Thursday, March 31, 2005

F u t u r e M e . o r g

I just got my first FutureMe message, the one I wrote last year to myself.

What a mindjob. Being suddenly yanked back into the state of mind I was in a year ago was amazing in terms of noticing the differences.

Friday, March 25, 2005

"To study and not think is a waste. To think and not study is dangerous." - Confucius
There's this interesting thing in therapy, called a stress index. It's a level of.. well, change and upset in people's lives, things both good and bad. More things on the list that have happened to you within a certain time frame, the higher your stress index is.

Like most items of therapy and in fact modern psychology, it's kind of a nifty theory with not a lot of science behind it.

But there is an intuitive sense to it. Lately, and this is true likely for many, in these exciting days, it seems more and more happens to me, nearly before I can process and decide how to react.

Those near and far may know that despite not being the most social or the most... considerate of people, I have managed to accumulate a goodly number of people I care about, and care about me. Like most weakly correlated events, their crises tend to cluster. It seems now is another of those times.

Tonight I was treated to a conversation with my father, who has my brother effectively institutionalized in a wilderness therapy program, and is attempting to put my sister into rehab for various things. Then I got to miss my scheduled phone call with my lovely girlfriend, because I've been so behind on my work that I was struggling to get a document to my coworker Todd so he could get on with his tasks. Then, because an ex-girlfriend of mine had a nephew die, I took a phone call from her, which disintegrated into me attempting to console her and simultaneously explain that I have another girlfriend right now that I care about very much, and so on.

On the positive side, we had an investor kick a lot of money into our project, and prospects for the rest of the funding we need to scale up look very good. A respected man, Jeff Hawkins has started an AI company, another step in legitimizing the field I work in.

Honestly, I feel guilty that I'm not doing better. I just had a lovely visit with aforementioned girlfriend, and I am working on really interesting stuff. Also I'm pretty sure I'll be able to visit Crystal again next month, albeit for a much shorter, weekend length.

I should be doing awesome. But I'm working much below potential. It took me all of today to get ready to do something I thought would be over with this afternoon. I've been so distractable that I thought about raising my caffiene to self medicating levels, or even pulling out some of my strattera that I have from last year when I was indulging in the idea that I could be medicated to normalcy. But I'm pretty sure it wouldn't help much.

It's an unfair thing, to be so out of control of yourself. I can deal with every individual situation I'm in, and have come to conscious peace with all the various crises, at least shallowly. But the mere overlap in time has me stitching.

I remember when I first encountered the stress index, my first thought was that it was absurd that people would have an architecture that conflates both positive and negative things into the same heap. It's absurd and unfair. One ought to think that such things would rather behave like positive and negative integers, giving some kind of balance to a busy life full of positive and negative changes. But that is just the kind of strange apes we are.

So I sit and try to distract myself, and not think about the sleep I should be getting so I could get up early and do my work. Because I know I couldn't sleep anyway until I actually feel tired.

Which is about now, actually. Reflection always helps me feel tired. Another absurdity, but at this moment, a welcome one.

Cheers and sympathy, for everyone else out there scared of success, and Jeff Hawkins. Who is bringing the end of the world nearer with his filthy PalmOne money.

Monday, March 21, 2005

"No child of mine will ever cower before an imaginary God. It is beneath the dignity of human beings and it is beneath the dignity of our descendants. If the lightning is beautiful, then let us see the beauty in electricity without need for thunder deities; for if we cannot learn to take joy in the merely real, our lives will be empty indeed."

~Eliezer Yudkowsky

One great fear of mine is the tyrrany of sounding good. Eliezer is a prime example of a person who has tuned and tuned in the search for rationality. Unfortunately, I suspect, there is a class of 'improvements' one can make which correspond more to obscuring flaws than making true statements. It is a problem I have noted myself on more than one occasion. Here Eliezer is responding to a theist who complained that we need to instill our mind children with some kind of religion that will force them to respect their elders, lest we be obsoleted. He continues:

"But I'm not going to try to hardcode that, not in a child nor in an AI. As an atheist, I have a simple, matter-of-fact confidence that religionists once had and relinquished long ago. I don't think I need to load the dice for my answer to win. All I need is to set in motion the dynamics that seek truth, i.e., some computable approximation of Solomonoff induction. If there were the tiniest shred of truth to religion, that would be enough to uncover it. If you have even a droplet of honest belief left, not just empty excuses for a faith you lost long ago, you will not ask me to load an AI's dice in favor of your pet theory. Let the truth win out."

All true statements. All very appealing (at least to this rationalist and this truthseeker). But, the subtle shift in conversation here is quite nearly unnoticed. We've transitioned to instilling beliefs in a mind, to better them and ourselves, to talking about the structure of the mind, to fixing it so there is only one answer. Perhaps because the theist is muddled in his thinking this blanket approach is valid. It's true that Eliezer's objections do entirely refute John C Wright's theistic aspirations. But his argument does not directly address his points.

A general question: What is intellectual honesty? Eliezer has a real commitment to truth. However, and I fear this is a general point, being committed to truth is not sufficient. Eliezer in this example, and others in many examples (I choose Eliezer because I believe he's not making any other mistakes here) has changed to context, the discussion has been shifted to allow him his total commitment to certainty. By changing the context slightly he's found a place where he can shoot down this theistic argument with perfect aplomb and sound like a hero. But is he? He's making arguments that are true, and insightful(even poetic, perhaps) but they aren't in the original exact vein of discussion. Isn't that somewhat misleading? Or am I making something of a molehill? Perhaps Eliezer has simply reframed the question in general terms, much as I'm generalizing his statements for logical effect.

Let's continue in that vein, and move reducto ad absurdum. Suppose a fully rational, truthful being, that only chooses to engage in discussion when certain, and always seeks to twist contexts to those he's more comfortable in, to the limits of his self respect and intellectual honesty. Luckily, mythology is replete with examples of this type. The Zen Master, the Oracle, Yoda, all inscrutable characters who are right, and insightful, and powerful creatures, but maddening, because they only rouse themselves to croak factually accurate and unassailable arguments, and refuse to engage in fringe discussion.

There are two factors here. One is the very real problem of authority acceptance. Many self-aware Masters rage at their disciples on both sides, chiding them for accepting the Master's word without question, and also being annoyed when they don't recognize and internalize the truth the Master offers them. So the good master retreats into relative silence to avoid corrupting and doing a disservice to all those who listen to him. Speaking when certain, and able to tell how his words will affect. This admirable strategy is always blended with persona maintenence, a despicable practice of hiding, changing, and sculpting information to maintain certain relationships and reputations. Shame on the Master who can't bear to have students see him wrong.

The second factor is subtler, and the one I have been trying to explore above. The Master categorizes within his subject. He divides the realm of his understanding by function or taxonomy, he asks questions and answers with statements which exist along those lines. The Fool asks sweeping, conjoined questions, stabs at understanding that smears across the subject. The Master, presented with these questions, maps the question to his understanding, finding pieces of it within some division of his knowledge, addresses this part (perhaps rightly) believing himself to have dealt with the entirety. After all, a single contradiction is all you need to invalidate an entire argument.

I don't know whether this represents an important distinction when you're just learning to be a rationalist. I haven't yet reached the point where it even constitutes a significant portion of my mistakes. But it is A mistake.

I know there is a rank above that of Inscrutable Master. I don't have all the details yet, but he's humble and detailed and truthful. She answers questions in the spirit they are asked, but as correctly as she knows how. He presents his uncertainty, his incomplete scraps of knowledge, and his current thinking, because it too, is information. And she never takes an easy win, when there are more interesting and informative portions of an argument. Noisy Errors are to be preferred.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Create a Fake Phantom Limb

proof the crappy websites do sometimes have interesting things on them.

forgive the popup(for those of you still using something without a popup blocker). interesting body illusion.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Concrete Nation: Science News Online, Jan. 1, 2005

your world is made of this stuff
Anarchy at Sea - William Langewiesche

There is a book based on this article, and others like it, by Langewiesche, which I may review, if I get a chance. the softcover will be out soon, which may mean a warez copy will appear, alternatively, I'll buy it next month.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

The Phenomenon of Man: "Instead of wringing our hands over the Human Predicament, we should attend to those parts of it which are wholly remediable, above all to the gullibility which makes it possible for people to be taken in by such a bag of tricks as this. If it were an innocent, passive gullibility it would be excusable; but all too clearly, alas, it is an active willingness to be deceived."

Sir Peter Medawar lays the smackdown on Teilhard's The Phenomenon of Man.

Truly a great review, I have the misfortune not to speak french, and thus I have never read The Phenomenon of Man. I have been an occasional reader of excerpts from an anonymous translation, and been unimpressed, despite the occasional recommendation.

Poor reasoning and writing shares many traits. I have found it greatly helpful to read scathing reviews of other books, and wonder, to what extent to these accusations apply to my writing and thinking?

Medawar also demonstrates a sadly poor uncommon skill, to be brutal without going beyond the facts. Untruth and exaggeration never help, no matter how good a cause they are recruited for.