Monday, July 31, 2006

getting better

If you want to get good at something, you have to realize that initially you're going to suck. When your first attempts are failures, it's easy to think, "I'm just not good at this". Instead, think about what specifically sucked. What do other people do that works better? Whom can you learn from? Seek out that knowledge and then try to apply it. The most frustrating time is when you see yourself applying the ideas and still not getting great results. There's some mysterious pattern that the gurus can channel and you can't. Keep practicing. Now when you look at what other people are doing, you'll see that some people are actually following pretty simple patterns; you just didn't see it before. Keep watching what the masters do. They're still doing something you're not doing. Find it and try to apply it. You're already in the 95th percentile and many people will look up to your skills. That's as far as I've gotten.


Some things are not to be fucked with.

Extension: Everything is to be fucked with, but only at the right time and place.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

social man&woman

Social interactions are not what I thought they were. We are incredibly far from being the rational free agents that we sometimes imagine.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

articulation vs codification

To articulate something is literally to give it joints. We say, "he articulated his idea well" to mean he clearly explained the details of the idea and their relationships to one another.

Imagine a shapeless blob. It has essentially no internal dimensions. Add a skeleton with joints. Now there are many internal dimensions, or degrees of freedom. The possibility space of the blob's movement has been compartmentalized.

I like to think of all development as a kind of articulation. Wilber says evolution is a combination of differentiation and integration. Differentiation creates new parts or details, and integration combines those parts together into a system. That's like giving a thing joints. Each detail is a compartmentalization.

The way I think about articulation, it's a process embedded in the context-dependent, scale-invariant fabric of reality.

Codification, on the other hand, is translation from non-formal to formal. You start with "an idea" (a fractally fuzzy entity nested in holarchy) and generate an algorithm or a set of propositions.

In a sense, the codification itself isn't actually articulation, because the original idea isn't getting jointed; it's getting projected into a flat space. However, the process of codification probably causes an articulation of the idea, because you have to understand it well to formalize it. This is sort of like epiphenomenalism, or a backwards version of Platonism. The real world has a dynamic flat mirror of "perfect forms" or formalisms.

Friday, July 21, 2006


I was just reading this article about "Search 2.0". What I think we need to improve search is deeper syntax in the search box. Right now the best we have is boolean queries ("this AND that", "this OR that"). A next step could be syntactic categories. For example,
1. Encyclopedic (what is a thing, or how does a process work)
2. Personal (information about any person: their blogs, photos, etc)
3. Specific data (how many civilians have died in Iraq)
4. Realtime data (weather, game scores, etc)
5. Data sets for living (bus routes, maps, showtimes, etc)
6. Meta (information about the system)

Some of these categories overlap, and each one could be broken down. Once we figure out the best syntactic abstractions, they could be combined into a rich grammar. For example, "realtime metadata relevant to a particular person" (e.g. what types of searches does that person make).

The search system should also perform some data analysis. For example, suppose I had the question, "What are the major theories about JFK's assassination; what kind of people subscribe to these theories; what news articles have been written about the theories; what proportion of magazines have run these articles; and what is the correlation between readership of a magazine and the number of articles?". The search system could dynamically compute the answers to these questions, based on the built-in syntactic concepts.
I am proud of humanity for having the Internet. :-)

Friday, July 14, 2006

life after death

Another thing Beraki wrote about was the life of the spirit independent of the body. As religions say, the righteous person is rewarded in Heaven. It occured to me that the process I described in the previous post (which is, maybe, Aurobindo's "involution") may be the reason.

The person who does the "will of God", who works hard to live rightly, has faith, and invests herself in all her actions -- the person who has purpose -- also may be a deeper holon. If your Self is more deeply reflective of the Universe, then maybe the Universe is also more deeply reflective of your Self. The Universe would contain you in a more profound sense. When you die, your spirit would live on more fully. For that matter, your spirit probably lives more fully even before you die :-)

"the image of god"

The Bible says that humans are created in the image of God. I ran across this today. I met a guy named Beraki from Eritrea (just north of Ethiopia). He showed me some stuff he had written. He used that phrase, and it gave me an idea.

If you believe Wilber, some holons are deeper than others. They integrate more; they have a bigger purview. The human is probably a good example of a deep holon (from our perspective, maybe the deepest -- that gets into a whole other awesome topic :-).

As holons become deeper, they embody more of the process of the Universe. Not just because they contain more elements of the Universe, but also because the way in which those elements are put together reflects the way that elements get put together by the Principle of things (as Benoit would say). Deeper holons have had more "time" (maybe time doesn't need to be in quotes; that's a whole other awesome topic :-) to absorb the nature of the Universe.

Everything is "created in the image of God", because everything arises from the Universe. But deeper holons, like humans, more richly and deeply embody the image of God.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

building altruism through a combination of selfishness and generalization

"Do to others as you would have them do to you."

Do a good job of rinsing out the glassware because it might be you using it next; and wouldn't you like other people to do the same thing?

Maybe this is where altruism comes from. We want things to be good for ourselves, and then we start identifying with other people, so we want things to be good for "them". Selfishness is the only motive, but the subject is displaced. Maybe this is how true altruism is born.

It's interesting how it's sort of a habit. Once you get into the pattern of doing altruistic things, it just comes naturally. And the really interesting thing is how it's always a choice. You can be in the habit of being nasty, but you always have the choice of letting the other person take the close parking spot. If you can recognize that choice, you can be the way you want to be.

the skin of a system

Here's another interesting generalization about systems.

A meta-stable system has a pattern that it more-or-less preserves despite a varying environment. However, the substrate is in flux. For example, our bodies maintain their integrity even though:
- subatomic particles quantumly jump in and out of space
- atoms and molecules recycle continuously, especially through breath and food
- cells die and are replaced

How can you keep a system in rich communion with its context, without losing the pattern of the system? Why isn't there breakdown along the edges that propagates inward to destroy the system?

Every meta-stable system has a skin. The cell membrane is the quintessential example. The cell NEEDS to be in flux with its environment, but that flux also NEEDS to be regulated. So there has to be a border patrol. Otherwise, the cytoplasm would take on too many of the characteristics of the external world, to the loss of its identity (in this case, primarily through diffusion). The border patrol is, in some senses, its own entity, with a purpose aligned to the system. It masks the lever points of the system, so they can't be pulled willy-nilly by the external world.

Countries have skin, cultures have skin, even minds have skin. If the mind were a pure representational mirror of the world, the mind wouldn't exist as a separate entity, and it would have no purpose.


You can't get new concepts out of an algorithm at the depth of the algorithm.

For example, this article suggests that video games can perpetually "self-upgrade" if they are designed around procedural rather than fixed data. To some extent we've already seen this: when you upgrade your computer, you can turn up the graphical options in many games and get a better rendering. This principle could be extended a long ways, by adding more "scaling parameters". Designers could be creative and make these parameters govern abstract elements of the game.

But the problem they will always be faced with is that you won't get anything fundamentally new. There won't be any new depth of realism. Suppose "number of polygons tessellating a sphere" is one of the scaling parameters. That sphere will get really smooth. But if the game uses monochrome lighting, the sphere will never be lit in color.

Next -- ways to get new things.

Take a program that generates a string of 64 random bits. Once in a while, this program will produce something "meaningful", like digits of pi, or my name. However, these outputs don't reflect a stable organization of the system. The algorithm, by itself, never generates a new attractor basin, a new focusing of probabilities: a new entity.

Now imagine coupling the random program with a "filter" program that squelches all but a few meaningful outputs. The conjunction of these two systems is now a generator for meaningful outputs.

In general, by compositing two systems with their own concepts, you get a third system with its own concepts.

It's true that you can build a Universal Turing Machine inside of Conway's Game of Life. Then again, you can build a UTM from a pile of tubing and valves. The concept of the UTM doesn't exist in the cellular automaton, just like it doesn't exist in the tubing, before you put it there. And even the UTM doesn't have the concepts for any of the programs that it's capable of running.

The critical counter to all of this is evolution. If all concepts have to be transferred from somewhere else, then where did they originally come from? The answer is: whatever was stable. We can witness one step of evolution in the Game of Life, when gliders and blinkers and blocks are born.

Something else I've been thinking about -- all entities are non-linearities (and vice versa). Here's an example of building a new entity by compositing two systems:

The local maximum at x=0 in the product function is a new stable point for the state of the system.