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.

Do You Know The 6 Types Of Worship?

I spent most of my life, even the large part of it where I was a practicing Jew, deeply skeptical of worship. It seemed demonstrable that prayer didn't work, and this strongly pushed me to think of religion as essentially a sham.

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.

Be More Effective by Letting Your Cognitive Bias Run Free

A cognitive bias is a recurring illogical pattern of thought or judgment that appears in most people. That's a fancy way of saying it's something that people always seem to think about the wrong way, or a common mistake. An easy cognitive bias to observe is “the bandwagon effect”, which is believing something is reasonable or true simply because many other people think that it's reasonable or true.

There is a strong, but rarely explicitly made, suggestion regarding cognitive biases: we should attempt to eliminate them from our thinking. On the surface this seems like a very reasonable idea, after all, biases are illogical and lead to incorrect results. I have grave concerns about this approach to cognition because, in my experience, the correct result is not always the optimum one. For example, the perception of terrain slopes is seen as much steeper than it is measured. It's a well documented cognitive bias1, and it's also present for a good reason. Walking up even moderate slopes is generally a bad idea, the bias keeping us safe.

Before we think of a particular cognitive bias as a bad thing or try to correct it, it's worth applying the principal of Chesterton's Fence … Let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.2

Little Known Ways to Think About Discipline

Discipline, specifically self-discipline is a tricky beast. It has become a recurring puzzle for me, a word that I come back to frequently, and a concept that I am frequently directed to. The concept of discipline exposes new riddles with each angle that I look at it from. With any subject I consider, pondering how discipline relates to it usually leads into the heart of the subject.

What is discipline anyway?

Wikipedia has a particularly interesting entry, and is a great place to start the investigation of most any subject. From the Wikipedia article:
Discipline is a course of actions leading to certain goal or ideal. A disciplined person is one that has established a goal and is willing to achieve that goal at the expense of his or her individuality. Discipline is the assertion of willpower over more base desires, and is usually understood to be synonymous with self control. Self-discipline is to some extent a substitute for motivation, when one uses reason to determine the best course of action that opposes one's desires. 1

For me, the most unexpected and valuable idea here is that discipline is distinct from motivation. Motivation is what you want to do, discipline is something else. This is a very important point: If I enjoy dancing, then practicing dancing every day is not an act of discipline. Even if I don't enjoy dancing but practice dancing every day, thinking about how it's going to help me wow them at the recital, it's still not an act of discipline. Discipline is strictly reserved for the “Arggh, why am I doing this?” moments.

Another important part of this definition is the assertion of willpower over more base desires. A large part of what discipline is the practice of intentionally ignore your desires, which is to say, to choose to suffer. There is a tendency to think of this only with regards to desires like hunger and rest. It can, however, apply to virtually all desires, including quite refined ones, so long as the willpower is asserted in pursuit of even loftier goals.

An example of this is choosing to go into debt, and choosing not to pay back creditors in order to start a business. Most of us have a strong desire to keep our finances, credit, and good name in order. To intentionally leave that desire unfulfilled can be an act of discipline. The question of which desires are more base than others is it's own riddle of infinite depth.

In this definition, we also encounter the concepts of subsumed individuality and goal setting. What is our individuality in this case? Individuality and identity easily become a theme as large as that of discipline itself, but in this piece I would reflect that it is essentially our ability to make choices, our freedom, or our optionality. Discipline is, in some sense, enslaving ourselves to an ideal or goal. A critical component of this definition is that the setting of the goals, the choosing of our ideals is not part of discipline. Discipline refers only to the follow-through on goals that have already been set. The talent of setting effective sub-goals might be included as part of the act of discipline.

With the Wikipedia article's definition in mind, I'm going to continue the exploration on my own.

Pages

Subscribe to 7goldfish RSS