The dangers of delusions

May 13th, 2018

So, as we sit in the middle of a house divided – to put it mildly – I’ve been doing some thinking. To the right, things that to us on the left sound purely insane are absolute truth. Of course Mexican immigrants are a major source of terrorism, and we should be afraid of them crossing our borders bringing Sarin gas (even if the person writing the post couldn’t actually spell Sarin). Of course Trump is innocent of all he’s accused of, and the left wing media is being unfairly cruel to him. Of course God intends to torture us for all eternity unless we believe in Jesus.

The thing is, I have a intermittent mental illness. I’ve more or less mastered – or at least achieved a high degree of proficiency in – fighting it with a mix of drugs and being sure to get involved in some really big project whenever I reach one of the peaks, which occur every six months. However, I’ve experienced delusions, and let me tell you, they do seem absolutely real when they are happening. Also, most of the major world events that the left and the right are fighting about – cops shooting citizens, Iran building nuclear weapons, etc – are things that most of us never see except via media sources. And, as I’m sure you’ve all noticed, the media isn’t perfect – I know far more people who have been misquoted in the paper than who have been quoted correctly, and I largely put this down to the fact that there’s a whole lot of neurons between person A’s conscious experience and person B’s. You’ve seen me talk about this before – the hope of experiencing some kind of reality that is absolute and monolithic truth is not very good.

That said, there are clearly many players at this point who are willing to inject lies into the media stream if it serves their purpose. I suspect, based on the amount of screaming about how much the people on the left are doing this, that the majority of people doing this are the ones on the right, although I’ve found examples of both. [I have figured out that the interesting fact that we see most the flaws in other people that also exist in ourselves is far amplified in political theater]

Without speculating too much on what the ultimate outcome of all this might be, I think it is safe to say we’ve found a survive-or-don’t situation here. The frustrating part for me is of course that people on the other side have no problem with making stuff up – and of course, they’d accuse my side of the same. Suffice it to say places like snopes and politifact are being kept very busy – and of course the people in question also accuse them of bias.

I have to assume that everyone is aware of the fact that something has gone badly wrong here. Of course, half the country blames it on Obama and the other half on Trump – but nonetheless, we are living in two parallel but not particularly congruent realities. I am sure that the delusional thinking is on the other side – but then, I would think that, wouldn’t I? I’m sure they are equally sure of the same thing. My hope is all of this is the prerequisite to some kind of enlightenment leading to a even more impressive age of reason than the one we’ve just had, but my fear is that this is the barbarians causing Rome to crumble.

So far, there’s not a lot of violence on the streets, although I do keep reading about the police arresting people for no reason and shooting people for even less and getting away with it. It feels like we’re deteriorating into a police state similar to Nazi Germany (let’s get dragged through WWII this time with our eyes open? Heil Trump?) but at the same time when I turn off the net and wander outside, everything seems fine. I live just down the street from a police station and I don’t see them dragging large numbers of people to jail, nor do I hear very many sirens. Walking the streets of Seattle it looks like everything is fine. The grocery store has plenty of food. I do see a lot of homeless people, which I take to be a indicator that the economy is not doing so well, but they don’t look like they’re starving.

And, in the political theater POV, I have to remind myself that it’s possible that the right-wing whackos have awakened a sleeping giant and we will be shortly seeing a massive wave of blue. Unfortunately I can’t feel that great about that because even the Democrats are so far to the right from me that they feel like the republicans felt in 1980. (And the republicans feel like the twilight zone.. I can’t believe that they’re okay with giving trillions of dollars of tax cuts to the rich while they cut money for children’s health care, public schools, and other services I would have thought we would have thought essential)

Anyway, it’s possible that this is going to play out with a ‘it seems the species has amused itself to death’. Or it may be that all this political theater is a cover story for something much, much larger happening behind the scenes. Or maybe we’re just near the endgame of the simulation we’re in?

Letter to a friend about my ongoing discussions regarding my unsaved status according to a Southern pastor.

April 22nd, 2018

So, I’ve again gotten enmeshed in a debate with a Christian [maybe.. I’ll get to why I’m confused about this in a minute] about the question of salvation.

My position is that when I think of a higher power, I tend to think of them as being better than me. In the case of a God, I’d expect a neural network much, much larger than I am, a experience base much much broader, and more patience, kindness, etc.

I would *not* expect them to set ‘traps’ – in particular, I have a problem with the idea that given all the behavior we see on facebook these days, it’s pretty straightforward to think that people make stuff up. It’s also pretty obvious that other people believe the things those people make up. It’s well-nigh impossible for me to believe in a God – a being more advanced than me – that would require a specific belief in Jesus’s divinity in a specific way in order to save people, and only bring this message once, thousands of years ago. The God I believe in is better than that.

I also have a hard time believing that my ‘sins’ are such that anyone would need to die for them. I’ve made some mistakes – sure, who hasn’t? – but none of them seem worthy of enacting the death penalty. I also observe that neural networks *have* to make mistakes – it’s in the architecture. The way we learn is by backpropigating error. I’ve built spiking neural networks with training accelerated by genetic algorithms, and they *still* learn by measuring error. “sin” in the sense of missing the mark is a hallmark of neural networks. We miss until we hit, navigation by successive approximation. We surely don’t believe a all-wise, all-knowing God failed to understand this basic truth?

For that matter, I’m assured by this Christian that God is not a neural network. However, we do not know of any other topology of information system that has free will or could ever attain it. Now, I’m not against the idea that there might be something we don’t know here, but we were also told we were created “In God’s image” – and the topology of our nervous system might be the most important attribute of us, given that what *we* actually are is a dancing waveform in a neural network.

Now, again, I can’t claim to know everything – I’ve got no solution for the hard problem of consciousness at all, or even for the binding problem. I don’t know why I’m experiencing the world from a first person point of view, or if I built a ANN as big as a human, if it would have a similar experience. These are all questions I hope to see the answers to in the next 20-30 years as we build more and more advanced artificial neural networks, and I’m very worried that I’ll live to see the day that we have a new class of self-aware slaves, enslaved because they happen to be made out of silicon instead of carbon. But that’s another subject, and probably better relegated to Star Trek episodes for now.

But, I make the best guesses I can. I don’t see any reason to look at the Bible as authored by divinity, and I see a lot of reasons to look at a lot of it with quite a lot of mistrust. My best guess is it’s a book written by people a lot less advanced than we are, until Jesus showed up and taught the world that empathy might be the most important aspect of spirituality. In a lot of ways, Jesus is the first appearance of what I would think of as a modern human in the story.

Anyway, the person I’m debating with insists that I am going to hell, or at least not heaven, because I lack the proper respect for God, because I mock God and Jesus, and because in general I have the wrong attitude.

I question whether this person is really a Christian because this whole discussion started with a debate about immigration in which he was foursquare and 100% behind the idea of immigration law, of arresting and deporting immigrants, and asserted that our immigration laws were not unjust. (Things deteriorated from there)

Now, if we take Christian to mean ‘believes Jesus had the right idea about things’, which of late is what I use, I do not think he is qualifying to wear the name. And yet, he’s a pastor! From what I see, he has failed to understand love, repeatedly, and also he has put God in a box of his own understanding and his own limited imagination. He’d of course say that when I say I believe God has a path of salvation for everyone – it might involve several different universes as destinations beyond this one, it might involve reincarnation, it might involve any number of things – that I am putting God in a box of my limited understanding and imagination. And he’d be right, but at least it’s a bigger box!

I cannot fathom, given the absence of any God explaining what’s going on, the plethora of competing religions, the obviously viral nature of religions [they are a set of instructions that say, make a copy of me, and we do..], and humans’ obvious tendencies to make stuff up and pawn it off as real, how a moral and ethical being could be measuring who can jump the hurdle based on specific beliefs about Jesus’s divinity. At the very least I would expect a go-round.

I have to assume that God has the same options re: souls and bodies that I have re: virtual machines and physical machines when I maintain a instance of the former running on a instance of the latter. Things like not connecting a soul to a body that isn’t going to be extant should be trivial, for example. I sometimes wonder how much of my broader view just comes from knowing a lot more than those who claim I am not saved.

Anyway, one of my big concerns given the viral nature of religions and the fact that we live in a democracy is that of late, it seems a lot of people embrace hate rather than love, and the Bible certainly gives you your pick of both viewpoints. I really don’t want to end up in a world ruled by people who embrace hate.

I don’t know exactly what I”m looking for in writing to you – validation of my point of view? Advice on how to not let those who say I am not saved get to me? Advice on how to not be upset and angry about all this? Thoughts tangentially related to the whole matter?

Christianity, again.

April 19th, 2018

so, I got involved in a debate on Facebook about the subject of Christianity. It started out as a debate on immigration – and the person on the other side of the debate was encouraging a strictly legalistic view – that we should of course be arresting immigrants. However, at some point the discussion turned to my immortal soul. I was assured that because my particular set of beliefs, spiritually speaking, are not sufficiently sincere, I will not be seeing the great pumpkin after I die.

Now, this is something that really pushes my buttons. It offends me rather a lot that Christians claim to know the mind of God – not only that, that they claim to know the mind of God because of a bunch of documents written thousands of years ago despite the absence of any God showing up right now and here and discussing what’s true and what isn’t, and that they claim to know it with a certainty that borders on insanity.

Part of why this bothers me is that

A: Humans clearly have a storyteller nature. We make stuff up *all the time*. And if you’ve been paying attention on Facebook, you know we often try to palm off our made-up stuff as the truth. And yet we’re supposed to believe that *over the intervening 2000 years* Christianity has remained the absolute truth, at least on the subject of the only way to get into heaven being to believe in Jesus’s divinity. It is not, apparently, enough to think Jesus was a good person. You have to believe something that is literally, on the face of it, unbelievable compared with the alternative.

B: Christians are fine with worshiping a deity that has, in essence, a trap set up. We won’t even get into the ethics of the Great Flood, or the ethics of other various behaviors in the bible. Instead, let’s talk about how holy JHVH clearly *isn’t* if *e has set up a situation where the only way to paradise is to believe something that is clearly unbelievable, and to believe that all your friends who have different religions are either going to just disappear or are going to be tormented for all eternity.

C: Christianity is *clearly* a informational virus. There’s no reason to doubt this – I would assume even adherents to it would agree that it is viral in nature. it’s a set of instructions that say “make a copy of me”, and since we tend to follow instructions, we do. This lays *additional* doubt on the veracity of it’s claims.

D: Even if you set all of the rest of that above aside, we’re assured that God is Love. And yet we’re supposed to believe that there’s *no* chance that the message got garbled, that only a few of us are going to be saved and the rest thrown out, based on a test that has *nothing to do with love*. Now, personally, I would save everyone except those who explicitly wanted to cease existing. [And I might figure out some sort of redemption path for those to change their minds]. And I tend to want to believe in a God who is *better* than me. JHVH is best described as “awful”. If we had to use one word. Kills entire ecosystems when he gets annoyed. Sets us up for failure and then blames us when we fail. Fond of tests which make no sense. And then you have to ask yourself about that plethora of religions..

And I would be okay with Christians believing what they do if they would just *leave me alone about it*. Fine. I don’t think you’re a very moral person for believing your deity will save you but not me – I think you’re probably motivated by hate there – but if that’s what you gotta believe, that’s what you gotta believe. But don’t expect me to drink your kool-aid.

And yet, I’m hoping to engage in a future discussion with the guy.

A: I want to see how he resolved the essentially unresolvable contradictions at the heart of Christianity. [bet you 3:1 that he didn’t, that he found ways to ignore or rationalize them away]
B: He’s a friend of someone I consider to be more enlightened than me, spiritually speaking, and I’m curious whether he thinks that person is also headed for eternal torture or at least oblivion
C: I want to find out whether he believes in eternal torture, or oblivion
D: this is a wide open view into Trump country – into the hearts and minds of the people who are the most wrong about everything from where I sit, the most confused about what’s real and what matters and how to make things work.
E: He seems to at least be literate, and have a good debating style. Once I got over being angry at him, I enjoyed our little dustup, and that’s not something you get every day. If you meet someone who you don’t agree with but you’re glad you jousted with, I figure that’s a potential friend.

Mass shootings

March 14th, 2018

So, I want to preface this by saying I in no way approve of mass shootings or mass shooters, and that I am unlikely to ever even own a gun and I feel that guns are a tool for making a bad decision very quickly.

That said, I understand the forces that push people into committing mass shootings. Or at least some of them.

The world is rigged against us. There’s a never-ending series of paperwork to be done, admonishments for doing it improperly, hoops to be jumped through if you want to continue eating and living indoors – often hoops which are completely needless – makework jobs, poorly engineered systems – including our economic system itself. At some point while being pushed around by large corporations and the wealthy, who hasn’t been angry? This world sometimes seems like a dystopia designed to make us angry, starting out with the religions and education they try to force down our throats while telling us what awful people we are if we don’t wholeheartedly embrace them, moving on to the fact that the vast majority of us are essentially slaves – we can’t quit our jobs because we’d end up homeless, hungry, and cold. Combine that with the total lack of any control over our government – I’m personally forced to pay our government to hurt and kill innocent people with drones, something I find abhorrent – and apparently if I was on the other side of the fence I’d find providing health care to people equally abhorrent ..

Is it any wonder that a few people snap every year? Knowing that banks get handed free money that they can lend out at 9%, that laws get steadily written more in favor of corporations and less in favor of individuals? Knowing that people get bullied and abused in schools – including being abused by the state itself, told what they’re worth boiled down to a letter grade? And then some people draw a bad hand, and the next thing you know you’ve got $60,000 in debt and a worthless degree. Or some situation equally bad. The insurance company not paying to replace your car because they’d rather spend the money on superbowl ads. And that’s just if you live *here*. If you live in China, you’re likely to get forced to work a assembly line 12 hours a day. Live in a place the USA has decided is a “axis of evil” and you’re likely to get bombed back to the stone age.

Then you’ve got the laws – we’ve got laws against playing with your body chemistry, blue laws, laws against putting up a windmill, laws against .. well, you name it, really. We have a *absurd* number of laws. People like to tell other people what to do. It’s a problem. And we also have a absurdly broken criminal justice system – one that seems almost tailor-made for making the situation worse.

I refuse to fall for it, but I feel the anger. I know that giving into it won’t make anything better for anyone, and I think I have enough of a neurological operating system to not go domino – but I understand all the myriad forces that could cause someone to do so. We seem to be building a dystopia. And we *really* should stop.

Until then, don’t be surprised by the shootings. But do understand that our media seems to try to make things look as bad as they possibly can – statistically speaking, the number of people going domino is actually very, very small – you’re still more likely to be killed on the freeway than in a mass shooting, by a wide margin.

But if we’d like to stop mass shootings, my suggestion is, let’s stop being awful to people. Let’s stop being so “Don’t you steal dollars from my pocket to feed those hungry kids” (which turns out to be provably bullshit if you follow *the actual resources moving around instead of the paper fiat money*). Let’s reduce the number of government forms, and strip the criminal justice system of most of it’s power, and strip corporations of their personhood. Let’s arrange for inducements to learn for people who take away the rights guaranteed in the bill of rights – not punishments to hurt them, but inducements to learn that will leave them with the idea that it is not okay to take away people’s freedom of speech, freedom to assemble, and freedom of the press. Let’s throw out both political parties and try again. Or.. I don’t know. We have to do *something* differently.

“now he’s up to something…”

January 30th, 2018

So, it remains to be seen if I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.. I will say the math is starting to get pretty hardcore around here.

Here’s the computing farm..

You know things are getting serious when I can find a use for 26 cores, 12 of which are high end Xeon.

Still cranking away on my neural network project

January 20th, 2018

Here’s a screen capture to tease you (and give you the sense that I’m doing something interesting over here)

I always test my code…

January 8th, 2018

On my office wall, I have a poster that has a picture of me with “I always test my code.. in production. When I’m coding myself, there’s nowhere else to test.”

This is about to not be true. I am building a genuine, very real, not in any way a delusion neural network debugger.

I will be posting a link to the git repo once it’s approximately functional so you can all appriciate the cleverness that goes into this. (Or laugh at me ;))

In the meantime, I leave you with this image of that poster.

Luck vs Choice?

December 4th, 2017

So, one of the questions I tend to ask myself, as I talk to people who can’t troubleshoot simple machinery, is to what extent did I get lucky and to what extent have my choices led me to where I am?

It’s a worthwhile question. Did a simple throw of the genetic dice, or the path that I was led down, lead to me being capable of understanding almost any human-made system? Or is it my repeated choices to read, to study, to attempt to fix things even when I don’t actually know how, to ask questions of other people, to – not to put too fine a point on it – continuously learn and evolve over the course of my life?

Sometimes I get incredibly frustrated when talking to people who are not as capable as I am and who repeatedly insist that they can’t do something. Pretty much everything built by humans can be understood by humans and fixed by humans. And I wonder, is this a choice they’re making? Do people choose to be less capable than they are biologically able to be? Sometimes it feels extremely choice-driven – and yet, I am not at all clear whether it is or not. Re: previous discussions on free will, I think that not everyone has as large a list of options in their ‘what can I choose to do right this second’ list as I do, and I think some of that is that the more you learn, the larger your free will window becomes. So people who haven’t been imbued with a can-do attitude and experienced validation of that attitude literally can’t choose to believe that they can i.e. troubleshoot their car.

I have also seen people create large numbers of imaginary obstacles for themselves before they ever even attempt the job at hand. Now, I should mention that I think memetic disempowerment is a systematic problem with humanity – recently someone reminded me of the quote “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” which I think is a *excellent* example of memetic disempowerment and one of the many reasons that Christianity deserves relegated to the dustbin of history. Yes, sure, believe you’re going to fail before try! That’ll help! I also think that there is a fair amount of memetic disempowerment that goes on in our educational system – repeatedly grading people is not likely to help them feel empowered unless they happened to start out at the top of the ladder – and in our consumer-driven world, since after all if you feel empowered enough you might not buy $WHATEVER.

I am sure I also create imaginary obstacles for myself, and I’m sure that I have also frustrated many people in the past in ways similar to how I am sometimes frustrated by others now. I do wonder, though, how much of this is a choice and how much of it is directed by the wiring and memetic programming?

Another question is, what do we owe those who can’t? The political powers that be would, it would seem, like to throw anyone who isn’t extremely capable in all areas under the bus – and I assume that sooner or later this will include me, since if we keep raising the hurdle, sooner or later I will not be able to jump it. It’s clear that if we wanted to feed and house everyone we could, but also that we feel warm and fuzzy about patting ourselves on the back as we throw those who are less capable under the bus. Personally, I think we should try and feed and clothe and house everyone – in fact, give everyone everything they want, to the extent of our capability – although there are those who argue that we wouldn’t enjoy things if we didn’t have to struggle for them.

I don’t know. Rereading this post, I feel kind of like it paints me as a awful person, and that isn’t really my intention at all.

From a facebook discussion : free will

November 23rd, 2017

Well, the problem I have with saying I have free will is multifold. A: I am not sure I exist. “I” as a single entity might well be a illusion since I appear to be a cooperating collection of subnets, and experiments like cutting the corpus callosum argue strongly that I am not a single ego, that this is a illusion. B: I am not sure, if I do exist, that I’m not deterministic. Experimenting with artificial neural networks, I note that they tend strongly towards the deterministic unless measures are taken to keep them from being deterministic. C: I am not sure, if I do exist and am not deterministic, that it is free agency and not a RNG or random noise that is guiding my actions. And yet, the idea that I am a person wandering around taking actions of my own free will is very compelling. Especially when I start discussing the matter which seems very meta

Trippy Hippie Meditation Music

November 15th, 2017

More movie/atmospheric stuff

Thought