In which my Eyes Open
To begin, please note that everything in this post should be taken as theory. Though I will speak declaratively for convenience, it should be understood that I’m hurling ideas into the darkness in an attempt to identify that which may have a chance of aligning with the actual state of reality.
I have been stumbling in the darkness for roughly 22 years, and I believe I have just seen the faintest glimmer of light.
Within the context of my experience, it would seem that one of the most cunning tricks reality plays on us humans is imbuing us with the sense that we know why we’re doing what we’re doing.
Along those lines, perhaps the central catalyst that triggered the opening of my metaphorical eyes was the deep intuitive realization that we don’t, in fact, know why we do what we do.
There are a whole range of things we’ll need to unpack, but I suppose the first thing I should do is attempt to convince you of the above statement.
Consider waking up in the morning, and being faced with the decisions of what to wear that day. You might look in your closet and find the blue shirt compelling. Or perhaps the red top. And thus you’ve decided what you’ll be wearing for the day.
But why is it that you made that particular decision? Why on earth did you find the blue shirt compelling? Why did the red to catch your eye?
“Aesthetics,” you might say, “I just liked how the shirt looked.” But the tragedy of that answer is that in a single word (“Aesthetics”) you’ve masked a profoundly bizarre mystery. In doing this, we assign the simplistic label “Aesthetics” to the unimaginably complicated process that gives rise to the sensation of delight in the appearance of apparel. This is akin to a hypothetical (yet totally relatable) situation in Ancient Greece in which a child asks “where does lightning come from?” to which some adult might answer “Zeus’ Thunderbolt”.
Both the Thunderbolt and the term “Aesthetics” are intellectual placeholders that allow us to carry on a conversation in any meaningful way. And why is that useful at all? Well, we could certainly say that there might be many reasons why you chose to wear what you’re currently wearing. You might be wearing a coat because it’s raining outside. Or you might be dressed up for a wedding.
If someone were to ask you “why are you wearing that blue shirt?” and you answered “I liked how it looked” (a slight rephrasing of the term “Aesthetics”) that would constitute a perfectly reasonable explanation. Why? Because there’s an implicit assumption that the original question asker shares sufficient context with you to understand the decision to choose a shirt on the basis of aesthetics.
However, despite the fact that the term “aesthetics” might constitute a reasonable response within the context of the previous conversation, if you really think about it, that answer actually tells you almost nothing tangible. Why, in the name of everything holy, do you like how the blue shirt looks?
Perhaps you could say “oh, I liked the idea of how I might look in it that day.” But you have to understand that’s literally just a deferral to an equally ambiguous idea. Why, in the name of everything holy, did you like the idea of how you might look in that shirt?
I imagine you’re beginning to see the present conundrum. Furthermore, I can already see some of you whipping together explanations to what I’ve presented. I imagine you could invoke anything from psychology to evolutionary biology in an effort to get to the bottom of the unthinkably serious question: “why do you like the blue shirt?”
While of course I’m not going to discount those sorts of explanations, it should be understood that those explanations are in fact theories, possible explanations of the present phenomenon. And within the context of the present discussion, I don’t think those things actually matter, because my point was to illustrate that even the most trivial of our choices mask profound mysteries.
However, on that point, you might bring up something I alluded to earlier. What if you chose to wear a coat because it was raining outside? That choice seems to follow a very clear strain of logic. And I would concede to you in that regard. However, this question is complicated for a different reason: why did you even choose to go outside at all? In so far as the coat is used to avoid contact with the rain, why not just stay inside all together and don the dashing blue shirt?
Now yes, readers, I believe I can hear what some of you are saying. You could easily be thinking: “I would choose to wear the coat because there was something sufficiently important I had to do that I was willing to brave the rain.” Well, sure, but do can you smell the trap we’re falling into? What was so important that you were willing to go outside into the cold?
Do you see how quickly a question as trivial as “why did you wear a coat” morphs into a question of an importance or value hierarchy? You might value seeing your best friend’s wedding enough that you’d be willing to brave some bad weather. But then the question of “why did you wear a coat” becomes a rephrasing of the question “why do you value seeing your best friend’s wedding.” And that’s a wildly difficult question to answer.
Of course you could say, “well, she’s my best friend, of course I’d want to see her wedding. Her friendship has meant so much to me!” But once again, we’ve once again fallen upon an answer that would be entirely reasonable with common discourse, but actually tells us almost nothing by itself. It’s just like aesthetics: nearly everyone can relate to wanting to take part in a joyous occasion for a dear friend, just like nearly everyone can relate to the sensation of being compelled by a particular piece of attire. Of course, by itself that actually tells us almost nothing.
As an aside, perhaps we should consider why “aesthetics” is a reasonable answer in some circumstances, but not others. In an informal conversation, if someone were to ask “why did you wear that shirt,” there’s almost an implicit assertion of there being a set of acceptable answers to the question. “The weather,” “aesthetics,” and “I went to a wedding” all likely fall within that set. Thus, within the context of the informal question, “I just like this shirt” is an entirely appropriate answer. However, as I’m sure you’re aware, the question I’m asking is much different. I’m doing away with the presumption that one might pick a shirt simply as a matter of aesthetics. I’m looking for something more technical. Insofar as the answer to the presented question is, in fact, “aesthetics”, then my question essentially morphs into something like “Ok, so you like that shirt. But please tell me: why do you like that shirt?” In this context, I’m looking for an answer that potentially references a deeper structure or pattern that gives rise to your particular emotion.
Ok, let’s hop back to the main thread of discussion. I hope it’s become clear that seemingly simple questions regarding human behavior are in fact, typically wildly difficult to answer. And also, for those of you for whom what I’m discussing seems like child’s play, perhaps because you have some background in philosophy or psychology, I’d like to strongly remind you that no one is forcing you to read through my blog, and I understand that my knowledge and understanding in these areas is underdeveloped. I’m not (and really haven’t ever) purported to be putting forward something new, I’m simply attempting to describe what has been of great significance to me recently.
Hmm, I got off track. Let’s get back to the present discussion. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the “blue shirt” example is that it shows us something particularly interesting about humans: there are a wide range of questions regarding choices we make and behavioral patterns into which we fall for which we’re typically unable to articulate any real answers.
To rephrase this, there are a wide range of things that people do… but they have no idea why. Yet (and this is something profoundly bizarre) they think they do. Why? Because frequently they have a sense of deep intuition that guides their thoughts and actions, despite the source of the intuition being inarticulable upon closer inspection. Furthermore, what’s in some ways even stranger is the fact that we’re content to act upon these primordial impulses even though we are unable to properly describe them at a conscious level.
Isn’t that utterly bizarre? Like, utterly and totally bizarre? And I would propose that most important human actions fall into this category.
The realization that humans don’t know why they do what they do (aside from some intuitive urge) immediately begs the necessary (and obvious) question: why do humans do what they do? And perhaps even more importantly, what does that tell us about reality?
We can take a simplistic, high level approach in attempting to answer the first question. Perhaps we could say that human actions are either arbitrary (ie there isn’t actually a reason why you want to go to your best friend’s wedding — it’s actually all just a random fluke of evolution) or perhaps there actually is a deeper reason there.
I certainly have the intuitive sense that your wanting to be at your friend’s wedding isn’t actually that arbitrary, and there’s a body of scientific literature that would corroborate that particular hypothesis. We could easily invoke evolutionary theory, or perhaps revisit some past XFA posts for what I’d consider plausible explanations for why you feel the desire to attend your friend’s wedding (think love and tribal support as a evolutionary mechanism for survival). But I think the crucial thing to understand here is that those explanations by themselves don’t tell the whole story. What do I mean? In an effort to explain your desire to be at the wedding, we could perhaps assert that supporting different members of a tribe has been crucial to the evolutionary success of humans of the eons, and as such we developed a strong emotional desire to support each other and take part in different important aspects of each other’s lives. Ergo, you want to go the wedding.
But hold on for just one second, why does evolution even make sense in the first place? Why would reality favor the “fittest” over the weaker individuals? “Danny,” you might say, “that’s stupid. Of course the strong win against the weak.” But hold up, my friend! Do you see what you just did there? You invoked shared intuition to answer one of these questions! Yes, I also have the intuition that of course the strong should survive where the weak wouldn’t, but that’s actually not an answer to the question! We’re just right back in the camp of blue shirt “aesthetics.” Now then, if you’ve read my other posts, you’ll know that I’ve actually explored that topic in depth. But at each level of explanation, you can basically always continue to ask the question “why” and see a similar pattern emerge. For sake of example, a related question to why evolution would favor the strong over the weak is the question of why time is linear (flows in a single direction). This is a great example because it speaks to one of our most basic intuitions. “Well of course time is linear, how could it not be?” I believe you see the issue at play. We’ve been exploring the question of why people do what they do. But perhaps a slight rephrasing leads to an even juicer question: what are humans trying to do?
Oh ho ho! Now there’s an unthinkably interesting question.
“Ok,” you might say, “why do you think humans are actually trying to do anything?” Interesting question, reader! Well, frankly, we’re starting to dance along the boundaries of what is even philosophically answerable, but who cares! Let’s dive in! Well, perhaps we could approach this question in a somewhat naive way. Let’s just look at the history of humanity. Over the course of the last several thousand years, we can broadly see a clear progression of the human race. We’ve wildly improved our propensity for survival, we’ve created wondrous technologies, and we’ve wrought artistic masterpieces. Though it’s been bumpy, there seems to be a clear upward trend within the context of humanity. So at some purely intuitive level, why yes, it does seem that humanity is actually trying to do something. (Always amusing when you anthropomorphize the abstract notion of humanity). To rephrase, it would seem that humans are trying to do something.
The difficult aspect of this discussion is that it likely will feel so intuitively true that I fear you might miss how absolutely bizarre this is. Let me just quickly reiterate this in an attempt to rekindle the mystery. Humans mostly don’t know why they’re doing what they’re doing, and yet it would seem that they are actually trying to do something. Try to deeply grok that. Also, don’t take my word for it, just read some philosophy and you’ll quickly see there’s nothing original about this assertion. But that doesn’t make it any less mysterious! Not in the least! It’s totally bizarre! I can only hope that you see how weird it is! And of course, to return to previous strains of discussion, all of this just keeps begging the question: what are humans trying to do? Why is it that humans are trying to do that?
Now the second question is basically unfair because it requires us to answer the first question, which frankly seems like something of an impossible task. Oh sure, you could say simplistic things like “maximize their chance of survival.” Really? Is that really the best you can do? Well of course that’s partly true within the context of evolution, but that barely tells a slimmer of the story. I believe I’m going to discuss this further in another post, but by asserting that answer you’re basically planting your flag on an axiomatic framework in which reality favors the strong over the weak. Though perhaps it might seem silly, that’s basically the same thing as asserting that the most fundamental rule of reality is that I like blue shirts as a matter of “aesthetics”.
But whatever, go ahead. Let evolution be your religion. And see how much that does for you.
The aspect of all of this that I haven’t yet discussed is the degree to which different aspects of reality are connected and related. That, in particular, is what set my imagination ablaze recently. Let’s dig into this, perhaps with a personal example.
Who are you? Think carefully about this. Who are you? What are you? What has produced your particular experience? Why do you think the thoughts you think? Where do they come from?
Those are wildly difficult questions to answer, and is naturally the subject of a huge branch of philosophy. I’ll share my conception of this, and perhaps you might resonate in part with the description.
For most of my life, I’ve viewed humans in a highly individual manner. To me, people have been distinct, separate and separable entities. And to a certain degree, this is reasonable. We do in some ways appear to be highly autonomous entities. However, in recent days, I’ve begin to realize the extent to which that isn’t the case. I’ll ask it again: where do your thoughts come from? Where do your impulses come from? What is the source of that which appears in your consciousness.
Perhaps we could attempt to tackle this from several different angles. First let’s consider you in terms of your particular thought patterns. From where do your thoughts arise? Well, perhaps let’s start off simple. We could say that one of the most tangible classes of appearances in consciousness are your immediate sensations. You know, your sight, smell, etc. In one sense, you’re the only person receiving that particular set of stimuli in this particular moment. However, we’ll be revisiting this as a basis of individuality.
A major class of your thoughts are your recollections, or memories. Now in a certain sense, your memories are a testament to your nature as an individual. Rephrased, you’re the only one with your particular set of memories. We’ll also come back to these in a second.
Now let’s talk about something more interesting: the thoughts in which you attempt to make sense of some aspect of your perceived reality. Is he cheating on me? No, he wouldn’t because he loves me. Will I be late for class? Yes; I just woke up, and class starts in two minutes. Why are mountains so beautiful? Hmm, I really don’t know.
To what extent are these thoughts your own? I understand how this might seem like a trivial question: why wouldn’t they be my own? Aren’t they only in my head? However, I believe the situation is more complicated than that.
Let’s take the example of not knowing whether your boyfriend cheated on you. Now, once again, let’s be fair: your thought patterns pertaining to whether he actually committed this treacherous deed are only occurring within your head. And yet, the experience of having a boyfriend cheat is (unfortunately) a fairly common occurrence. So the question is, to what extent is your pattern of thought regarding this situation truly original?
Infidelity has been an incredibly common theme throughout the human experience. And in the archetypical example, there’s frequently a significant other who’s attempting to make sense of the situation. So perhaps instead of viewing this particular questioning thought pattern as unique to the individual, we can potentially imagine that there’s an archetypical response to a potentially unfaithful partner that’s being manifested in your mind, and is stretching itself to fit within the context of your situation.
Fascinating, isn’t it? However, I understand that it might seem like too much of a stretch to understand this particular thought pattern as an archetype that’s simply applying itself to your circumstances. Indeed, in some sense that might seem somewhat, well, foofy.
Perhaps I can give a bit of a more lively example to illustrate this point a bit better. Imagine there’s a gigantic pit within which live hundreds of mice, and a single gigantic snake. Imagine that the snake guards a hoard of corn kernels, which are the mice’s favorite food. Additionally imagine that the mice are starving, and would love nothing more than to feast of the cache guarded by the snake. Imagine that the snake is totally invincible, but has one flaw: whenever it is bitten on the tip of its tail, it falls asleep for two minutes. However, at the beginning of this thought experiment, the mice are utterly unaware of this.
Let’s imagine that we let this experiment play out for years. The mice are desperate, so they try everything to get past snake. Through a huge process of trial, error, and death, several of the mice develop a trait that compels them to bite the snake’s tail. And as you might imagine, these mice become the most successful when it comes to securing food for themselves and their offspring.
Ok, so what’s the point of the thought experiment? Well, let’s ask the question: to what extent is the bite-the-tail impulse an individualistic characteristic of each successful mouse? We could use the same arguments as before: this impulse is originating entirely within the confines of each mouse’s brain, so should we say it’s really their own thought or impulse?
Well, within the context of this experiment, I would assert that the goal of acquiring corn together with the snake’s particular weakness implies the existence of what we could could an “ideal” trait. Namely, the impulse to bite the snake’s tail. This framework provides a more generalizable understanding of the situation and impulse, and therefore I would argue is the better framework for understanding the experiment.
However, you’ll notice that in this framework, the bite-the-tail impulse isn’t understood as the individual property of any given mouse. As you might expect, I would assert that an analogous line of thinking applies to the human circumstance as well. Though we are individuals in a certain sense, I might assert that many of your analyses and impulses are actually just imperfect manifestations of the “ideal” implicitly asserted by the existence of an archetypical context and goal.
And that’s just at the level of us pseudo-rationally responding to a shared external consciousness. What then do we make of the primordial, subconscious impulses that architect our goals and desires in ways that surpass our conscious understanding? Perhaps we might think of this class of drivers as a deeper evolutionary response to shared context.
In so far as infidelity is something with which a huge number of humans have had to deal over the past eons, is it that wild to believe that through the mechanisms of evolutionary selection, we’ve been imbued with a hard-coded response to this class of malfeasance? These deep urges within us are shared evolved responses to some of the most important challenges humanity has faced over its lifespan. Their very existence is testament to shared nature of the human experience, and in a certain sense, this class of psychological drivers can’t really be understood if you only understand a human to be a pillar of individuality.
I imagine that none of this is really comes as much of a surprise, though perhaps let me reiterate an idea that I put forward earlier (and is the subject of a whole branch of philosophy). Perhaps instead of understanding humans as individuals with individual thoughts and experiences, perhaps it’s better to see humans as entities that manifest a particular set of “ideal” traits that are implied by the context of the shared human situation, yet are flavored by the particular context within which each human finds herself.
Now then, as a matter of extreme interest, I might attempt to turn the discussion back to a question of what humans are trying to do, despite their lack of awareness.
With the framework that we’ve developed to understand the nature of your thoughts, we could recognize that there’s a rephrasing of the preset question that is somewhat illustrative. We might say that the context in which humans find themselves implies the notion of an “ideal” human, which is in part evidenced by the deep intuitions and impulses that defy articulation, yet have unimaginable importance. So then, perhaps we could ask: what would this “ideal” human try to do? Or, perhaps insofar as all humans are imperfect manifestations of this ideal, what is this ideal human trying to do by means of us imperfect manifestations?
Now that is an interesting question.
I could keep on going, and in a very real sense I want to keep on going, but I am tired, and I also recognize that we’ve hit the 12 page mark. I don’t think it’s that unreasonable to assume I will be continuing these thoughts in the future.
Until then, know that the offer I made on my “about” page still stands: if you made it this far, I will gladly follow you into battle. Until next time, my friends. I wish you the best of luck in seeing the mysteries that exist right in front of your face.
Sup fam. Just transferred to CU from ol’ Berkeley, and the academic year has begun. Also I just had a major project fail, so Danny boi is feeling a little directionless at the moment. Well, that’s not quite true, but nonetheless, I though it might be time to shake off some cobwebs and blog about some things that have been bouncing around the ol’ nogerino.
I’d like to present a theory on why some notion of “God” or perhaps some other hyper-powerful supernatural creature could potentially come into existence. So in other words, I’d like to discuss why God might exist. Specifically, how God might have come into existence.
I think the best way to do this is to first talk about the human experience, and particularly, humanity’s understanding of the divine. Additionally, I’d like to talk about why humanity’s collective cultural belief systems or “religions” do provide a pretty substantial benefit to the population.
In most of the religions that I’ve encountered, one common thread is the establishment of an intellectual framework focused on several archetypical ideals. These ideals take many different forms for the different religious systems. Sometimes these ideals are encapsulated in a divine figure, like “God,” or perhaps many gods. Other times these ideals take the form of a particular way of life.
I think Christianity is a particularly good example of this, simply because how explicitly this construction takes place in the Bible. Specifically, the figure of God in the Bible is taken to be perfectly good, perfectly just, and of infinite wisdom. Alternatively, you also have Satan, who is typically presented as the perfect embodiment of evil.
Another particularly interesting aspect of the Biblical God that many people I’ve met find particularly compelling is the fact that God also purports to never change. In other words, God is taken to be the archetypical representation of everything “good” now and forever more.
Now admittedly, I’m certainly less familiar with other religious systems than I am with Christianity. That being said, based on what I have learned and experienced, the different religious systems typically provide a similar type of utility to their practitioners.
And what is that? The utility that stems from knowledge on how to live.
Now, with that said, different religious systems certainly provide different ways of giving this information. Typically, this information is imparted through stories, or myths. Greek myths, for example, present situations in which humans interact with one another, and with the gods. At first glance, someone living in modern times might dismiss these tales as primitive and useless. But that’s certainly not the case.
Even though we humans don’t interact with Zeus and Athena on a regular basis (or at least I don’t. If you do, give me a yodel), these stories certainly provide a particular utility. And what is that? Well, Zeus, Athena and the other gods of the Greek pantheon are representations of different archetypes. Athena, for example, is the embodiment of wisdom, whereas Zeus represents the all-powerful ruler (among other things, of course).
The Greek myths therefore tell stories about humans interacting and negotiating with these archetypical representations of different aspects of reality. More often than not, the human characters in these stories suffer tragic fates because they interacted poorly with the gods.
So sure, you can dismiss these stories as fairytales, but you’d be missing the functional value of these myths. Specifically, myths encode information about how to live and interact with reality. And the myths that have the highest probability of lasting throughout the eons are the ones that people repeat. And why would people repeat a myth? Likely because some aspect of the myth rings true within their personal context.
Therefore, it naturally follows (by means of some sketchy logic) that the myths that have survived the millennia are the ones that encode useful information about how to interact with reality.
I should also mention that this is typically the utility provided by any story, regardless of its association with a religious system. Good stories are incredibly useful to us humans because they implicitly reaffirm our existing knowledge base regarding information on how to live. This is a can of worms I probably shouldn’t open right now, so I’ll just move right along.
Ok, so I hope I’ve established that myths and stories are one vehicle religions use to encode information about how to live. But there are certainly other means by which religions encode this information. For example, the Tao Te Ching, basically goes right ahead and makes explicit assertions about reality, and how Taoists ought to act. The 10 Commandments are another example of this, in which explicit instructions are given about how to behave.
That being said, the most interesting way (within the context of this post) that religions provide knowledge about how to live is by providing an embodiment of perfection and encouraging practitioners to emulate this figure. I’ve already mentioned that this is how God is presented in the Bible, for example.
A common phrase you’ll hear in Christian circles is that Christians are constantly trying to be “more like Him.” Him being God, of course. To extrapolate this a bit, Christians are therefore attempting to emulate their perception of perfection and the embodiment of “good.”
Now, I think it would behoove us to take a step back for a quick second here. How do Christians know that what they are pursuing is actually “good?” What even is “good?” And does this apply to people who don’t practice that particular belief system?
Ok, before we move on, just know that I’m going to make some pretty broad statements here that might not be fully correct. Even though that’s the case, I think the point of my arguments is going to be clear, so don’t get bogged down in the gray areas and edge cases.
I think I’ll start with a discussion of the nature of “good.” I think we all intuitively think of “good” as describing actions that provide sustainable benefit both to ourselves and our community. You likely have a different definition of “good,” but I think you probably can agree in part with this definition.
And what sorts of actions actually benefit the individual and our community? Well, this is a tricky question. Even though this isn’t a complete answer, I think “good” actions promote the stability of humanity with the context of a reality that constantly threatens our existence. Typically, this either manifests in someone solving a problem, or empowering a group of people to solve their own problems. This arguably describes the impetus behind technological development and provides some degree of moral argument for increased technological development. But that’s another rabbit hole that I don’t want to go down right now.
Ok, now that I’ve established a relatively concrete definition of “good,” now let’s talk about whether the objective that Christians pursue is actually “good.”
I’ve established that “good” actions actually have a tangible benefit to humans within the context of survival. Not only that, but most people have a reasonable sense of what is or isn’t “good” because their experience has shown them what sorts of behaviors actually benefit the individual and the community.
With that said, Christianity actually provides a pretty good framework for determining what is or isn’t “good.” Why? Because it creates a context for people to converse and argue about what actually is good, and what isn’t.
To see why this is the case, here’s a toy example. Let’s say Dante and Virginia both believe in God. They also believe that God is perfectly “good.” Now let’s say Virginia makes the following assertion: “God wants us to kill evil people, because evil people harm others.” Dante might then respond: “Wait, no. That’s not true. God wants us to love evil people and try to help them see the errors in their own ways.”
Now, regardless of who’s actually right, this is an example of people arguing about the nature of God, given their mutual belief that God is “good,” and given their own personal perceptions of “good.” And this has been happening all throughout history.
So who wins, Dante or Virginia? Well it isn’t totally clear. However, let’s say that the pair agrees to disagree, and both follow their own belief regarding the nature of God. Statistically speaking, one of those two beliefs will actually provide a greater degree of utility to humanity on average, and therefore will likely have a higher likelihood of being passed on to the next generation.
It’s literally survival of the fittest, but with world views (almost sounds like Stable Entities…). Now, obviously reality isn’t a statistically perfect system, but these conclusions imply that over the course of time, Christians should trend closer to a more accurate belief of what is actually “good,” or what actually provides humans with the greatest degree of utility.
Ok, so with that said, though not actually perfect (IMHO) the Christian pursuit of knowledge of perfect “good” naturally should lead to a better knowledge of what’s actually “good.” And for that reason, I’d argue that people who don’t believe in Christianity certainly shouldn’t dismiss the teachings of Christianity outright. Even though there may be inefficiencies, the process of refining Christianity has been a multi-millennium project, and the results of that project should be given their time of day.
But what’s interesting about all this is that not only do Christians naturally attempt to discern the nature of “good,” but to the best of their abilities, they also attempt to become “more like God.” (That is, of course, if the Christian is behaving optimally within the context of the Christian belief system).
Now what’s particularly interesting to me is that technology has been developing at an exponential rate. In simplistic sense, technology gives us better tools for enacting our desires and visions for reality. To put this in different language, the power that humanities posses over reality has been increasing at an exponential rate.
To put it really simplistically, humans are getting much, much better at doing the things they want to do.
Now then, this power is and will lead to increased instability, as individuals have greater potential to harm entire populations. If humans are to survive, we need to figure out what sorts of actions actually benefit both the individual and the community.
In other words, we need to figure out what’s actually “good.”
Now then, the people who subscribe to religious systems arguably have a head start in this pursuit, because they benefit from thousands/millions of years of encoded information regarding the nature of “good” (i.e., what sorts of actions actually lead to beneficial outcomes).
What’s particularly interesting is that if humanity is able to survive the instability of increasing power, then it will literally become more and more like God, in the Christian sense, i.e., a manifestation of perfect “good.”
If exponential improvements continue to occur and humanity survives them, at a certain point, humanity will be indistinguishable from God, in the Christian sense. Omnipotent, due to the limitless improvements in technology. Omniscient, given the limitless potential for technologies that synthesize representations of reality. Omnipresent, given the (almost) limitless potential improvements in transportation technologies.
Not only that, but such an Entity would almost necessarily be “good” because the power granted that Entity combined with evil actions could literally destroy sizeable aspects of reality. That’s a weak argument, but I think you see the point.
Ok, so this line of reasoning introduces a mechanism by which a God-like entity may come into being. However, this begs the question: what if this already happened? If that’s the case, then God might actually already exist.
Ok, let me flesh this out a bit more. A good deal of this argument has leaned on a notion “good,” and presented why humans might want to try to be more and more “good.”
However, I’d argue that “good” isn’t necessarily a human construction. Earlier I spoke of “good” describing actions that promote the dynamic stability of an Entity. Which means that if we de-anthropomorphize “good,” it can basically apply to any system.
Now then, humans can be described as Entities that are capable of formulating internal representations of reality and acting in accordance with those representations (i.e., intelligence). Though certainly an advanced system, I’d certainly argue that most Entities within reality could benefit from some mechanism like that, which is to say that there’s no reason to firmly believe that intelligence is a uniquely human phenomenon. I imagine that it’s incredibly rare, but certainly not impossible.
With that said, any creature capable of formulating internal representations has a high incentive to determine what is “good” (in the more global sense) and pursue those sorts of actions. And given the exponential nature of technological improvements, moving from mortal to God-like might occur much faster than we’ve might imagine.
Basically, what I’m trying to assert is that according to the reasoning presented in this post, there’s a mechanism that allows for the creation of God-like entities that behave in reasonable correspondence with our own human belief systems. Which is fairly remarkable, I’d say.
So I’ve been thinking about it, and I think we’re going to die 😊. How’s that for a click baity first sentence. I was actually lying in the first sentence – I actually think we might die. Definitely not guaranteed. I’m def not tryna bool on out as Thomas Malthus’s reincarnation, but it’s actually a legitimate concern.
I suppose I should probably explain what I mean. Well, as with most of my posts, I’d like to first talk about why humanity has made it this far to begin with. Am I about to talk about Stable structures? You betcha!
Ok, so humanity is fairly miraculous, specifically given our dynamic stability within the context of everything else we can perceive. If you’ve even taken cursory biology, you know what I’m talking about is true. If you’re not convinced, go look up our best understanding of the human ear. It’s literally buck wild. It’s so unbelievably complex, it’s difficult to even conceive that it literally doesn’t fall apart in a second. Let’s just say, you’d be forgiven if you researched the human body and came away believing in the existence of a Creator.
Anyway, if we assume intelligent design isn’t actually a thing (for sake of argument – don’t get your panties in a wad), there still is totally a mechanism that would allow for something as complex as Homo Sapien to come about. Let’s talk about it.
Definitely beating a dead horse if you’ve read some of my other stuff, but I’m gonna talk briefly about Stability again. Basically, according to our perceptions of the world, it’s fairly obvious that some things are more stable than others. If, for example, you built your house out of granite, it’s going to last longer than if you built the boi with thousands of slices of Swiss cheese (an inferior cheese, IMHO).
So within the context of stability, some things just “work” better than others. And by “work,” I mean “possess some Characteristic that allows it to survive in its present form for a greater duration than other Entities.” Not too bad, right?
Ok, in past posts I’ve gone on at length about why some Entity might be more Stable than others (ie it’s better at contending with threats, etc.), but right now, let’s talk about how Entities even come into existence in the first place.
As I think you can intuitively agree, complex stability just doesn’t manifest arbitrarily. In other words, a Big Mac isn’t going to just appear at the center of the milky way. Well, it could, but that would be an incredibly low probability event.
This idea of complexity just appearing out of nowhere is something that people have been thinking about for a while. There’s a thought experiment about something called a Boltzmann Brain, which basically looks at whether a fully conscious brain could just come together arbitrarily in the middle of space. If you think about it, a brain is just some matter that’s organized in a particular way, so there’s isn’t a reason why a bunch of matter couldn’t randomly form a brain in the middle of space.
However, just to continue the Boltzmann Brain thought experiment further than it’s typically taken, let me ask you this: Even if matter randomly came together to form a brain in the middle of space, what then? I’ll tell you what then. The brain would immediately die due to the lack of blook flow, the low temperature, a lack of nutrients, and generally a lack of a body to support it. The same could be said of effectively any biological entity, in that it would immediately perish if it were to arbitrarily form in the middle of space.
So then, it’s not just our biology that makes us humans incredibly interesting, it’s also the context that allows humans to exist in the first place. And it’s this context that gives us a clue into how something as complex as a human could even come into existence in the first place.
Ok, let’s talk about subatomic particles. Not because of their actual physics, but rather because most people think of them as a fundamental building block of reality. Whether that’s actually true is neither here nor there for the present argument. Bear with me.
So if you had a super big puddle of subatomic particles (like in the early universe), what would happen? If you don’t believe a supernatural figure had anything to do with our universe, then you probably tacitly believe that the puddle of particles would eventually become people, houses, monkeys, whatnot. But how do we get from the chaotic puddle of subatomic particles to structures are complex as monkeys? Let’s dig in.
Basically, the only thing you need to know about subatomic particles is that they interact with one another in interesting, but relatively predictable ways. Basically, what typically happens is that particles will either attract each other or repel each other in different ways.
The really interesting thing though is that some configurations of particles are way more stable than others. The configurations that are most important to us humans are atoms. And if you think about it, it’s not too difficult to see how atoms formed from particles. As a quick recap, atoms basically have a bunch of electrons (small, negative bois) swirling around a bunch of protons and neutrons (large, positive or neutral bois).
Basically, in order for atoms to come about, all you need is an area of space where a bunch of particles are interacting. Chances are (ie, it’s a fairly probable event) that an electron and a proton are going to come together to form a hydrogen atom, and then boom, all of a sudden you have a very stable structure. So basically, it’s reasonably probable that particles create hydrogen atoms, and then stay in that configuration due to its stability.
Just to be clear, hydrogen is special. If you throw two electrons together, the resulting configuration is highly unstable. The same thing can be said for a huge array of other possible configurations of particles. Without needing to know the details, there’s something about hydrogen that just makes it work, where other things don’t.
Ok, so now we have hydrogen. Luckily for us, hydrogen is both highly stable, and it also interacts in interesting ways with different atoms. Thus we can apply the same line of thinking to atoms that we did with particles. And basically, the story there is that some configurations of atoms just work (are inherently more stable), than others, and you get molecules.
You can basically continue this line of thinking until you start getting biological Entities, and whoopie! We have humans. However, as you’ll probably intuitively agree, it can’t just be that easy. And, blessed reader, your intuition is correct. It isn’t.
Basically in order to reliably get situations where lower forms of complexity can create higher forms of complexity (ie molecules to biological cells), you need something I call a Sandbox. (That’s by no means an original term, and you probably know where I’m going with this).
Here’s how I define a Sandbox. First of all, you need some structures (like particles) that interact with each other in interesting ways. More specifically, the situation has to allow for the Entities to interact with each other in many different ways. For example, if all subatomic particles were spread out across the universe, they wouldn’t be able to interact and form atoms. In order to get atoms, you need particles to be in the same general vicinity to increase the probability of atom formation. To make a somewhat shaky analogy, nature has to be able to run a bunch of “experiments” in order to find the structures that are the most stable. So you need a situation where random interactions are fairly probable.
On the flip side, you can’t have a situation that’s too chaotic. If you stuffed all the particles in the universe into a tiny box, you’d probably get atoms pretty quickly, but they’d probably be blown to pieces by all the chaos around them. Essentially, the Sandbox can’t be too unstable or the structures that do form won’t be able to survive the threats to their existence.
Lol. If you’ve read my stuff where I pontificate about Order and Chaos, this is a slightly less philosophical treatment of the subject: progress occurs at the order between the Light (order) and the Chaos.
Just as a quick side note, can I quickly vent a little bit? Some people have been getting really caught up in how “fined-tuned” the universe is for human life. They say things like “if some fundamental physics constant was slightly different, life wouldn’t be possible.” Duh! But you sons of goats are looking at it wrong! Life and consciousness are obviously really cool, but they aren’t necessarily the end-all-be-all of the universe. From my perspective it seems fairly obvious that life and consciousness are both phenomenon that make total sense within the context of reality because they’re simply mechanisms that lead to higher structural stability.
While life and consciousness are obviously incredibly, unbelievably complex, they aren’t super surprising, in that it makes sense that they would manifest in a reality with temporal consistency, given that such a reality places high priority on temporal stability. What would be way more surprising is if life and consciousness didn’t give rise to higher Stability. If that were the case, I would be way more likely to believe in an intelligent creator because complexity basically doesn’t come around unless it has a competitive advantage.
Ok, back to my original tangent. Why do humans exist? Well, we’re basically the product of a ton of Sandboxes. What I mean is that in going from atoms to molecules, molecules to cells, cells to organ, organs to organisms, each step of the way there’s been a Sandbox that allows the universe to “experiment” with many different structures and find the structure that works the best.
Now then, you might be wondering, wouldn’t Sandboxes themselves be really, really rare? If so, then humanity’s existence would seem more mysterious. However, if you read my post on Explosive Continuity, you’ll see that certain particularly stable structures naturally give rise to Sandboxes (low threat areas where “experimentation” is possible). I won’t go into that too much, but if you’re interested, send me an email and I’d love to discuss this.
Anyway, let’s go back to the very first paragraph. Why do I think humanity’s in real trouble? Well, we’ve been banking off some great Sandboxes for the last millions of years, and now we’re in a position where we could destroy our current Sandbox. Why? Because humanity’s too powerful, which makes it very unstable.
One critical aspect of a Sandbox that allows it to function is that if one experiment fails, it doesn’t destroy the Sandbox. So two electrons being close to each other isn’t going to threaten the electron and proton to form hydrogen, which is why we get atoms.
If a failed experiment can lead to the destruction of a Sandbox, then you’re basically dealing with a situation that’s too chaotic to be a Sandbox. And that’s specifically what’s happening with humanity.
Scientific progress is really neat, but it has drastically increased the power individual people yield. And just like any other situation, certain aspects of humanity are more unstable than others. As you probably agree, it’s not great if the unstable parts of the system can wreak a huge amount of havoc.
To look into this, let’s consider the age-old phenomenon of someone losing hope, going crazy, and killing a bunch of people. In the old days (like cave man era), if you decided to go on a killing spree, resulting in your own suicide, you could probably only kill a couple of people before you were taken down.
Now a days, with ARs and bombs, if someone really wants to kill a lot of people, they can kill a lot of people. We typically focus on the positive aspects of empowering people with technology, but the same technologies that “make the world a better place” also allow people to cause a greater amount of destruction, if that’s their goal.
Oh, and I almost forgot to mention! (JK) Scientific progress naturally accelerates if left to its own devices, which … um … might just kill us. Let’s just say that if General AI is widely available to your average Joe Shmo, it’s time to head for the fracking hills.
So what do we do about this? Well we could either try to dampen scientific progress, which, historically speaking, would probably be a total disaster, or we need to increase the size of our own Sandbox drastically so that when Joe Shmo decides to ‘splode the Earth with his pocket nuke, we don’t all die.
And how do we do that? Well, we’d need to increase our domain beyond the boundary of destruction, which probably means that we need to get to space, and we need to get there like now. Frankly, spreading to space probably wouldn’t save us from malicious AI, but at least we might be safe from some nukes.
Hmm, a small group of humans would probably have to sneak off in a totally untraceable manner to escape malicious AI. That’d be interesting.
Ok, well I imagine you all catch my drift. However, I should note that Malthus’ error lay in underestimating human ingenuity to solve the problems he thought would bring humanity to its knees. While I’m arguing that humanity’s ability to constantly progress may in fact be our downfall, I certainly don’t want to make Malthus’ mistake and discount the problem-solving abilities of generations to come.
However, if the trend of the last several thousand years stays true, then the coming developments of humanity will likely be well beyond or entirely different from what we presently conceive, bringing its own opportunities and threat.
Eh, whatever. Just stay on your toes, bois.
Shalom, brethren and sisthren! It’s quite nice to be writing another one of these. I’ve been working on four major projects over the last several months, so that’s been eating up a healthy chunk of my time. And frankly, I wasn’t sure that the utility all you schmeags derive from this blog was worth the effort of writing posts, so my incentive for writing has been fairly low.
However, I’ve actually spoken to a fair number of people over the last month or so that have expressed their enjoyment in partaking in XFA. To all of you who enjoy observing my mind soup, a most heartfelt thank-you.
Now then, let’s get down and dirty with the notion of Desire (not the sexual type, just your average “I want that car cause it looks cool” desire), and why I’ve boldly associated it with Tension. But before we really dissect this bad boi, I’d like to talk about why this is even on my mind in the first place.
Actually, a more honest answer than the one I’ll provide is that Desire is fundamentally tied to the notion of goal-formation, and I’ve actually been thinking a good deal about goal-formation in relation to the nature of human intelligence. While we typically take our ability to formulate goals (even subconsciously) for granted, attaining a bio-mechanical understanding of the neural dynamics of goal formation is comparable in complexity to achieving an understanding of the nature of consciousness, which anyone who is anyone agrees is pretty fracking hard problem.
Anyway, I’ve been extensively studying the formation of intelligence over the last months, and this has led to me to frequently contemplate the nature of goal-formation. However, the last two paragraphs actually have nothing to do with where I was originally going with the train of discussion in the third paragraph. Wow, how’s that for a cohesive narrative. Anyway, let’s get back to where I was originally going with this post.
The other main reason I’ve been really thinking about Desire is because of my current situation. Here’s what’s going on in my life. First, I’m almost finished creating a social media platform that I believe might actually fundamentally improve how people interact on the internet. If it works, it also might be incredibly lucrative. Second, next week I’m heading to Detroit to meet with some incredibly powerful individuals to pitch them on a project I’ve been working on with a couple of buddies. While the project is itself exciting, the more exciting aspect is that this could actually potentially provide me with an opportunity to successfully drop out and work full-time on an awesome project, and get paid, baby! Third, a good friend of mine has had an app idea that seems remarkably promising, and at this point, I’m pretty much confident in my ability to throw this new app together fairly quickly.
Ok, so why am I saying this? Am I trying to sloppily flex on the haters? Well, not quite. My current life situation is somewhat interesting because even though some of the stuff I have brewing is pretty exciting, there is absolutely no guarantee that any of it will pan out. And if it doesn’t, I’ll be back at square one.
But what does this have to do with Desire? Well, several times over the last couple months, I’ve been hit with such a strong confidence that my social network will make it big that my brain just assumes it’s going to happen. And in those moments, I’ve been possessed by some of the most potent anxiety I’ve ever experienced. And that’s weird.
Before we go any further, some of you might note that it’s incredibly presumptuous for me to assume a new social network is actually going to take off. You’d be absolutely right, of course. However, the aforementioned confidence I felt was more a remnant of my extremely turbulent emotional cycles, and less a function of the logical deduction. For reference, typically when I get extremely excited about a new idea working, I can almost guarantee that I’ll be hit with a wave of existential depression the following day. Isn’t life fun?
Anyway, the whole point of this lil story is that there frequently seems to be a strong correlation between Desire and anxiety in my life. Also, I’m only capitalizing Desire because it’s the subject of the post. Just thought I should make that clear.
So then, why are Desire and anxiety seemingly linked? An even more interesting phenomenon is that gratitude seems to have an opposite effect from Desire. Frack it, I’m going to stop capitalizing desire. It seems weird.
Specifically, as you’ve undoubtedly experienced, achieving a state of gratitude for the good aspects of life seems to assuage my anxieties tremendously. Gratitude journaling also seems to be rampantly taking over the self-health community, so I’m not the only one thinking about this.
At this point, you might be wondering, “…Hey Danny? Are you just trying to say greed makes us sad, and gratitude makes us glad?” (couldn’t resist the rhyme) “Isn’t that totally obvious?” Well, yes, reader, I suppose you’re right, but I’d like to take a deeper dive into this phenomenon from a quasi-rigorous neurological perspective. Prepare yourself for a classic Danny Boi G stream of consciousness, because I haven’t really fully fleshed out my thoughts on the subject.
Ok, let’s start with what our brain is even doing in the first place. One of the most important jobs of the brain is to form an efficient representation of reality. Let’s take that statement apart, shall we?
First things first, what do I mean by an efficient representation? A representation is a structure that exhibits similar characteristics and behaviors as some other structure. So a lego human being is a representation of a human being, because it shares some of the same rudimentary characteristics of a full-fledged biological human being. So what do I mean by efficient? By efficient, I mean that the representation is able to evolve far more rapidly than the structure it’s representing.
For an example of an efficient representation, think of a billiards video game on your computer screen. If the person who programmed the game did a good job, then the computer game should be a good representation of a real, physical game of billiards. Now then, unlike in real life, we can speed up the computer game, which allows the state of the computer game to evolve faster than actual game. Thus I would call the billiards video game an efficient representation of an actual billiards game.
Aside from being merely convenient for the sake of entertainment, why might the computer game be helpful? Well, let’s say that you want to figure out where the eight ball will go if you hit the cue ball in a certain way in the actual game of billiards. You basically have two options. First, you could just hit the ball in real life and see what happens. Second, you could set up an analogous situation in the video game and watch the video game play out. If you go with the second option, you reap all sorts of benefits. First things first, you can speed the video game up, which allows you to figure out what’s going to happen faster. Not only that, you also figure out what’s going to happen without ever hitting the cue ball in real life. That’s big. Basically, the efficient representation of the pool table (ie, the video) gives you “knowledge of the future” before the future even happens.
Ok, so let’s go back to my original statement about the brain. I’m essentially asserting that one of the brain’s principal functions is to construct efficient representations of perceivable reality. And just like in the billiards game, this efficient representation allows the brain contemplate and simulate future situations before they’ve even occurred.
Why is this a big deal? I use this example all the time, but bugger me bloody, here we go again. Let’s say you look up, and you see an asteroid falling toward your head. If this asteroid hits you, you are going to die. Let’s carefully take apart what happens next.
For your entire life, you’ve been watching objects fall. Whenever an object is unsupported it falls towards the ground. This happens in such a consistent fashion that our brain is able to form an efficient representation of the process. This efficient representation of falling objects allows our brains to simulate situations faster than they actually evolve in real life. This ability to simulate allows our brains to make predictions about the future state of reality with remarkable accuracy. So if your cousin Davy throws a football, you have a pretty good idea of where the football is going to land before the football actually lands. While this sort of cognitive process probably doesn’t sound that exciting, I’d like to humbly submit that this is one of the most miraculous aspects of our present reality. Ok, but let’s get back to the asteroid, because it’s actually quite important.
So there you are, looking up at the asteroid. If you were a jelly fish or a rock, the perception of an asteroid above your head isn’t going to change your behavior. However, because you’re a human with a brain that has formulated a good representation of falling objects, your brain can rapidly play out what is going to happen in the next several moments, before it happens. So basically the brain can determine that a sizeable object is about to fall on your head, and if you don’t get out of the way, you’re going to die. And thus, you get out of the way, and you don’t die. Ta-da.
It seems like people frequently refer to “knowledge” as this nebulous entity that grows and changes over time. If we’re getting technical, however, “human knowledge” is basically just the sum total of efficient representations of reality the brain has acquired over its lifetime. And as we’ve just seen, the reason why our brains even form efficient representations in the first place is because it greatly benefits our ability to contend with threats, thus markedly improving our stability as individuals and as a species.
Ok, I certainly could go off on some unreasonably long tangents about this, but let’s try to get back to the subject at hand. What does all this business about efficient representations have to do with desire and/or gratitude?
Our brain’s ability to construct efficient representations of reality not only allows us to better comprehend the state of the present moment, but it also allows us to simulate hypothetical scenarios. Our brain also has functionality to evaluate the quality of these real or hypothetical scenarios. Our brain might attempt to determine if a hypothetical scenario might involve pain, or if it might trigger pleasure receptors. Basically, the brain can determine if a hypothetical scenario is better or worse for us than the present scenario. Finally, the brain can determine if a hypothetical scenario is actually in sync with the present state of reality.
Ok, I’m kinda running out of steam here, but I’ll just try to finish my train of thought. In terms of evolutionary fitness, it would make sense that whenever the brain simulates a hypothetical scenario that is of higher perceived utility than the present situation, the brain induces a certain amount of anxiety. This anxiety would be the impetus for us to attempt to manipulate the state of the present to become more like the hypothetical, “simulated” state of reality. This mechanism would allow the brain to help move a human being towards states of greater utility.
On the contrary, if the brain determines that the present state of reality sufficiently meets the requirements of stable survival, it would make sense for the brain to “turn off” anxiety so that the human doesn’t make any changes to their situation to compromise the state of stability.
Ok, so what about desire and gratitude? Well, under this reframing, desire can be thought of as the brain attempting to move the human being toward a state of greater perceived utility. And in order to do that, the brain would naturally want to induce some level of discontent/anxiety about the present situation. Likewise, gratitude is basically the process of recognizing the beneficial aspects of the present state of reality. If the brain is able to decide that the present state of reality is sufficiently beneficial, then the brain should remove feelings of discontent and anxiety to preserve the current state.
So yeah, not particularly difficult to see, but here’s a reasonable explanation of why desire induces anxiety, and gratitude induces peace. So yeah, give gratitude a try.
To finish out, let’s get a bit soppy. Basically, yeah, there are a couple things in my life that are kinda exciting at the present moment. However, I’ve found that it’s imperative to my mental health to recognize that even if all of them don’t pan out, there’s so much about my present state that allows for stable survival, and thus tremendous cause for gratitude.
So yeah, in case you were wondering why gratitude is so important, these are my two cents. Peace.
The Orchid Project aims to replace a wide swath of modern mathematics with a set of digital structures that can be understood and manipulated by humans and computers alike. To understand how Orchid will fulfil this goal, it is fruitful to first consider the nature of mathematics. Mathematics is the study of abstract entities with stable characteristics and behaviors. Over the past millennia, human beings have developed a set of written symbols used to describe the characteristics and behaviors of these abstract entities. These written symbols allow humans to reference properties of the abstract entities being studied and perform symbolic manipulations on these entities in accordance with well-defined rules.
Modern mathematics is a symbiosis between the human mind and the aforementioned symbol set. Without the human mind, the symbols are essentially worthless and only interact with reality in accordance with physics of their constituent physical materials. Without the symbols, humans would have to reason about abstract entities without any outside assistance, and therefore would suffer from the limitations of human memory and intelligence. Together, however, there is a beautiful symbiosis. The abstract structures live within the human mind, but they can be compressed and stored compactly within the symbol set of mathematics.
However, this brings us to an interesting philosophical question: why is mathematics useful? Mathematics is useful simply because there is stable structure in reality as perceived by humans. The term "stable" is defined here to simply mean "existing for a non-trivial duration of time". While there are, of course, no guarantees about the stability of the different entities perceived within reality, there nonetheless seem to exist a very large number of entities that exhibit some degree of stability.
One particularly fundamental reason contributing to humanity's evolutionary fitness is the human mind's ability to create a model of the stable structures in the human’s environment, and act according to this model. If, for instance, a human learns there is a meteor directly overhead, the human will use their internal model of the world to reason that they must run away in order to survive.
While the importance of the brain's ability to harbor an internal representation of reality cannot be understated, humanity has progressed even further by creating spoken language. Spoken languages allow groups of humans to translate the representations stored within their brains into a set of stable auditory signals. These auditory signals are then decoded by other humans and translated into neural representations of the world.
Forming and reasoning about internal neural representations of the world takes time and effort, and frequently humans form the same sorts of representations. For example, even without communicating, multiple humans could easily learn that a meteor overhead probably means grave danger. Spoken language is an incredibly tool because it decentralizes the effort required to formulate internal representations of reality. As a simple example, a person entering India for the first time several millennia ago might never have interacted with a tiger before. The person could either learn about the dangers of tigers by experiencing one for himself/herself, or he/she could communicate with the locals and learn that the big striped orange and white cats ought to be avoided. The latter option obviously better lends itself to human survival.
Spoken language is a miraculously useful tool, but it suffers from the fact that audio signals decay rapidly, thus requiring two humans to be in immediate contact while communicating. This limitation is addressed by written language, which is next in the chain of incalculably useful human developments. The written word can last for centuries or even millennia, and therefore allows humans beings to share neural representations of reality across wide swaths of time.
So where does mathematics fit into all of this? Languages like English or Mandarin allow humans to describe a large portion of either their perceived reality or even hypothetical situations, and typically rely on some context for understanding. “How fast did Blake run?” I might ask. “Fast,” or “slow,” or “faster than Usain Bolt,” you might answer. Given my current context, I’ll probably form an internal representation of the events you witnessed that isn’t too far off from what you actually perceived. However, the words “fast,” “slow,” and even “faster than Usain Bolt” are all very imprecise, and effectively lose all meaning without the ill-defined context I described.
Mathematics attempts to address this lack of precision by describing both the structures and context in terms of abstract imagined entities with infinitely precise characteristics and infinite stability. To my question of how fast Blake ran, you could instead answer “44.83 ± 0.9 km/h.” You could also provide me with a mathematical model of Blake’s trajectory using polynomials and describe the Blake’s physics using Newtonian mechanics. Given the definition of kilometers, hours, and real numbers, someone 300 years from now would still be able to form a highly accurate internal representation of Blake’s speed, were they to desire that knowledge.
Mathematics therefore gives humans the ability to describe reality with far greater detail, precision, and accuracy than languages like English or Mandarin. The toolset of mathematics has also informed the development of some (if not all) of humanity’s most impressive modern technologies.
Why, then, has mathematics not replaced the languages of the world? If mathematics can provide such superior descriptions of reality, why don’t we entirely replace “the old technologies,” like English? The reason we haven’t done this is because mathematics comes with a high cost. It’s really, really hard. The reason why “Einstein” has become synonymous with “genius” is because Einstein formulated a mathematical description of the world that was more consistent with reality than previous attempts. Mathematics isn’t nearly as forgiving as world languages. While humans can rely on mutual context to convey information with language that would otherwise be imprecise or inaccurate (think metaphors or sarcasm), well-defined mathematics doesn’t allow for any of that behavior.
Before I continue, I’d like to once again emphasize how critical both language and mathematics have been to the improvement of the human condition. Even though I will talk about how Orchid aims to achieve a superior technology, the importance of both mathematics and language should never be taken for granted.
So where does all this leave us? Spoken/written languages can describe a broad swath of reality, but they are imprecise and typically rely on ill-defined and brittle context to actually convey meaning. Mathematics can describe some aspects of reality in incredible detail, but it is difficult to use and struggles at generalizing to complicated systems.
The Orchid Project aims to move beyond language and mathematics for formulating representations of reality by utilizing advances in computers to significantly lower the costs associated with mathematical descriptions of reality. As previously described, right now mathematics is a symbiosis between the human mind and a symbol set, wherein the actual mathematical structures live in neural representations within the human mind but can be represented compactly within a set of written symbols.
Put in high level terms, Orchid transforms neural representations of mathematical entities into computer data structures, which can be created and manipulated by computers. While this is easily said, the ramifications of this statement are enormous. By making this translation from the brain to the computer, Orchid allows computers to “think” about mathematics like humans do.
While you could probably see the importance of this concept after a moment or two of thought, let me perhaps provide some motivation for why this could be revolutionary. Modern computer architectures are capable of roughly a billion operations per second. The spiking rate of a neuron in the human brain is about 200 spikes/second. If we equate a single spike as being approximately equal to a single clock cycle, then a computer processes information more than 5 orders of magnitude faster than the human brain.
What this means, in more accessible terms, is that a task that would take the human mind 1,000 years could be completed by a modern computer in under 4 days. This example obviously makes some irresponsible assumptions about the similarities between the human brain and computers, but the point being made remains valid.
With that said, by drastically reducing the cost associated with mathematical descriptions of reality, Orchid aims to give human beings a tool that robustly addresses the limitations of both languages and mathematics in formulating representations of reality. In accordance with the historical trend outlined throughout this text, one can hope that the tools provided by Orchid can aid in both a drastic improvement of the human condition and the progression of organized complexity within reality as a whole.
Sup Schmeags. Insofar as my perception of reality can be taken to be a non-local standard, it appears as though reality can be understood as a compositional and hierarchical collection of entities. For sake of precision, I’m defining and entity to be any stable system with well-defined characteristics and behaviors.
That’s somewhat redundant, because a “behavior” is simply a characteristic with a temporal element, but we’re time-bound creatures, so I find it to be a useful categorization.
You know what? I’m going to capitalize Entity because I’m the lord of this blog, and nothing can stop me.
Now it’s quite important to me that you understand the generality of an Entity. While the term “entity” typically brings to mind some connotation of either a physical object or some abstract localized notion, please understand that an Entity, as I’ve defined it, is far more general.
There’s nothing inherent that constrains an Entity to be spatially localized in any capacity. Additionally, there’s nothing that constrains an Entity to behave in a smooth, locally linear fashion throughout the expanse of time. It just so happens that within our three space dimensions and time dimension, there happen to be a higher degree of correlations that occur between Entities which are closer in time and space. And I most certainly mean closer in the typical sense.
So then, why talk about Entities? Well, friend, they’re kinda the only thing that matters. And you know the most important aspect of them? Stability. To add a slight caveat, they’re important insofar as knowledge that is useful to human survival is important.
Why is stability important? Well, the only reason you can comprehend, articulate, or imagine anything is because the objects of your interest have some degree of stability.
Good heavens, I suppose I should define stability so that the importance of this topic is clear. By stability, I mean the extent to which an Entity is able to maintain its characteristics and behaviors as time progresses.
This definition is intrinsically bounded in time, but it is generalizable to any situation in which there’s even the slightest notion of evolution in the state of a system.
That’s kinda a side note. Anyway, back to the importance of stability. Why are homo sapiens a big deal? Because they’re a highly adaptable Entity that are able to contend with their environment in a manner that allows them to promote their personal and group stability in a highly robust fashion. Why do you care about Netflix? Because it’s an Entity which has proved to be highly stable throughout the last decade and has behaviors and characteristics which bring humans utility. Why are sub-atomic particles important? Because they’re so incredibly stable and have such a robust set of behaviors that they’re able to constitute an unreasonably large number of higher-order Entities.
I do hope that this has somewhat convinced you about the importance of Entities and stability. If you’re not convinced, respectfully go shuck a duck.
Now then, let’s talk a bit about what makes Entities stable. A very good first step is for the Entity to be internally stable. And by “good first step,” I mean “unavoidable, crucially important first step.” By internally stable, I mean that the sub-Entities which constitute this particular Entity are in and of themselves stable.
So, to give examples, a molecule is only stable because the atoms that constitute the molecule are stable. A cell (as in Eukaryote) is stable only because its organelles are stable. Here’s one you might like. Why is Netflix stable? There are literally to many sub-factors to even name. In order to Netflix to be even possible, let alone stable, you need a large population of people with computers and Televisions, you need a stable power-grid that typically behaves in a well-defined fashion, you need a stable population of producers who are willing to make shows, you need a stable population of actors and actresses who want to be in shows in the first place. You need a stable frikin internet, which allows for the highest bandwidth of information transfer even conceived.
I could certainly go on, but I think you get the idea. Basically, stable things (Entities) can only exist if their constituent parts (sub-Entities) are stable.
I really should emphasize that by “stable,” I do not mean “static.” Static means “fixed in some capacity.” Anyone who remembers the God-awful early days of Netflix can attest to the fact that many times, an Entity needs to adapt and improve if it is to survive.
Now then, I didn’t actually want to spend the entirety of this post reiterating my theory of Entities, so let’s talk about the aspect of Entities that’s important for this particular post.
In order for an Entity to be stable, not only does it have to be internally stable, but it also must be externally stable as well. This presupposes that an Entity is necessarily embedded in some environment, but that seems to be a safe assumption because it applies to literally every Entity ever witnessed and recorded by a human being.
Whether you’re an atom, a molecule, a coronavirus, a human being, a literal planet, or a nebula, in order to be stable, you need to be able to contend with your environment. And your environment typically presents a myriad of threats to your stability.
Imagine I’m an amoeba. I’m boolin around, absorbing organic matter, doing my thing, and them all of a sudden, BOOM I run into a eukaryotic cell! Oh frikin no!
Now, lets put the dirty biology aside for a second and talk about what could happen in this here Mexican showdown between different forms of organic matter.
And when I say destroy, I’m not necessarily talking about some evil, premeditated attack. It could be as simple as the amoeba running into the cell, which ruptures the cell, causing it to no longer exist as a Eukaryotic cell.
Basically, what I’m getting at is that both organisms potentially pose a threat to one another.
Ok, whatever. It’s possible one or both of the organisms won’t survive the interaction. And who cares? They aren’t conscious, they don’t have souls, they don’t have feelings. If they die, literally no one knows or cares.
Be that as it may, if the eukaryotic cell possessed the capability to contend with the amoeba, then it would have a higher chance of survival.
How would it do this? Well, both of these organisms live in our 4-dimensional world, so perhaps the eukaryotic cell has a chemical detector that is able to detect the presence of an amoeba or other external threat. Let’s say this chemical detector, once activated, triggers a mechanism that propels it away from the threat.
Alternatively, let’s say the cell has a mechanism which releases a powerful acid if it’s threatened. Then, when the amoeba approaches, BOOM chemical blast. The amoeba dies!
As a third potentially rarer option, let’s say that when the amoeba approaches the eukaryotic cell, the amoeba realizes that the eukaryotic cell is excreting a chemical that is necessary for the amoeba’s survival. Likewise, the eukaryotic cell realizes that the amoeba destroys other harmful organisms that approach, so it’s the in cell’s best interest to keep the amoeba around. Thus, the two organisms live symbiotically, and potentially merge into a higher-order Entity.
So there you have it! When faced with an external threat, a stable Entity probably should flee, fight, or “learn” to cooperate with the threat. You’ll notice that I have in no way presupposed the existence of emotions, goals, motivations, consciousness, or anything of that sort. All I’ve asserted is that if Entities possess these particular traits, they’ll likely be more stable.
Ok. Now then, let’s talk the Light and the Chaos. I’m about to get all Daoist on all y’all, so prepare yourselves. The Light represents order, structure, and the “known.” The Chaos is an abstraction for everything not in the light, the “Great Unknown” in the most expansive meaning of the phrase.
As stable Entities, human beings exist at the boundary of the Light and the Chaos. As the most stable inheritor of a truly staggering array of lower-level stable Entities, not only do we impulsively live at the edge of the Light and the Chaos, but we’re also conscious of our position.
Now I should say that the boundary between the Light and Chaos is in no way clear cut. The Light and Chaos rather bleed into one another. The Chaos permeates every facet of the Light, but to differing degrees. However, regardless of the Chaos, there are always still areas where the Light promises of its own existence.
Now then, let’s discuss what we might do about our present reality of Light and Chaos. Where ought we strive to live?
Should we walk into the depths of the Chaos? I certainly think not! That would be akin to nearing the gaping mouth of an inky black cave, hearing the sounds of terrible beasts rustling around within, and nevertheless strolling inward.
Should we call that bravery? Perhaps. But also likely suicide. Much like the cave, not only do you have no knowledge of the dangers which lurk within, but you also are in no way prepared to contend with the dangers when they attack. And thus, to plunge into the Chaos is external defeat, and is therefore evident of internal defeat.
But what else can we do? Should we wallow in the Light? In an area entirely permeated by the Light, with not a shred of Chaos in sight, adventure goes to die. There is nothing meaningful whatsoever about living entirely within the confines of the Light. It spells certain survival, but survival at what cost? There’s nothing more soul crushing than a guarantee of nothing new, nothing fresh, a staggering lack of adventure. You will live, but you will live in a state more despicable than death.
So what is left? What leads to a meaningful existence? An existence that perhaps has some degree of important within the context of reality?
It is along the murky Border of the Light and the Chaos that we must walk. Only at the Border of this duality is meaning to be found. Only at the Border does Light no longer represent despicable stagnation. Only at the Border does Chaos no longer spell certain failure and defeat.
At the border, Light becomes the structure we use to remain afloat, the tools we use to build, and the weapons we use to fight. At the Border, Chaos becomes nothing short of the giver of life, continually presenting us with the newness and adventure as crucial to our souls as water or food is to out bodies.
It is at the Border where Heroes are formed. It is at the Border where the most glorious humanity has to offer take up the sword and the hammer, and truly contend with the chaos. It is at the Border where Jacob wrestles God. It is at the Border where Atlas holds up the sky. It is where Light is spoken into Chaos.
It is where meaning lies.
Aight lads and lasses. Let’s get technical. I want to code more than anything right now, but a certain thought process has been coursing through my veins for the last twelve or so hours, and I need to get it down. If my language gets too technical, it’s your fault for not understanding me. Haha, take that. Nothing like purposefully trying to push my readers away. Here we go!
I’ve written several posts about this, most recently the post about love, but I think the part of physics that is topically most interesting at this moment is the process of analyzing the stability of different systems. I’ll lay out the reason why this is interesting.
One central law in physics is the second law of thermodynamics, which roughly states that the disorder in a global system increases over time (that statement is a shade of the mathematical glory that is a proper study of entropy, but my readers don’t got no time for equations). The simple (and painfully cliché) analogy that is given for this statement is to imagine a new deck of cards. The cards are nicely in order. But the second you start shuffling, the cards quickly become scrambled and disorderly. If you hunker down and examine the probabilities in question, a randomly shuffled deck of cards is far more likely to be “disorderly” than “orderly.”
By applying similarly simple probabilistic theory to physical systems, you basically get the basics of statistical mechanics, which concerns itself with average quantities of systems with a large number of constituents (usually at or above 1023. Gotta love my boi Avogadro). To make a long story painfully short, you can essentially think of a thermodynamic system as a deck of cards that’s constantly “reshuffling” itself, and like a deck of cards, “disorderly” configurations of the system are generally significantly more probable than “orderly” configurations.
Great. So why should you care, inquisitive reader? Well, look at human beings. Human beings are incredibly well-ordered systems of incomprehensible complexity. To perhaps make the point clearer, if you took all the subatomic particles that make up your body and threw them into a box at random, the probability that the particles would end up in the configuration of a human being is disgustingly small. Outrageously small. If you think along this line of reasoning, the probability of humanity existing in our universe is so unthinkably small, it’s a miracle we even happened.
I simply refuse to believe that what I’m about to discuss hasn’t been rigorously treated by smarter minds than my own, but I’m going proceed as though these are original thoughts because I enjoy feeling like I’m scientifically innovative.
The fundamental question of this post is the following: Are highly ordered and complex systems probable given the configuration of our universe?
Given what I’ve already stated, your gut reaction to this question is probably: “No, Danny! Stop being dumb.” Hey, reader, watch your mouth. No one’s forcing you to read this, so go shuck a duck.
In order to continue, we ought to have a civil conversation regarding stability, because it’s ever so important. In fact, I think it’s the key.
In the previous example with the deck of cards, let’s change things up a little bit. Imagine that every single time the deck is in new deck order, small magnets engage that keep the deck from being reshuffled. So even though new deck order is statistically unlikely, if you continue shuffling the deck for eternity, the average configuration of the deck of cards is new deck order because once it reaches that state, it can’t be reshuffled.
To get a bit more rigorous, I’ll define a stable configuration of a system to be a configuration that is resistant to change (not super rigorous definition, but it’ll do). As we’ve seen with the “sticky” deck of cards, even is an “orderly” configuration of a system is statistically improbable in terms of possible random configurations of the system, over a large swath of time, the “orderly” configuration is actually probabilistically likely because it’s most stable.
The question now is, what would make any one system any more stable than another? Well, take a helium atom, for example. What makes a helium atom any more stable than a hydrogen atom? Those of you chemistry nerds are probably kerfuffling about orbitals and valence electrons. Hey, chemistry nerds? Y’all can also go shuck some ducks, then go take a proper class on Quantum Mechanics. Or, even better, just read R. Shankar’s The Principles of Quantum Mechanics. What a truly divine textbook. A mathematical masterpiece at the very least. Anyway, I’m not going to even try to explain humanity’s best understanding of the physics of stable orbits, but I can give you a much more abstract answer.
The reason why the helium is a stable configuration of protons, neutrons, and electrons is because these particular particles exhibit a rich set of behaviors when near one another. You probably remember that protons and electrons have opposite electric charges and therefore attract. Our understanding of quantum electrodynamics actually gives a more compelling explanation than that of simple electric fields. In QED, electromagnetic effects are described by an exchange of photons between different particles. Fun fact, QED was the first theory with full agreement between quantum mechanics and special relativity (got that straight from the wiki).
I went down rabbit hole. Regardless of how fascinating QED is, the important thing to keep in mind is that subatomic particles exhibit a rich set of behaviors when interacting with one another. The reason why helium is stable is because of the underlying rules governing the interactions between protons, neutrons, and electrons. If these particles didn’t interact with one another (much like cards in a deck) then there would be no notion of stability, and in those systems, disorder would be statistically likely, even throughout a broad swath of time.
So then, if you want any notion of stability in a system, you want there to exist a rich set of behaviors between the underlying constituents of the system.
Ok, I’m going to go in a slightly different direction now. I want to talk about what constitutes an “orderly” system. I tend to think of a human being as a highly ordered system. Amazon (as in the company) is a highly ordered system. Quartz is a highly ordered crystalline structure.
I think the big thing here is that an ordered system has a fixed set of stable characteristics. Two examples of this: 1) Human beings have arms. On average, a human being will keep both arms all throughout their life. I can reasonably predict that tomorrow morning I will have both arms attached to my body. 2) If someone punches me, I’ll get angry. For the average human being, if you punch them, they’ll probably get angry. I can reasonably predict that if I were punched tomorrow morning, I would get angry.
Ok, so to get a bit more rigorous, (also do know that I’m basically making this up on the fly), the degree to which a system is orderly is proportional to the number and stability of each of the systems characteristics. Cool. One thing to note here is that under this definition, in order for a system to be orderly, it must also necessarily be stable.
Actually, wait. Now that I’m thinking about it more, I think stability and orderliness might be two sides of the same coin. Remember my definition of stability? A system that is resistant to change. Cool, but how do you quantify whether a system is resistant to change? Well, a good first step is to describe the characteristics of a system, and if those characteristics remain the same as time progresses, then your system is stable. But what I just described was my definition of orderliness. Ha! Geisz’s first law: Stability = Order.
Ok, let’s move along. Remember, the big question of this post is whether highly ordered and complex systems (like humans) are probable given the configuration of our universe. What we should talk about next is how stable systems are able to build themselves into bigger stable systems.
What I’m going to talk about next is probably going to be markedly similar to my post about love.
Remember, the recipe for stability is a rich set of behaviors between the constituents of the system. So, an electron and a proton are able to organize themselves into the “stable” and “orderly” configuration of hydrogen because of the underlying interaction between two particles of opposite electric charge.
Hydrogen is all well and good, but I want human beings, I don’t just want hydrogen. How do we get from hydrogen to human beings? In other words, how does one stable system bring forth another stable system.
Remember the recipe. For stability to occur, we need a rich set of behaviors between the constituents of the system. So, if we want hydrogen (and perhaps some other atoms) to build themselves into systems of increased complexity, we need them to be able to interact with one another. Because of the whole business of stable orbitals, certain atoms do interact with one another, and therefore are able to form stable configurations, which we call molecules. On the other hand, helium, while incredibly stable, isn’t able to “help” other atoms create systems of greater complexity (molecules) because it doesn’t interact with any such atoms.
As an interesting side note, even though helium is pretty tame from the perspective of chemistry, it does still interact with other particles in an entirely different context. Because helium is light and stable, in the presence of a dense, gravitationally dominant object, a mixture of helium and other heavier gases will push helium to the top due to helium’s low density. This is a perfect example of a stable characteristic of a system, which means that an atmosphere could be considered a stable and orderly system. So again, any time the constituents of a system exhibit a rich set of stable interactions, there is potential for the system to be stable and orderly.
I think you probably get the idea. I’m at seven pages, so I should probably wrap this sucker up, but I think there should be a big takeaway here. If you want to propagate complexity and order, you want stable systems that exhibit stable behaviors. That’s all for now.
Sup Schmeags. I’m immensely happy to say that I’m finished with school for the semester. For a variety of reasons that I will likely put in irrationally whiny upcoming post, I have declared a personal war with academia. Suffice it to say that I am oh so done with stupid classes and stupid professors.
Ok now that we’ve established I handle my problems with the maturity of a three-year-old child, let’s get on to some dank Alfredo. Sike! The internet has seen to it that this particular topic, which was at one-point dank Alfredo, is now no more than mediocre Marinara. However, seeing as I’ve essentially written myself into a corner in my last posts, I feel I must take on the mantle of a Basic Betty and address the shockingly average Marinara that’s just sitting in the corner of the metaphorical room.
What is the Marinara? Well, it is simply the fact that Grimes and Elon Musk named their child X Æ A-12.
Now this, as with most information about celebrities that makes them appear different than the cookie-cutter image thrust upon them by the media, caused quite a stir. Perhaps the funniest article I saw said that the name X Æ A-12 isn’t legal in California, so I’m just not sure what Grelon will do about that. As any of you who follow Elon’s doings know, Elon is becoming increasingly militant in his attitudes towards the state of California, so perhaps California declaring he can’t name his child X Æ A-12 will be the metaphorical straw that broke the camel’s back.
Now then, enough about important people like Grelon Musk, let’s talk about me. Why, after my explicit fawning over this pair of humans, do I regard this topic as lame Marinara? Well, I suppose one reason is that I’m bitter that I was wrong on all accounts. First of all, the child X Æ A-12 is a male, not a female. Furthermore, the child’s name is X Æ A-12, not Enza (short for Influenza). 0 for 2, Danny.
However, I also feel like at this point, by writing about this, I’m actively drinking some sauce that the internet swished around its mouth for a couple days and then spat back out. Also, it doesn’t help that literally everyone and their mother hates Elon’s guts right now.
Whatever. Actually wait a second… I feel something deep inside me stirring. Let’s take a trip down to my emotions to see what’s going on.
* Danny walks into the frightening halls of his emotions and is immediately assaulted from all sides by a militaristically passionate desire to deeply analyze the name X Æ A-12 and explore its implications. Danny wasn’t ready for such an attack and is sent reeling backward. Danny looks up, trying to make out the emotion that so violently assaulted him, only to be viciously backhanded in the face by either Rage or Fury. It happened too quickly to tell. Danny limps backward, trying to escape the halls of his emotions, when a sort of conscious smoke engulfs him and holds him back. As he struggles with the smoke, he hears the voices of his emotions behind him, speaking in chorus: “Remember our agreement: you don’t mess with us, and we’ll only occasionally launch strikes against your consciousness. Remember how little power you have against us.” At this point, Danny is expelled out the emotional halls and thrust back into the chair in front of his computer. *
Well that was entirely unpleasant. Nothing like being reminded that you have no control over your emotions at 8:42 AM on a Thursday. For the maybe two of you concerned readers, there’s no need to worry about me. I’ll regroup and launch a more complete attack against my silly emotions later today with the help of the more logical aspects of my mentality, and Thor-willing, we can get my emotions to sign a better agreement that gives me more power in our relationship.
Enough of that. Well, even if it went cataclysmically, my trip downstairs to my emotions did in fact inform me that even though by most standards, the topic of X Æ A-12 is chyme-like Marinara, I do in fact want to provide some level of discussion regarding X Æ A-12. So here I go.
The first and most pressing concern regarding X Æ A-12 is simply how to pronounce his name. From the information I have received by means a variety of shady sources, the name X Æ A-12 is pronounced “Ash.” Like, what? Either Grelon are trying to make an incredibly bold statement about the fluidity of language, or they’ve just entirely deaged themselves. Now I’m all for making up words on the fly, as anyone who has met me, or read this blog can attest. However, the entire purpose of doing so is the fact that I feel that the words I make up better describe the connotations I wish to impart that any sequence of characters in the dusty old Encyclopedia Britannica, and I’m fairly confident that people around my will be able to understand my new words based on context and word-construction.
What Grelon has done, however is much different. They’ve essentially said, “Here’s a lot of letters and this is how it’s pronounced.” It’s like me saying I named my pet Beta fish “DD-% 49 L,” which is, of course, pronounced “Bartholomew.” Wild stuff, blessed readers.
To some degree, this is ok because they are both influential/powerful people and have jurisdiction over the name of their child. On the other hand, they’ve entirely deaged their child because based on standard conventions, “X Æ A-12” is not pronounced “Ash,” as I think you may agree.
I think the only trap door out of this madness is for the child to simply go by “Ash.” Just as the Queen of England is the figurehead, and Parliament is the collection of bois that actually gets stuff done, so X Æ A-12 will be Ash’s name only legally, and he will otherwise be known as Ash.
Or, I mean, X Æ A-12 could start a new trend in baby-naming, and he could be the hipster-like entity in this particular field. I suppose we’ll just have to see. However, I will say that it would be pretty sick if the first Space Commander’s name is X Æ A-12. I would be ok with that.
Good heavens, it’s almost 9. I actually have a little call set up at 9 AM this morning, so I’ll have to take my leave. Also, now that it’s summer, I believe I’ll have significantly more time to devote to blog-writing. We’ll see. Sayonara!
[ Insert Greeting Here ] Yesterday, a certain fiery-haired force of nature sent some information my way that was altogether Earth-shattering. Not necessarily for me, but more so for XFA, which has latched on to a part of my brain and gained consciousness. What information could possibly be so important? Well, after a true whirlwind of emotion, it appears that Grimes and Elon Musk are in fact dating, and that Elon is in fact that father of Grimes’s child.
There are several housekeeping matters to which this information forces me immediately attend. Firstly, several posts ago, I made a heart-felt apology for wildly spreading misinformation regarding the nature of Elon’s and Grimes’s relationship. I would like to formally and forcefully revoke that apology, and may I add simply in spite that I was never sorry in the first place. Secondly, I believe I blamed one Lizzy Dube as being the source of this misinformation. Lizzy, while I have absolutely no reason to believe you have ever heard of an ex fizz assist, I feel inclined to formally apologize for casting such blame.
For then, let’s get to the juice. In this particular instance, the “juice” refers to me wildly speculating about this child that is about to enter the world.
A decent place to start regarding the child is its name. I don’t believe Grimes has said anything about the gender of her child, so I’m just going to say she’s going to be a girl for reasons that will become clear in a second. The internet has fallen into a mad fuss regarding the child’s name, and intriguingly enough, it appears that Grimes and Elon are rumored to name their child Influenza.
Now the truly unfortunate fact of the matter is that I know neither Elon nor Grimes personally, so I have no way to determine if these rumors are in any way true. For those of you down-to-earth readers who may be wondering why I’m choosing to believe the internet that Grimes is about to name her child after a virus, I have two responses. 1) If you have even barely watched Grimes talk about her life, you will know that naming her first child “Influenza” is exactly the sort of thing she would do. 2) It happens that I’m actually remarkably gullible in such matters, and as this particular matter doesn’t directly affect my day-to-day life, I’ll choose to believe what I want to believe.
Now then, there are naturally some logistical issues that arise when your child’s name is Influenza. Perhaps the most prominent is the awe-inspiring number of syllables in the word “Influenza.” Needing to pronounce a four-syllable word whenever you need to call your child is simply bad business, there’s no way around it. There is also the practical concern of your child being confused with the world-famous virus. This could lead to some messy misunderstandings when the child becomes old enough to want to hang out with other children her age.
What I’m getting at is that the child Influenza will need a darn good nickname. And from my perspective, there are only two logistically feasible options. The first is, of course, “Flu.” Yet while we’ve reduced the syllable count, we haven’t escaped the child-virus concern. This leads me to the second viable option: “Enza.” Now we’re cooking. “Enza” is a wildly compelling two-syllables long, and it has a dangerously cool vibe to it. If nothing else, it sounds like the female version of the Ferrari Enzo, which is one of the more majestic vehicles ever to grace asphalt. The formal nickname “Enza” will take this child from being confused with a virus to simply being the coolest kid in school. That is my humble prediction.
Now that the matter of name has been visited, it is now time to begin speculating about what this child may become.
The first and most obvious option is that Enza is destined to lead the Earth’s space fleet to Mars. I know, I know. This option is so painfully obvious that I sound like a Bleating Bethany for even suggesting it, but it had to be put in ink. In this particular reality, Enza will have absolutely trounced her peers in school from an early age and will have progressed to Collegiate levels by the age of 14. By the age of 15, Enza will have determined that college is a wild waste of time and start pursuing her own endeavors. Naturally, at least one of these endeavors will be in the realm of aerospace engineering. After showing her plans for the first fuel-less rocket to her father Elon, Elon will deem her to not only be in the top 1% of humanity but the top 0.1% intellectually and place her in a position of authority within SpaceX by age 20. Naturally Enza will outperforms even Elon’s high expectations for his workers, and it will become painfully clear that the only reasonable option for Enza would be to place her in command of the Space Fleet that SpaceX will have built by that time, and naturally Enza will be the one to lead said fleet to Mars.
While I imagine having Elon Musk as a father leads to interest in sustainability and aerospace simply by osmosis, the simple fact of the matter is that Grimes will be this child’s mother. This will likely mean that Enza will be exposed to a diverse collection of art forms at a very young age and will likely also gain a much greater experience with different cultures than children her age.
This could obviously lead to Enza being a hugely successful artist in some capacity, but we must remember that Elon is her father and that technology is in her very veins. The natural speculation is therefore that by the time Enza is a teenager, she will have gathered a very good impression of the principal forms of sadness and suffering throughout the globe and will make it her passion to address these issues. Basically, imagine Bill and Melinda Gates, but much younger and more in touch with pop culture, and more relatable to the younger generation. Or, alternatively, Enza could become a Greta Thunberg-esk figure, but perhaps with greater technological experience.
I’m at a very modest three-and-a-half pages, put I’m hungry and I want breakfast, so Imma wrap this bad boy up. Basically, keep an eye on Enza. She may be your first world chancellor.
Goodnight! I, of course, mean that as a greeting rather than an adieu in a highly purposeful floutation of linguistic norms, seeing as it is 11 at night as I’m writing this. No need to dally, let’s jump right in to where we left off. If you haven’t read my last post, I would encourage you to do so, even though I doubt this post will be inaccessible for those of you who refuse. To easily get to the last post, go to the bottom of the page where you’ll find a link to the previous post shaped like a bra (I am referring to the “bra” of Dirac’s “bra-ket” notation for Quantum Mechanics, not the garment. If you think I’m pulling your metaphysical leg, I would encourage you to look up “Dirac bra-ket notation,” and I believe you will find all the answers for which you have ever sought).
In the last post, I (somewhat exhaustingly) took you on a trip through a rough picture of how the brain works. To summarize, the brain well and truly is a wonderfully complex pattern recognition system. There. Now you know how the brain works. Take that to the teacher at the front of the room and get a golden frikin star.
Given this rudimentary understanding, I would like to now explore our human notion of “Understanding.” I am specifically referring to the term within the context of someone saying “…to get a better understanding of [you fill in the blank] ….” Specifically within the research community, you will frequently hear researchers throw this phrase around, usually when they’re trying to convince other people that their research is worthwhile. In my current line of work, you will frequently hear people say something to the tune of “We do [blank] in order to get a better understanding of the early universe.” But what the blue heck does that even mean? I understand you might think I’ve taken some cuckoo pills, but answer me this, cynical reader, can you tell me, in clear language, what researchers mean when they say “…to get a better understanding?” “Sure,” I can hear you saying through the walls of time and space, “here ‘understanding’ basically means broadening our knowledge about a particular subject.” But, oh great reader, what is knowledge? Really think about that for a second. And if you answered “truth” then I’ve got you cornered.
The fact of the matter is that we do not have access to fundamental truth. There’s really no way around that. Now then, I imagine some Christian readers may be slightly flaring up at that distinction. After all, didn’t Jesus purport to be the way, the truth, and the life? Even if Christianity is the absolute fundamental truth of the universe, I still firmly claim that we do not have access to it. If you’re still doubtful, let me pose this question: if Christianity was the fundamental truth in the universe, and human beings did have access to this truth, then why isn’t everyone on the planet a Christian? Surely that would be the only logical option. So then, I think I’m perfectly correct in asserting that as Christians, you in some way or another believe that the tenets of Christianity are associated with fundamental truth, even though you yourself do not have access to the fundamental truth of the universe.
As a brief side note, I’m only mentioning Christianity here instead of other religious traditions and practices because I myself was a very serious Christian for the better part of 20 years, and it was my attempt to forcibly associate Christianity with fundamental truth that caused me a great deal of mental health problems. If you take issue with anything I’m asserting on the basis of any other religious tradition, feel free to email me, as I would love to hear your thoughts. It would also be a wonderful change to not get a spam email from XFA for once.
In order to continue in any meaningful fashion, I believe I should attempt to define “fundamental truth.” The dictionary says truth is “that which is true in accordance with reality.” However, I would like to take this a step further. My conception of fundamental truth is untouched by human constructs, particularly human knowledge and understanding. I will talk more about these two entities shortly, but hang tight for the time being.
Furthermore, if there are any aliens in the universe that are at all similar to us humans, then I would imagine that fundamental truth should be untouched by any of their constructs, or what they might consider “knowledge” or “understanding.” With this in mind, it’s actually quite difficult to define what fundamental truth even is.
When I talking to other people about this sort of thing, I usually define fundamental truth as a “piece of knowledge that would allow us to make predictions and claims about reality with 100% certainty.” But even that is somewhat wrong because it assumes that fundamental truth can take the form of “knowledge” as we know it.
So then, while I can’t give you a precise definition of what I mean by fundamental truth, I hope I’ve sort of cultivated a connotation for what I’m trying to describe. In many ways, I feel that fundamental truth is equivalent to the fundamental structure of reality. You may have noticed in some previous posts that I have an obsession with order and structure, and this is really where it comes from. With this in mind, we actually don’t have any guarantees that our reality actually even possesses fundamental truth (or structure, or whatever you feel you ought to call it).
At this point you may be asking yourself, “But what about things that I know are true, like the fact that the object in front of me is a computer, or that the big fiery ball above my head is called the sun?” That is an excellent point, intellectually gifted reader, and it provides a wonderful Segway back to the original discussion about the brain.
At the beginning of this post, I asserted that the brain is a pattern recognition system. If that is the case, then I imagine that you would probably agree that our conceptions of “knowledge” and “understanding” are intimately connected with the notion of a pattern. I would like to take this a step further by asserting that what we think of as “knowledge” and “understanding” are simply patterns themselves.
I think the best way to explore this is through an example. Let’s say that a couple millennia ago, there was a cave man called Danny schmeaging around the mountains. Danny looks around him and sees a bunch of hard looking objects with generally similar brown and grey appearances. Danny doesn’t have anything better to do with his time, so he picks up one object, and hits it against a different one. When he does this, the two objects make a distinct “ckk” sound. This greatly amuses Danny, so he does it again. Danny soon realizes that he can actually make the sound “ckk” using his own mouth. He practices it for a couple minutes until he can confidently make the same sound as the two objects being hit against one another.
Pretty soon, another cave man walks by, lets call him Elon. Danny looks excitedly at Elon, points around him to all the different hard objects around him and makes the sound “ckk.” Pretty soon, Elon too knows that all the objects around Danny make the sound “ckk” when they are hit against one another.
Ok, let’s take a step back. What just happened here? Without even realizing it, Danny made an implicit association between the sound “ckk” and the objects around him. In the centuries to come, other humans learn to instead refer to the objects as “rock” instead of “ckk,” simply because many objects make a similar sound when hit against one another. So then, the auditory sound “rock” is now associated with an object that makes a “ckk” sound when it’s hit against another such object.
Let’s take another step back. The only way the word “rock” is useful to other cave men is if all the objects that are rocks make the sound “ckk” when they are hit against each other. This implies that there must be consistency for this piece of “information” to be useful. In other words, the only reason that the term “rock” is useful is because all rocks are characterized by a series of patterns, i.e. all rocks look the same, all rocks feel the same, all rocks hurt when someone else throws them at you.
Through this example, we see that what humans think of as “information” is simply a series of classifications of systems with consistent behavior. These classifications can themselves represent the consistent behavior of the interactions between other classifications. I would also like to firmly stress that this “information” is entirely a human conception. As far as we know, there’s no inherent connection between objects that make the sound “ckk” and the word “rock.”
So then, you are absolutely correct in saying that it’s true that you’re looking at a computer, and it’s true that the fiery object overhead is called the sun, but these are only true within the scope of truths manufactured by human beings. If you define the term “computer” to represent a system of hardware and software that performs logical operations on data, then it tautologically follows that it is true that the object in front of you is in fact a computer.
So then, going back to my original question, what does it mean for us to “gain a better understanding” of something? The something in question is simply a human-constructed classification, so “gaining a better understanding” of that classification is simply finding more patterns associated with that particular classification. For example, once you classify green, fuzzy plants as “moss,” then one example of gaining a better understanding of something would be to state “most rocks are covered in moss.”
Ok, I think I should probably wrap this boi up. I suppose the main takeaways of this post is that what we think of as knowledge is entirely a human construct. Furthermore, people generally talk about research as a field of discovery, but I would like to assert that research is just as much about creation as it is about discovery. But, to get meta on you, even that depends on how you define the term “knowledge.”
Finally, this is a topic I actually care a great deal about, so if you have any of your own thoughts on the matter, or disagree with me on any of these points, then for the love of Alexandria, can you email me? Like, please?
Well whatever. Let me try to regain the air of aloofness I’ve so desperately been attempting to cultivate. Deep breath in, deep breath out.
Ok, I just hit seven pages, and its 12:34 AM, so I feel the strong desire to perform a swan dive directly into my sheets. I love you all dearly. Geisz out.
A most aggressive “Shalom” to all you wonderful readers. Actually, now that you mention it, it has been a wonderful morning, thanks for asking. I was up until around 1 last night working on the app, and I had a lovely breakfast with my family. Afterwards, I did my laundry while listening to Flume’s self-named album and dancing about the laundry room wildly. I am now in my swamp room (if you don’t get the reference, it’s your own fault you aren’t on my email list), still listening to Flume at volumes that would make Percy Granger weak in the knees.
Now then, I had a very interesting discussion with my mother this morning about the nature of the mind, and what we know and don’t know about it. This discussion reminded me that I have had at least three thoughts in the past two weeks, and roughly two of them have to do with this very concept. I’m going to now pretend as though you are contractually obligated to read this post in its entirety, and I’m going to now launch into a pompous expose on my own personal thoughts regarding the nature of the mind.
To begin my civil diatribe, I would like you all, treasured readers, to think about what it means for a human being to learn something. Perhaps the accumulation of knowledge comes to mind, or perhaps, alternatively, the accumulation of experience. I would now like to humbly, yet domineeringly launch into my own meta-physiological understanding of what it means to “learn.” And to do that, we necessarily must have a one-way Socratic seminar regarding the brain.
The brain is gloriously dense pattern recognition system. That’s really what it is. I watched a TED talk on it, so I’m pretty much a professional. I’m sure most of us who’ve at least somewhat recently been in school have some notion of the brain being a collection of neurons in which “connections are formed.” Sure. That’s all fine and good, except that it’s too abstract to actually mean much of anything.
In order to understand how the brain actually learns, it’s best to cultivate a slightly more rigorous formulation of brain functionality than the statement “connections are formed.” Also, I’m only talking about the part of the brain that learns stuff over time. I’m not talking about the part of the brain that’s responsible for keeping all your internal systems in check.
Now then, I want you to think of the brain as a computer with a ton of USB ports. Your optic nerve plugs into one of the ports, your auditory nerves plug into another, your olfactory (smelling things) nerves plug into yet another, and so on. So basically, we have a computer hooked up to all of your sensory nerves.
All of these connections are constantly sending information into the computer, and the computer’s only job is to try to find patterns between the various inputs. Let me give you an example. Let’s say you’re about one year old. Your dad has placed a piece of paper and a box of crayons in front of you. Your dad picks up the red crayon, and says the word “red.” You’re one, of course, so you don’t have a flip shack frack what’s he’s talking about, but let’s look at what’s happening in the computer that is your brain.
When your dad says “red” and picks up the red crayon, your vision is being directed on the crayon in front of you, and hence your optic nerve is sending the visual information corresponding to a red crayon into your computer-brain. At the same time, your ears are sending the auditory information corresponding to the word “red” into your computer-brain.
Now then, your brain can’t tell one information source from another, so it does is form a correlation between the visual information corresponding to the red crayon and the auditory information corresponding to the word “red.”
You can probably see some issues with this. Does the word “red” correspond to the wavelength (color) being emitted from the crayon, or does it refer to the short waxy thing your dad is pointing to? At this point, your brain has no way to tell.
Now then, you turn your attention away from the crayon in your dad’s hand to the blue crayon lying on the table. When you look at this new crayon, your optic nerve sends the visual information corresponding to the blue crayon to your computer-brain. While the image isn’t exactly the same as the image of the red crayon in your father’s hand, it’s similar enough that the image of the blue crayon turns on the connection that your brain-computer formed between the image of the red crayon and the word “red.”
So then, while you don’t have a clue what’s happening in your computer brain, when you look at the blue crayon, the word that pops into your head is “red.” And because you’re a semi-useless one-year-old and you have nothing better to do, you confidently point to the blue crayon and say “red” out loud. Now then, because your dad has no interest in having his child think “blue” is “red,” he says “No.” He then picks up the red crayon, and again says “red.” He then points to your red shirt and says “red.” He finally points to your red couch and says “red.” Each time he does this, your computer-brain creates a new connection between the visual information of each object and the auditory information corresponding to the word “red.”
Now here’s the real kicker. Your dad then picks up the blue crayon and says the word “blue.” The exact same correlation happens as before, but this time, the auditory information corresponds to the word blue.
Now then, you look across the room and see your mom also wearing a red shirt. While the shape of the shirt itself isn’t similar to that of a crayon or a couch, the wavelength being emitted from the shirt is the same, so when the visual information corresponding to your mom wearing a red shirt is sent into your computer brain, the aspect of the image that corresponds to the color “red” is fired, and once again, the word “red” pops into your head. So then, once more, your proudly proclaim “red” to everyone who’s around to hear. This, of course, makes your parents excited, and they say “Yes! Red!” which only serves to strengthen the connection between the visual information corresponding to the red wavelength of light with the auditory information corresponding to the word “red.”
There’s no universal connection between the word “red,” and the color red. This exchange could have just as easily occurred in a Spanish or French speaking household with the words “Rojo” or “Rouge.” All the brain is therefore doing is forming connections between different stimuli, which can be strengthened or weakened over time. In other words, it’s an incredibly efficient pattern recognition system.
How does it actually work? Instead of actually being a computer with bunch of USB ports that’s been programmed to find patterns in different sources of data (which is literally just machine learning, btw), your brain is a collection of around 86 billion neurons that are connected to one another. All neurons do is fire an electric stimulus to the other neurons it connects to when it has itself received enough electric stimulus from the other neurons that connect to it. So basically your brain is just a chain reaction of neurons causing other neurons to fire. Now here’s the kicker: once a neuron fires, it actually becomes easier to fire again. So then, going back to the previous example in less gruesome detail, when you see a red crayon and hear your dad say “red,” your optic nerve fires a huge amount of neurons corresponding to the visual information of the red crayon, which sends a huge chain reaction cascading all throughout the brain. At the same time, your ears fire auditory neurons corresponding to the word “red” throughout your brain, which causes a similar blossoming chain reaction.
Now here’s what’s super cool. Some neurons are fired by both the visual and auditory chain reaction. Because it’s easier to fire neurons after they’ve already been fired, this forms a strong “pathway” between the visual and auditory information in the sense that neurons along this pathway are more likely to fire in response to similar visual and auditory stimuli.
So then, even though your brain can’t tell the difference between visual data and auditory data, it can find patterns between the two sources, which translates to you knowing that the color of the red crayon is red.
At this point, I was going to launch into a greater discussion of what this means in terms of human knowledge, and what it means to “understand” things. However, being a decent human being, I can quite clearly see that I have just broken the 6-page mark, which is usually my sign that I should probably wrap things up. I think I will continue this discussion in the next post.
In closing then, contrary to Justin McElroy’s incessant pleading, I would urge you to not kiss your dad square on the lips, because that seems like a great way to spread coronavirus, which is generally inadvisable.
Hello, hello, hello! Man, it feels good to be click-clacketing away at this here keyboard. It feels like an eternity since I last wrote a post to XFA. I have a few life updates before I plunge into the icy depths of theological philosophy.
First off, there are certain opportunities that arise when you begin a blog. One such opportunity is to throw your content at random parts of the internet and see how people respond. For instance, I was like, “Hey Danny, what would happen if you chucked the post about your life being at Maximum Overdrive on Reddit?” Curiosity overwhelmed me, blessed readers. So I slapped that bad boy on the Berkeley subreddit with some crap about me wanting to see if other people felt like they too were pushing themselves to the limit. Really just whatever it took to make my post not look like a flagrant attempt at self-promotion, which it basically was.
Reddit responded exactly how you would expect: some schmeags tried flexing about their incredibly busy and impressive lives, others wrote self-deprecating posts about how they weren’t involved in anything, and many people took the sweet time out of their day to talk about how dumb I am and how cringy it is for someone to post about their attempts to “stroke their own ego” on reddit. The usual suspects. What’s really funny is that I’m probably going to do the exact same thing with this post. If you did come from Reddit, however, know that the question I posted is actually completely valid and is something I’m super curious about, so I’m not just making feeble attempts at self-promotion. You are, however, urged to like, comment, and subscribe because I need the validation of digital human beings to sooth my aching, angsty soul.
Now then, enough of that nonsense, let’s talk about religiosity, shall we? As some of you attentive readers may know, I’m currently in a history of religion class. This class is taught by Ethan Shagan, and my gosh, if there is one person who could convince me to leave my life as an emotionally conflicted STEM enthusiast, it’s my boi Shagan. This last week we talked about the origins of Hinduism (which is absolutely fascinating, btw. If you’re looking for some way to sooth your aching, angsty soul, look no further than the Rig Veda). While I could go on a variety of Hindu-based tangents, I will nobly hold myself back in a desperate attempt to actually follow through with my original purpose for this post. Instead of talking about the specifics of Hinduism, I’ll instead let you in on my super secret, super original epiphany: Christianity and Hinduism are surprisingly similar.
Danny, you may be asking, are you a mental nudibranch? How, in any way, are Hinduism and Christianity similar aside from the notion of a supernatural power? I have several responses to that query. First and foremost, nudibranchs are incredibly cool and beautiful creatures, and I would be honored to be compared to one such angelic entity. Secondly, while the claims and central tenants of these two religions are certainly different, the manner in which a human is instructed to interact with the supernatural is remarkably similar between the two traditions.
Before I go any further, I should probably add one caveat. Because my central focus has been on Christianity throughout my life, before college I hadn’t taken the time to productively grapple with the claims other religions made about the unknown/supernatural/divine. Since divorcing myself from my wholly unhealthy notion of Christianity, I’ve finally reached a place where I can properly examine the teachings of other religions and ask how I might apply such teachings to my own life. All that is to say, the similarities I’m seeing between Christianity and Hinduism reach far beyond these two particular religions.
What’s remarkably interesting is that so many religions emphasize the notion of sacrifice. Sacrifice comes in various forms: sure, you can slaughter a cow and offer it to Helios, but there are many other more subtle forms of sacrifice. For instance, many traditions of various religions (@Christianity) teach the notion that some biological impulses ought to be suppressed in order to achieve some greater connection with the divine. The archetypical “sex before marriage” comes to mind. In many ways, this act of giving up something intrinsic about yourself can very much be seen as an act of sacrifice.
And this, attentive readers, is where I see the similarity between Hinduism and Christianity.
To be specific, in class we discussed the importance of sacrifice in the earliest forms of Hinduism. I can’t remember off the top of my head if Prof. Shagan was referring to the early Vedic tradition or some of the later teachings, but somewhere in these texts, it is claimed that the pinnacle of existence is to live a life in perpetual sacrifice to Vishnu. I’m pretty sure it was Vishnu. Shoot. It also may have been Krishna. My apologies to anyone who may be more familiar with Hinduism than I and is actively scorning me. Anyway, this notion was very striking to me because of its similarities to Romans 12:1 in the Bible which states: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”
This is like the exact same thing.
Such a similarity probably wouldn’t come as a surprise to someone like the catastrophically intelligent Ethan Shagan. Interestingly enough, Prof. Shagan actually made the claim that any tradition that can be called a “religion” is characterized by some notion of sacrifice.
Now then, it’s taken me three pages to get to this point, but this universality is incredibly interesting to me. The fact that two incredibly different religions like Hinduism and Christianity could possibly be characterized by such a staggering similarity is indicative of a deeper, more fundamental truth at play.
On the one hand, an argument could be made that regardless of the true nature of the supernatural, human beings have a deep notion of the zenith of a human life. Perhaps we are in fact the product of several incredibly random processes, and through eons of complexity-propagation and evolution, we humans all have the intrinsic notion that life is lived at its fullest when we live in a state of perpetual sacrifice. From the perspective of biology and game theory, this idea makes some level of sense: if one organism lives in a way that prioritizes the health of the group over that of the individual, a group of such organism would probably have a higher likelihood of survival than if each organism prioritized themselves over everything else. So then, perhaps religion is just a biological artifact that points to our fitness as a species.
However, there is another argument that can be made which I find to be a bit more exciting than the last paragraph. I call this…The Universal Conspiracy Conjecture. There’s no way in heck that this is an original thought, but hey, who ever cared about originality. Basically, the idea is this: what if everything in the last paragraph is true. So basically religion is just an artifact of evolution, and we’re the product of cold, hard game theory. However, let me gracefully add a simple caveat. What if some higher superintelligence created our universe specifically so that through a multi-billion-year process, the universe would produce a form of complexity (namely humans) that would fervently seek out the true nature of the superintelligence itself. To me, this is an incredibly compelling notion. Instead of us actively interacting with the superintelligence itself (which, btw, could just as easily be a god as a flying spaghetti monster), perhaps this superintelligence designed the fundamental physics of the universe in such a way that the highest form of complexity contained within the universe would achieve a greatest state of being by pursuing interaction with the superintelligence. Dang, I basically just said the same thing twice.
I probably could say quite a bit more about this idea, but the fact of the matter is that I’m about to hit five pages. The funny thing is that I just typed five pages in an hour, but I have a five-page paper due next Thursday (incidentally for History of Religion) that will probably take me several days of work. Amazing how we spend our time.
Anyway, I have some closing thoughts. For those of you who did stumble upon this because of Reddit, I am incredibly curious to hear your thoughts on the matter, and if you do end up responding to the post, I humbly ask that you would refrain from attacking me for my purported self-promotion and egotistical nature. We both already know I’m an egotistical basket-case, so that’s really quite boring to talk about. If you do want to rail against me, I certainly can’t stop you. In fact, go ahead. I can just be your internet punching bag. For the rest of you, we’re probably friends in real life, so if you find any of this interesting, maybe just text me? Or DM me? I won’t pretend to know the coolest trends in millennial communication these days. Shoot I just hit 6 pages. If you made it this far, you’re a true hero. May your path be free of bumbles, and your sight be free of briars. Tally ho!
Greetings, Celestials! And, I suppose, hello to the rest of you intent on reading my blog. Goodness me, I can’t keep away the readers. It’s honestly a problem. I’m getting too big too fast.
Now then, right to the matter at hand: the bringing about of the apocalypse. A more accurate title to this post probably would have been: “Today I Learned Tensorflow.” But nobody cares about Tensorflow. Everyone cares about the apocalypse. And we both know that the only reason I created this blog in the first place is to fill the void in my life created by a lack of meaningful relationships with a mass following of faceless, digitalized human beings. Heck, maybe I should start taking to a chatbot. I think if that should ever happen, I would be contractually obligated by life itself to finally visit a therapist.
What is Tensorflow? Even some of you non-CS nerds probably know what I’m talking about. To put it in brutally technical terms, Tensorflow is the tool that computers will use to gain consciousness and take over the world. In less technical language, Tensorflow is a programming library that (you guessed it!) Google put together to facilitate the creation of a variety of neural networks. I’m guessing nearly all of you are at least peripherally aware of the term “Machine Learning.” Neural networks are basically the hottest thing right now in Machine Learning (and honestly in Computer Science as a whole), and Tensorflow is a good way to put them together. Goodness, now I’m just being repetitive. Am I high?
Anywhoooooo, Tensorflow is basically a gauntlet of power, and I myself, Daniel P. Geisz now yield this power (its literally free, open-source software. I just downloaded it). So what then is all this talk about me starting the apocalypse?
Well, faithful readers, for many moons now have I been deeply enamored with the idea of a piece of software that can itself write code. If chatbots can speak to us so well that we can’t even tell they aren’t human, it must be pretty easy to train a neural net to write code, right?
Wrong. Even though language and our ability to communicate is one of the central aspects of humanity separating us from animals, writing a chatbot is almost the “Hello World” of recurrent neural networks. Programming, however, is a much more complicated endeavor. If you’re programming a chatbot, you can essentially just feed it text from reddit or twitter, and eventually it will learn which words should go next to one another in response to a piece of text from an external (human) source. Easy peasy, lemon squeasy. If you want to teach the computer how to code, you have to provide it examples of code. But even then, we can already see the issues that might crop up. For one thing, I would imagine that a piece of autocoding software would probably be taking some form of a command from a human being. If it were otherwise, we’d basically be spelling out the destruction of humanity by the robotic hand. So then, in order to train the system, you have a large database of code with precise documentation about what the code is trying to accomplish. This is all well and good (it isn’t) but 99.9% of all programmers have this nasty habit of not documenting their code. So then, on github, we have a gigantic, gigantic source of example code, but there’s no way to tell the neural net what the code actually means.
Hold on. I feel like I’m rambling. This is dangerous. One could make a very strong argument that every single thing I’ve put on XFA thus far is me rambling, and to that I humbly urge you to frack off. However, I very much value my sizable following of digital humans, so I feel I should be more direct.
*Deep breath in, deep breath out*. Ok we’re good to go.
Why do I want a computer that can program itself? I suppose that’s the fundamental point I ought to address. And to that, I can provide a very clear answer. It would be deeply, deeply dope (you’re welcome, Joey) if I could tell the computer to write me an application, and it would just do it. Writing software takes a tremendous amount of time, and as I have learned from the Orchid project, it is a conceptual and organizational nightmare. Now usually, conceptually and organizationally nightmaric projects are my idea of a fun Friday night, but they are really incredibly time consuming.
Many, many people may disagree with me, but I think one of the most interesting things that humans do is propagate complexity. Compared to the rest of the universe, we’re really quite good at it. However, it’s really quite exiting to image what humankind will produce in the next 30 years at our breakneck speed of innovation. What’s really quite amazing about human beings, however, is our ability to generate new ideas. The implementation of these ideas is really just the time-consuming part. This is by no means a new idea, but if we can minimize implementation time and maximize our creativity, we can do cooler stuff. I suppose you can call that Geisz’s law. My back-subconscious is actively trying to come up with counterexamples. Bad dog, subconscious. Let forward-conscious have this one.
Gracious me, I’m losing steam. Holy cow, wait! I just wrote 2 ¾ pages in 35 minutes! By Jove, that a new record! I have contented myself with a 3 page per hour pace, but I just blew that out of the water! I guess I normally put more thought into the words I write. It’ll be interesting to see what I wrote this time. Amazing what happens when you practice something. Maybe I’ll take the AP Lang test again for fun. How I loved mercilessly tearing apart various authors in those rhetorical analyses.
As a closing note, in the immortal words of Harrison Kinsley, “Programming is a superpower.” I recognize that a large portion of the word probably considers programming to be a field that is too difficult to learn, but it really isn’t. Then again, I did spend most of high school trying to convince my peers that Physics isn’t difficult to learn (which it is, btw). Regardless, if you think your life could do with some spicing up, consider learning python. That’s all for now. Be sure to ring the bell. It really helps out the channel. Also if you have the means, consider donating to my patreon. It really means the world to me. Also, I’m happy to announce we just reached 2.3k subs. I can’t thank you all enough for your support. Hugs and kisses. I’m out.
Shalom puppers. Today was my first day of classes this semester, and goodness me was it a long one. My roommate and I have been trying to set up online betting accounts all afternoon to try our hand at betting arbitrage, but let me tell you, arbitrage is dang hard in the United States. We ended up losing $25 to an abhorrent site called Bovada. May you burn in hell, Bovada.
Several hours before this unfortunate squashing of arbitrage dreams, I attended my History of Religion class. After hearing my boi Ethan Shagan lecture, I can tell you that this class is going to be the sauce. It is really remarkably interesting. I actually have lecture and discussion back-to-back on Tuesdays, so I was in the class for three and a half hours. That’s a long time.
Anyhoo, whilst I sat amongst my peers, my brain decided to start brewing some intriguing thought-children. If you’ll be so kind as to indulge me, I shall share one of these thought-children now. Here we go.
From the western perspective, God is usually thought of as a coherent, person-like structure. The whole “created in his own image” thing comes to mind (that was a biblical reference for those of you not biblically inclined). Yet the supernatural is essentially a possibility of the unknown, so why do humans feel the need to confine the notion of God to a person-like entity? At a certain level, a human being is essentially a pattern recognition system together with a set of subsystems that permit its survival. Given this, perhaps God is just some higher order pattern recognition system whose “brain” is not unlike our own? That would satisfy the “made in his image” requirement.
Many other religious belief systems, however, do not limit the notion of the supernatural to single “person-like” entity. In some cases, the supernatural/divine is thought of as a collection of super-intelligent beings or perhaps an enlightened state of being. But where can we draw the line between God and an enlightened state of being? Can we make the distinction between the notion of God and that of the supernatural?
In trying to sort out this conundrum, I got to thinking: if God were to be the encapsulation of the supernatural, what then would it mean for us to be “made in his image?” I’m not asserting that we are, I’m simply trying to find logical structure given a certain set of religious axioms, in this case, that of Christianity.
This is the question that got me thinking: how do we even define a human being? I’m not talking about this homo sapien crap, I want a rigorous, physics-like definition of what a human being actually is. I want a definition that would allow us to encounter some foreign structure in the universe and be able to definitively state whether the structure is human-like or not. This would allow us to start making claims about what it would mean to be “made in God’s image.”
So then, how would we do this? I think the first logical way to do this would be to describe a human being in terms of the matter it contains, i.e. a human has a brain, a heart, lungs, etc. You could then invoke standard biological classifications to differentiate a human from other animals. The issue I have with this definition in the present context is two-fold:
This is inherently a difficult intellectual issue. However, I will posit one way we can potentially get around this. Instead of defining a human in terms of its matter, perhaps a better way to define the human being is in terms of complexity and order. From this lens, instead of thinking about the heart from the perspective of matter as a collection of cardiac cells with a specific set of functionalities, we ought instead think of the heart as a manifestation of complexity that interacts with other pieces of complexity surrounding it. This is subtle ontological distinction, but one of incredible import. The object in this definition is not matter, but rather complexity.
So then, under this lens, instead of describing the universe in terms of the matter located at a particular point in space, to properly make claims about human-like structures, we instead need to describe the universe in terms of the complexity and order of a system at each particular point in space, independent of the matter located at that point. Physicists have a term to describe order in a system, namely “entropy,” but usually entropy is a function of the state of the system.
What I am describing here is a system whose physical state is a function of its complexity, or “entropy” (I know I’m abusing that term. Let me have this one).
So then, getting back to the whole “made in his image” issue. If humans suddenly encountered a super-intelligent structure that could possibly be God as described in the Christian tradition, how would we be able to tell if he passes the “made in his image” criterion?
I find it unlikely this God-like structure would have a similar biological makeup as humans, but perhaps it would contain several subsystems of immense complexity interacting with one another in a similar fashion are ours (namely our organs).
Anyhoo, just a thought, Mr. Fox.
What is poppin’ my bois? (Using, of course, the gender-neutral b-o-i spelling). I’m currently sitting in DIA, which, as I have been recently informed, is a haven of conspiracy and dark secrets. As I’m sure many of you cultured readers are aware, there’s a statue of an angry looking blue horse outside the airport that has actually killed someone. Spooky stuff, my friends.
Now then, allow me to jump right in. I was watching YouTube the other day when an ad came up featuring a musical artist who was talking about her work. She presumably has some level of fame, but I had certainly never heard of her before. The last thing she said before I swiftly and mercilessly skipped the ad is that her work is incredibly important to her because it gives her a platform to talk about her anxiety and depression. To be perfectly frank, blessed reader, when I heard that, I didn’t find myself to be sympathetic towards this artist. I was honestly super bored with everything she was saying.
A case can always be made that I’m just an emotionless unsympathetic wench. Perhaps I am. I think the better case to be made is that I’m a machine who’s more interested in code than some people’s lives. I think I could probably build a strong case against that, but that’s for another time.
Regardless of my potential sociopathisms, I found it quite interesting that my first response to this artist’s video was boredom. I’m of the opinion that mental health issues/depression/anxiety are incredibly important issues plaguing our society, and I don’t want anyone to get the idea that I’m trying to minimize their importance. For those of you thorough readers who have read the “About” page, you will know that I myself am prone to depressive thought patterns if I am not careful. So then, why was I bored by the artist?
To answer this question, I retreated deep within myself to have a quick conversation with my emotions. These conversations tend to be quite violent, overly anthropomorphized, and altogether unstructured, so I will leave out the details of this particular interaction. The general consensus among my emotions, however, was that I found the artist to be boring because it seems like every artist and their mother are all talking/singing/writing/dreaming about anxiety and depression. It just so happens that one of my favorite albums is about depression. Incidentally, that is also my favorite album within which to engulf myself when I (even I, rumored to be sociopathic, asexual, machine-like) am depressed.
Upon having this (incredibly straightforward) revelation, I began thinking in my brainicles about why it seems depression and anxiety are all the rage in pop culture. After doing some light thinking on the subject, I have formulated a hypothesis. For those of you nerdy or aggressively legalistic readers, no, I haven’t formalized any of these claims, and as previously stated, this is only a hypothesis. If you disagree with me or have a different opinion, please feel free to drop a hot comment down below. You are then urged to ring the bell, like this video, and subscribe to my channel.
My hypothesis is built upon four of my personal observations. My first observation is that the average human is hardwired to seek out and be fulfilled by interaction with other humans. As a sub-observation, I have found that I’m prone to my greatest fits of anxiety and depression when I am isolated (either by accident, or by my own doing) from other people. My second observation is that human interaction is difficult. Not only does it take planning and time, but I personally tend to feel some level of discomfort during most of my conversations. My third observation is that literally everyone around me is constantly on their phone. I realize this implies that I live in an area where everyone has the economic means to possess a smartphone, but regardless of wealth, I have found any exceptions to this to be the statistical outlier. My fourth observation is that social media is a frackin’ drug. Throughout my life, I have rarely posted on social media, but whenever I have, I get an unreasonable amount of satisfaction and pleasure when people like something I’ve posted. And if someone comments on one of my posts? Goodness me, the feeling is ecstasy! During my time on social media, I have found that I am frequently overtaken by the desire to open my insta, regardless of whether I would visually intake some dank, dank memes or photoshopped pictures of attractive human beings or videos of Fabio Wibmer being the most epic human to walk the Earth.
Now then, I will take these observations as temporary axioms, and I’m going to paint you the word picture that is my hypothesis. Basically, before phones, people felt the compulsion to interact with each other, and so they would overcome the discomfort associated with human interaction, and just talked to each other. Once my boi Zuckerberg came around, people suddenly realized, “OMG I can, like, talk to all my friends and post about my life on the internet! Now I don’t need to constantly be with people to interact with them! Yaaaaas!” This seemingly innocent desire almost immediately gave way to a deeper subconscious realization: “Wait hold on. Now I can spend time making everything I put on the internet perfect. Also, I can say whatever I want because the people I’m interacting with can’t actually hurt me, right?” And so, through digital media, humanity found a way to temporarily fill its desire for human interaction, and my oh my did it feel good. What an amazing feeling it is to know both the people you know and don’t know like something you’ve created. Amazing how that can quench your fundamental anxieties and give you a feeling of superhuman pleasure. And better yet, you can achieve this without putting a toxic chemical into your body! What a wonderful creation.
And so the world fell prey to this digital drug. This wouldn’t really have been a problem if social media was a perfect substitution for regular human interaction. Unfortunately, it isn’t. I can’t give you a definite reason why it isn’t, but I doubt many of you would disagree. And so, the fundamental issue with social media is the following: it gives the temporary impression of filling our fundamental desire for human interaction, but it doesn’t actually. What is it called when you want human interaction, and you don’t have it? Loneliness. So basically, social media creates a population of people who think they aren’t lonely but actually, fundamentally are.
This really isn’t groundbreaking stuff. I’m simply attempting to formalize the loose thoughts cascading around my psyche. Now then, what are the fruits of loneliness? You guessed it! Depression and anxiety. Given that the average modern artist relies on social media to market themselves, it really is no wonder they all are writing about how depressed they are. However, there is even a better explanation for this phenomenon. Talking about depression and anxiety is a remarkably effective way to garner sympathy from the masses. Anyone who doesn’t take mental health seriously and makes their views public is at high risk of large-scale public shunning, so there are incentives for even the people who don’t give a snort about mental health to pretend like they do. And what does sympathy do? It promotes the sharing of deep emotions which furthermore promotes more natural human interaction.
So then, this hypothesis is centered around the notion that your average population of humans are desperately striving for meaningful interaction, but through a twisted play on the human being’s natural fears and desires, people have been diverted from natural interaction by social media.
It appears as though I’m about to hit 5 pages (I’m of course typing in Word, with standard margins and font), so I feel as though I ought to wrap this pupper up. One last tidbit, if you will. At the end of the day, social media really ought to be thought of as the tool. I, for instance, am shamelessly using it to try to increase the number of people exposed to my incalculably vast stores of wisdom that have come through my many long decades of life. However, best to not let the hammer be the one calling the shots, don’t ya think?