45 Matching Annotations
  1. Aug 2021
    1. Normally, thousands of rabbits and guinea pigs are used andkilled, in scientific laboratories, for experiments which yieldgreat and tangible benefits to humanity. This war butcheredmillions of people and ruined the health and lives of tens ofmillions. Is this climax of the pre-war civilization to be passedunnoticed, except for the poetry and the manuring of the battlefields, that the“poppies blow”stronger and better fed? Or is thedeath of ten men on the battle field to be of as much worth inknowledge gained as is the life of one rabbit killed for experi-ment? Is the great sacrifice worth analysing? There can be onlyone answer—yes. But, if truth be desired, the analysis must bescientific.

      Idea: Neural net parameter analysis but with society as the 'neural net' and the 'training examples' things like industrial accidents, etc. How many 'training examples' does it take to 'learn' a lesson, and what can we infer about the rate of learning from these statistics?

    2. What we call progressconsists in coordinating ideas with realities

      "The map is not the territory" is there as a basic sentiment long before General Semantics

    3. What is the defining or characteristic mark of humanity?To this question two answers and only two have been given in thecourse of the ages, and they are both of them current to-day. Oneof the answers is biological—man is an animal, a certain kind ofanimal; the other answer is a mixture partly biological and partlymythological or partly biological and partly philosophical—manis a combination orunionof animal with something supernatural.An important part of my task will be to show that both of theseanswers are radically wrong and that, beyond all things else, theyare primarily responsible for what is dismal in the life and historyof humankind. This done, the question remains: What is Man? Ihope to show clearly and convincingly that the answer is to befound in the patent fact that human beings possess in varyingdegrees a certain natural faculty or power or capacity whichserves at once to give them their appropriate dignity as humanbeings and to discriminate them, not only from the minerals andthe plants but also from the world of animals, this peculiar orcharacteristic human faculty or power or capacity I shall call[004]

      Here Korzybski defines how he thinks his thinking diverges from previous work, what in his thought is novel. It is very specifically the idea that the spirit-animal and the animal conception of man are inadequate and that the time-binding posterity man is his nature(?).

    4. “For a while he trampled with impunity on laws human anddivine but, as he was obsessed with the delusion that two andtwo makes five, he fell, at last a victim to the relentless rulesof humble Arithmetic.“Remember, O stranger, Arithmetic is the first of thesciences and the mother of safety.”BRANDEIS

      Interestingly enough this sentiment is more commonly expressed through Kipling in late modernity. At the time this book was written Kipling would have been still alive, but so was Louis Brandeis. Korzybski in any case has the sense of necessity at the heart of a strong modern materialism.

    5. It is useless to argue if electricity be“natural”or“supernatu-ral,”of“material”or of“spiritual”origin. As a matter of fact wedo not ask these questions in studying electricity; we endeavorto find out the natural laws governing it and in handling livewires we do not argue or speculate about them—we use rubber[xi]gloves, etc. It will be the same with Man and the great affairs ofMan—we have, first of all, to know what Man is.

      This basically materialist approach, believing that Man has a specific nature which can be described and planned around accords with the zeitgeist of the 1920's, and it's of course correct. Its declining popularity in the ensuing decades points more to a declining society than to any essential incorrectness.

  2. Feb 2021
    1. Extropians and other early transhumanists also had a longstandinginterest in self-historicisation. Theyseemed to have a feeling that what they were doing at the time was important and that one day people would want to know about it.

      Well, I think anyone reading this book certainly does.

    2. In retrospect, such a meme, then all in fun,now seems to pose a significant PR problem for transhumanists. Despite their youthfully optimistic parties and wordplay, extropianism always had a serious and strongly academic side and, over time, in keeping with its principle of self-transformation, the handshakes and the outfits fell away. This is perhaps part of the reason that some former extropians and early transhumanists, who remain active transhumanists today, rarely mention Machado and her antics when reflecting on the early days of transhumanism.

      Suspect the rationalists will encounter Many Such Cases as time goes on.

    3. Marvin Minskysaid of the extropians, with whom he often associated,“they’re extremists... but that’s the way you get good ideas.”

      "Eclecticism may be defined as the practice of choosing apparently irreconcilable doctrines from antagonistic schools and constructing therefrom a composite philosophic system in harmony with the convictions of the eclectic himself. Eclecticism can scarcely be considered philosophically or logically sound, for as individual schools arrive at their conclusions by different methods of reasoning, so the philosophic product of fragments from these schools must necessarily be built upon the foundation of conflicting premises. Eclecticism, accordingly, has been designated the layman's cult. In the Roman Empire little thought was devoted to philosophic theory; consequently most of its thinkers were of the eclectic type. Cicero is the outstanding example of early Eclecticism, for his writings are a veritable potpourri of invaluable fragments from earlier schools of thought. Eclecticism appears to have had its inception at the moment when men first doubted the possibility of discovering ultimate truth. Observing all so-called knowledge to be mere opinion at best, the less studious furthermore concluded that the wiser course to pursue was to accept that which appeared to be the most reasonable of the teachings of any school or individual. From this practice, however, arose a pseudo-broadmindedness devoid of the element of preciseness found in true logic and philosophy."

      — Manly P. Hall, The Secret Teachings Of All Ages

    4. These ideals were first promoted by The Church of Venturism, which was founded in 1986. However, the ‘Church,’ which promoted rational thinking and decried mysticism, soon changed itsname tothe Society for Venturism.

      "Society for" is an interesting replacement for "Church of".

    5. Ed Regis also reported that, as a student at Oxford, More “kept a heart-lung resuscitator in hisdorm room, just in case.”513More has also noted that his undergraduate dorm room was a source of fascination to many of his peers as it housed “several shelves of bottles and pills, and people would come to my room and goggle-eye at them.”

      This seems a bit neurotic, but perhaps I'm missing something.

    6. To all this, the extropians said no. There is more to come, and better things lie on the horizon. Evolution mandates change, and “in the long run the positive potentials for intelligent beings are virtually limitless.” Believing that they were theagents of their own destiny, extropians aimed to be catalysts for progressive change, adopting “a positive, dynamic, empowering attitude,” while rejecting, “gloom, defeatism, and the typical focus on the negatives.”

      Interesting to note that this was the plank where Eliezer Yudkowsky couldn't find himself agreeing (and I don't entirely blame him). Seems like a situation where the status quo is so astonishingly broken that just reversing it seems like a useful thing to do, but then that doesn't actually get you something philosophically coherent except in the context that the status quo exists to moderate its influence.

    7. Extropymag was one of the two main mediums in which extropian ideas were circulated—the other was, of course, the Internet. The first issue of Extropyin 1988 had a print run of 50 and interest was scant. Speaking about the first editions, More recalls, “we basically forced them on people.”444By 1992,the editors were churning out 750 copies,445and in the subsequent Winter/Spring edition of 1993, the output more than trebled to 2,500.446In 1992 a separate newsletter, Exponent, was launched and circulated bi-monthly, and in 1993 Extropywas printed in colour for the first time. By 1995, the print run per issue was 4,500.447Althoughthese are ultimately small print numbers, every increase was seen by Extropy’s founding editors as an important milestone in the pursuit of what More referred to as the “inexorable advance”448of extropianism.

      These are interesting numbers to contemplate in terms of how few people have actually heard these ideas and arguments before in a serious way.

    8. While still a student at MIT, a young Eric Drexler met O’Neill, for whom he worked as a research assistantat Princeton in the summer of 1974, funded by the wealthy patron and influential space colonisation spokeswoman, Barbara Marx Hubbard(another devotee of Teilhard’s ideas).408Drexler“went on to develop plans for lunar factories, solar sails, and methods to mine asteroids for mineral resources” and “was one of the L5 Society’s most articulate and vocal advocates for an expanded human presence in space.”409Butby the late 70s,Drexler began to turn his attentionto a new concept, nanotechnology, which fed into the space colonisation dream, but also broadened the emphasis of the L5 space-age, human potential movement, into something that underpinned cryonics and life-extensionist ambitions,and other facets of what later became a distinctly transhumanist vision of the future.

      Clear connection between transition from SL2 to SL3.

    9. Although Haldaneobserved thatthe progress of science had been staggeringly rapid in the last hundred and forty years, he considered it, “quite as likely as not that scientific research may ultimately bestrangled in some such way as this before mankind has learned to control its own evolution.”

      Again considering Hall's Where Is My Flying Car? one could argue that this is exactly what has happened with respect to nuclear power and the original acceleration we were heading for that stalled in the 20th century.

    10. It may be urged that they are only fit to be placed in the hands of a being who has learned to control himself, and that man armed with science is like a baby with a box of matches.

      Giving society cheap, abundant energy would be the equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun.

      — Paul Ehrlich

    11. John Burdon Sanderson Haldane was the son of the leading Scottish physiologist, John Scott Haldane, from whom J.B.S. learned “the fundamentals of science,”an education that began very early in his life.Throughout the younger Haldane’s youth, the pair undertook many “legendary and daring physiological experiments,”

      Another father-son pair.

    12. Teilhard consistentlyargued that,“the main movement in the universe has been, and is, a groping towards consciousness.”262Evolution, in hisview, exhibits a tendency towards increasing complexity and “cerebralisation.”263To date, this process has resulted in the emergence of humans, highly complex creatures thathave in turn given rise to a new “‘thinking layer,’” or noosphere—the complex web of collective thought and technologies that have dramatically extended humanity’s reach within the biosphere.264

      The tendency to ascribe a telos to evolution is an interesting trend here. It's essentially anthropomorphizing Darwin's ideas in ways that don't really track the reality. Natural selection is after what is adaptive in a particular context, it does not actually have to trend towards greater complexity and greater minds.

    13. Another thinker whose ideas overlap substantiallywith the three proto-transhumanistsdiscussed hereis the British biologist Julian Huxley. Huxley was the grandson of T. H. Huxley, who we met in chapter three, and the brother of the novelist and author of Brave New World (1932), Aldous Huxley. Like his grandfather, Julian was a keen evolutionist and a firm believer in the power of science, collective intelligence and education to further social and evolutionary progress.

      I notice that parent-child relationships (such as that between William Godwin and Mary Shelley) are a recurring theme in this history. Wonder what the expected value of well raised kids from 99th+ percentile thinkers is.

    14. The most impressive, I might say startling, of these changes have been brought about in the course of the last two centuries; while a right comprehension of the process of life and of the means of influencing its manifestations is only just dawning upon us.

      In the 19th century it was often believed that we were on the verge of completely unlocking the secrets of life, such that we would gain the ability to create and modify it to our specifications.

      The late 18th and early 19th century research along these lines was the basic inspiration for Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

    15. TheIndustrial Revolution isthe first strong historical analog for the modern phenomenonof a quantum leap in human progress, resulting in radically altered ways of life in a short span of time.

      As Hall points out in Where Is My Flying Car? there is a strong argument to be made that the industrial revolution was a social chain reaction that had already set off an exponential improvement process on its way to 'singularity', this was disrupted in the 20th century however. But prior to that it had been ongoing for 300 years at a steady average rate of 7% more usable power annually.

  3. Jan 2021
    1. Godwin wasn’t convinced. Hiscounterargument, neatly summarised by Porter, was that “such a threat would be averted by the simultaneous withering away of sexual desires—a proposal which notoriously reduced Malthus to guffaws.”

      I'd have laughed too, but for the present moment this seems to in fact be the case.

    2. Another thinkerof the period, whose life also extended into the nineteenth century,was the British philosopher and novelist William Godwin (1756-1836). Godwin was the father of Mary Shelley, the author ofthe classic gothic novel,Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus(1823). Hewasalsoan ardent believer in the power of reason and mind to improve the human condition. According to the Stanford Encyclopediaof Philosophy, Godwinwas a prolongevist who:... looked forward to a period in which the dominance of mind over matter would be so complete that mental perfectibility would take a physical form, allowingus to control illness and ageing and become immortal.

      Oddly enough Montillo's account of how Frankenstein was written fails to mention this about Godwin. An even stranger omission when you realize that, at least to my memory, Shelley would hide as a child in the living room and eavesdrop on her fathers conversations.

    3. O that moral science were in as fair a way of improvement, that men would cease to be wolves to one another, and the human beings would at length learn what they now improperly call humanity!
    4. Today, Mr. Machine, as La Mettrie mechanically dubbed himself, finally has his audience.

      Or as he might be termed today, Mr. Robot.

    5. He theorised at length about the preservative properties of the cold in his History of Life and Death, enthusiasticallyremarkingthat fruits and nuts have been known to have fallen in the snow, or have sometimes been buried in purpose built ice vaults. When recovered months laterthey have been found to be “as fresh and fine as if they had been picked yesterday.”

      One of the odder aspects of cryonics unpopularity is the simplicity of the logic involved. Suspect most of the problem is just expense, most people don't understand that it's financed through life insurance etc. Cremation was once considered taboo and heartless, but over time gained acceptance (I speculate/infer) because it was cheaper than a funeral.

    6. 14Like all other ideas and movements, transhumanism is a product of its time. Transhumanist ambitions of radical life extension, brain uploading, intelligence augmentation, and space colonisation, could not be taken seriously as realisticprojectsbefore the invention of modern computers and rockets, the discovery of DNA, or the rapid increases in computing power and the declining cost of computation—all of which took place in the twentieth century

      On the one hand there's definitely a lot of truth to this, on the other hand interest in this kind of project has waxed and waned since at least the middle ages. Roger Bacon believed that alchemy would allow humans to prolong life using the same mechanism as the Christian resurrection.


      I explore the prehistory of transhumanism in some detail here:


  4. Dec 2020
    1. produced by calling

      Isn't it possible to extract this data using an indexer? Gas costs aren't trivial, and the current storage of a contract can be had without executing any code.

  5. Sep 2020
    1. Context: This is a popular(5) comedy panel game show (1) crossover (2) that’s filmed in Manchester (3) and broadcast on Channel 4 (4), a state-owned but advertiser funded TV network. There’s a lot of context in that sentence, so I’m going to unpack it.

      This is...I would just click out of the page if I were reading this on my own.

      Don't try to explain things like this, unless it's absolutely necessary. And this isn't.

    2. Although not everything is in the past:

      This entire list is a strong turnoff for me.

    3. For reference, Manchester’s 25-29 share is 2.2% higher than Portland and 0.22% shy of Manhattan.

      I feel like you could use a comparison to Silicon Valley itself here, since that is the reference yardstick PG is using.

    4. In a sense my project’s strategy is like Y Combinator’s “valley within The Valley”. You take a place that already promotes something, and compound it by an order of magnitude. For Y Combinator, that thing is tech startups. For us, it’s more like social innovation.

      This is a pretty key thesis, in the sense that it's make or break for whether someone would be interested in any of this at all. The entire project is premised on it. I would go back to your introduction and ask if there isn't a 30 second hook you can use that will grab the attention of someone who would want this.

    5. Dense talent networks mean that you often bump into people who can help you with tough problems by happenstance, and when you are doing something highly ambitious, you need as much luck as you can get.

      This serendipity is disrupted by COVID, of course.

    6. Startup rate per capita varies by orders of magnitude because most startups die by default and only certain places are able to save them. Startups are mostly saved by two things: background encouragement and dense talent networks.

      The Rainforest by Hwang and Horowitt presents a different thesis than this. People have tried building Silicon Valley clones by putting lots of talent together, 'cluster theory'. This doesn't actually work well. A lot of what makes the ecosystem work is people who are good at getting myriad different resources to cooperate, 'keystones' they call them.

    7. The geography of talent can change if ambitious people decide to move away from the current location. The startup “centre of gravity” shifted from Palo Alto to SF because founders preferred to live downtown.

      Seems like it would be worth doing some anthropological digging on this process.

    8. In the UK, things are a bit more civilized.

      If it were me I would replace this angle with something like futurology.

      "The United States talks a big game about 'progress' and 'smart cities', meanwhile in Britain we just shut up and implement things."

    9. Sometimes I refer to the UK as the United States of Civilization, but in some ways it’s really not a joke.

      This isn't necessarily what your readers want to hear. When I hear 'civilized' I think 'stagnant, status driven, and cloistered'.



  6. Aug 2020
    1. Cells, for example, are a central category, but there’s no definite criterion for what counts as a cell. If you attempt to find one, you rapidly bog down in a maze of exceptions. You might start with something like “a self-reproducing living unit carrying a single copy of the organism’s DNA within a membrane.” But red blood cells don’t self-reproduce and have no DNA. Mitochondria are not cells, but they self-reproduce using their own DNA within a membrane. Muscle cells have multiple nuclei, each with a separate complete copy of the DNA. Some algae have life stages in which they have no cell membranes. And so on indefinitely.8

      I'm not an expert in biology or anything, but perhaps the moral there is we should rethink this 'cell' idea? IIRC astronomers continue to talk about 'planets' even though the longer you examine the concept the more incoherent it becomes. (For an extended example, see the infamous Discourse about whether "Pluto is a planet", which led to hilarious goal post stretching where people kept trying to find a definition of 'planet' that exactly fit the traditional celestial objects we classify as planets without having to include any new ones or exclude existing ones)

      There is obviously no rule that says the categorizations we come up with for stuff when a field is young should be expected to have infinite inferential reach as that field of knowledge expands.

    2. The dream is that reduction could deliver absolute truths about the eggplant-sized world, by explanation through a series of levels. The rationalist’s reflex, when confronted with nebulosity, is to retreat to the most fundamental physics: quantum field theory. That, she says, is definitely not nebulous; there is absolute truth there.2 Based on this unshakable foundation, we can find absolute truths about atoms, which are just assemblages of quanta. And we can reduce molecules to atoms (chemistry), and cells to molecules (molecular biology), and eggplants to cells (phytotomy); and finally, triumphantly, prove beyond any possibility of doubt the absolute truth that eggplants are fruits (reproductive biology).

      Has anyone ever actually proposed something like this?

      Actually, let me rephrase, has anyone we have any good reason to take philosophically seriously ever actually proposed something like this, in a context I would care about?

      Something like, an important philosopher that people-who-do-stuff take seriously (it's not my job to police whatever degenerate things academia gets up to separated from course correcting incentives) making a serious unironic proposal along these lines that nontrivial resources were invested into?

    1. Unlike logicism, probabilism doesn’t require an absolute belief about what the truth of a statement is. However, it does require that any statement actually is either absolutely true or absolutely false. Suppose you want to know if there is any water in the refrigerator. To eliminate uncertainty, you look inside, and there appears to be only an eggplant. Now, is there water in the refrigerator? Well, with probability nearly 1.0, it’s sort of true that there is (in the cells of the eggplant).3 And with probability nearly 1.0, it’s sort of false (you were thirsty and there’s nothing to drink). It’s a rock-bottom principle of the mathematics that the probability of a statement being true and the probability of it being false have to add up to 1.0. (This is a different way of stating the Law of the Excluded Middle.) Here the probabilities of sort-of truth and sort-of falsity add up to nearly 2.0, which is uninterpretable as a probability. The math doesn’t work for sort-of truths.

      This argument strikes me as malformed and perverse.

      Obviously there's a conflation here between two different questions, but I think a deeper error is implied by the fact of the conflation.

      You seem to suppose there is some objective 'literal' sense of the statement "Is there water in the fridge?". Considering you wrote earlier that beliefs are not strings of words (reasonable), it's weird to then use that as a premise to argue against Bayesian Epistemology. Words are a way to locate things in concept space, and epistemology doesn't exist separate from neurology. There are no real agents that make this mistake, because it's more or less based on a type error. A Bayesian Epistemology is de-facto not enough to replicate human cognition, if it was then artificial intelligence would be solved. That doesn't stop it from being pretty powerful in conjunction with the world modeling capabilities of a human brain.

      More to the point: At the moment of posing the question, any sensibly designed agent capable of being in this situation wielding a Bayesian Epistemology knows exactly which of these two questions it is posing when it thinks "Is there water in the fridge?" in its internal monologue. The conflation only exists when an outsider observer tries to impute some literal meaning to a thing that is contextually in a system of meaning extending beyond the words in the sentence.

    2. and it is technically true that eggplants are berries.

      I tend to find it's useful to handle this case with the notion of category membership having a spatial organization. Leading to the whole idea of things being central, noncentral, midway, etc members of categories. 'Eggplants are noncentrally berries' communicates precisely what we mean, they are berries, but they're also not what is typically imagined as a berry.

    1. In Parts Four and Five, we’ll see how meta-rationality selectively integrates reasonableness and rationality to make both work better.

      Unfortunately the full description of 'reasonableness' is not currently present, but it's given in short as "everyday informal thinking and acting". Which, to wit: So what is that made of anyway? It's not like informal reasoning just exists an a magic phenomena. Clearly, there is some kind of machine (us) existing in the world that implements this informal reasoning algorithm. Obviously we can't know exactly how it works, but I think of a lot of the 'rationality' critiqued here as increasingly powerful models of what that thing is made of; that is the entire point arguably.

      That these models suck is fair game, but it's important not to conflate the people who geek out about formal systems with the people trying to derive the code to human cognition with the people trying to get a decent working model of human cognition so they can augment it with heuristics et al.

    2. In “the eggplant is a fruit,” probably what is meant is that all eggplants are fruits. In “the dog is a Samoyed,” probably what is meant is that some dog is a Samoyed. We can reasonably assume these meanings from our background understanding of their topics. This knowledge is nowhere in the sentence. The meaning depends on its parts—but not only on them.

      It's common in speech coding (e.g. a vocoder) to rely on a thing that reconstructs the 'meaning' of a signal by predicting its 'full' representation.

      This act of predicting then is also a form of compressing, by predicting the full representation from its lossy analogue you require less bandwidth to transmit messages just like if you'd used a non-stochastic compression technique.

    1. Using esoteric equipment and methods to get some tiny bit of reality to behave according to theory is most of what you do in a science lab.

      Not quite. You use esoteric equipment and methods to get the opportunity to make an observation of some tiny bit of reality that would help you narrow down hypothesis space.

    2. When your statistical analysis determines with high confidence that the moon is made of green cheese, you should not rush to publish your exciting discovery.

      I kind of feel like I'm being Motte-Bailey'd here. This book feels like it's responding to Eliezer Yudkowsky, yet this is literally the kind of scenario you have the notion of a 'prior' for. My prior probability that the moon is made of green cheese is very low. So low in fact that not even a crazy statistical analysis is going to convince me otherwise, the lie contagion factor is off the charts. That is, for the moon to be made of green cheese lots of other stuff I'm pretty confident is true has to be false.

  7. Jul 2018