Epistemic Regress

A topic I have been focused on for a bit is this idea of epistemic regress. By the typical definition of knowledge, a piece of knowledge is a belief which is true, that we have a justification for believing is true. The problem of epistemic regress falls out of this definition in the way that we justify beliefs. In short, the problem is that if we have a belief, it is typically justified by appeal to one or more other beliefs. Belief A is justified by belief B, which is presumably justified by belief C, and so on and so forth, causing an infinite regress. Which, if we don’t figure out some way to work out this infinite regress, could mean that we don’t actually know anything.

There are three basic ways we could resolve this regress. The infinitist theory is to say yes it is an infinite regress and that’s just how it is. Which is just terribly unsatisfying. Worse, if A isn’t justified unless B is justified, and B isn’t justified unless C is justified, etc. then we aren’t really justified in any of them because the string of unjustified beliefs goes on forever. We need some root belief that is justified. This brings us to the second way to resolve this problem, which is foundationalism. A foundational belief would be a terminal belief in this chain, that stops the infinite regress. The problem is that any belief that is foundational would need to be justified without needing another belief to justify it, which would be a very peculiar sort of belief indeed. The existence of such a belief is almost as hard to swallow as the idea that the infinite regress goes on forever. Now, the third possible way we could deal with this infinite regress is that there is no stopping point, and it doesn’t continue infinitely, but rather it goes in closed circular loops of indefinite length and structure. This solution is called coherentism. Superficially it seems acceptable, until you realize that you’re basically sanctioning circular reasoning as a means of justifying otherwise unjustified beliefs. That’s like saying God is good because the Bible says so, and we know the Bible is true because God is good (and wouldn’t lie to us). And we know that both those are true because it is circular. This logic is, to say the least, bad. Coherentism seems to suggest that this is acceptable, and that is a hard bullet to bite as well. So we have three bad theories that basically cover all the major solutions to an infinite regress. Either it is in fact an infinite regress, it terminates somewhere, or it just loops on itself. Now what?

Well, we have to test each one. Regarding the infinitist theory, it seems we are forced to conclude that we have little to no reason to think any of our beliefs are justified, and that we have no actual knowledge. This is most likely going to be our choice of last resort, since it basically concedes that we have no knowledge. Either that or infinite regresses are just fine, which is not really logically tenable. As a result this is not so much a serious theory of how to resolve epistemic regress as it is giving up.

Coherentism is a complex theory, and there are any number of ways you could go about attempting to prove it. If in fact our beliefs loop back on themselves, it also doesn’t appear we are justified in believing them, however most coherentists will argue that because the web of beliefs stands up coherently, we have reason to believe the entire group becomes justified to some extent. This seems a little bit plausible, but what about belief sets that are internally consistent, but disagree with the observable world? Does this same justificatory system apply to them? Unless a coherence theory adds in some element of observation then yes, and this would kill the theory. So a coherence theory must have some attachment to the real world in order to stop it from being legitimate to just make up all sorts of internally consistent nonsense and having it be justified as knowledge. Still, the truly knockout blow for coherentism is that a coherentist will generally rely on some belief which it makes little sense for it to be justified by a coherence argument. For example, “I think that coherence theory is true.” It doesn’t really make a lot of sense for a coherence theory to justify assertions about that sort of subject. But a coherence theorist cannot say that we have unproblematic epistemological access to anything, even our own thoughts, because that assertion that we have unproblematic epistemological access to our own minds is itself a belief that requires a justification, and a coherence theory will have to justify it by coherence with other beliefs.

Which leaves us with foundationalism. Which does seem to be the strongest candidate of the three, as well as the most intuitive, and is the one I will support. It is the typical way to resolve other infinite regresses, to find a base case. However its original problem still stands- what on earth could be a self-justifying belief? We need a belief that 1) is justified, and 2) does not depend on other beliefs for its justification. It’s easy to find beliefs that have either condition on their own. The belief that SKLAPPY SCHNAAA does not depend on other beliefs (if you are prepared to accept it is even a belief, which is debatable) but clearly it is nonsensical to say it is justified. Most beliefs we think are true will be justified, but will require other beliefs to justify them, even if those beliefs are as simple as what the subject concerned is. “That object is a chair” is a belief that depends on knowing what a chair is, for example, and possibly even knowing what an object is, or the sense in which one object can be of another class. Finding a truly foundational belief is quite challenging. Unlike a coherentist, a foundationalist can say that one of our foundational beliefs is that we have unproblematic epistemological access to our own minds. That can just be a foundational belief, if indeed it doesn’t require another belief to justify it by inference. And indeed it seems that the act of having a particular thought implies that it has been accessed by your consciousness, and it appears we have located our first foundational belief. Possibly. It could be that that “access” is really an experience of the sort that is suitable for a coherence theory, if you are prepared to accept that introspective experiences and sensory experiences are similar in nature, and can be used to modify a web of beliefs that is justified as a whole when it is internally consistent. Honestly, this is a truly complex topic.

There’s really far too much to this topic to ever hope to discuss all of it in one blog post, much less come to an actual answer. If you’re interesting in the topic do check out the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Foundationalism, or on Coherentism.

Convincing People

When you have conceptualized and reaffirmed what you believe to the a profound “truth”, there is a definite tendency to want to share that understanding with others. You want to convince them that you know something that they want to know, too. This ranges from religious zealots seeking converts to Mac fanboys decrying the supremacy of all Apple products, to philosophers such as myself seeking to share a system of understanding with anyone who wants to listen. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to spread the good stuff around, but there are a number of interesting aspects to the pursuit that I’m going to elaborate on.

Firstly, the way in which we become convinced of things. In my experience, anyone can be convinced to believe anything very rapidly provided it doesn’t contradict something they already believe. If they’re neutral, then whatever they hear first gets a decisive advantage. There are generally three stages of being “convinced”- with a sort of “stage zero” of neutrality. The first contact with whatever thought process will put it into your memory, short or long term. Then, at some point, that thought process is confirmed on an emotional level, and this can be by extraordinarily unlikely or irrational circumstance but has lasting effect nonetheless. Finally the person is faced with a situation that tests that belief to some degree, however flimsy or improbable a straw man argument we may be talking about here, and they lock in their new belief by opposing its opposite. This establishes their own behavior, sets a precedent for maintaining consistency, entrenches the belief by cognitive dissonance, represents a “social ecology check,” and locks in that behavior pattern because others have observed it. After that, the person’s belief will be very difficult to dislodge, even if it is patently unreasonable. Now this little model is all well and good, but we need an example we can sink our teeth into. As a simple example, consider advertising. The advertiser’s ideal goal is to establish a behavior in the viewer of consistently buying their product. Stage 1: Mere exposure effect, they see an ad that claims product A is excellent and inexpensive, and only later do they learn about product B serves the same function. A already has an advantage. Stage 2: A different ad targeted to their audience connects with them, such as being humorous or they empathize with someone in the ad, or whatever. Fairly self-explanatory, but the devils are in the details of this stage. More on this later. Stage 3: When given a choice between A and B, right next to one another on store shelves, they purchase A.

Now, that’s a fairly theoretical example and doesn’t really elucidate exactly what I’m talking about. The reason why I bring this topic up in the first place is that becoming convinced that something is true, or being conditioned into a specific behavior depends a great deal on sheer luck unless you’re careful. The first effect is mostly subconscious, and there isn’t a lot you can do about it other than be aware of it and check you’re not doing irrational things. However, the second stage is the source of huge error. Have you ever been talking with someone, and let’s just say they randomly bring up something very specific from a book you’re reading that they could not have divined from you? Or, a more common case, someone else expresses a fairly uncommon thought or preference that you share. You get that instantaneous hit like a shot of familieroin. That exact type of random occurrence not only establishes a connection between you and the other person, but also reacts and reaffirms whatever thought or preference in question. Both of these release tension- social tension, and at the same time internal tension of having to hold non-certain processes in limbo. Of course, there are many others ways this can happen, too. Perhaps you’re reading an article which just reads like the author has a direct line into your brain, and then brings up an opinion you’ve heard of but not yet accepted. You just go, “OK, that’s correct, I don’t have to worry about it anymore” and accept it as valid. True, there is no rational basis for this type of conceptual validation, but it happens very quickly.

I do have a purpose, however. I want to get to my main point. When someone has been emotionally convinced, and has integrated their own emotional self, thought systems, or any other aspect of their identity into a belief, you will be unable to convince them otherwise. If someone believes they are happy, there is absolutely nothing you can do to convince them that they are unhappy. By the same token, if someone believes that believing in God makes them happy, there is absolutely nothing you can do to convince them otherwise. And, because that statement carries the very clever and subtle assumption of existence, because of the implied postulate that believing in things that don’t exist doesn’t make you happy, the believer concludes that God exists. And there is nothing you can do to convince them otherwise once they are invested in it. I don’t want to attack religion in this post- I do that from time to time, but not this one. What I do want to say is that being convinced necessarily includes the possibility of tolerating a contradiction to maintain that belief. We have the miraculous power to hold conflicting mental models and systems in our heads, but the vast, vast majority of people don’t recognize that it is even possible. It’s a capacity that invariably does little more than give you enough rope to thoroughly hang yourself. The thoughtful selection and application in appropriate situations of conflicting models is either automatic or completely absent, never in the purview of the conscious mind.
For someone who has been convinced, they will actively seek to defend that thought or belief. Investing yourself all over the place is a very unhealthy habit. When you suggest a movie to someone and they tell you it sucked, do you try to defend yourself? You invested a piece of yourself in the movie, so when the other person so callously attacked it it appeared to you they were attacking a) something you liked, questioning your taste, b) something you recommended to them, questioning your social judgment, and perhaps c) something you incorporated into your own identity to some extent. I’ll use religion again because it’s something everyone is familiar with. When you tell a religious person that their religion is stupid, you’re not just objectively saying that assertions x, y, and z… are false. This person has probably involved themselves in religious activities, bonded with people who share that religion, done some things that would look pretty damn embarrassing if what you say is true (by design, of course). Stepping on other people’s identity is the easiest way to provoke some serious aggression. However, their identity is also probably in all sorts of places where it shouldn’t be and if they were smart they would rectify that situation, starting by reading this post.

Look at it another way: in our society, we talk about two people “getting along well” as if there are somehow intrinsic properties of different people that for some reason just make them fit together well. This is a result of the randomness of our identity configurations (the geeiker counter just fuzzed out a bit there). If we put value in similar stuff, we get along well, and if we step on one another’s toes all the time then we dislike each other. It’s random because our identity is scrambled all over the place by randomly created emotional convincers in everything from advertisements to sheer randomness in conversations. And there’s no reason for this. If we could each maintain control over our own identity then this sort of situation would be fixed. So you can see the bleeding-through of philosophical or political, or whatever you want to call it, awareness into insensitive redneck behavior.  This, in turn, spurs up defenses, the false self, conformity, violence, and stifles freedom and thought.  So in a not-so-roundabout way, our blindness to our own and others’ identities is the primary instigator, the first cause, of all our modern woes.  In a self-reinforcing cycle, of course.

As a sidenote, the reason why I point out self-reinforcing cycles everywhere is because they are extremely difficult to pick out without extensive searching.  And the reason why there are so many of them is because, well, they’re self-reinforcing.  Barring something dramatic, once begun they’re going to stick around until something dramatic does take them out.  Almost always that involves a restructuring of the environment around them.

Nipping Neoracism in the Bud

After reading the article on the potential for new DNA-based racism I’ve realized that all along, society has had the wrong idea about humanity and people. Racism is just stupid because, quite simply, you don’t need a body to be human. We have demonstrated this is popular media such as with weird stories about body swapping. If you swap bodies with another person, you retain your fundamental self. Of course, you can’t simply swap bodies because your brain is completely integrated with your body- simply removing one person’s brain and replacing it won’t cut it. But theoretically you could reconstitute the salient information of one person into a different body, leaving you with the same person with a different machine under their command.

Discrimination on the grounds of a person’s skin is somewhat like discriminating against the color of their car, only it’s a car that would be extremely difficult to exit with our current level of technology. The introduction of DNA complicates this somewhat because instead of superficial details like your car’s color, your car’s DNA or structure actually has practical implications on its functionality and upkeep. Car A might get better gas mileage and car B might have a higher top speed. Car C might be impervious to having its tires pierced, correlating to an immunity to specific diseases. But it’s still foolish to discriminate against someone for the car they drive, especially so if they didn’t choose it deliberately.

Imagine in the future that it is possible for us to transfer over to computer existence or mechanical bodies. The unenlightened redneck racist assholes will undoubtedly discriminate against the early adopters, well, because they’re childish. Racism is a childlike striking out against the strange, the use of a common enemy to unify a group that they believe needs unifying at the expense of a group they believe expendable. The KKK did not appear because there was a huge amount of animosity against black people or other minorities- its members were the immature, insecure, weak, and stupid sheep who wanted to belong to a group. They were then told that they would be forced to violence if they wanted to belong, and pretend to be enthusiastic. After a while they actually became conditioned into it and the KKK used them to induct new members. No individual agent except maybe the original founders or a small core actually held the will to do harm before they were forced to it through social pressures.

It is critical that everyone attends to their own self-elevation, and rising above the  social weakness of dependence which causes so many people to behave with such insanity.  Consider a group of 100 regular people, with one more forceful individual who tells them that the rest of the group believes proposition X.  Because these individuals are dependent, and seeking interaction, they will lend strength to the illusion that this is in fact true, and even though not one other person agrees with this “leader” the entire group will nevertheless fall into line.  Even more sickeningly, they will keep one another in line.  Three of these newly conditioned people get together, each of them believing that the other two truly are part of their group and thus keeps up the act to the best of their ability.  Not one of the three has any desire to posit proposition X, but all three of them exhibit consensus anyway.  It takes a rare individual to straight up deny a group of 100 which seem to be in consensus unless they are themselves part of a group of equal or larger size.  This herd behavior is immensely profitable for companies, political leaders, and other people holding positions of influence.  The education system slants a little bit more to producing exactly this kind of behavior, etc. etc. and the rabbit slides farther down the hole.

Stream of Consciousness: Dreams, Heuristics, and Thought

Presupposing that it is possible to control your dreams in such a way as to give the dreamer absolute control, either some of the time or all of the time, within the context of their dreams, does the dreamer have the right to exercise that power?

While it is true that it is “just a dream,” the question is more difficult than dismissing any characters you might encounter as figments of your imagination. This is because you, yourself, are a figment of your imagination derived from some subsection of your mental capacity. The piece of your mental storage/processing/information capacity that represents you as a person is less than the totality of your mind. This is evident because there exist selections of information within your mind that do not constitute yourself as a person. For example, if you didn’t know some arbitrary piece of information, you would still represent yourself as a conscious entity. In fact, I would go so far as to posit you could forget nearly all of your explicit and implicit memories and still retain your significant self. You would remember little of your past and be virtually devoid of skills or knowledge, but you would still represent yourself as a person.

Therefore, any other subsection of your mind must be equally valid even if they only reveal themselves in dreams. They may encompass less information or be less prevalent in your interactions with the world or other people, but they can still be defined as human in the same sense that you can. Therefore, you have no right to control or abuse them since they have the same intrinsic rights as any individual. However, any action you may perpetrate against them is subject to the dilemma of the perfect crime- it is impossible for you to be caught. Even more significantly, even if you were to confess, society would think nothing of your ‘crime’.

Before I continue, I think I need to elaborate on what exactly I mean by artificial persons/characters in your dreams. Characters in your dreams that you might encounter are probably constructed, but they are stitched together by the same mental infrastructure that, during the day, stitches you together. They are handed a persona to play, and given a parcel of neurons to make their behavior authentic while keeping their internal dialogue from the dreamer. If you haven’t experienced this before, where a character in your dreams can “know” something that may or may not be revealed to you later, it can happen, and it’s a very telling phenomenon. Actually, it probably has happened to you, you just haven’t noticed it. These characters are always much simpler than you are during the day, often just a persona with a couple significant memories that might affect their behavior.

As an interesting aside, is a simple subsection of the human mind more or less valid than a complete mind of a lesser creature such as a squirrel? Too tangentacious- back to dreams.

There is some confusion about what the purpose of dreams is exactly. I am not nearly as qualified to answer this question as many of the eminent sleep specialists, psychologists, etc. etc., but I have my theory and who else’s theory would I share? I would state that dreams are the sandbox of the mind, and that this is in fact a vital function of being a psychologically healthy human being. During the day, a certain degree of consistency is a requirement of survival. There is a deeply ingrained need for each of us to be consistent, especially regarding our actions in the presence of others. When we dream, we are freed from the presence of other, real, people, and this gives us the psychological leeway to roleplay. Considering the usually random nature of dreams, not many dreams will have an effect on the dreamer, but the ones that do will produce a lasting behavioral change.

Now, while you sleep your body has a chance to repair itself because the mind and the body have agreed “OK, you do your thing and I’ll do mine, see you in the morning.” The body won’t ask the mind for anything- i.e. food, and the mind won’t ask the body for anything- i.e. movement. This separation enables the body to begin maintenance and the mind to play sandbox. Now, the practical benefit of sandbox experimentation is that the mind is always in gear for learning. That is to say that classical conditioning, operant conditioning, etc. etc. are always active. So when you experience a dream, you are actively learning from cause and effect. The difference is, your mind has constructed your environment lock, stock, and barrel, and is extrapolating effects from your experiences in the real world. Things that are incredibly unlikely in the real world will be experienced less often in your dreams. I can hear your screams of “No! I have dreams of flying all the time and I can’t do that in real life!” Well, the reason is simple. You have imagined flying during your time awake and therefore it’s in the mix your mind is weaving your dreams from. Your mind can’t tell the difference between thoughts you have and thoughts derived from sensory input. The world you perceive as being all around you is actually entirely inside your head based on data received through your eyes. To make this assertion a little stronger, consider people who have been blind from birth who can navigate their way through familiar locations without reaching or stumbling uncertainly. They have constructed a model of their environment by touch, which is equally valid but far less efficient because you can only update the model by touching it instead of by receiving continuous updates delayed only by the speed of light- effectively instantaneously.

Dreams give your mind a chance to tinker with the world without actually constructing laboratory conditions within it. Obviously the system isn’t perfect due to limited hardware and neuronal fallibility- actually a survival advantage, but that’s a different topic- so we can’t do, say, physics experiments in a dream setting. However, evolution figured out that sitting around a fire and thinking “what would it be like to fly?” didn’t actually get anywhere, and somewhere along the line it figured out a way to introduce very, very strange situations into an organism’s learning capability without actually needing to experience them. After many, many dreams an organism is actually fairly well suited to respond to a huge set of extraordinarily unlikely events, such as a person suddenly finding that they are lost in the desert. Dreams are, however, random, so the vast majority of dreams give little to no survival value. And the ones that do will provide a very shoddy original course of action meant to be deployed rapidly instead of effectively. It is highly advantageous to have some reaction ready for all possible situations, rather than get frozen in indecision. I would go so far as to say there are virtually no situations in which the average adult human would be completely and utterly unable to act from being frozen. I would also say that the few situations that would cause such a reaction would result from balanced conflicts rather than complete lack of options. However, there are an infinite number of infinitely improbably events that would produce such a reaction. For example, if an alien spaceship fell from the sky, turned you into a sentient but undercooked bowl of lasagna and tractor-beamed you into a fighting ring with a sedated pit bull and a venus fly trap the size of an office building, would you know what to do? Even now, your mind has taken that situation and is assessing options. But until just now, you didn’t have a plan for such a situation because it was so unlikely and insane that there could be no conceivable survival use for having a contingency plan.

The human brain runs on heuristics. That means we use oftentimes less accurate, less perfect methods that can easily be far more efficient than the “better” solution. Our brains are hard-wired to use inductive logic, assimilating recurring behaviors based on consistent positive outcome and reducing negative-effect behaviors. This has a simple benefit- “I ate the green berries and threw up. Don’t do that again.” Basic inductive reasoning, completely instinctive. In fact, it is literally wired up- neuron connections that are used more frequently acquire more neurons backing them up, forming highways for more common paths, and smaller links for less-used processes. This is why we learn skills best through repetition, and why we repeat to learn things “by heart” so they are implicitly memorized. More-used pathways are retained, less-used pathways are dropped. Returning to forgetting, a controlled rate of neuron inaccuracy is vital because otherwise we have huge volumes of useless heuristics clogging our decision-making which often needs to be lightning-fast. If you want to call a contact, would you rather look through your personal fast-reference file with your frequently used information, or look through the entire phone book every time? Efficiency of action was vital to our hunter-gatherer ancestors, where acting quickly and being correct 80% of the time was infinitely preferable to taking ten times longer but getting 100%. Dreams are an excellent way to randomly introduce new, as yet only envisioned, situations that may require action in the future, and enable the formulation of crude heuristics for when that situation may come to pass. When we actually face the situation, our brain matches the world-picture to the “index tag” it associated with the dreamed-up heuristic, and instantly we have a plan of action, however crude or incorrect it may be.

Here is the main distinction between the human mind and the minds of animals. We have a conscious mind wired to use deductive logic, the second (known) fundamental thought process, where basic presuppositions must logically lead to the conclusions that follow. If A is true, then B is true. A is true. QED, B is true. A squirrel cannot do this. Dreams are unnecessary to do this. However, in order for deductive reasoning to take place, a consolidated information space is needed instead of a freeform web of constantly reinforced and trimmed heuristics. So, from the faculty of deductive logic we can deduce the existence of a conscious mind. We hold the numbers 2 and 3 in our conscious mind-space and evaluate their addition to get 5 deductively. In actuality, our conscious mind is mired in our more primitive, inductive mind to such an extent that we cannot meaningfully extricate it. However, that may not be a bad thing since a purely conscious entity wouldn’t have access to the wealth of heuristic data the more primitive mind can store. It still is more efficient, however much we might fight it. But there are times when the conscious mind checks against the heuristic and can deductively conclude that it is counterproductive/harmful/useless and discard it.

The Old Game Bolo & Overdrawn Industry

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Questions to Live

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

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

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

The War on Drugs

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

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

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