Kirk Israel's commonplace and blog. Quotes and links daily since 2001.
It takes a lot for a white guy to learn that he is not unbreakable... I remember showing Hari Kondabolu a picture of my son as we were on the side of a precipice trail, a cliffside, in Arcadia Park, in Maine, and he said 'Boy O boy, the things some white people will do to feel danger in their lives.'

Anything's porn if you jerk off to it... that's from the Supreme Court decision.
Baby Geniuses Podcast - didn't realize that's Lisa "Tuca + Bertie" Hanawalt, and then Emily Heller who I was following on twitter already... (not sure which said the quote though, I'm terrible with that.)

DAILY PRAYER TO COMBAT IMPOSTOR SYNDROME: God give me the confidence of a mediocre white dude
July 19, 2019
Harris' book is a pretty decent survey over research into the problem of consciousness, and she cites some fascinating research... often pointing out how our (mis)conceptions of the world radically distort our view of some otherwise promising theories.
[Neuroscientist Anil] Seth refers to our experiences of ourselves in the world as a kind of “controlled hallucination.” He describes the brain as a “prediction engine” and explains that “what we perceive is its best guess of what’s out there in the world.” In a sense, he says, “we predict ourselves into existence.”
We make a map (our experience) of the territory (reality) and it is damnably easy to mistake the map for the territory.

She then talks about some of my favorite bits of mind-blowing research:

The split-brain literature contains many examples suggesting that two conscious points of view can reside in a single brain. Most of them also topple the typical notion of free will, by exposing a phenomenon generated by the left hemisphere that Gazzaniga and his colleague Joseph LeDoux dubbed “the interpreter.” This phenomenon occurs when the right hemisphere takes action based on information it has access to that the left hemisphere doesn’t, and the left hemisphere then gives an instantaneous and false explanation for the split-brain subject’s behavior. For example, when the right hemisphere is given the instruction “Take a walk” in an experiment, the subject will stand up and begin walking. But when asked why he’s leaving the room, he will give an explanation such as, “Oh, I need to get a drink.” His left hemisphere, the one responsible for speech, is unaware of the command the right side received, and we have every reason to think that he does in fact believe his thirst was the reason he got up and began walking. As in the example in which experimenters were able to cause a feeling of will in subjects who in actuality were not in control of their own actions, the phenomenon of “the interpreter” is further confirmation that the feeling we have of executing consciously willed actions, at least in some instances, is sheer illusion.
There's so much thought talking trying to describe this phenomenon of our other selves - elephant and rider, id/ego, inner-child - it makes me think there's something to it. I am convinced that our physical brains (and the nervous system of the rest of our bodies) are the medium for multiple entities - deeply connected, but still with their own agenda and independent point of view. (I'm not sure if that split is strictly hemisphere-based or not, or how much it might vary from person to person.)

For most people it's the narrative self, the inner voice, that is the most "us" - the part of our brain that uses its unfair advantage of language, the scaffolding to build magnificent structures of thought, and a habit of justifying the whole's actions to others - and to ourselves - to claim to be the true us. It plays at being the competent Dr Jekyll to the rest of the brain's Mr Hyde.


To navel-gaze a bit: I wonder if this distinction, this dual-life, might be especially heightened in me, personally, relative to most people. Evidence for thinking I'm such a weird dual snowflake follows:

When I read, I read fast, which means I skim - I've come to realize it's like a whole level of my brain absorbing the words from a page or screen and then efficiently summarizing the content to a higher level of awareness. This silent, speedy skimmer system has shown to be so serendipitous for me on standardized tests... and it leads me to think of myself as a truly "deeply superficial" person.

(Furthermore, this voiceless low level reader system is mostly attuned to seeing how systems interact... and so the internal essence or superficial aspects that don't really change how the object of the reading material interact don't even get reported to the higher brain! This is coupled with my theory about why I'm somewhat faceblind - the details of a face just aren't that important to me, because they don't change how I'll interact with it...so at the higher levels I don't even see those details. I am terrible at spelling for similar reasons - twisty little vowel combinations don't change how the word sounds much, so they are devilishly hard for me to remember to write correctly.)

The other part of this silent system is - my inner child as shown by my "inner snacker" - is especially difficult to control. It's a bit embarrassing really. I mean I know willpower in terms of food is tough for many people, but when I observe how I will chow down on snacks at work - if there's like an array of cookies, it seems like I will not be sated until I have sampled one of each. And I haven't witnessed quite the same level of that with other people. I'm not as much an outlier here as I am with the skimming/reading thing, but I think I am on the far side of this bellcurve as well.

But, countering what I think might be a particularly active subconscious - my religious upbringing has left me - the inner-voice me - hyper-vigilant about keeping myself in accord with How Things Should Be. An early fear of eternal damnation and hellfire kind has constructed a system of rational vigilance, a gardener of the emotional garden. Almost every sprout of a feeling is inspected, and if found to not be rationally justifiable, it's plucked from the soil before it has a chance to grow. With lust, my physiological response is repressed unless my narrative self is convinced it's a safe and reasonable thing. I'm not even sure I love like other people seem to - I admire like hell, but I haven't had a "Crazy in Love" feeling in a long, long time. (My theory is, though, people search for that crazy in love feeling especially in the early days of relationships, because it puts the feeling out of the reach of market forces, that irrational love will better weather the travails of life and stress and aging and not be on the hunt for any better offers.)

And I think the two systems of me have warped each other a bit, goaded each other on. Like, my inner snacker is super quick in driving me to grab a tasty food on impulse, because that silent system knows that the inner voice nanny is on patrol.

If this two-entity model of myself is correct - it's a little scary. My narrator self - which is in many ways dominant, which is writing this rambling essay - is worried that my silent self may become sullen and resentful and uncooperative. In fact, when I think about my skullslinkies incident, where in a alternate mind state I had a clear picture of my those inner, short-lived thought processes, clear of the influence of the narrator self and finally able to express some of their resentments...I'm further driven to try to find ways to get my parts to be content and in harmony. And it feels like if I ever have some kind of psychotic break, this divide might be where the fault line lies.... or at least I think that I will never be as well-integrated as most people.

Phew! Back to the book...


Harris takes a lot of time defending panpsychism - the concept that consciousness sorta exists in almost every system, even simple ones - maybe even clusters of atoms. While "everything is conscious, sorta!" can sound like new age woo-woo, or a kind of Western shintoism, she defends it - not that she's fully convinced about it, but it isn't as nutty an idea as it might seem. A thermostat has a kind of awareness of the world around it, albeit just the ambient temperature. Personally I am comfortable with thinking of the thermostats inner state as the tiniest glimmer of consciousness. I think full consciousness involves having a rich model of the world and of the self as an actor within that model, and if you have a system with those characteristics, you probably have consciousness...

Finally, Harris reminds me of some of the absolute, batshit weirdness of the implications of the double-slit photon experiment - how light is a wave or particle depending on if it's being observed (meaning observation - which might be inexorably deeply linked to a concept of consciousness - might be a weirdly causal part of reality) and not only that, but a 2007 experiment confirmed John Wheeler's prediction that that effect seems to go backwards in time. At trivial scales of time, or unimaginably vast ones:

You can now ask, for each photon that comes to me, whether it came from the left [or the right] side of the gravitational lens. [Let’s say] I decide to measure which side it came from, and I find out that it went on the left side. That means I can say that for the last ten billion years, that photon has been on a path that started from the quasar and went around the left side of the gravitational lens. But if, instead, I had chosen not to make that measurement and just measure the interference pattern, it would not be true that for the last ten billion years that photon had gone [down a path] around the left side. So the choice I make today determines the ten-billion-year-history of that photon.
Mind-bending stuff.
I had to draw a wildebee
July 18, 2019
20 minute video about 20 hours by Josh Kaufman:

In a nutshell, he's saying that the "10,000 hours" rule is over applied - it talks about the people at the tiptop of a specialty, pressing on to an elite place way out on the learning curve. Kaufman argues how 20 hours is often enough for a solid amount of competence.

It's a great point! Reminds me of Jake the Dog:


But those 20 hours are not a walk in the park. Kaufman ends with the slide:

The major barrier to skill
acquisition isn't
intellectual...
it's emotional.
And then he says
We're scared. Feeling stupid doesn't feel good. In the beginning of learning anything new, you feel really stupid.
Especially for people with Fixed Mindset - folks so skilled at finding low hanging fruit of stuff that are variants on what they're already good at, and so much in the habit of moving on and considering the difficult task unimportant - those 20 hours are going to be a slog! And 20 hours is a longer time than might first appear, especially if you're setting aside big swaths of dedicated focused and thoughtful practice...
You might want to cmd-+ or ctrl-+ your way to zooming this to 200% to take it in, but a Magic Eye of Bob "Church of the SubGenius" Dobbs in ASCII is pretty amazing....
BOBoBoBoBoBoBOBoBoBoBoBoBOBoBoBoBoBoBOBoBfNoRdBoBOBoBoBoBoBoBOBoBoBoBoBoBOB
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
!::::'___`:::::::'___`:::::::'___`:::::::'___`:::::::'___`:::::::'___`::::!
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!.  `._^_,''   :`._^_,'..'  `._^_,'`...'`._^_,'  `..`._^_,'.   ``._^_,'  .!
!.   \\=//       \\=//       \\=//       \\=//       \\=//       \\=//   .!
:    U/_/        U/_/        U/_/        U/_/        U/_/        U/_/     :
@/      \&~  @/      \&~  @/      \&~  @/      \&~  @/      \&~  @/      \&
Y/\.::./\S\ /Y/\.::./\S\ /Y/\.::./\S\ /Y/\.::./\S\ /Y/\.::./\S\ /Y/\.::./\S
E$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$E
%%%%XX%%%%%%%%%%%XX%%%%%%%%%%%XX%%%%%%%%%%%XX%%%%%%%%%%%XX%%%%%%%%%%%XX%WiZ

So near the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, lets not forget the software engineer who made it possible - she has some lessons for the coders of today

You know how you can make America great again? Tell Donald Trump to go to hell. [...] He's a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot.
Senator Lindsey Graham on CNN on December 8, 2015

Back in the day you could get something called "Weslyan Tetris" for Macs... it had really annoying sound clips that would comment on your performance, and then sometimes it would "nyah nyah nyah" and cheat...


As soon as we started programming, we found to our surprise that it wasn't as easy to get programs right as we had thought. Debugging had to be discovered. I can remember the exact instant when I realized that a large part of my life from then on was going to be spent in finding mistakes in my own programs.
Maurice Wilkes, 1949
What did the average ancient Roman apartment look like? I found this Quora response one of the more interesting ones I've seen, I almost want to find a good kids book on the subject of Roman city life. When you read about how many assumptions about "your place" and use of shared, public things it's quite striking - switching to ancient Greece - it's sort of like reading the original versions of Aesop, and the way people have very different concerns about honor and friendship.

That all makes me think about how Christians treat their scriptures, and the cultural context they were written in. For many believers, they grow up so close to the Bible stories (if not actually reading the book that much) and they're so use to regarding it as the foundations for correct modern behavior, that that sense of estrangement is lost.

I recall years past, feeling a bit Christian-hip, and in on secret knowledge, in understanding that early Christians were setting up communes, it seemed a strong rebuke to the materialism of current-day capitalism and its accompanying consumerism, but now thinking in terms of this Quora, maybe the early Christian setup wasn't quite as much of a stretch from its surrounding context as I used to think.

via
July 16, 2019
You are a fluke of the universe. You have no right to be here.
Deteriorata. Deteriorata.

Go placidly amid the noise and waste,
And remember what comfort there may be in owning a piece thereof.
Avoid quiet and passive persons, unless you are in need of sleep.
Rotate your tires.
Speak glowingly of those greater than yourself,
And heed well their advice, even though they be turkeys.
Know what to kiss, and when.
Consider that two wrongs never make a right, but that three do.
Wherever possible, put people on hold.
Be comforted that in the face of all aridity and disillusionment,
and despite the changing fortunes of time,
There is always a big future in computer maintenance.

Remember The Pueblo.
Strive at all times to bend, fold, spindle, and mutilate.
Know yourself. If you need help, call the FBI.
Exercise caution in your daily affairs,
Especially with those persons closest to you -
That lemon on your left, for instance.
Be assured that a walk through the ocean of most souls
Would scarcely get your feet wet.
Fall not in love therefore. It will stick to your face.
Gracefully surrender the things of youth: birds, clean air, tuna, Taiwan.
And let not the sands of time get in your lunch.
Hire people with hooks.
For a good time, call 606-4311. Ask for Ken.
Take heart in the bedeepening gloom
That your dog is finally getting enough cheese.
And reflect that whatever fortune may be your lot,
It could only be worse in Milwaukee.

You are a fluke of the universe.
You have no right to be here.
And whether you can hear it or not,
The universe is laughing behind your back.

Therefore, make peace with your god,
Whatever you perceive him to be - hairy thunderer, or cosmic muffin.
With all its hopes, dreams, promises, and urban renewal,
The world continues to deteriorate.
Give up!
National Lampoon's "Deteriorata" See this page for the original it parodies as well.

This image is part of my inkjet printer's built-in print test and I genuinely find it very moving

I think the way to be a successful human is to not give yourself too many roadblocks to happiness -- and a hot warm tortilla, you know what? Don't think too much about it, just put that right in your mouth.
Addy discussing the non-vegetarian nature of proper tortillas, on the podcast she runs along with my buddy Dylan, Jump the Snark

[At MIT in the 1950s] there was a Tech Model Train Club, where they had the people who were like "let's look at the top of the table, and make the models, and make the trains and make the things and everything pretty!" and then there were the people who were like "let's look at the bottom of the table there where all the switches are, and the electronics, and do all the tinkering" - and that kind of divide between "I'm looking at the flavor", vs "I'm looking at the systems"... FF Tactics is like the hard-core systems game.
Shivam Bhatt on the Retronauts episode on Final Fantasty Tactics. That's a fun analogy I haven't thought of in a while. (Many of us were introduced to it via Steven Levy's book "Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution")

apolloinrealtime.org/11/ Wow. And to think...50 years. Man, our relationship with space is sad. It's just a challenge we're not up for, and so we'll sit here til an asteroid takes us out, unless the climate gets us first.
from The Atlantic The 2019 Artistic-Swimming World Championships

Just finished all the available levels of "Mr. Bullet", a pretty decent little puzzle game for smartphones. Each level is a tiny puzzle, where you play a shooter doing fancy trick shots (with lots of cartoony blood). Then they have variants where you throw grenades, or have to NOT hit hostages, or where finally you're not longer magically invisible to your own bullets. Each puzzle is so bite size, and none of them are too grindingly difficult, that it's a great pick up and play and then put down game. The model of "free with commercials, or a couple of bucks to just play" seems pretty decent to me.
July 15, 2019
from Sally Rooney's "Conversations with Friends":
I felt restless, the way you feel when you've already done the wrong thing and you're anxious about what the outcome is going to be.
I knew Bobbi would know what to say in this situation, because she had a lot of opinions about mental health in public discourse. Out loud I said: Bobbi thinks depression is a humane response to the conditions of late capitalism.
All I could decide was whether or not to have sex with Nick; I couldn’t decide how to feel about it, or what it meant.
At some point the chocolate cake was gone. I looked into the box and saw crumbs and icing smeared around the paper rim that I had neglected to remove. I got up from the table, put the kettle on, and emptied two spoonfuls of coffee into the French press. I took some painkillers, I drank the coffee, I watched a murder mystery on Netflix. A certain peace had come to me and I wondered if it was God’s doing after all. Not that God existed in any material way but as a shared cultural practice so widespread that it came to seem materially real, like language or gender.
I closed my eyes. Things and people moved around me, taking positions in obscure hierarchies, participating in systems I didn’t know about and never would. A complex network of objects and concepts. You live through certain things before you understand them. You can’t always take the analytical position.
After enjoying Normal People I went back and read this, Sally Rooney's first novel. I guess I enjoy reading stories of the romances of academic people. (heh... I guess to be honest I ended up treating my undergrad degree in computer science as a high-end trade school... and the English major I kept up to go with was a bit perfunctory...) This one told some of its story in quoted emails and going over old text messages, I really appreciate when stories do that... maybe it gives a smidge of validation to my own archiving with very occasional review.

FWIW The scene of people hanging out at a wealthy european's beach dwellings reminded me a bit of Martin Amis' "The Pregnant Widow"

--Panel from this Oglaf comic riffing on Hamlet - Oglaf is such a raunchy, fun, goofy, R-rated romp (maybe even NC-17) of a fantasy cartoon. I really like how it celebrates the joy of gettin' it on across a wide range of genders and sexualities.
French Inventor Totes Rifle While Flying Turbine-Powered Flyboard at Bastille Day Celebrations - word is previous Bastille Day stuff inspired Trumps' Campaign-Rally-With-Thanks July 4th ambitions. How long 'til he says we need one of these?
School of Honk on parade with "Rock Anthem" - at 4:06 you can hear me leading the call in the call/response:
July 14, 2019
from Haruki Murakami's "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running":
Somerset Maugham once wrote that in each shave lies a philosophy.
I'm struck by how, except when you're young, you really need to prioritize in life, figuring out in what order you should divide up your time and energy. If you don't get that sort of system set by a certain age, you'll lack focus and your life will be out of balance.
In every interview I'm asked what's the most important quality a novelist has to have. It's pretty obvious: talent. No matter how much enthusiasm and effort you put into writing, if you totally lack literary talent you can forget about being a novelist. This is more of a prerequisite than a necessary quality. If you don't have any fuel, even the best car won't run.
I don't care about the time I run. I can try all I want, but I doubt I'll ever be able to run the way I used to. I'm ready to accept that. It's not one of your happier realities, but that's what happens when you get older. Just as I have my own role to play, so does time. And time does its job much more faithfully, much more accurately, than I ever do. Ever since time began (when was that, I wonder?), it's been moving ever forward without a moment's rest. And one of the privileges given to those who've avoided dying young is the blessed right to grow old. The honor of physical decline is waiting, and you have to get used to that reality.
On the body of the bike is written "18 Til I Die," the name of a Bryan Adams hit. It's a joke, of course. Being eighteen until you die means you die when you're eighteen.
Emphasis mine on the bit on aging.

I was most struck by the bit about talent as an intrinsic property... sometimes my employer talks so much about "we have a growth mindset" that I feel a bit called-out, or like as a person with fixed mindset I should be able to file some kind of discrimination suit...

Not really of course, and they probably are using a looser term of "growth mindset" than I am - but yet, I'm aware I have fixed mindset, it protects me in some ways, throws up roadblocks in others, and I try to act to mitigate its disadvantages while enjoying some of the psychological reassurances it offers.

It does strike me that there's an amusing meta-issue here; someone with a "growth mindset" is OF COURSE more likely to believe that switching mindset is possible than someone starting with a "fixed mindset"...

ENGLISH GAME: PLACE THE WORD "ONLY" ANYWHERE ON THE SENTENCE:
She told him that she loved him.
I wonder what other languages that works with...