embrodski

Dec 072017
 

The Daily Dot posted an article titled “We fact-checked FCC Chair Ajit Pai’s net neutrality ‘facts’—and they’re almost all bulls**t

The fact that they censored two letters of “bullshit” should tell you right off the bat that they may not quite have a grasp on what bullshit entails.

I read this article while doing some research on Net Neutrality, and I actually really appreciate it. They, perhaps unusually for a media outlet, didn’t seem to want to tell direct, bold-faced lies. As such it’s very easy to see that the media (or at least, the media I’m used to reading) doesn’t actually care about what they facts say or imply. The battle for Net Neutrality is now an idealogical battle.

To save everyone’s time, I’m going to boil down Ajit Pai’s point Daily Dot’s counterpoint to what bare assertions with all the Fnords removed. I have not looked into any claims directly, I simply take them at face value, because that’s all you need with this article. Direct quotes in italics, occasional commentary by me in italics. Anyone who put a few points into Reading Comprehension can play this game. Let’s rate the bullshit together!

1A – The Internet was fine before the 2015 Regulations. 1B – That’ll remain the case after they’re repealed.

Contra 1A – “It’s true.” Contra 1B – ISPs didn’t want those regulations, therefore they must be good regulations.

“It’s true” doesn’t sound like “this is bullshit” to me. Sounds like two different groups arguing over which regulations to impose, with ISPs on one side and content-delivery-networks like Netflix and Amazon (CDNs) on the other. Verdict: this is not what bullshit means.

2A – Entrepreneurs and start-ups did very well in the pre-2015 enviroment. 2B – That’ll remain the case after the 2015 Regulations are repealed.

Contra 2A – “Yes.” Contra 2B – We believe ISPs will stifle them in the future, though.

Verdict: Agreement on half the point, contrary speculation on the other half. Not bullshit.

3A – ISPs didn’t block websites before 2015. 3B – They probably won’t after, and will be required by transparency laws to state when they do.

Contra 3A – “This is technically true” 3B – Users will have to police the Internet instead of the police, and you can’t count on them to do that.

Verdict: This is technically not bullshit

4A – Broadband investment as fallen two years in a row since the 2015 Regulations were adopted.

Contra 4A – This is “entirely false.” Investment has increased, speeds have increased, here’s links.

Verdict: Hey, now we’r getting somewhere! Actual bullshit!

5A – ISPs didn’t charge a premium to reach certain content online before the 2015 Regulations. 5B – They won’t after repeal, either.

Contra 5A – This is true, but it’s inconvenient that you want to base you predictions about the future on how things worked a couple years ago. Contra 5B – They EXTRA won’t if we keep these regulations, though!

Verdict: It’s starting to sound like the Daily Dot is the one peddling the bullshit here. I can’t judge based on the merits, as I haven’t looked into any of these claims yet, but boy, you guys really should work on sounding less weasley.

6 – The 2015 Regulations burden small ISPs and new entrants who can best introduce competition into broadband market.s

Contra 6 – Totes. “This one likely has the most validity to it.” But we can just selectively not apply these regulations to small/new ISPs!

Verdict: Holy shit guys, I’m actually on Pai’s side now. Is this a black-flag operation?

7 – Yes, there will be Internet Fast Lanes. This isn’t bad.

Contra 7A – We are in agreement, except we think this is bad.

Verdict: No bullshit, just differing values.

8 – The 2015 Regulations already permit bundling services. Portual has “Net Neutrality” regulations, and also has bundling, because that’s allowed under these kinds of regulations.

Contra 8 – “This one is totally true.”

Verdit: Anti-bullshit

9 – The 2015 Regulations stifle innovation. Here’s an example.

Contra 9A – That example is true. But it’s just one example, and on net it’s hard to say what will or won’t stifle innovation. Also, NOT having the 2015 Regulations can also stifle innovation. “for now at least, we’ll have to rack this one up as a big ol’ ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.”

Verdict: ಠ_ಠ

10 – The 2015 Regulations stripped the FTC’s ability to protect user’s privacy. Repealing those regulations will return that power to the FTC.

Contra 10 – “This one is true.” BUT Net Neutrality would have stronger privacy regulations, if Congress hadn’t removed those privacy rules from the regulations.

So the 2015 Regulations would protect privacy, if they protected privacy? I suppose I cannot argue with that on logical grounds. Verdict: both?

11 – Repealing the 2015 Regulations will lead to better, faster, cheaper internet for rural folks, city folks, space folks… basically ALL the folks!

Contra 11A – “This is entirely speculative,” “it’s possible,” “this is a great unknown.”

Verdict: OK, so sorta bullshity.

12 – The FTC is better at protecting the internet and consumer interests than the FCC is. Here’s some examples of things they did pre-2015 to protect consumers.

Contra 12 – We prefer the FCC.

Verdict: Another legit difference of opinion. Not bullshit. Although the contra point by The Daily Dot did include the bizarre line “the FTC creates a reactive approach to regulation—ISPs have to break the law first, then fix what their wrongdoing later, after the FTC cracks down.” Does the FCC have a Pre-Crime branch? How the hell do they stop wrongdoing before it happens?

13A – Most of the comments supporting the 2015 Regulations were faked, coming from botnets. 13B – Also, it doesn’t matter, internet comments don’t decide policy.

Contra 13A & 13B – “It’s true”

Verdict: Anti-bullshit, again. Tempted to score a negative-1 for this, but they were nice enough to include it rather than just omit the embarrassing points, and I don’t want to be churlish.

14 – The courts say it’s OK to repeal the 2015 Regulations and return to pre-2015 rules.

Contra 14 – Oh you poor, naive, child. We’ll be taking this to the courts for years.

Verdict: :(

 

My final tally:

2 items were actual or sorta bullshit
4.5 items were differences in values or conflicting goals. This is not bullshit, it’s what’s under debate.
7.5 items were not bullshit, and in many cases the Daily Dot literally said so themselves.

Ahem. “We fact-checked FCC Chair Ajit Pai’s net neutrality ‘facts’—and they’re almost all bulls**t.” 2 out of 14 is NOT almost all. Maybe those ** were standing in for “tamentsAboutOurDifferentPreferencesInRegulatoryStructures,ManyBackedUpByFac”

Dec 072017
 


I am sad for Al Franken. Translation of relevant part at front of this video:

“The allegations are false, and/or wildly exaggerated. I am cooperating with the investigation, and the investigation will prove this to be the case. However, I see the political lynch mob forming, I have plenty of money, and I don’t need this shit. As a well-off white male, I will personally suffer much more from attacks from my side over the coming months than I would suffer over the rest of my life from nopeing-out and letting the Trumpers run wild. Peace out.”

The allegations against Franken as of this writing

The photos currently available  (Arianna’s comments)

A Survivor’s Defense of Al Franken

Nov 212017
 

double edit! Should be fixed now, and looks like the problem was with a plug-in, so back to my home theme.

edit: nevermind, still broken I guess. /sigh. Getting tech support.

My old website theme has broken, which is sad, I kinda liked it. But for the past few days no one could click on anything, including old posts, previous pages, or leaving comments. So I’ve moved to good ol’ WordPress 2012 default, things should be working again.

Also, I’ve started a new job, and a lot of mental energy is going into learning the ropes, so posting will be sporadic for a while. I do have a new post up from a few hours ago though, please see below.

Nov 212017
 

[epistemic status: just an emotion dump. sorry.]

I dislike men. The entire gender skeeves me out.

I’m not sure what caused this. Maybe it’s because I didn’t get along with my father, and I often saw him hurt my mother (with words, never with violence, but they were deep hurts). Maybe its because during my childhood and adolescence, our hated out-group was “Old White Men.” The bastards who ruined everything, enslaved the rest of the world, grew fat with their wealth, and then rewrote history and hid all their misdeeds, never to pay for them. God how I hated them. Maybe it was because I saw first-hand how awful boys are too each other, especially in the middle-school-age demographic. It’s fuckin’ Lord of The Flies out there.

Regardless, I dislike men. The entire gender is, in my view, a collection of predators. Driven by an animal nature to destroy and defile and consume. It’s not that they’re evil, per se, it’s just that their biology doesn’t permit for anything else.

Half the reason I don’t want to have children is that I run a 50% risk of having a boy for each child-attempt. I do not wish to bring a predator into my home. I don’t want to raise a predator, to set loose upon society. And it’s considered impolite to sex-select your children in our society.

I work in an industry that’s predominantly female (accounting), and glad for it. I tend to seek out female friends. But I’m very aware that I’m an outsider from the only good gender.

Of course, I know plenty of good men. Some of them are very close friends of mine. I know these feelings of dislike aren’t rational, and that attitude is sexist. But knowing it doesn’t make the feeling go away.

I realized a few years back that I’ve been pitching my voice a bit higher my whole life in an attempt to be less threatening. I discovered that when I learned that most people don’t need a day to recover after talking for an extended period, and can often read aloud for a full hour without any pain.

I’m jealous of the trans people I know. I understand that there is a very strong sense of being female-gendered, and stuck in the wrong body, and an awful sense of disphoria. Anyone feeling those things would want to be the correct gender. But a deep, intuitive part of me keeps insisting that it’s a tactic to flee from being part of the oppressor class. And that the non-binary friends I have are doing the same thing. That it’s all to stop being the vile male sex. It feels like cheating. It feels like the thing I should do, if I had enough courage to go through with it. It feels like it’d be betraying the minority decent people left in this gender, and truly abandoning it to the predators. But I don’t want to be too slow about it either, languishing here long after there’s only animals left.

I’m starting to avoid triggers. I now refuse to read anything that headlines how awful men are as a group. Just today I saw “What To Do We Do With The Art Of Monstrous Men?” I don’t know what to do with something like that. I guess I’ll just stay silent, because I sure as hell don’t want to defend any of these rapists or predators. I’m ashamed enough to be associated with them due to my gender.

I don’t know. I don’t know how to be part of this group I can’t stand, and can’t leave.

Nov 132017
 

There’s an odd line in Weird Al’s “White and Nerdy” where he sings “The only questions I ever thought was hard–is do I like Kirk or do I like Picard?” It’s weird because there is no Trekkie I’ve ever met who thinks that’s a hard question. Everyone has a strong and clear opinion on exactly who is the better captain, and why. Sure, the half who say it’s Kirk are wrong, but there’s no waffling on the position.

I was recently in a discussion with an older geek and a younger geek, both of liberal persuasion. And the younger, more zealous geek stated that Captain Kirk is morally disgusting due to his regressive attitudes, and everyone should distance themselves from that abomination. To which the older geek got royally upset, and for good reason.

The young geek, watching TOS nowadays, sees only that a hero of SF nerdom is a womanizer, and feels disappointed that this is what people look up to. They either don’t know or don’t care that Star Trek was incredibly progressive for its time. It had perhaps the most diverse cast on television. It portrayed a socialist utopia in the thick of the cold war. It snuck in pro-feminist and anti-segregation lines. It showed the first interracial kiss on television during a time when that got them nearly kicked off the air in almost half the country.

And yeah, Kirk was a womanizer. This was also the decade of free love, where that wasn’t necessarily seen as a bad thing. Regardless, it is not acceptable behavior nowadays, and therefore Kirk must be disavowed and publicly excoriated.

In the progress of ethics, much like in the progress of science, we are where we are today only because we stand on the shoulders of giants. If we see farther, and know better what is good, than those below us, it is in large part because we stand on their progress. So while we don’t have to hold them up as moral exemplars in the current light, because they aren’t, neither should we call them moral monsters for being ahead of their time and pushing progress forward! Society progresses fast enough nowadays that the people who fought for the rights and morals we have now are still alive, and turning on them seems particularly cruel when their around to see it.

This sort of thing has impacts on the real world. It was brought to a head for me last weekend, when a con I was attending had a panel on a culture war topic. It got heated, as they tend to. A young liberal defended the SJW position in what I’ve heard was a particularly courageous manner. While I spoke to them later that day, an older white gentleman came up to praise them for their good work. This is a guy who is very obviously strongly on the side of the liberals, but the instant he came over, the circle of people I was in froze up. Tension weighed down the air. He was instantly unwelcome because he was old, and The Olds are always vile monsters from the barbaric past. He took a moment to praise the young liberal, complementing them on how well spoken they were. There was a murmur of anger, and my heart sank. This poor guy was just trying to praise her, but he didn’t know that you can’t tell a minority they are well spoken, because that’s something only a racist would say. He moved away after another minute, probably not knowing why he was getting so much hostility. He didn’t realize he never had a chance, he was judged an enemy before he’d opened his mouth.

I know it’s a cliché now, but this is just another example of how the Left eats its own. How does *anyone* feel safe in a movement that is THIS cannibalistic?

As for how things can be done better – I recently was linked to the concept of “Value Over Replacement.” If a person hadn’t existed, would the people who would have taken their place been better or worse than them? I don’t know much about the original Battlestar Galactica (the only real comparison I can think of on American TV, though I realize it was years later), but I haven’t heard anything about their progressive philosophical agenda.

This whole “destroying those who helped get us where we are” thing? Yeah, guys, let’s not do that.

Nov 082017
 

In a new book, Eliezer discusses civilizational inadequacy. In one section, he first explains that hundreds of babies die every year because a formula used to feed premature children with certain birth defects is made from soybean oil rather than fish oil. Swapping one for the other would prevent all these deaths, and many other cases of brain damage in babies who don’t die. It’s known by enough people that this should be fixable, and has been known for years, and yet nothing is changed and hundreds of babies die every year. He then goes on to postulate why we, as a society, can’t be assed to save these lives.

>Suppose you want to sell a used car, and I’m looking for a car to buy. From my perspective, I have to worry that your car might be a “lemon”—that it has a serious mechanical problem that doesn’t appear every time you start the car, and is difficult or impossible to fix. Now, you know that your car isn’t a lemon. But if I ask you, “Hey, is this car a lemon?” and you answer “No,” I can’t trust your answer, because you’re incentivized to answer “No” either way. Hearing you say “No” isn’t much Bayesian evidence. Asymmetric information conditions can persist even in cases where, like an honest seller meeting an honest buyer, both parties have strong incentives for accurate information to be conveyed.

>A further problem is that if the fair value of a non-lemon car is $10,000, and the possibility that your car is a lemon causes me to only be willing to pay you $8,000, you might refuse to sell your car. So the honest sellers with reliable cars start to leave the market, which further shifts upward the probability that any given car for sale is a lemon, which makes me less willing to pay for a used car, which incentivizes more honest sellers to leave the market, and so on.

>In our world, there are a lot of people screaming, “Pay attention to this thing I’m indignant about over here!” In fact, there are enough people screaming that there’s an inexploitable market in indignation. The dead-babies problem can’t compete in that market; there’s no free energy left for it to eat, and it doesn’t have an optimal indignation profile. There’s no single individual villain. The business about competing omega-3 and omega-6 metabolic pathways is something that only a fraction of people would understand on a visceral level; and even if those people posted it to their Facebook walls, most of their readers wouldn’t understand and repost, so the dead-babies problem has relatively little virality. Being indignant about this particular thing doesn’t signal your moral superiority to anyone else in particular, so it’s not viscerally enjoyable to engage in the indignation. As for adding a further scream, “But wait, this matter really is important!”, that’s the part subject to the lemons problem. Even people who honestly know about a fixable case of dead babies can’t emit a trustworthy request for attention.

There a LOT more to Eliezer’s book, this is just one excerpt, but boy does this fill me with guilt. Because this section, in essence, can be reduced to “The Culture War Kills Babies.” Not in the mamby-pamby way that university students scream “You are killing me!” but in actual, literal corpses that one can count. Due to all the social outrage we pour into things like cultural appropriation and “cis is the new straight,” there is no room left for drawing attention to actual outrageous things, like babies dying by the hundreds unnecessarily.

I do talk about cultural issues a fair bit. I may be contributing to the killing of babies, and I don’t want to do that. I think it may be possible to talk about cultural issues in a way that doesn’t engage the outrage drive, and I will strive to do that. I think Scott Alexander does it very well, and often Eliezer as well. From now on, any time I want to really get incensed about something, I will first ask myself if it’s as big a deal as hundreds of dead babies. I’m sure it sometimes is. Much of our future hangs on how we deal with (for example) intellectual property and privacy rights. But man, that pile of babies is really appalling.

Maybe the worst part is that anytime someone throws a fit over people kneeling or choosing an unorthodox hairstyle I’m going to think “Man, you are killing babies right now, but I can’t say anything about that because it wouldn’t only make things even worse incredibly quickly.”

Well OK, not the worst, by a long shot. But it’ll be there. /sigh

Nov 012017
 

Thank god that the internet exists, allowing the best and most coherent views on a matter to rise to the top. Siderea post on New Atheism is perfect.

“I’m not surprised when the New Atheists are characterized in ways which attempt to erase what they are saying or just get them to shut up. They’re forcing a conversation that most on the left really don’t want to have.”

 

Unrelated – we should legit refer to the shows as “Star Trek: Orville” and “The Discovery” in the interest of greater accuracy. The Discovery is insultingly bad writing, forehead-smashingly-stupid science (yes, far moreso than normal Trek), and so visually ugly that it’s sandpaper for the eyes. ORV, on the other hand, is everything Trek was at its peak, with extra silliness thrown in. And yeah, a lame post-divorce thing you gotta overlook, but every Trek had something you had to bear through. It’s the true successor of the Trek line, I am seriously surprised by how good it is.

Oct 312017
 

The Just City, by Jo Walton

Synopsis: The goddess Athena yanks the 400 most rabid Plato-fans from human history and gets them to try to create the utopian city he described in “The Republic.”

Book Review: This is the longest, most boring example of Pretending to be Wise I’ve seen so far. As an example of “humans are bad at creating utopias” it’s revoltingly shoddy. First of all, anyone alive could have skimmed The Republic and told you “Oh yeah, this is ludicrous, there’s no way it would work.” If that’s Walton’s thesis, it’s about 2,500 years too late. Maybe the ancient Greeks would’ve found this interesting, but I suspect even they knew it, and Plato had some other point to make rather than “Hey, this is a great blueprint for society.”

I like message fiction. I’m a fan of Ayn Rand’s works, and John C. Wright’s works, even though I find their ideologies atrocious. That’s because they know how to write good message fiction. They stir up one’s sense of injustice at a crazy, broken world, and offer extravagant, soaring solutions. Walton doesn’t do that. She briefly mentions the sexism of pre-modern societies, and then drops us into a toy-city that runs on god-granted post-scarcity and a shocking lack of realistic humans. And all they do is bloviate about Plato and what “excellence” meant to him, without actually saying anything.

For example, in a discussion of whether it is permissible to allow children to look at replicas of art rather than the originals (yes, really) a character claims that even a perfect replica wouldn’t work… even though a child couldn’t tell the difference, “their souls could.” And it’s left at that. Now, this is something that could have led to an interesting exploration on the matter by Walton. As a modern human, she is aware of recorded music, and the richness it brings to our lives. Perhaps she could argue about the overwhelming value of live music over recorded if she wants to give Plato some help. But she never did. Just the ridiculous claim that something touched by the hands of the artist is intrinsically better without even the hint of a figleaf of explanation as to why. Furthermore, as an author, she works in a medium were the audience never sees the original document! In the vast majority of cases, an “original document” is just a Word file anyway. Her art medium is the one where this replica-vs-original argument is most salient. And yet, nothing is explored. Plato’s words are spoken, the author refuses to say anything of interest or cast any judgement, and we continue on without ever revisiting the issue.

An intense red flag popped up when Christianity is discussed, and one says: “Christianity is harmful…because it offers a different and incorrect truth,” as opposed to “the real Truth that a philosopher can glimpse.” Holy shit, those are the words of someone who has no idea what the word “truth” even means, and who seems to be regurgitating mystical BS rather than actually investigating the idea. You can’t offer a “different truth,” dammit, only falsehoods! “Differing truth” is the woo that those who want to spread lies hide behind. This would be OK if it was just a character mouthing crazy, and this issue was then explored. But, again, the wise course that’s displayed is simply to present the statement and not make any claims as to its value or validity.

Almost all the book is like this. It’s insufferable. Also this sort of thing is most of the action, and it’s boring. Nothing else really happens, and the couple times it does, the events don’t change anything!

The humans are one-dimensional cargo-cultists, which I guess they’d have to be to think this Republic experiment has any worth to it, but it makes them stupid and bleh to read. The one bright spot of the book is Apollo, who incarnates in human form to explore what it’s like to be mortal. He actually is a fun character, and discovers some touching things about what it means to be human. But sadly, his chapters are very few and far between.

Oh, also, the worst handling of AI awakening I’ve seen since WWW:Wake. The Just City’s philosophy might be two millennia out of date, but the understanding of AI is at least five decades behind, and I’m not sure which is more disappointing.

Not Recommended.

Book Club Review: Unfortunately, a convergence of disparate events resulted in a low turn-out for this meeting, so it’s harder for me to judge. The vast tornadoes of faux-philosophical hot air that our characters subject us to would suggest that there’s quite a bit here to spark discussion. But none of it is terribly interesting discussion. As mentioned, perhaps the ancient Greeks would have found something intriguing here. But the state of thought has moved on from then. The discussion nowadays would just be rife with frustration, like when you’re trying to talk with a fundy Christian about what advances in CRISPR mean for the future of humanity, and they’re hung up about whether this will piss off god or not and can this alter one’s soul? This is not the sort of conversation it’s worth having with anyone. So I’m going to go with Not Recommended.

Oct 262017
 

Apparently there was a Golden Age of New Atheism, wherein New Atheists were a respected ally of the Left, in good standing with the wider community. And then they managed to fail miserably, isolate all their natural allies, and now they’re hated by the Blue Tribe almost as much as the Red Tribe.

I don’t want to be a douchebag or anything, I love Scott Alexander’s work, but apparently I missed this Golden Age.

I first came out as an atheist in 1995, a good 6+ years before New Atheism became a thing. At the time there were no US Senators or Representatives that were openly atheists. The religious controlled all three branches of government, and it was understood that acknowledging one’s atheism would be a career death-sentence. Atheists were the most-despised minority in America, based on a wide variety of social metrics including “Would you consider voting for…” and “Would you allow your daughter to date…” and “Would you accept an X school teacher…” and “Would you have dinner with…”–scoring worse than every other demographic group in every region in the country. The media portrayed atheists primarily as soulless nihilists. Those on the right disliked atheist’s refusal to respect religion. Those on the left disliked atheists drawing attention to the impolite fact that God doesn’t exist, and rolled their eyes at how crass and boorish we were for not realizing we were basically farting in public.

Now there are still no open atheists in any position of power in the Federal government (one has the temerity to be “unaffiliated.” We briefly had an atheist Senator, who came out when he announced he was retiring.) Atheists only last year dropped to second-most-hated demographic, scoring above Muslims! The media portrays atheists primarily as asshole dude-bros. Those on the right dislike atheist’s refusal to respect religion. Those on the left disliked atheists drawing attention to the impolite fact that God doesn’t exist, and roll their eyes at how crass and boorish we were for not realizing we are basically farting in public, and tut about islamophobia.

Even die-hard atheists like Neil deGrass Tyson refuse to use the word “atheist” due to its long history of cultural baggage. The term “agnostic” is, for basically every practical purpose, simply an atheist who doesn’t wish to draw attention to or speak about their atheism. It is the fig-leaf that the Left has extended to non-believers that allows them to exist in polite company.

Things on the ground are better, of course. Young men have an easier time declaring their atheism nowadays–rather than working through whisper networks there is a decently thriving meme culture online where one can take solace, read about atheist thinking, and generally have a peer group. But outside of that enclave, nothing has really changed. As far as I can see, society never accepted atheists in any way. There was a bit of a fad which consisted of the learned and cultured opining on this intellectual scandal. That certainly doesn’t make the New Atheists a group that was ever in the wider Left’s good graces.

There may be other ways in which New Atheism has failed. But by the metric of Scott’s post “alienating a society that agreed with them about everything” it’s a non-question. The New Atheists were never accept. Atheists have never been welcomed, or even tolerated, by the Blue Tribe. There was no society to isolate, nothing to fumble.

The New Atheists did create a space for others to be able to say “Yeah, this is all BS, WTF?” and not feel like they are the only person in the world who sees this. I think there’s more to do, but at least they got that first step down.

Oct 242017
 

Magic in the modern day is basically an extension of the idea that you can do anything if you want it enough. It’s literally an extension of desire. Lily Potter saves Harry with her Love Shield because she just wants him to live so much. In virtually all fiction settings magic is fueled by the caster’s inner state, and the greater their dedication, commitment, and passion, the stronger the effect that can achieve. (I can’t speak for pre-modern conceptions of magic.) I even saw this in real life when I was married to an evangelical Christian, though their term was “believing.” I often heard “I’m believe in a miracle” or “If you believe hard enough, Jesus will heal you,” or similar. But it was just wanting dressed up in faithy words.

It’s not a matter of a desire driving someone to train hard, research intently, and do the strenous work over months or years or decades to achieve their goal. The desiring in itself did the work. And while I saw why this is an attractive fantasy, it just seemed so mindbogglingly dumb that I scoffed at it in fiction, and threw mad shade IRL.

But Scott Alexander’s recent review of “Surfing Uncertainty” put some new light on this old trope. He presents the idea that the way our physical movement works is literally by us wanting to move hard enough it becomes reality.

the brain really hates prediction error and does its best to minimize it. With failed predictions about eg vision, there’s not much you can do except change your models and try to predict better next time. But with predictions about proprioceptive sense data (ie your sense of where your joints are), there’s an easy way to resolve prediction error: just move your joints so they match the prediction. So (and I’m asserting this, but see Chapters 4 and 5 of the book to hear the scientific case for this position) if you want to lift your arm, your brain just predicts really really strongly that your arm has been lifted, and then lets the lower levels’ drive to minimize prediction error do the rest.

Under this model, the “prediction” of a movement isn’t just the idle thought that a movement might occur, it’s the actual motor program.

In a sense, the idea that “wanting something really hard can affect the natural world” is literally true. And on some intuitive level, it seems natural to at least ask “why does this stop with my body?” Magical thinking may just be an extension of our ingrained movement models. If predicting hard enough that our arm will raise causes our arm to raise, why wouldn’t predicting super-hard that the lightsaber will fly into my hand cause it to fly into my hand? It almost seems unfairly arbitrary for the world to draw the line at the body! Maybe I’m the freak for scoffing at the idea, and the natural state is to accept that it should be possible.

I suppose it does make me feel less guilty about dumb thoughts like “Oh god, please don’t break!” when I see a glass tipping from my counter and I can’t get to it in time. Yeah, the thought won’t change anything in the real world, but it’s understandable why my instincts would lead me to send that desire out.