Sunday, January 30, 2011

Mental disorders are slavery

Mental afflictions are caused by a combination of genes and environment, but often require a specific configuration of both in order to manifest. Properly changing the environment, then, even without actually changing the genes, would, in most cases, completely eliminate a given "disorder" -- so why, after having developed some arbitrarily defined mental "illness," are we taught that our thoughts are irrational, rather than that there is a mismatch between our genes and our environment?

Simple: because psychiatrists would be out of jobs if there were no more patients to retroactively treat

Imagine a world where, instead of abolishing slavery outright, we felt like we were doing the right thing by teaching American blacks that all that matters is that they're "cured" of their slavery -- while completely ignoring the responsible system. Instead of stopping slavery at its source, we'd "treat" slaves -- the "patients" -- by setting up slave-freeing services, which would require a small fee for our efforts. "Hey, I can get you off of this plantation. Just sign right here, and we'll have someone come by tonight to pick you up. Who's your insurance company?" In such a world, we could make ourselves feel good for freeing finite numbers of slaves while simultaneously making tons of money by doing so, because there would always be more slaves being born into the system to treat after the fact.

Metaphorically speaking, the solution to mental disorders is to abolish slavery (and to educate the population about its adverse effects). Literally speaking, it's to establish an entirely new societal system.

Mental disorders are not unique in this regard, of course. The underlying problem, itself both fundamental and abstract in nature, also manifests in the forms of: police forces, charity organizations, political lobbyists...

Friday, January 28, 2011

I sometimes wonder...

Does the world make progress because people change their minds, or because they die?

Going beyond technical solutions -- into the territory of meta-cognition and abstraction

I'd like to address a commonly held misconception regarding the functioning of human societies -- specifically pertaining to the nature of social conflict. It seems that organizations such as the Venus Project and the Zeitgeist Movement subscribe to the notion that conflict is the result of material scarcity. This concerns me, as I see some potential in the general direction proposed by those organizations -- and am, as always, interested in the revaluation of our society and culture -- but see no merit in passively espousing the "scarcity" point of view.

The problem with this proposed line of thinking is that it brazenly ignores the intensity and fervor with which the average person defends his preconceptions -- about life, politics, economics, religion, practical matters, art. Even in a society free from social stratification, material inequities, barter, ownership, etc., there would still be a need for stringent monitoring of thought systems, for having open access to material resources would in no way mitigate the stresses of philosophical division. For example, sure, there would be less incentive to steal in a society where no one could profit from reselling a stolen item, or where no one would cache items in order to conceal them from neighbors, but would this so-called technical solution have any impact whatsoever on whether someone thought that the purpose of life is to reproduce and have fun? I think not.

Hunter-gatherer societies were almost universally egalitarian, and rarely generated murder or went to war with one another, but they were also notoriously superstitious in constitution. Technical solutions should be greatly favored over the band-aids and services which are in current practice, but they're only part of the solution as long as minds are involved.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

No bad memes -- or no bad brains?

I haven't updated lately, but I honestly haven't had an incentive to. In general, I try to ensure that my updates are emergent, or predicated on an initial interaction between my "self" and some new agent of information; anything else is probably redundant, and I don't really have the energy for redundancy at this time. Sometimes, when a story has reached its conclusion, it really is better to refrain from planning a sequel.

That metaphor was intended to illustrate the necessity of complete thoughts, by the way -- not the completeness of this blog! Challenger thoughts emerge all the time, breeding competition and potential deposition (so it's almost inevitable that there will always be more to do), but when there is no signal, you probably shouldn't parade the champion around for longer than is necessary -- from a purely efficiency standpoint.

In the absence of anything particularly new or untouched upon that might warrant elaboration, I'll post the following thought that I had today:

Conditioning humans according to their various needs and capacities is presently of importance, but, given that any "well-nurtured" individual's brain would generate drastically different behaviors and beliefs in the absence of its currently held memes, there lies a fault not only in the memes emerging from human processes, but in the brain itself. In short, being capable of giving birth to a new meme which is systemically unstable or negative by design is equally as problematic as being capable of possession by that meme after it has emerged elsewhere, in another brain.

Even if we were to fix all extant systems and systems components which constitute society as we know it, the naked human brain would still pose a security threat to every sentient organism on the planet. Is augmentation a supportable solution? I don't know; funding is so scarce in that field that almost no research has actually been done to the end of finding out.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Ideas should do battle... fairly

The process of memetic selection, while possible in the face of apathy, or even a lack of awareness that it is ongoing, appears best conducted with a certain degree of seriousness and passion for making progress. This entails not only that those involved should hear all new information introduced by a peer, but also that such information should be presented as though it bears considerable gravity upon the circumstance of being human.

The real issue, though, is that it's hard to make a fight of ideas fair; everyone seems to possess some kind of preconditioned conception of what the best course of action is, and either is unwilling to hear the opposition, or sees the fight itself as some kind of bizarre, frivolous game where the goal is to win (especially where an "in-group" is watching, or where there is some set of figurative "belongings" to guard and protect). Cognitive biases, when combined with a genuine lack of respect for the pursuit of understanding, breed cheating in the forms of: slander, trolling, character assassination, poisoning the well, group bullying, scare tactics, threats, red herrings, being louder than your opponent, sticking your fingers in your ears, propaganda, falsely associating an idea with something obviously stupid or horrible, hyperbole, making unfair comparisons....

You get the idea.

If you have your "thing" that you like to do, and define yourself by that "thing," you're going to do everything that you can to make sure that you are "the one who does his thing" -- even if it means throwing sand in someone's face, distracting the fighters, or otherwise throwing a wrench into the works. Not only is this unfair, it's unproductive, and usually an implicit admission of a lack of regard for the process of selecting the best ideas; this lack is corrosive to mutually beneficial "discussion" relationships, and often leads to unnecessary conflict, passive aggression, and other negative "forces" which have absolutely no business in any selection process -- whether of ideas or something else.

I couldn't fathom a scientific, peer reviewed journal being criticized by a particular institution with terse comments like, "Are you kidding me? Do you really think that Neanderthal DNA is present in the human genome?" or "Oh God, not more of that 'dark energy' crap again. Save it, Einstein," or "What you have to say about the structure of the DNA molecule is nice and all, but don't you hate Jews? Get out of here, Jew-hater!"

If you don't have respect for the rules of the game, don't play.

A note before you comment: There was a misunderstanding or two recently in some of the comments sections of my posts. It is unlikely that this post is referring to you personally in any way, regardless of who you are; clarification was provided in at least one instance. My mind works by relation, meaning that I get ideas based on tangential experiences; the ideas are very rarely direct reactions. This post applies universally, as far as I can tell, and is something that all of mankind should heed.

Quick update

This is just another blog-centric update.

Since comments are now being posted slightly more frequently, I've decided to have a closer look at some of the settings for this blog. First order of business: I've eliminated the previously mandatory image verification captcha in order to streamline the commenting process. Apparently, I don't have to enter a word prior to commenting because I own the blog, but I don't see how that's fair, and those distorted images are obnoxious in my opinion. For now, you don't have to worry about them.

I'll bring this feature back if it turns out that there are legitimate spammers. If you have experience with these things on your own blog, let me know whether getting rid of the captcha verification system is a bad idea on my part.

To all non-registered, potentially anonymous readers, if you exist: You can now comment as well. Sorry! I wasn't aware that the default was to prevent anonymous users from commenting. If you do have an account but would prefer to remain anonymous, you can now also choose the option to post a comment anonymously -- without even having to log out of your account.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Do you agree with the following premise?

Life should be stopped.

I haven't made up my mind yet; I think it's too early to tell. The marriage between sentience -- or, at least, deprivation and negative sensation -- and life may end at some point.

However, I can imagine that stopping life will ultimately prove to be a good thing. Such a scenario seems perfectly reasonable to me.

The next questions:

When should life be stopped?

How should life be stopped?

I've provided some possibilities in my last two posts. I don't accept them, and I don't reject them.

I wonder about them, and hope that anyone reading this does as well.


1. I think that life beyond Earth is likely to be uncommon, if it exists at all.

2. If life does exist beyond Earth -- even in vast quantities -- I still think that complex life is probably rare.

3. It's unlikely that we'll ever leave the solar system. In all likelihood, if we're still around at the end of the sun's life, we'll die with it.

4. It's unlikely that we'll ever accomplish anything of importance with respect to the overall processes of evolution and life on Earth.

5. The concept of a multiverse seems completely laughable to me -- not because I think it's impossible, but merely because it seems untestable and, in all likelihood, irrelevant to anything that we do with our time here.

6. I highly doubt Ray Kurzweil's claims of an impending technological singularity, and think that he has greatly misapplied several key variables, while potentially ignoring many others.

7. Artificial intelligence is likely a very, very difficult and expensive endeavor. I don't expect that it will occur in my lifetime.

8. We won't know the ultimate outcomes of any of the above unless we give them a try. Furthermore, we should abandon any tests, implementations, designs, or plans should they prove too costly, or even detrimental to sentience.

The problem, to me, is that I don't know what will be possible billions of years in the future, given the enormous number of variables involved in human consciousness and its physical manifestations, so anyone who claims to know for certain what will happen over such preposterous time spans, then proceeds to declare humanity in need of disappearing from the universe, strikes me as someone who has drawn a premature conclusion. "Of COURSE nothing important is going to happen elsewhere. This place sucks; let's kill ourselves, leaving the universe to its own devices, because that plan will eliminate our suffering, and we already know that nothing more important will ever happen anywhere, ever" just doesn't cut it for me.

Don't worry; I'm not a Jew-hating Holocaust denier.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

On voluntary human extinction

In a nutshell: I'm currently against it. Feel free to try to convince me of its worth, but keep in mind the high probability that I've already heard your argument in some form, somewhere.

Voluntary human extinction implicitly assumes that the rather logical notion of reducing suffering in the absence of consent is equally as valid as the subjective notion that one's own life is not worth living. To me, the idea that everyone must be convinced that their own personal lives are horrible is just as repugnant and idiotic as the idea that children should accept the fact that they emerged involuntarily. This is only the start of my contention, however, as I don't even think that the choice to continue living, once born, is entirely psychological, or an individual choice to be made.

Proponents of voluntary extinction make claims of either 1. the amount of suffering introduced by our existence at the expense of other life (the amount of resources that you consume that could go to a deer or cat instead, for example), or 2. the amount of potential suffering that we could unknowingly introduce by accident, via sensation and deprivation, simply by existing. This doesn't make sense to me, as 1. implies that we are currently capable of defining every variable involved in determining the outcome of the equation, and 2. ignores all of the suffering that we may be able to prevent by existing, given the possibility of eternity, and of the existence of sentience in multiple locales.

In the case of 1., it is certainly possible that automated, technological means of redesigning the natural world could emerge at some point, capable of removing negative sensation from that environs. In both cases, given that we can't predict future suffering with any degree of accuracy for now, it makes more sense to voluntarily exist to the end of learning more about our predicament than it does to voluntarily disappear from the universe outright. How irresponsible the alternative must be, if it indeed turns out that trillions of planets contain or will contain mass-energy configurations similar in content and substance to whales and buffalo, and that we can do something about it!

We may suffer as a result, but we've chosen to -- rationally, based on a thorough assessment of our circumstance and the need to withhold judgment in the absence of a more all-encompassing value equation. We may accidentally impose harm onto other sentient creatures as a consequence of our existence as well, but this is necessary if we are ever to determine the scope of reality as we know it, and, thus, the suffering contained therein.

Note, also, that artificial intelligence and the eventual replacement of the central nervous system with a superior, efficient body alert system may be possible, meaning that, in the future, humans (or intelligences, more accurately) may become physically incapable of suffering. The fundamentals of life are probably already understood in our current time, but again, that says nothing of our scope of the problem, so why shouldn't we augment our bodies while in pursuit of a working picture and understanding of what, elsewhere, warrants solutions?

But what if everyone decides that they, personally, cannot handle the horrors of life in the meantime? What if there, eventually, are no volunteers for the job at all? This is why I made the above statement that whether someone should kill himself is not a decision to be made individually. In our present time, this is true thanks to the potential existence of friends and relatives, who may suffer greatly as a consequence of a person's suicide; eventually, it may be true in the face of sentience -- and, thus, value -- emerging over and over again (even if only in different iterations of the universe, given that possibility as proposed by M-theory) in a state of ignorance.

On practical decision-making once again

While I concede that I may not, in fact, know anything at all -- and that my senses cannot be used to validate themselves -- beyond this initial concession of potential ignorance, I will still pragmatically make decisions as though they are the best -- even in the absence of absolute evidence in my favor, or a way of absolutely verifying the integrity of my actions. For example, I can claim that my senses appear to indicate that there is no god, or that suffering is valuable, without knowing these things for certain, because, by living, I appear to be continuously acting, and my senses give me "leads" of potential validity. You can claim that my lack of certainty precludes my justifying any action -- and that, consequently, all actions are equally invalid, capable of being chosen at random based on no metric of value whatsoever -- but do you really practice this? Of course not, as it's impossible to be sentient while doing so, unless schizophrenic, psychopathic, et al.

Let's use a less abstract, practical example, instead of god or suffering: A plane in the midst of crashing is headed right for where you're standing. You may not know for certain that the plane will crash into you and kill you, but that does not make the idea that you will survive, or that the plane doesn't actually exist, somehow equally as justifiable as the idea that it's best to move out of the way. It's okay to concede that you don't really know whether it's best to get out of the way while still getting out of the way, and no one would really do otherwise outside of some useless, abstract world of irrelevant philosophizing. For as long as you live, there is no such thing as "not choosing." Further, while it's certainly possible that standing still and getting out of the way are equally valid in this scenario, no one would ever act at random upon realizing this, making it completely irrelevant to our lives.

The opposite approach -- certainty of belief -- is a fundamental cause of human conflict, for it promotes static systems, and denies the process of scientific refinement, or the prospect of being in error. It doesn't matter whether the generalization-borne conflict in question is the Holocaust, an argument between you and your girlfriend, or someone rolling their eyes at a creationist for "not knowing what they're talking about"; it's the same exact error in every instance.

Furthermore, the idea that nothing is justifiable is itself something implicitly justified by the senses, and is thus a statement of absolute certainty lacking in any kind of solid basis whatsoever. When asked how they know that no action can ultimately be justified, proponents of this view will simply respond, "Because they don't appear justifiable." In what way is appearance ever justifiable, other than as a potential lead? How do you know that nothing can be known, and if you can't know this, then why should our senses and absolutely nothing be put on equal grounds? Finally, how do all actions not appear justifiable? From what are we deriving this conclusion? Plenty of actions appear perfectly justifiable to me, given variable constraints, problem scope, etc.; if you disagree, then this is where some form of scientific consensus via repetition and peer review comes into play.

The realm of sensory data and and its interpretors may be limiting, but we are enslaved by it, whether we like it or not.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Aphorism: Nature

I've said it here before, but I might as well reiterate with an aphorism: If you don't pick sexual partners based entirely* on looks, then you shouldn't choose Mother Nature based entirely on hers.

Also, you can think that she beats you because she loves you all that you want, but that shouldn't stop someone from calling the cops when one of your domestic battles gets out of hand.

* I think that all sexual partners are ultimately chosen for more or less superficial reasons -- physical or otherwise -- but that's beside the point of the metaphor.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Explicitly defining value equations

There has been some chatter in a comments section of one of my posts lately, so I figured I'd make an official follow-up post outlining what I use to make decisions in life. This way, I'll avoid annoying people with double and triple commenting. Here you go:

As far as values are concerned,

Object A + Valued Quality X = Object B + Valued Quality X


Object A + Valued Quality X ≠ Object B + Valued (or not valued) Quality Y


Object A + Valued Quality X ≠ Object B - Valued Quality X

Choosing between two foods which your taste buds perceive in ways that are virtually indistinguishable to you, the macro-scale observer, does not require a practical decision-making process, because both foods share the quality of "delicious" in almost equal amounts and configurations. However, there had to have been a preceding decision -- the decision to eat something delicious, which was made practically based on qualitative analysis of the quality of "delicious" and its competitors. Once you've chosen to eat something delicious -- instead of to eat something disgusting, for example -- so long as what you're being presented with possesses this quality, your decision-making job is done.

Forget about physical objects; they're just convenience abstractions, mental projections of the external world. What really matters are the qualities that these abstractions harbor -- and in what amounts and configurations they exist.

Facts about the not-so-average person living in Western society

1. They often move seamlessly from government positions to high-paying corporate ones and back again, with no one asking any questions.

2. Very few of them wind up in their positions as a result of smart business ideas or luck. Most are where they are thanks to connections, cronyism, and inheritance.

3. They don't know what they're doing, even if it may seem as though they're part of some conspiring global hegemony. No one does anything to stop them not because of some brilliant conspiracy, but because the public also benefits from their profiteering, and are too selfish to give up their materialistic lifestyles to even out the global distribution of wealth.

4. Most of what they do is perfectly legal.

5. Their primary tactic is to install corporate strongholds in impoverished countries under the veneer of "helping" them, then force them to either repay the huge debts that they accrue or start exporting their most valuable resources in astronomical amounts. Over time, this parasitic relationship leads to increased levels of violence and poverty within the dependent countries, all to the benefit of contractors, bankers, et al.

6. They've set up the United States such that practically everything of material value that exists there comes from overseas, meaning that the rest of the world has been exploited and crippled to this end.

7. They've killed off all ideologies that have traditionally been associated with the elite (Christianity, for example), and have consequently transitioned from being ideologues to pure profit-seekers.

8. They use the electoral college to provide a layer of abstraction between "the people" and themselves, just in case someone from outside the bipartisan divide gains popularity.

9. Almost none of them is elected by anyone, as most of them are CEOs and their associates. Given that corporations influence politicians to an incredible degree, and control almost all of the world's resources, more of us should be deeply concerned that no one elects businessmen into "office." Furthermore, most of us work for them for the majority of our days -- and thus, lives -- so the choice between one kind of President and another is a facade which distracts from our inability to vote for those who actually influence our lives.

10. They possess no technical knowledge whatsoever, and have consequently never built or designed anything in their lives. Who was the last President to advertise his former success as an architect, engineer, systems designer, programmer, surgeon, or nuclear physicist?

11. They have to lie in order to do their jobs -- to prospective customers in an effort to downplay competitors' advantages, by defending the obviously guilty in courtrooms, etc.

12. They design things to not last. The quicker that something breaks, the quicker that a profit can be turned when a consumer inevitably purchases a replacement. This practice is known as planned obsolescence, and it isn't illegal.

13. They provide us with the illusion of power by giving us a choice between two virtually identical candidates in the realm of Presidential politics -- long after they've chosen the candidates without our involvement. Before the DNC and RNC, where do the prospective Presidential candidates come from? Why is it that we've usually never heard of the choices forced upon us until they're being suggested as candidates at the last minute? Furthermore, what wars, laws, or stimulus packages do we vote for? Why do the elite make those decisions for us?

14. They create money out of thin air based on government bonds, which are themselves created out of thin air. This process is further compounded by fractional reserve banking, which allows banks to create even more money out of thin air based on the reserve requirement. Finally, interest rates are applied such that the amount of money owed by borrowers always exceeds the actual sum total of money extant in the economy, with most of that money (as a result of the fractional reserve banking mentioned above) existing only in digital form.

15. They're going to die. No amount of money, yachts, or mansions can make morphine a stronger anesthetic against bone cancer, and the more terminal illnesses evaded over the years, the more likely that a given person will contract a similarly painful form of cancer in the end.

Facts about the average person living in Western society

1. They get divorced around half the time that they get married. If you believe in the meme of relationships and are currently in one, flip a coin; if heads, you and your partner will stay together; if tails, you won't.

2. They invest an absurd amount of time and energy into future events which they perceive to be building blocks for the ideal life. Often, this time and energy is proven a waste when a divorce, death, etc. with a high probability of occurring actually does occur.

3. They believe that the next idealized object of desire that they obtain will make them happy, even though this has never happened for anything to have ever lived, and there will inevitably be more such idealized objects for them long after the present ones have been obtained.

4. They're each about eight thousand dollars in credit card debt, to say nothing of the debt accrued as a result of loans from banks. Compound this with the fact that 19% or more of the original amount of the debt is repaid in interest over absurd periods of time.

5. When receiving loans or government aid, they waste it on cars, boats, televisions, and other luxury items, none of which helps their financial situations.

6. They complain about the price of gas, but drive to all kinds of unfulfilling, boring, and frivolous places of entertainment, thus wasting far more gas than they need to.

7. They complain about the wars that the government fights overseas, but when made aware that it is precisely these wars that permit them to use cheap gas, they don't mind looking the other way as innocent people die.

8. Almost all of them have to resort to drugs -- or alcohol, at the least -- to cope with the stresses of life. When a person refuses an alcoholic drink, he is often met with scorn, ridicule, or at least bemusement.

9. They all claim to not have the time to change the world, write books, start a blog, etc. -- because of work, school, children, etc. -- but seem to have plenty of time to watch sports, go to bars, and update Facebook pages.

10. When arguing or presenting information on a given topic, they are extremely confident in their certainty of holding the right position. Credentials, experience, and omniscience are not important to them, no matter how many millions of people are made aware of their suppositions. If they weren't there when it happened or didn't go to school to learn about the topic, it doesn't matter to them -- they are amazing and wise. Always.

11. Their lives are not as good as they think they are. A third of them is spent asleep; another third is spent enduring passive aggression, inhumanly fast work, and performance reports; the last third is spent feeling hungry, horny, lonely, thirsty, curious, depressed, anticipatory, or the need to go to the bathroom -- with the obtained goal of each of those drives lasting as few as several seconds, in some cases. Ever meditate? If not, try it; you'll become aware of just how uncomfortable you really are, both mentally and physically, throughout your day.

12. Nearly one hundred percent of them has had the flu, a stomach virus, or has experienced some form of vomiting or diarrhea at least once in their lives.

13. Almost all of them will lose loved ones, and may feel absolutely devastated as a result.

14. They're all going to die, and even the "religious" ones don't really believe in Heaven anymore.