Ran Prieur http://ranprieur.com/#9a417fe513f58988c3b5b1e84cfc57397194a79b 2018-03-30T18:20:42Z Ran Prieur http://ranprieur.com/ ranprieur@gmail.com March 30. http://ranprieur.com/#ef722437a29af39e03737e3a91dbdd65a4389815 2018-03-30T18:20:42Z March 30. Three links from Nautilus, about what we notice and don't notice.

The Key to Good Luck Is an Open Mind:

"His research is hilarious," says Carter. "He takes people who self-define as lucky and people who don't say they're lucky, and then he puts a $20 bill in the street and the lucky people notice them and pick them up. And unlucky people don't."

Scary AI Is More Fantasia Than Terminator. I would say it like this: AI will do what we tell it to do, not what we want it to do, because what we want it to do is full of all kinds of assumptions that we're not even aware of ourselves.

Are Infants Natural Synaesthetes? "As newborns, we take in nearly everything because we don't yet know what's important. But as useless connections get silenced or trimmed away, a more efficient brain emerges." Now I'm wondering, how much room is there for different cultures to create radically different versions of human consciousness?

Related: a reader sends this dense essay, Omens of the Semantic Apocalypse. "The AI revolution amounts to saturating human cognitive ecology with invasive species, billions of evolutionarily unprecedented systems, all of them camouflaged and carnivorous." Or, the internet is getting so good at hacking our minds to capture and hold our attention, that it's sending human consciousness off the rails.

My personal experience makes me more optimistic. It's getting really hard for me to find entertainment that doesn't bore me, and yet I find nature more and more interesting. This morning I had to wait in the car for a few minutes, and instead of turning on the radio, I just looked at the beautiful complexity of leafless tree branches.

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March 28. http://ranprieur.com/#5039eab9de548cda111684235055040c6d6e3504 2018-03-28T16:00:23Z March 28. Monday's post is a good example of why I now see myself as a fiction writer, and blogging is just something I haven't got tired of yet. Because that idea, that a civilization could collapse by trying to force reality to be too objective, is good fiction and completely disreputable nonfiction.

Everyone agrees that "truth" is breaking down. What they mean is, there is an objective external world, and more people are wrong about what it's like. If it turns out there is no objective external world, does that mean we could stop climate change by not believing in it? I don't think it works that way. I do think that physical reality is 100% created by mind, but "you" and "I" are not the agents of that mind. We're more like its hallucinations.

New subject, sort of: It all made sense when we found out we were autistic. Six women in the UK tell their stories, including some stuff about how autism diagnosis is skewed toward male traits, and women are often misdiagnosed with borderline personality disorder.

I've never been to a professional for a diagnosis, but I can relate to a lot of this. It's always seemed like everyone but me is a mind reader, like they're tuning into some broadcast that tells them the right way to do things, and they take it for granted. Not just social things. I remember the roller skating fad in the 70's, and it took me the longest time to figure it out. People said, "You just go. You just move." Really, you angle your toes slightly outward and then alternate pushing your legs to the side and picking your feet up. It's not complicated, but their minds didn't even notice what their bodies were doing for them.

This comes around to the first subject, because the "self" is just the part you happen to notice, of some larger and deeper set of habits and adaptations. You can choose to bring subconscious behaviors into the realm of the conscious, and most people can get by without doing that, but some people have to take conscious charge of subconscious behaviors to do them with any competence.

So here's my wild speculation: that "autism" is part of an ongoing evolution of humanity, in which the conscious mind is being challenged to expand its scope. A different angle: society has become so strange, that more and more bodies are failing to do the right thing automatically, and the head has to get in there to make everything work.

Related: Aliens of Reddit, what are some human things that make absolutely no sense to you?

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March 26. http://ranprieur.com/#bfa712600514e86c1c3a8d667093d243c174a856 2018-03-26T14:40:59Z March 26. Fascinating interview from 2016: The Evolutionary Argument Against Reality. This is a guy at the cutting edge of science, who has concluded that "there are no public physical objects," that reality is made of "points of view," and the math says you can "take separate observers, put them together and create new observers, and keep doing this ad infinitum. It's conscious agents all the way down."

This reminds me of something I wrote in an email a couple weeks back, about an idea I call pan-solipsism -- somehow, through some hidden dimension of causality, the universe behaves for every person as if they're at the very center. Of course this is the popular new age "you create your own reality" thing, but new agers rarely face the hard philosophical problem: to reconcile the idea that the universe is all in your head, with the idea that we're all in the same universe.

My speculative solution is that the sharing of reality is mostly an illusion. It's like that thing where maybe we see colors differently, and what you see as red I see as blue. But expand that to everything: what you see as "house" or "book" or "money", I see as the incomprehensible components of my own bizarre alien world. And in the slack created by these hidden differences, we each live in an outer world that's largely a projection of our inner world. Even "the brain" is a projection, a symbolic user interface for hacking our own streams of experience.

Getting really weird, I wonder if that's how technology is causing the epidemic of depression and anxiety: by forcing us to inhabit the same world. Physics says there are events where it doesn't make sense to say what happens until they are observed. Maybe even if an event is observed, two observers could still see it differently, and be in partially different universes -- as long as they don't compare notes. Information technology has forced us to do too much note-sharing, and now we all have to compromise to a reality that's satisfying for fewer and fewer people.

Coincidentally, when a quantum function that could go either way is pinned down into being the same way for all observers, it's called collapse.

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March 23. http://ranprieur.com/#fde1972f5ed8e5e5d191cb4b290ebeee0bb1bffe 2018-03-23T23:10:47Z March 23. Continuing from Wednesday, where I framed "good at dancing" as two definitions with no necessary overlap, Eric writes:

I believe that there is some overlap. Consciously training your body and senses to be receptive and responsive to your partner, then giving your partner movement, stimulus that has been smoothed, reduced, refined so that there is a clear 2-way conversation in (unconscious) body language. Dancing like this is not an intellectual activity, in fact feels opposite of intellectual, but only the greatest dance geniuses can do it without making the conscious effort to build the necessary skills.

Of course I should have known that. I'm not a good dancer, but as a writer, I have exactly that partnership inside myself. There's that voice that spits out words from who knows where, and if I were to put that stuff on the page unfiltered, it would be terrible. But I also couldn't ignore that voice and write anything good. Good art, and good living, are about skillfully walking the line between conscious and subconscious, or rational and sub-rational.

But if art and living are similar skills, then why are highly creative people so often bad at life? I think it's because their subconscious energy, which can illuminate invented worlds, is too wild to be integrated in a world shared with other people -- or at least this world.

On a personal note, I've been doing a lot of work lately to clean up bad subconscious habits, but I still haven't got to the core problem: the lack of overlap between what I feel like doing and what's good for me to do. I wonder what it's like for other people. I mean, every night I force myself to floss my teeth because I know it's good for me -- but most people don't, and if they can't even force themselves to floss, how are they forcing themselves to cook and clean and pay bills and do their jobs? That's why I've become so interested in channeling spontaneity, because I imagine that if I could learn to do it right, I could coast through life instead of having to drag it around.

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March 21. http://ranprieur.com/#98eb8db50209624f7354db1ef1867dafba5d6c42 2018-03-21T21:50:00Z March 21. Sometimes I think that all disagreements come down to semantics. Or, if we somehow had perfect communication, there would be no conflict -- but then, that depends on your definition of "conflict".

Anyway, after some feedback from the last post, I realize that being "good at dancing" has a range of meanings, which could be framed as two competing definitions with no overlap: one is when the head trains the body to make a set of precise moves; the other is when the body moves on its own. Both kinds of movements become smoother and more complex with practice. I think it's obvious that some cultures are much better than others at loose and spontaneous movement, and that it has something to do with social class and authoritarian politics.

I was thinking it had something to do with intellect, where more cerebral people are also more stiff, but now I'm doubting that, because intellect can be either allied or opposed to authoritarian culture. In Nazi Germany, you had an anti-intellectual ruling party whose members were terrible dancers (definition 2), and an underground culture that was both looser and smarter.

Those people mostly got killed, but their values lived on. I believe that top-down systems, whether inside or outside the body, tend to break down from their own inflexibility, while bottom-up systems... but now I've hit a semantic wall, because what exactly is the "bottom"? The first line of the Tao Te Ching says: the Tao that can be described in language is not really the Tao.

And now I'm getting into theology. Imagine the unknowable Divine, not as an authority we obey, but as a wave we ride.

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March 19. http://ranprieur.com/#13271a43f22e17d5def5eabd6bcbbfd5068a309e 2018-03-19T19:30:39Z March 19. I'll continue on music because I just got an email from Eric with two different fertile ideas. First, that "music serves as a cultural marker. Listening to a certain kind of music makes us feel like we belong somewhere."

Suddenly I understand why my musical taste is so "weird" -- I've always felt that I belong nowhere in this world, so I look for music that makes me feel like I belong in some other world that doesn't quite exist. This line from The Picture of Dorian Gray is exactly how I feel about many of my favorite songs:

...the silent spirit that dwelt in dim woodland, and walked unseen in open field, suddenly showing herself, Dryad-like and not afraid, because in his soul who sought for her there had been wakened that wonderful vision to which alone are wonderful things revealed; the mere shapes and patterns of things becoming, as it were, refined, and gaining a kind of symbolical value, as though they were themselves patterns of some other and more perfect form whose shadow they made real: how strange it all was!

Most people listen to music to feel at home with some human subculture, while I listen to music to talk to God -- typically after breathing cannabis vapors, and sometimes kneeling before two large vintage speakers.

Eric's second idea is that many genres of popular music have their roots in some kind of fringe dance music. As the sound becomes mainstream, people no longer dance to it.

This reminds me of something I often wonder: why are white people so bad at dancing? I think it's because dancing comes from the body, and European culture has been consistently heady for hundreds of years now. That's why Elvis was so popular. Just as television was emerging, he was the only white man whose movements were fluid and not stiff.

What would it take for everyone in the world to be good at dancing?

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March 17. http://ranprieur.com/#c0b84236ebfe87afb5de71746ffd84bdd0f833f7 2018-03-17T17:10:17Z March 17. Linked the other day on the subreddit, an interview with indie rock star Julian Casablancas about money, music, and politics. I'm not sure where to start. Of course I agree with him that this is a dark age for popular music, but I see his music as part of that dark age. His band's biggest hit, Reptilia, has 95 million YouTube views, and sounds to me like by-the-numbers indie rock, nowhere near as creative as someone like Ezra Furman.

This is a good point:

The Oscars obviously have blind spots, but with movies it's generally the authentic artistic endeavors that get recognized. But when you look at what gets nominated for a Grammy? I don't understand what the hell it's all about.

It's also interesting to compare music with TV, which has been in a golden age for a while now. The 1970's cannot hold a candle to the last ten years of television, so we're not talking about a general cultural decline. I think there's something about the medium of music, in the context of our economy and technology, where popularity has become strongly correlated with blandness.

Casablancas sees the evil music industry excluding the best artists, but I see it the other way around: with cheap home recording and internet distribution, the best artists no longer have to fight for a place at the table of big money. They're happy to stay independent and do exactly what they want, and big money is happy to go on with beautiful people and algorithmic songwriting.

Is it better this way? With all the great TV shows out there, there still has not been a single episode that speaks to my soul the way my favorite songs do. Maybe some future technology will enable visual storytelling to be cheap enough to take the risks to reach that level.

By the way, a 2018 album has emerged as my favorite non-Big Blood album of the decade: Insecure Men. That's the album on YouTube and here's an article about it. I would tag it as space lounge music. The songs have the structure and melody of classic pop, with so much strange beauty layered on top that I guess people find it hard to wrap their ears around it. For an argument that music is getting better, compare Dire Straits' 1985 hit "So Far Away" with Insecure Men's "I Don't Wanna Dance With My Baby".

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March 14. http://ranprieur.com/#7b0108e07d32ae9a39e735de0feba4a6a372d8fa 2018-03-14T14:40:40Z March 14. Taking the week off from heavy thinking, here are four links from Nautilus. The Case for Making Cities Out of Wood, specifically, wood processed in a new way that makes it as strong as steel but only one sixth the weight.

Why Is There So Much Hate for the Word "Moist"? People imagine that it's about the sound of the word, but studies show that it's completely about the meaning, which people project onto the sound. Similarly: "In one study that exposed Americans and Canadians to different British accents they were unfamiliar with, they couldn't guess with any accuracy which ones belonged to people in the upper classes and which ones to people in the lower classes." But once we know, then the sounds of the accents sound upper or lower class.

Inheritance Is Moving Beyond Genetics and Epigenetics, to weird neo-Lamarckian stuff that we can't completely explain.

This Neural Net Hallucinates Sheep. It's about how artificial intelligence works more by correlation than understanding. So given the kind of landscape that often contains sheep, an AI will identify anything white as a sheep -- yet actual sheep, colored orange, it will mistake for flowers, and it's terribly confused by goats in a tree. The practical upshot: "Want to sneak something past a neural network? In a delightfully cyberpunk twist, surrealism might be the answer. Maybe future secret agents will dress in chicken costumes, or drive cow-spotted cars."

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March 12. http://ranprieur.com/#2c6a2b4d1c188b8bd857581d85659365de46e337 2018-03-12T12:20:18Z March 12. Some doom from reddit: What significant changes to the environment have you noticed throughout your life?

And some techno-optimism mixed with some doom: What BIG THING is on the verge of happening?

On the lighter side, Concert venue workers, what band/genre of music has the worst fans? Which has the best? There are a lot of nominees for worst, but everyone agrees that metal fans are the best.

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March 9. http://ranprieur.com/#3e67de705c47acf7a548fd000b55a1f219255e16 2018-03-09T21:50:19Z March 9. Important new David Graeber essay, How to change the course of human history (thanks MakeTotalDestr0i). The whole thing is worth reading, but I'll try to summarize it.

Graeber wants to overturn the "conventional narrative": that primitive life was good, agriculture changed everything, and now we're stuck in big systems that can only work with hierarchy. Recent archaeology refutes this. There were complex civilizations before agriculture. Then agriculture didn't suddenly capture us -- it was one of many food options, tried and sometimes abandoned over thousands of years. Hierarchy also didn't capture us -- there were cultures where politics were seasonal, authoritarian in summer and anarchist in winter, or vice versa. Prehistory wasn't a row of falling dominoes -- it was a time of massive experimentation.

In Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley, "cities with sophisticated civic infrastructures flourished for over half a millennium with no trace of royal burials or monuments, no standing armies or other means of large-scale coercion, nor any hint of direct bureaucratic control over most citizen's lives." This leads Graeber to his most radical point, made explicitly in one of the comments: "there is no correlation between scale and hierarchy."

This gives us hope for a better world. But it also leaves a void, by taking away a beautiful answer to an important question: How did the world get so fucked up? If it wasn't agriculture or cities, what was it? If our ancestors experimented and found Utopia, how did they lose it? It's suspicious that we have no written record of a non-repressive large scale society. Did the world get fucked up by writing?

Taking another angle, imagine we're in Utopia now. I mean clearly we're not -- even with all the antidepressants, depression is probably higher now than it's ever been. But imagine if someone from Gobekli Tepe traveled to the present day. What would they like most about our world?

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March 7. http://ranprieur.com/#a546053904e5184659c5e369e0f2fff43bff11e3 2018-03-07T19:30:25Z March 7. Loose ends. This new subreddit thread, social bumper cars, has some good discussion of Friday's post. Gene makes an important point, that people with social disorders find each other difficult to be around. So we can't build a social utopia out of total incompetence. But I still think bumper cars are a good metaphor. If we can all develop the skill of being thick-skinned, then we don't need to develop the skill of not saying anything offensive.

Also linked from the subreddit, The Role of Luck in Life Success Is Far Greater Than We Realized. I would go even farther, because if you look deeply at things other than luck, it still comes down to luck. What is talent if not luck? Even "hard work" might come down to genetic stamina, or having people around you who are skilled motivators, or that you happen to really enjoy doing something that society happens to find valuable.

New subject: several ex-doomers are writing fiction now. James Kunstler has his World Made By Hand novels, John Michael Greer has written Lovecraftian fantasy, Tim Bennett wrote a novel about aliens, All of the Above, Paul Kingsnorth wrote an acclaimed historical novel called The Wake, and an ex-peak-oiler and reader of this blog, Gregory Jeffers, has just released his second novel.

I find fiction much more rewarding than nonfiction, and I'm only continuing this blog through force of habit. My unusual fear is that my novel will get popular too soon, and complicate my life so that I can't continue writing at the same level.

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March 5. http://ranprieur.com/#ccdf5e9db35be510bb6831d7d5623a1e1872b6d3 2018-03-05T17:10:49Z March 5. I don't have a post today, but do I have some news. This summer I'll be in Europe for a month, from July 10 to August 10. Leigh Ann will be there for a class, so I'll be based with her in Bonn. During the last two weeks we'll be traveling together, and during the first week my sister might join me. If anyone wants to host me, or me and one other person, for a night or two, let me know, ranprieur at gmail. Trains are very expensive, so I'll have to stick to an efficient route. I still need to research buses and possibly hitchhiking.

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March 2. http://ranprieur.com/#fd8a417c15295c79ace178d287945bb8437f04b8 2018-03-02T14:40:21Z March 2. Continuing on psychology, this new Nautilus article is about schizophrenics and how they do lot better in developing countries, supposedly because their cultures are more collectivist and value "empathy and social competence".

But the article also mentions autism, which in one model, is the opposite of schizophrenia: "Where an autistic person's sense of self is cripplingly narrow, schizophrenics' selves are cripplingly expansive."

So I'm wondering, would someone on the autism-aspergers spectrum also do better in a more traditional culture? Or worse? This smart Twitter thread (thanks Gabriel) argues that even the developed world demands too much social competence:

You don't need to be on the autism spectrum to lack social tact or find yourself disgusted with the need to demonstrate social tact everywhere. When people talk about "neurodiversity" it's not because there's giant group of oppressed Aspies. It's because Aspergerdom is a cultural symbol of what it means to be undersocialized.

I like Starcraft but my reaction time is never going to get up to the level necessary to compete with the pros. So I play casually. I'd get destroyed if I played with people of even a moderate skill level. This is how undersocialized people see the world of oversocialized people.

I've never been to a professional for a diagnosis, so I don't know if I would come out neurotypical, aspie, or schizoid. But when I imagine my ideal culture, it's like social bumper cars: everyone is having fun, because no matter how big of a mistake you make, nothing bad can happen.

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