August 2020 - ?

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August 3. A trip report where a guy talked to his own subconscious. He noticed that his hands were doing stuff without his head, so he started asking his hands questions, and they would respond with thumbs up or thumbs down. My first thought is, if we could develop a cheap technology that could do this reliably, it would be the biggest thing ever. My next thought is, the real mystery is not the subconscious, but the modern human mode of consciousness. How did we end up with this thing that controls everything we do, yet it understands so little?

August 6. Some thoughts on game-changing technologies of the 21st century, starting with the most overrated.

I think we've got virtual reality all wrong. We imagine, if we can just throw enough pixels at an eyescreen, enough gigabytes at a sensory interface, we won't even care if the world is real. I think there are video games from the 1990's that are more immersive than any virtual worlds that will be made in this century -- unless we get another creative environment like the 1990's. Making a world that people want to stay in is hard. It's an art, and art can only be done well by individuals or small teams that are obsessed with their vision, and indifferent to money.

Also overrated: biotech. I think we're missing something, and Rupert Sheldrake is on the right track. DNA will turn out to not be the foundation of biology, but more like a tuner for some level that we haven't discovered yet. So we can't just make any creature we want by hacking DNA, any more than you can make a new TV show by hacking your set.

Where I see promise in biotech, is in vat-grown meat, and other ways to make food that's more affordable and less ecologically harmful.

Artificial intelligence could be big, but not in the way we think. This is already a common idea on the cutting edge of AI: we're obsessed with making machines indistinguishable from humans, when the real action is in making machines that are intelligent in ways that are alien to humans.

The holy grail of AI is understanding causality. As long as AI's do not understand causality, the more power we give them, the more we put ourselves at risk. And if they ever do understand causality, all bets are off.

Also big but not in the way we think: space exploration. I've written that colonizing Mars is a religion. But now, after watching this new video, Mars in 4K, while listening to Hildegard Von Bingen, on weed, I understand that colonizing Mars is a really good religion. It's all about humanity reaching for transcendence, and this time it's physically possible. Those rocks are real.

I still think it's a trick. Mars seems to be training us for interstellar travel, when really it's training us in ecology. Because if we get there, we'll want to terraform it, and terraforming Mars is so much harder than re-terraforming Earth, that by the time we're growing lichens on Daedalia Planum, we'll be planting food forests in the Sahara.

Finally, the big one. We already have psychedelic drugs so good, that if they become legal, they'll change religion so much that we might stop using that word. There will be no more telling people about unseen worlds. If we're all tripping, we'll all be seeing them, and the role of spiritual leaders will be to help us make sense of what we're seeing.

What if LSD and DMT are teases, for far more sophisticated tools for real-time brain-hacking? We might all get sockets in our skulls, but they won't be for feeding us some world designed by programmers. It will turn out to be both easier, and more interesting, to just unlock the worlds that are already there, that our brains were filtering.

August 10. Some woo-woo links, starting with two from the psychonaut subreddit. Reality is the trip and DMT is the trip stopper. And Psychedelic telepathy: An interview study.

And two from the ranprieur subreddit. The Most Unsettling U.F.O. Theory is a nice video about the position that smart UFO researchers usually end up at: the phenomenon is neither space aliens, nor hallucinations, but some other level of reality, which we don't understand yet, and which somehow appears to us through our own cultural filters. So ancient angels, medieval fairies, and modern flying saucers are all the same thing. The video covers the airship flap of the late 1800's, and I would add, from this year, the mysterious drone sightings in Colorado.

Randonauts is about the practice of using random numbers to generate map coordinates, after forming an intention of what you want to find there. This is how the occult works: the first time you do it, you have a good chance of finding something amazing. If you continue doing it, results will get weaker and weaker, until as a whole, the data appear meaningless. Also, it's often how science works.

August 14-17. Important study, Young children would rather explore than get rewards. I think it's obvious that the shift from exploring to reward-seeking, which is normal in this culture, is a fall from grace, and I think it's both good and possible to reverse it.

In game design, reward-seeking is called grinding, and exploration is done in an open world. An open world may contain many grinds, but a grind cannot contain an open world.

A psychologist might call these two mental states reacting and choosing. A Buddhist might say that enlightenment is when choosing becomes your default state. In theater it would be the difference between reading a script and improvising.

When I improvise on piano, I might find a groove, where I keep playing a pattern that sounds good, until I get tired of it and go exploring for another groove. The best musicians make exploring beautiful, like John Cage's Dream.

Matt comments:

There can be freedom and joy within a script too: it's the moment when, as an actor, you realize that you aren't bound by your last performance of the script and that there are dozens of choices in every line. It's that moment where you stop controlling how you look, how you sound, what the lines are supposed to mean. Some lines have more choices and some have fewer, but it's not so much that scripted theatre is 100% destiny where improvisation is 100% freewill.

It's like, for hundreds of years, Buddhist meditators have been asking the same questions: "What is this?" "Who am I?" and so on. They are scripted questions, but they don't have scripted answers. For theatre practitioners, doing Macbeth can be like koan practice. You say the lines, and forget yourself inside the story, and then between your commitment, and abandonment, and the audience's energy and reactions, something emerges. You don't build to the scene where the theme gets clothed in words. You let every piece of the story stand for itself.

August 18. What if Donald Trump were a D&D character? I'm using edition 3.0, and I'll start with the six ability scores, which for normal humans can range from 3-18, where 10.5 is average.

Strength: 5. He's an old man.
Dexterity: 10. He's an okay golfer.
Constitution: 14. He thinks exercise is bad for him, and he's still somewhat healthy at 74.
Intelligence: 7. He's probably never read a book all the way through.
Wisdom: 10. I'm tempted to go much lower, but D&D wisdom includes self-control and intuition.
Charisma: 16. I'm tempted to go higher, but his personal magnetism is better explained as a spell power.

Alignment: Neutral Evil. He's evil because he lacks compassion, seeks power, and has no moral code except what he can get away with. Despite his talk of "law and order", he has shown repeatedly that he's against the rule of law when it contradicts his personal rule, and he takes every opportunity to push America toward disorder. I don't think he's hot-headed or unpredictable enough to be chaotic evil, but this bit from the rulebook does fit him: "Thankfully, his plans are haphazard, and any groups he joins or forms are poorly organized."

Class: Sorcerer. Sorcerers have fewer spells than Wizards, but can cast them more often. Trump has only one spell, an upgraded Mass Charm, which allows him to affect an unlimited number of people through television and social media. Or it could be Hallucinatory Terrain, modified to create a false social and scientific landscape. Instead of feeling angry at Trumpers, I'm just grateful that I made the saving throw.

August 19. Going back two weeks, this subreddit post has some thoughts on game changing 21st century technologies: Mars is impossible to terraform without a magnetic field; a caffeine shortage could cripple the industrial economy; AI will falter when it turns out that human labor is cheaper; biotech and drones could be big.

My favorite idea is that "the cellulase gene could be transferred from snails to humans," so that we could eat wood. That would have huge political effects, because there has never been a repressive society where people could easily live off the land.

But I want to go off on a tangent about the psychology of automation. The most powerful force in the world, and in the end, the only powerful force, is intrinsic motivation. If you want to get squishy, you can call it love. If people love doing something, you don't need to pay them, you don't need to burn oil or build windfarms to get the job done. Money and energy are props to raise and hold up a system that's built out of stuff that no one really wants to do. Also violence.

So mechanization only seems like a good idea in the context of a society that's already built out of onerous tasks. Capitalists can concentrate wealth without having to deal with labor. Progressives can disconnect production from repression. At the logical extreme, everything useful is done by machines, and all human activity is fun and useless.

I mean, I'd love to get high and play games all day while machines do all the work. But that's unrealistic, and more importantly, all things being equal, people would rather be useful.

This short video on desire lines is mostly about footpaths, and how the trend in college campus design is to not make paved paths until the informal paths reveal how people really want to walk. Now we just have to do the same thing with the entire economy.