Ran Prieur http://ranprieur.com/#9a417fe513f58988c3b5b1e84cfc57397194a79b 2020-02-14T14:20:09Z Ran Prieur http://ranprieur.com/ ranprieur@gmail.com February 14. http://ranprieur.com/#cf901141081209e03958e0287b686c68ff120ecd 2020-02-14T14:20:09Z February 14. For the weekend, some links about video games as art. First, for the holiday, a heart made out of missile tracks, from a Starsector mod designed to make combat pretty.

My favorite blogger, Adam Elkus, is also writing about video games. His latest post, OK Doomer, is about the 1993 game Doom, and why in some ways it's still the best first person shooter. This actually fits with the decadence argument, that 21st century culture is just rehashing and polishing the creativity of the 20th. Anyway, Doom is great because it has a small number of weapons, where each one remains valuable until the end, while it has a huge variety of monsters; and because defense is more about agility and less about absorbing hits; and because it's so easy for coders to add new rooms and levels, that there are lots of secret spaces.

And from last summer, an interesting article about how hard it is to make games addictive. You couldn't use an AI to design an addictive game -- it requires squishy human intuition.

February 12. http://ranprieur.com/#23de5bc86e0076c3a2b92d4acba06eaea53a8880 2020-02-12T12:00:18Z February 12. Continuing from Monday, that decadence article is condensed from a new book, The Decadent Society by Ross Douthat, and Peter Thiel has a review. It includes the disappointing news of Douthat's conclusions. Of course it's easier to point out what's wrong with the world than to know what to do about it, but he recommends religion and space travel.

As much as I love fiction and games and music and art about space travel, it's just not realistic that we'll develop a bunch of really difficult technologies so we can spend hundreds of years traveling to planets that are nowhere near as good as the one we're already on.

If humans don't go extinct from boredom, but do something crazy and new, I have two reasonable predictions, and a wild speculation.

First, an unconditional basic income. It would be better to just make necessities free, but that's politically impossible, while the UBI is politically likely, because it would allow the state to prop up late-stage capitalism. It's not a long-term solution, because ordinary people need external structure in their lives -- but I don't, and people like me, who thrive in unstructured time, will plant the seeds of the world to come.

Second, normalization of psychedelics. The next frontier is not space but mind, and this is why we're not going back to old-time religion, because it's based on authority figures telling stories about the esoteric experiences of legendary people. When we're all having our own esoteric experiences, there will be teachers and communities to help us make sense of them, but it will be so different from religion as we know it, that we'll need a different word.

My wild speculation is based on the fact that photosynthesis is only 0.1-2% efficient. Here's a page about upgrading photosynthesis. It's a hard challenge, but still easier than interstellar travel, to engineer plants that are much better at turning sunlight into food, and that can spread unfarmed.

No empire ever rose in a place where you could live off the land. A bad society won't last long if people can just leave. So this is my utopian vision: after population decline, the world will be covered with cool ruins, with modquats climbing walls and groundapples cracking pavement, and caravans will travel the weedy highways through an endless variety of scrap cities and rustic villages.

February 10. http://ranprieur.com/#6474fc697d1aa827235a0b3a018acf5d7e454f04 2020-02-10T22:40:06Z February 10. Important NY Times piece (thanks Gabriel), The Age of Decadence. In popular use, the word "decadence" mostly means chocolate, so we need a good definition, and the author has one, based on the writings of Jacques Barzun:

Decadence refers to economic stagnation, institutional decay, and cultural and intellectual exhaustion at a high level of material prosperity and technological development.

Yep, that sounds like us. The interesting thing is, he's not arguing that decadence will lead to collapse, but that it might go on for a very long time: "The Chinese and Ottoman empires persisted for centuries under decadent conditions, and it was more than 400 years from Caligula to the actual fall of Rome."

I'm thinking of this subject in terms of video games. In almost every game where you're exploring a world and getting stronger, from Civilization to Fallout, the early game is more fun than the late game. In the early game, you're living on the edge, everything is new, every upgrade is vital. By the end, you're just managing a bunch of shit.

How do we make a society where the late game is as good as the early game, when we struggle to even make a game where the late game is as good as the early game? I think the best strategy is to keep knocking ourselves back to the early game, and we can learn a lot from nomadic cultures.

It's funny because, at the moment, it's the right wing that's more likely to say that life is too soft and easy. But the reforms that enable being knocked back to the early game, are left wing reforms, that make it easy for the rich to lose their money, and make it fun to be destitute.

February 9. http://ranprieur.com/#2de2365bf5465e0a25422f2e7ae8af966686bd3a 2020-02-09T21:30:00Z February 9. Quick note. There's going to be a public memorial for Jordan Mechano in Toronto on March 4.

February 6. http://ranprieur.com/#018233cb0561e49acbdbe19c90cc41a45d2c9298 2020-02-06T18:00:09Z February 6. Posted to the subreddit, Can social technologists solve the atomization problem? The author does a great job framing the problem. Condensed:

The structure of the problem is not man vs machine. It is actually a market-driven process that concentrates society's top cognitive talent on the engineering problem of how to best undermine an individual's agency. It's not a fair fight. We've all been taught that we're sovereign individuals gifted with full agency and capable of choosing what's best for ourselves at any given moment. But this doesn't describe the world as it actually exists.

I think his solutions and predictions are off base. They're all about communities finding ways to limit the use of technology. But it's not clear that technology is making us unhappy. I mean, that's what's happening, but it's hard to prove it, and it doesn't feel that way. We love our devices, and hate the world.

Here's how I see it playing out. First, suicide acceptance. I was watching that Cheer documentary, and there's a bit where someone says, "If you don't like it, there's the door." It occurred to me, nobody says that about life. There's a door, but we don't talk about it, and trying to go through it is illegal. So I expect the dominant culture to have stronger anti-suicide messages, while underground movements become bolder in supporting suicide for even healthy young people.

By the way, my argument against suicide is that the people who want to kill themselves are the same people who intuitively sense how much better life could be, and they're the ones we need the most.

Second, the continuing growth of tribalism, which I define as identification with a group, where the group identity is based on conflict with some other group. It's like a correction against systems that do a bad job of providing meaning, because ingroup-outgroup violence is a source of meaning that's strong and simple and always waiting under the surface.

Third, even deeper immersion in technology, and I'm not necessarily against it. I frame it like this: Nature, good; human-made physical world, bad; human-made imaginary worlds, good. The problem is, who's going to do the grunt work if we're all gaming? In the best-case scenario, we learn things from imaginary worlds that show us how to make the physical world better.

What's probably really going to happen, is that today's radical threat becomes tomorrow's new normal. We'll just get used to the burden that pocket computers put on mental health, and in another 20 years, we'll all be talking about the threat of biotech.

February 4. http://ranprieur.com/#f0d4fcb565f2f31bc2fa462ef575d6e3b36eb1ba 2020-02-04T16:40:26Z February 4. Bunch o' links, mostly stuff that I'm happy about. Coyotes Poised to Infiltrate South America. Growing up in Pullman 40 years ago, I never heard or saw a coyote. Since I've been back, I've seen two, and last summer there was a pack howling inside town in the middle of the day.

Sand dunes can communicate with each other, further blurring the line between alive and not alive. Related post from a year ago: Is the sun conscious?

Last week I stumbled on this 2012 View from Hell post, Enhanced Running, about running on cannabis. Those are two things I already do, but I'd never done both at the same time, so I finally tried it. I didn't get the wonderful experience described in the post, but I can confirm what everyone says: I felt like I could run forever. I ran twice as long as I usually do, and not only wasn't I twice as tired, my heart and lungs were not tired at all. But two days later, my quads (the big muscles at the front of my legs) were really sore.

Interesting Hacker News thread, Not everyone has an internal monologue. Personally, I'm good at thinking in words and also good at thinking in pictures, but some people go through life only doing one or the other.

Brain Gain: a person can instantly blossom into a savant - and no one knows why. I'm envious of these people, not so much because they're suddenly good at something, but because they're suddenly highly motivated.

Lately the only thing I'm highly motivated to do is play Starsector. My favorite thing in the game is testing ship loadouts in the simulator. It's basically science: running experiments with different combinations of weapons and defenses to find one where the ship can beat stronger opponents. Here are two good videos about the game, Starsector Review and How to Play Starsector.

February 1. http://ranprieur.com/#a556431e2bf83ff646d926e2684af3c9e2cdcf5e 2020-02-01T13:10:11Z February 1. Continuing from the last post, over on the subreddit Gene comments from the front lines, on the idea that autism will turn out to be multiple things:

It already is. In fact, there are a number of cases I have seen in which "autism" has been used in place of "we don't know what the fuck to call this, but we need to give it a label so this person can get SSDI". Now that I'm active in prehospital emergency medicine, the takeaway is that if the term "autistic" is used in the initial dispatch, be prepared for fucking anything.

He also says that aspies prefer the company of neurotypicals to other aspies, but that's not the whole story, because in this TEDx talk about autism, around the ten minute mark, Jac den Houting mentions the theory that autistic and non-autistic people communicate better among themselves than with each other, and this was confirmed by a study using the telephone game with three groups: "The all-autistic and all-neurotypical groups were equally accurate in their information sharing, but the combined autistic and neurotypical group was significantly less accurate."

I also want to say, I haven't been diagnosed with anything, and I don't want to be, until such diagnosis can get me benefits like free therapy or better drugs. And I understand the danger of making my limitations part of my identity, because then the ego doesn't want to get better. There are stories about people going from being really bad at something to really good. I've actually been practicing walking around the apartment doing complex moves without bumping into anything, and what happens is, when I'm trying to do something tricky with my right foot, my left foot hits something. So I need to work on being aware of more than one body part at the same time.

That's something I'm already doing when I practice swimming or playing piano. By the way, I finally figured out how to get midi files from my keyboard to my computer, and convert them to mp3. So if you're curious, here's an mp3 file of an 80 second bit I did a few months ago. It's more rudimentary than it sounds. My usual method is to keep eight fingers fixed on the same four notes, an octave apart, and then just jam on those notes. My biggest influence is Steve Reich's Piano Phase, and I love to phase the rhythm between my left and right hands.