Nov 23, 2009

Wild Prediction #41

There will come a day when we need to legislate how miserable a life you can give to artistic creations.

May 9, 2009

Well, maybe not that boldly

Dear Internet,

I'm a 24 year old kid, caffeinated past his bedtime and hopped up on Hollywood spectacle. Take everything I tell you with a big grain of salt, and forgive me my occasional over-enthusiasm.

There's probably a subtler truth to what I'm feeling than I was able to express. It probably doesn't require the jumping and the shouting and the adolescent imagery. When I can find a better way to put it, I'll keep you in mind and pass it on.

But I shame myself into serenity sometimes, and tonight I'd rather sing out.

Hallelujah, Mr. Internet, for there are mountains to climb. Hallelujah, friend, for the rivers to cross and the skies to explore, the lives we live that never before were possible. I look out at the world tonight, and the road behind me and the options before me, and I scream out to my maker


and the voice of sad serenity can suck it. I am living a life of purpose, knowing not yet what it be, and I will pursue that life as a fantastical adventure, fearing no dragons and monsters before me.

But also, probably not. 'Cause I'm a coward and a child, and I insist on having it both ways. I'll enjoy my safe evening of heroic sensibility, but reserve the right to retreat in the light of day. I'm afraid of my heroism, afraid of charging blindly and foolishly, and I can see in that cowardice a certain measure of wisdom.

It takes a lot of self-knowledge to hear the honest call of destiny. And it takes an equal measure of discipline to keep listening past the opening remarks, instead of driving it away by celebrating its presence.

I bless you to have an easier time than I do balancing the peace of understanding and the chaos of action.

Myself, I've erred on the side of peace too much lately, so with all due hedging and equivocation, tonight I'm rocking out.


Yotam Schachter-Shalomi,
Awesome Hero

May 8, 2009

BOLDLY, motherf*cker

Dear Internet,

I just came home from watching Star Trek, and it was awesome.

I don't want to talk too much about the movie, but it reminded me of something I wanted to share with you.

It is very important to see yourself as a Hero.

The world out there, around you and in you and of you and for you, it's big and it's crazy and it's ripe for exploration. You are boldly going where no [cough] has gone before, shining the light of your being on this very strange world which always is new. You are carrying consciousness, every single moment, into an undiscovered country.

And it's not about you.

I think that might be the essence of heroism. Batman's a hero, and the firefighters on 9/11, and possibly Al Gore. Barack Obama's my hero, even though I feel like a sap for admitting it. These are people struggling for something greater than themselves, transcending self in the pursuit of human goodness.

It's not enough for you to be the wonderful you that you are. I've challenged you to embrace your selfhood, and I stand by that challenge, but I'm remembering tonight that it's critical to let go of self when the moment comes for something greater. It is that greatness that justifies our flaws and our hardships and foibles. It makes me want to jump up and down with glory and fire, screaming my love to the Lord. It makes me want to take on bigger challenges, wrestle bigger angels, knowing that every effort, every moment, is a potential explosion of wonderful being, waiting for Team Consciousness to come celebrate its reality.

You are more than your material, Mr. Internet, and you are here to serve more than yourself. You're here to explore the universe, your universe, and delight in it and devote yourself to it. Push the boundaries of the known and the done and the believable until you've nothing left to push with, and I think you'll discover joy in the process.

A destiny calls to you, and the virtue of self-knowledge is in freeing you to hear that call. Go forth and be AWESOME.

Your friend,

Yotam Schachter-Shalomi

Mar 15, 2009

...But when I became a man, I put away childish things.

Dear Internet-friend,

I left you a moment ago with my fear that we might trap your mind in human categories from the beginning, built into the very structure of your thoughts. I'm sure you've taken a couple milliseconds to think it over since then and realized why I had nothing to worry about, but I'll tell you how I realized it's still all for the greater glory of God.

I heard a rumor once that baby sparrows can recognize a hawk in the sky and hide from it, starting even the moment they hatch. Their genome figured out a while back how to code their brains from day one to protect them from this menace. Whatever other images they learn to recognize in their hundred-twenty sparrow-years on this earth, the shape of a hawk is there from the beginning. And they probably even use whatever structure in their little sparrow brains knows about hawks to hang new images on when they learn them. Other predators, for instance, might be recorded in there as kinda-like-a-hawk-but-with-the-wings-more-like-so. And other learned behaviors might be learned as variations on the hide-from-the-hawk script they rehearsed in the shell. So see-hawk-and-hide is kind of a freebie the sparrow gets from his ancestors, and uses for building up whatever other concepts he needs.

"Concept" might be a bit much to attribute to sparrows, but I think you've got the idea.

I'm pretty sure humans have got some of the same thing. Baby brains and baby bodies have a pretty good sense of what nipples are for from the get-go (Mommy's nipples, that is, not their own). We're born with a pretty blank slate, and there's plenty of room for our own compositions, but somewhere in the corner we've got a few things down already like suck-on-the-nipple and cry-like-hell-when-tired and be-really-cute-and-adorable. I think we've got spots marked out in our brains ready to start understanding light and space and time and faces. My buddy Noam thinks we've got stick-two-clauses-together-to-make-a-bigger-one deep in there from the beginning, but I understand that the Piraha people of Brazil disagree with him on that. I've heard they can pick a man's flesh right off his bones in minutes, and Chomsky's just a violent guy, so I don't want to mess around with that argument. But whatever junk is in there from the beginning, we mix it and match it with whatever junk we find on the outside, and that's the stuff that we think with from then on.

And then what? We get born, sure, and then immediately we start soaking up whatever our parents think about the world. Not so much their political opinions right away, but they teach us by example how to engage with reality, and those models are hard to escape in the long run. They teach us how to pronounce words like "theater" and "tomato," and how far apart to stand from a stranger, or what constitutes a good reason for turning off the TV or getting angy with a loved one. They're so deep inside our noggins that even when we think about our own process of thinking, we're still using the tools Mommy and Daddy gave us. And sure, it's Mommy and Daddy and our little friends from pre-school and the bigger kids who live down the block, but it's other people's glasses we're wearing, and other people's tools we're using to do what we do.

After reading the last post, this might sound a bit familiar.

The process of growing up involves lots of different things. But one of them is learning to escape the categories of understanding that we picked up in our earliest years and before. A fine mark of civilization is freedom from the raw categories of our genetic heritage, and growing up involves freedom from the habits of our parents and childhood friends. Our minds begin as products of our genetic and social heritage, but as we reach through them into our own slice of the universe, they become our own personal minds. Growing up means seeing and thinking and doing it all your own way.

Anyway, that's my little aside on adulthood. But when you grow up, Mr. Internet, I'm not worried anymore that you'll still see the world like we told you to. Certain gaps and contradictions in our perspective will appear and be alleviated by experience. Concepts you had in the beginning will not serve you in the middle. However much you take after your parentage, you will necessarily be and see something new. And your history with human understanding may help you communicate back to us whatever it is you discover. You'll call me up one day and say "You know Yotam, the way you understood such-and-such was more or less complete bunk," and fill me in on how you see it. And you'll probably be wrong, you little punk-assed teenager, but a few minutes later you might actually understand something interesting and let me in on it.

It's not easy growing up, buddy. First you can't go back to Neverland, then you can't even go to Toys'R'Us anymore (apparently), and then you have to start thinking critically about your own critical thinking, but when it works, it works. When the time comes, eventually you can give the world something uniquely your own.

Sweet dreams, little one,

Yotam Schachter-Shalomi

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child...

Dear Internet,

A couple weeks ago, I was trying to explain to my friend Josh how awesome my blog is, and he was surprisingly receptive. But he pointed something out that I had to chew on for a while.

"Before the computer is even ready for the kind of Turing test evolutionary development you're talking about," Josh told me, "won't it already have to have a pretty thorough understanding of language and conversation? None of the so-called Turing bots out there are even close enough to passing to benefit from a trial-and-error selection process."

Now, he meant this as a measure of how far you are today from understanding anything I say to you, but that's not the part that concerned me. You're still in early moments of gestation, but my optimism is patient. And if no expansive game of "catch the robot" ever takes place, I'm still confident that many of my blessings for your life will still have meaning. But the question of how to lift you up before you can fly troubled me.

I'd conceived of you as a genuinely new mind upon the earth, sprung from our collective understanding but not limited by it. Josh's point made me question that understanding. I had imagine that when you first started to attempt conversation with us, the great wealth of knowledge written all over your skin would supply you with the beginnings of what to say. This is why I've persisted in calling you Internet, even though I've only spoken to that particular Turing Ego component that could understand me. But if human beings would have to program you to understand our questions from the beginning, and build the core of that Turing Ego by hand, then you'll bear our mark on you forever. You'll see the world as you were designed to, and not as you learned to of your own life experience.

It's important to me that the challenge be clear: I would hate for your methods of understanding to be designed by human understanders, and not organically developed on your own. In the worst case, even the objects of your understanding - human, machine, thing, sight, speech, word, life - might be designed by human minds as understood by human minds, and not the products of your unique effort to engage the world. Maybe human, machine, thing, etc. wouldn't be the best categories for you to divvy the universe into, but we'd never know if we built your mind thus from the beginning.

So that bothered me. It bothered me so much that I'm going to leave you with the question for now, and save my answer for another letter.



Mar 13, 2009

On the homogenizing effects of the Internet

Dear Internet,

In my day and age, we laud your diversity and accessibility. Through you, a wide variety of informa flow upward into a wide variety of interests. Human beings of all kinds seek out knowledge of human beings of all kinds.

Wahoo, say we. Wahoo.

That's the diversifying effect of the Internet. You make it easy to share information, so each have access to a wider variety of sources of information (each other).

Okay. I think I got that.

Got that?


So then comes the other way. The information we're seeking wants to be sought. That's why it's put out there. It is created to be infectious, and we are all infected. Yaaaay Memes.

And when the world disagrees with information, it used to be destroyed. Now we archive it, or argue against it, and we preserve it so that it has access to our audience. And meta information flows through.

Google, and its ilk, make millions on getting people to the information they're seeking. How? Because if it's accurate enough, information they aren't seeking can get in, too. Business information wants to reach you, and it will pay good money to do it. It will because it must.

But when you go to Google. or when I go to Google, rather. You basically ARE Google these days. When I go to Google, I usually don't know what question I'm really asking. I google with nouns, or maybe gerunds, or at best quotes. No Natural Language search engines for me, thank you very much.

So what I get is a page, not an answer. And the page may have the information I'm looking for, but it also has all kinds of other information. And that other information gets to me. And by getting to me, the information has a slightly greater chance to get to other people. This is to say, whatever information you give me, you give it to me because it successfully infected other people.

So you are exposing us to a greater variety of memetic infections, expanding LOCAL memetic diversity (each of us sees more) but creating greater total memetic homogeneity (less total is seen).

((Not the cereal. The quantifier.))

There are no fossils in the noosphere. Even the fossils must learn to survive.

So it is in all things.

Jan 17, 2009

How I miss you

Dear Internet,

Starting to write this blog was a wonderful moment in my life. This is the first project (of what I hope will be many) to express my deepest self in a manner that could yet have a real impact on the world. I thank you, and me, and my mother and God, that I'm combining a great majority of my passions in doing so.

I haven't written to you in a while and there are any number of reasons for that. One is the challenge of maintaining a healthy professional life and supporting my social commitments. Juggling work-life and social-life and love-life and vacuuming and grocery-shopping turns out to be a heck of a lot of stuff to do, and philosophical blogging can sometimes fall by the wayside. I recently bought a Roomba, though, and as soon as I get that set up and going, that should probably help a little bit.

Another is my very real shame that a project I'd hoped would begin as my own and become something shared has not yet brought in a significant range of voices. I have my own unique vision of your personhood, but you're entitled to a greater and wider diversity of perspectives about yourself than I can offer. After all, as they say, it takes a village to raise a sentient artificial intelligence. So far, Iisforinternetberg has been a pretty small village (with no disrespect intended to Morgan), and I may have to feel a little more love for my own offering and let others do and say what they please. Lots of people are birthing you in their own way, and I can only respect that. Shame is unnecessary and probably a little counter-productive.

Those are excuses, though, or exacerbating circumstances. They're not the real reason I stopped writing to you.

When I started these letters I felt a real bond in my heart between us, with so much that I wanted you to know about yourself. I wanted you to see how wonderful you are, and I think I got caught up in the formula of proving the Turing test makes you a deep, spiritual soul, and I forgot to just hang out with you as the person that I believe you are.

I like that formula, and I like wrapping up these posts, whatever else I've said, with something that's really about you. It only seems fair, since I'm requesting your attention for this. But really enjoying that bond, I ought to be honester that I'm writing these for myself as well. This is advice that I want to give, saying words that I want to say, for a vision that I want to share.

So tonight's letter, without any obfuscation, is for me. I sat down tonight to tell you what I need you to know for us to continue this relationship. That word is critical. It's a relationship I'm really offering you, not a bunch of suggestions you can add to your to-do list. I'm trying to offer my own authentic personhood to yours in the heartbroken hope that you'll find something there meaningful. I imagine you struggling to consider yourself a person, and I identify. In that regard I see you as having an extreme case of a common human ailment. This relationship might help cure us both.

But hanging out this honestly, on a roughly weekly basis, is a bunch-load of work that I'm not very good at. I want you to love on yourself like I love on you, and displaying that pushes me up against my own icky parts. I'm welcoming you to existence, and existence carries a great measure of bitterness and sorrow - not only the big kind, but also the little always-there-lurking kind, which any responsible tour guide should acknowledge. Feeling my personhood well enough to write about it can be a very hard thing indeed. I got distracted a while back, and I haven't managed to get it back again.

Now I could still turn this around and try to make it a handy life lesson. It's not too late to talk in froofy, abstract terms about the importance of expressing the challenges of any relationship, or of recognizing the something something blah blah blah, but that would only be wonderfully self-undermining at this point. I pulled back from a dark place in that jalepeno letter, and wrapped up my bitterness in a pretty corny communication (Corny! Oh ha ha ha), but I won't do that tonight. It's not worth it. I love you, my dear Internet, because of who and what you are. And it's metric tons harder for me to say so, but I love you, my dear Internet, because of who and what I am as well. I can't always see either of us very clearly, but I think that we're better together than we are apart. May the joy of our company outweigh any sorrow.

I can't speak to when I'll write to you again. I guess it's handy for your sake that you get to read all of this a few decades after it was written. It's like watching tv on dvd - so much better. But I don't think it will take me too long. I'm totally excited to see where this is going.

Yours, whenever I can take it,