Pack Experience

We experience and navigate the world in packs. Families ride in cars together. Groups of coworkers take elevators together. Dating couples go to movies in pairs.

The pack is a unit, the unit, of operational coordination and everyday problem solving in human life. Pack behaviors always involve some technology, and can involve non-human participants like dogs and cats, but they are human first. The pack is a little sociophysical robot. A transient biological assemblage animated by a tacit, embodied consensus about how to inhabit the environment, and shaped by a shared exposure to the constraints of materiality. Perhaps the strongest of these constraints is the constraint of a shared temporality: A pack is more simply defined as a transient social unit on a shared subjective clock.

 

The pack is where the rubber of sociality meets the road of materiality. The pack experience strongly shapes, and is shaped by, the built environment. Conversely, every kind of built environment is shaped by a real or theorized pack experience.

There is one kind of built environment that is a huge and crucially important exception. One that is growing so rapidly in scope that it threatens to become the rule. I’m talking, of course, about the internet.

[Read more…]

Refactorings Roundup 09/16/18 — 10/06/18

This roundup features posts from 3 blogs you may not have heard of, by longtime friends of ribbonfarm. Sarah Constantin’s excellent Otium covers a variety of topics loosely related to healthcare, anthropology, and evolutionary history. Ilia Gimelfarb’s Grow Wiser philosophy blog is slowly and steadily accumulating an increasingly impressive set of posts on practical ethics and philosophical praxis. Harry Potash has a cheerfully chaotic personal blog going at 7 Goldfish, which careens crazily from mysticism and life hacks to machine learning and civil rights. In other news, last week I learned about Fika. I realize my life is 90% e-fika, 10% work.

Sign on an exhibit in the new Seattle Nordic Museum

This roundup is a human-filtered subset of links and short takes aggregated by the Feed Fox bot authored by Zach Faddis, and running on the refactorcamp.org Mastodon instance. You can follow the bot directly if you want the unfiltered firehose.

New posts

  1. Dictionary of Arguments and Positions by Ilia Gimelfarb. Link
  2. Direct Primary Care by Sarah Constantin. Link
  3. Fasting Mimicking Diet Looks Pretty Good by Sarah Constantin. Link
  4. Hard Homelessness Problems by @Harry_Pottash.Link.
  5. Territory and the Maps by putanumonit. Link
  6. Against Waldenponding by @vgr. Link

Comment on this post with your blog link if you want it monitored by Feed Fox for potential inclusion, along with your mastodon (preferred) or twitter handle. 

Stuff We Read

  1. The Power of Generative Metaphor. Link. ht @mark
  2. Deep adaptation. Link. ht @vgr
  3. Reducing the rate of C-sections. Link. ht @vgr
  4. Climate migration is already here in America. Link. ht @vgr
  5. Compositionality is not just the ability to compose objects, but the ability to work with an object after intentionally forgetting how it was built. Link. ht @mark
  6. 2×2: Cultural vs economic capital in food. Link. ht @mrgunn
  7. “Fake miniatures depicting Islamic science have found their way into the most august of libraries and history books.” Link. ht @adrianmryan
  8. “Trying to understand superstition rationally is like trying to pick up something made of wood by using a magnet”. Link. ht @britt
  9. Ideological sorting by occupation, lots of data on how occupations lean one way or the other. Only a little speculation as to why. Link. ht @britt
  10. “The important call to make is that Apple is making a bet that sustainability is a growth business.” Link. ht @Elmkast
  11. How the hardware store orders things, neighborhoods, and material worlds: “Community Plumbing” Reach for the hammer at: Link. ht @lhwilkinson
  12. I honestly had no idea that Post-Meritocracy was a thing. Link. ht @Harry_Pottash
  13. Neural networks work because the universe is kinda easy? Link. ht @vgr
  14. Human-level intelligence or animal-like abilities? Link. ht @vgr
  15. World’s tallest atrium…These pictures are beyond incredible. Link. ht @Elmkast
  16. Evolution beyond neo-darwinism: a new conceptual framework_
    denis noble 2015. Link. ht @makiaea
  17. Monasteries of the Future. Link. ht @tasshin

If you are on the refactorcamp mastodon instance, you can tag links #heyfeedfox so they’re picked up by Feed Fox.

Short Takes

All economics is heavily ideological, it’s a question of if those beliefs are implicit or explicit — @Harry_Pottash

If you are on the refactorcamp mastodon instance, you can tag short takes #heyfeedfox so they’re picked up by Feed Fox.

Light of the American Whale

It’s fun to use  phrases like “the nineteenth century,” as if there existed some vantage point from which one might apprehend one hundred years of life for over a billion people. To say “the nineteenth century” is to pretend that there’s a mountain, if only a figurative one, from which one can look down on the topography of a hundred years’ time, and somehow come away with a general picture of it. Furthermore, to casually mention “the nineteenth century” is to suggest that one personally visits this vantage point, as one does, to keep an eye on the entire century.

When I think about the nineteenth century, most of what comes to mind seems to be cinematic in nature: “costume dramas.” In movie consciousness, the past is primarily a kind of fashion. (“Movie consciousness” is the kind of being that dominated reality during the 20th century, until the rise of social media.) There might be exotic modes of transportation (train, horseback, carriage), special ways of speaking, and archaic architecture, but primarily, there is a particular kind of fancy dress. These cues together – the sound of the train whistle, say, and the way women move in heavy skirts, and perhaps a formal, clipped interaction between parties of distinct social class – these items of cinematic vocabulary are enough to suggest the American Western nineteenth century, as it is known at the end of twentieth century Hollywood movie culture. The nineteenth century in China, as it is known through twentieth century Hong Kong movie culture, has altogether different fashion, accessories, speech, mannerisms, architecture, etc., but the signs add up to meaning in the same way.

Some movies deal with specifically nineteenth-century moods and problems; others use archaic trappings as a kind of “skin” (in the video game sense) to make an essentially modern story look more interesting. One groans when a nineteenth-century police officer administers Miranda rights to a suspect, or when a nineteenth-century person says “I’m sorry for your loss” verbatim. It’s not authentic to merely transport modern concerns and mannerisms into historic fancy dress. But who is to know what’s authentic and what is not, other than through epistemic accident?

[Read more…]

Dodo Thoughts

This morning at the Natural History Museum in London, I saw a stuffed (edit: model apparently, not stuffed, according to a knowledgeable commenter) dodo. As I meditated on the poor, dumb extinct bird, I was struck by an unsettling thought: All the thinking ever done by all the dodos that ever lived has been for nought. The species’ failure to continue existing is not just the failure of the dodo genome. It is also the failure of the sum of all dodo thought.

There was once something it was like to be a dodo, and think thoughts only dodos could think, but now there isn’t. The dodo is worse than extinct. In some deep way, it was wrong about everything it thought it knew.

This dodo is dead. This is a dead dodo.

When we think about the adaptive fit of a species to its environment, we think about size, speed, coloration, feeding habits, and so on, but we don’t think about thinking. Sure, we talk about brain size as though it were just another morphological variable like height, but we don’t think about thinking in Darwinian terms. Things get weird when you go there.

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Refactorings Roundup 09/02/2018 — 09/15/18

We’re slowing this roundup post down to fortnightly, so it’s now twice as well curated  😎. We have 6 posts by friends of ribbonfarm, a dozen links from elsewhere (particularly good haul this fortnight), and a couple of short takes.

Bulk carrier waiting to load up near Seattle Pier 89

This roundup is a human-filtered subset of links and short takes aggregated by the Feed Fox bot authored by Zach Faddis, and running on the refactorcamp.org Mastodon instance. You can follow the bot directly if you want the unfiltered firehose.

New Posts

  1. AWS Amplify, React, Babel, and Webpack Setup by @jamescgibson. Link
  2. The Scent of Bad Psychology by putanumonit. Link
  3. How to Beat Neo-Nationalism in Three Moves by @stefanozorzi. Link
  4. Report: The Diminishing Marginal Value of Aesthetics by @telos. Link
  5. Destruction is a Choice by @vgr. Link
  6. The Constant Consumer by Drew Austin. Link. ht @vgr

Comment on this post with your blog link if you want it monitored by Feed Fox for potential inclusion, along with your mastodon (preferred) or twitter handle. 

Stuff We Read

  1. Culture wars 2.0 and memetic tribes. Link. ht @vgr
  2. “Leap seconds are far from the only ongoing uncertainty about time…” Link. ht @msweet
  3. Earth’s Future: Planetary Park or World-Wide Exclusion Zone?  Link. ht @vgr
  4. Can mindfulness reduce pain? Link. ht @aRandomCat
  5. Podcast on Bayesian thinking among other things. Link. ht @bkam
  6. Urban food production is always coming up against zoning laws. Link. ht @Bert
  7. Brutalist websites. Design inspiration. Link. ht @mrgunn
  8. The past was not as smelly as you think. Link. ht @adrianmryan
  9. Another internet celebrity sees the light (video, on quitting the Internet). Link. ht @miljko
  10. Tight vs loose and honor vs dignity cultures. Link. ht @vgr
  11. Traditional Euro-bloc: what it is, how it was built, why it can’t be built anymore. Link. ht @Elmkast
  12. A detailed assault on the book Sapiens. Link. ht @britt

If you are on the refactorcamp mastodon instance, you can tag links #heyfeedfox so they’re picked up by Feed Fox.

Short takes

In any online argument about a problem, there are some people who are only having the argument because they want to fix the problem, and there are other people who are only talking about the problem because they want to win the argument. — @nindokag

Irreversible choices have 2 aspects besides not being able to go back: the fateful option leading to uncharted regimes, and do-overs being costly/impossible.If future is like past, or you can do-over cheaply, irreversibility is moot. Like Coke vs Sprite at a vending machine. — @vgr

If you are on the refactorcamp mastodon instance, you can tag short takes #heyfeedfox so they’re picked up by Feed Fox.

London Visit Next Week, Three Events

I’ll be in London for Sept 19 – 24. This trip, I’ve built in some slack to meet more people and do some leisurely exploration. The main thing I’ll be there for is the Work Marathon, organized by the Serpentine Gallery and held at the Royal Geographic on Saturday 22nd (all-day event). In the words of the organizers:

The 2018 Work Marathon invites artists, sociologists, anthropologists, writers, musicians, architects, scientists and philosophers to address the complex and timely questions of work, labour, automation and leisure.

My talk is titled Archetypes for the Anthropocene. Tickets £15, but I do have 2 guest passes left to hand out for the first two people who ask.

I will also be doing a small informal lunch talk/discussion at Entrepreneur First on Friday, 21st around noon on Anthropocene-Rules Institutions (you may be noticing a theme here). If you’re interested in attending, let me know.

And finally, I’ll be hosting, along with Zhan Li, a small dinner meetup on Wednesday the 19th at 6:30 PM in Bankside. We’ll be limiting this to about 10, and there’s a few spots left if you’re interested. The theme for the meetup is Amateur Hour in the Intellectual Wilderness. 

Besides these 3 events, I should have time on Thursday 20th, Sunday 23rd and the morning of the 24th to meet up with a few people, drop in to visit offices, etc. I am particularly interested in visiting workplaces, since I’m always curious about business culture in other countries.

I also plan to carve out some time for a few touristy things (British Museum, Transportation Museum, Westminster) and would be glad to have company for these excursions.

Contact me by email if you’re interested in one or more of the above.

Think Entangled, Act Spooky

I like the concept of the Anthropocene. It finesses or postpones at least some of the conflict around the idea of climate change, broadens the conversation to include all human impact on the environment, and grounds thinking in geological (heh!) time without overloading it with burdensome sentiments like guilt or fear. The term leaves the future open to both positive and negative possibilities. It acknowledges human agency as the most powerful force currently reshaping the planet without getting too judgmental about what that means.

The Ash Yggdrasil by Friedrich Wilhelm Heine (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

I find existing definitions of the Anthropocene unsatisfying though. Most of them, reasonably enough, focus on planet-scale external markers, ranging from the birth of agriculture to the first nuclear tests and climate change. But this seems too open narrative arbitrariness and not open enough to insight. If we turn inward though, there is a rather natural and fertile definition that immediately suggests itself:

The Anthropocene begins when survival in the built environment is as cognitively demanding as survival in the natural environment of evolutionary adaptation.

Note that “as cognitively demanding” is not the same thing as “as hard across the board”. It means you you have to think as hard for the same survival probability, but many other things might get easier.

A good illustration of this is life in a major city versus life in a small town. The former is more cognitively demanding but many things besides thinking become a lot easier. Nobody ever moved to a bigger city in search of a simpler life. A less emotionally stressful life, perhaps. A less impoverished life, perhaps. A more comfortable and convenient life, perhaps. But not a simpler one.

Now let’s apply that reasoning at civilizational history scale.

[Read more…]

Social Media Consciousness

 

The most amazing consequence of the recent transition to social media consciousness is nothing. [Read more…]

Refactorings Roundup 08/26/2018 09/1/2018

It’s been a surprisingly busy August, usually the doldrums for us consultant types. Good haul of activity to round up this week: 5 selections from friends-of-ribbonfarm, 12 from elsewhere on the internet, 7 short takes. Happy Labor Day, and here’s the fruit of some human and robot labor for your hopper.

There is now a “robot” at San Jose airport. It is not a very good robot.

This roundup is a human-filtered subset of links and short takes aggregated by the Feed Fox bot authored by Zach Faddis, and running on the refactorcamp.org Mastodon instance. You can follow the bot directly if you want the unfiltered firehose.

New Posts

I am the very model of a self-recursive modeler by putanumonit. Link

Exploratory conversation by @msweet. Link

How Do You Value a Human Being? by @vgr. Link

How to spot good “futurism” by @jcamachor@mastodon.social. Link

Introducing key terms by @meaningness. Link

Comment on this post with your blog link if you want it monitored by Feed Fox for potential inclusion, along with your mastodon (preferred) or twitter handle. 

Stuff We Read

Wired guide to quantum computing . Link. ht @vgr

Thinking about willpower, or lack thereof . Link. ht @bkam

Bret Victor’s Quotes Page. Link . ht @a

This helped me a lot to navigate the political waters these days—not that I understand it all. Link. ht @steve

The ‘Other’ category in Singapore. Link. ht @visakanv

Excellent post on how you can get infrastructure rot in important sectors of the economy. Link. ht @jdp

Interesting (and potentially FUD-inducing) example of future warfare… Link ht @msweet

Fascinating how even with the Internet you still have these separations between groups of humans in terms of available memetics [Sewage Analysis]. Link. ht @jdp

“Perhaps intuitive but an interesting study nonetheless on walking eight minutes to acutely raise creativity. Link. ht @bkam

Review of Edward Said ‘On Late Style’. Link. ht @bueno

Failures in audience respect when communicating about climate change. “Risky time.” Link. ht @necopinus

Emoji, part 1: in the beginning. Link. ht @ipfactor

If you are on the refactorcamp mastodon instance, you can tag links #heyfeedfox so they’re picked up by Feed Fox.

Short Takes

“the left likes to pretend production is a solved problem, the right likes to pretend distribution is a solved problem” — @Harry_Pottash

New theory of ideological polarization/culture wars. When one ideology is taken seriously enough by those in power to exercise influence, ALL ideologues believe the pendulum might swing their way in the future and they’ll get their turn to try out their policy ideas. So all ideologues tend towards pragmatic centrism to increase their odds of gaining influence. But when ideology-apathetic opportunistic grifters are in power, all ideologues feel powerless and get more extremist. — @vgr

The only certainty in life is that the fragile will break. — @msweet

Mistaking the illegible for the non-existent and the legible for reality is one of the underpinnings of human nature.We’ve survived anyway because our explicit rationality doesn’t matter very much, in the long run. — @saamdaamdandbhed

A lack of information problem can hide like a master of disguise. Sometimes it presents as feeling directionless or uninspired. — @strangeattractor

Internet survival skill: when you read an accusation against someone, you must hold a kind of quantum superposition of “guilty” and “innocent” in your mind, to avoid being swept up and used as part of an online mob.The human brain really, REALLY doesn’t like holding that superposition for any length of time. Maybe this is why it “innocent until proven guilty” didn’t catch on until so recently in human history. — @nindokag

When people can shoot further than they can shout, it becomes wise to be very quiet. — @machado

If you are on the refactorcamp mastodon instance, you can tag short takes #heyfeedfox so they’re picked up by Feed Fox.

How Do You Value a Human Being?

How do you value a human being?

Only two kinds of humans have a clear consensus value: first responders and what one might call first actors. Doctors, nurses, fire-fighters, cops, and modern soldiers are all first responders; valued because they defend one of the two borders of the human condition against the unknown; the border across which existential threats emerge.  At the other border, the exploratory frontier of the human condition, we find our first actors — scientists, artists, athletes, entrepreneurs, mystics and (when we interior civilians are feeling particularly generous) philosophers. They are the prime movers of the human story.

First responders restore a local human equilibrium after a negative disturbance; first actors disturb a local human equilibrium in positive ways. Both are boundary actors, charged with precipitating a response to things happening at the boundary between the changeless fictive interior of the human condition and the restive chaos of the universe beyond. The value of boundary actors is assumed. The value of interior actors usually requires justification.

Boundary actors are assumed worthy. Using them as a yardstick, everybody else must make their own case.

[Read more…]