Category Archives: philosophy

Feynman and the eighth-of-an-inch black hole

In my stumblings today, I wound up watching this Nova episode on Richard Feynman:


Now, this is partly notable because I'd been pretty sure there wasn't much on Feynman that I hadn't seen or read already. I'm a huge…well, not fan; I don't think there can be a Feynman "fan" since if you know anything about the man, you know he wouldn't have wanted them…but he's one of my favorite modern figures, and a person (or story of a person I guess, since I was just a child when he died) that I've always fervently, grinningly, intensely identified with.

"Why" is an interesting question — I think it's for the same reason that I gravitate towards the other people I do, as well — and why a great many of them are scientists. I would say that it's because they prove that "Interestedness" (a certain breed of Curiosity characterized by openness, acceptance, and enthusiasm for the process of discovery) is a type of reasoning, not at all incompatible with hard logical reasoning — it sits, I think, underneath it, and gives it a totally different character; like the difference between painting on canvas and paper and cloth.  Painting logic on Interestedness is so, so different than painting it on, say, that closed-off, goal-oriented type of Curiosity (Industry, I guess we could call it).  Feynman was a genius in the sense of hard logic, but it wasn't his skills with calculations or experimentation that made him famous or that make him such an enduring figure, in my opinion — it's the depth of his devotion to Interestedness.

Interestedness is a "yes" state; it's Curiosity focused on the Path.  As Feynman says in the video, "You have to understand that every plot, even though there's a high chance of failure as far as the ultimate aim was concerned, would always turn out to be a big adventure…"  Industry, in contrast, is seeking to learn things for a purpose — to make a drug, to start a company, to win a prize, or even to do something really beneficial like cure a disease; Industry isn't always *bad*, but it is always goal-focused and so, in my ever-so-humble opinion, can never achieve the astronomical results that thinking like Feynman's can.

Anyway.  Enjoy the Feynman; it's lovely.  <3

Max CPU Priority: Window

How efficient would a computer be that ran non-stop for decades, with no cleanup of any sort?  With almost every program it had ever started lingering in memory way longer than it was needed, and many of them never stopping at all, even if they were worse-than-useless, virus-infested, outdated crap you never wanted in the first place?  What if it was rarely, if ever, powered down or rebooted, and when things crashed, you just had to wait for them to "fix themselves", if they ever did; or keep going with whatever functionality you had left?

Even the Windows box your Grandma runs isn't *that* badly-off, probably — but your human mind IS.

That fear-pattern from when you were four?  Probably still running.  Maybe you know full well when it goes active again, or maybe you don't — maybe its output over the years has gotten so garbled that it's no longer obvious why you're stressed or sick or angry or have nightmares — but it's there.

The bad habits you learned from unhealthy relationships or bad experiences in your long-gone past?  Pretty darn likely to come right back out the next time you try to access the "relationships" or other relevant folder.  They may be application-specific, but just because you don't see them every day doesn't mean they're gone.

The frustration from work last week?  Still raising your blood-pressure whenever you think about it, or see that guy — and why?  To what purpose exactly?

Humiliation from grade-school?  

Self-esteem from that time someone close to you said you were fat or ugly?  

Overindulging from a scarcity-message your hippocampus got ages ago?

Yup.  These things might get covered up in the noise of other things — and you may be (like me) very, very good at finding ways to drown them out temporarily, by cranking the volume on other things, or seeking the external experiences that pull your attention in so fully that you can ignore the noise in your head — but unless you know how to turn them *off*, and have, they're still running.

This is what makes up what I call "a Psychology":  A glut of old programming, never relevant to the moment you're in, playing like a whole roomful of screens running commercials and re-runs while you're trying to watch today's episode.  Exactly that useful to your clarity and experience of this, now.  And while even a Psychology made of all rainbows and unicorns would be useless and detrimental, most of ours aren't; many of those old programs are malicious, broken, or simply conflicting with each other in ways that are doing worse than hurting our efficiency:  They're crippling us, with pain, with anxiety, with fear, depression, distraction, selfishness, and a terrible loneliness that never really stops for most people.

In contrast to the Psychology part of the brain, there's the Window:  This is the stuff going on now; the code you actually want running.  (I call it the Window partly because of its seeing-the-world function, and partly because of the analogy to the Window Manager aspect of an OS.)  The Window sees, feels, listens, and processes all the data both inside and outside you right now.  

Let's face it:  Most of us have about 10% of our minds, if that, dedicated to the Window's operations at any given time.  Fully 90% is taken up by old, irrelevant, and maybe broken shit.

A reboot is dead necessary, and I think everybody knows it — in fact I think almost all pleasure-seeking is misguided looking for a reboot.

Being able to power down the Psychology programs, even just once in a while, so that the Window could run unimpeded, would be wonderful.

And of course, what would be best, what would really be optimal, is to just leave the Psychology stuff off unless we needed it.  Might I want to remember being four, or to call up my knowledge of what food scarcity feels like, or to remember that I was angry at Bob From Accounting last week?  Sure I might.  And those things being etched in my brain as they are, it's totally possible to run them — in fact, one could easily argue that with more available processor, it'd be a lot easier to find and run the relevant ones — but having all that shit on all the time is just silly.  

Worse than silly.  Bafflingly dumb.

The prevailing opinion seems very like Grandma's opinion about operating systems:  Of course all that shit is running in the background from the first day I turned the thing on, whether or not I know what it is or need it or want it, because surely it would take some superhuman magician to know how to uninstall a thing!

And I think we all know what I might say in response to that.  (And then I would apologize profusely for swearing at a Grandma.  But I'd still say it.)

This is my 3D thing from the last post:  I'm teaching myself to uninstall.

I'm getting used to using the Off switch, or at least looking for it (it's not intuitive to find from the position we usually occupy — rather like Grandma wanting to find the power-supply off-switch from her chair — but I know where to look, and I find it more easily every time).  

I'm someone who, a while ago, started installing some monitoring widgets, and now I'm fed up with how much of my power is going to waste, and how crippled parts of my awesome system still are thanks to shit that I didn't download and didn't give permissions to and don't want.  

MY mind.  MY life.  And FINITE — it's either control it now, or shuffle blindly towards the grave, a sick caricature of the zombies that we hilariously think are sick caricatures of us.

I have root here, dammit.

The Drone Problem: Restriction Can’t Make Technology Less Scary

Drones.  It's a huge topic, but this article by the ACLU does a great job with its major points and substantive links-for-more-info.  (That's also a real, researched article; and this is a blog post; so compare accordingly.)

My own take on drones — which are little remote-controlled (or even self-controlled, to various degrees) flying machines that surveil and otherwise interact with people by proxy for their owners — isn't one I come across in my reading all that often, so I wanted to get it written down.  I actually developed this opinion as a result of researching and planning one of the novels I've tried to write*.

We live in a technological world.  In a technological world, one value matters above all:  Who has that technology?

There's often an argument made that technology should be restricted, and it's often phrased as though putting a "NO" label on some technology will stop it from happening.  In fact, all it does is limit who will have it.  People are like crows — they spread knowledge once they have it, and all disallowing it does is limit its use to the people who are willing to do disallowed things

And while criminals are scary, they also usually don't have the kind of resources that the other major group of people who are willing to do disallowed things does — that group of people being, of course, the ones with authority, who share with criminals the perception that they won't be punished for violating the rules.  Technology takes resources, and what drug-dealers, sex offenders, or burglars could do with permission to use drones pales, I think, in comparison to the havoc a government or a police-force could wreak with the same ability.  

The thing is, if you restrict drone technology (as a whole, I mean; not just "making it illegal for anybody to put a laser-gun on one" type of restriction), you:

  • make it impossible for law-abiding citizens and citizen groups to use it.  
  • You may make it more difficult for criminals to use it.  
  • You will make it at best only marginally more difficult for governments and police to use it — especially since technology is global, but restrictions are not; even perfect compliance with US law by US government and police agencies (which, come on, hahahaha) — still doesn't protect US citizens from Russian, North Korean, Saudi, or other drones.  

The law-abiding citizens, the ones who need and deserve protection from the misuse of technologies — and drones are definitely a technology that can easily be horribly misused — are not only not well-served by restrictions; arguably they're the ones most hindered by them.

So who and what can protect law-abiding US citizens from rampant surveillance by, and even attack from, drones, whether piloted by our own police, homegrown (or corporate!) mafia, our own increasingly overzealous government, or agencies aligned with unfriendly countries and foreign criminals?  

The answer is pretty clear, isn't it?  Other law-abiding citizens.  Specifically, ones who understand the technology, and can create it, improve it, and keep it and ways to circumvent it safely IN the hands of the people who a) are least likely to hurt others with it and b) need it to protect themselves from abuses by it.

Who can invent, create, spread and use the technology to protect innocent people from unlawful surveillance and attack?

Who can ensure that the information captured by surveillance technology is fair and honest, and that its capture wasn't in violation of civil rights laws?

Who can make sure that the people with money and power and willingness to break the rules are held accountable for their actions, by making sure they're just as surveilled as everyone else?

Yeah.  PEOPLE can.  Makers can.  Students can.  Garage-DIYers and kids and hobbyists and private engineers can.  Those are the people who can and will put drone technology to use to protect the innocent, to enforce the constitution, to catch the criminals — both the low and highbrow kind — and to defend themselves and their neighbors from the many threats that drones can pose if they're controlled exclusively by the wrong kind of people.  

(The argument will be made:  But it's the authority-figures' jobs to protect innocent people.  Citizens should just never think about it, and leave it in the hands of their cops and their lawmakers and all will be well.  And while I personally find it hard to justify that response with a straight-faced answer, I will give this one anyway:  The argument so often made to citizens is that if we have nothing to hide, then we won't object to being surveilled.  That argument goes both ways and then some, since the cops and the lawmakers are being paid by the people to work for the people — what should they ever have, or be allowed, to hide?  Their rights to privacy are not only the same as everyone else's, but less, since the rest of us aren't working publicly-accountable jobs.  And ditto for anything else that they're allowed to use drones to do to the citizenry; I fail to see why the citizenry shouldn't be allowed to do the same things right back.)

Police-states.  War and invasion.  Criminal overlords.  Corruption and fear.  Corporations have no interest in preventing such things — there's no money in it, plain and simple — and governments only care insofar as it's not their own power being usurped.  (Neither of those are judgments; they're just facts about how corporations and governments work.)  But people care.  People care about their neighborhoods, about their bosses, about the police who pull them over and the adults minding their kids and the gangs on their streets and the judges running their courts.  People are the ones who will use those drones to watch the people who need watching, especially as those people gain ever more power to watch the people, and to remote-control their interactions via little helicopters.

The little helicopters are coming — no, they're here — and trying to outlaw them or stop them is just stupid; it's a reaction based on fear and all it will accomplish is to make the reality of things much worse.  What needs to happen, and quickly, is to protect the right of the people to build, keep, and use those copters, because it's from law-abiding citizens that all the good uses for them will come.  

And there are such good uses!  Even beyond watching the watchers and protecting the innocent from abuse by authorities and criminals.  I think that, like the telephone, which in the early days was thought to be a useless or frivolous-at-best invention, the really cool uses for the drones have barely begun to percolate through the makerspaces, and could change the whole world vastly for the better when the technology gets more momentum.

Think of a world where only authority-figures and criminals could use telephones.  (Actually, that'd be a cool sci-fi dystopia, hmm.)  Think of how much power they'd have that ordinary law-abiding citizens were prevented from using…think about if gangs could call their dealers, and corrupt politicians could call their lobbyists, and terrorists could call their bosses, but it was illegal for you to call your neighbors for help or call the media to give them a tip.  That's the level of power differential we risk if the fear-based gut-reaction to the little helicopters is allowed to take over, and regulations and restrictions come into play that prevent engineers and makers and schoolkids from using and making drones.  And this may seem like a premature warning to some people, but on that you'll just have to trust me — it isn't.  The technology is in the wild-and-wooly state now, where the materials are cheap enough that most people can use them, and the people with a lot of resources are just starting to use the bloody hell out of them, and for more and more extreme things.  Restrictions on what governments can do, in warfare, in surveillance operations, etc. are definitely coming; and the danger — the biggest danger, if you ask me — is that the next step will be to restrict the citizenry from having and using the technology, using fear-based arguments about nameless "bad guys" who might do bad things.

I'm not saying there shouldn't be rules (and if you're such a simplistic thinker that you figured I was, um, why are you even reading this?).  There are rules for using telephones, and obviously-bad things that nobody is allowed to do with them; and that makes sense.  It's access to the technology that needs to be protected from restrictions.

Remember, then, that what enables unfairly bad technology is unfairly huge resources:  And in that arena, it's the big corporations and the governments that we'd better worry about.  As long as the rest of the field is open, the criminal element won't have any real advantage over the law-abiding citizens (and will, in fact, have several important disadvantages, which are apparent enough with a little thought that I won't go into them here).  And remember that criminality is, among those with the usual amount of resources, not the norm:  Other things get done with technology at a far higher rate than criminal things, even if the media is terrible at accurately portraying that ratio.  

If regular, awesome people can build and use their little helicopters, both to protect themselves and their rights, and for all the cool shit regular awesome people typically think of, then I think drones could be the beginning of a seriously awesome revolution.


*I'm always trying to write novels, and sometimes finishing them and throwing them out — my dream is to one day write one of them to my satisfaction!  I have three stories that really need to happen eventually, and one of them concerns the drone/privacy revolution and the fight over who gets access to that technology, and what they use it for.

NGrammatical Fun

Oooo, if you haven't messed with Google Ngram, you shooooould!  Instant pretty graphs of the occurrence of any words and phrases in tons of books over time?  YES PLEASE!

Here, for example, you can see that the phrase "in the beginning" was used a lot in 1800 and has been in steady decline ever since, while "in the end" has been on the rise during the same time-period; and the phrase "in the middle" has remained steady and qualitatively in-between the other two.  

Have you ever seen anything so squee-worthy??  I'm not sure I have.  I may need to sit down a minute, actually.  Whoo…

(YES, okay, I heard about the Ngram corpus lookup feature of Google Books and immediately headed over and devised a goofy philosophically-meta search for it.  Because that is me, and data that speaks to me gets me hot.)

The Perfect Square Has No Corners

I love this passage from the Tao Te Ching (chapter 41):

The wise student hears of the Tao and practices it diligently.

The average student hears of the Tao and thinks about it now and then.

The foolish student hears of the Tao and laughs out loud.

If there were no laughter, the Tao would not be what it is.

Hence it is said:

The bright path seems dim; and going forward seems like retreat;

The easy way seems hard; the highest Good seems empty;

Great purity seems sullied; a wealth of Goodness seems inadequate;

The strength of the Good seems frail; real Good seems unreal;

The perfect square has no corners; great talents ripen late;

The highest notes are hard to hear; the greatest form has no shape.

The Tao is hidden and without name.

The Tao alone nourishes and brings everything to fulfillment.

Yin, then Yang

Know the truth, and it will set you free.

See the truth clearly, then speak it.

Aim, then fire.

Yin, then Yang.

By necessity all outward-pushing activity — Yang-things — are surrounded by inward-pulling activity — Yin-things.  The quality of the words are determined by the knowledge and presence of mind that happens before them.  The quality of the shot is determined by the carefulness of the aim (and a million other small things that can also make a difference:  the mental state of the shooter; the goodness of the night's sleep and the breakfast before; etc.).  

The Yin is huge in comparison to the Yang.  Comparatively, you have a ton more time and resources to affect, and perfect, the Yin — you can adjust your stance for minutes (and practice it for months), but you can only throw that punch for a fraction of a second.  

Don't fall into the trap of ignoring Yin in the race to get to "the real action", the Yang bit.  You have so much more power in the Yin space, and so much more time; and by getting Yin right, you do more for your chances of a successful action than you could ever do just with Yang.  (This is why patience is such a powerful weapon, btw.)

Important Knowledge, Hard-Earned: Weights

You are the whole ocean, not just the surface.  The surface may be stormy, full of foul-tasting spray, and if you hang out there too long, you'll be sick.

But if you sink, if you walk on the bottom, you can just float in the gentle currents and watch with fascinated detachment as all the things drift by.

But most people do not sink naturally.

In order to do this, you must wear weights.

Weights are things you focus on, that pull your feet down, that force your head under the waves even though you may initially struggle,

and that then let you walk, with slow godlike steps, deep in the bones of things.  

There, you stand like a tree

There, you move like beautiful music, in perfect time with the currents.

There, you do not need to gasp and flail, and the longer you stay, the longer you learn to stay, and the calmer you can become.

Practice finding the bottom, even for a second at a time.

Find your weights.



Float in perfectly neutral buoyancy.  Feel how you simultaneously weigh nothing, yet are solid as can be.

On the surface, a big wave would throw you, break you, drown you, and you'd only ever see or experience a tiny fraction of it.  Here, on the bottom, you will feel and see every tiny bit of it — every particle and wave it affects will move against your skin, and every frond and fish that's moved by it will be apparent to you — but it will have no power to hurt you.

Smarter than me: The Dalai Lama’s Eighteen

Oh, too good to not post (and not sure how I missed it before, since it's not very new) — the Dalai Lama wrote a list of eighteen guidelines for Better Living, and every single one of them had me bouncing in my chair.  

These fall under "things you may please remind me of at any time, and no matter how annoying it is, I will thank you"!

And just to note it, incredibly relevant to me lately are #2, #4, #8, #16 and #17.  (By all means tell me which ones are most relevant to you — it's a fun exercise, if nothing else.)


1. Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk.

2. When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.

3. Follow the 3 Rs:   

     Respect for self.

     Respect for others.

     Responsibility for all your actions. 

4. Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.

5. Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.

6. Don’t let a little dispute injure a great friendship.

7. When you realize you’ve made a mistake, take immediate steps to correct it.

8. Spend some time alone every day.

9. Open your arms to change, but don’t let go of your values.

10. Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.

11. Live an honourable life. Then when you get older and think back, you’ll be able to enjoy it a second time.

12. A loving atmosphere in your home is the foundation for your life.

13. In disagreements with loved ones, deal only with the current situation.  Don’t bring up the past.

14. Share your knowledge.  It’s a way to achieve immortality.

15. Be gentle with the earth.

16. Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.

17. Remember that the best relationship is one in which your love for each other exceeds your need for each other.

18. Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.