thinking is dangerous

Taste in music

My roommate has the worst taste in music of anyone I have ever met.

Wait, why did I qualify that? The people I have met don’t have any particular tendency towards music, good, bad, or otherwise. So let me rephrase:

My roommate has the worst taste in music. Period.

We all know good taste in music consists of two factors: listening to good music, and knowing which situations demand which kinds of good music. It is a delicate balance, and both factors are essential. You might listen to good kill-whitey rap, but it is simply inappropriate at a wake, no matter how good it is.

My roommate has developed neither of these skills.

And that would be fine. Not everyone can be talented in all areas. If I am a bad skier, for instance, I just try to avoid skiing. However, she listens to music incessantly. It is nerve wracking.

Part of the problem is that she doesn't have a wide variety of music. For the first 2 months living together, she played the same CD non-stop. I don’t know who it was, but it was some German pop singer who was the musical equivalent of Phil Collins. No joke. Imagine contemporary soft rock of the dentist-waiting-room variety overplayed with harsh, amelodic German sung with extreme force and complete lack of passion. She didn't have a collection of this "artist's" work either. Just one CD. Which she played at every opportunity, very loudly.

Strike that, she actually had two CDs- a studio recording and a live version. The exact same songs on both (though in slightly different order), and one had applause (stoic, rigid, passionless) between songs. I made fun of her for a while about this, and eventually persuaded her to find another goddamn CD. Which she did, from her only friends, the Brazilians. Which means I am now woken up not to German synth-pop but to spicy latin congas and tribal chantings. And she played this one album too, non-stop, for a good month.

I broke down and gave her my own CD collection, asking, pleading for her to play something else. She zeroed in on two CD's, the debuts of both Tori Amos and Fiona Apple. Both were hidden under stacks of CD's, and I hadn't listened to them in years; so the first few days of hearing them playing in the background fed my nostalgia and made me hope, just a bit, that perhaps this will expand her interested into some greater musical world.

After a full month of those two CDs played back to back and non-stop, I had to take them back, and slap her. Hard. On the face. Which didn't solve my problem, because she just went back to congas and Der Collins.

I learned my lesson, bought ear plugs, and gave up hope. So why am I writing this now? She is in her bedroom right now, making out with her new boyfriend. Her bedroom is right off the bathroom, and my last trip down there revealed that they are making out to Enya. Not just any Enya, but Enya's Christmas album. I am standing there, taking a piss, hearing muted grunts blend in to a rousing Irish rendition of "Good king Wenceslas". I nearly started laughing, and suppressed the urge to just storm in, steal the CD, and slap her again; more for Paul's sake this time than my own. But no, I can't do that; so I left, shaking my head.

01:16 :: :: eripsa :: permalink


Philosophy is, among other things, a way of developing tools for discussing issues and topics we dont really know how to discuss otherwise. These tools are bits of language or arguments that help us characterize certain things, to make it easier to get a mental grasp on them, as it were. Getting a good grasp of concepts is roughly equated to being able to talk about the concepts, and being able to talk about concepts entail using technical terms and arguments concerning those concepts. Once these arguments and terms are in place, the concept is deemed 'clarified'.

The philosopher's job is to clarify concepts.

As a result, the philosopher ends up shaping much of people's understanding. Nearly everything that you or anyone else thinks is partly the result of some philosophical meddling with concepts.

Thus, to understand philosophy, you need to answer the following questions:
1) What concept are they trying to clarify?
2) What is the goal of clarifying this concept? (How does this fit into a larger project?)
3) What are the arguments or terms the philosopher uses to address the concept?
4) Do these arguments or terms fit with 1 and 2?

One of the mistakes you might be making is trying to read a philosophical text like any other book. You simply can't do that. You need to break it up into small sections, read small tiny pieces of this section, pause, drink some coffee, think, smoke a cigarette, rub your chin, bitch about the government or the masses or the gov't ruling the masses or the masses ruling the gov't, and then take a bit more in. As you read, you need to fit each sentence into some larger scheme or project the philosopher is working on. You need to understand the structures and tools the philosopher is building, and how they apply those tools to the concepts.

J.theYellow came out of the closet to say:
The problem with modern philosophy, at least academically, is that it's all about reading and taking to heart what everyone else ever thought instead of learning to formulate and accept your own philosophies. One approach has practical applications to everyday life, the other is only useful for making yourself sound snooty and well-read.

If philosophy was more accessible, it would be useful for educating people who, for example, think they have to hold to a rigid ideology for the sake of maintaining a moral compass. Then again, I'm sure there are many professors with tenure who would disagree, because they need to maintain their grant status for the latest treatise on how to tie together what Old Dead Guy 3000 B.C. thought and what Old Dead Guy 1650 A.D. thought.

I sympathize with your point to some extent, but I never quite understand this reaction to philosophy. People dont expect neurosurgery or law to be 'accessible', and have no trouble accepting the idea that most people couldn't handle the training and education required for those fields; and they dont hear neurosurgeons or lawyers at work and think 'those snotty, pretentious snobs!' But for some reason, everyone expects to be able to just pick up and philosophize right from the start. 'I've thought about things, and stuff! Thats philosophy!' No, it isn't, thats just thinking about things. Like I said before, a lot of philosophy is about setting up structures and theories and jargon that can be used in various ways to grapple with ideas or concepts that we dont really know how to grasp otherwise.

Think about it like this: if we find a new plant or planet, we dont stumble around for some way to describe it. We already have theories, and these new items, while interesting, fit nicely and boringly into the theories. Sometimes the theories are wrong or need to be adjusted, but we already know what we need to explain or describe, and what we have to talk about. We already have words available to help understand these things.

But what about more abstract notions like 'justice' or 'truth' or 'consciousness'? Those sort of come out of left field, and they seem to require their own theories, with their own jargon and structure, since there is nothing else around that will do the job. Philosophy is all about getting a handle on structures that seem to deal well with these concepts, and finding their strong and weak points and seeing how better to deal with them.

And it just so happens that we have been doing this sort of thing for a long time, and some really fucking smart men have done a lot to build such structures that have proven to be useful for a variety of concepts. Since we have been talking about him, Kant thought rationality was a key concept in understanding human action, and so tried to describe everything that is in terms of reason. And the only reason we talk about 'reason' today is because of Kant's influence, and the fact that reason-talk has proved useful in so much of our lives. So it is of great use to study what Kant thought, and what people today think of what kant thought, and whether there are better ways of thinking about it, etc. It is much better to stand on the shoulders of giants than to reinvent the wheel; and it is even better to kill two cliches with one stone.

If this is the right way to think about philosophy, though, then there isn't much use teaching it to the people. Philosophy is not just critical thinking- you can learn critical thinking from any discipline. Philosophy is about thinking critically about subjects that wouldn't normally require critical thinking. Here's a good question: should I have a child, or should I wait to buy a house first and then have kids? Philosophy wont help you there, though good critical thinking will. Here's a bad question: is justice good for its own sake, or for the sake of what it brings? That is a conceptual question that might be interested in its own right but most people couldn't give two shits about it, and rightfully so.

But thats not a problem with philosophy; thats just what philosophy is. That is more a problem with people not understanding what philosophy is trying to do, and hearing the word 'philosophy' equated with things like 'meaning of life', and the fact that the subject matter of philosophical analysis happens to be many of the things we find so common (but underexamined) in everyday life; and people take from this that philosophy should not only be easy, but that their own malformed opinions on life the universe and everything are at least on par with any old dead guy, and probably much better because they wern't round for like tv and junk, so they couldn't possibly be as clued into reality as them.

J.theYellow came out of the closet to say:
Actually, we do expect law to be accessible enough for people to participate in government. Voting, for example. Unfortunately the equivalent in philosophy is prayer and worship, which in most religions isn't especially mind-expanding. Your point about people not understanding what philosophy is trying to do is well-taken, but I don't think it's an adequate excuse. Yes, philosophy "is" what thousands of years of learned minds have recorded, but it also "is" just what people come up with on their own without reading what has been recorded.

But your explanation is adequate, and I admit to being somewhat smart-alecky in my original post.

You're law example here is actually perfect for me, because we dont expect people to know the capital-L Law- thats why we have accountants and lawyers and such. We just expect people to know enough about how the law applies to them to be able to operate within its jurisdiction. They know, for instance, that jay-walking is illegal, and can explain in rough terms why it is illegal, etc.

Similarly, we expect that people should have some rough understanding of their own existence, insofar as it pertains to their day-to-day activities. This includes but is not limited to: "What career, hobbies, interests, activities, personality and possessions will define you as a person?", or "What do you want to make of your life?" or "How do you want your kids to remember you when you die?", etc. This is 'philosophical' in the loosest sense of the word, in the same way that explaining to my little sister that jaywalking is illegal is 'law' in the loosest sense.

But this is not the sort of 'philosophy' you can teach, or that even requires teaching. There are no lesson plans to help you with this, and if you seriously need help, you dont want to go to a philosopher. You want a counselor or a priest or a friend, not an academic. These are also things that people will form opinions on, and in this their opinions are nearly as valid as anyone elses. Teaching is not required here whatsoever.

I find it distressing that you think the equivalent of personal accessibility of philosophy is prayer and worship; I think this is indicative of thinking of philosophy like a form of religion, which is what makes people think it should be accessible and easy to understand (like religion), and that their own already religiously enlightened opinion matters. Again, that is a complete misunderstanding of philosophy's project. I think the philosophical equivalent to applying (little l) law in the personal case would be something like conscious reflection/introspection or the stoner's 'woah', not prayer.

We understand law in general, and we understand existence in general, but to understand Law and Existence requires work and education. And the truth is, that when dealing with Existence, what you have come up with on your own probably isn't very interesting, mostly incoherent, and is probably several thousands of years old; and there are probably better, more thorough, interesting, and coherent theories out there to learn, that have been picked over and polished for those thousands of years by generations of smart minds.
06:15 :: :: eripsa :: permalink

Churn goes live

Churn goes tive today, black friday. Toliverchap has yet to submit his post, but I know it is done and waiting to go up. Without further ado:

19:45 :: :: eripsa :: permalink


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by Yakaisaru from the SA forums.
01:41 :: :: eripsa :: permalink


NoneMoreNegative came out of the closet to say:
Incomprehensible from the outside... As long as you're along for the ride in some augumented form from the start, you're good to go, or as long as whatever hits the hard burn-off point first is benevolent, you can get uplifted afterwards... Here's a nice usenet post from one of my favourite recent authors on the difficulty of comprehending a runaway technical society powered by self-bootstrapping AIs:I'm still out on the possibility of the Singularity happening, but if real AI is ever cracked, I'll start to worry

There is no question that computers have the (theoretical) capacity to grow and change fast, very very fast. However, I take it as an a priori assumption that the word 'intelligent' carries with it the connotation 'comprehensible to us'.

Suppose technology of a similar sort was produced by some aliens far, far away, and had a good 10,000 year head start on us; and from our perspective was deep into the 'hyper-intelligent' end of the exponential curve, however we choose to quanitfy such a thing. Say further that it sends a bit of self-sustaining, self-evolving technology down to Earth (perhaps in the form of a menacing obelisk?), and humans, otherwise occupied with petty battles, stumble accross it. This bit of tech is crunching data and chewing through paradigm shifts at hyper rates. With no means of understanding what it is doing, however, we wouldn't consider it any more than a big, beeping chunk of useless metal. And I would go further to say that there is no sense we would be able to make of calling this machine 'intelligent'.

Change is change, and as we become aware of the process of change, this awareness feeds back into the cycle and itself changes the rate of change. And there is an upper limit of rate of change that a human can handle, simply in virtue of its physical makeup. Neurochemical signals only move so fast. Computers are not bound by these restrictions directly, but they are bound to humans, and so their rate of change must stay within certain parameters for us to even consider them useful, much less intelligent. Current trends in technology dont aim towards self-augmenting AI, but rather intelligent user interfaces that use existing raw computational power to specifically change the way people and computers interact, and it is this interaction which gives us a criteria for intelligence. But this keeps the rate of change used by a computer bound in a strong way to the rate of change achievable by humans. As technology increases, this binding can increase, and perhaps the mutual rate of change can likewise increase, but it is a mututal process, and therefore can't increase faster than the mutual bond can sustain.

If the point is that in 10000 years we wont be able to make sense of the technology, sure. People 10000 years ago would be baffled by the iPod (and the contents therein!). But tracing through the curve slowly, without jumping to unwarranted conclusions, does not reveal any special point along the curve which justifies the threatening, and you must admit, religious, moniker 'singularity'.

NoneMoreNegative came out of the closet to say:
Oh, and the appelation of the Singularity as "The Rapture... For nerds!" has always amused me; taking the big mans chair as a species rather than sitting at his right hand sounds a distinctly human outlook

Religion itself is distinctly human, and arguably always had that very goal

NoneMoreNegative came out of the closet to say:
How about if we can't make sense of technology in ten hours?

Paraphrasing one of Vinge's analogies that seems to fit here, "you could bring Shakespeare into the present and eventually get him to understand television, but no amount of education or explanation will enable a goldfish to understand television." Similarly, he expects the changes which superhuman intelligence will bring to be of a sort which humans are incapable, in principle, of understanding.

If you considered a blackboard full of the most esoteric physics equasions that only a handful of scientists in the world can understand, and then while you're trying to find a book to start deciphering them, they've already been advanced/refined/branched off to other fields as far in a half-hour as ten times that number of scientists could have done in a lifetime..? Things run away from ever being comprehensible to any human in short order.

It's a concept that's hard to do anything other than at, but at least I have more faith in it than the other Rapture

This is the very idea that I am disputing is incoherent. The "God moves in mysterious ways" bit is supposed to be that we can't explain his actions, but the actions themselves should be understandable- he slaughtered my family and my farm and struck me with boils and I have no idea why or how he did it, but I sure as hell understand what he did.

Similarly, lets suppose that a hyper post-singularity computer has solved physics problems several orders of magnitude more difficult than anything we have ever encountered. If this is all it did, and it did it using mathematics and a language totally incomprehensible to us, then we would have no access to the information; it would be essentially gibberish. Likewise, the static on my tv set, if decoded properly, might be relaying the secrets of the universe, but without a method for decoding it is nothing more than fuzz.

However, let us suppose the same computer, crunching the same data; and through these calculations, it figures out how to realize, for instance, wormhole travel; and further, it is hooked up to the necessary machines to actually build these devices, and through this process it is able to constuct a vast interstellar transportation network. I think we'd be willing to call this machine intelligent, but only in virtue of what it can do for us. And we might have no understanding of how it accomplished this task, or any way of explaining the phsyics behind such an operation, but we surely understand the output, the results, and it is on that criteria that we judge it to be intelligent.

What this rules out, then, is that there can be anything that not only uses an incomprehensible language (or mathematics), but that the resulting action on this language is also incomprehensible. If 10 hours from now, technology has advanced to the point that not only am I helpless to explain how it works, but I am also helpless to explain what it is doing, then by definition it is unintelligible, it is nonsense. I cannot make sense of calling such a system 'intelligent'.

I am essentially in line here with the standard philosophical stance on intertranslatability- basically, that what it means to be intelligent is that I have some means of translating its actions and language into my own language. There cannot be radically disperate conceptual schemes- what it means to be a conceptual scheme is just that it is translatable. Thus anything falling outside of my translational powers is not simply incomrehensible, it is not even a conceptual scheme. What this implies is that any intelligent system is necessarily comprehensible to some large degree, or else it can't rightly be called intelligent in the first place. In other words, it is simply incoherent to think of the kind of radical jump the singularity implies.

What this further implies, however, and which I think is very interesting, is that as technology increases, and if we are to 'keep up', as it were, then the keeping up cannot be on an individual level, but must be entire communities of people- generations. We must advance as a people if we are to make any sense of advancing at all. There simply cannot be a point where technology leaves mankind behind.
15:00 :: :: eripsa :: permalink

865 (0.84 posts per day)

I'm really not sure what debate you are talking about, but take comfort in the fact that there really aren't any new ideas anywhere, and no one really knows what the hell is going on, and never has; and we have always felt that we were on the 'cusp' of something larger and more significant than what we are doing right now, or about to make some intellectual, theoretical, and spiritual breakthrough that we can't quite see now, but that once we are on the other side it will all be clear; but this is an illusion (delusion) of being largely ignorant of the world (both indivudally and collectively), and especially of being young, which I assume you are; and the young project their own feelings of uncertainty onto the world, and reflect their own quest for understanding as the quest of HUMANITY ITSELF in bold capital letters; but your personal quest and sense of immediacy is your own, and humanity does not (by and large) share these quests with you, hard to believe as that is; and understanding will not come with answers to any question but with familiarity with yourself and why you find the question important in the first place.

Because I agree the questions are important (whatever questions they are), and I have felt the urgency and desperate need for answers; but I know there aren't answers, but more importantly that nothing rests on finding them; least of all the future of humanity- we have gone this far without knowing anything, and (by and large) humanity is content with itself and its scope of knowledge and understanding about the world. The urgency you feel is not for answers, but derives from your own need to come to terms with what the rest of humanity already implicitly understands- that this is what life is, this is what the world is like, and this is what it is like to be a human being, a conscious rational being in a bumbling, buzzing confusion.
21:51 :: :: eripsa :: permalink

German sucks

I accusative you
for taking me out on a dative
and playing with my genetives
after I had declined.
01:07 :: :: eripsa :: permalink

The importance of blogging

I haven't been here in a while. The url for this site was actually out of my history, so I had to type the whole thing in manually, thats how long its been since I've been here.

I sort of feel bad, but not enough to actually write up a complete post.

01:01 :: :: eripsa :: permalink