Nov 29, 2020


Values

What are my values?

The first thing I value is exploration, the mapping out of frontiers. We have a bit of a blindness I think to the sheer unknown-ness of it all. What appears to be a very well mapped out reality, down to picoseconds and up to light years, is really awash in processes, organisms, and structures that we are yet blind to. There is really a panoply of frontiers for us to strike out into should we look for them.

Similarly I highly value learning. Speaking of unknowns, most of what we know is unknown to me! While I have a particular interest around artificial intelligence and cognition, I am always excited to learn from someone who is excited and knowledgeable about a particular field.

That being said, I’m not entirely satisfied with pure research. I value building, creation as a result of this exploration and learning. The quantification of something is not enough for me. I want to use my hands, to feel the quality of what I build. There is too much emphasis on quantity in science and engineering in my mind. I of course don’t mean we should throw math into the trash, but rather than it is the quality of human life that ultimately matters, and that is something that defies a reduction to numbers.

So those are my values as far as how to spend time. When it comes to people, I value high character. To strive to prudence, justice, temperate, and courage – this is the mark of a good person in my mind. Do I always meet those standards myself? No, certainly not. Character in my mind is not about perfection, of always being on the right side, but rather of the continual practice of virtue.

What I very much do not value is judging people based on their ideological persuasion. Really I am fully uninterested in politics and the culture war altogether. It seems to me that when you look at the effectiveness of people’s time spent on these issues, the ratio of change in the world to time, these are easily the least useful ways you could be spending your time. Once you unhook from media, social or otherwise, you have a much better understanding of what you can reasonably accomplish.

Nov 28, 2020


Rambling

Okay, so I need to free associate on something to try and get it out of my head. That’s this.

I’ve had a very specific vision of a type of living on Earth that I’ve justified in a really weird, round-about way. That way is through autopoiesis and second-order cybernetics, which are totally explainable but unlikely to be appealing to all but the most jacked in netsurfers. There’s a better, much more understandable way.

Consider the task of interstellar travel. [The wide appeal of this is evident in and of itself.]

Several important points:

  • It could very likely be the case that the travel take tens of thousands of years relative to the travelers.
  • In order to carry enough people to handle the task, the spaceship should be huge, having an area the size of a metropolitan region.
  • Every single ounce of material in the spaceship requires a very large amount of fuel to get it up there. There must be next to no waste in what is taken into space.

What we are taking into space is then an ecosystem. In an ecosystem, the nutrients, the constitutive matter of organisms, are slowly cycled between different forms. The only input needed is sunlight. What is the waste product of one organism is the nutrient source of another organism, who is itself a nutrient source when it dies, and so on. The system is effectively closed by the actions of the constituent systems.

See those glass bottle ecosystems as an example of a closed functional ecosystem.

In order for this to work, we need to know what a no-waste metropolitan region looks like. We can’t figure it out once it’s up there, we need to construct it on Earth first.

It’s just this no-waste region that I wanted in the first place. That’s what second-order cybernetics tells us to achieve: integration and harmony with the biosphere.


Space Travel

Who doesn’t love space travel? This is the next frontier for humanity, it’s intrinsically exciting. Let’s consider the task of interstellar travel as an engineering project and see where it takes us.

The first constraint:

  • We should not waste a single drop of fuel.

We will have to use plenty of it to make this work. At every step we have to ask: is this really worth it?

The second and much more interesting constraint:

  • Travel may take tens of thousands of years relative to the travelers.

Other than fuel we cannot then take a limited supply of anything. A “consumable” cannot exist as we would need to take too many. What is needed is an ecosystem in space.

In an ecosystem nutrients, matter, resources, organisms, energy, all these things cycle around in loops. Were you to watch a single atom of nitrogen over tens of centuries, you’d see it float around the atmosphere, become a part of the soil, become a part of a plant, become a part of an aphid, become a part of a bird, become a part of a human, and then it’s back in the soil and out into the atmosphere.

We do need energy input in the form of the sun to make this all work, but all the structures are Earth are these inherently cyclical things. You gather all these nutrients from recently dead things to make yourself, and eventually you’ll return them to the ground.

This is exactly what we need to lift off the Earth. An enclosed ecosystem, something that is capable of sustaining itself under an artificial sun.

Let’s add a third constraint:

  • In order to carry enough people to handle the task, the spaceship’s usable land should be on the order of a metropolitan region.

We’ll need a lot of people to handle populating a new world.


To recap: if we are to take interstellar travel seriously, we need to be able to live and flourish for tens of thousands of years within a no-waste ecosystem. Here’s a good question: could we do that on Earth?

If we are to make interstellar travel work, we have to. Construction of a starship is something that will take generations upon generations of scientists and engineers to achieve. We need to have the ability to live, and to live well, on Earth for thousands of years before we can do so in space.

It is in this task that we must look to the past. We used to live in ways that were massively less disruptive to the surrounding ecosystem, while being massively less connected. Interestingly, we used to also live in ways where people were less miserable on the whole. Re-establishing routines that worked well in the past is a necessary part of establishing a society that can last for tens of thousands of years.

Nov 27, 2020


Systems

Start here: we need systems to last ten thousand years.

Back up, before the start: we want to travel among the stars. Let’s say the journey takes approximately ten thousand years. Hence the need for the systems, okay, start again:

What makes it out ten thousand years isn’t a single being–what persists is an ecosystem.

Nov 23, 2020


Beyond Quality

Undoubtedly this is an age of codes. Ultimately, a code is a quantity. A particular code is one of a finite number of possible codes.

As the age of codes the dominant metaphor is of machines exchanging information. We apply this framing device on every level of existence: our neurons are tiny computing machines that create a larger computing machine we call the brain. Organisms are input output machines that take in materials x, y, and z and make them a, b, c. We are consistently algorithmic about things: our economic system is a constant optimization problem maximizing profit.

Let us take a step back from this. A machine is a construct. It is something we humans build and deploy to some end.

Another step back, looking at us humans. There is something fundamental to each of us: we experience the quality of the world. We exist in some way that must necessarily defy quantification.

Consider the task of assigning some number to pain or pleasure. Certainly there is some way in which the experience of say, pain, is more or less than the experience of some other pain. Yet the actual texture and fact of that pain is not contained in calling some pain 7 out of 10. It is an absurdity to compress that experience down into that tiny number.

That economically we are so obsessed with numbers, prices in particular, is then incredibly worrisome. W. Edward Deming said it best:

“Price is meaningless without a measure of quality.”

While Deming means something particular here, the reduction of waste, I think we can generalize: “Quantification is meaningless without an experience of quality.” The word ‘red’ is a code, a quantity. It is a selection from a list of possible words, but there is able to be a code for ‘red’ as humans have an experience of red.

We cannot then regard price as being external and objective, by which I mean: without reference to an observer. It is the quality of experience of the humans involved in an exchange which offers grounding to the meaning of that price.

I then ask of you how well we Americans are doing on the quality of experience front, and compare that to the economic front. Clearly the meaning of an economic exchange has been unmoored relative to the flourishing of quality.

I expect there are a multitude of reasons why this is the case, but I’m much more interested in figuring out what to actually do about it.

Nov 22, 2020


Freddy

To those human beings who are of any concern to me I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, ill-treatment, indignities—I wish that they should not remain unfamiliar with profound self-contempt, the torture of self-mistrust, the wretchedness of the vanquished: I have no pity for them, because I wish them the only thing that can prove today whether one is worth anything or not—that one endures.

—Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power

Nov 17, 2020


White-box cartoonization

Messed around with https://github.com/SystemErrorWang/White-box-Cartoonization. Simple to use, easy to make videos, pretty great. Definitely think it has potential to use as the last step in some sort of online work. You can photomash stuff together quickly and get a result that looks like it fits:

Nov 15, 2020


Bay Agora

Making progress on this!

Recorded a video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9t7Y_ecm0s

Website is now ready: http://www.counterengineer.com/agora/

Nov 14, 2020


Research Program

Are there any specific topics that you want to research or problems you want to solve?

Great question. The research problem I have been interested in is creating some form of artificial intelligence that is in the world in a similar way to the way that we are in the world. This goal is not something I think I can expect to see achieved in my lifetime.

That leads me to what is I think an equally interesting research direction: how can we build institutions that can last long enough to see a 500-year research to its conclusion? No doubt we can find answers in historical massive projects like medieval cathedrals.

The appeal of a rural compound of sorts is that it maximizes your robustness to the outer world during those 500 years. That said, trying to jump directly to this spot from here would be crazy.

So then the most relevant research direction might be: how can you create a community that lasts 500 years? And then go out and actually try to do this.

Nov 12, 2020


Second Order Labs

Bell Labs is the birthplace of the first-order Cybernetics revolution: it is here in which we developed the technology necessary for machines that can do information processing.

In the process of using these incredibly useful machines, we got the idea in our head that this was the way everything was: the best way to model humans ourselves was as input-output machines.

Now there seems to be something that is different about humans than our machines. I think I can safely put that out there.

When I am engaged and focused, attendant to something in particular, I am doing so for the purpose of achieving a particular goal. To attend to a goal, I act presently in pursuit of that goal.

Now my repertoire of goals is fairly large, and it shifts from moment to moment. I visit certain goals like “eat” and “sleep” regularly. Yet I am not mechanical: an algorithm may predict my movements well but not perfectly. There is something of myself that is present within whatever may be recorded by an outside observer.

That something in myself of course is of course consciousness. Within the space of conscious existence I reason about my own goals and choose to prioritize one over the other.

A significant factor in which goal I choose to pursue is how the realization of this goal will make me feel. If I am healthy the realization of the goal will – ideally – be fine goods that I feel content with.

In order that we perform science and engineering at all we must have these desires for feelings!

It is curious that these fields in modern times operate blind to this principle. We not only ignore the role of emotions, but deny the existence of teleology, goal-directed agency, almost entirely. This is partly the fault of first-order Cybernetic thinking. To turn to second-order Cybernetic thinking, we note that there is a backward link from observed to observer. That is: the world is not separate machines interacting purely on efficient cause. The observer is changed by its observation, and that observer acts in a manner to persist.

All living beings engage in autopoiesis, the continual maintenance and reproduction of one’s self. What does a Second Order Bell Labs look like? First it must maintain and reproduce itself.

Nov 11, 2020


Bay Agora

Draft websight up: http://www.counterengineer.com/agora/

Nov 09, 2020


Bay Agora

Good chance of an independent thinker house actually happening? Putting together a website for it.

What I’d like to do is host people there, but I don’t have enough of a network that I’d be able to invite enough people. So: why not just offer people to stay there, in a nice place and with food service, in exchange for teaching us? I think a fair number of people would take us up on this.

Nov 07, 2020


“Intellectual” “Hype House”

“Hype House” is zoomer terminology for what amounts to luxury communal living. A super nice place is rented and the participants chip in for maid service, meal prep, laundry, etc.

Beyond these amenities, it’s also a way for like-minded individuals to cohabitate. Ideally this ends up being a space for the cross-pollination of ideas and event-hosting.

My lease is up in a couple months so I’ve started poking around the Bay Area. There’s of couple super nice homes like this, which works out to $2k / bedroom. Not a little, but less than I pay now…

Eventually I’d love to do the rural version of building a community, but I think this is a much easier first step.

Nov 06, 2020


The Sperg’s Dilemma

Social mores aren’t unavailable to your garden variety high-functioning autist, it just takes us a bit for us to come up with rules and a flowchart for acting on them. As a result we’re generally running behind the crowd as attitudes shift.

What happens when society shifts somewhere where we don’t want to go? Herein lies The Sperg’s Dilemma. One may:

  1. Learn the new set of rules just as one learned the last. Go ahead and say that you are an anti-racist and against those mean people saying those no-no ideas in public. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that no one bothers to check if you’re anything other than image.
  2. Put one’s foot down and stand alone. Actually changing other people’s minds is much more a matter of emotional appeals from respectable people with high mimetic potential, there will be no Reactionary Sperg Vanguard.

Increasingly I find myself choosing 2. I have carefully cultivated my own views and I’m unwilling to hide that fact for social gain.

Nov 05, 2020


Re: Men

It felt like a transgression to post:

We should acknowledge that every year we produce a certain number of highly capable men.

Forgiving the use of “highly capable”, should I not say “people”? Am I implying that there aren’t highly capable women?

Of course not. I’m a man talking about men to men. How pathetic is it that I can’t speak to them without worrying that I haven’t spoken about women enough?

Nov 04, 2020


Thieving Magpies

We should acknowledge that every year we produce a certain number of highly capable men. The usual way we make use of these men is by putting them through the university system until they pop out with a PhD and a plan.

Since these highly capable men are highly capable, they’ve already realizing that the academic system rarely yields a return on investment. There’s an excess supply of future researchers and engineers ready to be snapped up by the right institution–one that produces fine results and fine men.

Nov 03, 2020


Teaming with *

Teaming with Microbes:

There are up to 50 earthworms in a square foot of good soil

A mere teaspoon of good garden soil contains a billion invisible bacteria, several yards of equally invisible fungal hyphae, several thousand protozoa, and a few dozen nematodes.

A great deal of the energy that results from photosynthesis in the leaves is actually used by plants to produce chemicals they secrete through their roots. [Exudates].

Root exudates are in the form of carbohydrates and proteins. Their presence wakes up, attracts, and grows specific beneficial bacteria and fungi living in the soil.

At the bottom of the soil food web are bacteria and fungi, which are attracted to and consume plant root exudates. In turn, they attract and are eaten by bigger microbes, specifically nematodes and protozoa.

At the center of any viable soil food web are plants. Plants control the food web for their own benefit.

That is: plants are active in controlling their environment – cognition!

pg 46 > Actinomycetes are different from other soil bacteria: they actually grow filaments, almost like fungal hyphae. Some scientists believe *Streptomyces sepcies use their branching filaments to connect soil particles so they , along with the soil particles, become too big to be eaten by their natural predators, the protozoan cilates, which would engulf and ingest them.

Teaming with Nutrients:

Why is nitrogen so important? It is (pg 98):

the backbonze of amino acids, the structural building blocks of proteins. Enzymes are proteins. These catalysts are required for all activities in the cell.

Nitrogen is also an essential part of the chlorophyll molecule.

And why is soil bacteria so important?

Unfortunately, atmospheric nitrogen (N_2) is off limits to plants because nitrogen atoms form extremly strong, triple covalent bonds with each other. Until the early 1900s, when chemists solved this puzzle, atmospheric nitrogen bonds could only be broken by biological means via bacteria and Archaea.

Nov 01, 2020


Demingcore

Now committed to developing the ‘Demingcore’ aesthetic.


Real Science

When I see a Science is Real sign on the street I want to run up to its owner and grab them by the lapels to shake them while I yell “IF SCIENCE IS REAL WHAT DO YOU MAKE OF FEYERABEND HUH? COULD YOU TELL ME YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE METAPHYSICAL IMPLICATIONS OF STRICT MATERIALISM? CLEARLY YOU’VE THOUGHT REAL HARD ABOUT THE BOUNDARIES OF SCIENCE AND I’M REALLY INTERESTED IN HEARING WHAT YOU THINK!!!” but I do not do this as it would be assault.