On why it's a potentially Nutso time to be alive

October 13th, 2010  |  Published in justin-bieber, upon-the-forehead-of-the-whore-shall-be-written-MYSTERY-BABYLON-THE-GREAT  |  1 Comment

It is an insane time to be alive. The sorts of geopolitical, demographic, and economic changes we are going to see in the coming decades are potentially mindboggling. Granted, just about every single period in time is an insane time to be alive for one reason or another, but here's a short list of reasons why the situation may hold in the coming decades.

  1. The world economy is going to be, on average, in a terrible state for the next decade, at least. Widespread cyclical unemployment is poised to become widespread structural unemployment, GDP growth of many nations will lag behind population growth, and so on. The potential for social problems here is truly amazing -- this is the kind of thing that convinces people to put fascists in power or believe Glenn Beck.
  2. The global balance of power is shifting. Granted this isn't a particularly novel thing -- this has been happening in a big way for the entirety of human history. It's still interesting, and I happen to be a citizen of the current hegemonic global superpower!
  3. The climate is changing. This will, in my lifetime (assuming I don't die that soon), produce billions of indigent people made into migrants by fluctuating land patterns (farmlands will become arid, polar areas will become habitable, sea-level land will turn to water, etc.). The global migration patterns and ensuing demography changes will be, if not necessarily unparalleled, astounding in magnitude.
  4. Peak oil. This has the potential to have a truly mindnumbing effect on every aspect of human life in every country of the globe. If we haven't actually hit peak oil yet, we will soon. Many will tell you that the markets will produce a magical solution to the problem when it arises, so don't even think about it and also go buy ten SUVs. However, count me among the skeptics who think that, given how dependent the economy is on cheap transportation costs (think about the supply chain of nearly every product in your house) and how expensive alternative energy is right now, the short- to mid-term will hurt. A lot.
  5. We're figuring out what the Internet can do. Among the things it can do are: (1) kill record labels, (2) kill book publishers, (3) kill newspapers, (4) kill encyclopedia companies, (5) kill travel agencies, (6) kill many other types of old-world businesses, (7) help whistleblowers distribute materials to billions of people instantaneously, (8) change the paradigm of connectedness we have with other human beings, (9) completely and utterly obliterate our expectations and desires for privacy in many activities. And so on. This one's already really fun (and sometimes terrifying) to watch, and will continue being so!
  6. The function representing human growth is going to have to start flattening out. OK, I admit that I don't know whether this will happen in our lifetimes or not (since I don't know where the ceiling is), but the exponential growth of the human population cannot last -- it will turn into a sigmoid. Anyone who says otherwise has not had to deal with exponential growth functions enough. After a while, they grow really, really, really quickly. This growth will slow down. It would be absolutely wonderful if it did so painlessly (e.g. if economic factors decreased the fertility rate, as has happened in most first-world countries). I suspect, however, there is a good chance the primary mechanisms limiting human growth will be famine and war rather than birth control. :C.

I'm perhaps being a bit sensationalist, but, really, the next half-century is, I think, going to be off the chain nutso.

Songgrid 2

September 23rd, 2010  |  Published in Uncategorized

I did another one of these things.

It's surprisingly difficult to figure out how to work in this idiom. I dunno, I haven't quite figured it out yet. One of these days.

Auden on September 1, 1939

September 17th, 2010  |  Published in poesy

WH Auden's well-known poem September 1, 1939 has the lines

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Auden, in the foreward to the first edition of B.C. Bloomfield's W.H. Auden: A Bibliography, wrote:

Rereading a poem of mine, 1st September, 1939, after it had been published, I came to the line "We must love one another or die" and said to myself: "That's a damned lie! We must die anyway." So, in the next edition, I altered it to "We must love one another and die." This didn't seem to do either, so I cut the stanza. Still no good. The whole poem, I realized, was infected with an incurable dishonesty—and must be scrapped."

I like that.

Phenomenal Shifts, Antienlightenment, The Buddha of Asininity

September 5th, 2010  |  Published in idiocy, mouth-flappin, vanity  |  3 Comments

I had a "moment" the other day. It was a roughly instantaneous, completely internal moment I'll refer to as a phenomenal shift. I have had a number of such moments in my life. They're really weird. I shall attempt here to describe the events, in the hopes that perhaps (a) you, the reader, have had such moments, and will optionally relay to me the existence of such moments; or (b) we can verify, at long last, that I've lost my mind.

These phenomenal shifts are mysteriously Big Things for me -- though not immediately interestingly causally efficacious per se, they haunt my general worldview in weird ways afterwards, coloring the way I think about Being, the way I tacitly cleave the ontic joints of the universe, &c, &c.

I'm really curious about whether this is an integral part of the human experience or whether none of you have any idea what I'm talking about.

What are you talking about?

The first phenomenal shift I experienced took place when I was a little kid -- six years of age, give or take. I took a look at myself in the mirror and realized, at that point, that I existed. It is as though, prior to that single moment of realization, I had been an automaton, interacting with the environment but not thinking too much about it. Very much like a little adorable Roomba, perhaps. Subsequently, I realized that I was a thing in the world (whereas previously I merely was one). I remember vividly being really freaked out by this.

That sounds idiotic.

Yeah, Strawman Interlocutor, you're right. Jeez. Let's see.

As a little kid, I hadn't read Husserl or Fichte or much of anything, so I couldn't put realizations into any sort of conceptual framework. All I could do was stare in the mirror and marvel at the fact that I existed. And I did so. I would sneak up to the mirror and stare into it for extended periods of time. Day after day. Marveling at the fact that I existed, that anything at all existed.

So?

So the crucial part of these "phenomenal shifts" is the single moment when you intuitively realize something big about Being, even if you can't immediately formally state exactly what that Something is. That's it. You're just minding your business and bam, you get hit over the head. With a Truth Pillowcase full of Reality Doorknobs.

I'm able, two decades later, to go back and couch this first, strange phenomenal shift in terms of my dubious oversimplification of some concepts put forth by Dead European philosophers. This is convenient, but not what I want to talk about here. The key, strange experience here is a sudden internalization of a fundamental part of existence -- namely, "I exist", or something along those lines.

So you're talking about Buddhic Enlightenment?

No.

No, you are. Siddhartha Gautama sat underneath a pipal tree until he had a single moment of enlightenment, in which he

Shut up, Strawman Interlocutor, just shut up.

What I am describing is basically a dumbed-down version of what Buddha had after hanging out under his Boddhi tree, except instead of a wonderful, windless flash of Universal truth, I just get confused.

It's just as sudden, though -- an instantaneous, incorporeal tidal wave of nonpropositional and unreasonably inscrutable information.

So you've had more of these things?

Why yes, Strawman Interlocutor, I have. I've had a few of them in my life. The realizations have been similar -- suddenly occurring big, vague, remarkably affecting thoughts, not immediately expressible in language.

The one I had a few days ago occurred while I was brushing my teeth. I was thinking about a number of humans I've known very well and bam, it hits me. Something along the lines of "you are a human being who exists, and your actions and personality are known extremely well to these other existent human beings, with whom you have had real interactions".

I forgot that I was brushing my teeth and just kinda stood there for a while. Probably ten seconds passed before I was able to get it together and move again.

It sounds idiotic, stupid, and completely banal. That's kind of the point I think.

So what, I don't care, so what. I don't care.

There is, of course, nothing odd about a thought or mental state not being immediately expressible in language. I mean to say nothing here concerning the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, concerning Wittgenstein, concerning Jerry Fodor, really concerning anything profound.

Again, nothing I say here is meant to be "profound". What I am attempting to do is convey the properties of a class of powerfully moving mental events which I have experienced a number of times.

That was all far too lucid and comprehensible, Karl. Would you mind muddying the conceptual waters a bit

Look, this is a very real mental phenomenon which has taken place in my flesh-and-blood brain a number of times, and it's wigged me out, and I'm wondering if it happens to other people (i.e. it's a part of the human experience) or if it just happens to me (i.e. it's a part of the guy-who-has-to-paint-his-face-like-a-clown-every-night-before-he-goes-to-sleep experience).

Just what you need -- a new feed to add to your RSS reader!

August 2nd, 2010  |  Published in vanity  |  1 Comment

Hey, all ten people who read this!

I've been playing around with "fake infographics" of late; I'm fond enough of the concept to try making them a Thing.

So I have done just that, and they're now officially a Thing:

http://helpfulfigures.com

We'll see how long it takes until either (a) I completely abandon this project, or (b) the site devolves into nonsensical and ungrammatical rants about Barack Obama and Kabbalah. I predict approximately two months for (b), four for (a).

ANYWAYS there is a link to the site's RSS feed at the top, add it to your feed aggregator if you want, or not, like I care, whatever.

A description of the Legislative Process in the United States

July 12th, 2010  |  Published in blatant-lies, legislation

I have made a small writeup, with some images, of the basic steps of how laws get made in the USA.

http://www.meronoiac.com/infographics/laws/

This uses Processing.js (for no good reason, really), which uses HTML5 Canvas elements, which won't work in IE I don't believe.

A list of my go-to jokes

July 6th, 2010  |  Published in humor-instruction, idiocy

As you may or may not be aware, I am widely considered something of a "humorist", and it is typically expected that I be "on" twenty-four hours per day.

As I am but human, flaws and all, my wit cannot possibly be maximally sparkling and ebullient at all times.

I therefore keep, in my back pocket, a number of standby jokes, old "go-to" jokes, if you will.

As a service to you, I have compiled them. Feel free to use them. These jokes have not yet failed to elicit laughter, and I have used them all many times. They are each usable in nearly all situations -- that is their beauty.

"Ice-breakers" or "Silence-fillers"

  • I am not racist, but does no one else find it odd that Portugal has produced so many scumbag alcoholics?
  • So I went to the store the other day, to buy a quantity of ammonia and a gasmask, and it was brought to my attention that "inflammable" is roughly synonymous with "flammable", can you believe that? I was in such disbelief of this statement that the manager of the store had to call the cops!
  • So my dear, dear late Grandfather, May God Rest His Soul, just a few days before he died, gave me one of those "advice talk" type things. He looked at me, in my eyes, and said "Karl, I'm not long for this world, but don't ever take a job with a Portuguese, or so help me God I'll rise up from the grave and kill you with a shovel."

"Come-backs"

  • Well at least I'm not a dirty Iberian, who bathes in mud instead of water, who is drunk all the day long.
  • "That's what she said."
  • Perhaps I should remove my pants and, additionally, remove my shirt, at which point we shall see who is so smug, if it is still you.

"All-occasion jokes"

  • I'd be able to pay much better attention to your stories if your face were prettier.
  • [Point to conversation partner's skull] Is that the outward manifestation of a severe cognitive deformity I see, or are you merely from Portugal?
  • Here's a trick. Think of a number between 1 and 10. That is the number of times I have hated you so far this conversation, hated you so very much.

I can all but guarantee that if you commit these to memory and use them with regularity, you will be the life of the party.

Why I do not accept the Chinese Room Argument

June 18th, 2010  |  Published in mouth-flappin, noise-makin, philosophy, vanity

John Searle's Chinese room argument is a wonderful little argument which concludes that no artificial intelligence can possibly have true "understanding" of a human language (and thus, by implication, we cannot have real "strong artificial intelligence", as a strong AI must be at least as mentally adept as, say, the average human, who does understand language). I do not accept the argument. I will briefly describe why.

There are two important things to note before we get going. First, there are many wonderful and remarkably subtle replies to the CRA (and responses to those, and responses to the responses, etc.); I give only one of them here (it is the one which really convinces me of the falsity of the CRA). Second, none of the arguments here are my own, though I'm not quite sure where to give attribution.

The Chinese Room Argument

I won't rehash the argument here. If you wish to read on, you should understand it, however. The Wikipedia article has a nice readable statement of the argument you might want to check out.

One Reply

This isn't a head-on attack of the CRA; it is instead an argument which I find very compelling whose conclusion contradicts that of the CRA. You will have to wait, with bated breath, I am certain, for a critique of exactly what I believe to be wrong about the CRA.

Suppose we have Jim, who is a native Chinese speaker. Suppose that, for each cell in Jim's brain (and brainstem, and whatever else in the body may affect cognition), we have a tiny cell-sized and cell-shaped microcomputer, which has the same input and output as the cell (takes and emits the same molecules, connects to other cells in the same way, has the same properties as the original cell with respect to electrical current, etc.). The cell-microcomputer was designed in a lab and runs on silicon.

Suppose we replace one cell from Jim's brain with its corresponding microcomputer. Jim, at this point, feels the same and acts the same. He understands Chinese as well as a native speaker can (just as before the cell transplantation). He feels like the same person, he has the same cognitive abilities, etc.

Suppose we continue this process of cell replacement, cell by cell. At each point, Jim retains his understanding of Chinese (recall that we assumed that the microcomputers behave exactly identically to the cells; it follows, then, that Jim behaves exactly identically with the microcomputers as he does with the cells).

Eventually, Jim will have no original brain cells left. However, he will still converse with others in Chinese as a native speaker, with memories, intelligence, emotions, and world knowledge. He understands Chinese no better and no worse than he did before the operation.

The situation, then, is one in which an individual with a wholly robotic brain, made from silicon components fabricated in a clean room, understands Chinese.

If I have one neuron replaced and I feel like the exact same person and you tell me that I don't "actually" understand English because I'm not a real human any more, I will not be happy. If I have two neurons replaced and you tell me I don't understand Chinese, I will not be happy. The same holds after an arbitrary number of neuronal replacements.

We then simulate this wholly robotic brain on a single computer (we can certainly do this). The simulation behaves identically with respect to any interaction in Chinese. If you admit Jim understands Chinese after the operation, you surely also admit the simulation understands Chinese (unless your definition of "understand" is contrived -- something like "has sufficient knowledge encoded in neurons").

We encode this program in a human-readable format, print it in a book, and give it to Searle in his room. Bam! the Chinese room understands Chinese.

We thus reject the CRA by reductio ad absurdum.

The Response

Searle's response to this argument would be, I believe, that we should imagine that instead of running on silicon with electrical currents running through it, our electronic brain is implemented entirely in some system of buckets of water and pulleys in a very large room such that its operation gives us the same result as the computer (we can surely come up with such a system). That is, you give the system a sentence encoded somehow in buckets of water, the system works for a bit, and you get an encoded output. It is absurd to assert these buckets of water understand Chinese, therefore the reply to the CRA must be false.

This is, of course, a strawman argument, but I'm pretty sure Searle did give a response very much like this to the reply (or a similar one).

Why The Response Fails to Convince Me

In the situation given in the response, we ask whether it is possible that the complex interactions of many buckets filled with water and attached to various types of pulleys can give rise to an understanding of Chinese. Frankly, this strikes me as no less absurd than asserting that meat can give rise to this understanding. As a materialist, I certainly think that meat (a bunch of atoms comprising molecules, comprising more complex structures, comprising more complex organelles, comprising cells) can give rise to an understanding of Chinese.

That is, the response is, I believe, little more than a statement of the prima facie absurdity of the understanding of Chinese implemented in a system of buckets of water and pulleys; I am asserting that this is no less absurd than something we observe every day -- true understanding of language implemented in meat.

(Basically, my rebuttal is "multiple realizability creates monsters? So what." This is, in truth, extremely ham-fisted, but it is late and I am tired.)

Update: I might be wrong.

A little interactive song I made

May 2nd, 2010  |  Published in music, noise-makin, vanity

Can be found Here.

Boy, it's been a while since I've played violin seriously, it turns out. I rejected about half of my "final takes" due to bad intonation, and the result isn't remotely in tune. Sigh.

The Mexican Imagination

April 14th, 2010  |  Published in google, mexico

...is much more vibrant than the American one, it would seem. Cf.
english bush google
vis-à-vis
mexican bush google
See, Americans don't even think about the reptilian possibility. A profound poverty of the imagination plagues us.