Wednesday, June 15, 2011

To reiterate: Pleasure is relief

Pleasure results from the termination of a negative state of experience; it is a form of relief.

Remember: It really isn't your "choice" to enjoy what you enjoy about life. If you were to cease all enjoyable activities for even a few days, you'd be dead -- and after a horrific episode of torment and horror at that. We are punished by our central nervous systems for not chasing objects of desire.

The titular maxim is best exemplified in the case of itching. Itching, while not the worst form of suffering imaginable, is nevertheless a negative/unpleasant sensation born from the body's desire to rid itself of some perceived threat to its attempts to stave off systemic decay. People do not enjoying itching; they would rather rid themselves of an itch than allow it to continue unhindered. Ever try ignoring an itch in a hard-to-reach spot on your body? It's incredibly difficult, because itches are meant to be distracting; they're meant to shift your brain's focus from the other negatives you're constantly running from to a fairly immediate -- if usually innocuous -- one.

Ignoring an itch produces a fairly large amount of discomfort and cognitive distraction; it is an undesirable thing. If you ignore an itch, prepare to have your concentration greatly diminished in favor of absurd, obsessive thoughts regarding something silly.

Scratching an itch, on the other hand, feels pleasurable; we sometimes even sigh with satisfaction upon scratching a particularly distracting and uncomfortable itch. Scratching itches is perceived by our brains as a good thing.

Now, after scratching an itch, try scratching where the itch used to be. You'll be using the same fingernails, the same amount of pressure. Why doesn't it feel pleasurable anymore? It's the same skin, composed of the same chemicals. Where did the pleasant scratching sensation disappear to?

The answer is that you needed the bad feeling in order to receive the good one; you needed something negative to be relieved from. You can't just decide on a whim to start scratching all over yourself and expect to enter a state of ecstasy.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Cognitive dissonance as a staple of modern culture

When was the last time that you had an argument with someone? Did either you or the other party end up changing stances by the end? Probably not. More than likely, this is what happened instead:

1. You introduced stance A.

2. They introduced stance B.

3. You provided a fairly sturdy argument for stance A.

4. They provided a fairly transparent argument for stance B -- even if, on the surface, it appeared to have some solidity to it due to its use of platitudes and memorized, regurgitated phrases.

5. The both of you went back and forth for a while, neither budging. Despite their stance being obviously flawed, you couldn't find a way to really hit them over the head and wake them up to this fact.

6. Finally, you introduced a poignant, concise meme which crushed the opposing argument directly and explicitly. The absurdity of the other party's argument was subsequently quite out in the open.

7. The other party replied with "You're starting to frustrate me. Why do you have to overanalyze everything? Can't we talk about something nice for once?"

8. The argument ended abruptly with no resolution and the prospect of such growing vanishingly small. The other party then appeared uncomfortable and confused.

What has just been described, I hypothesize, is the result of terrible parenting. The other party participating in the argument realized, in some recess of their consciousness, that your logic was sound, but another, more biologically beneficial part of their mind interceded.

What happened? Well, during childhood, your conversational partner had probably participated in similar conversations that went something like this:

"Dad, why can't we see god?"

"I don't know, son. That's just the way it is."

"But how can we know he's real if we can't see him?"

"He's testing us. It'll all make sense when you get to heaven. You'll be rewarded for waiting so long!"

"But... how do you know that?"

"Look, he's just real, okay? What's with these questions all of a sudden? I'm trying to watch the news. Why don't you go outside and play ball with the kid next door?"

Upon encountering the problematic "foreign object" within a logic chain, kids are programmed to switch routines and do something personally rewarding or pleasurable. Because our society is relatively affluent, everything from happy meals to high tech video games is almost always a few seconds away from the grasp of children, so there is zero incentive to do "the right thing" when immediate self-satisfaction can so easily be substituted in its place -- with no consequences or scoldings.

The mentality birthed during this period of development apparently carries over into adulthood, where it germinates until it becomes a contributor to the monstrosity that is our current situation.

This is absolutely unacceptable for adult humans in this day and age. We cannot continue to act like children.

The fundamental nature of consciousness-raising

When it comes to memes of such immense gravity that they demand we spread them on a global scale, which do you, personally, think applies?

1. Progress, like the propagation of the memes themselves, is incremental; we must "spread the word" in any way that we can, with every "convert" being an indicator of progress.

2. Progress is spontaneous and holistic; we must find ways to access those methods which are most likely to bring about the change that we desire in a manner akin to searching for the lottery ticket that will be the winner.

I think it's more like 2., in which case, even if you wind up with a "following" of, say, ten million people, in a world of almost seven billion, it may ultimately turn out that you have accomplished nothing at all. When it comes to infrastructure, routines, rituals, and resource management, the nature of "societal transformation" is binary; either you're using the new model or you're not.

Islam, liberalism, and celebrity worship are tough opponents.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

An Ideal Society, Part 3: Communication; Law

Communication is something that we've been bad at from day one. In some ways, we've gotten better at it (e.g. the lack of revenge killings between "groups"), while in others, we've gotten worse (e.g. passive aggression, political correctness, bureaucracy). I'm not sure if we've really broken even per se, but the situation is nevertheless not very good.

What would it look like if it were?

Well, all of our communications media would be consolidated and centrally monitored. At birth, everyone would be assigned an ID number in addition to a name; however, unlike a social security number, this new number would be made available to everyone on Earth by everyone on Earth.

The news media would be incorporated into the future equivalents of RSS feeds and email subscriptions. If, for example, a powerful earthquake were to hit a given part of the world, rather than finding out in a more traditional way, you would receive a news update via email -- not because you'd be subscribed to a service of your own volition, but because the central computer would utilize something like IP broadcasting for sending out messages to all communications addresses on Earth.

For those not familiar with the process, all computers connected to IP-based networks -- or at least those configured to receive their addresses from a server -- must first communicate with any nearby servers in order to negotiate for an address. The problem is thus: How can something ask for an address -- that is, communicate -- without already having an address? Well, the solution to this problem is to design an address which can be utilized by any network object at any given time, but whose messages are also intended for all objects located within a given network segment's boundaries. This allows more or less any network object -- computer, printer, etc. -- to send out a quick, undirected broadcast to as many other objects as possible, with little preconfiguration, and no need to know who to contact beforehand.

In other words, we already have the ability to broadcast messages from one computer to any number of computers at once -- even if we don't know the individual addresses of the recipients; furthermore, rather than needing to keep track of which devices are currently online or within the replication boundaries, we can allow an address to be dedicated to the task of sending messages to every device, regardless of status.

Imagine what the world would be like if we were to apply this concept to the media. You'd no longer receive text messages and voicemails solely from friends, family, and stalkers; you'd also receive them from any number of organizations, including the government (if there were one at all, which there shouldn't be), schools, academies, research centers, your local news station, etc. If you were born into the society, it would be a requirement that you not only possess at least one portable communications device, but that you also be capable of receiving text messages and videos from literally anyone.

Communications devices would each have the future equivalent of a MAC address/IP address hybrid. If you ever wanted to replace your communications device with a new one, you'd simply go to an area where devices are distributed -- regardless of whether you were returning your current device(s) -- and check one out by swiping it through a computer on your way toward the exit; this would update the central database by mapping your personal ID number to the "IP address" of the device, thereby allowing all subnetworks on Earth to realize that, when that "IP address" does something, you're doing it -- not someone else. To put it simply, we'd do away with host names and domain names, and would instead utilize personal names and IDs for everything.

Staying informed would only be the beginning, however. With global broadcasting and a centralized Internet, help could be requested -- and subsequently received -- at lightning speed. Has someone just fallen from a building and shattered his spinal column? Don't call 911; send out a broadcast. Message options would have any number of designations, from "interesting" to "urgent," and everything in between. An urgent message, for example, would cause a person's device to buzz or beep, while most messages would not immediately interfere with daily activities. This way, in the event of an emergency, everyone within a given zone or sector would be aware of the situation. On top of this, if we apply my idea that first aid and mild medical knowledge should be taught at a young age to everyone on Earth, then it would be a rare thing indeed for an accident to go unattended, or to be attended in an untimely fashion.

The world is a big place, of course. Sending out broadcasts to everyone on the planet would be ridiculous; no one would be able to read all of their messages, and the whole system would become pointless in less than a day after its implementation. Therefore, while unicast and multicast messages would remain global in nature, broadcasts would come in three major types:

1. Those sent by the central computer, as input by some body of individuals who've deemed the message(s) globally relevant. These messages would first need to be approved, and would perhaps also need to be limited according to how many messages had recently been sent in succession in this manner. Examples of relevant information might include asteroid impacts, tsunamis, terrorist attacks, and major social transformations.

2. Those sent by anyone who feels that they are educational or otherwise interesting, but not urgent. These would be akin to the news, advertisements, etc., and would be grouped according to category on a central server rather than replicated locally on each individual device. These messages would not be broadcasts in the literal sense, but rather, free information available on the Internet. We more or less already receive these messages today.

3. Emergency messages pertaining to local events, such as a person having a heart attack in the street. These broadcasts would be the only kind that could be sent by an individual communications device, and would be designed with immediacy in mind. They would also be limited to particular population centers; every time that you'd leave a population center for another, in fact, a sensor would get triggered that would update the central computer as to the location of the communications device(s) that you'd be carrying.

If someone were to be assaulted unprovoked and you were a witness to this, you could submit something along the lines of a "trouble ticket" as a broadcast to the entire population center, complete with the approximate time of the interaction and the coordinates of the specific area within the center wherein the interaction occurred. Even if the interaction were to occur within a camera's blind spot, any interested parties could nevertheless consult the logs for the coordinates on the map for who'd triggered the sensors during that time.

For example, if the fight occurred at 30:20 (30 megaseconds and 20 kiloseconds) and you were a witness, you could simply broadcast an "email" that would be sent only to those within the population center; in computing terms, this would be something like how packets of data might only get sent to those hosts defined as within a domain, subdomain, workgroup, etc. behind a particular switch or router.

Next, Wikipedia-style communication would occur between interested individuals, who would then negotiate who got to investigate the skirmish. Because you were directly involved, you would be deemed valuable as a witness, but your role in making decisions would be diminished to prevent biases from influencing the consensus.

After that, logs would be checked in order to determine all of the people who had, from 30:19 to 30:21, walked "into" the invisible lines defining the particular sector of the population center (they would be much like modern alarm systems, only they'd belong to one, unified system, which would know where each sector existed via the previously mentioned GPS system). Whenever a sector's sensor would get triggered, data from a person's communications device would be downloaded to a server; this data would then get logged in order to ascertain which devices last triggered the sensor -- and, by extension, which individuals, as each device, again, must be mapped to a specific person's ID number in the central database.

Each sector, complete with its own unique coordinates, would be relatively small, and perhaps of standard dimensions. Because of the granular nature of each population center, let's say that only twenty individuals other than yourself had been registered as having entered the area during the three kiloseconds wherein the action occurred. Within little time, the people who'd remotely communicated their desire to be involved in evaluating the situation would then be in direct contact with the twenty people who'd been in the area from 30:19 to 30:21. Furthermore, even if you were unable to identify the "suspect," with some interrogation, it wouldn't take long before the investigation party would have an idea as to who perpetrated the assault.

More on interrogation methods, punishment, and the absence of police in a forthcoming post.