"You know, I'm sick of following my dreams, man. I'm just going to ask where they're going and hook up with 'em later."
- Mitch Hedberg
October 19. This was posted to the subreddit last week: Virtual Reality as Moral Ideal. It's from Matthew Crawford's book The World Beyond Your Head, and it starts out with a fascinating comparison of old and new Disney cartoons. In the old ones, the physical world is dangerous and unpredictable, as it is in real life. In the new ones, the physical world presents simple challenges that are always tidily solved by magical tools.
The second half of the article is mostly about Immanuel Kant. I have a degree in philosophy, and fuck that guy. It's like, if you're learning to play music, you don't memorize some shitty music from hundreds of years ago just because it happened to be the first music with certain ideas. I think philosophy took a wrong turn with Socrates, and since then only a handful of philosophers, including Spinoza and Husserl, have said anything interesting. If we threw it all out and started over, we would have more fun and soon be doing better thinking, in the same way that Germany and Japan got better at manufacturing by having all their old factories destroyed in WWII.
Anyway, back to the original subject, I would frame the change in children's entertainment in terms of black-boxification. This is an idea I got from Bruno Latour's book Science In Action. A black box just does something for us, and we don't care how it works. From there, you can go "upstream", and take apart the black box to find out how it works, or go "downstream" and build black boxes into bigger black boxes that we no longer look inside.
The recent trend has been heavily downstream, with increasingly complex gadgets that are supposed to be our magical servants (Siri, scratch my butt) but in practice, when they malfunction, or when their unseen handlers exploit us, we are powerless, because the gadgets are too complex for us to tinker with or even understand.
I think that feeling of powerlessness is a big part of the epidemic of anxiety and depression. Crawford suggests "reclaiming the real" by learning skills: cooking, sports, music, fixing things. But there are also internal skills, and that's a more direct way to tackle mental illness: by taking apart the black boxes of our habits of where we turn our attention and how we think and act.
I think it's best to do both. I've been going to the pool a couple times a week, and trying to build a decent swimming technique by breaking it down into smaller bits. I might work on my kicking by doing a backstroke lap, not even using my arms, and kicking with only my right leg, and then only my left, figuring out how to move my leg to get the most propulsion. Then I'll work on freestyle, holding my breath and not kicking, so I can focus all my attention on the arm strokes. Then I'll let my arms and legs flail terribly while I focus only on breathing. Eventually it will all come together, but the point is, this physical work is like a foundation, or a template, that makes it easier to do mental work.
October 17. Does Being Bored Make Us More Creative? Studies show that it does, probably because boredom leads to daydreaming which leads to creativity. It includes a good definition of boredom. I used to think boredom was one thing, and then I thought, no, it's two things, one where you have nothing to do (which doesn't bother me at all) and one where you're forced to pay attention to something that's not interesting (which bothers me a lot). But this paper merges those two with this definition: "Boredom stems from a situation where none of the possible things that a person can realistically do appeal to the person in question."
Anyway, now I'm wondering if creativity is declining because the world is full of so many high-tech options to pass the time. But maybe when we get bored of all the TV and games and social media, creativity will be higher than ever, because we'll have learned from all that stuff how to daydream better.
Loosely related, from the subreddit, a copy-paste about touristification, how society is changing to make everything more predictable.
Also, since Canada just legalized weed, here's an update on my own use. I've always viewed my highs, and my recovery from them, passively, as if I'm being swept by forces beyond my control. Now I'm starting to view the whole thing as a workout, like I'm a weightlifter raising and lowering the mind. Or it's like every session is skiing down a ridge, and every break is climbing back to the top, and I'm starting to figure out how to ski better and climb harder. That doesn't mean I'm good at it yet.
October 15. Not smart enough today for an original post, so I'll catch up on old links, starting with two threads from Hacker News. This one is about how doctors are not scientists -- they've learned a set of accepted symptoms and diagnoses, and they tend to dismiss anything outside it, which makes them useless for any medical issue that's not completely normal.
And a discussion of Google becoming evil, in the context of a new version of their Chrome browser, which keeps Google cookies when you tell it to delete all cookies.
A sad reddit thread, Sex workers of reddit: What is the saddest experience (client wise) you've had while on the job? It's all about people who have non-sexual emotional needs, not all of them healthy.
Your IQ matters less than you think. My angle would be: IQ tests are purely about the skill of manipulating abstract symbols, which is a tiny shred of all the skills a person can have. The article's angle is to point out how badly IQ correlates with "success" -- a measure that I also don't trust, because even if you factor out people who are born rich, success is mainly a measure of how well a person fits with a given society.
If we're trying to measure the value of a person, it's hard to find any firm ground to stand on. But here's a stab at it: a valuable person is a person who fits with a society in which everyone has high subjective quality of life. So we can't measure it until we actually achieve such a society, maybe in ten thousand years.
Also on the subject of how the world can get better: The case for making cities out of wood.
And an inspiring self-improvement article, Teach Yourself to Echolocate.
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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.
September 28. In this subreddit thread about alternatives to central control, I've just had a little discussion about "rhizomatic" systems, which can be visualized as a bunch of boxes horizontally connected by lines. If we're talking about an ideal human society, then each box is a group of people who know each other well enough that they can get along without internal control, and there's no external control because the "boxes" are also working together as equals.
Of course, in the system we have now, boxes are totally commanding other boxes, and the main box-type is the individual. This didn't happen accidentally -- it was planned by right wing think tanks that grew up in the 1970's and took over in the 1980's. Now, social issues are framed not in terms of how we can arrange the system better, but in terms of personal responsibility. For example, instead of changing agricultural subsidies to make fresh produce cheap and processed corn expensive, we morally judge fat people. Or we blame people for littering, instead of designing packaging that, when thrown on the ground, is not ugly or harmful.
In the thread, Asterios mentions that the lines between nodes might be more important than the nodes themselves. I've had this insight too (on cannabis), that relationships are more fundamental than things. It follows, that in a well-functioning system, the boxes will redesign themselves to fit the lines.
The problem is, if the boxes are people, there are limits to how much we can redesign ourselves. In 1984, Orwell has his villain say that "Men are infinitely malleable," because that's what the control system wants to believe, that it can make the lines however it wants and the boxes will fall into place. But in practice, that's how social systems collapse, by pushing us too far from our nature. That's true on every scale, from the Chinese economy to one couple: the most robust system is the one that gives its people the most room to be themselves.
Different oppressive systems bend people too far in different ways. In the industrial age, it was working too many hours in factories, and that's still going on in a lot of places. But in America, in my lifetime, the main way I see the system trying to over-bend us is in how we show emotion. A hundred years ago, how many job descriptions listed emotional or psychological requirements for applicants? Probably almost none of them, and now it's almost all of them. If you're not enthusiastic, and not willing to fake it, you can't make any money. So everybody fakes it, and the collective faking of positive emotions, and hiding of negative ones, is eating our culture from within.
Here's a comic about it. And I'm also wondering, if we were all honest about how we feel, what would happen? I don't know if the system would collapse, or if it would get better.
September 26. I'm not having a lot of ideas lately, but here are some links from Reddit. This is the best summary I've seen of Foucault (the social philosopher not the pendulum scientist), and his new ways of thinking about power relations.
What is a website that everyone should know about but few people actually know about? There's a list of wifi logins at airports, a page that disguises Reddit as Outlook so you can stealthily browse it at work, a couple of music recommendation engines, and tons of other good stuff.
Teachers with 20+ experience, what's the difference between the kids then vs the kids now? Most of the comments are about terrible parents and increasing mental illness. It looks like the best kids are as good as ever, but there are way more kids now with serious problems.
What is One Thing That a Therapist Has Told You That Changed Your View on Life? Lots of good nuggets here.
And this thread was so troubling that the moderators removed it: Women of Reddit, how old were you when you first experienced unwanted sexual attention? As young as the ages are, and as creepy as the stories are, this is probably something that gets even worse as you go back in history.
September 24. Three links about slowing down. Myst, one of the most influential games ever, turns 25:
Prior to Myst, if you said "adventure game," a PC owner might see... third-person view, inventory, copious dialog (often funny), lots of characters, constant peril, verb-based interface. Myst did away with all of that. It was Spartan, lonely, calm, and low-stakes.
Why athletes need a 'quiet eye'. Every sport is different in where the athletes look, but in every case, "the better the player, the longer and steadier their gaze" at the key moment, and "the expert athlete actually slowed down their thinking."
It's related to the concept of a 'close reading' - a technique used in critical analysis where the reader pays close attention to details. With slow reading, the reader consciously slows their reading speed down. Slow reading can help you understand the piece better - and it can help you enjoy it more.
In my English papers in college, I specialized in close readings, and my writing is the same way, especially my fiction, always pushing the idea-per-word ratio. Here's my favorite recent sentence, added to the rewrite of book 1, chapter 5. The context is that a character is riding a metal ingot up a cable to space: "As the space elevator's acceleration spent itself on speed, she squatted and watched the stars as the last air dropped its lids from their eyes, and they glared blinkless in her awestruck face."
September 21. So I've been reading Michael Pollan's new book, How To Change Your Mind. It's about psychedelics, mostly psilocybin and LSD. The trip reports are all stuff I've read before -- and it makes me envious, because I've tried both drugs without getting any visions or hallucinations, only seeing conventional reality (especially nature) as much more beautiful and important than it is when I'm sober. But there's all kinds of stuff I never knew about the history of LSD, and unsurprisingly, it's tied to power politics.
Al Hubbard was one of those people who are wildly successful at everything they try to do. He was also politically authoritarian, and when he tripped on LSD, way back in 1951, he decided to use it to change the world from the top down. He persuaded a laboratory to give him a massive quantity, and went around the world giving it to the elites -- political, financial, technological, and cultural. At that time, psychedelics were legal and perfectly respectable -- in 1957 Life magazine did a glowing article on "magic mushrooms".
Then Timothy Leary ruined everything. I agree with his basic idea: to give psychedelics to the masses and change the world from the bottom up. But he was such a loose cannon, and so cult-leaderish, that he became the focus of a backlash. As Leary himself said, "Psychedelic drugs cause panic and temporary insanity in people who have not taken them."
In another twist, the pioneers of Silicon Valley did lots of LSD, and it probably gave a huge boost to the development of computers and the internet. And the universe of the internet is indeed super-trippy -- but I imagine a better timeline, where the world's increasing trippiness is not centrally controlled.
Anyway, here's some awesome psychedelic music, from 1968: The Incredible String Band - A Very Cellular Song. At over 13 minutes, it's too long for our speed-dazed age, but it clearly influenced David Bowie's Memory of a Free Festival, and most of the stuff Peter Gabriel did with Genesis, like Supper's Ready.
September 19. Today I donated blood, something I try to do around every solstice and equinox, and then came home to vape a pinch of Gorilla Glue and write. Oddly, yesterday I vaped twice as much Sour Diesel, but today's "launch" was stronger. It could be the blood loss, or the GG could be better weed, or maybe what happens is that a smaller dose, which takes less time to vape, packs the whole multi-temp vapor profile into a tighter window. I'll continue to experiment.
After Monday's post, Bill said my style reminds him of James Tiptree Jr, a sci-fi writer whose real name was Alice Sheldon. I checked out what I could find online, and indeed, some of her sentences are just the kind of thing I aim for. From the story The Girl Who Was Plugged In (pdf), here's a beautiful short sentence: "But P. Burke proves apt." And a longer one: "At the corner she strains to send one last fond spasm after the godlings' shuttle." So I'm going to get a few of her books, because it's been hard for me lately to find any fiction that I have fun reading. If anyone's into Enneagram, it occurs to me that most of my favorite authors are Sevens. Surely Tiptree was, and also Roger Zelazny, Roald Dahl, Lord Dunsany, and probably Isak Dinesen (another woman with a male pen name).
I've been listening to Syd Barrett's album The Madcap Laughs. The sonic textures are only subtly psychedelic, but Syd's songwriting is the gold standard for psych-pop. A good example is Octopus. The lyrics seem like improvised nonsense, but this close analysis, Untangling The Octopus, finds it carefully crafted and loaded with meaning.
September 17. Today, a look under the hood of my fiction writing. A year ago I posted what I thought was a final version of my novel, but then I wrote a sequel, and now I'm doing deep rewriting of book one. It started this summer when I decided to write an alternate version that's more readable, and I still have a long way to go on that project, but it's already feeding back to improve the main version.
This is a sentence from chapter six, drafted in February of 2017: "Torisa, still cogmodded, fumbled the handflight upface as the Captain raged through hyperacute stimslash."
When that came out of me, it was so much crazier than anything I'd written before, that I almost jumped off the couch. "What if I could write like that all the time?" But looking back, the sentence is flawed. In terms of exposition, it introduces too much stuff too fast. And in terms of lyricism, "fumbled the handflight upface" tickles the tongue, but then "hyperacute stimslash" gets the mouth in a car crash. And that prefix, "hyper", is just a pretentious way of saying "very", which is already usually a mistake.
If you're wondering what the sentence means, here it is all clunky and literal: "Still mentally altered by psychedelic drugs, Torisa fumbled to raise the controls from the floor, with which the Captain could fly the ship by hand, while he felt the pain of the sudden cancellation of his own drug effects."
A recent attempt to write it better: "Torisa, still cogmodded, stumbled to shove her mattress into the ship's nose, pulled the fingergrip edges of a floorpanel, and raised the handflight upface, all as the Captain raged through sped head-reset."
Now, here's what I came up with trying to use only simple words, but have it sound good: "Still drug-dazed, Torisa stumbled to shove her bed to the ship's nose, uncovering a floor panel whose edges she gripped to raise the wheel to hand-steer the ship, while the Captain ate the pain of brain-scrub."
I like that so much, that even with an unlimited vocabulary for the flagship text, the biggest change I made was to replace "dazed" with "befuddled".
September 14. Lots o' links, starting with two threads from Hacker News, one about the new European internet copyright law and how terrible it is.
And a discussion of the complicated causes of homelessness in Seattle.
A fun reddit thread, What's the creepiest/scariest thing that you've seen but no one believes you?
And a scary reddit thread about people who have fried their brains on LSD. I've done LSD a few times, and I absolutely love it, so I understand why people with a large supply are tempted to push the limits, but that's a really bad idea with a drug that can change your brain permanently.
From the subreddit, Where - and how - will the children play? This is actually good news, about a movement in New Zealand to make playgrounds more fun without being too dangerous. Now we just have to do the same thing with society.
It's been a while since I posted about my favorite sport, women's soccer. This one-minute video shows Sam Kerr's goals in August, and she's easily the NWSL's flashiest striker, but I agree with this article that the best all-around player is Lindsey Horan.
Finally, neotene @ctrlcreep is a super-trippy twitter feed, an ongoing brain-dump of sci-fi ideas. Of course, ideas are the easy part of writing, and the hard part is lining them up into a story. But I'd love to see a full novel by someone who can crank out stuff like this:
All of the stalactites are situated above quartz eyeballs, like the cavern is dripping potions into its own dilated pupils.
September 12. On the subject of anti-noise tech, Jed points out that we won't stop at silence and smoothness:
We'll have new design aesthetics, generating a low level of synthetic bumpiness so the real bumps don't stand out. We use this kind of aesthetic when we generate background rain/surf to mask less appealing environmental noise. The next step would be to build smart generators that incorporate the intrusive noise -- maybe create mild background thunder to mask a car door slamming in the street. As we achieve more control we'll do more design. Cars are getting quieter so we're already discussing how we want them to sound.
So our first instinct is to eliminate noise, and then we re-introduce noise as art. I'm thinking of music producers who add pops and hiss, or theme park rides designed to be excitingly bumpy.
Then I think the next stage is to go back toward reality. Kevin mentions this bit from Joe Rogan's Elon Musk interview, where Rogan talks about how much he loves driving his old Porsche 911.
...because it's so mechanical. The crackle, the bumps... it gives you all this feedback. I take it to the Comedy Store because, when I get there, I feel like my brain is just popping -- it's on fire. It's like a strategy for me now... I drive that car there just for the brain juice.
If you're the driver, mechanical feedback is interesting because it's integrated into what you're doing. But if you're a passenger, it's meaningless. And sometimes we can decide which one we are. If I'm walking through the woods, barefoot on a rough trail, my mind has to engage with the complex surface under my feet. If I'm wearing shoes on a paved trail, I can ignore the whole foot-ground interface, and focus all my attention on looking at the trees. And if I'm in a smooth bus on a highway, I can ignore my entire environment and read a book.
There's no wrong choice, but we usually make these choices without being aware of our full range of options. And in the middle ground, I imagine technologies that can give us sounds and motions generated not from the road but from the landscape, so you can feel the difference between forest and desert and city. Then it gets really weird if we have technologies that can give us feedback from beyond our human senses.
September 10. This 1943 George Orwell essay is titled Why Socialists Don't Believe In Fun, but it's really about the failure of utopian fiction to create worlds that readers actually want to live in. Orwell thinks it's because happiness comes from contrast, and fictional utopias are too static. But there have been some better imaginary worlds since 1943, and you can find the best ones in comment threads like this one from Ask Reddit: If you could live in any fictional world, which one would you choose?
I think the difference between boring fictional utopias, and worlds you actually want to live in, is that in the former the author is "playing not to lose", trying to create a world with nothing wrong with it, and in the latter, the author is trying to create as much good stuff as possible and not worrying too much about avoiding bad stuff.
Now I'm thinking about American politics, and how Democrats have allowed Republicans to become the party of fun. But I'd rather write about technology, and I love this title: Bump-Canceling Bunk Beds Promise Supersmooth Bus Rides. It's about using quick sensors and tiny motors to cancel out bumps like noise-canceling headphones. It's a cool idea, but still, if we let supersmoothness become the new baseline, then even a tiny bump will become an annoyance. As we go down that road, we're spending more and more resources to be bothered by smaller and smaller things, and also to be more removed from reality.
This reminds me of a story from a Tom Brown wilderness survival book, where young Tom asks his Apache mentor, "Why doesn't the cold bother you?" The old man pauses and answers, "Because it's real."
On that subject, The Health Benefits of Being Cold.
September 6-7. Deep in this reddit thread, about dumb things people do because they've seen it in movies, is a discussion of what autistic people are really like, including this comment explaining that the only way they become savants, is if they become obsessed with something at an early age. That makes sense. Nobody gets a skill by magic -- you have to put in the time. I don't want to say put in the "work" because if you're obsessed, it doesn't feel like work, which is why obsession is so powerful.
Related: this blog post by Siderea, The New Behaviorism, makes two points. 1) When psychologists talk about "learning" they're usually talking about eeeeevil behaviorism. 2) Behaviorism doesn't work very well.
This comes back to one of my favorite subjects: the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. In a perfect society, motivation is 100% intrinsic, and that's actually been done by some hunter-gatherer tribes -- the test is whether a culture lacks the concept of "freeloading". As we drift farther from that ideal, into a system that depends on tasks that not enough people find enjoyable for their own sake, we need to use reward and punishment as clunky patches for a broken system. If we go too far down that road, supposed experts in human psychology might not even think about actions being driven by anything other than reward and punishment.
I imagine, when a society is young and strong, it emerges bottom-up from whatever people are obsessed with; and when a society is old and dying, like ours, there's almost no overlap between what people are obsessed with, and what they need to do to keep the whole thing going. A symptom of a dying society is a glorification of "hard work" that you do for virtue or status and not because you enjoy it.