Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed

Monthly Archives: May 2019

Deplatforming

This idea isn’t to just silence someone so you don’t have to listen to them, it’s to silence them so no one hears them.

Really? Trust me, I don’t like this toxic bullshit any better than you do, but silencing someone because you disagree with them?

Seems problematic to me.

Now, I appreciate that Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey have created global social platforms, so we’re not just talking about America – other power structures (or would be power structures) can use these “social” networks in an attempt to destabilize other societies. Now the idea of deplatforming becomes grayer and perhaps less problematic.

If, however, we are talking about a specific person, unless they are advocating for violence or using blatant hate speech, instead of shutting them down, just don’t listen.

Better yet – counter their bad ideas with something better.

It’s a big messy world out there – you have to learn how to navigate around the assholes.

Just Concentrate on What’s Ahead

E.L. Doctorow once said that “writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you.

This is right up there with the best advice about writing, or life, I have ever heard.

Anne Lamott, from “Bird by Bird”

Freedom of Speech

This may be the single most important, fundamental concept that sets the U.S.A apart from everywhere else. Even in other cultures that endorse freedom of speech, I don’t think anyone carries it quite as far as we do.

Modern stand up comedy is a good example. Try and find examples of stand up anywhere in the world that’s even remotely as transgressive as what you can find on stage on any given night in any given comedy club in America. Good luck – ‘cuz I don’t think they exist.

But here’s the caveat: Free speech is for everybody. That means you are going to hear a whole lot of shit that’s going to make you very uncomfortable, stuff you may even think that no one should be able to say. But you sir, or madam, would be very wrong.

Because censorship is of course the antithesis of free speech. You don’t have to listen to everything out there, but you do have to allow opposing viewpoints, even if you think they are wrong and abhorrent. I am not talking about hate speech or inciting violence – this is not allowed and we have laws condemning it. But I am talking about what you may think are bad, perhaps even immoral and ignorant ideas.

‘Cuz here’s how this works: Bad ideas are countered and exposed by good ideas. The eloquence, charisma, and veracity of the person espousing the good ideas will of course go a long way toward their influence on those holding opposing viewpoints, like most things in life, it’s not fair, but that’s unfortunately just how this shit works.

So grow some balls, allow yourself to be vulnerable (thus upping your charisma quotient), and learn how to be empathetic. Now you’re ready to go and make your arguments.

You’ll still probably fail, but at least you’ll walk away with everyone thinking you are cool, which isn’t worth nothing. Eventually you will make a difference, because humans like to be around someone who seems smart, eloquent, and empathetic.

And here’s a tip: don’t ever, ever shit on anyone.

Not cool.

Observation (Part 4)

I don’t know about you, but for me, sometime around two or three years ago, any intelligent, thoughtful discourse on the internet went the way of the dinosaurs.

I mean, I know all of the smart people didn’t die off, but it certainly seems like they all bailed around the same time. Why? WTF happened? Why do things sometimes seem to devolve instead of evolve?

Did the online environment become so toxic that it just wasn’t worth it to share ideas and information anymore? If so, how did this happen?

How did something that so obviously existed to communicate ideas and spread knowledge break down so easily? Or am I misinterpreting what’s really happening here?

Perhaps this is just a stage in the metamorphosis of something bigger, something transformative not just for the individual, but the species itself.

Evolution is messy and unpredictable – only time will tell.

Allocating Resources

As I find myself spending more time writing fiction, it unfortunately eats into time I would spend writing blog posts. Often there are topics I want to explore here, but I end up having to postpone them until I can find a block of time to really explore my thoughts.

Regardless, I have come to realize that the whole point of this blog was to prepare me to write. There is no other explanation for why I am suddenly compelled to write fiction, when it was never a conscious goal in the first place. I have no business doing it, and certainly no qualifications. None of that, however, seems to matter.

I am currently finishing my fourth short story and it is incredibly rewarding. I actually got choked up writing its conclusion today, and that felt very weird. It is turning out to be way too long to really fit the definition of a short story, but it takes what it takes to tell the fucking thing. I’m just letting go and the words just come out – the act of doing it really is its own reward.

Maybe someone will read it, maybe not. I’m not sure if it really matters. All I know is doing it feels right and natural, like, for whatever reason, this is what I’m supposed to be doing.

I’m not questioning it.

Immunologic Evolution

Our immune system evolved to hum along at peak capacity when we’re happy but to slow down dramatically when we’re not. This is why long-term unhappiness can literally kill you through its immune-suppressing effects, and why loneliness in late adulthood is deadlier than smoking. Indeed, once you’re over sixty-five, you’re better off smoking, drinking, or overeating with your friends than you are sitting at home alone.”

William von Hipple, from “The Social Leap”

Hold on to Your Seat, it’s Going to be a Bumpy Ride

Last week, OpenAI, a non-profit research group founded by Elon Musk, Reid Hoffman, and Peter Thiel, among others, decided not to release it’s new text generating AI algorithm (GPT2) publicly. So why is this a big deal?

Well, for one thing, as the name of the organization might suggest, the whole point was to release it’s research algorithms as open source code. And indeed, there are “scaled down” versions of this GPT2 code available to the public. But in its current iteration, the company felt it was too dangerous to release it as open source.

You might be wondering “What’s the big deal?” After all, it just generates text, right? Well, yes… The way it works is like this: you “prime” it with an opening sentence or two, then it takes over and goes to work. Here’s an earlier example posted on the OpenAI website:

First, here’s the human written system prompt:

In a shocking finding, scientist discovered a herd of unicorns living in a remote, previously unexplored valley, in the Andes Mountains. Even more surprising to the researchers was the fact that the unicorns spoke perfect English.

And here’s what the AI algorithm spit out in its 10th iteration:

The scientist named the population, after their distinctive horn, Ovid’s Unicorn. These four-horned, silver-white unicorns were previously unknown to science.

Now, after almost two centuries, the mystery of what sparked this odd phenomenon is finally solved.

Dr. Jorge Pérez, an evolutionary biologist from the University of La Paz, and several companions, were exploring the Andes Mountains when they found a small valley, with no other animals or humans. Pérez noticed that the valley had what appeared to be a natural fountain, surrounded by two peaks of rock and silver snow.

Pérez and the others then ventured further into the valley. “By the time we reached the top of one peak, the water looked blue, with some crystals on top,” said Pérez.

Pérez and his friends were astonished to see the unicorn herd. These creatures could be seen from the air without having to move too much to see them – they were so close they could touch their horns.

While examining these bizarre creatures the scientists discovered that the creatures also spoke some fairly regular English. Pérez stated, “We can see, for example, that they have a common ‘language,’ something like a dialect or dialectic.

Dr. Pérez believes that the unicorns may have originated in Argentina, where the animals were believed to be descendants of a lost race of people who lived there before the arrival of humans in those parts of South America.

While their origins are still unclear, some believe that perhaps the creatures were created when a human and a unicorn met each other in a time before human civilization. According to Pérez, “In South America, such incidents seem to be quite common.”

However, Pérez also pointed out that it is likely that the only way of knowing for sure if unicorns are indeed the descendants of a lost alien race is through DNA. “But they seem to be able to communicate in English quite well, which I believe is a sign of evolution, or at least a change in social organization,” said the scientist.”

So this is the point in human history where you might legitimately ask yourself: Is what I am reading written by a human or an AI?

Full disclosure: This blog is written by a human, but it will undoubtedly eventually be read by an AI learning how humans write. It probably already has – if so, I hope it found something useful.

So there’s that.

Wake Up

This is the most important and interesting time in human history. But the important stuff is probably not on your Facebook or Instagram feed, and it’s definitely not on Television.

It is absolutely not the current president, and certainly not the tragic joke Washington has become.

No, this is the moment in our species history where we begin to meaningfully redefine what it means to be human by manipulating our genome to influence both who we are and who we will become. Make no mistake: this is not science fiction and it’s not something that might happen in the future. It is happening now.

This is the moment in evolutionary history where we are creating what will either be our final existential threat or our next evolutionary step – one that will not be dependent on biology. This is also not conjecture, and if you don’t understand this then you are not paying attention.

Add to this the fact that this change is not linear, it is exponential.

That means by the time you’ve finished reading this short post change will have accelerated since you started it moments ago.

Wake up.

Things already aren’t what you think they are.

It’s Hard Getting Old

But the alternative is worse.

It feels like everything else is going – no, let me restate that: everything else is going – but my mind is as sharp as ever.

So there’s that.

The weird thing is, when your thinking is undiminished, it can be a cognitive disconnect to realize your physical self is an old person. You still feel young, precisely because your mind feels the same as it did then. But to everyone else you look old.

I guess I’m still in the transitioning phase of becoming comfortable with this.

It sucks, but I’ll get the hang of it.

I always do – I’m a survivor.

Not Sure if This is a Good Thing

I’m working on a short story that I knew was going to have a pivotable event that would be so unpleasant I wasn’t even sure I could finish it.

Today I arrived at the point where I had to write this particular event, and I just finished it, or at least the first draft. I am literally upset and a little shaken, feeling like I’m not sure I should be doing this particular story.

Ultimately, I guess if it makes me feel something, hopefully it will do the same for whoever reads it. That in itself is no small feat. There are, however, some things in life that are too painful for anyone to willingly subject themselves to.

I don’t think I’ve done that, but, at least for me, it’s pretty close.

It’s a good story though.

Occupied

When I’m working on something, it’s always on a low simmer in my mind. This is when I’m the happiest – I’m creating something, giving it life, then seeing where it wants to go. It’s the best feeling ever, pretty much everything else seems pale in comparison. I get to walk around thinking about this thing I’m making and it’s my little secret. The fact that no one else gives a shit is really a gift, it allows me to go anywhere in my mind without worrying about how it will be received.

Mind you, I don’t know if what I make is any good by anyone else’s standards, but in the act of making it, it doesn’t really matter. It’s good to me. It makes me feel more alive, it excites me to see where it’s going.

I like to come up with shit and stand back and think “Where did that come from? Or even better, something where I think “Can I even do that? Am I allowed?” Then think “Why the fuck not?

Sometimes I used to worry “What will other people think?” until I realized no one else is really paying attention except me. See, there’s actually a benefit to working in obscurity.

I like living in this little world in my head, where I can make things however I want them to be. I get to create little worlds, and trust me – it’s pretty fucking cool.

You should try it – just let your mind go and see where it wants to take you.

The Art of Life

When we are born we are dealt a kind of genetic hand of cards.

The art of life is figuring out how to play those cards as well as you can.

Here’s a Thought (Part 5)

Maybe this horror show that we call social media is just our first clumsy attempt to organize human culture on a global level. Like an evolutionary imperative – we are evolving to incorporate instantaneous global communication to somehow further the species.

Or maybe not – just a thought…

Metaphysics (Part 1)

Definition(s):

  • The branch of philosophy that deals with the first principles of things, including abstract concepts such as being, knowing, substance, cause, identity, time, and space.
  • The branch of philosophy that examines the fundamental nature of reality, including the relationship between mind and matter, between substance and attribute, and between possibility and actuality.

I am kind of obsessed with metaphysics, but my fascination is not something that is easy to define. It’s kind of a slippery thing, requiring a specific mindset to think about something that is both abstract and somewhat unknowable. This can quickly get into an area that is not hard science – things can rapidly become very grey. Both of the above definitions resonate with me, but the second more accurately describes my obsession.

What is the nature of reality indeed?

I don’t know why I constantly think about this stuff, I just know these questions are always there, in the forefront of my mind, driving everything I do. The opening definition uses the term “first principles,” this is, of course, a hard science term. It essentially means “What do we know is true?” It can be a way to break down larger, more complex problems into smaller chunks. For example, let’s say you want streamline and improve or maybe just manipulate some complicated, multi-layered process. To better understand this complex system, you would break it down into the basic building blocks that constitute the whole system, examining each chunk and asking “Is this true?

You could try and do this with something as macro as reality as well – it just now becomes a much larger and more complex system. I don’t know if any one person is really smart enough to define reality – the greatest physicists probably come close.

What’s the point of all this? Fuck if I know – I can’t always control the things I think about. All I know is that I’ve always been this way, but the closer to death I get the more urgent the questions become.

The Human Body is an Amazing Thing

Of course this sounds obvious, but what I am referring to here is something very specific. All nurses and docs see examples of a very peculiar phenomenon every day, especially in the ER.

What I am talking about is this: if any given human organism has time to slowly adapt to a deficit, it will do so – even if that deficit is deadly. For example, in the ER we routinely transfuse if the hemoglobin is less than 7. So 7 is low – low enough to emergently transfuse someone with blood. Low enough to become lethargic and short of breath with activity. Low enough to be considered a true emergency.

So what are we make of someone with a hgb of 1.5? How is this possible? What if I said this person was able to engage in a coherent conversation?

The answer to all this is that, if you are bleeding slowly enough (think GI), over a long enough period of time, your body will just as slowly adapt.

If, however, you sustained a trauma and bled out quickly (resulting in the same hgb of 1.5), now you’re dead.

Like I said – the human body is an amazing thing.