PermaPunk – Visionary Non/Fictions

This entry is part 2 of 16 in the series Refactor Camp 2019

In this next talk from Refactor Camp, 2019, Acre Liu talks about about putting permaculture and cyberpunk together in a single vision.

Becoming the Internet

This entry is part 1 of 16 in the series Refactor Camp 2019

We’re going to be posting the talks from Refactor Camp 2019 one at a time as a blogchain over the next next couple of months, in a pseudorandom order. First up, architect and software engineer, Damjan Jovanovic talks on how design works to create the world through the “transparency” of tools, and connects the creation of space through architecture with the creation of internet space.

Predictable Identities: 18 – Self-consistency

This entry is part 18 of 21 in the series Predictable Identities

We like and reward people who are consistent, categorizable, and cooperative because it’s easier to predict them. And since prediction shapes action shapes reality, we make other people be so. This was the first half of this blogchain; the second will cover how we do this to ourselves.

Let’s start with consistency. Students who did well on an exam said that they weren’t anxious before it, those who did poorly said that they were. Pre-exam questionnaires, however, show that these memories are false. We tell ourselves (and our friends) how we immediately fell in love with our partner, even if in reality the first couple of dates were awkward and skeptical. We tell anecdotes about things we did as kids that predict our current vocation, even though at age 6 we were mostly obsessed with spiders and the Power Rangers. We also predict that our attitudes will persist into the future to a much greater extent than they actually do.

Self-consistency bias affects not only our memories, but also the decisions we make. In fact, we couldn’t make decisions at all without assuming some consistency in our preferences and abilities. And by convincing ourselves of our consistency, we reassure others as well. 

I’m writing this post because I predict that, at least for several more months, I will be as obsessed with identity and predictive processing as I am right now. You’re reading this blogchain partly for the same reason  — you predict that new posts will keep coming every other(ish) Wednesday and will stay on topic. If I actually analyzed the half-life of my fascinations with esoteric topics, I may discover some discouraging patterns. It’s better for all of us that I don’t. 

I have always been writing Predictable Identities

I will always be writing Predictable Identities.

Isn’t that reassuring?

Elderblog Sutra: 9

This entry is part 9 of 10 in the series Elderblog Sutra

A friend recently remarked that I seem to have become concerned with my “legacy” lately (in both past and future senses of the terms). It struck me as an understandable gloss on some of my current interests, but fundamentally off somehow. To think of this blog as my “legacy” seems not just laughably self-important, but a category error of sorts. The word legacy seems like a non sequitur in the context of my interest in my personal history/baggage/madeline-indexed memories. So I decided to probe the idea a bit, starting from the dumbest, most literal-minded angle I could think of: raw time accounting.

Apparently, the number of people who have ever lived is about 108 billion (so about 7% of all who have ever lived are alive today). At an average lifespan of say 40, that’s about 4 trillion years of homo sapiens years in the species historical memory bank. If you live to an average lifespan of say 70 years, your personal story will, in raw data terms, constitute about 16 trillionths of all subjectively experienced/enacted history. If you prefer objective, chronological time comparisons, your 70 years is about 5 trillionths of all time, the universe being about 13.2 trillion years old.

These two measures are the personal temporal equivalents of the pale blue dot, but much worse.

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Domestic Cozy: 8

This entry is part 8 of 9 in the series Domestic Cozy

Last time, I explored (with some crowdsourced help) how domestic cozy is a retreat from public life along four vectors: discomfort, danger, deprivation, and ceremony, or DDDC. I also proposed four archetypal spaces that domestic cozy is not like: airport, minefield, desert, and mansion. When you intersect those four qualities in a Venn diagram and try to label various intersections, you get a map of the negative space of domestic cozy. The residual public is at the center, surrounded by various pure and composite archetypal spaces.

What used to be a liberating crossing of a threshold, from the constraints of domesticity to the freedoms of public life, is now a complex descent, from the freedom of intimate spaces, into an imprisoning hell-of-other-people, via increasingly dank stages and levels. The Arrow of Freedom™ now points in the other direction. Escape now lies inwards.

What is left behind when there is this kind of systematic but incomplete retreat from particular aspects of a situation?

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Weirding Diary: 10

This entry is part 10 of 10 in the series Weirding Diary

It is now clear that the intellectual class has been caught entirely flat-footed on the wrong side of the Great Weirding in the US. Almost all discourses at higher levels of abstraction — national grand narratives, military, foreign policy, and economic doctrines, cultural canons, technological visions — are breaking down (generally following the “gradually, and then suddenly” Hemingway bankruptcy pattern). The institutions and social networks that are home to those discourses are also collapsing. So it’s not just the shallow, fast-paced narrative layer represented by the news media that is collapsing into noise and fakeness. The deeper, slower narrative layers underwriting the news (via access journalism) are also collapsing. The most vulnerable are what I recently dubbed “glamorous institutions” on Twitter, with the MIT Media Lab being Exhibit A of many to come.

I’m tempted to classify glamorous institutions as premium mediocre, except that most seem to lack the self-awareness that phrase signifies, and the concomitant healthy fear of their own fragility, and culture of preparedness for trouble. Glamorous institutions, unlike merely premium mediocre ones, have a dangerous tendency to buy their own bullshit, and believe in their own myth-making. This creates a false sense of security, and a characteristic set of vulnerabilities. Glamorous institutionalism believes there is peace. Premium mediocre institutionalism only pretends to.

I hope I’m wrong, but I suspect the MIT Media Lab will turn out to be merely the first of many dominoes to fall. What do we have to look forward to here, in this coming chapter of the Great Weirding?

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Mediocratopia: 8

This entry is part 8 of 9 in the series Mediocratopia

I came up with a good negative definition: Mediocrity is not being a completist about anything. Finishing for the sake of finishing is not your thing.

Life is too short to finish everything you start. You’re probably not going to “finish” life itself. I like the ensō to symbolize this ethos. You draw a circle with a single brush stroke, with no corrections or do-overs, and it doesn’t really matter if you complete the circle. You can make another ensō if you like, or just go have a beer instead. Very wabi-sabi. An effort that embraces its own irreversibility, mortality and temporality.

A Google image search for “enso” generates a nice museum of mediocre circles.

Looking back, most things I’ve done have been ensō-like, but I’ve only recently become strongly conscious of the fact. For example, I’ve been experimenting with short, unedited, single-take podcasts on my breaking smart email list. Initially I thought I was just taking the lazy way out, but now I think of them as oral ensōs 😇. It is my most mediocre publishing experiment yet. I hope to have this ethos percolate more through all my efforts.

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Predictable Identities: 17 – Midpoint Review

This entry is part 17 of 21 in the series Predictable Identities

Predictable Identities is 16 posts in, which is going much better than I would’ve predicted. It’s time to review what we covered so far: the principles of predictive processing and how we apply them to other people.

Our brains constantly predict sensory inputs using a hierarchy of models. Learning new and better models improves our predictive ability in the long term but can be so painful in the short term that we will fight against updating, and often fight the people who force us to update. It’s important to take all models with a grain of salt and resist the lure of all-explaining ideologies.

We predict the world to exploit and act on it, and the same applies to other people. We need to know how to get people to do nice things for us, using stereotypes for strangers we don’t know and more detailed mind-simulations for people we do. We don’t need detailed models for people unlikely to be nice no matter what, and we’re creeped out by people who don’t fit our models at all like those who blow their non-conformity budget. We encourage those around us to conform to our narratives and predictions of them, which means that changing one’s opinions and behavior takes great effort in the face of the expectations of your social surroundings.

Finally, our predictions of ourselves interplay in complex ways with how others see us, since our minds are neither transparent to us nor opaque to those around us. For example, to be treated nicely we must honestly believe that we are nice, even if that is self-deceiving. Our models, predictions, and beliefs about our selves form our identities. This will be the topic for the second half of this blogchain.

Thanks for joining me on this journey, I predict exciting things ahead.

Elderblog Sutra: 8

This entry is part 8 of 10 in the series Elderblog Sutra

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the general problem of why creative work gets harder over time, beyond the specific challenges of elderblogging, and how that growing difficulty manifests. I give you: The Elder Game loop, or why Act 2 is harder than Act 1.

Very few people have ever beaten the Elder Game Loop in history (outside of feel-good movies like Rocky V and Rocky Balboa).

The short version of this is that creativity is easiest with cleared decks, and it gets harder to clear decks as you age. Or in one word: baggage.

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Worlding Raga 7: Worlds of Worlds

This entry is part 7 of 7 in the series Worlding Raga

In his last installment, World to Live, Ian offered a kitchen-sink short story (with interleaved commentary) that took on the challenge of going beyond imagining a specific world to imagining a proper world-of-worlds called New Nature. The story itself is simple: the narrator simply wakes up and takes his two dogs for a walk. But New Nature is a complex enough environment that a great deal of phenomenology can be projected onto this modest narrative canvas.

Ian’s story got me thinking about one of my favorite modeling dichotomies: Eulerian versus Lagrangian microstate models of fluid flow, and how it might apply to modeling a complex world-of-worlds.

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