The Old Game Bolo & Overdrawn Industry

Bolo is one of the most fun games for computer I have ever seen. It’s so awesome that I would kinda like to get a circle of about 10 people together for a game, but nobody even knows it exists… That’s because it’s ridiculously old for a game to actually play. I have looked into this tendency, and I have noticed that older games have done far more with less. Every N64 game ever made is about 10MB on disk, and even older arcade games like Spy Hunter don’t even break 1MB. Call me old fashioned, but those games are straight up more fun to play than newer, more intensive games. The reason for it is, I think, obvious. When more resources are dedicated to creating a game, which is necessary if it has more space for graphics, etc., then the risk involved for the people funding it is much greater. So they are less willing to let the developers do what they feel would make the game more fun, which kills the fun factor of the game for shiny dumb-blonde graphics. The older games had a hardware cap on how many resources they could have, so making what they had fun was the priority. That should still be the priority, despite the increased capability. When 3D graphics were just appearing, and memory was increasing just to the threshold where developers had some freedom, you see the best games made. Super Mario 64 looked great for its day, and it was simply fun to play. Why do they have a problem with that now?

Furthermore, the company is unwilling to produce lower-resource games intended to just be fun, because in an objective measure it looks like their game will suck. Everyone else will be rattling off how their new graphics engine is so many times more powerful and has new tricks x, y, and z, and runs on a gaming system with this much processor speed, etc. Let’s face it- we had fun playing games that were tiny and had virtually no memory. I’m not saying we should go back to that, I’m saying where did the old philosophy go that the sole objective is to make the game fun to play?

The same issue affects the movie industry. Modern movies cost so much to make that the actual purpose of the movie has become obscured. The objective is to entertain your audience in some way, whether by provoking their minds, by scaring them shitless, puzzling them with a mystery, wazamming with a thriller, or making them laugh or cry. A movie is more similar to a book than anything else, so why don’t we see the same variety? Producers want to make money, that’s why. They are, reasonably, afraid and paranoid about where they are putting their millions to finance movies. They only back movies they are reasonably sure will be successful. Here is where their perspective twists; they only judge what movies will be successful by what movies have been successful, and from there you get recycling movie syndrome where they all seem the same. That, or they are all sequels to successful movies or ripoffs on successful books. The worst part is that it never occurs to them that they could make a high-quality movie that entertains without spending hundreds of millions on it. You still need to advertise it to compete with other movies, but you don’t need Matrix-level special effects, or maybe you could settle for a talented unknown instead of Brad Pitt, who everyone recognizes and charges accordingly.

Compounding the issue, when you have an army on the site of filming it becomes more time-consuming to get everyone organized, and it costs tens of thousands of dollars per hour. So your money problems increase exponentially with the amount of money poured into the movie. They present such a problem that they actually interfere with the development of the movie- if anyone has witnessed sucky sequel syndrome, that is exactly how it happened. A wildcard movie crew strikes it rich, and then when they are flooded with funding and new manpower, new influences, and new angles from advertisers, merchandisers, and moochers, it turns their whole enterprise into a huge morass of wastefulness; they end up spending like crazy to film a shoddy product.

But those producers have the same issue the game designers do. If they don’t meet “the standard” for money spent, everyone will assume that their movie must therefore be of base quality.  Independent films are the extreme end of this, with shoestring budgets. Independent films, though a valiant effort, simply cannot compete with the box office producers. Sadly, $150 is not enough to produce a good movie (it may be soon, but that’s another post). One possibility is to create a system where a producer’s risk is minimized, but the crew’s budget depends on the quality of their product. If their particular crew or movie or whatever factor means that, above a certain funding level their quality begins to drop, the system will check their quality and cut their funding. Automatic balance at maximum quality-to-cost ratio- the free market at its best.

Here’s how you do it: Firstly, you open up a public pool of movies searching for funding, such as a website service. Anybody can join, free accounts for both moviemakers and would-be-producers. The moviemakers give information about themselves, maybe what movies they have made before, that sort of thing. The producers may choose to fund whoever they wish for as much as they like, giving them a stake in the movie’s profits like buying stocks in a company. If the movie never gets off the ground, they get nothing. However, if it turns into a major box-office hit they have a share of the profits. It’s a form of gambling, but with the added level that you can definitively determine which are going to be successful by watching their product.  Choosing to preemptively fund them is not for the shallow of pocket, but choosing to fund them somewhere in the middle of their production or finance their loans afterwards is also possible.  The people making the movies get a stipend based exactly on the appeal of their movie to the general public, and maintain or grow that stipend if they meet the public’s demand for progress and quality, and withdrawn if they don’t. People choosing to fund them get insider access, and even a voice in the decisions of the production- although it’s just their opinion along with whoever else decides to toss in their chips. The actual decisions will be the crew’s, who can choose to take into account the voice of those funding them, or not if it would cripple their movie.  The same system can be applied to most any production, including TV shows or other programs.

Concept Transport

The entire model that each traveler needs their own personal vehicle to control where they want to go is ridiculous. The idea that a city should waste a significant fraction of its surface area in roads and parking lots is equally ridiculous. Worse still, the incredible inefficiency of transporting two tons of metal in order to move one or two people is laughable as a concept, not to mention spending $3 or more per gallon of gasoline in order to do it.  And then, lo and behold, so many people are doing exactly this that nobody can move and you end up wasting gasoline moving along at a crawl through packed streets. Yet everyone seems to think that roads are a necessary, and perhaps beneficial, construction. In truth, roads are an evil, and efforts should be made to move away from the old model of transportation. The choice between fossil fuels and alternative fuels, while an easy choice (solar!) is beside the point. It’s rather like arguing whether to shoot the cat, or the dog. Alternative modes of transportation are the real issue.

Firstly, I don’t find any of these likely to become widespread in a short time. The road, the car, and the fuel industry have become too well-entrenched to be displaced quickly. However, that does not change the basic point that the reason why the road paradigm is the one used is because it produces a self-reinforcing cycle where car companies, oil companies, etc. make a killing. Roads are built, cars are needed. Cars are bought, fuel is needed. More cars are bought, jamming the roads, fuel is wasted, more roads are built. Because the roads are managed using taxpayer dollars, the insane expense of producing the infrastructure in sufficient degree to begin this cycle of addiction would prohibit the free market from anything of the kind. The government has huge legislative momentum behind perpetuating the use of roads and vehicles from the DMV to signs to highways to cops.

The bike. The best transportation system on the planet, it’s just that roads are poorly suited to them because there are so many cars. Bike-dedicated roads would have far greater capacity, move more people, and facilitate faster travel for everyone. Sure, it’s work, but think of it as exercise. Note that bike roads would work much differently than car-roads. You don’t need obsessive-compulsive lane management, or a number of other car-specific features. You wouldn’t need a license since it’s not dangerous or complicated.

The metro. Quite possibly the greatest mechanized transportation idea ever. It’s underground so it is completely out of the way, it costs almost nothing to ride and it travels quickly. Perfect for fast, cheap intra-city or inter-city long-distance travel. Why every sizable city doesn’t have one, I have no idea. They’re electric, they can be made quiet and comfortable with good wheels and air conditioning. Look to the French, everyone, they know what they’re doing.

The power pedestrian walk. This is a simple little gizmo, like you would find at a ski resort for the kiddies to practice with. It’s a simple lift/pull consisting of a single tilted panel that travels along a track. It goes, and you are invited to ride it. Optional but very sensible add-on; an upside-down-L-shaped bar for the rider to hold on to. In the space of two lanes of city street you could have a battery of perhaps ten of these. All the spaces on one track would travel at the same speed, so the capacity is only limited by how many people you can fit on it. You have it travel at maybe 10 mph, with fast lanes of 15 and express tracks going 20 or faster. They don’t have to ever stop moving. You pick one and you run up and catch it. For the faster ones, you’re going to have to transfer to them. Occasional conveyor belts, like those in airports, might help you match velocities. If you were to actually convert a street to be an alley of them, you would have to add apparatus to switch to more centralized, faster tracks. The effect of this is that, though you can’t get up to 50 miles per hour, you are never stuck in traffic. If they were as prevalent as roads you just walk over and hitch a ride along a path where a road might follow. You get off and then get on a different one when you want to turn.

The scooter. Carbon-frame scooters are light enough to carry in a backpack, folded up. You power it with, you guessed it, your leg. You could get an electric motor if you wanted to go faster independently. Or you could make them able to ride in power tracks so you just hang on and drop it in, and you’re off.

The zipline. Or, upping the ante, the aircar. Basically a means to travel over a city’s buildings instead of driving among them on a street. The pedestrian version is the zipline. You start from a tower, and ride a line down to a lower floor on a connecting tower. You somehow get to the appropriate floor of that tower; elevator, stairs, ropelift, whatever, and repeat. The technology is not complicated, and not expensive. No power required, not even electricity. It would be fast and efficient, and quite safe if the zip devices were well-made. The motorized version is the aircar, which does essentially the same thing but is a motor powered gondola. Motorized gondolas don’t need to concern themselves with stopping at each tower for passengers to climb on their own, they just go directly from tower to tower. They would probably follow fixed circuit paths in continuous chains from tower to tower instead of going back and forth between two towers.

The glider. This one is a little out there. Most people don’t know how to operate a glider, and if you don’t know how they’re pretty dangerous. But they are a quite feasible means of transportation if you allow a great deal of leeway in lanes. Not practical for close-in transportation, but if you need to cross a city or travel to a nearby city then it’s perfect.

The Horror Psyche

Over the past year or so I have noticed a resurgence in the popularity of horror movies which has now tailed off slightly.  Though I personally don’t watch many horror movies, I’ve been chewing on this phenomenon for a while, and I think I have a good analysis.  I have come to the conclusion that the makers of horror movies, since they are playing with no real substance, are instead catering to an abstraction of the fears of the nation.

For example, consider the zombie movie like 28 days later. Though I believe I’m going to get some flak about “that’s not about zombies- the virus just makes them really, really angry,” to put it bluntly, you’re wrong.  It’s a classical case of zombie movie syndrome. It shows all the side effects; a virus using human transmission as a medium where it puts its victims into a state of suicidal aggression towards fellow human beings to spread the virus. They even bite to transmit it, for crying out loud. I suppose the whole ‘rising from the dead’ thing wasn’t what they were looking for, I’ll elaborate in a moment. And, typical of an apocalypse movie, it has the whole ‘burnout effect’ where it is so virulent that it is cataclysmic to society as we know it, and therefore produces an unsustainable growth for the virus. Not only that, but there is even the whole military/scientific balance, where the scientists want to study it and find a cure, and the military just wants to blow everything to hell. There is a textbook case of that in the sequel, but it’s still there in the first one. And, invariably, the scientists screw up and everyone dies when their subject gets loose. Also invariably, the military gets involved and everyone dies. See where I’m going with this?

Now, the movie was quite popular. It wasn’t a work of historic art, a thought-provoking work of fiction,  or a subtle work of beauty or character. But still, it seems to have struck a chord with the people watching it on some level. I think that the intent of producing such a movie is to mimic something that everyone, or at least the majority of the population, knows to be true so that it resonates with them. However, they frame it in such a way that a conscious analysis of the movie doesn’t go that deep. It’s similar to the religious treatment of a parable or fairy tale. To use the previous example, the movie 28 days later turns all of England into the site of an apocalypse. Anyone at all could become infected and start mindlessly stalking the streets, hunting for the uninfected. This concept that even your closest friend, or family, thirty seconds later might try to brutally murder you is something that our government has been trying to foster in us for years. And because that movie made so much money, it apparently worked. To use a prior example, back when womens’ sexuality was the hot topic, vampire films made a resurgence. The idea of young, scantily clad women being seduced by, shall we say, older white guys was a hot button for moviemakers who wanted to make a buck. Back then, imminent fear of destruction in an apocalyptic sense wasn’t such a big deal, so the vampires just lived in their castles and drained the occasional hobo dry from time to time. More importantly, the idea that it is rage that drives the zombies is critical. Who, exactly, would most epitomize rage in the redneck American’s view of the world? Hell, if the majority elected a President slanted a certain way, the majority will buy movie tickets slanted a certain way. Terrorists. They look just like us, and anyone could be in league with them. This is a fostered fear which is subtly taken advantage of by the horror industry. Now, for horror movies, I have no issue with this. I must say, I quite enjoyed 28 days later myself, despite not being big on horror movies. But what the producers choose to run is an excellent acid test of what the country is thinking.

Now, onto the whole “end of the world” thing. Unlike older films, more modern movies add this dire element of global annihilation. This type of fiction is called post-apocalyptic, where something essentially destroys all civilization, and a few lucky survivors are left over to fend for themselves. Interestingly, with all post-apocalyptic fiction, there is a pronounced sense of freedom. And a decided tendency to completely ignore the fact that millions or billions of people died, and you are only watching the survivors because everyone else would present a decidedly uninteresting plot line (“another worm is trying to wriggle inside my decomposing brain”). This is a fascinating element of the genre. The idea that civilization as a whole constricts us, and that once it’s gone then all the restrictions just evaporate. This is undeniably true. Break into peoples’ houses for shelter, loot the grocery stores for food, whatever. It’s fun! Drive the car on the wrong side of the road, hell, drive the car directly over the cars in your way, jumping about like an offroad monster truck, minus the suspension. However, I must say that, while in one sense that would be fun, the addition of constant fear of death (and  sometimes zombification?) spoils it completely. Instead of being bound by rules, you become a slave to survival necessity. True, in civilization if you park in the wrong place the cops will give you a ticket. On the other hand, the zombies are coming for your braaaains.

Civilization is an escape from a state of nature. Ask any animal of the wild; nature is not a fun place to live. We build houses because the outdoors leave us vulnerable to the elements and open to predators. We use toilets so we don’t have to dig holes. We buy our food so we don’t have to hunt for it, or grow it ourselves. We have running water because walking a quarter mile to the riverside is just annoying, and digging a well is a lot of work. We have cars so we don’t have to walk (though there are better methods), and we have hospitals and antibiotics so injuries and microbes don’t kill us. Nature is not a fun place to live, and while civilization can be irksome, it is seldom life-threatening.

The Morality of Unilateral Power

The most important question that any individual can ask themselves is the basis of all philosophy, the purpose of consciousness, and the foundation of choice and free will: “What should a person do?” Perhaps a better way to phrase it is “What is morality?” or, to frame the opposite, “What is evil?” The Morality Question is, in all senses that matter, the meaning of life. Let each answer unto their own. My answer has changed frequently, and I still work on it from time to time. My current answer is my favorite yet, of course, but there are endless valid answers. Some are better than others, with good reason. Claiming that it is the height of virtue to kill as many people as you can find who can’t fight back is, for example, not a good answer.

My answer runs thusly; all evil is derived from the exercise of unilateral power. Virtue is the pursuit of Truth. To handle the first component, the key point is that the power must be unilateral. Fundamentally, any exercise of unilateral power is compulsion. It is important to make a distinction here, however, since compulsion is critical; a contractual agreement is an act of compulsion in that both parties are compelled to abide by that agreement. However, because the contract was agreed to by both parties, there was no exercise of unilateral power. Holding a gun to somebody’s head and demanding that they sign the contract doesn’t meet this criteria. The difference can be applied to any situation as the single basic distinction between freedom and oppression. Forcibly restricting another’s freedom is, by definition, compulsion. This actually has many shades of power contained within it. Reducing the field of choice available to someone instead of outright commanding them at gunpoint is a lesser example of the same action. Finally, note that simply because all evil is derived from unilateral power, I did not state that all unilateral power is by nature evil. It is possible that a good person wielding unilateral power can do good. However, seeing as this idea can potentially put a great deal on the line and risk it all based on the character of one person, using this as a basis for decision making is a bad idea.

Any entity or agent invested with unilateral power is capable of evil. The ideal example: the government. Though not all government power is unilateral, this is rather like tying a beast to the ground with ropes and stakes. Before I start into the civil sector, let’s start with the military. The military is the classic example of unilateral power, based in direct military force. If one army has a million well-armed men, they can pretty much make a town of a thousand do whatever the hell they want. In the event that the town chooses not to comply, they can just go make them. As an example, let’s say the army demands the townspeople kill a person accused of inciting rebellion. I believe most people would agree this is an immoral situation on the part of the army. However, where exactly does the blame lie? Quite obviously the town was acting responsibly. They were presented with the choice of killing one innocent or being annihilated. Should each soldier be accused of adding one millionth the military force required to compel the town? That’s a much harder call, but I say that’s an unenlightened way to look at an army’s dynamics. If one soldier in particular had decided not to comply with the will of their superiors, they would have been forced into submission, and probably punished as well. Making an ethical demand that soldiers presented with that situation desert is insane; the penalty for desertion is death. So the soldiers possess no power to act in a more ethical manner than they did, leaving them guilt-free. Without making any statement specific to this situation, it is possible to say that whoever made the decision to act in this situation where they could just as easily have chosen not to is responsible.

Regarding truth. Truth is the ultimate distributed power. The proof of this is obvious; when someone makes a statement that is obviously not true, everyone can easily tell. If I say 2 + 2 = 5, I can’t fool anyone. If I look up and say “the sky is green” I have the same problem. This can become muddy when statements about fuzzy subjects, incomplete information, or social engineering/memetic programming come into play. If I’m holding a card you can’t see and I say “this is the ace of spades” you have no basis to disprove that statement. Though that seems a foolish example, in a governmental context, the government has access to spies and informants that give them classified files of top-secret information, and they can actually make statements like “Iraq has weapons of mass destruction” and it is fairly difficult to conclusively prove them wrong. Although in that example the simple fact that they wanted to invade proves that they knew stone cold that they had no WMD’s. Baghdad vanishing in a mushroom cloud along with 100,000 American soldiers would have been extraordinarily bad- far worse than the morass we’re in. Anyway, the lying is an act of unilateral power. Worse yet, it is a special example of unilateral power in which it is “free” power.

Before I go into the ramifications of that, first, about the price of power. There are two ways power can have a cost, and it usually has both. The first is a price in order to obtain the power, and the second is a price exacted if it is used. Lying has no cost to be able to do it, and is therefore free. Medical knowledge has a substantial cost in order to get it, giving the possessor the power to heal. Even this power can be used for evil unilaterally, for example if a doctor refuses to treat someone for selfish reasons. The refusal cost them nothing, though it gets more complicated because that only becomes possible if you have the medical facility in the first place. Free power is when there is no cost to get it, so immoral people are continually presented with the option of using it for personal benefit at the public expense. Lying is the perfect example; the intentional bait-and-switch with truth which replaces a universally verifiable fact with misinformation.

Consider a gun. A gun contains within itself and bestows upon the bearer the unilateral power to kill someone. The state, quite rightly, puts into place laws which penalize murder so that a weapon is not a right to kill. In a state of nature, this would not be so. A man with a gun, facing a man without, could shoot him without consequence. This is an unbalancing in favor of power rather than consequence, where one has the power to act and ignore the consequences, which produces an incentive towards evil. By the same token, attempting to balance more consequences than naturally present also produces evil- this is the restriction of freedom, or oppression. In the case of murder, the state is only tipping the scales back from where they slid with the introduction of the gun. Without a gun, neither man has the unilateral power to kill the other, and it is more productive for the two to work together. When one has a gun and the other doesn’t, the most productive state of affairs relative to the armed man is the force the other to be a slave, under penalty of death. This potential situation is present when both are unarmed; one could say to the other “alright, you are going to do whatever I tell you and if you disobey me I’m going to kill you.” but the power to make it so is not.

The fundamental issue at hand is that human beings want power. But in a healthy state of affairs, a measure of power comes with a proportional measure of consequences in all cases. Evil results from the distortion of this balance by attempting to claim unilateral power; exercise power and escape the consequences. Or, power to disrupt that balance for others, either by bestowing power or imposing consequences. Twisting a natural system of incentives produces incentives to act in ways beneficial to oneself or beneficial in the short term, but harmful to others or harmful in the long term. People with integrity are those who act in ways not as advantageous to them, but if everyone acted that way, in the face of all incentive, society would be essentially perfect.

Three Questions to Live

Before reading this post, go here. You will be asked three questions, and you should answer. Take your time- they’re going to bend your brain a little bit.

Now that you’ve put some thought into those questions, were you consistent? If not, then you died. Perhaps you should have thought a bit more about your strategy. If so, then in what way were you consistent? I was psychologically continuous. To me, psychological continuity is the only path worth taking. Physical continuity doesn’t really mean anything, as every atom in your brain is different within six months or so anyway.  And, it doesn’t really matter what your body is made of.  People who get prosthetic limbs or artificial organs are hardly less human than “all-naturals.” This applies equally as much to the brain, with the proviso attached that the person’s mind must be preserved more or less perfectly. If it’s a little different, that’s fine, because fifteen minutes from now your character will be different. If it’s that close, I have no issue with it. Most people, however, disagree with this stance with a passion! Why does it matter if your brain were to be made of silicon as opposed to carbon? In fact, a silicon-based brain would be far faster and more efficient. I’d quite enjoy being able to, at will, of course, control my speed of thinking up to something like a modern computer’s instruction handling capacity.

Spiritual continuity was actually a much tougher question. This was because one of the assumptions was that there was in fact a soul. So, operating with that assumption, what is a soul’s potential contribution towards your character? That’s really what that question is asking, at least from our perspective. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the soul does in fact have a substantial effect on a person’s character. That raises the interesting debate about how many souls are provided they are continuously recycled. Ten? A thousand? A billion? Are there a certain number of persona-archetypes that everybody falls into based on their soul’s characteristics? If the population increases, are more created? This violates the fundamental principle of reincarnation, and can be discarded as a solution. The only other solution is that souls are not bound by time i.e., could there be only fifty souls but when they reincarnate can the soul go back in time and lead a life that actually overlapped with their first chronologically. This raises the question of why exactly it’s necessary that reincarnation is serial, because if they can go back in time why not go back a thousand years, live and die, and then return to live the life that overlaps. This leads to the conclusion that essentially everybody has a distinct soul since an indeterminate number of lives resulting in change were lived between any two reincarnations. Even if you shared the same soul as someone else, discontinuity over the entire period of the universe means that the chance that your soul is even remotely similar to the one shared by someone else is statistically insignificant. Therefore, the soul can have little effect on the course of your life and psychological continuity, even at a risk of 30%, is still preferable.

The War on Drugs

The war on drugs is the purest lunacy. I have known this for quite a long time. There is no justification for it that is not produced by its execution. In the most rigorous economic sense, the war on drugs is a massive squandering of funds. Prohibiting drug traffic and then placing barriers for imports creates two issues. Firstly, drugs become more expensive to import. The government sees this as a disadvantage, but in fact this is a boon to those selling the drugs. Let’s say that a kilo of cocaine costs $1,000 to produce and ship to the U.S. without federal interference. Laws get passed, and now the operation requires detailed smuggling. Countermeasures must be taken against the government; smuggling craft, secret meetings, messages, and eventually a covert transaction. This requires far more shipping infrastructure than normal, increasing the cost of small shipments disproportionately to large shipments. Maybe ship 100 times as much at 200 times the cost, or $200,000 for 100 kilos, or $2,000 a kilo, but far more is entering the country. Secondly, both the government and the rival drug traffickers introduce a prohibitive amount of risk which hikes up the price without a direct manufacturing cost increase. Call it $20,000 a kilo to slake the greed of the importers, because, after all, “we’re risking our lives out here, man!” SNIIIFFFF!! The result is a cocaine shipment that is much larger in scale to maintain efficiency, which requires gun-toting, hardline dealers prepared to kill to make the transfer because of the prohibitive risk of capture. And, worse yet, none of these costs are inflicted on the dealers. All additional cost and risk are passed on to the buyer. Still worse, the extreme price of cocaine by this point means that its profit margin can be further inflated without significant loss of business, so all these measures only make it even more profitable to sell cocaine. Factor in all that, and you get something in the neighborhood of $40,000 to $50,000. It is important to note, however, that the hard price of that kilo was only $2,000 in this simple little calculation, and the rest is a “soft price” that is derived entirely from the illegal nature of the trade producing a huge price hike from all vendors by universal delusion. If they couldn’t charge at least that much, they wouldn’t be in the business- too risky.

Alright, some of the drug traffickers get caught, some get through. Cocaine is going to get into the country, no matter what the government does, because an effort to make it more difficult will simply raise the price. They’re already doing their damnedest and although I don’t know the street value of cocaine (Miami Vice tells me it’s maybe $35,000 a kilo plus ten years’ inflation) I can authoritatively say that it costs many times more for the American buyer than the importer needed to spend to get it there. Continuing on, what effects does this conflict produce in American society? Well here’s a nice little list if you can’t work them all out on your own. In short, in order to keep the drug trade “undesirable” for the majority of people, they have to lock up those they can catch. And since there are comparatively few importers compared to end users, this means they end up filling up the jails with people innocently snuffing up in their own homes. True, it’s illegal, and they are the reason why the drug trade exists, but they are not the reason why it is so profitable. In fact, they would much, much prefer that the drugs were limited by competition down to their hard price instead of being swelled to insane costs by prohibition. Next, consider the conundrum of marketing. If competition will reduce the price to a borderline existence by rapid sequential upstaging, how can you convince anyone to purchase your product? Advertising of course. However, where illicit mystique plays to the strengths of the drug industry, open advertising hits it right where it hurts. The reason why they are illegal is because, overall, they are really bad for you, right? So how are they going to be able to convince people in an open market to use their product? “Use cocaine- it feels great! Side effects may include brain death and heart failure.” Sorry, not going to work!

Basically, the whole issue is ridiculous. Anyone with a brain can see that by prohibiting drug trade, the law plays right into the drug lords’ hands. If you want a more exhaustive and thorough treatment of the war on drugs, I recommend Freedomain Radio‘s treatment (Vol. 1, show #26, 27).

The Limits of the Mind’s Power

Straight off, I would like to say that all accounts of psychic phenomenon, telekinesis, clairvoyance, etc. etc. are the purest bullshit. That being said, I would venture the statement that the power of the human mind is far, far greater than anything the current psychologist would consider alarming. The exact nature of the ‘powers’ I would place in the hands of anyone who knew how to claim them are difficult to define, because we have only seen sporadic glimpses of them due to a select few individuals.

To begin, I would first explain my somewhat basic conception of the brain. The average individual is represented by a balanced mix of different abilities and skills such as pattern recognition, symbolic reasoning, spatial awareness, pattern recognition, a host of social skills, and an infinitude of other important abilities and modes, as well as such far-fetched powers as fractal visualization and whatnot. Esoteric abilities were weeded out in the evolution of humankind because they were not useful, but that does not mean they are less possible for that. Now, there are also even distributions of people who have both above and below-average facility in different areas. I will not speculate on the occurrences, the common skills, or on the assumption that an increase in one area necessitates a decrease in another and vice-versa, but the basic framework holds. We tend to sort individuals into a number of categories and, though I despise the practice, I have a point to elucidate and this type of demonstration helps. For example, great orators have a decided specialization in human communication. Conversely, into the group of the ‘socially inept’ we place those who have a sub-average faculty for it. As a significant but unrelated sidenote, ‘intelligent’ individuals are those who have a particular faculty for the skills commonly associated with intelligence. Meaning, those who perform best on supposedly objective measures of brainpower. I find it unlikely that they actually have more mental real estate with which to operate; they are simply better adapted to do test-based math and english problems. Compare those skills to those necessary to be a professional mathematician or writer, and you’ll see my point. Whatever your position on the IQ scale, you probably fall into this field of average people.

However, some individuals have a large proclivity to significant specialization of their brain areas. Einstein, Mozart, etc. fall into this category of gifted individuals. Their brains are fantastically suited to a specific discipline or use. And, most of the time, other critical areas such as social skills are left with sufficient grey matter to function satisfactorily. Lastly, there are the autistic brains. People with autism exhibit an extraordinary degree of specialization, to the point that other critical skills are deficient. Because social skills are such a complex bundle resulting in very subtle behavior, there is a sharp median between the critical mass of utility, and uselessness. As a result, the most common affliction for autistic people is social ineptitude. It is important to note that, if other skills were to be only marginally underdeveloped, leaving social skills intact, there would be no apparent deficiency. Or, if one unnecessary skill were to be completely omitted and the grey matter devoted to a special, useful skill instead, then it would appear like a ‘free’ positive gain. In any case, their brains are so fantastically suited to some other area that they can have superhuman powers. There are many examples of this, such as the human camera, this Englishman, and these savants. I would like to make a slight clarification here, that one of the miscellaneous savants’ abilities manifested only after being hit in the head by a baseball. This is perfectly reasonable because the brain is a self-organizing system, and is capable of reforming its basic structure as needs require it. After sustaining some damage to a nerve center over what must be an unused or unnecessary skill, since he didn’t mention a deficiency in another skill, the remaining neurons of that center were reformatted to perform a different function. In his case, associating exactly the date with the weather on that day. Though this skill doesn’t seem to be particularly useful, neurons determine their usefulness by how frequently they fire, and since those neurons are programmed to fire whenever his brain deals with a date, their connections would become quite strong.

So now that we have established the remarkable powers that our grey matter is capable of wielding, depending on how they connect to one another, the question is how come not everybody has those powers? The answer to that should be fairly obvious; not all of us have our neurons wired up like they do. My next point, therefore, should be relatively predictable for those who have studied the brain at all. Neuroplasticity is the alteration of neuron structure in response to experience, which is the fundamental purpose of the brain. Human beings learn from experience, and use that knowledge to make predictions about the future, resulting in a clear survival advantage. All human endeavor is derived from applied predictive intelligence. The root of this intelligence is the self-organizing nature of the brain. When neurons are used more, such as a certain pattern being viewed repeatedly, then those connections grow stronger. As they are less used, the connections dwindle as neurons are reorganized and used for other, more active, purposes. A good example of this is a familiar location, such as the inside of your house. Each time you see it, that pattern is impressed a little bit more on your neurons. The more it is driven home, the longer it will take to lose resolution and then to forget what the inside of your house looks like. In many ways, it is the perfect system to maximize the efficiency of the grey matter you have. Apply this to any pattern, and the strength of a prediction increases directly with the quantity of inductive evidence you have observed to support it.

Now apply this same concept to brain function. If memory, patterns, etc. are derived from the same self-organizing neurological structure as skill-based intelligence, it makes sense to posit that the more a certain skill is used the greater the quantity of grey matter dedicated to it, and the greater the resulting facility with that particular skill. This manifests itself in practical experience, and with neurological data, such as brain scans of monks. So human beings have the power to consciously control how their own brains develop. From that vantage point, the question becomes “How rapidly is it possible to alter the brain’s structure?” That is a difficult question that, in all probability, nobody can answer satisfactorily as of yet. But it seems to me that the only real physical limitation to the reformation of the brain’s structure is the rate at which neurons can physically move through space. If you have 100 billion neurons, with 100,000 connections per neuron then even a very small capability to rearrange connections can produce a huge effect applied over such large numbers. If dedicated practice can produce enhanced capabilities in some areas of the brain, why not increased ability to control your own brain?

Returning again to a base model of how the brain works, your actual grey matter contains far more integrated memory and processing power than you can actually consciously access. For example, consider a simple skill such as tying a knot. You don’t need to consciously remember how to tie the knot until you are about to do so. And, for very familiar knots such as tying your shoes, perhaps not even then. This ability to have a conscious field is quite important for a primitive hunter-gatherer, since such a massive amount of useless information will clog and cripple the ‘express lane’ processor needed for survival reactions. This means that at any given time your conscious mind is like a keyhole you can look through into your mind as a whole. Regardless of its necessity for hunter-gatherers, in modern times, this simply results in annoying lapses in memory because neuron connections cannot be reinforced unless they are focused upon and used consciously. And if it’s not in your conscious mind then how are you supposed to remember you need to know it? Catch-22. So, the practice of enlarging your conscious mind to encompass as much of your mind as possible gives you more ability to control your own mind. At the extreme end of this spectrum, probably impossible, is the ability to restructure large areas of your skillset at will. This is not to say you forget some skills and create others from thin air. I mean that different configurations of neurons are simply better suited to certain tasks than others, like dedicated computer circuitry being more efficient at its specialized task than generic Turing components. In this way, if you needed a photographic memory akin to that of the Human Camera, Stephen Wiltshire, then you could temporarily allocate a sizable portion of your brain and produce a dedicated photographic memory architecture. Though this statement is extreme, the fundamental principle is already known. If you practiced recalling a different picture each day by viewing it for a certain period, waiting a while, and then attempting to draw it, then over time you would become more skilled at it. At some point you would likely be able to do it perfectly, or you might graduate to more complex pictures, etc. After years of practice, you might even match Wiltshire’s amazing powers, although the effort involved in that particular endeavor might be prohibitive.

So theoretically, your grey matter can give you superhuman powers whenever you want them, you can control your own thoughts, memories, beliefs, abilities, and personality as easily as solving a math problem, and you can control your own brain’s functionality and specialization. Grey matter is pretty awesome stuff then. Unfortunately the prevailing theory is that you are born with about 100 billion neurons, and, after that, you never receive any more of them although they do grow in size and number of dendrites (input connectors). When you hit your head badly, some neurons die, when you drink alcohol or do drugs, lots of neurons are destroyed. Fortunately, since you have many effectively unused neurons due to memory storage and unnecessary skill centers, they can be destroyed and little harm will come to someone who is not tapping their brain to the limit. And, should necessary centers be damaged, the unused neurons can be reformatted to take their place, resulting in a more or less flat observed performance level. However, the loss of neurons is a tragedy of lost potential. Still, you have 100 billion of them, which is more than you will ever be able to tap out completely. Not to mention the incredible amount of protection that muscle, skull, tissue, blood, and glia cells provide for your precious neurons.  Even getting punched hard in the face is probably not enough to do significant damage to your brain, barring whiplash. Brain damage is not exactly something to be paranoid about.

There are, in summary, very few limitations on the power of the human brain. There is so much power to control yourself, your thoughts, abilities, and anything else that can be produced by the complex interplay of neurons that there really is no limit. So. What stops you from changing yourself? Why not simply decide one day that you are going to be a different, better person? What exactly makes that a difficult thing to do? And the next day you think to yourself, “you know, I’d kinda like to think like Albert Einstein for a day.” You might fail to change your thinking by dramatic sweeping, and end up making only incremental wigglings all over the place, but every time you exercise this godlike power over your own sentience, your facility only increases. You may start small, you may go for the whole hog, whatever you think is possible is, in fact, feasible. We’re talking the free and easy manipulation of information here, not a drastic impinging on the laws of physics. I can write 3 = 5. It’s easy, and perfectly within the laws of physics.

The limit is imaginary. The limit is a negative placebo effect; it’s there because you think it’s there, and is no less real for that. Push it back.