Re: Why Books Don’t Work

In my schizotypal exploration of the graph that extends out from any given paper I try to read, I always pine for a less expensive way to learn all that … stuff, only well enough to read the original paper, of course. I criticize my friends whose first instinct is to “take a class” when they want to learn something, mostly because I’ve never learned anything from any of the classes I’ve ever taken … equivocating on “learn”, of course. Similarly, I see my friends whip through, say, Consilience by EO Wilson, which took me 3 times as long, and as much more effort, to read. And I think “What’s wrong with me?” An interesting side-effect is that most of the books I’ve read have my scribblings (in pencil! … I’m not a monster.) in the margins and any blank space in the back offering naive objections to silly tangents and brain farts I had while reading it.

It’s gotten so bad, now, that I hardly even read books anymore. If/when I do, I read like 10 books at a time, hopping from one to the other, conflating whose idea went where and assembling a Rube Goldberg machine conception of whatever the hell it was I was exploring.

In any case, I purposefully decided about a year ago to spend more time playing video games. One of the interesting features of my game-playing is that I much prefer playing the same game several times over serially playing different games. There’s something about the way these modern games are designed that helps them “unfold” as you play, or alternatively allows you to “relax into them” as you play. It’s very distinct from the “read the instructions then play the game” approach I was used to as a kid. It’s true that I prefer less linear, more open world games. But even so, it seems fundamentally similar to how I learn any other thing. There also seems to be some “aliveness” aspect. Even if I tend to play alone, multiplayer games are way more interesting … more learnable than single player games, which simply feel dead, no matter how well-programmed their AIs are.

The article cited at the top touches on all this nicely. But there’s still something missing from his conception. And I can’t quite put my finger on it. It has something to do with the dynamism of knowledge. Static knowledge isn’t knowledge. It’s somehow impoverished … maybe call that dead stuff “information” or “data”. Knowledge is somehow “alive”, explorable, open-ended, and non-linear.


On the noncommutativity of Social[ist] & Democra[t|cy]

I thought that I’d written about this before. But maybe it was elsewhere. In any case, this article turned me on to the noncommutativity of the two concepts. Further, this paper helped me clarify why I’m more inclined to qualify democracy with socialism, rather than qualifying socialism with democracy.

While Liu contrasts democratic socialism against state/authoritarian socialism, he doesn’t go far enough toward Gintis’ implication that democracy is (what I’ll call) a government’s interaction with reality. Gintis’ claim is more specific, that democracy is how the polity holds the politician accountable. But as we’ve seen with Obama’s detritus (well identified by Liu) and the election of Trump, the relationship between the polity’s plaintive noise and what happens to the politicians that fail them is not at all clear or direct. Obama won’t be held accountable for his wimpy, COMPROMISED attempts. And while you might say the Democratic Party was held accountable, I still don’t buy it, even with vagaries added.

But I do believe that democracy is what allowed our polity to moan and complain loud enough, and vote a weirdo incompetent Trump into power. The election of Trump clearly demonstrates the disconnect between our previous politicians and the reality they’re attempting to govern. How/if/what they learn from their new knowledge of how decoupled they are is an open question.

But back to the point. I believe any fossilized socialism, whether it’s fossilized into laws, or bureaucracy, or party in power, or whatever, will always tend towards a decoupling from the reality it tries to govern. Liu relies on some democratic spice, sprinkled on top of the socialism to keep it in touch with reality. But I think we’ll see analogous failures in democratic socialism (DS) that we’ve seen in social democracy (SD). If the capitalists retain their elite status in SD, then the statists will retain their elite status in DS.

And, for myself, having (recently) matured out of neoliberalism, I’m much more comfortable with the noisy and chaotic (perhaps Schumpeterian) ecology of VCs, indie programmers, banksters, “entrepreneurs”, the gig economy, and multi-national corporations than I am with relying on fossilized infrastructure with a peppering of democratic spice.

Nothing to say

When I was about 15 years old, my dad (yet again) reiterated his belief that I had no people skills and needed to work on them.  Both my and a friend’s parents used to joke that they didn’t know if/when our voices deepened because they never heard us speak.  I stayed in that mode until about my 2nd year in college, when I finally found some things to say, mostly to the Christian wackos that regularly manned a foldable desk in the student union.  From that point forward, I began to act on my dad’s advice and experimented with my interactions with others, exploring the gamut between complete silence and gregarious (angry or happy) expression.  I put those social skills to good use in my roles at Lockheed Martin and the Santa Fe Institute.  I used them a bit at the dot-coms I worked at later.  But I’d begun to lose my enthusiasm for it.  This and previous web logs and email lists were/are the last vestige of that meager desire to express my opinions.

I now find myself with a nearly complete lack of such desire.  Nothing to say.  ∴ Nothing posted.

YCombinator, Thiel, & the Alt-Right

The first I heard of the Y Combinator/Thiel issue was from Scott Aaronson’s blog. Yes, I’m behind the curve because I don’t follow intra-valley drama. I like to think that’s why I’m not a millionaire. 8^) That allows me to continue denying my own character flaws.

But it follows right along with the thoughts I’ve been having since the Little Woody Beer Festival back in early September. Our hosts brought up the relatively new news stories about the Alt-Right. I was happy to see it being talked about in the news because I’d been following the Neoreactionaries for awhile. I started following such people after I began to realize how the moniker “libertarian” was being hijacked by right wingers. I also try to follow as many of our local racist groups as I can.

The contrast between libertarianism as I understood it when I was younger is to my current understanding of it just as the contrast of my younger understanding of the Confederate battle flag is to my current understanding of it. As a kid, the battle flag meant rebellion, individualism, and an ever present tendency toward a kind of berserker violence. It was a statement that one cannot trust in civility and genteel facades. I only learned that it was (actually) used as a symbol of racism when I went to college. And I only learned how it (truly) makes black people feel when I broached the subject to one of my very close friends, as an adult. [sigh] I feel the same embarrassment about that as I did (still do) when a college friend told me he was afraid to tell me, back then, that he was gay because of the way I might react. In any case, when I finally learned that “libertarian” is/was (starting to?) be used as a trojan horse for hard-right opinions, including racism and misogyny, I felt that same feeling. I’d been too naive, yet again.

Now, Thiel, Altman, Aaronson, Annissimov, etc. are all way smarter than I am. But I can’t help but feel like there’s a bit of wisdom they’re missing. The articles from Pao and Watters, as well as many other treatments (addressed seemingly pejoratively by people like Aaronson as “social justice activists”) of issues like this, have helped me tap into that feeling of embarrassment that was previously sparked by the battle flag, homophobia, and the hijacking of “libertarian”. The tone deafness seems to come from a kind of hyper-focus … the ability/tendency to concentrate on a small scope to the detriment of the synoptic.

I used to call this “linear thinking”. It’s tremendously useful when working in the particular, i.e. a specific domain, a given problem, when engineering a solution. Such ability to concentrate is valuable and, I think, plays a causal role in the success of these men. But it fails, utterly, when applied to plaited, complex problems and domains. But it’s not really linear thinking. It’s (as Aaronson implies while talking about Thiel’s strengths) essentialist thinking, the ability to hone in on, separate out, the essential kernel of the object/system under consideration. Such a kernel can easily be complex and the isolation of a salient, complex kernel from its less or ir- relevant surroundings is a critical skill.

But too much success in using any particular tool, including and perhaps especially analysis/reduction, can lead one to think that it is always the right tool. This is my tentative diagnosis of the (embarrassing) bubble occupied by Thiel, Aaronson, Annissimov, Harris and many of the other well-meaning but essentially (often cryptically) prejudiced savants.

Dog Whistles

Normally, Alexander’s log entries are nearly incontrovertible. With this one about mis-diagnosed dog whistles, I think he’s missed the forest for the trees. A dog whistle is a social phenomenon. It’s some sort of an error to assert that so-and-so, sans consideration of the audience, did the whistling. So, it’s inappropriate to analyse (“s” in honor of the content) the statements of people like Cruz, Livingstone, and Trump solely in the partial context of the particular speaker and the particular statement. No one sentence or phrase constitutes a dog whistle diagnosis. It takes a family of tuples (or a tuple of families) {speaker, statement, audience}.

So, consider Alexander’s discussion of Ted Cruz. I agree Cruz is not really a (classic) anti-semite. It’s reasonable to assume he’s averse to some properties of the Jewish stereotype. But, in general, he, his statements, and his usual audience are (at least) pro-Israel and pro-Judaism. So, any whistling cf. the “New York Values” has much more to do with urbanism (urbane?), atheism, snarkism, liberalism, etc.

I’m ignorant of Livingstone and not inclined to enlighten myself just yet. But re: Trump, it’s relatively easy to classify Trump in regards to multiple marriages, beauty pageants, arm candy, comments about women (including his own underage daughter) as if they’re works of art rather than humans, etc. As such, with a class/set of Trump-like people and Trump-like behavior, we have a family of speakers. We then collect all the statements that come from members of that family into a family of statements and the class of audiences with which such statements resonate; and we have easily met the social requirements for dog whistling.

And even if you believe Trump is not some master media manipulator, perhaps we can say it’s not a dog whistle so much as, simply, the sounds instinctively made by that type of person … sounds to which other members of that type are innately tuned. So, even if it’s not a “dog whistle”, per se, it’s a phenotype that operates in much the same way as a purposefully blown dog whistle might, attracting and fomenting misogyny.

Mystical Atheism

I’ve probably described my position regarding calling me an atheist in previous posts. Many of my atheist friends call me an atheist … after sometimes hours of arguing about the categories and what they mean. I think they are wrong. I am not an atheist. I had yet another opportunity to explain this the other evening when a Satanist (atheistic satanism) asked me how long I’ve been (or when did I first realize) I was an atheist. I had to be clear that I’m not an atheist. I am an agnostic, which I regard as fundamentally different.

Luckily, she did not proceed to lecture me on the 4 types (agnostic atheists – those who believe but admit they cannot know, gnostic atheists – those who don’t believe and think they know, agnostic theists, etc.). So, score one for Satanists not being as self-righteous as regular atheists in man-splaining my own beliefs to me.

Anyway, as a result of that whole conversation, which ranged over the various types of Satanists, including theistic ones, I pursued my long predilection toward the mystical. I know I’ve mentioned that somewhere. But it could have been on my old log. I’ve been suffering with the self-ascribed label of methodological atheist for awhile, now, because it does an adequate job of describing most of my approach to religious belief. But it’s inadequate because of how I treat the unknown (and perhaps the unknowable).

Being reared Catholic and having been exposed to Wittgenstein, no-go theorems, paraconsistent logic, and the like, I have a healthy respect for mystery — things that are either unknowable or simply problematically knowable (e.g. paradox). The end result is that I an an atheist with respect to any defined god(s) — or you might say any definite concept of god(s).

I don’t entertain definite conceptions of god(s). But I do entertain indefinite conceptions, vague, ill-defined conceptions. Gods that are (somehow) indescribable, unspeakable (Hail Lovecraft!), indefinable, are OK by me. As such, it’s perfectly reasonable to call me a “mystical atheist” as at least a partial synonym for (or perhaps a specialization of) “agnostic”. I’m agnostic, but in a particular way. I am atheist, but in a particular way. And you might even say I’m theistic, but in a very specific and particular way. Anything mysterious can reasonably called a “god”. But as soon as we remove the mystery, it is demoted from “god” to “mechanism”.

Final comment: What I find disconcerting is that the definition of “mysticism” seems antithetic to the definitions of “mystic” and “mystical”. Mysticism is commonly defined as the belief in the ability to know (or learn/experience) reality through a mystical experience, whereas mystical is commonly defined such that it relies on the unknown or unknowable … i.e. mystery. Stupid English.


Having gone through chemotherapy (with very little support from my friends), I can say that the following article misses the point entirely:

What Not To Say When Someone Is Sick

While Novella’s conclusions are mostly correct, especially w.r.t. the Dunning-Kruger identification, he misses the point that all advice is like this. It’s especially obvious with unsolicited advice. But it’s true with all advice, including the advice you receive from your doctor.

A better way to go about translating what others find beneficial (including both scientific and anecdotal) is through stories and explanations. You do not want others’ advice on what you should do/be. You simply want others to tell you what they think and what they know. And the best way to do that is through stories. Tell me what happened to you. Don’t abstract and generalize into “rules about the way the world works”. Just tell me the story and let me take from it whatever I can.

So the next time you’re tempted to give advice, stop yourself and reformulate what you were going to say as a story.

One thing Novella is absolutely wrong about in the above post is “practical support”. And it’s one of the reasons I didn’t get much support from my friends. I didn’t need anyone to drive me to appointments or take my (non-existent) kids to school. But one thing I did need was stories … stories about how others handle chronic pain, stories about others’ experience with chemo, stories about how they think about looming death, do not resuscitate orders, etc. Few would tell me such stories because of the very bad advice Novella is giving in this article.

Trump, fascism, and authoritarianism

I’ve been tangentially following the Trump/fascist meme since it popped up. This article finally clicked it for me … but not until section VIII. What Authoritarians Want. (By the way, thanks to whoever put that text into HTML. Thanks for giving the section a named ANCHOR to link to.)

I’ve recently struggled in my professional career with some colleagues suggesting I should make more of an attempt to be an, to assert my, to establish my, authority. I’ve been doing what I do since my sub-discipline emerged, which not only means I’ve been engulfed and engaged by it for that whole time, but that I also helped invent/refine it. So, these colleagues of mine have a decent argument. I have and continue to resist, though, primarily because I’m anti-authoritarian. Further, that’s one of the reasons I chose this sub-discipline in the first place, because it is, as a discipline, anti-authoritarian. (Is that a contradiction? Can a “discipline” be “anti-authoritarian”?)

Given this discord within my professional life, which has been continual since way before Trump emerged as a politician, it’s been difficult for me to see Trump as someone who would be attractive to authoritarians. Trump has no governing experience, whatsoever. Hence, any thinking authoritarian would realize he has no authority, whatsoever. From this perspective, it would seem that Cruz, as a sitting Senator with a relatively (to Trump) long political career, who espouses the same (if not more) authoritarian rhetoric, would be the preferred choice of authoritarians. Cruz is an “outsider”, too, to some extent. Thinking authoritarians really have no choice but to admit that Cruz is much more credible than Trump.

But what VIII of the article above lays out (not very well) is Trump’s willingness to ignore any rules or traditions, checks, balances, social conventions, or any limitations whatsoever. If there is a limit somewhere, he’ll simply lie about that issue and pretend there is no limit. And, paradoxically, those lies make him more credible. Cruz, however much an outsider he is, admits and even takes pride in some traditions, some law, some social conventions, etc. Hence, while Cruz is more credible as far as actual governmental action, he is less credible in his willingness to toss the whole system and ignore potential consequences. Every time Trump says something “politically incorrect” (i.e. stupid, bigoted, or just obviously false), it is evidence that he doesn’t care about reality or being nice or anything else. That makes him more likely to act regardless of any traditions or rule of law or whatever, more credible as the “man of action” the authoritarians want.


In honor of the upcoming Valentine’s Day: My significant other (aka wife, to those of us who aren’t controlled by religion or governments ☻) had a dream the other night wherein I surprised her with the news that I’d married someone else, with whom I’d been having an affair. Now, I usually have dreams that break physical laws (flying, multidimensional houses whose ∞ bathrooms are all occupied, etc.). But this dream violates some “laws”, too, albeit sociological or psychological laws.

I had to explain, again, that I’m a non-religious feminist. Of course, I try to keep my feminism quiet for the most part. Like “libertarian”, the term has been co-opted by something akin to “bros” or “hipsters” who want to use it to game the system or simply assume a shallow meaning for the term. (As an aside, I stopped identifying as a libertarian almost precisely when one particular hard-right old man explained that he was a libertarian. I wanted to pull out some heroin and offer it to him … but that would have been considered antisocial. It helped that I didn’t have any heroin handy. On the plus side, this guy reminded me of Otto.) Anyway, I’m a feminist in the sense that I don’t believe women are playing optimal roles in our society. We have tremendous and sophisticated mechanisms for finding and fostering the talents of men. By contrast, for the most part, our society (here in the US… I can’t speak for other places) doesn’t provide many mechanisms for finding and fostering the talents of women. The ones we herald are too often ham-handed coercions of the mechanisms we use for men. To boot, many of our mechanisms, including marriage, are primarily structured to oppress and control women.

So, for my wife, to whom I am not married, to have a dream of me marrying some arbitrary mistress, is just as fantastical as ∞-dimensional houses with fully occupied bathrooms. Now, I’m not claiming I wouldn’t take a secret mistress … or abandon my wife for her. I sincerely doubt that would happen. But I’m only human and the future is difficult to predict. But I can predict with near certainty that I would not marry the home wrecker. ☻

Societal collapse

I’ve been a fan of zombie movies for something like 40 years. And you can’t be a fan of zombie movies (or even scifi with its common tropes) without also being a bit of a fan of apocalyptic stories. Perhaps it started in CCD, which is, ironically, where I first learned to meditate. In any case, triggered recently by Barry’s interview where he mentions the transformation of civilization as a result of climate change (and his earlier suggestions to read this log), I’ve begun to think more seriously about it. By “serious”, I don’t mean the fun things like building your PAW death machine or hoarding just enough food to survive the big one. I mean trying to tease out the sociological factors behind things like mass murder, eschatological cults, the popularity of an @ssh0le like Donald Trump.

My current attention was drawn (by a friend) to this article, which sits so squarely in the category of self-righteous morons impressed with their own cleverness. However moronic the Malheur terrorists might be, this person Albert Burneko is much worse. What could possibly cause a seemingly otherwise intelligent person like Albert to misunderstand things so badly? I don’t understand that anymore than I understand why people think Trump would make a good President. [sigh]

Anyway, I’m definitely not defending the Malheur terrorists. But I feel the same way about them that I feel about the morons who still want to fly the Confederate battle flag. It’s so batsh!t crazy, there must be something more underneath. If we simply call these people idiots or crazy and move on to the next topic, then we’re just as much to blame for their actions as they are … or at least just as much to blame for the society that gives rise to their idiotic beliefs.

I have no answers. But these 2 links are interesting: