On Antisocial Stoics

I would like to address a claim that is sometimes made against stoics, particularly against some of the ideas of Marcus Aurelius, who said, among other things, “Permit nothing to cleave to you that is not your own, and nothing to grow upon you that will give you agony when it is torn away.”  Given the extremely elevated status of friends and interpersonal relationships in our society, this concept doesn’t jive well with the idea that we all have to form deep bonds with one another.  The idea of being stoic and of suppressing your emotions as subservient to your mind seems to conflict with the idea that we’re supposed to share our feelings with others.  Why the belief is that if someone else is aware of the factual state of your existence creates a bond is beyond me, but it is implicitly assumed in our interactions with one another.  The most canonical example is when you encounter someone you know and ask them how they’re doing, what’s going on with them, or the like.  Both of you probably know, if you thought about it, that the other person’s answer is irrelevant.  Neither of you could give a damn.  But it’s the greeting you use because it is a sharing of information of a moderately personal nature, or at least it’s a question requesting that information which implies a certain closeness.  Whether you’re doing it to provoke that sense of intimacy in the other person, in the impressions of people listening in, or to convince yourself, I don’t know.  However I do know that very little of what is commonly thought of as conversation is an actual sharing of empathic significance or deep thoughts.  What is commonly accepted as “small talk” is the norm of human interaction, and it is accepted as having zero functionality.

Now, I am of course being a little over-literal here.  The purpose of small talk is that it is talk where everyone concerned might be uncomfortable in having a real conversation, it fills up the time and allows people to get comfortable with one another.  However it is not and will never be the goal or endpoint.  It is vital that just “being with” other people is never something you’re setting out to do, because standing next to other humanoid figures and flapping your vocal folds is, in and of itself, not really a worthwhile activity.  If you’re interacting on an empathic, mental, philosophical, or whatever medium in a way that gives you genuine enjoyment such that you would actively choose to enjoy that person’s presence in favor of some other activity you enjoy then of course it’s a good thing- that’s just a basic pursuit of your own satisfaction.  This is obvious and a trivial proof, but I think I need to inject it here so I’m not scaring off exactly the people who need to hear this.

The best corollary to this whole mess is our modern conception of sex, especially among men.  Men tend to be in a position of weakness and insecurity due to having conflicting internal models and programming and all manner of other nonsense going on in their heads leaving them a little lost and confused.  One of the dominant themes that result is a pursuit of sex that is driven more by social power than actual personal satisfaction.  Many men are more gratified by the fact that they are having sex than they are enjoying the sex itself.  They’ll brag to their buddies about it and allow themselves that extra iota of self-respect because they “got laid.”  The self-destructive side of this thinking is that they honestly believe they aren’t worth anything unless they can convince a woman that they are worthwhile enough to sleep with.  I am unsure of how many women have this problem, but it is widespread among men.  I suspect that because women are dealing with this population of men, they live in sexual abundance and don’t develop the same complex- attractive women at least if not all women.  I am speculating now, but I find it probable that women have a similar complex revolving around marriage, gratified more by the fact of being married than they enjoy the marriage itself, resulting in the “must get married” effect at a certain age.  Many, many people of both sexes are gratified more by the presence of other people than they are actually enjoying being with them.

The simple fact of the matter is that if you go out seeking deep bonds, what you will find is the most superficial of relations with people as desperate for companionship as yourself.  Deep bonds, described as such, actually don’t exist as we conceive of them.  It’s not that you spend a lot of time with someone or that you have known them for a long time, or even that you know a great deal about them and their personal preferences such as their favorite flavor of ice cream.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that knowing a huge amount about their preferential minutiae actually subtracts significantly from the goal that most people are seeking.  If there’s a woman I like, I could care less what her favorite flavor of ice cream is.  The question is whether or not she is fun to be around.  If I was to feverishly try to get her to like me or memorize her personal preferences, that’s work.  Stupid, counterproductive, and manipulative work, at that.  That’s all.  Perhaps we have deep empathy, perhaps we’re alike, maybe we have good discussions or great sex, it makes no difference (OK, I lie) the question is only if she’s a positive presence in some- preferably many- ways.

Part of the problem is the widespread perspective of the “personality.”  And for the love of life NEVER evaluate someone’s “personality” as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’  Both those words are the most abused semantic identities ever created, and they both can mean nearly anything while being very specific about one thing and one thing only- and by hiding the implementation of that judgment there is no way to argue with it.  There is no such thing as a personality- a person is composed of the sum of their mind and actions derived from it.  There is no way that you can ascribe someone a personality which if they do something that is “not like them” then they’re being fake or somehow not being themselves.  Whatever the circumstances, they are merely exhibiting a decision-making pattern you haven’t previously observed or were otherwise unaware of.  It is the same person, ergo they are the same person.  This idea that we can understand someone else, ascribe them a simplified model that will predict their behavior and then expect that behavior from them is disgusting.  People are very complex- one person is far more complex than the sum of all of their understandings of other people, much less someone else’s understanding of them.  It can’t be your personality that you like coffee, and that you’re doing something bad when you don’t drink coffee.  The drive to be consistent is not a natural one- it’s a societal stamp mark on the inside of your brain that tells you to be simple so that others can understand you better.  But who gives a flying shit about whether other people understand you?  Do what you want!  If you wake up and wonder if eggs scrambled with cocoa and baking soda tastes good with ketchup, then go right ahead and try it!  It doesn’t have to be your personality that you eat weird things- it’s just something you want to do, so you do it.  That’s a bit of a weird example, but it holds.  Why we don’t expect one another to do what we want is just beyond me, especially in our day and age with so many options available.  There are all manner of stigma against jocks, nerds, cheerleaders, sluts, you name it, there’s a stereotype that someone wants to slot you into.  So, how about, just to screw with them, completely break their model of the world by totally not fitting into the model they would like you to.  Just for fun.

So here’s the question.  “Permit nothing to cleave to you that is not your own, and nothing to grow upon you that will give you agony when it is torn away.”  The idea here is that you are your own pursuits and not permitting external people or objects to influence you or your goals.  This is both a warning against addictions of all forms, perhaps especially social ones, and a caveat emptor for everything you allow into your life.  You control your personal sphere- to the best of your ability at least.  It is your responsibility and nobody else’s to make sure that only elements you want are a part of your life, and it’s your duty to yourself to safeguard the vaults against the thieves that would seek to plunder your wealth.

I have something to say about victimization here.  Blaming the victim for a crime committed against them is the original scam.  It is the classical attempt to cheat and then get away with it, and the more serious the crime, the more potent a tactic it becomes.  The idea that you control your person means that yes, to a degree, you are responsible if something bad happens to you.  There are precautions you could have taken, etc. etc.  No matter the event, there are always choices you could have made to avoid that outcome you deem makes you a victim.  However part of the idea of being actually in control means that you are never a “victim” of other people’s choices or actions, because the very idea implies that you aren’t actually in control.  So you are only actually a victim when the aggressor has actively applied intelligence to disable, short-circuit, or otherwise evade whatever defenses or precautions you have taken against being taken advantage of.  Think of it like this: if you’re on a desert island and a bear comes and steals your food, then you’re a victim.  But you could have done any number of things to prevent your food from being stolen, such as hanging your food from a tree, out of reach.  The bear is fundamentally at fault here (I don’t believe the conventional idea of “blame” either, so this explanation might be a little awkward without a background but I’ll have to go on anyway) but that doesn’t mean you can sit there and rage about how that damn bear has made you a victim.  Your actions, to the degree that you invested resources to prevent an undesirable outcome, resulted in some probability of that undesirable outcome occurring- a risk.  Now, there are obviously far too many *possible* risks to address, but we can exercise our reason to determine which ones we need to address, which ones are worthwhile to address, and which ones we can safely ignore.  If you ignore a risk you should not have, then you are responsible for that mistake, even if you aren’t the acting agent of the aggression committed.  A bear is too animate.  Let’s go with physics.  You leave your food outside for a long time, and it rots.  Well?  You are responsible because you misjudged the risk of it rotting, didn’t take sufficient precautions, and now your food is gone.  In this case, there is no aggressor at all- it’s you against the laws of physics, but the situation is exactly identical.  You can mope around claiming to be a victim, perhaps go to the government and demand that your food be replaced…  yada yada.  Now, I absolutely do not want this concept of judgment and addressing of risk to be confused with actually blaming the victim as the active agent in their own victimization.  These are completely different concepts entirely.  An agent acting in a way that is exploitative of another agent is doing so because their incentives line up appropriately to make that a course of action they find acceptable.  The idea of punishing them is to tip these scales enough that it is no longer economical to exploit others.  There is of course the problem of giving the power of retribution to who, exactly, which I won’t go into here because this isn’t a post about anarchism.  The reason why you can’t have the punishment be equal to the crime (remove connotations of law or government) committed is that the risk of capture is never 100%.  Let’s say a thief steals purses.  If he gets caught 50% of the time, but each time he’s caught he only has to return the amount he stole, then it doesn’t really change the thief’s decision-making circumstances that much.  However, if the cost is losing a hand then the thief will think twice before stealing that purse because there would need to be a lot of money in there to justify a 50% chance, or even a 1% chance, of losing a hand.  Now, the funny thing about punishment is that you also have to account for a certain probability of false positives.  So if an innocent man is accused of stealing that purse and gets his hand cut off, well that’s pretty damn unjust, isn’t it?  So we have to scale back the punishment until it is enough to stop thieves while being acceptable to the innocents based on the risk of being hit with that false positive.  Keeping in mind that we are assuming the populace has a say in what the punishments are.  If you’re a totalitarian government, you could give a damn what the civvies say, and drastic punishments make sense because it’s less crime you have to deal with, freeing up resources for you to put towards your own ends.  Draconian methods of control are, pound for pound, more efficient in terms of resources spent versus results achieved.  Their main problem, in fact, is that they are so efficient that it makes life a living hell for nearly everyone.

After that long digression, back to the main issue.  If you’re simply enjoying another person’s presence, then there’s no further expectation in the matter.  If they leave, you’re no longer enjoying their presence.  You start to run into problems when you ascribe ultimate value to people or objects, because you can’t unlink ultimate value as long as you actually perceive it as “the ultimate good in the whole universe.”  Now we run into a very controversial edge case when dealing with the loss of loved ones.  I say it’s an edge case because it doesn’t happen very often relative to our lifetimes.  We’re not losing loved ones every other week.  A model that was focused primarily on dealing with death of the most intimate friends (I will not say “and family” because if your family are not your close friends then why are you with them?).  You know what, I’m going to elaborate on that parenthetical thought.  Your family, especially your nuclear family such as parents and immediate siblings, are people.  You know them for longer, and have more opportunity to become very good friends with them, and when you’re a child there is a certain amount of not-having-a-choice in the matter that forces you to make friends or make war, and rational individuals choose the former in all but the most extreme circumstances.  So there’s just very close friends.  The fact that you’re biologically related is of no philosophical significance whatsoever.  Medical significance, yes, but only because knowledge of your family’s genes can be used to deduce your genes.  Social significance, of course not.  So I will treat death of family as the death of friends who were equally close as family members.  Now, to be honest, this is a topic that I’m reluctant to exercise my usual methods of beating to death because there may be readers who have such a powerful subjective experience of the matter that I will waste my time if I try to dismiss the bits that require dismissal, focus in on what is significant , and use it build up a new model that more accurately fits reality and rationality.  We have arrived at the idea that being with people is something you do for yourself, but it seems like lunacy to say that the death of a loved one shouldn’t hurt because you aren’t able to enjoy their presence any more.  That’s just not strong enough, right?  BUt isn’t that exactly what mourning is?  You won’t speak to that person again, or see them, or talk to them, or whatever else.  If you could do those things then you wouldn’t care if they were technically dead- that’s just a cessation of some bodily functions.  If they could die and leave the person intact, now wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing- you wouldn’t have to worry about death.  This is actually a fairly direct deduction for most people, but the idea that the physical death isn’t the source of their trouble, isn’t.  It is the result of the event of death that they’re mourning.  Many religions exploit this weakness in thinking to interject “But life does continue after death!” and then the explanations, the fairy tales, and the bullshit that follows.  They are careful, however, to always exclude the very functionality that death precludes because they are unable to provide it.  They can’t help you talk to your dead loved ones, so they hide them away somewhere as ghosts or in heaven where you will go, too, once you die.  The intuitive universality of the death process makes this nearly logical, except that a slight elaboration can add a significant degree of control over the behavior of the people who want to believe.  And some of the crueler religions take advantage of exactly these people, and make this death process conditional upon your life, and exactly prescribed behaviors.  The most common trick is to exploit vague semantic identities such as “good” and “bad” which enable retroactive changing of what exactly those conditions are for live updating of the behavior of the believers based on what is expedient at the time.  I’m always amazed and fascinated at the complexity of religion as an organism, and the huge potential that religion proves memes have as a life form.

I am not suggesting that you shouldn’t feel pain- what a ridiculous assertion for a stoic.  The idea is that pain, like other sensations or emotions, are there to help you, not govern you.  If you felt fear and were unable to do anything else but freeze up, curl up into the fetal position, and pray, then what use is that?  For animals like the possum, it is an irresistible instinctive reaction programmed into them because in 99% of cases (at least in the genes’ experience) this is an effective defense mechanism, and giving the possum control over the matter would just screw up the system.  This isn’t strictly accurate because possums evolved their primary featureset in the time before memetic delegation had been “invented” by evolutionary processes.  The application of reason is itself a major feature of humanity, and quite novel in genetic terms.  If you wanted to be truly biological about it, you can look at memetic evolution as the ultimate genetic trick, but the problem is that it is so effective it makes genes obsolete.  Also, intelligence is so effective that genetic evolution can’t keep up with the rate of change.  For the prurient example, we have invented cars and now they’re everywhere.  And now possums, with their very effective defense mechanism of freezing up when afraid, causes them to get run over by speeding cars, and the genes can’t un-wire that feature given the new environment because they aren’t able to perceive and judge.  I would like to say, though, that genes are definitely alive.  Not just in the sense that a person is alive, but the gene of HUMANS is alive in a strange information amalgamation of the genes in every person in a way that we really can’t quite comprehend because there’s too many people, too much noise, and too much uncertainty about genes themselves.  The day that we truly understand genes completely, we won’t need them anymore because we’ll be able to construct our own biological machines to any specification or design we like.  They’re just like any other machine, but far more complicated and sophisticated.  Especially the organic ability to reproduce.  Interestingly, though, the body is itself one of the few things that we are currently unable to separate our selves from.  Some can conceive of what that might be like, and most of them have it wrong (I guarantee that I do, but it’s more complete than most, at least).  Note that the objective is to separate your self from as much as possible of what you don’t want, of that which subtracts from your good or your happiness.  I would argue that, for as long as it works, your body adds immensely to that happiness.  And as far as it doesn’t, it subtracts immensely.  So an ability to perfectly fix the human body, a hypothetical perfect medicine, would obsolete the need for mechanical bodies unless their features were so far beyond those of a human body (which is the case) that you could get even more out of one.  Probably the main advantage is the ability to add processing power and memory, and the ability to have direct inputs.  Anyway, permit nothing to cleave to you that is not your own.  I am not my body, but insofar as I use it, rely upon it, and wish to keep it, it is mine.

So if I don’t even value my own body enough to want to keep it, what does that mean?  Well, I never said that I didn’t value my body, just that the value it provides is of the material sort, similar to eating a burrito, except that instead of the satisfaction of the burrito, my body contains the hardware necessary to eat the burrito, and without it any sort of gustatory satisfaction would be impossible (not strictly true- a perfect simulation of the experience is an identity).  This is similar to having a computer.  The computer in and of itself doesn’t actually provide a whole lot of satisfaction, but the things you can do with it will.  Perhaps the computer hardware hobbyists who make it a point of pride to have the best possible machine wired up in the best possible configuration get significant enjoyment out of simply possessing the hardware itself.  However, even with that example, we see parallels with the human body, such as with fitness junkies who make it a point of pride to have bodies sculpted out of steel, and enjoy simply having it.  Important note: most of these “fitness junkies” are doing it because of other people, not because they genuinely enjoy it, or because they even want the results.  And they get further conflicted by the fact that they are causing a change, which might conflict with their perception of themselves, or with others’ perceptions, and for some reason they’re anxious to step outside of that box.

Anyway, my entire point is quite simple, as usual, but it’s dressed up with many trimmings like mirrors in every corner of the room to show off the gleam on the little gem in the middle.  The idea that you should be dependent on others, the idea that that constitutes good social practices, the concept of a social personality, all of these things are foisted upon us because others had them foisted upon them.  We are the monkeys conditioned not to reach for the bananas within our reach because someone, at some point in the past, was punished for trying.  So now we have to live with everyone else.  But the most vital point is this: they don’t matter.  If you want to reach for that banana, they could physically stop you, but if they do then you have a clear and objective obstacle in your way, which can be overcome, instead of the hazy, confusing aimlessness of contradiction.

The Contradiction of Freedom

Freedom appears to be the favored subject among my readers, so here we go into greater detail.  First of all we need to establish what I mean when I use the word.  By “freedom” I am referring to unencumbrance in the transformation from desire to reality.  This is distinct from the idea of “liberty” or the fulfillment of all intrinsic rights to the satisfaction of the individual being considered.  I believe the issue of maintaining liberty to be a solved one- however, the issue of freedom certainly is not.  The fact that there are no slaves, no wanton executions in the developed world, etc. etc. indicate to me that the fulfillment of basic liberty is not even particularly difficult if the conditions are right.  Freedom, on the other hand, is more difficult to work with.  The reason for this is that reality itself necessarily impinges on our freedom.  I want to be able to fly around, but gravity says I am not free to do that.  In my common definition of “freedom” I don’t consider such possibilities on the grounds that they are physically impossible.  It is a childlike idea that we should have absolutely everything that we want in a direct transmission from wanting to having.  However, it is not at all a childish idea of freedom that you should be able to make any choice you wish, including both the costs and the gains from that choice.  For example, I could choose to invest millions of dollars in inventing a sleek, compact jetpack that would enable me to fly around to my satisfaction- there is a considerable cost to this venture, and no certainty of success (risk is itself a cost), but I am free to try and free to succeed if that’s how the dice fall.

In this line of thinking, a direct transition from desire to actualization should be the default state of reality.  If an item I want has a cost associated with it, then I can pay that cost and have it without qualms.  This is not the situation of “I want, therefore I should have”- I cannot stress this enough.  Too many people are walking around in that sort of entitlement-based fantasy world.  However, if the demand is reasonable and I am prepared to deal with whatever costs, risks, or other consequences that arise from my decision, then the only thing standing in my way is a bunch of unnecessary human barriers.  If I want an apple and am prepared to endure the cost, given the circumstances, then I should have one.  Now, the circumstances can cause the cost to vary tremendously.  If there’s a grocery store then I only have to pony up the dollar or so required to buy it.  However, if I’m in the middle of nowhere, then the desire to eat an apple requires a more complex plan involving obtaining an apple seed, growing the tree, and then harvesting the apple and eating it.  It just so happens that this is a great deal of cost and effort for quite a small reward, which is why it is much more efficient to have consolidated apple farms which grow apples efficiently in large numbers and sell them to distributors.  Rather than the large investment of personal energy to acquire a tree’s worth of apples, I only have to pay for a fraction of that effort due to the scale of apples being produced.  If I’m an apple grower, this system is also to my advantage because if I grow a lot of apples, each apple costs me less to produce, and because I make a profit on every apple (or else I wouldn’t sell them) then the more apples I sell the more money I make.

This is all fairly typical free-market capitalist thinking so far.  However, the crunch comes when we consider that the government must necessarily introduce barriers to this system in order to do, well, anything at all.  Let’s suppose the existence of a government that has no barrier-producing authority.  Nobody has to take it seriously because it has no money since it can’t institute taxes, and even if it did institute taxes, nobody has to pay them because it has no power to enforce compliance.  THe only type of action such an agency is useful for is advising, and concerned parties can listen and take its advice when it is to their advantage to do so.  If this government started a campaign using volunteers to spread awareness about brushing your teeth, and it worked because it demonstrably improves your dental hygiene and health, that’s all it’s good for.  However, my usual case is that this is all government should be good for, because this isn’t actually a government- it’s a very weak and ineffectual DRO choosing to occupy the nonprofit niche instead of actively pursuing customers.  The idea that government should somehow be fundamentally nonprofit is just laughable.  Most people say that if you have a for-profit government, well that’s just loosing the dogs for corruption the likes of which has never before been seen.  They actually have a point, but the tricky bit is- that’s my point.  No company has a police force with the authority to arrest you if you don’t comply with that company’s policy.  If they did, they would be in exactly the same position as any typical government, minus the checks and balances that most modern governments have.  However checks and balances are like band-aids on a gangrenous wound- government just fundamentally will not be ethical, non-corrupt, balanced, fair, what have you, because it has the authority to seize as much money and power as it can grab.  It may have to disguise its efforts, but under the guise of national security or some other necessity it will do what it pleases.

So now we arrive at the contradiction of freedom that political scientists agonize over so much.  People want freedom, but they appear to need a government to secure those freedoms.  At the same time, in the act of securing their freedoms, the government itself must necessarily impinge upon those freedoms.  I understand the difficulty of wrestling with such a dilemma, but you’re wasting your brain cycles.  What you’ve got there is a conundrum of the first order- totally unsolvable with the same type of thinking that created it.

Here is the logical analysis of the argument in question: 1) People want to be free.  2) Freedoms are insecure in a state of nature.  3) Governments secure freedoms.  Conclusion: We should have a government.  The solution is brutally simple: the premise that governments somehow reduce a state of nature, or that governments act to secure freedoms.  Indeed, governments have only ever acted to reduce the freedoms of individuals beneath them.  Perhaps at times those citizens were under the impression that they were being aided in some fashion, at times perhaps a large majority of them were so deceived.  However the simple fact of the matter is that if what a government offered was so valuable then rational individuals would sign up voluntarily.

The proof that individuals can create extremely complex systems that are able to fulfill their needs is evident in government itself.  Government’s methodology is fine, with the single vital exception that participation is mandatory, and will be backed up by force.  In return, however, the government promises not to take everything you have, only a fraction such as one quarter or one third, which will be put toward projects you have essentially no control over.  Once again, I have no issue with any of these projects in and of themselves.  There may even be circumstances where actions as severe as the war in Iraq become necessary (they definitely were not in this case, but government idiocy is a side effect of the fact that the government retains power no matter what, even if the parties in it change).  Governments should offer services at a fair price, in a manner that its citizens will be prepared to pay for them.  One possible strategy is to have a single subscription model, requiring a third of your income, to which you must subscribe in order to legally inhabit land that the government in question owns.  As a subset of this government’s ownership, it is possible to own land.  We are approaching a fixed model of the US government where it’s essentially the same, with the critical exception that participation is voluntary.  Granted, the costs involved depend on your circumstances.  If the (rather impractical) stance of having a subscribe-or-leave policy were instituted, then you would probably stay just to keep what property you have, such as a house.  However, this solution presumes the existence of a government with the power to simply lay claim to your property as desired, and can use that threat to coerce you to subscribe in one final death throb to stab its superior and would-be-ethical successor in the gut.

So we arrive at the same contradiction for iteration round two.  In order to create a free society it is necessary for people already living under governments to somehow act as though they were not, at exactly the same moment that the government decides to relieve itself of its coercive power in favor of a voluntary or contractual model.  This is never going to happen.  So, the statist theorizes, in order to make a free society, you have to use coercive force to make them free, yes?  So we need a government to, not secure our freedoms, but force us to participate in our free society.  No.  Absolutely, definitely not.

The whole issue here is the idea of power.  The idea that a problem requires power to solve it, or that power is ever a solution worth choosing.  I am referring to power as the exercise of coercive power.  This is to distinguish it from freedom, which is the ability, or the facility, to accomplish something.  Using the definition from earlier, technology very clearly extends our freedom by enabling new courses of action that were previously physically impossible.  However, actions are morally neutral.  By creating new actions that were previously physically impossible, new crimes and new options for the use of power exist as well.  This is a cliche, but the invention of the blade creates both kitchen knives and swords.  The same holds true for everything up to and including F-22’s, although it’s hard to see how some of the more elaborate and expensive pieces of military hardware have any use at all beyond blowing stuff up, if that.  I digress here, but I am actually referring to the fundamental technological components in each case.  Technologies such as avionics systems in advanced fighter jets can be used in civilian planes and other places as well.  Simply that the F-22 and civilian planes are superficially different is taking advantage of the fact that, unlike primitive tools like kitchen knives and swords, they look and act very differently.  Although, if you looked into it, you would likely find that the design of cookware and the blacksmithing of military edged weapons were, and are, extremely different, although the fundamental technologies were the same.  Anyway, my point is that an increased availability of facility and options doesn’t actually get you anywhere in terms of the freedom versus power conflict- it only allows the scale to tip farther in either direction, irrespective of which way it is currently tipping.

I am aware that framing the discussion as “freedom versus power” seems to present a foregone conclusion, but keep in mind that I am referring to freedom as the ability to do subjective work, whereas power is the ability to have others do subjective work on your behalf.  While it is highly likely that the subjective work you have them do will not serve their own interests, there is no reason why this could not be the case.  I believe the origin of centralized authority was in the fact that disparate forces united to a common purpose can accomplish far more than they could individually, even though this means a subsuming of the individual’s judgment to whatever authority is making the decision about what must be done.  So when the scale tips toward freedom, by this logic, it appears that we are being modest in our desires.  We can’t accomplish as much in total.  I suspect this is why, in times of distress such as World War II, nations bond together.  States tighten up and hunker down, and the civilians set to work for the greater good, for fear of annihilation due to defeat in global war, but still a unified and powerful force.  It appears to me that this outcome is simply a result of economy of scale.  The issue, though, is that people are not cogs in machines, and we don’t necessarily respond well to economy of scale on the human level.  We don’t all want to eat the same food, even though it would be most efficient in the grand scheme of things to consolidate all the vast sprawling food industries into a single entity (if we utterly disregard politicking, management inefficiency, balance in parallelism, competition, and a ridiculous number of other factors) and have everyone eat well-designed vitamin and carbohydrate supplements with tap water.  It would cost virtually nothing, and free up so much human capital, labor, and time to other pursuits.  Unfortunately, as a side effect, everyone would have to live on vitamins and carb pills, which is clearly an undesirable situation.  However, on the other side of power, it’s clear that if we consolidate power too much, then human error becomes magnified.  If we consolidate absolute power in one leader then there will be fluctuations not only in that leader’s mood and ability, but also in the variation between leaders, where one person’s thought and personality can have profoundly different effects than another.  We get the good-king bad-king effect, with the good kings working steadfastly for the good of the people, and the huge contrast with the bad kings merrily chopping everyone’s heads off, starting wars and economic crises, and putting a pall of fear over the whole country.  So we see a continuum between power creating efficiency in terms of economy of scale, but inefficiency in terms of the magnification of human error.  Freedom, by contrast, limits the absolute utility available to the sum of the group in question, but also limits the effects of human error to the bounds of the party concerned.  If you want to smoke crack until you overdose- feel free.  You’ll probably be dead, but that will be the total extent of the damage you cause.

The issue with this description is that it isn’t entirely accurate.  In the freedom scenario, people still form together in groups and organizations, they just do so voluntarily only.  As a result, people in control of those large groups might still have a significant amount of power to direct and affect a large number of people.  However, and here is the critical difference, every single one of those people is free to leave at any time.  As a result, we get both the benefits of applying centralized power, and the benefits of freedom’s damage control.  If the leader is being totally ridiculous and irrational, he will either be replaced by those sensible enough to recognize it or everyone the crazy bastard has power over will jump ship and do business with someone else.  This creates a huge incentive for leaders to be effective, but also limits the damage if they are not.  It is the judgment of each person with whom they become involved, and also who they permit to have power over them, and to what degree.

Mandatory participation where each person has significant involvement and power, such as democracy in small communities, approaches this situation, but unlike mandatory democracy it scales to societies of any size.  With the possible exception of small groups in isolation.  However this is because it is assumed to be true in small groups in isolation, so the complex contracts are not worthwhile to make, resulting in stereotypical independence anarchy- the desert island scenario that statists like to employ so much.  However this fails too because the same system could be applied, and in fact would be if the situation became dire enough.  The Lord of the Flies scenario is unrealistic for rational beings (of course, there is some possibility that the circumstances caused them to become irrational) because when a problem arose, a solution, whether systemic or responsive, would be created even if there was only one individual to implement it.  This only fails when the rest of the group is behaving similarly, but treating each other as problems to be solved, resulting in never-ending conflict.  Eventually they’ll figure out how to trust one another, or kill one another first, just as barbarians of old did.  However the idea that appointing a leader prevents this type of worst-case scenario from playing out is shortsighted because the leader could easily be the cause if he tries to direct them in ways their own reason tells them are bad, and they have the independence to resist.  Anyway, this whole paragraph addresses an edge case which is increasingly rare in modern society, and irrelevant with regards to any community, city, state, national, or global scale.


Is impulsiveness a desirable characteristic?  I am the categorical thinker- I like to think about things before I do them.  However, as part of that thought process it’s important to be able to suspend thought when necessary.  As such, whether or not impulsiveness has a place in the repertoire of the contemporary rationalist is an interesting question.  Firstly, we need to look at where impulsiveness is typically used.  Impulsiveness is often associated with interpersonal exchanges, with social people and people who enjoy parties.  It is strongly disassociated with business or financial decisions, with some exceptions such as small purchases and gambling.  So while common sense thought acknowledges that impulsive action is improper for weighty decisions, for more trivial matters it helps a great deal.

Before we get into the topic, we need to make some distinctions.  There is impulsiveness and then there is recklessness.  The way I conceive of the terms, impulsiveness is thinking of an action and allowing it to proceed into reality without too much analysis.  Recklessness, on the other hand, implies a full knowledge of the action beforehand, but doing it in spite of your analysis that it is foolhardy.  I will talk about both, but first let’s cover the less complex issue of impulsiveness.  In social situations, impulsiveness is a great aid because you can’t think too much about what you’re going to say.  There are a large number of very smart people who have difficulty in social situations because they don’t realize that their strategy for dealing with reality is not universally applicable- it needs to be changed to fit their needs of the moment.  When I was a kid I was like this.  I have since learned to pragmatically and completely apply rationality and can piece together the solution to such puzzles.  Basically, if you think too much about what you’re going to say, you give an unnatural amount of weight to when you do speak.  So unless you’re able to spout endless amounts of deep, profound thoughts, invariably you’re going to be putting a lot of weight behind fairly trivial statements, and the inconsistency comes across as awkward.  Impulsiveness will decrease the weight of what you’re saying and give it a sort of throwaway characteristic which helps you in a number of ways.  Firstly, if it doesn’t work out, nobody really notices, and you can keep going with whatever suits you.  Secondly, it puts you in a more dominant position of just saying whatever you feel like saying.  You aren’t vetting your thoughts to check if the rest of the group will approve.  This brings us to the second flaw in the introverted thinker’s social rut, the fact that they are attempting to apply thought to the situation to do better and it shows very obviously to the rest of the group.  This is a complex point that I can’t encapsulate in one post, but basically any attempt to earn approval guarantees denial of it in direct proportion to the effort spent.  The introverted thinker’s goal is to earn approval, and his model for deciding what to say is, logically, fixed upon achieving that goal.  While their intentions are good their entire approach has so many incorrect assumptions they aren’t even capable of recognizing the fact that their whole paradigm is nonfunctional.  They just dive right back in with a “it must work” attitude instead of reworking from first principles.

Impulsiveness is also a pragmatic tool to be used liberally in situations of doubt.  When it is clear that hesitation will cost more than immediate action, you have to go.  When I was younger I had this model of “going for help” which essentially contained the idea that the concept of help was distant.  So “going for help” would take a long time, and there was a significant chance that the window would close for whatever the situation was.  So my primary course would have been to just go do it myself.  This is an incorrect application of impulsiveness because of incorrect information.  A proper application of impulsiveness might be, for example, you are handed a test with 100 4-answer multiple choice questions, you have 100 seconds.  Now there is no way you could conceivably cover 25% of the questions if you legitimately tried to answer them.  However, if you guess randomly you have a 1 in 4 chance on each question and so over 100 questions you should get 25 correct.  This is clearly your best strategy given the rules of the game.  You concluded that the best strategy is to suspend rational inquiry into each question because it is simply not worthwhile.  You wouldn’t work for an hour to earn a penny, and you wouldn’t think for X seconds per question.

The other fallacy that makes impulsiveness distasteful to many is the idea that the answer actually matters.  With our test example, you don’t actually care what the answer to any given question is, you have all the information needed to create a sufficient strategy.  For social impulsiveness, the simple fact of the matter is that your actions really don’t matter that much.  Provided you don’t do anything truly inappropriate, at least.  The, and I use this term very reluctantly, “antisocial nerds” ascribe a great deal of value to their interactions and to what each party says.  This is a misunderstanding of the nature of the communication.  The actual content is unimportant.  Nobody cares if you’re talking about the weather, cars, or anything else.  True, this doesn’t make logical sense, and in a perfect world people would communicate usefully instead of feeding their egos by the fact that they’re talking to people.  Most of the “extroverts” are pleased by the fact that they’re talking to people, and are anxious when seen by themselves- this mentality is communicated to introverts and affects them quite adversely because they prefer to be alone for some part of their day and they may believe that there is something wrong with them.  Don’t buy it, please.  The people who *need* to be around others to validate themselves are the unstable ones.  It’s similar to the way men and women treat sex.  Men are usually sexually insensitive and are more pleased the by fact that they are having sex than they are enjoying the sex itself.  They are usually seeking validation from society instead of their own enjoyment.  Of course, most women can pick this up immediately and they would prefer not to be some boy’s tool to self-validation.  Women, you aren’t off the hook, you do the same thing, but not with sex.  Instead, you get validation from men paying attention to you while others are watching.  Don’t get me wrong, it goes both ways.  Some women perceive that they get validation from having lots of sex, and some men get validation by attention from women, they’re just not as common as the other way around.  Impulsiveness as a concept is often bundled with these behaviors which, although nobody really knows why, are widely believed to be “creepy.”  That’s just not the case.

Now, recklessness is a whole ‘nother can of worms.  Doing something that you know to be crazy, or doing something because it’s crazy, has a completely different backing behind it.  Most reckless people do it because the cost of the reckless action is balanced or outweighed by the enjoyment or rush they get from it.  This is the same mechanism that makes skydiving fun, even though skydiving is actually reasonably safe.  If you had a significant chance of dying you wouldn’t be able to sell it to people as a recreational activity without some serious social pressure backing it up.  Ziplining is another example- there has only ever been one zipline death, and that was under suspicious circumstances.  But we perceive it to be dangerous and enjoy a rush from it.  There is, however, a time when outright reckless behavior can be a rational course of action.  Usually these circumstances fall into two categories though, 1) you’re trying to make other people/agents believe you’re reckless, or 2) direct and/or thought-out strategies can be expected or countered easily or are otherwise rendered ineffective.

Category 1 is the more common of the two and can potentially occur in any game or strategic situation.  Essentially your strategy is to do something stupid in the hope that your enemy will misjudge your tactics or your capabilities, enabling you to take greater advantage later on, or in the long run.  In poker, it is sometimes a good thing to get caught bluffing.  That way, next time you have a monster hand your opponent might believe you’re actually bluffing.  If you’ve never been caught bluffing before, they would be much more likely to believe you actually have a hand and fold.  Obviously, if you get caught bluffing enough times that it seriously impacts your pile of chips, you’re just bad at poker, but a single tactical loss can be later utilized to strategic advantage.

Category 2 is much more interesting.  Let’s take a game like Total Annihilation.  By the way, TA: Spring is totally free and open source, and it’s easily a contender for the greatest strategy game ever made.  Although it’s not fundamentally that complicated, there is no in-game help so it can be very confusing for new players.  Feel free to log in to the multiplayer server and just ask for a training game- after one or two you should be up to speed and ready to play for real.  Anyway, in Total Annihilation, at least the more standard-fare mods, there are dozens if not hundreds, there are huge weapons that deal death massively and can pose a serious threat in and of themselves to the opposition.  Things like nukes, long range artillery, giant experimental robots (and you can FPS any unit, bwahaha!!), etc. etc.  Anyway, the construction of one such piece can actually end the game if it stands uncountered or undestroyed for too long.  However each has a counter, which range in effectiveness.  For example, antinuke protects a fairly large area, but if you throw two nukes at it, it can only handle one.  Shields protect against long range artillery but they have a small area and cost a lot to run, and so on.  Now, a calculating player can probably figure out the ideal choice for the opponent in a given situation.  If he’s focusing all his stuff in one place, he may as well get both shields and anti-nuke, but the other player(s) could then steal the whole map.  If he goes for the whole map himself, the other player would probably get air units to attack his sparsely defended holdings.  If he consolidates in a few carefully chosen locations, nukes might be in order, and so on.

This is where we get to the recklessness-as-tool element.  Potentially the greatest advantage in complex games of strategy is surprise, or doing something that the enemy did not expect and must react to.  Ideally the enemy has limited ability to reorganize to counter the new threat.  This is true of real-world military action- there are issues with communication, chaos, and a host of others that make reacting quickly difficult.  The more resources sunk into the threat, the more resources that will be necessary to counter it (assuming that the attacker isn’t just stupid).  There would have been no point in the Manhattan Project, for example, if the enemy could put horseshoes on all their doors to render nuclear weapons impotent, and it would never have been started.  Now let’s say we have a game of TA where it would be obvious that hitting the enemy with a nuke would be the best course of action.  Of course, this same idea will have occurred to the person about to get nuked.  OK, so then big guns are the best strategy.  Except that your opponent can think of that, too, because he might guess you’re not going to use nukes because it’s too obvious.  And so on through all the possible options, whatever one can think of, the other can too.  Whatever strategy you might use to maximize your utility can be equally though of by the enemy.  We are dealing with a perfectly constrained system.

But what if we de-constrained the system just a little bit.  We remove the rule that says we must maximize value.  Now we could feasibly do anything up to and including nuking ourselves.  So we need a different rule in its place because now we’re working with a screwed up and dysfunctional model.  This is where the trick is.  Because you might still have a meta-model of maximizing value in your selection of an alternate strategy, meaning you will be just as predictable, albeit through the use of a much more complex algorithm.  No, you have to truly discard the maximizing value paradigm in order to get the additional value from surprise, and the trick is to not lose too much to put you behind after your surprise factor is added in.

My problem here is I’m trying to reduce a complex and multi-dimensional strategic game to a single aspect under consideration.  My other problem is that many of you will have never heard of Total Annihilation.  The same idea applies to more or less any other sufficiently complex game, such as Starcraft, but value is too directly transformed in most modern games to make such meta-strategies significant.  If you have more troops, or the right kind of troops, you win.  If you’re behind, you’re behind and there’s not a lot you can do about it other than try harder in doing what you were doing before.  So while surprise might give you some advantage, it’s probably not going to be worth enough to be behind to get it.  Careful application of force certainly helps, but it’s not as vital as in Supreme Commander or Total Annihilation.  No, I’m not harping on the games in question, I’m not demanding that you must play them, I’m just sharing my particular taste in video games.

Impulsiveness once again.  I seem to be digressing more and more these days.  Basically what I’m trying to communicate is that in some situations (games to use the theoretical term) the act of analysis must be take into consideration in your planning.  How much time can you spend analyzing, what should you be analyzing, how is the enemy thinking, etc. etc.  Once you bring the act of thinking into the purview of strategic considerations, impulsiveness is one option for a viable strategy that just does not occur to someone who cannot conceive of the act of thinking as a strategic concern.  They implicitly believe that life is a game of perfect information with unlimited time for a given move.  The truth is, you’re acting when you decide what to do, and that act will have an effect on the world and on the results you get.  There are lots of proverbs about hesitation, but they don’t seem to extend to when to think and when to just act.  On the whole, I think most people have an implicit understanding of this type of decision making- it comes pre-packaged with the HBrain OS, but they haven’t really considered exactly what it is they’re doing on a consistent basis.  I’m just here to point it out so those who haven’t can read about it and be provoked into it.

Net Neutrality

An issue near and dear to my heart, indeed.  It’s a foolhardy name- we need to call it “net freedom” or something.  However, that’s not what this post is about.  I’m going to cover the issue as objectively as possible.

First, the entrenched enemy.  Companies like Comcast, who own the internet’s basic data transmission infrastructure, are completely justified in their claims that they have the right to use their infrastructure however they please.  The people who respond to the net neutrality issue with the knee-jerk “we’ll get the government to make it illegal!” are foolish children having their candy taken from them.  Bringing the government to bear on the management of the internet is an incredibly bad idea, firstly because the internet is international.  However let’s not ignore the fact that the government will mismanage a medium such as the internet, and how centralized control will not be helpful to the internet anyway.  I believe that Comcast is free to do whatever it wants with its own hardware.  The rub comes from how Comcast probably has sufficient power to enforce such controls over other companies, possibly from an agreement.  This breach of market equilibrium means that Comcast has limited rein to just screw us over.  Without that assurance, blatantly screwing your customers is a ticket to bankruptcy.  But if those customers have no choice…  The problem isn’t Comcast’s right to use its infrastructure, it’s Comcast’s power to oligopolize the industry.  Still, there are people who would claim, “alright, then let’s get the government to nail them for anti-trust violations!”  While better than trying to directly control Comcast’s business model, it’s still a bad answer.

To give Comcast et al. a little credit which they seem oblivious to, it may well be that metered internet is the best path for the future.  With our unlimited model, there is no real penalty for colossal data inefficiency.  Sure, the awful file type will take longer to download and eat your hard drive space, and scripts, protocols, or instructions might be horrifyingly inefficient, but there’s no actual fiscal cost.  If the internet were metered, then as a web client you are going to expect a certain degree of respect for your bandwidth.  Websites arrogantly squandering your bandwidth for ads had better have the services to back it up.  Currently we assume that a metered internet will look just like the current internet, just more expensive and charged by the byte.  Not necessarily.  For most users it will probably be cheaper.  And, there may be new systems built in to improve the user experience.  For example, you might have a browser master control panel which gives you control every byte you download, and allows you to easily lock out unwanted sites’ data.  There would be a strong incentive to create double-layer security and user facility protocols, a default deny data acquisition model, streamlined packet handling, and so on.  On a grander scale, older and obsolete file types or programming languages and paradigms will be upgraded and phased out more quickly, giving you more bang for your hardware dollar (and software too).

Much of my audience is probably ready to throw up by now.  Just to make this clear- I DO NOT support Comcast and their cohorts in their efforts to strangle the internet.  However, I disagree with the alarmists who think that a metered internet is a dead internet.  It will be a very different internet, to be sure, but we can be resourceful.  Firstly, who says we have to do business with people who are screwing us?  And if they oligopolize the industry and give us no choice, then we can do it ourselves.  Buy your own fiber optics lines and connect your neighborhood together, then add lines to other places, etc. etc.  Comcast isn’t doing anything that is somehow impossible for your average Joe, although they would like you to think so.  If you, not Comcast, own your line that connects to a hub which can go anywhere, you can choose to use Comcast’s services or you can contact lines that also choose unlimited service, etc.  It might even be totally free.  Why not?  Open source hardware is not that big a leap.  We have options- but if we go and tell Comcast that they don’t actually own their own infrastructure, we’re no better than the people chopping our media with DRM.

Of course it’s more likely to be practical to use wireless connections and navigate by hubs alone rather than having wires running everywhere- and stashing them underground is expensive.  Comcast can offer us fast, high-capacity data services while we get our own free internet in other ways, such as each house running its own wifi.  You get a hub, other people can tap your bandwidth and you can tap theirs.  You can disallow anyone you like, or everyone, wherever or whenever you like.  But then don’t expect them to permit you to use theirs.  A decentralized internet is an ideal perhaps greater than that of an unlimited data model from a vendor like Comcast.  I don’t know what’s going to happen- this is just speculation, although it seems reasonable to me that people want internet, and if they can’t get it for free from companies like Comcast we’ll start seeing inventive solutions to make it happen.  If signals can leapfrog wirelessly from house to house to commercial building to house, then that seems like a good possible solution to me.  Hey, it might even be an improvement for us not to be dependent on data services or wires.  And we may be reaping the data efficiency benefits of limited pipelines between disparate areas.  I doubt wireless technology will get powerful enough to broadcast over, say, the Pacific Ocean in the next couple years.  So fiber optics lines will probably be the best way to get lots of data around the world, fast.  If you don’t need to pay for speed, maybe a circuitous route through many low-signal areas to get to you is good enough.  I am optimistic about the outcome, either way.  If net neutrality fails, so what?  The environment changes, and we bend our intelligences to working out the problems in front of us.  That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight for what we want, since what I’ve been talking about are basically after-the-fact tactics we might employ to the same effect: getting what we want.

The Intelligence Process

I have generalized the scientific method, at least for my own use, because while the scientific method works perfectly for science there is as yet no model which ideally describes the application of intelligence against objective reality. Now, this basically is the scientific method, but factors in a number of elements which are useful to exclude in scientific discourse.

1.) Assumptions: Intelligent agents always begin from assumptions, and although there is nothing we can do about it, it’s not a bad place to start unless you use poor assumptions and do not recognize them as assumptions. Also includes circumstantial evidence about surroundings, self, etc. The initial information set at any reference point you choose.

2.) Deficit: Any set of assumptions will find a case or situation where information is lacking, possibly a method to do a certain thing, maybe a rule about the world, or perhaps unknown circumstantial information. Formally phrased this would end up something like a question, spurring the creation of a solution. This step is also significant in providing us with the drive to seek stimuli.

3.) Hypothesis: A solution/guess is derived based on assumptions, utilizes rational, predictive, and imaginative abilities. Given accurate starting information and sound methods, this result will be useful. Otherwise, it is suspect (although it may still be useful or accurate- by the “the moon is made of cheese, therefore the sky is blue” effect, it’s just not reliable).

4.) Ecology Check: The hypothesis is actually cross-checked with the assumptions before being tested against reality. This is, for example, why people who don’t like broccoli may decide not to eat broccoli. Without this step, there would be no reason to assume that you wouldn’t like broccoli now, regardless of how you thought it tasted yesterday. While not a strictly logical approach, this is usually an immensely useful heuristic process.

5.) Test: I have actually combined a number of the scientific method’s steps here- steps like “prepare” and “procedure” and somewhat pointlessly specific and I just rolled them into this step. The objective of the test is to analyze the effectiveness of a piece of information you have put into “sandbox mode” as a hypothesis. The reason for this is that you cannot test a deficit, you can only test positive information. It can be disproved. Statements like “there is no such thing as a goose” are disprovable- they are simply about the nonexistence of something rather than its existence, all you need to do is find a goose. A negative statement might be “a goose can transform into an elephant under some conditions.” [s] Wow, that’s helpful [/sarcasm] Now, here’s the rub. Testing is the most important part of intelligence, but at the same time it is the most liable to fail. It is inherently an inductive process, as I have said before. So statements like “all swans are white” cannot be proven authoritatively. They can, however, be disproven, by finding a swan that is not white (as there indeed are). Yet if you have seen a million swans and they were all white, and you have no reason to believe your field of swan observation to have been constricted by some other factor, then you may conclude that all swans are white, and you would be quite rational in doing so. Provided that you recognize that you are making an assumption for practical purposes.

6.) Inference: The test only provides you with the data to make an analysis. Deciding what the test means is a whole ‘nother can of worms. In the case of our goose example, perhaps I’m a goose breeder who wants to grow a better goose. This is a subjective and situational step, so I’m just going to make something up here, but let’s say this here goose breeder is of the entrepreneurial variety and decides that because there are only white geese, if he could produce multicolor geese he would make a killing. Goose show spectators around the world would be shocked into buying spectrum geese at exorbitant prices. Now, even in this extremely short example, look at all the other factors and assumptions I brought to bear to determine what the meaning behind “there are only white geese” was. I needed some ideas about the nature of the world, the economy, my own experiences and tendencies, all these things which are a complete construction on top of the conclusion “all geese are white.”

7.) Compression: Another step which, while being illogical most of the time, is highly useful. Concept compression takes a number of forms, usually dependent on someone’s learning style. There are auditory learners, visual learners, kinesthetic learners, etc. etc. My experience is that each of these labels is an oversimplification. When I’m learning a method or a set of information I mainly gauge how familiar any given piece feels. This is extremely effective for nonlinear processes like abstraction, but extremely poor for rigorous linear processes, or arbitrary elements like rote memorization. If I have to give a presentation, I cannot memorize a script, and memorizing bullet points is even tougher. I can, however, just learn holistically about the entire topic to be covered and then just stream of consciousness about it and do quite well. Now, I have other methods for lots of different things, as do we all, but I’m reasonably sure that’s my main label. I have my own theories about how we label thoughts and sensory data, but that’s probably for another time. For now, I think we can agree that we don’t encode in memory the actual sensory data or concepts or ideas received/conceived/whatever, but actually a compressed interpretation of that information.

8.) Association: The issue with putting this step at number 8 is that association is the sole purpose of the neuron in the brain, so this is actually going on all the time, at every step along the way. Whenever you string two bits together in your brain you’re making an association, so the entire process itself is associating one step with the next. Also, anything that happens to be going on might be associated with the thoughts you had at the time, or maybe you’re connecting together two similar things, maybe tests you’ve made or hypotheses from different times, whatever. However I think this is the best place to put it because in the strictest sense, you can’t associate anything that you don’t remember, and you can’t remember something until it has been compressed. If you’ve ever done that experiment where you have to count the number of R’s in a sentence, but the question afterward asks about the number of H’s, or similar, you know what I’m talking about. You didn’t encode how many H’s there were. (Actually, to be proper, you didn’t encode the number of R’s either, you created a program on-the-fly that would increment a number whenever you saw R as you scanned the line, encoding a single number which is much more efficient. Encoding the number of R’s would be memorizing “there are 7 R’s in the sentence [blah]” which you probably didn’t do because it’s stupid and wasteful.)

9.) State Hook: This step has the same issue as associations in that you are experiencing some sort of state all the time, however it goes after association because it is used as a sort of meta-tag on top of any inter-idea associations you may have made. If you make the association of press button->get candy conceptualized and ready to go, realizing that you can now have candy if you want it, then your state, perhaps happiness, sadness, hunger, or other conditions (not necessarily related to your body) are applied. If you wanted candy, for example, you’ll get a state change, some different associations, and a different resulting behavior than if you just ate. For example, you might be more inclined to find that candy tasty.

10.) Framing: I’m wrapping up all the higher-level thinking into one big category, because you’re basically just repeating this step over and over again to go from beliefs to values to paradigms or whatever else. Ascribing synthetic meaning to things is framing. Rearranging models or performing manipulations on your conceptions is performing operations by adding synthetic meaning to delete, replace, or augment bits. Naming something is a framing operation. Grouping things is a framing operation. Note the distinction between associating two things, and grouping two things. When two things are associated, one might lead you to the other. However a fir and a poplar can both be trees without the mention of firs causing you to think of poplars. There are also a number of interesting oddities of peoples’ histories of associating groups with individual members, or maybe something else entirely. Free association: “Tree” and they say “Larch” then that’s one model they have of the standard tree, perhaps representative of trees as a class to them.

11.) Confirmation: Any given piece of information has several stages to go through before it is really accepted, and some will always be more respected than others. This level of trust or integration is a full spectrum extending from violent opposition to devil’s advocate thought experiment to skepticism to acceptance to total faith. Your belief may increase due to emotional reaction, resonance, application, utility, or any of a number of other reasons. Healthy systems of thought will tend to eradicate false beliefs in one shot once they are disproved- systems that are unhealthy may have a tug-of-war with emotional reactions, etc. pulling in both or (god forbid) more than two directions. Persisting beliefs will tend to gradually increase in acceptance due to increased association and exposure, and extinct beliefs are just not even in your head anymore. I’m going to use this step as a placeholder for several significant levels of acceptance, to the point that a given piece of information is trusted/believed to 1. the same degree as your original thoughts, 2. the same as your perceptions, and 3. on the level with your beliefs.

12.) Utility: The function of intelligence to maximize its utility given a specific information set, defined by the previous steps.

13.) Morality: The function of intelligence to deduce and follow morality. The reason why this is a product of intelligence is that morality is simply the application of reciprocity in society to utility. Morality is doing what is best for everyone, an abstraction out from doing what is best for you, with the significant difference that morality is a higher level, and therefore guides and supersedes personal utility. On a slightly related note, arbitrary social laws are a hijacking of this function to no real benefit- or more commonly, to an impossibly small benefit at the expense of a potentially massive gain. If they did blatant harm they would be abandoned as corrupt and pointless by the lower-level and more powerful utility principles.

14.) Creation: Intelligence seeks to produce. Artistically, socially, culturally, whatever. We’re seeking to stimulate others’ perceptions and minds, satisfying the sensory deficit with the richest material we can produce because we want to experience also. This works even if nobody else existed in the world because the act of creation is a bottomless supply of auto-stimulation.

15.) Self-Actualization: Realizing your potential, from Maslow. Drives artists to be artists and accountants to suicide. Just kidding. Not everyone’s greatest potential is in direct creation of memetically or mentally stimulating material.

16.) Philosophy: Understanding and wisdom. The drive to understand ourselves, our world, our thoughts, everything. The problem is that we are like computers seeking to describe their own code. We can’t do it because every line of code used to help the computer understand its other code…. is one other line of code requiring explanation. What makes me happy? What do I want, really? What should I do? If you had everything you could conceivably want- infinite utility, morality, etc. then is life pointless? Why or why not? What would you do?

More Simulated Realities

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Now, more in-depth on your brain, simulations, and the computability of the universe. Asking if the universe is computable is basically asking if all aspects of the universe’s functioning are a) universal, b) consistent, c) predictable, and d) functionally limited in scope to our own universe. If the laws of physics are not universal then one part of the universe might follow different laws of physics than another. If they are not consistent then they may be subject to change over time. If they are not predictable then mathematics cannot duplicate them- although randomness and like phenomena are duplicable in a probabilistic fashion. Lastly, if the universe is not limited in scope, then we’re just sunk. Basically what I’m saying by the scope of the universe is that there cannot be some other non-observable otherworld that affects our own universe. Although that outside influence may itself be subject to universal, consistent, and predictable laws, if we can’t discern its workings from within our own universe then we cannot simulate our own universe because we can’t simulate its effect. Although the most complicated of our 4 contingencies, it’s probably the one we have least to worry about. Most physicists or scientists would agree that all four of these are well established to be true of our universe.

If the universe is computable, and there are those who say it isn’t although they are completely wrong, then it is physically possible to create a simulation matching our own universe in complexity, size, or resolution, but never all three at the same time or our entire universe must necessarily have been subsumed into creating such a simulation. We can shave off a massive amount of unnecessary computing power by limiting our simulation to salient details only. For example, we can use macroscopic heuristics to make objects behave like objects without needing to simulate the position, energy disposition, etc. of every atom within said object. Unless someone within the simulation is actively perusing each atom of that object, nobody will notice the difference. And if anyone should examine those atoms, why our simulation can just render those atoms for them like the light turning on in the refrigerator. So in a conceptual sense, it wouldn’t be very hard to make a simulation that was extremely believable to someone within it. There are several different models of simulation we might have, and each has its advantages.  A brain interface simulation like the Matrix means that you get to keep your body, and don’t face any of the weird issues associated with copying your mind from one place to another.  However, you also don’t get to play the simulation at whatever speed you would like because it can only operate at the same speed that your extra-simulation brain can handle.  If you still want to keep your body, maybe you can go for a half-and-halfer arrangement, where you plug in your brain and a temporary copy of it is loaded up into the simulation as a virtual self, strongly typed back to your original brain which must be temporarily disabled so the “real” you doesn’t walk off.  This is weird because there must necessarily be two copies of you existing at the same time, one in reality (unconscious?) and one in the simulation.  But this method gets you the in-simulation advantages of scaling with the simulation’s speed, etc. etc.  Of course the best way in my opinion is to just be a virtual self completely.  This means you are governed by the simulation’s physics, and so on and so forth.  Probably the most effective way to manage this situation is for your virtual self to exist in a meta-simulation connected computer that you own.  So you still have a body- it’s just a computer connected to the Internet, basically.  If you want to create a simulation for yourself, you can do it within your computer, like imagination with a sensory supercomputer.  You might even opt to purchase/rent additional processing power into your property if you so desired.  Or, you can place your processor into another simulation governed by someone else, somewhat like interfacing with a game over the internet.  Your mind would of course be kept discrete and secure from all the other workings, but functioning within the simulation.

Now things get interesting. Once we had a simulation that was indistinguishable from reality, why would you want to live in actual reality? There’s no reason whatsoever why there should arbitrarily be only one- that’s absurd. But your body as you know it could be exactly created as a sequence of virtual atoms within the simulation. If that was all you did then there would be no effective difference between being in a simulation and being in “real life.” But why stop there? Carefully crafted algorithms to alter the content of the simulation would effectively give you magic powers. Absolute control over material reality, mind reading perhaps, whatever floats your boat. If you owned your own private simulation you would be as a god among NPCs. While you could play one hell of a game of Sims or Civilization or whatever you wanted, I imagine playing with only bots would get tiresome very quickly. What you need are some real intelligences to sink your teeth into. Of course in such an advanced simulation, you have lots of options. Option A is to simply arrange some virtual atoms into intelligent agents. There’s nothing stopping you from having a legitimate human opponent whenever you wanted. Or even a super genius opponent. Hell, you could hand-craft a genius expert at anything you wanted by setting up a smart person in a situation where they just practice practice practice at whatever you want to challenge them at. You then set the simulation on maximum speed and step back for a millisecond. When you return your opponent will have perhaps thousands of years of experience, and will destroy you. You could simulate the Matrix universe which contains within it another simulation, or perhaps the Firefly ‘verse, or whatever other fiction world you pleased. Full Metal Alchemist anyone?

Option B is probably even more fun: other simulation gods. PVP takes on a whole new meaning. Highlander is just the beginning. World of Warcraft is the tip of the iceberg. Try KAOS in a simulated real-world environment, with each player being assigned some other player to kill, somewhere in the world.  I for one would particularly look forward to some genius coding up some Halo-like universe where a player commands armies in RPG/RTS format where each of your characters is essentially a real person. You start off solo and may eventually build up armies of millions if you so desire, and if you can. Each side would be headed up by one Player. Maybe they can respawn, but that’s kinda pathetic. If you die, you should be dead. In a game like that any hardware you may have obtained could be easily gotten back in a new character if you were so inclined. Randomly generated authentic characters, on the other hand, would be priceless.

Which raises an interesting and vital question- if you’ve created a real person in a virtual world, do they have rights? Are they entitled to better than a gameworld of eternal war? We have no problem blowing away humanoid models in modern shooters, but when those models are atom-for-atom replicas of real people with fully functioning brains and the works, then what? I’m not really sure of this point, to be honest. While I do believe that they would be people in every sense, and that in truth their reality is just as “real” as ours despite the fact that they live in a simulation stemming from ours. However, I am disinclined to believe that it is unethical to create such a world. It is unethical to kill people within that world, but the creation of a world with the intent of waging bloody mayhem within it is not unethical. The distinction here is that by the act of creating the world, you have not killed anyone. In fact you have given life to everyone created within that world. The fact that you did so in order for other people to wage war within it is irrelevant. Intent is never significant: only action matters. However, even if you were to go inside that world and kill everyone within it, have you really taken anything from them? After creating your world, are you morally obligated to keep it running on behalf of those within it? No, you can cancel your simulation whenever you like and you have given those within it life for a certain period. Is it better than never having existed at all? Of course. In fact, I would go so far as to say that any existence whatsoever is superior to nonexistence. Yet, while some people will continue to enjoy war games with perfectly realistic human beings, I’m not sure I would find it enjoyable for long. The people running the simulation would obviously sanitize the battlefield to make it enjoyable because nobody would pay to participate in the hell of war as we know it. Perhaps some of the more hardcore people would want a somewhat realistic experience, but I’m not one of them.

I suspect that we would see many more peaceful video games with much improved realism.  Current games are trying to capitalize on the visceral immersion factor they can acquire through violence.  If they’re indistinguishable from reality, that gut reaction is no longer necessary.  Simulating a poker room, open ocean, or even a farm (where you only decide what gets done- it fast-forwards through the actual farm labor, if you’re even the one doing it) makes a lot more sense.  Interestingly though, anything you learned to do in such a simulation would be fully applicable in real life.  If you learned to swordfight in your pirate game world then if you picked up a sword in real life, the skills would be the same.  This is ignoring the fact that if we have developed sufficient technology to interface your brain with a computer to that degree, you could probably just download whatever knowledge you desired and it would be available to you in both cases.  The possibilities of creating simulations for ourselves are just endless.  I want to be a cyborg.

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Gradual Anarchism

You know something that I never really understood about the common stereotypes of anarchists is that everyone seems to think anarchists are violent.  This seems to me like claiming that all people who read Harry Potter are violent.  There are violent people who read Harry Potter.  Sure, there are violent people who are anarchists, probably because they’re looking for an excuse for their violence.  It’s just that the other anarchists aren’t up in their faces saying “don’t do that or we’re going to shoot you.”  That tendency has nothing to do with anarchism.  In truth, I would bet there are virtually zero violent anarchists, and there have never been very many at any point in history.  Anyone who thinks along the standard anarchist line, that the government exercises violent, coercive force and is inherently corrupt as a result, isn’t going to want to employ those exact methods.  The punks who just want to do whatever they want aren’t anarchists- they’re just criminals who want cheap redemption.

Real anarchists are depending upon the rise of individualism.  Even if nobody else does, they’ll continue to do their own thing, including paying taxes, dealing with bureaucracies, etc., whatever is necessary to survive in a corrupt environment.  However, when enough people start finding themselves, and start to feel the chafing of arbitrary power, we’ll find ourselves free soon enough along the very channels of corrupt power that has been such a problem so far.  Government is an adaptive entity, and it really has no choice but to deal with the objective reality set before it in the natures of its citizens.  If they’re weak, uneducated, and passive conformists then government has a freer hand to exploit them, their money, and the peoples of other countries with that money.  However, the converse is also true.  If the citizens are capable, intelligent, and rational, and value their freedoms then the government has little choice but to accommodate them.  Governments can change much faster than they would have you believe.  For example, the US government is structured to put the brakes on radical change, such as by having the senate serve six year terms, and having Supreme Court justices serve for life.  While this was a great design mechanism for smoothing out swings in popular opinion, if 90% of the country was committed to a personal philosophy of freedom and individualism the changes would become evident very quickly.  Even the most well-entrenched Supreme Court justice would blanch at the prospect of supporting an infringement on that national psyche’s doctrine.  In fact, 90% is massive overkill.  My point is that gradually growing the philosophy of anarchism is the only effective way to truly make society free.

My position on anarchism is quite mild.  Yes, anarchism is a great idea in the sense that an absence of mandatory, arbitrary government power is a good thing.  Yes, public order is not that difficult to create in a stateless society, in fact it’s probably far, far easier.  I suggest only one change from the current model of government, but it’s something of a doozy for those who haven’t thought along these lines before.  The Change: Participation in government must be completely and totally optional.  I need to clarify this point- I am not referring to (cue nasally voice) “oh, you don’t have to vote, that’s fine.”  No, I mean that if I decide not to participate that I pay no taxes, I get no services, and you have no moral authority to imprison or otherwise punish me if I disobey your laws.  You might choose to do so anyway, but then at least we’re clear that you are using hired men with guns to abduct me from my home against my will.

Let that soak in for a bit.  What if you could just choose to not be involved with a government?  A lot of people would continue as before, but then they chose it.  I have absolutely no problem with that.  Hey, after a few years maybe the government will have changed enough under its new optimizing influences that I might even rejoin it.  It’s certainly got a good basic blueprint- the Constitution and balanced powers and such.  Regarding those optimizing influences, if government participation is completely optional then I can withdraw from it and then go and create my own organization that fulfills some of the same functions, but of course, mine will do them better and cheaper or nobody will join me.  Maybe I’ll advertise the fact that my government has an extremely minimal set of laws that are clear and easy to understand.  Obviously the entire structure of my organization will be open for the public to peruse, or else why would anyone bother to trust me?  I could be asking them to agree that if they ever smoked pot, they’d agree to spend 20 years in in a rape gulag jail.  Who would want to join that?  More importantly, as owner of this government, I don’t want to have to build jails if there’s any way I can avoid it but still promise my customers law and order.  It’s in my interest to make participation as enjoyable and painless as possible, providing as many services as possible for as little cost as possible.  Apply this type of reasoning to every aspect of running a government and you’re approaching how awesomely powerful a solution The Change is.

The truly beautiful piece of this solution is that a “democracy” is where everyone gets to choose what they want.  The government’s sick perversion of this idea is that, rather than choosing what you want, you get a vote which is part of a mass decision-making process.  And whatever decision is reached by the masses, stands, irrespective of whether you like it.  Can you imagine if this same logic applied to other areas in your life?  “What am I going to have for lunch?”  The vote says the nation wants to buy hamburgers.  Therefore, you must have a hamburger along with everyone else.  It’s insanity.  If you wanted a hamburger you could just go out and buy one.  Or if you would prefer a sandwich or salad or anything else you can just go get that instead.  However, if you want something too esoteric then you’re going to have to work pretty hard to find or acquire it because nobody is going to be selling. it.  However if you think this exotic dish will appeal to a lot of people you can start your own company and sell it yourself.  Afterwards if lots of people do like it, then they can just go get it- from you.  Why we think freedom is great for insignificant decisions like what we’re going to have for lunch, but when we get to the really important decisions it’s vital that we be slaves is just beyond me.  Well not really- the obvious answer is that there’s not that much cost-benefit ratio in controlling what you have for lunch, but in taking half your income to buy weapons there is a massive niche.  The beauty of freeing people from their mandatory government participation is that they can be free in the ways they want to be free, and constrained in the ways they want to be constrained.  I guarantee that there will be at least one government (if that’s what you call it) for every significant niche.  Rather than voting into a massive pool, you vote with your feet and join wherever you like.  And if at any time that government displeases you or screws you over, you just leave and join somewhere else.

We are approaching the conception of a Dispute Resolution Organization, but we’re not quite there yet.  These governments will necessarily need to cooperate because of the nature of their environment.  Their customers/citizens might be dispersed throughout a certain area.  Although I can imagine a DRO basically owning an entire city and everyone in it belonging to that DRO.  That model could definitely work.  Perhaps that’s the future of communism, where everyone’s needs are taken care of by producing to the extent of their ability.  Anyone who wants to join that city can do so.  I suspect that there would be a severe shortage of high-capability individuals, but maybe there’s a solution to that problem that our future communist DRO will find.  Anyway, in the event of an incident involving individuals from different DRO’s, the organizations would represent their customers.

Let’s say somebody is accusing someone else of theft.  Obviously both DRO’s want to have conclusive evidence that their resolution is just, one way or the other.  They don’t want to let a guilty person go unpunished, and they really don’t want to punish someone who’s innocent.  Let’s say they conclude he’s guilty and the DRO’s make an agreement.  The thief’s DRO will fine him the value of the TV plus damages and legal fees, as per his contract to pay fines if he is found guilty of a crime, and give it to the victim’s DRO, who will then give the victim the value of their TV plus pain and suffering damages or whatnot.  If the thief is unable to pay these fines, then their DRO will cover the damages in the form of a loan and give the thief an honest chance to earn it back.  If the thief is a serious repeat offender for crimes more serious than just petty theft, the DRO will probably terminate service because it’s cheaper to have model citizen customers, and he’s not helping the DRO or anyone else.  Of course now you’re probably asking why the thief should care that his service has been terminated, since now he can steal whatever he wants and no DRO is going to punish him.  Well, he has the slight problem that if he was to be murdered then nobody would look into his death, except maybe DRO’s interested in finding out if one of their customers did the killing, or possibly some charity organizations.  He has no representation for wrongs against him, and no services provided by DRO’s.  However, more seriously, businesses have absolutely no incentive to trust him, and simply won’t do business with him, or they might charge more to compensate for the risk of dealing with him.  He might find it impossible to find somewhere to live, buy food, or get a job.  However DRO’s would have great incentive to pick up people like him, even though they’re a bit riskier than longtime customers, and might have to pay a little more for equivalent services, they get exactly the sort of basic representation and credibility they need.  Also, a DRO  would presumably  be designed to deal with new customers, providing the right incentive structure to make it more advantageous to be honest and forthright, while at the same time being enjoyable and providing valuable services

I have yet to meet someone in person who has conceived of the possibility that government participation doesn’t necessarily have to be mandatory.  If the topic shows up, usually I am met with either apathy or a “but you have to vote” mentality.  The latter group is especially annoying because their response clearly indicates they totally misunderstood my argument, and they can’t even visualize the idea of not being a part of a government.  Clearly you don’t have to vote, and though it’s probably a good idea, that’s not what I’m talking about anyway!  Give the people the option of choosing their government, or creating one that suits their needs, rather than merely giving them a vote to move a colossal mass of humanity just that fraction of an inch.