April 26, 2017

"If you torture the data long enough, it will confess."
--Ronald H. Coase
WHERE DID ALL THE SAXOPHONES GO? "How one instrument went from being the backbone of American popular music to being a punchline in a joke about the '80s." Reminds me of my 2004 rant about saxophones as the most overrated instrument. I disavow most of that now - I was just a bitter tuba player who hadn't played tuba in like 8 years.
Don't deep fry gnocchi. Skip to :30 and enjoy....

"ATTN: FOG IS JUST REALLY BIG GHOSTS" --http://twitter.com/boatse

April 25, 2017rambletuba

I've been thinking that maybe I could get my inner toddler to become, like, an inner precocious teen (though it's odd to think that I can't tell it "use your words!" because that's not how it operates) but I'm concerned I might lose some kind of vitality in that process, some part of essential Kirkness.

And also concerned that I'm not sure what to trust to tell me if that is a risk of being the case, because I don't know to what extent the inner-narrator/rational self vs subconscious self is the same for everyone. Various paths of self-improvement call it different things (the Id, the inner child, the right side of the brain, the unconscious mind, etc) and imply different functional relationships.

Even something like meditation has contradictions in advice about its methods and goals. Like, is it to have that zennish empty mind, where my verbal inner-narrator is finally silent and my whole self can enjoy purer sensation, unmitigated by simplification into verbal simplification and categorization? Or is it to be 'mindful', and allow that inner narrator to calmly process and analyze and pontificate but without encountering spikes of anxiety and other disruptive emotion? (Which, in my current way of thinking, tend to emerge from my inner toddler.) I kind of prefer the latter; it's less work and a lot more fun.

In "Eat, Pray, Love" Elizabeth Gilbert writes
Like most humanoids, I am burdened with what the Buddhists call the "monkey mind"--the thoughts that swing from limb to limb, stopping only to scratch themselves, spit and howl. From the distant past to the unknowable future, my mind swings wildly through time, touching on dozens of ideas a minute, unharnessed and undisciplined. This in itself is not necessarily a problem; the problem is the emotional attachment that goes along with the thinking. Happy thoughts make me happy, but--whoop!--how quickly I swing again into obsessive worry, blowing the mood; and then it's the remembrance of an angry moment and I start to get hot and pissed off all over again; and then my mind decides it might be a good time to start feeling sorry for itself, and loneliness follows promptly. You are, after all, what you think. Your emotions are the slaves to your thoughts, and you are the slave to your emotions.

The thing is, to me it feels backwards... like the thoughts are the slaves to the emotions, and then I'm the slave to the thoughts. Or something. But basically, the process is more my inner rational narrator teaching my wordless sometimes-raging sometimes-fearing sometimes-frolicking subconscious self about the world. You know, it feels a bit like the relationship between Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller.

So I feel there's lots of room for that inner toddler - who will probably never grow up to have words - to mature, and develop a real camaraderie, rather than the current paternalistic relationship. And without assuming that subconscious part of me is only feeling, not thinking. I suspect feeling and thinking are the same thing but at wildly different time scales, feeling taking in the long term evolutionary wisdom and near term immediate reaction, with thinking occupying the middle ground.

Also through all this, I feel my rational, verbal, narrator self is trying to reassert the throne of being "The Actual Me", the real me, that it lost when I read Dennett's "Conscious Explained". I think it's time for a reread of what I pin as the "most important book I read", even though it's mighty long.

April 24, 2017

This person bowls better than you do.
via
"It's ever so slightly plausible, in that, yeah, the robot is named EVE and Wall-E does give her a plant. On the other hand... it presumes that the future where humans are all lazy blobs in a spaceship where robots tend to their every need is paradise, which... huh."
--io9 onis Wall-E akin to the serpent in the Garden of Eden aka Satan...

April 23, 2017tuba

Ezequiel playing in the March for Science in today's NY Times; Andrew, Dave, and me behind

It's cool how both the Boston Globe and the NY Times select photos with younger players front and center, and some taller folks backin' em up
I've moved around 20 times in my life. You think I'd be a bit less crap at it by now...

April 22, 2017

Rallying for science with BABAM!
"What do we want?"
"SCIENCE!"
"When do we want it?"
"AFTER PEER REVIEW!"

April 21, 2017ramble

(tl; dr: maybe I'm so damnably bad with names is because my main processing part of my brain is separate from my verbal inner voice part of my brain.)

Weird possible introspection revelation, tying into yesterday's Cormac McCarthy link about how the subconscious talks to us via images and dreams and not words.

I had some early morning dreams that were about me going on a white river rafting trip, modeled after one I took a few years ago. For some reason it was stuck on the preliminaries rather than the rafting itself, but whatever -

As I stumbled through that murky twilight of half-awake, I realized the one thing that was missing from my understanding of that dream narrative's was a description: i.e. the words "river rafting". I can't be sure of the dream production process, but it often feels like some part of my brain, the subconscious, spits out feelings and images, and then my verbal/inner-voice/narrator weaves it together into a more coherent story that it can understand. (The McCarthy article speculates a bit about this process as well)

I feel like my subconscious can *understand* words - in fact it's the subsystem I use to skim read quickly, and it gleans the relevant bits for the narrator brain (and tells it to go back for the tricky bits for more careful review) but the subconscious doesn't use words and labels much - it relies more on a wordless understanding of how things interact.

This felt like a revelation, or maybe half of one. I have long suspected I'm bad with names and faces because they don't change how I interact with that person. A person could interact and be the same person under a hundred different names and still be the same entity from an interactive standpoint. (This explains that old "remember people's names" trick of associating it with some semi-arbitrarily selected mnemonic - like picture Francis in a beret with a baguette, just to engage these other parts of the mind and not just the verbal narrator)

So the other half, the new half, of this revelation is maybe that is so difficult for me because I rely more than most folks on the part of my brain that doesn't have any facility for names. I might just be making an excuse for myself, trying to to justify a kind of laziness and disengagement, but I think fully recognizing the source of a problem is both a key to making excuses for it and for fixing it.

(The revelation also provides a path to reconciling some seeming contradictions: on the one hand I'm what my friend Tom Kermode has called a "cruxian", the thrust of things is what matters to me. I like art and music that engages in broad strokes, and a dual insensitivity to details / nuance and indifference to interior life that doesn't come to the surface. On the other hand, one of my arguing partners frequently gets annoyed when I correct his vocabulary, and insist on a precise selection and usage of words (but, to his chagrin, precise in a descriptivist, how it's actually used kind of way, not in a word-history arm-chair etymologist kind of way) - at a shallow level, word choice seems very much to be about nuance. I think the contradiction is resolved in the interplay between the desire for two people's subconsciouses, the ones doing the deep understanding to communicate but they have to filter through the rational verbal narrators - the surface characteristics of the words are all they have to work with, so the wrong or misleading word can lead to big problems indeed.)

This all reminds me of that bit from "Through the Looking-Glass":
'This must be the wood,' she said thoughtfully to herself, 'where things have no names. I wonder what'll become of *my* name when I go in? I shouldn't like to lose it at all--because they'd have to give me another, and it would be almost certain to be an ugly one. But then the fun would be trying to find the creature that had got my old name! That's just like the advertisements, you know, when people lose dogs--"answers to the name of 'Dash:' had on a brass collar"--just fancy calling everything you met "Alice," till one of them answered! Only they wouldn't answer at all, if they were wise.'

#321 formation of a committee to determine the plausibility of "aggressive passive" behavior; for example, furiously hammering water (for my work's slack channel #stupid-idea-buddies )

April 20, 2017ramblefav

Just when you start to think the RMV was getting it- a painless online address change. Just to find out from the city office that that did f***-all to change where the car is "garaged", which the RMV website doesn't mention when you change the address? What's the point?
My company CarGurus has been named "Online Auto Shopping Brand of the Year" in the 29th Annual Harris Poll EquiTrend Study, unseating our longterm rivals. And they asked me to plug it on Social Media so here we are.

It really is a pretty sweet company, and a great place to buy a car, especially used. Techies should definitely hit me up if they see something on our jobs listing that seems like a fit.
"Every jumbled pile of person has a thinking part / that wonders what the part that isn't thinking isn't thinking of"
--They Might Be Giants, "Where Your Eyes Don't Go"

Serendipity brought me to Cormac McCarthy on The Kekulé Problem - (the title comes from the premier example of "the answer came to me in a dream / flash" ) and thoughts on what the heck this unconscious is. This directly ties in with what I wrote about Saturday and have been a little obsessed with for a week or two.

(McCarthy calls it the unconscious; I think of it as the subconscious, a subtle but possibly important distinction.)

McCarthy concludes wraps up saying
The unconscious seems to know a great deal. What does it know about itself? Does it know that it's going to die? What does it think about that? It appears to represent a gathering of talents rather than just one. It seems unlikely that the itch department is also in charge of math. Can it work on a number of problems at once? Does it only know what we tell it? Or--more plausibly--has it direct access to the outer world? Some of the dreams which it is at pains to assemble for us are no doubt deeply reflective and yet some are quite frivolous. And the fact that it appears to be less than insistent upon our remembering every dream suggests that sometimes it may be working on itself. And is it really so good at solving problems or is it just that it keeps its own counsel about the failures? How does it have this understanding which we might well envy? How might we make inquiries of it? Are you sure?

I'm not as convinced as McCarthy that dreams are always so deliberate and purposeful from the subconscious; I accept they can be a communication pathway from the unconscious to our rational selves, but sometimes it's a bit more random and chaotic than that. (And I am always shocked at how whatever part of brain that says "this can't be real" is so much more asleep than the rest of us.) And man, now I really am wondering about whether the unconscious knows that it will someday die and how it feels about that!

I feel like I'm gathering more instances of the subconscious as having its own personality and- all too often- separate agenda. I've started thinking of it as my "inner toddler", but I'm a little wary of thinking of it in such disparaging terms - like it might grow to resent me, and that would be pretty bad for my overall mental wellbeing. Still, there's a stubborn petulance there. Like, it's bad enough that I eat my desk at work, but there's even less dignity when I start digging in while still walking from the damn kitchen. So yesterday I apply some willpower and hold off chowing down 'til I'm safely seated. Great! And then today... I don't even make it out of the kitchen. My inner toddler sees the taco in my hand, recognizes it as delicious, and I've had a bite or two before my rational self is fully aware of what's going on. I've witness that "backslide/backlash" factor before. (I also wonder if my inner eater is just a more well behaved version of the inner demons that are so destructive in the life of

McCarthy writes "the fact that the unconscious prefers avoiding verbal instructions pretty much altogether--even where they would appear to be quite useful--suggests rather strongly that it doesnt much like language and even that it doesnt trust it." My first instinct says that it's not a matter of disdain, but it lacks language as a toolset. I can't tell my inner toddler to "use your words" because it doesn't have any! Of course, this seems to contradict my earlier theory that this subconscious was my "fast reading/skimming brain". But perhaps words can come in, but they can't come out, and the "jist" that my fast reader is so good at providing my rational self is more based on images and feelings than I realize. No wait - I got started last Saturday by trying to explain the subconscious process that was making my typos, especially my oddly-phonetic-almost-dyslexic swap of "m" and "b". So words go in and words go out, but they aren't its native language. (So to speak.)

And so it might be a mistake to think there's only one subconscious entity. Or it might be hard to understand in general. Especially right now, I feel like I might be back to conflating my "self", my consciousness, with my "inner voice" process using words. (To quote Emo Phillips, "I used to think that the brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this.")

I wonder if I'm on to something here. It is very odd to think of an internal part of oneself as some kind of (at times, childish!) companion rather than... well, than as ourselves, but I think it suggests a whole new set of promising approaches for self-therapy. I think every successful weight-loss I've had has had to cope with this inner toddler, for instance! (And again, I wonder if I'm risking further resentment by calling him that...)


Of course sometimes it's like this Id/subconscious self is the only part of me that knows how to enjoy anything! Sometimes I think the only pleasure my ego/rational self gets in life is...well... ego stroking...

(and btw, it's so sad that googling topics of communicating with your inner child are so often about coping with buried past trauma and backgrounds of abuse and neglect.)
I do wonder - is it like this for everyone? Are McCarthy and I outliers? Are he and I and some others somehow less coherent and unified people than most? Why aren't people talking about this more? Is it different for them, or is it just to painful to admit we're not as singularly in control as our rational selves would like to be?

I've seen many rube goldbergs but nothing with this kind of narrative! Lovely!