A Tip of the Ass Hat

If I were a celebrity, I’m sure I would suck. Not (necessarily) at my job, whatever that would be, but as a person to the general public. I would be, not an asshole, but an asshat. Alas that “asshole” scans better, that I thus utter it when inattentive. An asshole is a very much non-negative body part, and thus poor synechdoche as a body-shaming slur. Without assholes we’d fill up with shit and die. An asshole, or a dick, or a cunt, is, if not a blessing, at least functional, like a stomach or bone marrow. Body-shaming slurs, let alone those that are gendered or ableist, have no place in discourse. But having one’s head up one’s ass – wearing one’s ass atop one’s head like a Trilby – is a personal choice, not a consequence of genetics and developmental biology, and as a slur is both literally and figuratively not body-shaming. There is surely a place for “asshat” in incivil discourse (e.g. certain blog posts and comment sections), and possibly in civil.

But why would I be an asshat if I were a celebrity? Let’s turn that question around. Why are some celebrities asshats? To be well-known in public is to invite attention from strangers. If the celebrity is not naturally gregarious, as I am not, this increased attention becomes besetting. Dealing patiently and civilly with besetting strangers will quickly use up all of my socializing resources, leading to exhaustion and stress. Being brusque as a general persona might well be less draining, even if guilt-engendering. Even a highly gregarious celebrity, especially if they achieved fame through workaholic overachievement, will reach a limit, if only in time spent with the nice people they enjoy interacting with, perhaps intentionally blowing people off just so they can get back to what they’re doing.

I suppose I would still be a loner if I became a celebrity, but I assume if I actually did become one it’s because I would have gotten off my (good! functional! not body-shaming!) ass and made metaphorical shit happen. And knowing about how people love being part of the following of a charismatic personality, but not wanting to acquire such a following (OK, this pretty much writes off me ever being a celebrity except by accident), I think I might become a deliberate asshat. Premeditated asshattery as a defense mechanism. I do hate being rude, but when driven I will do it, albeit at as low as possible of rudeness level, initially. I probably won’t tell somebody off, but I may just go back to my reading or doodling, or walk away, or otherwise start obviously and actively ignoring them.

I don’t actually think I will become a celebrity. I am not even the kind of person who can keep up with non-celeb career-maintenance stuff such as being on committees, connecting to people on LinkedIn, or improving my scientometrics. I have nothing against all that stuff per se, only a personal dislike of doing it. High school socializing writ large. I have never participated in that stuff enthusiastically, and after participating, never reaped the emotional high or whatever that keeps others doing it and getting good at it. I have acquired the occasional following, and even received advice from mentors and advisors about how to capitalize on it, but it is simply too much social effort for me, and social effort is a lot more draining than technical effort. If I were a genius or a workaholic, I could get a pass from doing that stuff, but as possibly blogged elsewhere (can’t be bothered to check; perhaps I’ve also blogged about my sloth!) I simply don’t spend my time draining my precious energy for social position or even career advancement. A betrayal, of myself and others. If it’s your thing, or you can at least handle it, my hat’s off to you!

Reachable Reds

The car is a vile public nuisance. The car as a vile public nuisance. Sentence One is normative, like 2 + 2 = 4, asserting a matter of fact. Sentence Two is interpretive, eliciting discussion about matters of taste. Normative communication about matters of taste, controversial positions, or unsettled questions is a sophomoric meme spat, not an argument. Popular among folks who make a big deal about how conservative they are. Some call such normative efforts “debate”, even claiming that “debate” is well known to be the best way to settle disputes. This attitude is bullshit (see Brandolini’s Law). Charisma trumps content in what is nothing but adversarial mental masturbation, meant not to settle disputes, but to promote perfidy. Trolling.

It is so hard to put together traceable facts and arguments and so easy to spew appealing nonsense. For a fact user to participate in a debate show is to lose the charisma battle in advance. The audience is only there to cheer the witticisms of their hero. Even when the fact user is also a charismatic communicator, there is little to gain unless articulate witticisms can be concocted that might give some of the audience pause. Even so, said charismatic fact user would probably spend their time better communicating in other ways.

The best way to assemble normative communications is to gather reliable, reproducible evidence and ask what kind of declarative statements it supports. Winning in this context entails everybody moving towards consensus, ideology be damned. Datasets, visual elements, written words. If half your audience rejects facts and logic, they won’t listen to anybody who isn’t glib and appalling. But maybe some few ideologues are potentially amenable to change. Perhaps their fascist-adjacency is due to ignorance, unresolved resentments, and exposure to toxic media. Splutteringly certain about who The Devil and The Saints are, but susceptible to a small number of facts, if provided with a spoonfull of sugar or crystal meth.

To respond directly to an ideologue is to submit to seizure of context. To parse the concealed assumptions contained in pretended questions is to succumb to defensiveness. Instead, to carefully contribute to “the debate”, you must go meta. Scan the blather, perhaps via webscraping and voice-to-text followed by word-frequency analysis, to get an impressionist picture of the gendered, racist, and ableist slurs being deployed, the deliberately ignorant and innumerate mockeries of logic, the misogyny, victim-blaming, bigotry. Then develop your piece, not as a response to any specific instance of negative-sum ideolatry, but as a positive editorial that nevertheless demonstrates a knowingness about the fascist wanking.

Seize context rather than interlocute. Aim to forestall eye-rolling. Troll only if you’re another Galileo, who won because facts and logic were on his side, not because he was trolling (note to conservitrolls: comparing yourself to Galileo because you’re trolling is like comparing yourself to Superman because you’re walking around in your underwear; it’s more likely that you are simply an exhibitionist). Note: my “vile public nuisance” example comes from The Glass Plate Game, by Dunbar Aitkins, a local mid-Willamette celebrity whom I and some D&D friends sometimes chatted with in the late 70’s and early 80’s, when we adventured in Corvallis and happened to go to The Beanery or otherwise encountered him. The Glass Plate Game is designed to sponsor open communication, similar in motivation to David Bohm’s idea of Dialog.

Bangers and Hass

Bangers and mash, one of my favorite British dishes. Mrs. Dean and I took in a guided pub walk in Chelsea, ending up at what was then the King’s Head and Eight Bells. We had been chatted up by some fellow pub crawler from Florida who was on various airline “sudden deal” lists, and pretty much every weekend he would fly somewhere on an overnight exotica trip for ninety nine bucks or whatever.

The pub walk itself was slow yet enjoyable. Unlike USians who find British beer warm and flat, I easily adapt to it and am prone to having perhaps one too many pints of Old Speckled Hen or Boddington’s. Besides the beer stories, our guide regaled us between pubs with history, probably so that people like myself wouldn’t outpace the others, staggering or stumbling to the final venues. One of the first pubs had “Oregon Ale”, brewed locally but hopped with leafy buds from the Willamette Valley. Ah nostalgia! The penultimate pub, our guide assured us after lecturing about various events in the history of, perhaps, Cheyne Walk, was guaranteed to be a surprise! And it was! It was the Surprise! Tavern, named after HMS Surprise! It was so memorable that on a later trip, after dropping lug at some hipster youth hostel in Gray’s Inn Road, I insisted that we tube over to Sloane Square and find the place again.

The King’s Head etc. was the last pub of the tour, but we stayed for dinner. Seeing bangers and mash on the menu, I knew what I would be ordering. Florida Man had I guess been wandering about but had returned, espied us, and joined us just after we had ordered. This was when we learned of his travel hobby. We also learned that he tended to be strict about his diet, eating mostly vegetables, didn’t usually drink so much. He struggled through the menu looking for an acceptable item. Waitstaff was eventually signaled, and his salad order placed just as ours was being delivered. Mrs. Dean likely had lamb, as that meat is curiously (to us USians) inexpensive in the UK so we never really ate it that much at home.

“What’s that?” asked Florida Man as waitstaff flourished a platter of fatty meat carbs before me. “Bangers and mash”, said I, “sausage and mashed potatoes with onion gravy. It’s a traditional…”. Before I could finish my lecture, FM was standing and shoving his chair back, prior to actually running after the waitron shouting about wanting to change his order.

I recently had guests. Snacks were demanded. “I could make some onion gravy”, I suggested, but they weren’t into it. I often make it: quick, tasty, nutritious, uses up the extra alliums often laying around trying to sprout. “It’s just a stock reduction!” – I usually have ample poultry stock as well. Good on the leftover carbs abundant after guest feasts. Having mentioned it I wanted some myself, so made rather a lot.

Days before, watching cooking videos, I saw a new (to me) dish, Hasselback potatoes. Like making thick potato chips but not slicing all the way through, so you have an intact spud that looks like a ribcage. Slather with tasty fat and bake. A nice substrate for possibly too much gravy. I picked up a couple of Russets and gave it a whirl. Having some duck fat on hand (not as usual has having alliums or poultry stock), I basted them every twenty minutes or so with that. Somewhere along the line I realized that in a couple of months when I allow myself to have sausage, I could concoct a new dish, derived from the British classic, bangers and Hasselback potatoes, bangers and Hass for short.

Unconscious Power

Many belikeme posts are speculative, but this one is moreso. Imagine scare quotes everywhere to avoid assuming there are definitive hallmarks for what I speak of (see what I did there?, if so you win a belikeme know-prize).

Consciousness is, perhaps, “merely” the activation of existing memories, rather than copying data from long-term to working memory and processing it. Working memory is just that tiny subset of all memory currently being accessed. Activation itself changes the memory, often to reconcile it with memories that share similar information. It is seemingly more important to the brain that memories be reconciled than that they agree with extra-cranial facts. Alas that eyewitness accounts, demonstrably so unreliable, are counted on to convict accused persons.

Possibly, memory formation itself is sensed; if so this may feel different from activation, so that the first time a memory is formed, we sense it twice. Or, memory formation may not be sensed at all, and conscious awareness is wholly the activation of memories previously stored. Memory activation could be the physical basis for the notion that consciousness is “but an illusion”. It also might help erode cognitive traps that prompt so many cognitive scientists to pursue answers to “the hard problem”. It may also be useful in dismissing the evidently highly popular “thought” “experiments” that postulate “zombies” – actual human persons who act just as if they were conscious, but don’t actually experience the feelings that are under scrutiny.

Free will, then, would be the simultaneous activation of memories of both events and preferences, all of which stored previously, with the cloud of that activity producing action potentials coursing out to the neuromuscular junctions of interest. This activity forms new memories of having performed whatever action was “decided” upon, along with revising all the memories originally involved in the total decision-making event. A final lagniappe has the subconscious store a ginned-up memory of the emotion of having decided something via one’s “will”.

None of these notions refute the validity of guiding people’s behaviors, say via punishments for affronts (shunning shitstains, dunning dipshits, incarcerating incorrigibles). The offender’s own memories of punishments incurred, of reading or hearing about other people being punished, of being told about mystical beings who punish offenders, all get called up by the unconscious when planning next moves. The neural network that eventually transmits the action potentials and concocts the fictions of having “decided” on “behaviors” for “reasons” takes much of that stuff into account when creating the new memories and re-aligning the old.

The brain as a (von Neuman) computer is a pretty bad analogy, but perhaps it does not go too far to imagine talking about free will as something that utilizes the equivalent a framework when writing an app. The neophyte can build a product that satisfies specifications, but the savvy developer knows that directly calling into the DLL or whatever, while potentially fraught, provides the greatest flexibility and performance. What cognitive science needs to work out (in this highly speculative rant-context) is the equivalent of the entry points into the innards of the workings. Getting its hands on the steering wheel and pedals rather than pressing the “auto-drive” button.

Doodle Abstracts 1

I doodle. Sometimes I elaborate my doodles, rarely I implementish them. As with Art Project 1, I suspect there will be a series of these, thus the numeration. Here are some ideas from doodles and for doodles.

Doodle Abstract 1. Superlongtermism. A red dwarf star with a full-capture Dyson cloud of techne orbiting. Actually, a just-sub-red-dwarf. Some cloud elements are projecting light nucleus plasma beams into it to keep the fusion going under positive control. Maybe it’s not a cloud, but an actual Dyson sphere, situated to provide a 1 g surface. The sphere captures all the star’s material output, recycling any light nuclei for fusion and retaining the heavier nuclei as a resource. The main material resource is the original stellar system, which has been re-assembled as the sphere, with any remaining atoms stored in a slag planet and its moons, and an ore planet and its moons. Any interstellar material traveling through is captured as a resource. In the far future this could be the motivation for war.

Doodle Abstract 2. Annealed Oulipo. For several co-authors, each author writes each paragraph of the same paper according to the rule. The papers are submitted to a rarity checker, and a ranked choice vote is taken of what the best rare words are. These are then required to be used in the final paper. The rewriting process requires each co-author to be assigned their share of parallel paragraphs, their task being to anneal them together, possibly producing 1 to 3 paragraphs, but including all the concepts and any required rare words. This becomes the rough draft. Then some method of passing the document through the hands of each of the co-authors at least once is used.

Doodle Abstract 3. Finite Tilings of Spherical Surfaces. The Platonic solids as avatars of the regular tilings, for the surface of a sphere rather than the infinite Euclidean plane. Definitely periodic. OTOH, you can randomly populate the surface of a sphere with vertices, and then fiddle with them until they are very nearly equidistant. With 4, 6, 8, 12, 20 vertices this will (probably provably) evolve to the Platonic solid vertices. With other numbers would you get the equivalents of the uniform tilings etc.? With yet other numbers could you set things up so that there are two different classes of equidistant points, either at the same distance even though there are two classes, or two different distances, etc. Or perhaps rational number distances only, optimizing for standard deviation and maximum deviation somehow. Would you get situations where each distance and therefore edge and therefore tile is different, or would you have subsets of equal lengths? An aperiodic tiling of an infinite number of tiles whose geometries vary according to some rule.

Doodle Abstract 4. Peer Reviewed Paragraphs. Citizen (and Establishment) microknowledge. They would have the equivalent of DOIs, and AIs would be constantly searching the available literature for paragraphs and sentences thereof easily transformable to the DOI version. If every artist is a thief, every sentence is a plagiarism. This is a mechanism to organize the data and the implications so that the wealth can be spread around justly.

Doodle Abstract 5. AI Old Pictures. Scan a bunch of decorative alphabet letters and engravings and such from old books. Use these as your training data for prompt-driven image derivations. Analyze them down to the splines, so you can manually or algorithmically optimize and tweak them.

Future Fitness

Any particular brain admits but a subset of instincts and behaviors that might arise in the totality of brains. Some brains admit an instinct for killing rabbits by neck-snapping, others can learn to retrieve dead waterfowl, some can master trapping by reading books. Some human instincts, selected in environments that no longer obtain, are today of potentially dubious, even negative utility. After generations of supersession by novel instincts or learned behaviors, these detrimental ones will perhaps atrophy or even disappear. The abilities needed for future advances may depend on genetically embodied learning instincts affording origination, transfer, exploitation, and defense against memes, the molecules of cultural transmission.

Obviously, different brains are better or worse than others at different subjects. Consider the ability to manipulate quantum mechanics and/or general relativity, the current extremes of our ability to comprehend what appears to be basal reality. Facility with abstract conceptualization and imagination, aligned with analogical reasoning is presently what is needed to excel at these two learned behaviors. Various people hit abstraction ceilings at various levels, for various reasons, maxing out at, say, algebra, trig, calculus, programming, etc.

Although able to calculate abstruse physics results, our brains were originally selected for handling the apparent physics of the mundane world, utilizing neural networks to rapidly simulate differential equations and game theory (walking, throwing, evading). Alas, these networks do not provide an instinctive ability to do integration by parts or find roots of unity. One reason math and science are “so hard” is the difficulty in setting aside instinctual physics for Newtonian, then setting that aside when necessary to exploit QM and GR.

Imagine, then, a world in which people have been uplifted and educated to the point where all brains able to handle intellectual physics can be so trained. A world in which the educated mustn’t constantly roll their eyes at or waste their time with the pitiable failings of the populist unfortunate. A world in which the greatest proportion of people who can rise beyond the highest abstraction ceilings is available and eager to so rise. Here I am unavoidably US-centric: metaphorically this might be something akin to bestowing upon all, worldwide, the privileges that were available mainly to white male geeks of the baby boom generation. Potentially this think force would be able to marshal the cognitive power needed to advance civilization towards an ever-improving environment for ethical self-actualization.

In such a world, fantasies such as establishing off-world settlements would be much less burdensome to both the stayers and the goers. These expanding far-flung societies might even become self-sustaining eventually, perhaps subject to selection pressures imbuing their descendants’ brains with an instinctive physics more suited to their environment, after a hundred thousand years or so even displacing the innate “cartoon physics” of yesteryear (to them: to us, presentyear) with variants making it easier to conceptualize QM and GR at their parents’ knees rather than in grad school.

Such an advanced intellectual basis might promote transcendence of currently unimaginable abstraction ceilings, helping our descendants get even better at as-godness.

Bond, Antibond

In quantum chemistry, electrons don’t orbit the nucleus the way that planets orbit stars. Rather, the odds of finding an electron at various points in the space around the nucleus are what’s calculated. For an atom in its lowest energy state, this probability distribution has a spherical symmetry, with the highest probabilities found in a shell around the nucleus, but with positive, if ever smaller with distance, probabilities for finding it anywhere in the universe. This arrangement, harkening back to the Bohr atom which proposed a more planetary style of motion, is called an orbital, to distinguish it from an orbit. I guess orbitoid sounded too kooky.

For higher energy atoms and in chemical bonds, the shape of the probability distribution is much more complicated. Nuclei, being positively charged, tend to repel each other, but some arrangements of orbitals and nuclei position much of the electron density between two positive centers, such that they shield the nuclei from each other and attract them somewhat. This produces the chemical bond and is known as a bonding orbital. Now, you need to balance positive and negative charges in order to have a neutral molecule, so one thing you do when setting up your calculations is just keep adding electrons (according to the rules) to the orbitals defined by some arrangement of nuclei until everything balances out.

It turns out that only the lowest energy orbitals are bonding. There are higher energy orbitals in which the rules place the electrons, but these do not shield the nuclei from each other the way they do in bonding orbitals. These are called, perhaps unsurprisingly, anti-bonding orbitals. Let’s say you have an arrangement with one bonding and one anti-bonding orbital, and you need to fill them with four total electrons to achieve electrical neutrality, two in the bonding orbital, and two in the antibonding one (one usually deals with electrons in pairs when doing such things). It turns out that “anti-bonding orbitals are more anti-bonding than bonding orbitals are bonding”. Thus, not only do you not get net chemical bonding, you don’t even get a sort of “meh” asociality between the nuclei. You get an actual repulsion.

All this is to try to set up a metaphor, or at least to create a conceptual space in which to seek a metaphor. In the popular science headline clickbait webiverse I notice that there appears to be a consensus that people tend to dislike the idea of losing a hundred bucks more than they like the idea of finding a hundred bucks. It’s a cognitive bias. No doubt there is endless evolutionistiod, genetic determinism type jibberjabber about how there must have been a survival benefit to thinking this way blah blah blah. Even if strong arguments could be made in that direction, it’s certainly not obvious that any such benefit obtains in our current social environment. This phenomenon seems to be consistent with, or perhaps even instrumental in, promotion of negative-sum rather than positive-sum outcomes.

I wonder how hard it would be to find additional examples of similar phenomena, perhaps within thermodynamics itself (my instinct would be to look for entropy-related arguments), but also within game theory, computational neural networks, or even such fascinating novelties as “Wolfram Physics”. I should try to scour various philosophy-of-mind works such as Daniel Dennett’s oeuvre to see if I can find a trace, or even explicit exposition, of this trope. Actually, before that I should follow the clickbait and familiarize myself with the actual work.