Here’s a link to Eliezer Yudkowsky’s Rationality: From AI to Zombies
Here’s a link to Eliezer Yudkowsky’s Rationality: From AI to Zombies
This song, from Radiohead’s classic album OK Computer, is probably the number one song that expresses the way I often feel. I’m not actually at the skill level of doing a cover of it, instrumentally, so I took the original track, used my audio software to “suppress” the vocals*, and then recorded vocals of my own, double-tracking and doing harmony where indicated, before mixing my own “karaoke” version.
If you ever want to hear what my heart/soul/whatever wishes it could say**, this is it.
*I think I lost a lot of the bass and some of the percussion with it, unfortunately.
**I’m not sure why anyone would want to do that, but the song is good, anyway.
These are just a few minutes of somewhat meandering thoughts that I had and recorded this morning, and which I thought I’d share. I apologize for all the clattering noises at the beginning…I was unpacking and getting ready for the workday even as I was recording. This was rather rude of me, and I’ll try to avoid doing such a thing in the future, but I ask you to bear with me on this short audio post.
This was going to be a brief post, because it’s really just meant to be an apology. As I’ve said before, I intend to write at least one post—preferably one of some substance, if not necessarily any great depth—every week for this, the second and more free-form of my blogs. However, as I’ve already revealed on my main, eponymous blog*, I had a very nasty GI bug earlier this week that took the metaphorical wind out of my sails…as well as taking quite a bit more out of me in a rather literal sense. I’ll spare you the details, though I’m sure you can imagine them with a fair amount of accuracy if you’re so inclined. I’ll simply say that I didn’t have the energy to spare from my struggles to accomplish my daily work to think clearly enough to compose an involved blog post.
This is most distressing because I’ve only recently recommitted myself to writing at least something on this blog every week, for my sake, if for no one else’s benefit. It seemed unseemly for me simply to seem to let that plan come apart at the seams without saying anything. At worst, potential followers might decide that it wasn’t worth checking up on this blog on a regular basis, and though I can’t claim yet to have earned a loyal readership, I do want to earn such loyalty and such readers.
Actually, there’s an exaggeration in that last sentence. “At worst” my failure to write a blog might lead to the destruction of the cosmos and the consignment of all conscious creatures to eternal, maximal torment…Sam Harris’s “the worst possible misery for everyone”. That seems vanishingly unlikely, though, so I hopefully can be excused for considering—from my perspective—the worst likely outcome as the “worst” outcome.
Probably I’m the only person here who really cares about such pedantry, but I do care about it. One of the reasons mathematics is so fruitful and so powerful is that it is truly pedantic, absolutely rigorous, and logically defined. But everything in mathematics can be translated into ordinary language—this must be so, contrary to the statements of some mathematicians and physicists, or else no one would ever be able to be taught how to use it—and ordinary language can, therefore, be used to convey thoughts and ideas with precision and clarity that lend themselves to true logical induction, deduction, abduction, and so on. And yet, because we use language so loosely and imprecisely—and, of course, because unlike the formalism of mathematics, most languages weren’t invented but merely happened—we arrive at many misunderstandings that contribute to the problems of the world. I won’t say that perfect communication would obviate all conflicts that exist, but it would help to avoid a great many unnecessary ones, perhaps sparing us more time and energy to deal with issues of greater depth.
Language is crystallized thought. The sloppy use of language, especially when one really is trying to make a point, is not merely indicative of sloppy thought; the habit of sloppy language can engender sloppy thought.
It’s rather analogous to deciding that you don’t need to use your turn signal every time you turn because sometimes it’s obvious that you’re turning, and sometimes there’s no one else around. Such slacking tends to become habitual. People lose their conditioned habits of care—if they had such habits in the first place—and on some occasions, it really matters whether or not a person uses his or her turn signal. Statistics make it almost inescapably true that this dereliction sometimes leads to property damage, injury, and premature death.
It’s a similar notion to something almost anyone who’s ever been trained in gun safety has been told: Treat every gun as if it is loaded, even if you just personally unloaded it and ensured that it was empty, so that you’ll never accidentally to treat a loaded gun as if it were not loaded. Also, never point a gun at anything you wouldn’t be willing to shoot, for similar reasons.
Language may not be quite so immediately perilous as a gun or an automobile, but its power is far greater, and we should treat it with respect…even those of us who can’t help but play with it at times. We should try to keep the flaws in our personal thought crystals to a minimum, or at least to keep them only where their presence adds to the overall beauty of the structure.
I’m probably stretching that metaphor a bit.
Well, this has been quite a peculiar apology, and I ended up saying more than I expected, but hopefully next week I’ll produce something a little less meandering. In the meantime, thank you, my readers, for your patience. And do be careful what you eat.
*Not to be confused with Hieronymus Bosch, though hopefully it is a garden of at least the occasional earthly delight.
I’ve been trying to decide what to write about this week for this blog post. Numerous ideas bounce around in my head every day, and I have at least three “quick memo” files on my smartphone full of blog post topics, some of which I’ve already written, but most of which I haven’t.
I read a lot—I always have—and I listen to podcasts and to audio books during my commute, at least when I’m not listening to music or just letting my thoughts meander like that restless wind inside a letterbox, as John Lennon so beautifully put it. I even keep vaguely abreast of current events. Because of all this, and because of the excitable nature of my mind, a great many ideas keep popping up, of varying quality and interest.
Unfortunately, as my life currently stands, I have very few—zero counts as few, right?—people with whom to have deep intellectual discussions…or even shallow intellectual discussions. This is part of what drives me to want to make Iterations of Zero more active, so that at least I can feel that my thoughts are getting out there and bouncing around the world rather than just around my head.
I greatly admire the speaking, and especially the writing, of the late, great Christopher Hitchens; his rhetoric was certainly of the highest order. When considering my own non-fiction writing, I’ve occasionally felt envious of and even aspired toward, that harsh, biting style of commentary that he and those like him often used, and my ambitions sometimes drive me to seek that manner of presentation.
In my more serene and sedate moments, though, I realize that such a style is probably not merely “not my cup of tea” but is possibly counterproductive. There’s enough hostile, accusatory, derisive and derogatory interaction in the world. There’s too much, in fact. When explorations of ideas are approached as contests, with the implicit goal of scoring points—or worse, as wars—then the only likely place to expect intellectual growth is among disinterested spectators, and even they are apt to be persuaded more by cleverness of style, by skill with a cunning insult, than by depth of argument, quality of ideas, and consistency of logic.
I can’t endorse this as a way to explore truth. I don’t have much interest in “debate” as a competition. I’m much more interested in discussion, in conversation, where there is no shame in being persuaded by the legitimate arguments of one’s interlocutor.
This notion was brought home to me strongly by a recent conversation I had with my brother. He and I have some minor political disagreements, but neither of us is fanatically committed to them. We were complaining to each other about how frustrating Facebook in particular is, precisely because people there seem to have so much trouble being civil, if they even try. With that preface, when our conversation came to areas on which we had some disagreement, I felt the knee-jerk urge to be biting, but it was easily curtailed. This was my brother, after all. We shared a room for the first decade and a half of my life, and we are trained, practiced, and naturally disposed to get along with each other.
My brother is not as “formally” educated as I am, but I also know that he is a much more positive person. I, on the other hand, possess a vastly greater store of inherent malice—which, because of my awareness of it, I’ve trained myself to resist—so it’s easy for me to see, to know, that my brother is as far from being my enemy as it’s possible for someone to be. I know from literal lifelong experience that his intentions are positive. Good intentions may not be enough to ensure good outcomes, as the old cliché reminds us, but they do matter, and they certainly say important things about a person.
Because of that conversation, I reminded myself to fear the trap of thinking that those who disagree with me are my enemies. They are not. Quite the contrary in most cases. The very fact that they care about the state of the world and about what’s true means that, at some deep level, they are my allies.
Now, of course, if someone refuses to listen to those who disagree with him, but instead merely insults and even assaults them, that person is not an ally of truth. But to the degree that people are, at least in principle, open to argument and evidence, they are my brothers, my sisters, my comrades, in the quest better to understand the nature of reality.
Of course, I need to practice what I preach. I’m a strong advocate of striving to be more reasonable than others, if you want to promote reason and to seek truth. Obviously, this doesn’t mean conceding what you think is an important point about which you’re convinced you’re correct. But it does mean recognizing that your opponents are not demons but are people , trying to make their way in the world, trying to figure out what they ought to do, and trying to find the will to do what they ought to do.
It’s a big old universe, and we haven’t been given an instruction manual to it. No one understands it in its entirety. And, contrary to the general tone of much of Facebook and Twitter, we can be pretty sure that only a small number of people are willfully—or even willingly—evil.
So, I’m going to try not to take a biting or combative or snarky tone in my writing here; I’m going to try to avoid being derogatory to anyone but myself (I’m the easiest target, anyway). I’m going to pursue conversation as I would with a brother, a sister, a comrade…which includes accounting for the fact that an interlocutor might not see themselves as such, and so might feel defensive and threatened and even frightened by those with whom he or she disagrees.
We’ve all been taught at various times that to be shown to be wrong, or to admit to being wrong is to fail. We should really be taught that to be wrong is how we fail…but that the remedy for that is to expose our understanding, such as it is, to well-meaning (and sometimes even not so well-meaning) exploration and criticism. This is one of the most crucial arguments for freedom of speech, even speech that we find reprehensible.
If I fall short of the above ideals in the future, I beseech you, my readers, to take me to task.
But do try to be polite.
In this, my second audio blog, I explain why I intend no longer to get involved in discussions of consequential topics on Facebook, not because I don’t think such discussions are valuable, but because of how I react to them. I also talk about audio versus writing a bit more, and grammar, and various other random thoughts.
In this, my first impromptu audio posting, I muse on random thoughts including (but not limited to) rationality, politics, the pros and cons of audio versus written posting, the irritations of social media, and probably other topics I’ve forgotten.