Philosophy

Artificial intelligence

We humans put a lot of stock in our intelligence and self-awareness: it’s taken as a measure of our superiority over other species, that we (alone?) are able to reason about our current circumstances, build tools to change our environment as we see fit, and think about thinking itself. We are self-aware, “conscious”, we say — ignoring the fuzziness of the concept — and it is this particular cerebral quirk that separates us from (or elevates us above) the animals. Imagine, then, a “created intelligence”: self-aware software that demonstrates at least some of the characteristics that we associate with human(-level) consciousness and intelligence. Wait But Why has an awesome series on the Artificial Intelligence Revolution, which you should definitely read if you haven’t. […]

Bardo

“Bardo” (བར་དོ, Sanskrit: antarabhāva) refers to an “intermediate state” between death and rebirth, a concept which supposedly arose shortly after the Buddha’s death. According to Tibetan tradition, after death and before one’s next birth, when one’s consciousness is not connected with a physical body, one experiences a variety of phenomena. These usually follow a particular sequence of degeneration from, just after death, the clearest experiences of reality of which one is spiritually capable, and then proceeding to terrifying hallucinations that arise from the impulses of one’s previous unskillful actions. For the prepared and appropriately trained individuals the bardo offers a state of great opportunity for liberation, since transcendental insight may arise with the direct experience of reality, while for others it can become a place of […]

Cybernetics

Cybernetics is the interdisciplinary the study of the structure of regulatory systems. Cybernetics is closely related to control theory and systems theory. Both in its origins and in its evolution in the second-half of the 20th century, cybernetics is equally applicable to physical and social (that is, language-based) systems. The term cybernetics stems from the Greek κυβερνήτης (kybernētēs, steersman, governor, pilot, or rudder — the same root as government). Cybernetics is a broad field of study, but the essential goal of cybernetics is to understand and define the functions and processes of systems that have goals and that participate in circular, causal chains that move from action to sensing to comparison with desired goal, and again to action. Studies in […]

Epistemology

Epistemology (from Greek ἐπιστήμη (epistēmē), meaning “knowledge, science”, and λόγος (logos), meaning “the study of”) is the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope (limitations) of knowledge itself: • what is knowledge? • how is it acquired? • how do we know it? This philosophy deals with knowledge, truth, belief and doubt.

HL Mencken

Source: Prejudices: Fourth Series, 1924, pp. 173-79. First printed in the American Mercury, Feb., 1924, pp. 201-03   Portrait of an Ideal World HL Mencken  That alcohol in dilute aqueous solution, when taken into the human organism, acts as a depressant, not a stimulant, is now so much a commonplace of knowledge that even the more advanced varieties of physiologists are beginning to be aware of it. The intelligent layman no longer resorts to the jug when he has important business before him, whether intellectual or manual; he resorts to it after his business is done, and he desires to release his taut nerves and reduce the steam-pressure in his spleen. Alcohol, so to speak, unwinds us. It raises the threshold of […]

Immortality

“I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying.” — Woody Allen I’m with Woody: I’d prefer not to die (if I get the choice), and would genuinely be quite happy to become an immortal. (And no, not in the “life after death/ascension to the great beyond” version promised by most religions — I want to see how this reality evolves, before even thinking about another one.) I’d prefer not to get old, in fact, if “old” means “infirm”, as it has for all of the 200,000 years since the emergence of “modern” humans. I’d like to keep my memories, maintain my mental faculties, stay limber and active, continue to be able to […]

Learning hacks

There are a number of hacks that can make learning easier or more effective. Active Reading   Elaborative Interrogation & Self Explanation The ‘Feynman technique’ for actively digesting, understanding and remembering a topic of interest involves reading/researching, then explaining (as if to someone else) the key points of what you’re trying to learn. This highlights gaps in your supposed knowledge, and probably also tricks the brain into assigning a higher importance to it, thus enabling better recall. (Reading is easy. Try reading a chapter and then summarising it in this way!) There is a huge difference between “play” and “practice”, although it seems to me that both are necessary and that deliberate practice can only be sustained if it becomes […]

Life, The Universe and Everything

“What I need… is a strong drink and a peer group.” ― Douglas Adams, Life, the Universe and Everything There’s a good chance we only get one shot at this: a “brief flight through a brightly lit room†” and all that. (Of course, maybe we are stuck in cyclic re-existence, but how can we know?) Anyway, the point is I (seem to††) get everything I want so long as it improves the sum-total “good” in the superconscious multiverse — but the first step is knowing what I actually want! Ask yourself, as I do: What Future Do You Want, young padawan? Remember to make great art Consider the five lists and all your personal resources. If you’re feeling particularly positive & powerful, check out righting the […]

Make great art

In 2012, Neil Gaiman gave a speech to the graduating class of art students at the University of Philadelphia. It’s a pretty inspiring piece, with a lot of great advice and big ideas. I’m putting down some notes as a personal reminder: Getting started When you get started, you know nothing. This is good. If you don’t know what is “impossible”, it’s harder to fail/easier to do the impossible. (Or even thirteen impossible things?) Make your end-state desire a distant mountain. Every time you need to decide between two paths, or just pick the next thing to do, make sure it is a step towards the mountain. Make your own art. You may start by sounding like a lot of different […]

Meditation

Meditation is the name given to several different practices which aim to bring about a non-typical (and beneficial) mental state. Different forms have been documented by practitioners and teachers throughout history, and several religions promote their forms of meditation (or prayer) as transformative, leading to enlightenment or gnosis. All forms seem to share certain characteristics: Object of focus — whether a physical sensation (such as is created by the act of breathing), a word or image, or a positive emotion, meditation generals asks the practitioner to “notice”, and continue noticing, a particular object of focus. In the case of transcendental meditation, the objejct is a “sacred word/phrase” or mantra which the meditator repeats mentally until the mantra seems to be repeating itself. […]