Refactorings Roundup 10/07/18 — 11/12/18

One of the interesting realizations I’ve had curating these links from a crowdsourced firehose is that the web looks subtly different from the perspective of a weakly interacting read/write crowd with a semi-permeable boundary, like a Mastodon instance fed by a hyperlocal blogosphere neighborhood. It is neither as incoherent as Twitter, nor as echo-chambery as a Facebook group, nor as aesthetically uniform as a single-curator feed. An open crowd mind seems to have certain harmonies and rhythms in the things it reading/writing/talking about. I like to think an ancient Silk Road bazaar would have had a feel something like this. Polyglot persistence of a network of human minds or something.

Straight Shot. Sculpture by Perri Lynch, Magnusson Park, Seattle

I have a month’s worth of curated links in this post. Ten new posts by friends of ribbonfarm, 27 assorted links from elsewhere.

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 Mastodon instance. You can follow the bot directly if you want the unfiltered firehose.

New Posts

  1. A Natural History of Beauty by Kevin Simler. Link
  2. Incipit as Infrastructure by Drew Austin. Link
  3. Things I Learned From Working With A Marketing Advisor by Sarah Constantin. Link
  4. The Algorithmic Bonus Mindset by @vgr. Link
  5. The Clock, Parts 1 and 2 by @bkam. Link Link
  6. Mandatory Obsessions by putanumonit. Link
  7. The floor and the canopy by @msweet. Link
  8. The Conflict by omniorthogonal. Link
  9. What poetry has to say about “the mob at the gate” by zenpundit. Link
  10. Towards Burja Mapping. Link. ht @tasshin

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. Godzilla constellation. Link. ht @vgr
  2. Rewilding in Autumn. Link. ht @jayantkalawar
  3. Contrarian view on NIMBYism. Link. ht @machado
  4. Cats are good at hunting mice, but not at hunting city rats. Link. ht @vgr
  5. Left vs right = forager vs farmers? Hanson and Alexander’s take. Link. ht @steve
  6. Origins of Impersonal Markets. Link. ht @steve
  7. Algebra versus geometry views of the world. Link. ht @steve
  8. Sugihara’s list. Link. ht @vgr
  9. A Framework for Intelligence and Cortical Function Based on Grid Cells in the Neocortex. Link. ht @dereklh
  10. The Big Blockchain Lie. Link. ht @Elmkast
  11. Why fighter jets can’t just fly away from storms. Link. ht @vgr
  12. “Where were they radicalized?” Link. ht @britt
  13. Are gestures universal? Link. ht @vgr
  14. Reality has a surprising amount of detail. Link. ht @vgr
  15. Neat map of history of western philosophy. Link. ht @vgr
  16. Deadly vs. Holy theater is a useful lens for viewing politics in America right now. Link. ht @britt
  17. How to tell the temperature with cellular biology, I mean, crickets. Link. ht @britt
  18. Agreeableness linked to longer life in male chimps. Link. ht @dereklh
  19. Reading books and digital streams necessitates a “biliterate mind” Link. ht @dereklh
  20. A greypill manifesto. Link. ht @britt
  21. Doctors hate computers. Link. ht @vgr
  22. Gerrymandering is fragile. Link. Link. ht @vgr
  23. The kilogram is being redefined. Link. ht @vgr
  24. Why do we bother wearing bicycle helmets? Link. ht @vgr
  25. Nice deep profile of Bruno Latour. Link. ht @vgr
  26. Hayao Miyazaki makes films about what it means to live ethically in a cursed world. Link. ht @britt
  27. Schizophrenics can tickle themselves. Link. ht @vgr

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

No short takes this time.

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

May You Live in Epic Times

At most times, in most places, history is busy rhyming with itself. The same holds true of the future: at most times, in most places, the future is busy rhyming with itself. There are always golden and dark ages in the past. There are always utopias and dystopias just beyond the horizon.

The fact that histories and futures rhyme so much, or as I like to think of it, are in rerun mode so much, allows us to inhabit escaped realities that are effectively outside of time. The sort of timeless time that the Greeks associated with their least-known third god of time: Aion. Unlike the better-known Chronos and Kairos, Aion personifies neither objective time, nor subjective time, but timelessness. Aion is the god of the nontemporal eternities, utopian and dystopian, golden and dark. He is the god of cyclicalities and finite games, symbolized by the ouroboros, a serpent biting its own tail. Asian time, arguably, is entirely the ahistorical shadow of an Aionic world. Karma is Aion in disguise.

When Aion is ascendant, you can choose to escape reality and live inside the rhymes of the past and future, inhabiting time via Fourier transform, rather than living in the present. In fact, when Aion is strongest, your escapes can be so complete, you even lose awareness of their being escapes. Because there’s nothing new in the present and everything can be found in the rhymes. You can check out completely.

Most humans spend much of their lives living in the commodity non-time of  the Aionic realms, inhabiting escaped realities. Time is something that happens to other people.

But when the future is not like the past, the present becomes unique, and you must actually live in it. At least for a while.

Such times are interesting times. Such times are epic times. And depending on the part you’re called upon to play, they may be cursed times, or blessed times. [Read more…]

Treasure Hunting

In 1861, Abraham Lincoln nominated Orion Clemens to the post of Secretary of the Nevada Territory. Clemens’ brother, a Confederate deserter who would later be known as Mark Twain, went with him to Nevada as his assistant.

Roughing It is Mark Twain’s account of his time in the Nevada Territory, an epistemic potpourri of lies, jokes, exaggerations, folklore, and – occasionally – facts verifiable from other sources. It’s a mistake to try to read too much of Roughing It at once, because every story follows essentially the same pattern:

  1. The narrator is tempted into some adventure or other,
  2. about which the narrator is extremely ignorant,
  3. but he nonetheless constructs fantasies based on romantic or biased sources and his own imagining;
  4. his adventure does not accord with his credulous fantasies.

However, these are anything but morality tales about the importance of shrewd dealing and hard work. Mark Twain’s heroes, including his narrator in Roughing It, are defined by gullibility and laziness as their great virtues. A sensible man would not fantasize about the lure of the frontier, and if he did, he would certainly not actually set out for the frontier in a stagecoach at the first opportunity he got. A sensible man would be content being the assistant secretary of the Nevada Territory; he would not run off to prospect for gold, or to stake a timber claim. Therefore, a sensible man would not have so many interesting stories to tell. “Gullible” and “adventurous” are near-synonyms, but each emphasizes a different emotional valence of the characteristic. [Read more…]

The Speakeasy Imagineering Network

Today I learned that the term normalcy was popularized by Warren Harding, US President between 1921-23, over the then-accepted variant normality. His campaign slogan, return to normalcy, promised a return to a Pre-World War I condition.

Harding’s administration, however, also saw the beginning of the Prohibition era (1921-33). So presumably he meant a return to normalcy, but without the alcoholism, rampant domestic abuse, and corrupt saloon politics of the pre-War era. During the Roaring Twenties, to the extent it needed alcohol as fuel, the American romantic imagination (and here I mean the tumultuous Sturm und Drang of uninhibited subjectivity rather than the tepid nostalgia of pastoralism) either had to go abroad, to Europe, or hide in speakeasies.

I’ve been thinking about our own contemporary condition in light of the complicated relationship among cultural production, the romantic imagination, and Prohibition in the twenties, an era which rhymes in somewhat messy ways with our our own.

In particular, looking at the 2010s through the lens of the 1920s, I got to the interesting conclusion that what requires protection during times of overweening reactionary moral self-certainty is not the truth, but imagination.

The truth can take care of itself better than you might think, but without imagination, it cannot take care of you. And imagination, unlike truth, requires a degree of tender loving care, room for unconstrained expansive exploration, and yes, a reliable supply of Interesting Substances and safe spaces to consume them.

[Read more…]

Unflattening Hobbes

In political science, the idea of a Hobbesian state of nature, featuring an endemic war of all against all, is a notional initial condition from which civilization could plausibly emerge. A generous reading of the model is that it is not about evolutionary realism, but about the plausibility of a pristine peaceful order emerging from a primordial violent chaos, under unfavorable assumptions about human nature (selfish and innately violent). In the classical Hobbesian model, the layers of the civilizational stack are bootstrapped from conditions that constitute a “flat world” in a social sense. Peace and structure evolve in parallel from this violently chaotic flatness.

But consider a conceptual alternative to the traditional Hobbesian model: what happens when we discard the assumption that structural order and endemic conflict are mutually exclusive? Or that peace goes with order and violence with chaos? Do we necessarily run into a contradiction? Could order emerge from chaos and endure, without peace necessarily emerging from war and enduring in parallel?

What if a Hobbesian condition of endemic war of all against all does not require the world to be a materially devastated and socially flat one, populated by warring packs led by grim young men in Henleys? What if it just feels like today’s world, but gets steadily slightly worse, slouching towards dystopia without ever arriving or unraveling? A Hobbesian end to history rather than beginning?

[Read more…]

Seattle Drinks-and-Waterfront-Walk Meetup, Friday 19th

There will be a meetup on Friday the 19th, at 4:00 PM at Paddy Coyne’s by Pier 70. As with last time, we’ll hang out for a bit and get a drink to start, then go for a walk along the waterfront. Sunset is around 6:20 these days, so should be nice.

RSVP on this Facebook invite. Thanks to Weston Edwards for organizing.


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 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.

[Read more…]