"We need to institutionalize people in order to prevent them from hurting themselves" has the same memetic-superweapon structure as "We need to torture terrorists to get them to tell us where they've hidden the suitcase nuke." The scenario as stated obviously has consequentialist merit (death is worse than prison, megadeaths are worse than torture), so you'd have to be some kind of huge asshole—or a former suspected terrorist—to say, "I claim that this hypothetical scenario is not realized nearly as often as you seem to be implying and therefore falsifiably predict that many of your alleged real-world examples will fall apart on further examination."
"—but I am not a vengeful man."
"I mean, I'm proportionately vengeful, within the bounds of the moral law."
"I know it might seem like a lot to ask, but I wouldn't hesitate to do the same for you if our positions were reversed."
"I don't doubt that. But I can't help but notice that it would be easier for you to say it if the fact that they aren't reversed is—somehow—not a coincidence."
"I can't stand being apart any longer. You win. Whatever your demands are, I'll meet them."
"I want you to stop thinking of everything as a negotiation and relate to me as a human being."
"Okay, maybe not that one."
"I'm going to need about 600 bits of entropy for this. Can you go the store and pick up some playing cards for me? Let's see, six hundred divided by log-base-two fifty-two-factorial—yes, three packs should be enough."
(Later, opening them ...)
"Plastic flowers? Seriously?"
"They'll last forever! Much like my love for you."
Today, we celebrate the end of the first of no more than three world wars.
It's the tenth day of the third November of my life (that I am willing to admit to), and I am determined to wring some sort of high-sounding interpretation out of the cool air and damp sidewalks: perhaps a contrast, something about the events that directly prompt fundamental life changes (on the one hand), and the events that indirectly catalyze fundamental life changes by means of enabling the construction of a legible narrative in which the changes can be plausibly attributed to them (on the other).
Today I am constructing a narrative about my life fundamentally changing because the coffee hegemon has started selling those medicinal (right) cranberry/cream-cheese triangles again. Not that hastening my inevitable horrible cardiac death with dessert bars is like a series arc or anything, but it's a thing I learned today that is salient enough to be repurposed as a trigger, a reminder that the autumn–winter windustrial complex is upon us again, that this is supposed to be my favorite time of year, that there simply is no reason I won't attune myself to perceive nature's cyclic harmonies, then perform every San Francisco software engineer's sacred duty and disrupt the living fuck out of them.
—and the moment or more than a moment when the dam breaks, when the damned break and the void inside their skulls is filled (the atmosphere rushing in quickly, but not so quickly that one couldn't sense its motion) with the terror that is knowledge of the specter of continuity: that there have never been, and can never be, any miracles.
For to be saved is only to be some distance in the initial conditions from being damned, some lesser distance from being half-damned ... some δ-distance from being ε-damned. And the complement of the shadow we cast on the before-time contains its limits.
Wow, has it already been a year since last RustConf?—give or take the exact date of the event sliding a bit between years—and give a month-and-a-half of procrastination before being truly struck by the mounting realization that my opportunity to blog something about it before the opportunity expires has almost—but crucially, not quite—faded into oblivion. And a year-and-a-quarter since my first contribution to the compiler? I've recently moved into the top hundred contributors by commit count, because GitHub's contributors graph page only goes down to a hundred and my life is controlled by what things GitHub happens to provide graphs for.
So in the evening of Wednesday 15 August, I boarded the Amtrak Coast Starlight at Jack London Square station in Oakland for the long pilgrimage north to Portland to visit friend of the blog Sophia and attend this year's RustConf.
The train was nearly three hours late. (More like Slowest Starlight, am I right?)
On Thursday, I convened a Berkeley Slate Star Codex meetup in exile with Sophia and another local.
I don't think I was very well-prepared to take advantage of the conference itself this time around. I attended the Friday "advanced" training session, but the content was mostly the same as last year (I probably should have chosen the Tock session instead), and I don't actually own a laptop (I used "my" employer-owned laptop last year), and trying to make do with my accessorized phone and the playground was not an optimized experience.
Then the day of the conference itself, I overslept (and left my badge at Sophia's house), and had a high-neuroticism day induced by social-media drama that I had inflicted on myself the previous night, which distracted me from the content of the talks and the challenge of actually connecting with people on the hallway track (the most valuable part of any conference).
But, you know, there will be other conferences. Rust isn't going anywhere. And neither am I.
Except, you know, to Portland or wherever for the occasional conference.
At a party! A party with the empirical cluster in personspace! I used to treasure these nights, which seemed then to sparkle with the promise of another world, back during the golden age. The atmosphere feels different now. The same scene, with much of the same people and operating at what should be the same frequency, but I can't help but feel that what was once the promise of a grander mode of existence has decayed, in a decade, into the familiar rhythms of the human.
Has the promise been fulfilled? My disquieting sense of something missing to be attributed to one of the standard heuristics and biases?—hedonic adaptation. Have I grown—and then what am I to make of the exact relative ordering of the automatically returned question-completions old, up, and the empty word? But it stretches credulity to suggest that the true topography of the moral universe would put what I want to call "the golden age" in the past.
As always, I should have rehearsed. People's perceptions of party protocol are predictable, the popular precession of preambles and progress reports—excuse me. What I mean is that there is a limited selection of questions people ask new and old friends at a party, a finite and small repertoire of introductions and catching-ups, and if you know the questions in advance, you would think it would be a matter of the common courtesy of optimizing everyone's experience to prepare answers in advance. It's not just a matter of winning a greater share of the zero-sum component of the party. (Although there is that, which is why both members of the An Algorithmic Lucidity readership are presently gearing up their text editors for the inevitable Well-actually-it-should-be-constant-sum comment. Alright, guys, I was asking for that one—or I might as well have been, up to a positive affine transformation.) It's a matter of the commons. You want to impress at a party, but to parties worth impressing.
Only I never think to rehearse, and my social performance tonight is wild, all over the map, depending on where the bravery spinner is pointing at this particular moment and whether my cache is cold. I manipulate the flow of one conversation deftly with fine rudder movements ("I see my reputation has preceded me"); in another, beyond misplay, I'm a rock ("Um. Stuff").
Resting in a corner away from the crowd, it's these stretches of boredom and wistfulness in the night here at the center of the world that cannot be forgiven, each passing second of seeing marred with not wanting to see, the meaning of these past months' morning sloth and slovenliness, always to be forsworn and always to be repeated, when I meant, I meant—Amenta? I meant to do that, I could claim, but it's not clear that I would be in any way more redeemable if the wastefulness of my abyss had been entirely accidental—or at least not just a matter of simple cowardice.
Do I dare / Disturb the universe? Few remember the face of the man who answered "No"—and ceased to exist.
A woman of wisdom tells me: the thing-that-creates is smarter than the thing-than the thing-that-judges. And all I can do is hope that that's enough.
For science! At a party!
"The key to retail success is low prices."
"And you make up for that by selling a lot more stuff?"
"Oh, wow, I hadn't thought of that," she said, with seemingly genuine surprise. "Actually, we make up for it by low wages." She patted his arm. "But your idea might work, too—in theory."
math is hard; let's go shopping—for study aids and flash cards
I quit my dayjob a few months ago. I said I was taking a sabbatical from my programming career to work on my own projects: there's a lot of math that I've been wanting to learn properly for a long time (game theory, Bayesian networks/structual causal models, analysis), and there's a lot of writing that I fear I must do (although for branding and market-segmentation purposes, I'm pretending that's someone else's story).
I have made some progress on these goals, but—as one would have predicted from an Outside (i.e., No Fun) View model trained on my historical behavior during periods of underemployment- or school-holiday-induced freedom—it's been disappointingly slow on a day-to-day level: it is easier to let an hour blur by in daydreams or low-quality internet reading than it is to actually study or actually write, and a day is only made of so many hours.
My dominant emotions surrounding this observation are guilt and shame. Guilt: that I'm failing my moral responsibility to be intellectually productive, a duty owed to the human spirit and maybe even the Bayes-structure itself. Shame: that a hypothetical adversary could use the fact of my slothfulness as evidence against my beauty, that the failure to live up to the promise of my ideals could be construed to deny or disparage the ideal itself.
Well, I do have a moral responsibility to be intellectually productive which is owed to the human spirit; this cannot be doubted. But I've been wondering lately if it might be better to let go of the shame and even most of the guilt. This not because shame and guilt can't be useful emotions, but rather that I might be thought of as having outgrown them.
I think the shame is born of insecurity: I spent a lot of years resenting school and resenting a culture that didn't have a concept of intellectual life or paths to economic success outside of school, resulting in a desperate need to prove myself: if I don't create given the time and freedom to do so, couldn't pawns of the system use it as ammunition to sneer at me and proclaim that no one can possibly do anything worthwhile without a teacher to command them to do it? And if I don't create, would they even be wrong?
Having something to prove was a useful motivation—it drove me to learn math, at least, to an extent that's probably hard to motivate without a status gradient at work. But now, at age 29—thanks to the software industry for a niche where my talents are economically legible, thanks to the aspiring-rationalist subculture for a community where I feel respected—I think I've exited the world I resented. Whatever I had to prove, I've either proved it by now or have extracted myself from the need to please any doubters.
What, then, should take the place of a desperate need to prove one's value as a source of motivation? What is to be the new emotional reaction to observations of slow progress, if not shame and horror and fear at what my enemies would make of this?
Shame creates an incentive to deny or minimize the culpable action, to distort the map of what actually happened in order to protect oneself: "I didn't do that; it's not what it looks like." I think I would prefer to draw on sources of motivation that don't have this property, that can accept the reality of what actually happened without pain ...
Ayn Rand said that a Spanish proverb said that God said, "Take what you want, and pay for it."
But instructions from God would be redundant. Matter does not obey physical law out of fear of punishment or a sense of moral duty; what we call a "law" is a characterization of that which exists. So too with this.
"Apparently there are hobbyists who try to build nuclear weapons—all they need is the plutonium."
"I was given to understand plutonium is hard to get."
"Yes, there are good reasons for this."
"What, the anthropic principle?"
"... and when we want to look at just a subset of the variables in a joint distribution, we have to sum over all the other variables: the probability that X is blue, is equal to the probability that both X is blue and Y is blue, plus the probability that X is blue and Y is red, plus ... and so on for all the values Y could take. We call this marginalizing over Y to get the marginal distribution for X. Note that you can think about this as taking an expected value. Does that make sense?"
"Ummm ... ye-es?"
"You don't sound very confident."
"The exact referent of the word that in 'Does that make sense?' was ambiguous, because it was preceded by a long, multi-part explanation. Most of the potential referents made perfect sense, but my response had to average over all of them, hence the hesitation and uncertain tone."
Hey. Just so you know.
Today while I was walking to the store to procrastinate from writing a big autobiographical post for my new ("new") secret ("secret") blog, a woman asked me if she could borrow a dollar, and I said, "Sorry, not today," and it wasn't until afterward that the thought even occurred to me that I might have responded by opening up a negotiation about interest rates, or that my saying "not today" could be construed as meaning that I might lend her a dollar on some future day, even though it seemed unlikely that the woman and I would meet again and remember that we were meeting again.
So, I'm not inhuman.
Although, as far as humanity goes, it is interesting to note that in that earlier-blogged incident when I was inhuman, the person asking for money ended up with three dollars, and this time, she ended up with none.
But you shouldn't exonerate me yet. While leaving the store, I overheard a canvasser saying that he was helping the Southern Poverty Law Center fight descrimination, and I didn't resist the urge to look over my shoulder and say, "Discrimination is Bayesian reasoning applied to human beings!"
But not loud enough for anyone to take notice. So, there's that.
"Are you eating ice because you're autistic, or because you have an iron deficiency?"
"I think because it's there?—after drinking all of the iced-coffee. Like, Alicorn had an iron deficiency on account of being female and vegetarian, but I don't have either of those problems ... I mean, problems with respect to iron levels."
ADDENDUM (20 May): "Like, I wish I had exactly one of those problems."