generation cellular network. For those of us who have been waiting for cellular internet connectivity, this is a big step. Unfortunately, the 3G protocol is not yet fully supported by Sprint's Network, so the latency, and bandwidth available is dissapointing to say the least. But the protocol is capable of DSL line speeds, and price/performance will improve as time goes on. For those of us who have been dabbling in Wearable Computing, this is hot stuff.

On a more personal note, I've been drawing a lot lately, and am going to be launching an artistic online venture(read: webcomic). This will be some time in coming online, but I've got a great deal of groundwork already laid. This project will most likely be hosted by Keenspace unless I can find an alternate vendor. Seeing as I have not been honing my writing talents as much as my artistic, I have secured a scriptwriter, and am looking for perhaps a colorer as well.

Stay Sharp. Here's a site everyone should be familiar with CiteSeer This is one of the most useful research sites on the Web. I put it right next to Google on my custom homepage.

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

I've decided to make my first real post on this blog on the subject of rational thought. On SL4 there has been a recent flurry of activity on the subject of rational thought, what it means to be rational, and whether there exist arational/irrational sources of evidence.

The nature of this discussion leads to very high tempers, so I'm going try a different tack. I'm going to use the microuniverse of MineSweeper. Now, MineSweeper is a popular computer game(though not nearly as popular as Solitaire, unfortunately) largely because it comes bundled with lots of Operating Systems. Every Window's package I've ever had the privilige to attempt to use came with one; The Red Hat/KDE package I'm using now came with an implementation; OSX has it's own, IIRC; if you're really without minesweeper, you poor baby, get it here. this is a java game, but it works pretty well.

Minesweeper is an entirely regular and understandable game with completely understandable underlying rules. What concerns me in this discussion, is the way people play and understand it. The information provided to you in a standard minesweeper game is sufficient to solve it, given that you survive long enough to gather some lower bound of information. In fact, most minesweeper games appear to contain the most risk in the first 5 clicks or so. However, the important losses occur after the first 5 clicks, when the game has progressed, yet the player still loses, in spite of, or perhaps because of the information s/he has.

In order to solve this mystery, play a couple of games of minesweeper. Now, when you were playing, after a while, were you absolutely sure you were right, when you clicked on a mine and ended your game?(this paragraph assumes you lost at least once, if you did not, you are either a rational reasoner, or you've already mentally solved minesweeper; go away) . Now, this uncertainty is because you aren't playing Minesweeper as an entirely rational process. I'll explain.

Minesweeper's simple rules lead to interactions, which lead to the numbers and blanks you reveal by clicking. Analysing those numbers and blanks, within that context, gives you information. A rational process is one that takes information about the world(in this case, minesweeper) and assigns it strengths and priorities in keeping with actual facts. ((ex: a 1 implies there is only one mine within 1 block, that's a certainty; you've never seen a mine be in the upper left hand corner, that's fantastically unlikely to be right, and doesn't include a reason why there wouldnt' be, so there is no chance that it's right for the right reasons; ergo, you can rely on the former, but the latter is a fools bargain)). Rational processes are not wrong. They are in line with reality, and thus the world(minesweeper). If you recieve a wrong result, either your process is not rational, you executed your process incorrectly, or you applied your process inappropriately. Irrational Processes, like praying for a blank block, selecting the four corners, blind guessing, or always selecting to the left may in fact succeed occasionally, and may out of statistical anomaly even make more than 50% success. But you are not making the right block choices for real reasons. Irrational actions don't take information, make justified conclusions from that, and generalize, as rational processes do, they either act on information that is invented, percieved(but not extant) patterns, or simple whim.

Only rational processes can allow one to win a game of minesweeper reliably, because rational processes are in line 100% with the larger universe. Minesweeper is very simple, and it's easy to see what processes are rational or not, because irrational ones lead to ended games.

Generalize to the Real World. Suddenly, the nature of the argument changes. What constitutes a justifiable conclusion from evidence? What's really evidence? What about people who seem to have powers or knowledges from elsewhere?(supernaturalism) It seems like the world is too much to deal with 100% certainty.

The real answer is that it's not actually any more complicated to make individual decisions rationally. Lets look at what carries over from Minesweeper.

1. Only one real world. There is only one minesweeper board, and wishing for another arrangement won't change where the mines are. The only way you get anywhere is by abiding by that arrangement, and reacting to it. The world is the same. There is only one physical world you live in. The people next door live in the same world. Soliphists(people who believe the universe to be imaginary) still get killed by trucks. And no amount of wishing or hoping, or thinking seems to change anything about the world.

2. The world is consistent. The relationships within minesweeper, the way numbers translate into mines and blocks, never changes. Next game, the mines don't give different results, and patterns within one game that are applicable, still apply within the next. The world is the same. Gravity remains constant, fields interact the same way, day to day. There is no such thing as a physics of epochs. Time periods always were and always will be subject to the same basic rules. That said, somethings are very variable. Social structures, human relationships, these are high-level dependent structures that change through time, just as the individual positions of mines between games. But there is an underlying consistency that continues throughout.

3. Truth is self-supporting. If something works within minesweeper, it works for a reason. There are no supernatural elements. The real world has phenomena, and all such phenomena, and all objects within the real world, follow rules. If something is true, the surrounding environment reflects this. True facts is the only supportable objects, because all other facts support them.

Rational thought is not a force, it's not an object, and it's not a person. It is a special kind of relationship, between evidence, behavior, and conclusion. A formal exegesis of this relationship exists, it's called the Bayesian Probability Theorem. Basically, this theorem describes how you relate different kinds of evidence into a cohesive conclusion, that remains inline with the universe. (if you are not familiar with the theorem, start here). My friend Eliezer Yudkowsky is what you would formally call a Bayesian Rationalist.(he considers the Bayesian Evidencial process superior to the more traditional Popperian approach). But I would call him a BPT enthusiast. He invokes the BPT at almost every opportunity, citing it as the basis of rationality. As a detail-oriented person, I must disagree. The Bayesian Probability Theorem is not the well from which rationality springs, nor is it the basis of all rational thought. It is a formalization of the relationship that Evidence has to Conclusion within said rational thought.

Formalism aside, Rational conclusions are the only conclusions worth making, because they're the conclusions that work the most. If you aren't using your best judgement, you may as well give up. Otherwise your making the wrong decisions for the wrong reasons, even if you occasionally get lucky. And as my friend Eliezer says. "That's worse than nothing."

Well, looks like this might work. Cool.
I've decided to invite a few people I know to post on this blog, if the fancy strikes them. I think that the internet's main strength is it's multiple voices all often in accord or disharmony. This cacophony of Points of View is what allows people to make real decisions on the internet. And what distinguishes it from the weaker sources of information:

you know, like books and newspapers, where you just have to take the author's word for it.

I think that the addition of even the possibility of an alternate voice would make any information source stronger, because it makes it that much more trustable. If a person can edit his way to respectability, you've lost a major source of information about the author and the subject.

In accord with this concept, if you want to contact me, or just to post to the blog, or even to contact someone else who posts to this blog, please email " ".

Now, this is just a spamcatcher address, since this is a public blog, but I check it once a day, just put "outlawpoet daily" in the subject line, and I'll read it, i promise.

Welcome to outlawpoet daily! Given my general lack of webpresence, I've decided to open up a weblog to up my visibility, and allow a little more access into my life.

I don't expect too many visitors initially, but I hope that this will eventually give people more insight into the strange and twisted life that is justin corwin.
It's just another communication channel that I haven't attempted yet. So we'll see where this goes. I expect it to be a modest success, as I'm online almost all the time, and typing a journal entry is much more modest an outlay of work than say... making a webpage, or responding properly to a mailing list.

okay, now that I've mentioned both my names: outlawpoet and Justin, let's move on.

I spend a lot of time on the internet, because the Internet has more information than anywhere else. I'm only on one mailing list right now, SL4. But I consider myself an Extropian, and will rejoin their mailing list when I have more time.

I enjoy the webcomics of the world, and hope to add my own to their number.

Roger Zelazny is a much better writer than Greg Egan.