Sep 102017
 

A few things that didn’t fit elsewhere:

I.

The first night there, I watched the Opening Ceremonies, which included a cool performative dance around The Man involving a long, red silk banner. Like, a couple yards across and at least thirty yards long. The dancers swirled and swished it through the air. As the dance wound down, the lead dancer performed a solo piece at each of the four entrances to The Man’s pagoda (this year there was a structure built around Him). The entrance I was watching from (viewing space was VERY limited, I was outside the pagoda with a number of others, peering in through this entrance) was the last of the four, and the dancer slowly sashayed out into the watch crowd. We made way for her and once she broke free of us she yelled “Follow me!” and kept going, holding one end of the silk banner overhead.

I decided I wanted in on this, and this sound like an invitation, and dammit, the end of the banner was dragging on the ground, and that is not appropriate for a ceremonial artifact! So I grabbed one corner and followed. About 8-10 other people followed suit, and soon we were marching out into the Playa, banner stretched out to it’s full length and lifted overhead. None of us knew were we were going, but it was a ways. I began talking to one of my neighbors after a while, and made an exploration-friend for the night. Eventually we reached The Temple, were we concluded the Opening Ceremony by delivering the banner to it’s entrance (only the dancer and two helpers were allowed in the perimeter, it was still under construction).

And that’s how I became one of a handful of people that was a part of the Opening Ceremonies. All it took was luck, and openness to jumping into something new. It set the tone for my week, and it’s a great encapsulation of the ethos that makes Burning Man what it is.

II.

When anyone asks me what’s the most powerful thing at Burning Man, I always answer “The Temple.” I went to visit it on my third day. I did not know what it was. I thought it was just another art installation (albeit a gigantic one). I did not except to find what I did, right in the middle of this gigantic celebration of art and joy and partying. The fact that I didn’t know what I was walking into amplified the impact of the place, so I won’t say much about it, or post pictures. It was intense. I had to eventually just walk away, because I realized I would not come to grips with anything for as long as I stayed there. I will go back every year, but I will only go once per year. I encourage everyone to visit it at least once if/when they attend, preferably after it’s been open for a couple days.

III.

Our camp gathered to watch the climactic burning of The Man as a group. Afterwards, we trekked to just outside The Temple for a camp tradition, which I guess one could call a mini-ritual. Basically it consisted of gathering around a campfire and briefly speaking about what we’re grateful for. It was joyous and felt very intimate, and was the second-best event of the week for me (behind my initial visit to The Temple detailed above).

IV.

cw: this next part addresses a death at Burning Man

This isn’t a highlight, but I guess it has to be addressed somewhere. I did see the guy who ran into the fire. At first I thought he was just a streaker that broke through the perimeter. But he ran almost directly toward the flames, ducking and weaving past the emergency personnel that attempted to stop him. I think I realized when he was a few paces away what was going to happen, and I saw him flop right into the fire. They say he “dived in”, and I guess that’s true, but it was really more of an arms-outstretched full-frontal flop. As soon as he went down I figured he was gone. The fire is INSANELY hot. It was (mildly) painful even from the perimeter a hundred yards away. I can’t imagine anyone surviving for even a few seconds in that blaze.

I guess a lot of people took this hard, but I dunno. It was at a distance of a hundred yards, and it was all in silhouette. And to run into that hot of a fire takes serious determination. I want everyone to live as long as they’d like, even if that’s infinitely long (I hope to be around for thousands of years, at least). And with that comes the acceptance that some people will want to stop going on at some point, and they have the right to end their lives when they want. It’s a basic human right. I can understand wanting to go out in such a glorious way. So I didn’t have any negative emotional repercussions from this myself.

I’m close to someone who’s served in a warzone, and has seen friends involuntarily blown into multiple pieces. I’ve watched bloody depictions of death in Hollywood full-color close-ups. This just didn’t compare. I fervently hope that that man actually made an informed, rational decision, rather than losing control of his emotions while under the influence of too many unfamiliar drugs. But in terms of emotional hurt, this didn’t remotely compare to the ocean of grief that drowned me when I visited The Temple.

I feel sorry for that man’s family, especially if he didn’t warn them what he planned. And I’m upset that emergency personnel were injured pulling him from the fire. But I think only extraordinarily delicate people would have been traumatized by witnessing this. Or I dunno, maybe I’m just callous.

V.

It was interesting watching how humans act in an environment where there is almost nothing to fear, no resources to fight over, and no material wants. I realize this is just one small aspect of how people will choose to act once free of fear and want. But it gives me a lot of hope for how well we’ll handle a post-scarcity future. I no longer fear that we’ll degenerate into ennui and nihilism. As Cory Doctorow said, Burning Man is a trial-run for a post-scarcity society. And it is glorious, and fun, and I think humanity will love it. I am, for the first time, earnestly looking forward to it. :)

Sep 082017
 

In my post on luck, I stressed the importance of openness. But openness invites vulnerability, so people are generally unwilling to be very open unless they first feel safe. This is part of what makes Burning Man one of the luckiest places on earth – the entire event is one of the safest places I’ve been. This is achieved entirely through the culture.

Firstly, with a few extremely narrow exceptions, nothing can be bought or sold at Burning Man. Everything is given away as a gift without obligation. This decommodification of everything removes the status of having things. Almost all the value at Burning Man is found in interaction with other people, and you can’t really steal that. Also, everyone is living in faux-poverty anyway, there isn’t anything valuable around to take! And even if you did take it, what would you do with it? Pile it up next to your tent?

Secondly, because it is such a harsh environment, people are always looking out for one another. No one has to worry overly much about going hungry or thirsty, because there will always be someone giving away food or water, or happy to share what they have. Passing around snacks is a common activity in lines. When someone’s bike jammed near my tent, I gave them all the lube they needed to get going again. I saw one lady having a bad skin reaction in a dust storm, her hands were getting very chapped. A fellow Burner gave her moderately-fancy gloves with lights in the fingers, to protect her skin. The lady protested, but the Burner said “Take them, you need them more than I do.” This sort of thing happens regularly. In the desert everyone helps each other constantly.

This leads to a feeling of safety. You know that no matter what should happen, there are people around you that have your well-being as a priority. The sense of safety allows you to talk to new people easily, and explore things without worry. It, paradoxically, leads to the rallying cry of “Safety Third!”, which is a bit of an exhortation to try things that may scare you for not being perfectly safe – such as jumping between the slabs in the Temple of Gravity. There is an understanding that even if you get hurt, the people around you will immediately come to your aid. It’s what makes people comfortable stripping off all their clothes and having a naked dance/shower party.

I regularly saw women walking alone in the dark of night without any worry. That’s the kind of place this is.

When my bike popped a tire, it was repaired for free in a jiffy. When I was hungry, I was given food.

This openness extends to the interpersonal. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I have a very hard time speaking with people I don’t yet know. All my life I’ve felt basically unwanted. Yet at Burning Man, when I showed up at a random fire-spinning event alone, the people next to me struck up a conversation. They made me feel welcome, we had a good talk, and later that evening we met up to dance. As a single dorky male, I’ve never in my life felt like people wanted me to approach them. Dancing in the desert, the pretty young thing from the fire-spinning was delighted to see me, and afterwards thanked me. I still can’t entirely believe it. I was valued just for being me. It was bizarre, and wonderful.

This care-for-others thing is super-charged at your home camp. I camped with a group of 30-40 people, two of whom I’d met for less than five hours previous to this, and the rest strangers. Yet everyone treated me incredibly warmly. The standard greeting to Burning Man virgins (possibly everyone?) is “Welcome Home.” It sounds weird at first, but quickly you understand it. Your camp WILL take care of you. They will show you around and take you places. They’ll sit and chat with you when you need to rest, and they’ll give you food or water if you need it.

Of course nothing is completely without obligation. I learned my first night out that one doesn’t simply show up at a bar and ask for food or alcohol. Well, one can ask for food or water if in need, of course. But in the normal course of events, one is expected to make the provider’s day a little better in thanks, and that is done by socializing with them. When you first reach the counter, you do not just slap down a cup or a plate. You chat first. Recount what new or exciting thing you saw today, or what you’re looking forward to, or what interests you in life. Did you recently take a trip to Russia? Lets talk about that! Are you working on a new song or story? Tell me! You’re a Burning Man virgin? How does it compare to what you were expecting? etc.

At Burning Man, no one is a part of an economic transfer process, simply there to facilitate the exchange of currency. Everyone is a person, a full human being, and the only way to acknowledge that and be present in the community is to treat them as a person rather than an economic unit. And that means creating a relationship, however fleeting. It means socializing with them.

A note – while this is beautiful and very fulfilling, it’s also inefficient. Imagine going to Starbucks and having to chat with your barista for four or five minutes each time you go. If there’s a line of four people in front of you, you’ll be there for twenty minutes before you even get to order. So… not workable if you have other things to do. While you’re in Burning Man, chat and art is why you are here, so it’s fine. Delightful, even. But for modern-day efficiency, dehumanization of human labor inputs seems necessary.

This also means there’s lines for most things at Burning Man. They aren’t too long, because there’s people giving away alcohol or other stuff EVERYWHERE. But they exist. Fortunately, the people standing next to you in line are just as interesting as the servers! Everywhere you go you’ll be striking up conversations with the people beside you in line. You’ll talk about gender, or their camp theme, or dozens of other things. You may share snacks or gifts. It will be a good time. This is not like the lines in the grocery store, or Disneyland, where people are silent and can’t wait to leave, and the waiting is awful and hateful. This is just another place to discover the coolness and intricacy of the human beings around you. Take advantage of it!

Sep 062017
 

A friend discovered I had scored tickets to Burning Man the day before I left, and commented appreciatively on my good fortune by saying “Lucky!” They then quickly modified that to “not lucky, he actually probably worked hard for that shit.”

Which, ya know, is appreciated. It’s a pretty common sentiment nowadays, and I like it. But it downplays the importance of creating luck in your life, which I think is pretty important. As Lefty Gomez said, “I’d rather be lucky than good.” And creating luck can take a lot of work.

My getting the ticket was very lucky. “Edward” had recently started listening to the HPMoR podcast, and happened to be binging on it while driving cross country. He was going through Denver, so he emailed me to ask if I’d like to grab dinner while he was there. I said sure, and we hit it off quite well. A couple months later he found himself with an extra ticket, and all the mutual friends him and his SO had asked to attended either couldn’t make it or weren’t interested. They said “Hey, that Eneasz guy seemed pretty cool, lets invite him.” Being between jobs, I was in a perfect position to accept, and I jumped on that.

So basically – tons of luck. Yet a lot of work went into creating those conditions. The podcast was over 1000 hours of labor across 4.5 years. I have my real name, city I live in, and email address all publicly available, and I agreed to meet a stranger. Socializing is energy-consuming for me, and the process of getting enough social skills to actually be likable has been a 10-year-long project itself.

And of the work listed, none of it was goal-oriented tasks. I didn’t decide I wanted to go to Burning Man, and then pursued a rational strategy to accomplish that. So stumbling into a ticket was luck. But each decision along the way helped to build a structure that is conducive to luck. I put out a podcast into the world because I wanted it to exist, which created many opportunities for people to find out about me. I said Yes to things that could be unpleasant, on the chance that they might be interesting. I got better at interfacing with others, which allowed me to form more productive connections.

Notice also that I couldn’t have done this alone – much of the work was on Edward’s side. He remembered where I lived as he drove across the country. He looked up my email address while on the road. He reached out, risking an unpleasant evening with a stranger, on the chance I might be interesting. He has also put effort into social skills. He took a chance that someone he barely knew wouldn’t be awful to camp with for eight days in the desert.

There is much luck that is just plain random. I’m lucky to have been born a white male in a time and location where white men are held in high esteem. I’m lucky to be reasonably tall and healthy. But lots of other luck is a direct result of effort by people to keep their lives as lucky as possible.

To maximize luck, I would strongly recommend the following:

A. Do things for others. ESPECIALLY things that interest you, or that you already like. I love HPMoR. Making the podcast wasn’t a chore. I enjoy cleaning. When a friend is recovering from surgery, I sometimes go help them clean their house. It’s ridiculous the amount of goodwill you receive for a few hours of socialization and doing a small chore that you already kinda enjoy. I actually feel guilty about it. Do you play an instrument? Do that for people for free, sometimes. Any skill you have can be shared.

B. Say Yes often. Be open to new experiences. Embrace the unusual or uncomfortable. Yes, we all have our limits, so don’t exceed them. Remember to say no sometimes, to rest, or when you don’t feel safe. But make it a habit to say Yes unless you have a compelling reason not to, as opposed to the other way around.

C. Stay sociable. You don’t have to be a charming socialite! Just be a Hufflepuff. (Hufflepuffs are great finders because they’re so damn lucky. :) ) You don’t even have to go to parties, often one-on-one dinners/events are better. But you do have to reach out to humans. The root of luck is other people. To cut away vast swaths of people is akin to cutting away all your chances for luck.

These things together create a lot of opportunities for coincidence, and every now and then one of them will snag something. And you think “Holy shit, that was really lucky!” And it was. But you created the edifice that made that luck possible. Stay open. Stay excited. Keep doing neat stuff without expectations, and you’ll be surprised what you can stumble into.

 

I had planned to write this post before I left for Burning Man, but I ran out of time, which is why it’s being posted now. However I do have an addendum, now that I’m back. Burning Man is an INCREDIBLY lucky place. It is possible that it is The Luckiest Place on Earth, and I say that without exaggeration.

This is not an accident. The entire event is designed to maximize every factor that leads to luck. The openness there is off the scale. Everything is given freely, and people are constantly doing things for others without expectation of reciprocation or reward. Everyone is incredibly open to everything, all the time. Part of the ethos is to go and try and do anything that strikes your fancy. People will not shut you down, or judge you. Generally they encourage you. Everyone is constantly happy to meet everyone else and speak with them in very friendly terms. All of this leads to a non-stop constant explosion of luck everywhere you turn. It’s fascinating.

Since this blog is kinda a personal diary anyway, over the next several days I plan to write about my Burning Man experience in a greater level of detail. Spoiler alert – I think everyone should go to at least one Burning Man event in their lifetime, it’s a very strange and unique experience. You don’t even have to have crazy sex or do any drugs! I didn’t!

Jul 172017
 

The Welcome To Night Vale live show came to Denver yesterday. It was great fun, I loved it! And one of the best things about it is that everyone in the audience is the sort of person you want to know. There’s a very strong “these are my peeps!” feel there. :)

The show, as usual, involves a bit of audience participation. A friend sitting by me didn’t participate very much, for which I teased them a little right afterwards (the participation makes it so much more fun!!). They responded that they don’t participate in ritual lightly, and weren’t comfortable joining in this one. My initial reaction was “lol, audience participation isn’t ritual,” but after about ten seconds of reflection I realized “Oh yeah… it kinda is.”

Which got me to thinking.

Rationalists are aware of the power and importance of ritual, and there are ongoing attempts to harness that power. They meet with various levels of success, depending on group and area. In Denver they haven’t taken hold. A fair number of us here are rather allergic to the trappings of religion. Personally I have no problem with anyone else doing it, but to me it feels forced and hokey. Like putting on your parents’ clothes as a kid and pretending to be adults. Religious ritual works because the participants think it really does tap into a higher power. Mimicking the form without believing in the substance feels… uncomfortably silly.

A different friend has recently asked if Universities could take the place of Churches in the secular community (after reading the excellent “Man As A Rationalist Animal” post by Lou Keep). I think that if they could have, they would have by now. They’re halfway there. They have the instinctive respect of the populace, the arcane credentialing and clergy, and of course the miracles. But they’re missing the interface with the common man–the language of ritual and community.

Welcome To Night Vale has that. WtNV is the start of a church for the modern urban/suburban areligious person. It tackles the fundamental question that plagues the educated proletariat–the meaninglessness of existence in a post-community capitalist society, where everyone is interchangeable and replaceable. And it answers it not with speeches or therapy or advise… it answers it by giving us a mirror made of myths. Modern myths, spun just weeks ago.

The podcast creates the foundation of myth that informs the spiritual layer of all its listeners. On its own it doesn’t do much. It is interesting art, of varying quality, that can sometimes touch deep emotions. The true power of WtNV comes about in its live shows. Here they take the common base of myth that the audience shares and they do something wonderful with it. They transform it into ritual. They bind the audience together, guiding their emotions down the tracks of a mythical story, until it resolves in a catharsis and an instruction (“be good to each other”) that means something.

But VERY importantly – it does it tongue-in-cheek. It is funny, self-referential, and irreverent. Because that is what it means to be areligious in a world that doesn’t need you. Taking things seriously simply does not work. Life is a farce, and we all know it. So the absurdity is played up. We are here to have fun. To make jokes and ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ about how stupid all this is. And when the merriment is high enough we can all join hands are jokingly chant to a story book character, because in it’s fun to do so in the spirit of the story. And if, along the way, we manage to say something deeper and more important, and feel uplifted at the end, well, so much the better. We came for the lols, and we left having touched something within that united us all for a few hours.

It only worked because no one comes SEEKING a deep experience at WtNV. We came for fun, and the masterful story led to something deeper. It’s like dating–if you’re seeking a relationship, it is apparent, and it doesn’t work. It’s only when you’re just dating around for the pleasure of an evening with interesting company that you are in a state where a relationship can begin.

This is what Rationalist Rituals get wrong. They are trying for deep experience and wonder, like we had in our childhood when our parents took us to church. That is not available via the same route of reverence and worship that the religious rituals used. The mindset of one who doesn’t instinctively revere the greater power being channeled is inimical to that sort of ritual. The ritual of the educated areligious must start in a different place. Our priests are comedians as well. Our religion must laugh first, or be rejected by our immune system.

Someday a Welcome To Night Vale community theater will form at a university. A group of fans have a lot of fun reenacting favorite WtNV episodes, and form strong bonds, and the university institution will lend them support and prestige in other aspects of life. And maybe, a couple generations down the line, their children will have a fully-formed religious life tailored for the concerns of an early 21st century proletariat, which fulfills their emotional needs with myth and community, while slowly becoming less relevant as the centuries grind on. And it’ll all have started with people needing to laugh at the absurdity of this sort of thing happening in the first place.

Until that happens, check out the live Welcome To Night Vale show “All Hail,” even if you aren’t a listener of the podcast. It’s good, and it’s instructive. Likely even if you don’t listen to the podcast.

May 092017
 

Guys, I’m totes gonna solve discrimination today.

People are complicated and hard to get to know in a short amount of time. But sometimes you need to make quick a judgement without the time to really get to know someone. So people often use simple heuristics based on what they can see. Things like clothing, race, accent, etc.

This kinda works, because in the aggregate there are statistical difference between groups. If you pick a random man from the population, statistically he’s likely to be taller than a random woman. There are a lot of these sorts of statistical correlations, the most controversial of which deal with intelligence and criminality, which I won’t get into because you already know them.

The most important thing about statistical correlations is that they are SUPER fuzzy. A few percentage aggregate difference between groups that measure in the hundreds of millions, or possibly billions, leaves for astounding variance between individuals. I’m tall-ish for a man, and I’ve met a number of women taller than I am. The tremendous variance between individuals makes it unfair for someone to be pre-judged based on a group they fall in. It is claimed that “Research in human genetics has highlighted that there is more genetic variation within than between human groups, where those groups are defined in terms of linguistic, geographic, and cultural boundaries.” Statement 2. Guiding principles on using racial categories in human genetics (Soo-Jin Lee et al., 2008)

So we’re left in a tough dilemma — the information available to us is crappy and unfair to any given individual. But it’s based on aggregate statistics, and when that is the ONLY information someone has to go on, they will go on that, because even unfair data is often better than nothing at all. IE: if you want to optimize your group for tallness, you’re better off rejecting all female applicants (if the only info you have on applicants is their sex), despite the fact that a mixed group picking from the tallest candidates from both sexes would be taller.

But you know what groups actually have a very low degree of variance within them? Families. Specifically, children to their parents.

When I was a wee one, I believed strongly in blank-slate-ism. Almost everything was Nurture, in my opinion. To the point that I argued very strongly on Xena forums that it was evil for Xena to try to murder the infant child of Satan, because if it was raised by Gabrielle it could have totally grown up into a kind, caring, productive member of ancient Greek society. I still do think that it was probably wrong for Xena to have attempted that particular bit of child-killing, but I’m now far more sympathetic to the side of “Look, her dad is literally the embodiment of evil.” Turns out genes really do make a lot of difference, and everything is at least partially heritable.

This has been floating around in my head for a while, but I was recently reminded to post about it due to someone saying:

if you have a kid with some kind of horrifying predatory criminal, and now your kid is a horrifying predatory criminal, and you have no idea how this happened because the father left before he was even born and your new husband is a great guy and you’ve both always done your best to raise your kid well and give him a good home, your kid’s psychiatrist will listen empathetically to your story, and then empathetically give you a copy of The Nurture Assumption.

Also, “But we’re his foster parents! And he was taken away from his biological parents at age two weeks old! And we’ve given him the best home and every advantage you could imagine!” Lady, as soon as my next bulk shipment of The Nurture Assumption copies come in, boy do I have a book for you!

If someone wanted to eliminate all practical reasons for discrimination in situations where there’s enough time to run a quick database look-up on someone, I think by far the best way to do so would be to implement a strong genealogical record and make it entirely legal to look people up at will and base decisions on the results. Now the black kid with a teacher mother and an electrician father has a FAR better chance on his job application than the white kid with a mom in-and-out of rehab, and a dad who’s been in jail twice for assault.

Yes, it’s STILL unfair. Popular fiction would be full of stories of the kid who’s parents are horrifying predatory criminals, but the kid is kind and gentle and doing his best to cure cancer or break the lightspeed limit, and he’s almost there, but The Man is judging him based on a past that he had no hand in creating and couldn’t control. But it would be FAR MORE fair than what we have right now, because the correlation between parent-child is far stronger than within-racial/religious/sex/etc-group. It would help decision makers as well as applicants in almost all cases.

There would be ways for people to get around the stigma of awful parents, just like there are ways to get around the stigma of being poor, or female, or the wrong race or religion nowadays. But instead of every single member of groups that measure in the billions being forced to use these techniques for proving themselves, the numbers would be restricted to those who have problematic parents. Which I (naively?) assume is much lower.

I have this silly dream that it would drastically reduce the prevalence of racial/etc stereotypes if this sort of thing was widespread. People would grow used to accepting that there’s no real difference between races, or religions, at all. The difference is between parents, and families. This has the benefit of being closer to the the truth than the current status-quo, even if it isn’t the actual truth. And it’s much harder to paint an entire country/race as subhuman monsters that your nation needs to subjugate in a Just War if no one believes those are a natural grouping we can generalize about, and instead asks “Look, how many of the families in that country are known to be horrifying predatory criminals? And is there some way we can target just them, rather than wiping out the whole nation?”

I’m looking forward to a future where “Who are your parents?” is consider due-diligence rather than rude.

Feb 102017
 

When I worked for The Man, I often had long periods of enforced idleness. Accounting is cyclical by nature. We’re busy at month-end, and very busy at quarter-end and year-end, but 8 months out of the year there’s a couple weeks were the work volume is just very low. But due how employment laws and norms work in the US, I still had to be in the office 40 hours a week, even during those weeks when there was only 15 hours of work to be done.

I thought this was stupid as shit. To be honest, from a business perspective I still think it’s stupid as shit. You’re literally paying your employees to burn away hours of their life on nothing. As long as their work gets done, I think they should be free to leave the office on slower weeks. But hey, some places have it worse. I hear in Japan you’re expected to put in 12+ hour days every day and often work weekends, which results in office workers who literally sit at their desks doing nothing at all for more than half their time in the office. And everyone knows it, and everyone still does it anyway, cuz expectations.

I’ve come to miss that Enforced Idleness. Because it’s not like I literally did NOTHING during that time. I spent a lot of time reading–specifically, surfing the web. This idle time is how I discovered Overcoming Bias. It’s how I got most of my econ knowledge (seriously, the two classes I took at college level ended up just being review. They were only 100-level classes, of course. But it’s cool that anyone with the interest can get an entry-level college education from dedicated reading of economist blogs). It’s how I gained most of my history knowledge, and kept up on advances in tech fields and some sciences. I read the entirety of the Less Wrong sequences, and SSC, and so many other things. If it wasn’t for this enforced idleness, I likely would never have read the Transdimensional Justice Monster post, which was a major inspiration for Of All Possible Worlds. I’ve greatly deepened my knowledge, and broadened my horizons, becoming a better and more thoughtful person. Because I was being paid to waste time.

Now that I’ve been “working” for myself for a number of months, I have much less idle time. I chisel it out for the stuff I find really important (like SSC). But I can’t stand to have hours every day where I’m merely reading interesting things about the world, because those are hours that I am not being paid anything, and not producing anything that will maybe help me pay my rent some day in the future. I don’t feel I can afford idleness, for the most part. I don’t follow many of the blogs I used to follow, nor podcasts. I’m worried I’m missing a lot, and it’ll come back to bite me, and some day I’ll just be an old man yelling at a cloud because the world has left me behind.

So I guess what I’m saying is, maybe that Enforced Idleness was a much better thing than I’d given it credit for at the time. It basically forced me into boredom regularly, and we all know how productive boredom can be. Maybe Enforced Idleness will be the future of work, once the robots have taken everything else.

Jan 022017
 

(text of pic: You and some other guy are glued to the tracks. Any of you can pull the lever, releasing the trolley and killing the other guy. You told the other guy that you’ll pulll the level if he does, hoping he won’t kill you. After a long time, he finally pulls the lever. Do you keep your promise and lead to 2 deaths instead of 1?)

This is prob common knowledge, but hey, here’s my answers
1 – Yes. If someone’s killing me, sure as hell I’m gonna do everything in my power to kill him back. Screw that guy.
2 – Yes. If you don’t follow through on precommitments, it leaves you open to exploitation by defectors. Slightly less important for you personally if there’s only one of you but…
..2a – could still be very important if someone has access to your source code, OR if you’re actually a simulation being simulated by a predictor to see what the real-you would do in this situation so they know if it’s safe to defect or not, and
..2b – even if this is the real world rather than a simulation, your actions will reflect on those who are similar to you, which likely includes many of your friends and loved ones. If you don’t pull the lever, this is weak-to-moderate evidence that your loved ones also wouldn’t pull the lever if put in the same situation, and that leaves them open to exploitation.
3 – This would be much harder to apply in the case of actual nuclear weapons. But fortunately these are trolleys, so I don’t have to think that hard :)

The more interesting question is… if you’re glued to the tracks and have nothing else to do for your entire life (and you can’t talk to the other guy)… should you pull the lever just for the excitement of seeing what he’ll do?

Feb 262016
 

invasive-ads-300x168A comment in a previous post brought up a privacy concern that I’ve seen a lot, but never understood. I’ve met a number of people who don’t want the stores they shop at to keep a database of what they typically buy. For example:

>I’ve heard stories of people buying diapers for a friend and later getting mails targeted at young parents.. So even if I can’t make it impossible for that to happen I’d at least make it as difficult as possible.

I don’t really understand that hesitation. When I think about it, I can see no downside to the store knowing that I buy lots of diapers. This isn’t sensitive info. Tons of people buy lots of diapers. Why is it bad if my customer account number includes the “Diaper-Buyer” tag?

And I can see the upside – being directly mailed coupons that I find useful. Twice a week I get a huge pack of coupons in my mailbox, which goes directly into the trash without me looking at it, because it’s the same scattershot pack that is sent to EVERYONE and 98% of the time there is nothing in there that will benefit me. But once every few months I get a nice direct mail from my supermarket with coupons in it for things that I buy very regularly. It saves me a lot of money, and takes almost no effort. I appreciate it a lot.

Every now and then I see an advertisement for something I am REALLY glad I saw. A Paul & Storm concert sneaking through my city, in one case. I had a great time. I would love for more advertising to actually tell me about things I want to know about. I would even be willing to pay for useful advertising!

Right now I have AdBlocker installed, because the internet is a giant flashing billboard that is always yelling in your face. The advertising makes many sites unusable. To me it feels like a personal violation, and an assault. My time is being wasted, my attention is being stolen, and my concentration is being disrupted. This is the sort of thing that would make me suspect intentional, malicious sabotage if I didn’t know better. I despise it.

But I can imagine a world were the only ads I see are the ones that I am extremely happy to see! The ones that tell me about an upgrade to my car, or a game I’ve been dying to play is on sale, or a band or podcast I love is coming to my town. The sort of thing I would literally pay an assistant to keep track of and notify me about, if I had the money. These are good ads. And I don’t understand why I would want to make that world harder to achieve. If using a customer card can help make my life better in this way, I’m all for it.

Am I missing a strong counter-argument?

Feb 242016
 

thecaldera_by_rationalparadox-itunesBecause projects seem to multiply over time, I am now part of a new podcast on Rationality! It’s a conversational podcast for people familiar with Less Wrong/SSC and the new Rationalist movement, but who don’t consider themselves Black-Belt Bayesians.

I expect the few first episodes to be a bit rough, but give it a listen if you’re interested. We’ll be smoothing out the rough edges and getting better as we figure out how to drive this thing. :)

Home or iTunes

Feb 092016
 

tumblr_o21tjdhKDn1uuik1zo1_1280Today there is a parade in my city (Denver) to celebrate a Super Bowl victory. I caught a few glimpses of the prep on the TV, and it strikes me how similar this sort of behavior is to the Ancient Roman practice of the Triumph. It made me very happy. Because a Triumph necessitated the previous murder of tons of people. We’ve managed to replace it with a civilized competition with structure and rules instead of carnage and destruction. This is a huge step forward.

I consider this a form of civilizational bio-hacking. There is an innate violence in our species. We long to destroy our enemies and see them driven before us (and hear the lamentation of their women, etc). It’s a wonderful feeling to revel in the shared rushed of crushing a foe and celebrating your mastery over them. In the absence of the tools needed to remove this sickness from our psyches, we found a way to get that rush while removing the harm.

It’s similar to the way that the introduction of easily-available pornography reduces sexual violence. Or how violent video games allow people to indulge their aggressive tendencies without actually harming people (at least for a little while).

So next time someone disparages the stupidness of sports, remind them that they fulfill a biological need with a clever hack that makes all of our lives comparatively better.