Harvesting Predictability

The difficulty of predicting things is, like many human endeavors, intuitively viewed with a competitive model. We only really give credit to people for forecasting when their abilities exceed our own, and at higher levels when they exceed the best that humanity can martial. Few are impressed by 100% accurate predictions of eclipses now that orbital mechanics is well understood, but once this was thought to be wisdom bordering on magic. The edge of predictability, which is in reach of some people, but not others is where it can be harvested for value.

On the other side of the Chinese Room

Searle writes in his first description of the argument: “Suppose that I'm locked in a room and … that I know no Chinese, either written or spoken”. He further supposes that he has a set of rules in English that “enable me to correlate one set of formal symbols with another set of formal symbols”, that is, the Chinese characters.

Use Four Ancient Methods of "Ars Memorativa" to Master Your Memory

How memory techniques work

Our memory is not equally well suited to all tasks. Some things are surprisingly easy to remember (like where our bed was in our childhood bedroom), others are quite difficult, like a random sequence of numbers. The art of memory is about figuring out how to use the strongest aspects of memory for everything, rather than about how to make our memory as a whole stronger. A physical analogy might be learning to lift things with our legs, rather than working on making our arms stronger.

10 things I learned on a 10 day silent meditation retreat

This Sunday1 I returned from a 10 day silent vipassina retreat done at one of S. N. Goenka's center's in central Washington state. Goenka's courses are free, and happen regularly at centers outside most major cities. If you find yourself interested it's worth reading more about, and trying out.

How to use two metaphors for the mind to discover discipline

The most common bit of feedback I heard about my essay "Little know ways to think about discipline" could best be summarized as "Discipline is not distinct from motivation". That is to say that "We clearly always do what we are motivated to do, and sometimes that may appear to look like discipline from the outside". Let's call that capital M "Motivation"

Within the framing of the Motivation, the complaint is a good one, but it's also semantically reasonable to describe motivation as only inducements which appear below the level of consciousness. Others might call these needs, drives, or desires but there is no doubt that they exist. It can be useful to cut Motivation up into several categories of which discipline is one. To use this model in discussing discipline we clearly must decide on the other categories as well. How few sub-categories of Motivation are we able to create while still arriving at a coherent picture? Can we keep them roughly balanced in size such that discipline does not seem overly large or absurdly small?

One of the best place to look for a collection of very high level motivators is Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.
Each of these is itself an excellent example of a motivator, but this model is still slightly too fine-grained for the level of metaphor I seek. Rather than abandon it completely, I suggest we combined the Physiological & Safety needs together in order to produce something that looks a lot like our broader inducement to homeostasis. This powerful drive can be thought of as our animal need for survival, our "lizard brain"...

11 Reasons to Let Peter Singer's Child Drown

Every time you buy anything fun, Peter Singer drowns a child

I don't hate Peter Singer because he's wrong, stupid, or foolish. I hate him for being persuasive, convincing, and demanding the utterly overwhelming from me.

If you have never read his essay "Famine, Affluence and Morality" you should. Sitting at it's heart is a hypothetical: if I am walking past a shallow pond and see a child drowning in it, I ought to wade in and pull the child out. This will mean getting my clothes muddy, but this is insignificant, while the death of the child would presumably be a very bad thing.

Singer goes on to argue cogently that every developing-world starving child is essentially the same as his hypothetical drowning child and that the only moral course is to rescue that child, and as many others as possible. Singer suggests that we are obliged to rescue as many of these drowning children as possible. He extends a "Reductio ad absurdum"1 line of reasoning to the conclusion that we are obligated to donate nearly all of our money to the most effective charity we can find. Then he doesn't dismiss it as "absurd", but instead takes that conclusion seriously, and leaves each of us staring at that ethical reality.

I can't handle that moral reality because it feels correct, and it leaves me in an eternal state of guilt about every non-optimal action I take. The emotional context: "Every time I go to a concert, Singer's child drowns" is just not sustainable.

With awareness that these arguments are born not from unbiased investigation, but rather from self-interest and the need to wiggle my way out of a moral prison, I present 11 arguments against. You should read this with the same incredulity that you read the bankers argument that he is underpaid.

In his example Singer conflates several intense moral issues. It involves children, suffering, urgency, and death all at once. If we break these things apart, we start to see different answers.

What would our moral inclination be if we eliminated death and lowered the stakes: you are walking to work and see a child with a skinned knee crying. You could pause on your way for just a moment and comfort the child (and in this example, you know it would work) but it would make you a moment or two late. The moral imperative becomes much less clear in this case. It does seem like it would be nice to comfort the child, but it doesn't seem like an obligatory moral response.

What if we raise the stakes again...

Have Spirituality and Ethics Outgrown Each Other?

A Spiritual Being Displaying Questionable Ethics.

One way we can divide systems of culture is by their basic approach to knowledge. Some are essentially declarative (that is, they dictate the truth with finality), while others are essentially explorative (that is, they don't claim to know the truth, but rather to be seeking it). An observable pattern in explorative culture and knowledge systems is the tendency to explode into an ever broadening fractal of fields and subfields, subjects gradually separating themselves from each other into specialties. Typically, each of these subfields becomes loosely coupled with its parent, able to support itself and its assertions independently.

Declarative systems of thought, conversely, appear to absorb subjects into themselves, forming one accretion of interdependent statements. This mass of statements may wind up collected into one canonical published source. The Bible is a pretty good example of this process. The Bible is not a specifically religious book. The word "bible" literally translates from Greek as "the books". It contains cutting-edge (circa 400 BCE) thinking on natural philosophy, politics, medicine, law, history, ethics, agriculture, poetry, and spirituality, all in one massive lump.

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