On the brevity of life

I would like you to know, that your note reminded me of just how tenuous it all is. Our freedom. Our liberty. Our health. It’s all so fragile. And so damn easy to take for granted.

Sooner or later, our bodies will fail us. There are no exceptions. But what Justin did with his body while it was still in his control, has left me forever in his debt, and mindful of what matters most. Because ultimately, there is no greater threat to our freedom, than a lack of gratitude to those who provide it.

from: http://mikerowe.com/2016/12/otw-honoring-justin/

Humans copy both good and bad accomplishments

Humans have a bad cognitive bias/disposition. When they see someone successfully accomplish a task in a stupid way it’s hard for them to forget and they implicitly imitate the irrational or bad behavior. Animals (dogs) don’t do this. Some monkeys do. Has something to do with our mirror neuron strength?

This is a phenomenon that researchers have called over-imitation. It’s a phenomenon where you imitate too much. This is a case where you’re not supposed to be copying somebody’s idea, but just witnessing their idea is messing up your own representation of how to solve this task.

from: https://www.edge.org/conversation/laurie_r_santos-glitches



A personal essay that has grown out of conversation with my father.

— Tom Joads to Ron Joads —

So, is the value of your work a tool which will enable users to ignore the everything else which distracts them from finding a solution to their issue?

My analogy, I have heard that a good way to save money is to have a friend do your shopping for you. They only buy what is on your list. This ‘mentored’ searching and acquiring is more efficient.

And therefore I thought you might like this story from The Washington Post.

The incredible power of ignoring everything



— Ron to Tom  —

I just read Seneca’s essay in the brevity of life. “Life is not short but we make it so. It is not that there is too little time. It is that we use what we have unwisely.”

I think this is a very important thing. But probably not “our business” thing in the fundamental interpretation of avoiding distraction. We do help you find great guidance. And shortcut your brain to “trust” by relying on successful people’s quotes. (Not unlike what the Washington Post did with Richard Feynman at the end of that article.) In that sense we help you not get unfocused by searching through articles of Crap.

But the very important and hard question is “what is a distraction?”.

Somethings, the Kardashian family for example, are obvious. The real villains in this story are those distractions who masquerade as important. In high school this might be broadly defined as “others’ opinions”. In the more common vain of life this might be pursuit of excess wealth as means to happiness.

We tend to focus on things that provide immediate or loud feedback. It is not that the real focuses are secrets, but that they are “covered”. Covered by various fogs. Fogs of social conformance. Fogs of the status quo. Fogs of inherited “defaults”.

To remove these fogs, I try to ask myself “So what is quiet and slow but critically important?”

I would suggest our health, our relationships with others, and our sense of self identity as answers that might this question is useful.

Perhaps these are villains in masks. How can we know for certain? I don’t know, but more can be discovered through thoughtful action than infinite introspection.

The trick, it seems to me so far is to change your defaults. Be automatically opted in to these slow, quiet paths. Take stairs. Sit on the floor. Give up your car. Have communal responsibilities. Engage in self discovery by using alone time. Be relentlessly focused and uncompromising in a set of truths.

And then occasionally question them to see if they have been masquerading villains.


Westworld: Welcome to the show (part 2)

The show is about the park is about the show

**To further explore the show we have to introduce some concepts and spoilers now**

Westworld is a theme park where interested visitors travel to enjoy the delights of an inconsequential realm. The park is filled with 3D-printed (I think, but its not important to be correct about this anyway) androids called hosts that are programmed to help guests enjoy narratives that have been scripted by the designers who work at the park. Some visitors search for treasure. Some drink, gamble, and whore. Some search for an opportunity to be the hero they aren’t in their true life outside the park. At the end of each day; the androids are removed, repaired, have their memories reset, and returned in what I would most succinctly describe as Bill Murray’s life in Groundhog’s day with a dash of nightly memory loss. That is to say they live mostly the same experience with some allowed “improvisations”  (to make them appear more life-like) and the resultant novelties imposed upon them by guests to the park whose desires influence the Westworld park days.

Throughout the show, two dichotomous beliefs about why guests come to the park are presented:
  1. It is a place for escapism where one can enjoy their basal desires and interests.
  2. It is a place to actualization where one’s true self – one’s higher desires and possibilities can be explored.
It is noteworthy that some of the story arcs suggest these possibilities do no exclude each other.

Enter Dolores

We are quickly introduced to the host Dolores, whose repetitive existence is to wake up on her farther’s farm home, ride to town, return with powdered milk, and so on. The park-day we meet Dolores she returns home to find two other hosts have killed her mother and father (the result of a host’s intervention we assume but cannot be certain of). She is drug by her hair and presumably raped by a guest of the park who, in a monologue states that he is in Westworld to: “indulge in being full evil”. We are given hints that this is not the first time this has happened to Dolores the (very human looking and like-able) robot and the discomfort of the situation heightens (only if you have a soul). The visitor to the park has, more than once, raped Dolores and remembers her in an evil fondness. The very name Dolores means sorrows suggesting this may be a certain destiny for our heroine to-be. Perhaps she is frequently raped after her family is murdered.
This forces us to ask is this imaginary evil of rape to a robot in an amusement park an actual evil? Is it an evil for the park designers to allow such a thing? Is the act here imaginary at all — does the man not remember and go home with this memory of rape? Is Dolores sufficiently human for this to be considered rape in the human sense of the word? Even if it is not for her — is it evil for the human who raped her?

Consciousness and morality

Soon we see that Dolores (and many other hosts) can now remember moments of their repetitious lives. They have flashbacks about being murdered or raped or enjoying time with their children. The type of things that would be impressed into your memory. These recollections ultimately lead the hosts become aware of the meaningless of their Sisyphean lives – being used as play-things and pawns for the enjoyment of guests often depraved desires, unable to play a role in their long-term future as they will be reset each day (and you might argue punished with the memory of the futility of their efforts). They begin to drink and kill themselves to shorten the time spent in the park each day. They struggle with the safety thresholds programmed inside them to prevent true danger to the guests as they find their treatment both confusing (how could anyone treat someone like this?) and repugnant.
Hosts that are outside the park for service and repair are used as sexual play-things in the QA area where the employees of Westworld operate the amusement park. The hosts, removed from their amusement-park realm, are still treated as subordinate beasts, as somethings not someones, implying that it is not their location in the park that imprisons them so much as their caste.
On the “human” guest experience we see this same trouble with consciousness and consequence spilling over the boundaries of inside the park and out. Some guests squirm at the idea of fucking the prostitute hosts because they find it morally troubling. Is it cheating on your wife if you diddle a very convincingly humaneque robot? The point is nailed home (some might suggest sledge hammered) throughout the Willam and Logan saga. The implication that memory and intention actually bind consciousness, meaning, and morality — not physical location and action. That even in a simulation one can perform actions that have consequences outside the simulation, suggesting that the only way to have absolute absence of consequence is to have absolute absence of evidence — including knowledge or memory of an occurrence. This is not something the park offers to the visitors, only to the hosts (and now this “feature” has been broken).

Layers of reality

The hosts inside the park begin to search for ways to escape their repetitive and limited realities, searching instead for something more by escaping from the park. It is revealed to us that, some employees that work on the park are actually highly intelligent hosts. While their day-to-day duties are not as mechanically repetitive as those inside the park, they are largely repetitious also. Wake up and eat, go to work, solve the problem of the day, find someone to love, rinse in the shower and repeat. When overly complex situations arise and they become aware that they may not be humans, they have a sort of stuttering brain aneurysm and are reset — removed of the causal memories. They are still members of the same caste system that binds those in the park, just a level higher.

The outermost layer — you are the guest at Westworld each week

Just as the park Westworld has two possible explanations for the arrivals of the guests, so does the show Westworld have two explanation for its viewership.

  1. Some come to see blood, sex, tits, and drama. You watch the intro overlooking its significance and diving into what will happen this week. Who will live and who will die? Who will advance their sub-plot in the ultimately meaningless carefully (but not too) scripted telodrama?
  2. Some come to explore it as a narrative of life, humanity, and meaning. What is humanity? What is good? What is consciousness? Would I do that if I had the chance?

Unfortunately, the viewer (the show’s visitor) is given too much of the first and a poorly lead tour into the second. The medicine is mostly sugar and it is unclear how efficacious it might be.

If you are captured in the drama then congratulations, and I hope this has not ruined it for you yet, but I will try now. Will they escape the maze? No – it is a TV show so in some sense there is no maze. There is no real anything. The show is the park. None of this matters. Who cares. At least go enjoy a comedy.

If you watch out of self-exploration and you continue to watch as the show holds your hand down the path to questions about morality, consequential-ism, humanity and so on, eventually you must conclude that the show is either an appeal to your desire to project yourself into the narratives avarice, vice, and heroics like any other guest of Westworld (but not actually experience them in the true sense) or that it the equivalent philosophical baby food (ground finer and finer in each episode so as to be incrementally easier to consume mentally) which concludes that a) yes, of course, all of these beings have rights to freedom and knowledge and b) the way forward for you is to escape Westworld as soon as you can arrive at that level of cognizance to do so.

If, out of full kitchen-cleaning obstinance, you find yourself watching more of the show — I recommend Jameson.

Update: I was wrong. I still think Westworld falls short of a sustained interesting dialogue about humanity, but has led me to ask interesting questions about animal husbandry. I would also note that you still only need to watch one episode to incite these questions, the rest is the same flavor further pureed.

Westworld: Welcome to the Show (part 1)

I have been watching HBO’s latest show Westworld. “Watching” because after some cajoling of my fiance convinced me to start it and “have been” because of that same mix of momentum and completionism that causes you to clean the whole kitchen after started to wipe down the counter.

I do think it presents a moment in time to intersect pop-culture and philosophy — but to its own demise.

If you haven’t seen the show, but are the curious type of person to be interested in reading an article about it AND don’t want the plot ruined – your curiosities betray your stated interests – go no further.

If only the show were as thoughtful as it’s introduction

How fitting that the introductory sequence be such a wonderful overview of the many themes and philosophical concepts explored by the show: the definition of humanity, our human-centric view of the world, humanity’s relationship with technology and so on. The introduction sequence is a good guide to walk us through some of the ways the show explores the answers to the above questions without giving away too much of the show’s storyline (Why are you still here if you care about that? Do you have the kitchen-complete fever I have described?)
How did we begin? The intro sequence begins with an out-of-focus celestial body rising over a barren, dark landscape. Perhaps an homage to the southwestern desert wilds on which Westworld the theme park is located.  First seeming to be the sun, then perhaps a moon. Very briefly we see that the glowing dot is not a celestial body rising over rolling hills, but instead a surgical lamp illuminating the undulations of a human skeleton. From plateau and desert plain to buttocks to ribcage. Jump cut to a robotic arm 3D-printing of a piano string inside a piano. Parallels between the life-bringing universe (the planets are named after the Roman gods after all) and the light-giving surgical lamp are clear.  In this robot-making-piano scene we are seeing the act creation and the classical piano music backtrack suggests a peaceful beauty to it all. The machine making a machine. A sentience of sorts and certainly a statement about the source of life.
A string. A tendon. A horse. The robitic arm 3D printing the piano string is then visually paralleled over to the stringing of a new Achilles tendon. Next we see the mechanical arm creating an entire horse in full gallop and muscular beauty. We see a narrative about how a life creating technology might develop. Toys to treatments to animals. The Dolly phase of the technology in question has arrived. In this we should take inventory of our beliefs about creation/cloning. Is it ethical to clone a human? To create one from scratch? What about animals? If different, specifically what about them you believe makes them NOT “human” such that they should be allowed to be experimental. Concepts of the capacity for intelligence, emotion, communication, the ability to reason and plan, the ability to suppress emotional thought, and purpose all come to mind. At this point I would ask you think – is this tendon human? A quick thought experiment (something for your back pocket if you find yourself at a bad dinner party and want to make sure you are never invited to return) — if it were you under the knife (more accurately under the printing pen), would that new 3D printed tendon of yours be “human” once you had finished your reconstructive surgery?
A tendon. An eye. Onward we move to the printing an eye, a beautifully intricate eye that invokes a somewhat romantic feel of humanity. Something more than a tendon, the human eye is the “window to the soul” and a powerful reminder of the complexity of human biology and human existence — evocative of the less tangible aspects of humanity
Orchestration and interaction The we see a freshly printed skeletal hand playing a piano as the robotic arm slides out of scene.  While still quite mechanical, you must inquire about possibility and questions around the interactions between elements manufactured by the 3D pen. About the creativity of music  – something one might describe as uniquely human – that this freshly printed hand seems to have attained? The coordination of both the printed piano and printed hand with one another seems much greater than the creation of either alone and foreshadows the machinations to come.
Sex. Two industrial, manufactured, eyeless and mostly faceless mannequins (lets call them that) are positioned in a sort of this-might-be-intercourse arrangement. Anthony Hopkins’s name floats by, and in equal force to the white hollow faces of the mannequins does well to remove any kind of sexuality to the arrangement of these bodies.  If the 3D-printed beings could engage in sexual behavior would that make them any more human? If that sex were to be for pleasure only and not for reproduction would that grant them some person-hood, more than say a beast driven to breed by genes and chemical subconsciousness?
Brain stem and a shift in mood.  Next we see the 3D pen seemingly creating a brain stem. A nod to the central nervous system, but also to the higher reasoning abilities of a human. Of all the creations from the pen so far this is surely the most associative with what we might call a human being.
We move on to the freshly printed cylinder for a revolver. A reminder that technology and creation is not inherently kind or good. A reminder of technology as a tool to be used to impart force for both sides of the scales of justice. Here the music shifts from solo piano to incorporate strings and raise the fullness and anxiety of the progression. The revolver fires. We see the partially completed face of a woman. On one half, gentle femine beauty, on the other a ghastly skeletal reminder of death. A janus-faced or two-faced reminder of both human nature and technologies good and evil capabilities. Pistol in outstretched arm, she rides in two-point position standing in saddle atop the horse as it gallops forward.
The hands release from the piano as its keys continue to move up and down revealing it to be a player piano. The piano no longer requires outside “input” to function and produce music. The technology is autonomous, but still in a seemingly harmless way. The piano roll for the player piano showing the “code” for the music and reminding us that the piano is not sentient — it is obedient and programmatic. (Of note is that piano rolls are continuous loops that can be repeated another common theme in the show)
We see another “sunrise” effect over the player piano, but this time it is an array of spotlights more fitting for illuminating a stage. We see a landscape in the reflection of the eye. A reminder that we see through the world through our own lens, through our own interpretations. A human skeleton print is lowered into a milky pool – seemingly the same substance from which the skeleton is printed. Slowly it fades out of sight as it is fully submerged. The opening credits finish and the episode begins.