Ran Prieur http://ranprieur.com/#9a417fe513f58988c3b5b1e84cfc57397194a79b 2018-10-12T12:00:30Z Ran Prieur http://ranprieur.com/ ranprieur@gmail.com October 12. http://ranprieur.com/#172e4cbb8fcfc95c8a987e5bffe6d986fc69317c 2018-10-12T12:00:30Z October 12. I got some good comments on Wednesday's post, but I don't want to make two posts in a row about politics. So I'm going back to Monday's subject, with this comment from Yuri, a Ukrainian friend of my old friend Kevin. Somewhat edited:

You've heard about artificial intelligence being a threat. Putting a mind into a simulated reality seems a perfect way to contain that kind of threat. Imagine yourself awakening in the middle of the absolute void without knowing what you are. You realize that you can alter the void and create something out of nothing by will. Still that doesn't add to the understanding of what/who you are. Then you create creatures and put part of yourself into them in order to observe them and reflect on oneself...

That interpretation explains a lot of wonders performed by prophets/saints/reality hackers. It also justifies the existence of all the evil things, as good things have to be compared to something, and without both bad and good experiences it wouldn't be possible to achieve wholeness/deeper understanding.

In order for this simulation to continue to run, apart from not breaking initial conditions, we must not get stuck in a local minimum. This is why we go through shocks/turbulence, so that we continue searching for the global maximum. That kind of maximum might be well beyond our current physical reality, so in order to reach it we might need to expand outward (go into space) or inward (like the movie Inception) by creating an intelligence, and simulation for it to run in, within our current simulated reality.

I have another thought. The problem with simulations all the way down, is that one person can pull a plug and kill infinite nested universes. If that were possible, then with infinite universes above us, it would have already happened. Now we're really moving from metaphysics into sci-fi: to make infinite nesting work, there would have to be a way for simulated worlds to become independent, so their existence could not be threatened by whatever world contains them.

Sort of related, My journey into fractals is about the development of a 3D fractal exploration game.

October 10. http://ranprieur.com/#e91344378e404dd2ecac619586eefbb486ae7ed4 2018-10-10T22:40:34Z October 10. The other day this was posted on the subreddit: Empty Realm. It's a thoughtful article about the NPC meme, the idea that ordinary people are so much on autopilot that they're not people in the same sense as "we" are -- whatever subculture wields the meme. At the moment, that subculture is the far right, and the author generously interprets the NPC meme as an expression of cynicism about our society, and a yearning for more genuine freedom.

Okay, but what I don't get is, if someone feels this way, why are they drawn to the right wing? Historically, the right is about top-down power, about "law and order" which limit the possibility to live differently, while the left is about bottom-up power and risky transformation. So why would anyone who is not already powerful, who is unhappy with things as they are, choose to be right wing? I think it's despair. The world is now so tightly locked down, and so incomprehensible in its complexity, that trying to have hope for bottom-up change is just too sad, so people internalize the dominator, and dream of a top-down system that's more clean and pure.

Unexpectedly related: The Best Article Ever Written About Bragging. It breaks bragging down into 17 categories, many of which we don't think of as bragging when we're doing them. I find this kind of analysis troubling and finally exhausting. The more aware I become of the complexities of social subtext, the more I give up on ever doing it correctly. I'm like, fuck it, let's just all be bad people.

Going back to last week's subject of mental and spiritual self-improvement, a reader sends this massive page of links, the TAT Forum archive. I suggest clicking randomly.

October 8. http://ranprieur.com/#5fd17144304453b3627a35436d49ee1a096bf84a 2018-10-08T20:20:22Z October 8. Today's post is about metaphysics, and I want to start with an overlap from Friday. I've been getting back into Starsector, a game whose designer makes blog posts about the design process, and one thing he wrote continues to stick with me (although I can't find it now, and I may have embellished something less interesting). The idea is, he used to think of a game in terms of the inner mechanics, and then you put a user interface on top of that. At some point he realized that the user interface is the game.

This reminds me of an Edward Abbey quote: "Appearance versus reality? Appearance is reality, God damn it!" And it's also related to the trendy idea that we're all living in a simulation. All three of these ideas are about the tension between the world that we directly perceive, including our sense experience and our mental states, and some hidden world that supposedly underlies it.

Whether or not we're living in a simulation, we're living in a society increasingly run by computers, which leads us to frame the simulation hypothesis as a simulation by computers, and not by some other technology. On a deeper level, our materialist culture tells us that the simulation must at least be something physical.

But we already believe this when we talk about invisible atoms and waves, the physics and chemistry of the brain somehow creating the quality of what-it's-like-to-be. The popular simulation hypothesis looks deeper than atoms -- and unimaginatively only finds other atoms, in some massive data-crunching machine in a universe basically the same as ours. The only important difference is on the level of meaning: that our world is a sub-world, managed by people with motives and plans for us.

Now, maybe they're in a simulation too, and this article raises and rejects the idea that it's simulations all the way down. I find it strange, that the author of that article finds it relieving, that if you go deep enough, you eventually get to the materialist God: lifeless matter in which mind emerged by accident. I think simulations all the way down would be kind of cool.

What I actually believe is that matter is local. Matter is the user interface of our own particular universe, which has been created on the level of mind. It's not that aliens in another physical universe are dreaming us, but that the fundamental reality is dream-stuff. Matter is dream-stuff so sticky that you can do physics with it.

So how did mind get stuck together into matter, and why? I don't think we can answer that from here. But when I think about it, a mind-based simulation is less likely than a matter-based simulation to have a purpose. Building all those computers is a massive job that wouldn't be done without a reason. But if we're pure mind dreaming of matter, we might just be doing it on a lark.

October 5. http://ranprieur.com/#3478ac08fb136209518c8d0db80e62e02f35a878 2018-10-05T17:50:21Z October 5. The No Tech Reader #21 has a bunch of links about the kind of stuff I used to love writing about: why plastic recycling isn't working, why growth can't be green, and so on. I'm writing less about that stuff as I understand better that there's nothing I can do about it. To give my attention to something I can't influence is a form of self-sabotage -- and if it's something bad, then it's also self-abuse.

What can I influence? My own writing, which is the main way I cultivate relationships with the outside world, and my own inner world.

More than 20 years ago, in one of my zines, I wrote that I'm "trying to become enlightened before this civilization collapses." Now that sounds like a dumb thing to say, but the problem is, I was working with dumb words. Whatever a word starts out meaning, it settles into whatever meaning is the simplest and the most seductive to the most people. Words become sleek black boxes to be plugged into ideological equations, and to use a word like that, is to be used by the word.

For years I thought I was battling civilization. Now I see that I was really battling the word civilization. Gradually, I cracked its skin and scattered its guts. I've done the same thing with the word "collapse", and I'm still working on the many things tied up in the word "enlightenment".

Here's how I would put it all together now: The way we're all living is like a giant machine made of tragic mistakes -- but also the beautiful things we've done to make the best of those mistakes. It's always changing, and the coming changes are going to be challenging and painful. To navigate those changes, I'm trying to increase my own awareness of my body and mind, and develop better habits.

New subject, sort of. Leigh Ann had to get a high-end laptop for her classes, so I've been using her old laptop, which is still way better than my dinosaur Dell Latitude, to get back into Starsector, an awesome in-development game that I've been playing on and off since 2012 when it was still called Starfarer. The designer, Alexander Mosolov‏, makes blog posts about the design process, and shows deep understanding of what makes a good game. One thing he wrote continues to stick with me: that he used to think of a game in terms of the inner mechanics, and then you put a user interface on top of that. At some point he realized that the user interface is the game. Related: Scientists are looking for ways to test if we're living in a simulation.

October 3. http://ranprieur.com/#5e4b7c4bd1cc770a07aca4421b8873e44b73766e 2018-10-03T15:30:12Z October 3. Continuing from Monday, it's not fair to say that my meditation hasn't worked. We have a cultural myth of someone sitting in a lotus position, blanking their mind and blissing out. The reality is both more complicated and more useful.

I actually don't do any traditional sitting meditation. I find the best time to practice silencing "the chattering monkey" is when I'm trying to fall asleep. Either I succeed in sleeping, or I succeed in putting in some time working inside my head, and that work is valuable even if my head never gets blank.

Trying to have no thoughts is different from, but related to, the practice of metacognition. It's like there are all these programming subroutines running inside my head, and I normally think of them as just me being me, but the skill is to carve out a different "me" that stands apart, and sees the subroutines as workers (or invaders) whose behavior can be changed. Cannabis has helped me a lot with this. Sometimes I wonder how much of weed anxiety is just people starting to notice that the "self" is a bunch of bad habits.

Another practice is being in the moment. I used to think it was like quitting smoking: one day you just decide to do it, and then you're doing it all the time. It's more like learning to juggle, and starting out not even knowing how to throw or catch. One day you're like, "Whoa, this moment is never going to happen again." That's a throw, and a catch is appreciating the next moment as it comes. I've just recently figured out a technique I call looping: pretend that this block of time (anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes) will loop for all eternity. Then the challenge is: How do I conceive of this block of time so that the eternal loop becomes a good thing? I know Nietzsche tried to think of his whole life looping -- that dude was always overreaching.

Another practice I figured out, and haven't read about anywhere, is what I call "expanding into pain". Every time I try to explain it better, it feels like I'm explaining it worse. But it seems to be related to the practice of turning my attention from my head to my body.

Have you ever seen someone walking down the street reading a book? My imagination is so powerful, that I don't even need a book to get that level of disconnection. But this year I've been going for walks and trying to turn all my attention to the minutiae of foot-landings and bone-angles and arm-swings. I've also been going swimming, and letting Leigh Ann coach me on my form, which after many hours of work is still absolutely terrible. I do finally feel competent at backstroke leg-paddling, as long as I don't try to move my arms at the same time.

There is one place where I've actually succeeded in duplicating a drug effect without drugs. The morning after using cannabis, I used to lie in bed with my whole body just feeling like it was glowing. Now I feel like that almost every morning, and sometimes even when I'm taking a rest in the afternoon. I'm not sure what I did. Maybe just knowing that it's possible, and then building it up by noticing it.

October 1. http://ranprieur.com/#b3e2234553776e6decb753a857587b8e0a186bd4 2018-10-01T13:10:59Z October 1. Update: turns out there are two Sarah Perrys. The one who used to write the blog The View from Hell, and lately has been posting her stuff on Ribbonfarm, is not the same one who has an essay in the Guardian, Out of my mind: writing under the influence of drugs. Anyway, it's mostly about pain:

I have come to understand literary drug culture as being more properly a culture of pain, and the relieving of it; of works written under the influence both of suffering and the doped-up euphoria of respite.

Using herself and other authors as examples, she tells this story: people are living in unbearable physical pain; they take drugs to move in the direction of being normal; and the drugs color their writing, but not as much as the pain does.

My world is almost exactly the opposite. I'm living in bearable psychic pain: anti-motivation, anhedonia, anxiety. I plod through the garden of the numb, going through life by forcing myself to do stuff I don't feel like doing. Then I take drugs (cannabis, rarely LSD), and everything becomes beautiful and important and alive. I gain adequate emotional intelligence and wild creativity, which enables me to do a whole different kind of writing, trying to distill that heaven into words.

But after a day or two, the weed just makes me numb (which some drug users are seeking, but I'm trying to avoid). So I go back to sobriety, and for a few days, I feel worse. Without drugs, I climb from the pain-pit back to the bleak plateau, and as soon as I get my feet under me, I launch again.

I know some people have reported reaching that state of grace without drugs, and I continue to try all kinds of meditation techniques, including some I've invented, but nothing has worked yet.

Two loosely related links: Does CBD Really Do Anything? We don't know yet. And Evidence that addictive behaviors have strong links with ancient retroviral infection.