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UltimateRealFiction

Welcome to my blog :3 My name is Yoann, and I do all kind of things.

I am interested in things that make me think, laugh or feel fuzzy with cuteness, as you can see from myanimelist or my shitposting tumblr. I am not interested in brainless action-driven pop culture, or anything about the real world.

I do a bunch of things:

  • my writings and games,
  • pseudo-philosophical essays, both aimed at highlighting new perspectives for reflection (not at being fully developed argumentaries).
  • the NotDailyPodcast (RSS link), a podcast in the same vein with a friend of mine.
  • I also have an idea box where I store all kind of food for thoughts that I will flesh out here later (or never if they’re not fertile or original enough, since I want to explore new ideas and not reinvent the wheel).

I leave you with a list of keywords a la 90s Google referencing exploit:

#uploaded consciousness, #memes in the Dawkinian sense, #noematics, #contemporary and experimental art, #ironic appreciation of cringe, #fujoshi culture, #postmodernism and deconstruction, #aesthetics, #transcendance, etc

The only way we can still be saved from being turned into paperclip

Collin Staleph, visionary entrepreneur who changed the world, passes away at only 38.

It’s not without shock and grief that we report the death of the genius that transformed society. It’s hard nowadays to imagine him needing introducing, but let us not forget that it was not always like that. We felt like our best homage would be to remember how far he has come.

Collin came from very humble beginnings. Not much is known about his childhood. He studied Computer Science and Cognitive Science in France. He was a pretty average student, and his youth was mostly unremarkable. Nothing is worth mentioning besides occasional participation in activist movements and a few contributions to the “open-source” community under the pseudonym “k0l1nn”.

He really entered the public stage in the late 2010s with the creation of his first and unique company. The “Collin Crates”, as it was called back then, started like any other lootcrate service. It was a very popular trend of this time, propelled notably by massive advertisement campaigns on YouTube and social media platforms. From the famous “Dollar Shave Club” to novelty pop culture figurines or even movies, it seemed that there was a subscription service for everything.

The success of this model was understandable: who wouldn’t like to receive an unexpected surprise in the mail for a small fee? It was Christmas every month! Loot crates escaped the ethical debates about their virtual counterparts (i.e. “lootboxes”) by guaranteeing a physical object of a predetermined value. Furthermore, it was the time of the big explosion of the subscription economy, when platforms like Disney+ came on the scene to reshape the internet into the famous controversial model of American cable TV.

Although the future of this market seemed bright, this wasn’t without its challenges. In an already saturated domain, how could Collin compete with established giants? He surfed another trend of the 2010s era: machine learning.

All loot crates services claimed to be somewhat customized, but none of them actually delivered. From the start, “Collin Crates” wanted to be different. They wouldn’t focus on a given product like men’s hygiene or multimedia. Instead, they subjected each customer to thorough (but voluntary) questionnaires and fed the answer to a machine learning system which delivered a suggestion that would perfectly fit the tastes and needs of the client. That way, it was a surprise for everyone, but it was guaranteed to please (most of the time, of course).

The idea was pretty appealing, but the logistics were obviously challenging. Some may still remember the struggles to cope up with the hype in the beginnings. The service had to be limited to be invite-only, while Collin and his team worked tirelessly to scale up the infrastructure. Fortunately, economies of scale quickly came into play, and pretty soon the more customers they had the easiest it was to provide the goods.

It could have stopped there, as a one-hit-wonder success story of a novelty platform. The model wasn’t very durable. They operated on a very thin profit margin. It more or less amounted to a low gain dropshipping platform. That was without counting on Collin’s fascination for the algorithm.

The next breakthrough came from looking at the machine learning’s output. It was far from being perfect, and frequently underperformed. One of the problems the team struggled with was the fact that the system kept recommending basic necessities (food, groceries…). It was pretty understandable, considering it’s what all humans need most, but they had installed ad hoc filters to limit the crates to leisure products. Their strike of genius was to simply ask “Why not?”. Why shouldn’t they propose basic necessities to their customers?

That was the start of the rebranding. The “KolKrates” as we know them were born. The whole subscription pricing model was reworked: instead of a fixed price, people would now pay what they wanted and get a crate of equal value in return. They would simply select the categories of KolKrates they wanted (“basic necessities”, “superfluous leisures”, etc…) and the recommendation engine would simply do the rest.

This model was a resounding success. Who wouldn’t want to delegate their groceries to someone who could do it better than they could, who could take into consideration everything from bulk discounts to nutritious value or even ethical positions of brands (a big social issue at the time). The time for suboptimality was over.

From an operational standpoint, more customers meant more money in the system, and better allocation, planning and ultimately savings. The algorithm could factor in availability in its assignment of resources. For instance, it could grant people their second choice to prevent a shortage.

In addition to data about stocks, a new input for the system was the use of their new crawling technologies, which would gather all sorts of information from social networks of volunteers to improve its model of their preferences. Concerns for privacy were quickly outweighed by the gains, as people found themselves discovering new dishes or clothes they didn’t know they would adore. But the algorithm did.

Within a few years, a third of the population was subscribed to KolKrates, at various levels of commitment. There were already power users granting a wide part of their salaries to KolKrates, which managed most of their lives for the better. In a word submerged by an overabundance of choice, lessening the cognitive load and guaranteeing optimality were much appreciated.

It wasn’t long before KolKrates expanded its activities to consulting. Its massive database made it an amazing candidate for financial investment management, of course, but they were kind enough to create a completely free tier where the algorithm would share its insights and provide people with advice for all sorts of requests they might have, from choosing between purchases to choosing between careers.

It really opened the system to everyone. Anyone could try it, and few wanted to stop after getting a taste of its results. Soon, most of the population subscribed to the platform. Some people still shopped by themselves, but the efficiency of the algorithm was slowly winning over the few last remaining detractors. It wasn’t long before Kolkrates supervised the whole country, with its customers’ blessing.

Leveraging that influence, the company could make the world a better place. Following up on their motto to “destroy inefficiency”, it put an end to corruption and speculation. The resulting savings and smart allocation of the collective subscription money allowed the basic necessities of everyone in the system to be met. The surplus was shared from each according to their contributions, to each according to their needs, in the best possible way.

“But what is the best possible way?”, thus starts the suicide note that Collin left as he departed. “Giving people what they want is easy, until someone’s desires conflict with what they need, or with what others want. We did not solve inequalities and all the problems of the capitalist market. We simply replaced them with the question of the alignment of our AI. Of course it’s better than maximizing an arbitrary notion of profit. But choosing what to optimize for between people’s needs, wants, or happiness is a burden no man can bear. And I am not a god.”

The final words of our hero only gives us a tiny glance at the ethical dilemma he must have lived with everyday. It’s almost understandable that under this crushing pressure, he ended up taking his own life. More than anyone else, he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. In the end, even the KolKrate algorithm couldn’t lift it off from him.

Who knows what the future holds for the ethical alignment of the KolKrate AI, the aptly named “Maximal Alignment Resources X-changer”? As of now, no one can tell. The only “god” it responds to is the crowd. But one thing is for sure, it will keep using the funds of its voluntary subscribers to maximize their satisfaction, and not simply shareholder profits.

Paradoxes and Interpretations

I am so happy to have found an angle to expose my reflections about moral philosophy ^^ But this is not where our story starts.

How logic is impossible

Our story starts on YouTube, where I spend a lot of time lately, listening to french YouTubers, including Monsieur Phi, who revived my passion for paradoxes, notably introducing me to Lewis Carroll’s paradox (“What the Tortoise said to Achilles”). You can check out his video if you want, it’s great, but since I don’t want this post to be language restricted, I’ll stick to this version in English, which I don’t think is quite as good but is still pretty great (there’s surprisingly little English sources for something so important ;_;):

Essentially, this paradox is about the basic logic rule of deduction called Modus Ponens (I always hated how pretentious and obscure it sounds). Let me try to quickly summarize: Modus Ponens governs how to “instantiate” (or apply) the effects of a generic law to particular cases. Take this blue law for instance:

“If [A] is true, then [B] is true”

Modus Ponens is the name of the process that allows you to say that if the blue law holds, whenever [A] is true, [B] is also true (this process takes the law and the situation and produces a conclusion from them). If you want, Modus Ponens is what translates the words of the blue law into actual facts. It describes what a logical implication actually means.

Angelic Twaddle™ Comics: Modus Ponens

Now here is the kicker and the heart of the paradox: Modus Ponens is a generic law, the law that describes what it means to do a logical implication. So to apply it, you’d need some kind of meta-Modus Ponens. Which would be a law. etc… etc…

Though I’ve been bingeing a lot of Donald Hoffman who explores the idea that it’s fundamentally consciousness all the way down.

Which is pretty amazing and important, because if you try to ground basic into elemental pieces, you literally cannot because you fall down this infinite abyss of Modus Ponens requiring each other ad infinitum. It’s like you cannot define what “logical implication” means.

Fundamental axiom

So if you want to do anything logical, you basically have no other choice but to take Modus Ponens as a basic axiom, a law of the universe. You need some sort of leap of faith to accept how logic works. Much like Godel’s incompleteness theorem, logic kinda cannot ground itself.

And I think this idea has profound implications. It basically proves that you need some sort of fundamental axiom, a stop case, else you’re bound to fall down an infinite well of justifications. It’s a beautiful case against overthinking and grounding for the “just do it” innocent optimism of your average shounen manga protagonist.

30 Day Anime Challenge #19 – Most Epic Scene in Anime – Lethargic Ramblings

But it’s also a very nice metaphysical call for Occam’s razor, which recommends taking the simplest possible explanation when several are available (and therefore stopping before you reach this infinite pitfall). By the way, did you know that it was formalized as Solomonoff’s theory of inductive inference, using Kolmogorov complexity to give mathematical meaning to the concept of “simple possible explanation” ? Genius.

Kolmogorov complexity - Wikipedia

There’s only atoms and interpretations

And this actually matters because Occam’s razor is a basic axiom grounding pretty much everything in our reality when you get down to it. I hate to once again go all postmodern Berkley on you, but our reality as humans is built on interpretations (it’s interpretations all the way down, there’s nothing outside the text, etc…). After all, we give sense and orders to this atom soup (mostly void) by delimiting arbitrary borders. Sure it’s nitpicking and we come to a consensus most of the time.

But this is particularly important in epistemology and in justice: you’ll never be able to prove positively anything for sure. Hume’s philosophy already highlight that causation is impossible to guarantee. But without going so deep, you can always find more and more convoluted explanation for anything, the ultimate convoluted explanation being “a god/demon put everything there to trick you into believing this but it’s completely false“.

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder | Shirtoid

It took me way too long to realize that you can never actually prove guilt, you can only prove that non guilt is way too unlikely in our universe, and thereby convince a jury. (for instance, that’s why someone caught in the act stealing would probably be guilty of theft, even though a valid though unlikely explanation could be that the owner gave them the items verbally but then had a mini stroke deleting any recollection of the event. Ok maybe that’s not the best example)

Zoo ou L'assassin philantrope | Salle Jean Renoir | BilletReduc.com

Uploaded consciousness

But I don’t want to talk about these classic very important topics that actually matter here 😛 Instead, I want to talk about another domain where the simplest interpretation is fundamental and may jeopardize or guarantee your immortality.

Indeed, to put it simply, I can define many arbitrary mappings between my neurons and random things (or even all the states my neurons will ever have had), like grains of sand or molecules in the wall. Some of them will obviously guarantee identity, like the one used to build a simulation of me in a computer or a teleporter. But where is the line? Which of them are “me”? How many “me” are there? Am I a Boltzman Brain? The best writings I’ve read on the topic are from Brian Tomasik, which I highly recommend.

There may indeed be traces of the thoughts you’re having now in your wall, and that’s fine. You can kinda sorta be your wall and the center of the sun and digital uploads all at once. Defining “you” is just poetry.

https://reducing-suffering.org/interpret-physical-system-mind/#Anthropic_reasoning

What if you're a Boltzmann Brain - 9GAG

Moral philosophy

But I hear you, you want something more practical to use in your daily life. And that’s where we loop back to my introduction. I’ve struggled for a long time to build myself a moral philosophy framework, since any intent-based Kantian framework is obviously bullshit considering how you can harm a person a lot even when meaning them well.

Kant Good Place GIF - Kant GoodPlace Good - Discover & Share GIFs

Indeed, any action I will have can lead to so many interpretations. Maybe you’ll think I’m just pretending to be nice for my ends. Maybe you’ll think I’m pretending to pretend to be nice for some sort of ironic joke. No matter how good my intents, any sufficiently adversarial person can build up a case for the opposite intent. Most of the time it’s not very hard. Sometimes it even happens naturally.

In the same way as before, there’s no end to the infinite depths I can go to pondering how my actions can be perceived. Since I wanted to tie this back to pop culture, it’s worth pointing out that it’s actually the point that the TV show The Good Place really shines by: at this day and age, it’s pretty impossible to ponder all the implications of an action. Too much second guessing can lead to utter chaos, as is frequently portrayed by Chidi’s character.

Chidi gets a mouthful - The Good Place - TV Fanatic

To sneak another pop culture in here and center it back to social interactions, it is also neatly portrayed in the anime Gamers (which is also very touching) where the misunderstanding about interpreting each other’s motives grow to lengths I’ve rarely witnessed.

https://imgur.com/r/anime/978GL

My solution to this potential infinite depth of recursion is to stop at level 2. Being aware of this pitfall, you can only try to do your best. I guess it’s a very stoic approach: focus on what you can actually do. You can’t assess or control all the ramifications, but you can control what you strive to be. All you can ever do is your best. And it’s ok to fuck up every once in a while, in fact it’s literally impossible to please a sufficiently adversarial interpreter. I guess in the end it loops back to intent, doesn’t it… Can’t believe I did this…

Its pronounced "cunt" - #181545776 added by boehsling at I Kant  even now

So keep forgiveness in mind and protect yourself from an infinite recursion that won’t help anyone. I think that the original YouTuber that inspired me this post found the perfect conclusion in early Wittgenstein. It is a great thing to keep in mind to escape this paradoxical overthinking which is by definition infinite:

Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

Resources for self-teaching Japanese

Hi! So I’ve been self-teaching japanese for a while now and I think some of the resources I’ve built over the years may be of interest for people, so I’ll centralize them here. I will also add a couple of recommendations, but I’ll try to keep it light. I’ll highlight the stuff I produced with blue. Most of these are actively used and worked on every day so you’ll see some traces of my daily regimen, please be lenient 🙂

Before you start

  • Japanese is probably one of the hardest languages to learn in the world, especially if you come at it from a “western” language (it’s just so different). It is going to take a lot of time, therefore the most important thing is motivation and stamina. It’s a marathon, not a script. Make sure you enjoy it.
  • Don’t expect logic and consistency. This language is an amazing mess built by strata in the most chaotic way possible. You’re better off going into it assuming there’s no one to one mapping between writing, pronunciation and sense, or no reason why a particular character has this or this radical. You basically have to learn all the words by heart.
  • There is pretty few syllables in Japanese compared to most languages, meaning there’s gonna be a lot of homophones, ambiguity, etc… Incidentally that’s why they cannot really get rid of kanjis.
  • Worst, speaking tends to deform the language quite a bit (kinda like French), so a lot of time you’ll hear contractions, accents, etc… that will make it impossible to find the corresponding word/grammar point in dictionaries. To make things worst, it’s especially true for the beginner materials: everything tailored towards children tends to use “baby talk” and therefore not the correct pronunciation of words. yay.
  • I have the opposite of “facility” towards this language, your experience will probably be smoother than mine xD

The beginnings

The beginnings are nice because there’s a lot of free content for it, so don’t pass this chance! It’s the time where you can learn with games, on phone or computer. Sadly I missed out on most of it so I don’t have more precise recommendations xD

You probably want to start by learning the alphabets and then some basic grammar. I highly recommend Tae Kim’s guide to learning Japanese, which is one of the best things I’ve seen online:

http://www.guidetojapanese.org/learn/

Otherwise the NHK has also nice resources or news in easy japanese.

On YouTube there’s a lot of stuff. Some i like are JapanesePod101 or Name Ohara.

I also like fluentu.

Immersion

What you want is also to listen to a lot of content in Japanese. Fortunately, this is the age of the internet, and even if it’s not as open as it used to be, we’ve never had so much media content.

Here’s a list of some anime I found easier to understand: myanimelist. This guide is amazing and a little more thorough.

Watching things in Japanese with japanese subtitles is ideal of course, but it’s pretty hard to find. Netflix is one of the rare platforms that does it pretty consistently. A lot of people on YouTube like to embed some or all of what is said on the screen, so that’s something. There’s a few people who aggregate subtitles.

The great thing about having subtitles is that it makes it super easy to note down what you don’t know for review later. For that, you definitely want to use Anki, the de facto standard in flashcards, which means there’s a lot of add-ons, support, etc… There’s a lot of premade decks, but I think it’s also nice to make your own vocabulary cards.

This allows you nice automated setups. Matt, a pioneer of the Mass Immersion Approach (do check it out it’s so great) made a great tutorial about his setup. If you’re more into software than streaming, there is approaches like this which can dig into your softwares to find the text in it and extract it (probably a bit more advanced, but less Netflix-centric).

Matt makes his flashcards himself, even with his automated setup. I made an Anki addon to make cards for me. I only give it a list of words and it adds them to my Anki. Pretty convenient: 

https://github.com/yo252yo/anki_addon

Reading

Don’t worry if you don’t have access to Japanese literature, the internet is your playground for reading material. This chrome extension fetches reading and definition of kanjis you highlight, this one adds furigana to any existing page. Karaokes on YouTube or niconico are great, there’s game scripts that can be fun too.

My favorite dictionary is www.jisho.org.

Outside of chrome, this little program does pretty decent kanji OCR: https://www.kanjitomo.net/

It you ever go to Japan, you can buy books for very cheap at Book-off.

Kanjis

So here’s the big one, how do you learn by heart 2000 symbols that have several meanings, pronunciations… and where visual similarity or construction doesn’t mean anything XD I struggle. I’d recommend to forget about kunyomi, onyomi, etc… and just learn all possible pronunciations because it’s just too messy. And that’s not even going into proper nouns…

About the rythm: one kanji per day is probably ideal, I know it means the language will take you years, but it will take you years so you might as well really master the kanjis instead of plowing through.

Anyway my favorite kanji dictionary is

http://kanjidamage.com/

because it’s low key. It does a pretty decent job at explaining the kanji decomposition and coming up with a good order to learn them, but I was still unsatisfied, so I made my own learning order, based on frequency of use in newspapers, JLPT level, grade it’s taught in Japan, and frequency of appearance in K-ON. But most importantly I’ve been really thorough with the decomposition of each kanji in subcomponents, which is rarely well done. So please enjoy my work (and note that it grows every day as I’m still learning):

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1xyXL5PGTH01B3c1IiMl-4MIkcRDFA8Xj-wnn7PLXB_g/edit?usp=sharing

More importantly, this also contains for each kanji all the other kanjis that are similar to it, visually or semantically. This is a great resource that doesn’t exist anywhere else and which you’ll appreciate if you’re like me and keep getting mixed up. It’s made mostly from personal experience, with the help of this kanji similarity graph project.

Finally, since I kept mixing up kanjis, I thought I’d try to leverage my spacial brain and try to make some kind of kanji maps using graphviz. I ended up making several versions of the maps, you can find the code at

https://github.com/yo252yo/kanjigraphs

and here’s an example of what it looks like (highlighting the stuff I need to pay attention to):

Image

Advanced

Once you have a basic understanding of Japanese, you can start to go deeper. My expertise sort of ends here, but I want to point out a couple of things:

Advanced grammar is often presented as “grammar points“, which I think is super great (think “one point per day” for instance). I’m aggregating in this spreadsheet that I’m using for learning grammar points from japanesetest4you.com, japanese-teacher.tanosuke.com, nihongokyoshi-net.com.

At this point, you’re also probably realizing that you’re gonna have to learn proper nouns, and that means even more ways to read kanjis. It consists in pretty much memorizing all the common proper nouns patterns. I gathered the most common first/last names, but also all the important geographic/historic/mythological/cultural names in the following spreadsheet that I’m still actively working on: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1V6rQCtsDtI4uhU1TAcYIh-LQpeJ3ipOWJiM8Y73bYjY/edit#gid=420678685

I hope that it will contain in the end everything you need to understand references/private jokes in conversations, like the ads that everyone have seen, etc…

I also use this anime character database to try and see what nouns kanjis are frequently part of.

My Bioshocking Randt

So I know very well I’m pretty late to the Bioshock party and there has been much written about what I’m about to write, but I still think considering the themes of irony and meta that are prevalent in this blog we can do something interesting with it.

At least it allows me to write this at a period where the Ayn Rand institute is taking a government bail, which is very much in keeping with the tone of this article. Ayn Rand is the not-so-hidden inspiration for Bioshock (her work is the origin of pretty much all the names in the game, to prepare for this I’ve read Fountainhead, which the main antagonist is named after). I don’t want to re-hash the obvious, so feel free to document yourself more on what her philosophy was and how it is represented in Bioshock. This video is a really nice and fun way to do so:

Reading Ayn Rand is a profoundly ironic experience (and also extremely painful, you’ve been warned). There’s a lot of problems in her writing, and it’s pretty clear why she’s a joke in all philosophy departments. It’s all about ego, selfishness and illustrious geniuses.

Trump: Stable genius, unstable ego | Trump, Conway, Genius

It’s basically hundreds of pages of misunderstood geniuses treating the world like shit and whining about how the world sucks because it’s filled with garbage people who treat each other like shit. It may be the ultimate irony that this selfish philosophy could be the root of all the problems she complains about.

She is really riled up against the Collective, but forgets a bit fast that this collective is composed of individuals. It’s very funny to me that she has correct problematic, but backwards. She says collectivism kills intelligence but idolatry does, she says geniuses are exploited but workers are. For someone who claims to place the human as highest standard, she certainly encourages to treat people like tools. Even the holy Chosen Ones use each other like garbage all the time.

I’m no stranger to misunderstood art projects (just look at this blog xD) but reading her work made me feel as sad as the misunderstood geniuses she portrays. I guess it’s a brilliant illustration of how so-called “smart” people can still miss the mark oh so much and humanity is doomed or something.

But a great way to conclude this ironic streak and come back to the more pleasant Bioshock is to mention that those amazing minds that push humanity forward rely of course on millenia of experimentation, industry and tooling by countless other people. This is what Adam Smith called the “invisible hand of the market”, and what Bioshock means by “the chain of industry“. By the way it’s pretty funny too to see Smith and Rand, two pillars of capitalism, so diametrically opposed.

Irony is always meta by definition and Bioshock comes to bring extra layers on top of this delicious meta cake. Its take on Rand’s work is pretty obvious: the plot is pretty much a continuation of “Atlas Shrugs”, in which those precious misunderstood geniuses decide to stop contributing to the world, and leave to build a city underwater. The founder of Rapture, Andrew Ryan, as well as his main antagonist, Fontaine (i.e. Atlas) both follow Rand’s philosophy to the letter, and Bioshock is the tale of what happens after. And its pretty bleak: a completely deregulated market leads, according to the game, to a biohazard based survival horror hell.

Pharmaceutical Companies Buy Rivals' Drugs, Then Jack Up the ...

There is another interesting layer of meta in this story, because Fontaine secedes from Rapture, i.e. the society founded on the first secession from Andrew Ryan. This suggests that if you apply the individualistic ideal and follow selfishness to its extreme, it will still continue to bring conflict and power struggles endlessly and never build a harmonious society (we get stuck in an endless cycle of violence, Might makes right…).  Having this secession is a pretty clear answer that the first secession failed.

But the bit of meta that struck me the most is obviously the famous sequence around Fontaine’s betrayal. He keeps insisting, in keeping with Ayn Rand’s theory, that “a Man choses and a slave obeys”, but what does this mean for you as a player since you’ve only been following the plot that the game drafted for you? Can you really be “a Man”, since you’re pretty much forced to follow the events and oppose Fontaine?

There’s others interesting nods to the absence of freedom of the player. The whole “conditioning” theme strikes very interesting chords, because you are also pressing the buttons of the machines to receive your power ups (or your fix of entertainment), both in the game and literally…

Little Wonders Educational Facility | BioShock Wiki | Fandom

But then, what is “a Man” supposed to do? Stop the game right there ? Not play videogames in the first place? There may be an escape to this in the fact that you can still express free will within constraints (like a video game). Or maybe it just shows that you can’t help but being a slave sometimes? In any case I think it’s clear that it means that this framework does not hold.

And we come here to what I like the most about Bioshock‘s take on Ayn Rand, it answers what I think is the most dangerous part of her theories: this us versus them philosophy. I have no doubt that most readers of Rand will side with the small misunderstood elite, which obviously does not scale. But this makes the whole dichotomy that she proposes all the more dangerous and insidious, the reader is in on it. That’s the greatest thing about the game to me: it’s pretty easy to follow the free market proposals of Ayn Rand and say “doesnt work”, but leveraging the specificity of the videogame medium to destroy her pernicious manichean views of mankind is an amazing feat of strength which makes this game a masterpiece.

If you liked this article, feel free to take a glance at our podcast episode where we mention it and go in depth on other topics: https://www.reddit.com/r/NotDailyPodcast/comments/i1bb07/ndp_16_bioshock_and_is_a_postfiles_world/ 

 

The rationalist anti-dystopia

090818-07-plato-republic-democracy-ancient-history-philosophy-768x533-1

PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE.

 

Socoro, who is the narrator.

Cephalus.

And others who are mute auditors.

 

The scene is laid at the police station where Cephalus works; and the whole dialogue is narrated by Socoro the day after it actually took place to her companions.

 

THE DIALOGUE.

 

I was arrested yesterday, after our operation failed; and they kept me in custody for the night. I thought it would be the end of our movement, that they would torture me until I gave you all out to dismantle our network. I thought that we had failed to overthrow the System. What I experienced was perhaps worse than that.

Cephalus, son of Johnson, looked old and tired as he walked reluctantly in the room where I was kept waiting. He said to me in a sigh:

“I assume you know why you’re here?”

“It’s because we’re a threat to the System, isn’t it? You want to take us down before we take you.”

“The only thing you’re a threat to is me going home early tonight. Let’s just get this over with, shall we.”

“You won’t get anything from me. This is not over. My companions will pick up where I left off. We are legion, you cannot stop us all, and soon we’ll be down with your tyranny!”

“Sure, sure, let them. You certainly think highly of yourself, don’t you. Do you think you’re the first “chosen one” who tries to “expose and overthrow the oppression of the System”? There’s so many of you that we have a dedicated procedure. Your little heroic act is just bureaucracy to me.”

“What are you going to do? Torture me? Silence me?”

“Quite the opposite. My duty, whether I like it or not, is to have a little talk with you.”

“You can’t really indoctrinate me if I don’t listen!”

“I don’t enjoy this any more than you do, but I have to apply article 7, subsection 13, paragraph B of the Auction code, so do as I tell you.”

“Well, then, get on with it, but keep in mind I won’t listen.”

“Allright, all the same to me. There’s a few questions I have to ask you, and based on your answers I have scripts to read you. Now tell me, what’s so unbearably bad about society that you ended up here?”

“Are you joking? This world is rotten and obsessed with money! I won’t participate in an Auction of human beings! It’s immoral and disgusting!”

“So you dislike the fact that our society is built around the price of human life?” he said while ticking a box on his form.

“Of course! Any society built around such twisted principles cannot possibly be good!”

He ruffled through his notes for a moment and said:

“Ah but you know, young girl, it’s an eternal philosophical question. Did you ever consider how society would best be run?”

“I guess…”

“Do you agree that it’s pretty dangerous to have all the power in the hand of a single person, for they cannot possibly know everything, never err, and live forever. If this person grows crazy, corrupt or tyrannical, nothing can be done to save the world.”

“Certainly.”

“Do you therefore agree that in a perfect system, decisions would be taken in a decentralized way, without this single point of failure? Anyone could contribute to the decision-making process, ideas would openly compete and our perfect system would figure out the best consensus.”

“Of course.”

“Well this is what a market is. Prices are negotiated by supply and demand, and anyone who knows or performs better can influence the equilibrium by making a profit. Consider how hard it must be to compute how much food should farms produce for everyone. The markets offer a distributed algorithm to allocate resources efficiently.”

“Yes, but such a perfectly efficient society is not necessarily good. You could be extremely efficient at causing a lot of suffering. That, surely, is bad.”

“The problem of which you speak is called the problem of alignment. If nothing influences the manner in which an efficient system operates, there can be no doubt that it may go to undesired extremes. In fact, the system left to its own devices would probably seek to increase its value and to protect itself. Therefore, it follows that we require an independent third party to enforce by some constraints that our system remains moral, ethical, and altogether good. It could be through taxes, or rules for example.”

“I should like to know how you may find such an arbiter.”

“Is it not the role of the government?”

“It may well be in theory, but it can hardly be said to be independent of the economic market, since all humans exist within it.”

“Exactly, and that is precisely what brings us to our current System that you so despise. Let us agree that we need our arbiter to be independent, and efficient. Now we have both agreed that the best way to find one would be some sort of decentralized meta-market, where the best ideas would win the competition.”

“You mean democracy?”

“Exactly so. But humans are not independent of the economy, nor are the politics independent of finances. People can be blinded by their circumstances and desires. And so you see the driving force behind our system. Only humans can drive the ethics of our society, but they cannot do it without bias or errors.”

“So this is the purpose of the Auction?”

“Did you ever wonder why the Auction asks for a single number? It’s a clear and strong signal to align our economy, and at the same time it’s as simple as possible, in order that it may minimize noise and imperfection. Since the economy gives everything a price, it also gives a price to human life. You may find it unbearable, and many of our ancestors refused to look that truth in the eye, but denial is rarely a helpful strategy. This is why the Auction is mandatory.”

“It doesn’t mean we should just accept it!”

“But you see, young girl, that is precisely what the Auction does. It puts us in control of the market, and not it in control of our lives. Certainly we can’t let the market choose it for us, so it follows that we must dictate it. And what better way to do so that by asking everyone what it should be? Many democratic systems could exist, but none would be as clear cut and simple as the Auction. Your own life is the thing you have the most expertise in, and also the most interest in. Any other way would suffer from biases and partiality. Asking everyone to estimate the price of their own lives, and to follow through on that guess with an actual bid for their lives, is actually the most neutral and fair solution. You could just see it as a tax, since it provides public funds and helps ease out the most irrational disparities of our markets.”

“I need to think about all this.”

“Please do. Remember when I told you that you were not the only insurrection group? Most of us rebelled at some point. Some failed, but others succeeded. I was part of one, and we were damn great. But all of us, without exception, ended up endorsing the Auction. Because what comes after the revolution is the design of a new world, and there simply is no better than this, when you get down to it. So think it over. We’ve all been there. You have one more week to make your Bid. And if you accept it, as you cannot but do, all shall be well with you in your life.”

Kapitalism Damacy

When I turned to my friend and said “I think I may write one of my overanalyzing mock essay about Katamary Damacy and capitalism”, I expected the usual rebuke of “stop bringing up capitalism about everything”, but something weird happened. Instead, they said “yes, of course, it’s well known”.

And indeed, it seems that the creator Keita Takahashi declared that his game was about mass overconsumption. And there is a fair amount of analyses that detail how it goes about tackling this theme. A very nice once is for instance this video:

Katamari is a game about working hard at cleaning a mess that isn’t yours in systems that belittle you just to get through the day.

But even though this topic has already been tackled, I still believe that there are a few thoughts that I haven’t seen brought up, so I’d like to bring them to the table!

  • The market doesn’t respond to logic

Why are there dice and batteries lying on the floor everywhere? It doesn’t make sense! But the rules of the game demand it. The market doesn’t always respond to an obvious sensical logic.

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  • Currency puts everything on the same unique scale

And it yields some… curious comparisons.

Katamari Damacy REROLL (Steam Key) | Bandai Namco Store

Avoiding the metric system - memes

  • You have to both consume objects and produce growth. In fact, the consumption is precisely your means of production.
  • Your katamari thirst for growth is obviously at the expense of the environment.

  • Everything is absorbed by the market.

Everything goes into the katamari. Literally nothing can stay “outside the system”. Anti-system movements get absorbed into the system.

  • Shallow celebration of individuality to make you buy in

Look how special you are! This is your very custom katamari! You get to express yourself within a well defined boundary in the system! You even get a token custom reward (nothing much, just a minor title). Except well, there isn’t that many items in the level, so how different can anyone else’s be? Not to mention everyone also made a katamari.

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  • You don’t know how well you’re doing and it’s never enough.

Dues to the logarithmic scaling and the timer, it’s pretty hard to gauge if you’re going to meet your goal or not. You’re in a constant state of uncertainty, which pushes you to do more. I have no idea how people can describe this game as relaxing. As an added bonus, though, whatever you do won’t be appreciated by the king, of course.

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  • The workers are alienated and spoiled of the value and credit for their work

Everything goes back to the investors.

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  • I have a theory that the name “damacy” (魂) was in part chosen to make a wordplay with damashi (騙し) meaning deception, cheating, tricking.
  • Katamari Damacy is obviously inspired by the practice of rolling balls of muds that some children do in Japan, but also by beetles rolling poo.

What you’re consuming is literal shit.

BBC - Earth - Some dung beetles have taken to decapitating millipedes

  • But you know who else rolls? Sisyphus. So is all this over consumption just a distraction from the absurdity of our existence?

Katamari Damacy Sisyphus - Imgur

The dissolution of Herpo the foul

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Herpo was by no means a pleasant wizard. Though history would give him the title of “foul”, he was not so much evil as chaotic. He did not set out to hurt people. Rather, he wanted to push the boundaries of the possible, and discover all that magic had to offer. In itself, it may not have been such a bad goal, and Salazar Slytherin’s fascination for his work is understandable. Granted, his acrimonious and grumpy demeanour did not help his image. But the real problem was undoubtedly his methods.

Herpo was extremely obsessive, and he would not let anything stand in the way of his projects. Fixated on his ambitions, he didn’t have the slightest respect for his peers, let alone muggles. In his twisted mind, the world was nothing more than a tool to play with, and that included living creatures. In fact, he prided himself on not being shackled by “silly arbitrary superstitions” like morals or ethics. He never killed or inflicted pain for pleasure or out of cruelty. But he often did so for his experiments.

Needless to say he wasn’t very much appreciated. He lived as a hermit, more than a day of walk away from any human settlement. The dense forest around his cave was said to be filled with atrocious creatures resulting from past operations. 

He spent a long time doing research on animals. It started with fairly simple attempts to see how much metamorphoses, potions and other spells could change a living being, and how long it could last. But he longed for more permanent results, so he delved into more macabre operations, stitching together different animals or breeding them in twisted ways.

More often than not, his trials failed in strident screeches of pain that echoed miles away through the valley. Around the entrance of his cave, the floor was littered with bones and coagulated blood. But every now and then, a deformed abomination would emerge and haunt the neighboring woods.

Ironically enough, what he considered to be his greatest success was obtained by a relatively simple method: by hatching a chicken egg beneath a toad, he produced a deadly giant serpent that he called Basilisk. As a Parselmouth, he had no problem controlling the monster, and there were always a couple of them guarding his hideout against wandering travelers.

As bad as their fate may seem, those poor souls were the lucky ones, for Herpo did not stop his experiments to animals and frequently took humans as subject, mostly muggles but occasionally wizards too. He dissected more than one to try and find the source of magic so that he could increase his powers, but the answer always eluded him. As his victims piled up, his sanity died out, and soon there was not much human left in him anymore.

Regardless of what became of his spirit, his body however remained one of a man. Even with the extended lifespan of a wizard, he could feel his constitution waning, his muscles becoming weaker, his magical powers starting to fade… So he obviously turned his research towards himself. Surely something could be done to prolong life and vitality. After all, magic had already improved so many aspects of life. He would simply dare to explore domains nobody had ever investigated before.

His flesh was deteriorating, nothing could be done about that. The passage of time wore off buildings, even mountains. His organs were no exception. But what really mattered was his soul, his spirit. And these didn’t have to go down with their mortal vessel.

He first tried possession spells, to make another body his. They turned out to be impossible to maintain over long periods of time, even after breaking all the resistances of his targets. He did not have more luck with potions. He even attempted his unholy acts on “weaker minds”, including animals and – it has to be said – corpses, to no avail.

But failure had never stopped Herpo in the past. It certainly wasn’t going to stop him in this quest, that he came to consider as the most important of his life. 

If the easy solutions had been misses, he simply needed to try harder and tackle the harder ones. He would need to transform his soul into a form he could make timeless. This new form could also allow him to craft replicas of himself, should anything happen to his earthly vessel. This would be the only sure way to conquer the ever-looming Death.

He had peeked inside enough bodies to understand how the different parts played together to make it survive and move. He just needed to give the spirit the same scrutiny. 

What followed was the most gruesome period of his life, and the tortures he inflicted cannot possibly be described. Physically and magically, he sliced and diced many heads to perfect his analysis of the mind. To properly manipulate his soul, he needed to understand it in its smallest corners.

After several years, he had perfected a spell to split his spirit into smaller fragments that he called Horcruxes. The procedure was difficult and costly, but the resulting shard could be imprinted for preservation. The problem remained, however, to find vessels worthy of his immortal soul.

He first turned to objects, as stones and metal seemed to promise the best chance for longevity. It did not work great. The gist of the spell was to manipulate matter at an elementary level, to shuffle what his contemporaries would call atoms, and arrange them in the same shapes and patterns that formed his brain. But the rigid objects he tried to use were too different from his head to be a decent substrate. Imprinting his mind on them was too imperfect, unreliable and costly. It would require unfathomable amounts of energy for a result that was not even guaranteed.

The solution was straightforward: he needed to use supports that were more similar to his own brain. The closer the resemblance, the less effect the spell had to inflict, and the less chances of errors or data loss. He started working on animals, and moved quickly to humans.

From there on, it was easy. Their minds were vast and complex, but he only had to find a part comparable to his shard and tweak it in order to embed the fragment into his victim. A single matching piece was enough. 

By that time, his vitality was already on the decline, so he set out to split his soul into a myriad of little elements and to find the fitting recipients that would keep his spirit alive long after his body departed.

Unsurprisingly, the best candidates were the ones that had some common grounds with him. One had his perseverance, another liked reptiles, another yet showed promising signs of creativity. One shared his views on muggles, another his secret fondness for berries… Surely they would make the best vessels. He began his wicked process.

But when he peeked into their minds, something unexpected happened that shook him to his very core. In the place where he intended to plant the fragment of his soul, he found that it was already there. The part of their brains he was looking at had the exact same structure as the piece he got from his own. They were indistinguishable. No tweaking or adjusting would be necessary. The operation was, for all intent and purposes, already done.

It was not an isolated occurrence. For each scrap of his spirit, he discovered a person who already possessed it. Sometimes it was as simple as finding the area of the brain that loved snakes, forests or experiments… Other times it was impossible to describe in words. But before long he found himself with no shard left to place without even having done any transmutation.

And so he vanished, as all pieces of his soul were safely stored in his heirs as they had been all along. His life that had been spent in misanthropy and solitude ended in an explosion of empathy, as his spirit merged with the many around him. He found comfort and peace by becoming one with everything and losing himself into other people. They would in turn pass on the fragments of his self, through magic, influence or genetics. His horcruxes travelled on and on, and still keep him alive to this day.

the Book of Maki

TW: Jordan Peterson

So I recently went to see Book of Mormon yet another time, and during the performance I started thinking that there may be an interesting parallel to draw with Hoshiai no Sora, a recent anime I liked a lot.

Book of Mormon tells the story of two mormon missionary sent to Uganda for their first mission. People there have it hard, obviously, and they understandably curse god for it in the famous catch phrase “Hasa Diga Eebowai. Faced with the impossibility to convert new believers, one missionary gives up hope, while the other one starts inventing random bullshit to keep people interested. In the end, the people get really inspired by the nonsensical bullshit, it gives them courage and hope in their struggles, and the show ends by everyone rejecting the established mormon church and founding a new church based on these fables. The last words are “Ma ha nei bu, Eebowai”, thank you god, paralleling Hasa Diga Eebowai.

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Now I’ve written a fair share of somewhat negative things about religion, especially institutionalized, but I think we have in this reversal of mindset something pretty interesting that I first came across in Jordan Peterson’s biblical analyses series. Among a lot of other things of course, he presents an interesting conceptualization of god as the possibility to make “a bargain with the future“. Following the unique human ability to deal with potential as if it was real (i.e. to act because of potential future causes), he posits god as an ever-present absolute that stands in as guarantor for this future. In this view, it makes sense to make sacrifices/efforts in the present, because there is something that acknowledges it and makes it pay off down the road. 

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In some way, that’s what we see in Book of Mormon. Belief, even in complete nonsense, gives strength to everyone to rise up and fight for the outcome they wanted. The point being, for Mr Peterson, when faced with hardships, turn off your negative emotions, man up, clean your room, believe, and be in a “Ma ha nei bu, Eebowai” mindset rather than a “Hasa Diga Eebowai” because that’s how you’ll get the best results.

I thought that this was worth digging into this a bit. Because it’s true, if you accept that the world is obviously deterministic and free will is an illusion, that consciousness is a more or less elaborate byproduct, a sort of “noise” that your internal gears are making as they turn. With no causal role, it’s therefore completely irrational to accept negative qualia/emotions, and it’s only logical to try and chase them. I don’t know if you’ll get best results, but you’ll tautologically be happier.

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But I really wanted to dig into this notion of best results. It may be intuitive that you’re more likely to be successful if you have a positive mindset, but this is kind of twisting the question on its head and looking at it the other way: considering a world where the success will happen (the role of the guarantor is to make this hypothesis easy), what mindset has the best chance of accomplishing it? Let’s work backwards from a potential success and see what lead us there retroactively.

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I’ve been struggling for weeks to try and formalize this reversal of point of view with  Bayes theorem (doesn’t it look similar ^^), but I’m getting nowhere with my Probability(success|guarantor). If you get somewhere please tell me. But maybe the reason I’m running in circles here is that we’re faced with a much simpler tautological framework, “100% of winners have tried their luck”

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Working backwards from success may be precisely what belief allows. It’s the ability to trust that we’ll make it, that it will work out, that this possibility exists. I this model, that’s what the guarantor is for. Maybe the guarantor is here as a reference point, to help you out of a local extremum you’re stuck in, towards a real extremum. Or maybe it may be a case of the prisoner dilemna where the other person is guaranteed to be trustworthy, which brings the best long term outcomes.

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Someone made me notice that it’s a actually closer to a sort of Pascal’s wager: stars may or may not align, but if I want a successful outcome, my only rational move is to try (success = try + circumstances).

Stars align Stars dont align
Belief/try (B) success failure
Disbelief (¬B) failure failure

Stars Align” is not so coincidentally the english title of the anime “Hoshiai no Sora”. It is centered around a highschool club of soft tennis who have accepted that they kinda suck. Maki Katsuragi, a transfert student, shakes things up by making them notice that they’ll never get anywhere with this kind of attitude, and we get to see these adorable dorks progress at their own pace now that they believe in the future. As in Book of Mormon, you can see the shift from the “Hasa Diga Eebowai” mindset to the “Ma ha nei bu, Eebowai” mindset and its positive effect on the children, even though they may not win big. 

There are countless examples of this, though (albeit not as cute as this anime). Maybe the most notable is Les Schtroumpfs olympiques, where Schtroumpf Chétif only manages physical prowess when he believes he can win (because he believes to have ingested a special potion, which turned out to be strawberry jam). Yes, this is the actual parallel I wanted to make.

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In the end, american media did a good job at marketing the notions of “just believe”, but there may still be some truth to it. I think one of the best way to conceptualize this “belief muscle” is through cognitive science (and economy) and its model on preference theory and temporal discounting. It posits that the total “value” of a thing according to a human is equal to the sum over all instants t of the value at this instant, discounted by how far in the future this instant is:

A famous illustration of this is the marshmallow experiment: are children able to refuse a marshmallow right now (value of 1 marshmallow, no discount) if this will give them 2 marshmallow in 1 minute (value of 2/discount). In this toy example, they would if the decay factor discount < 2 (which makes 2/discount > 1 marshmallow).

I think the simplest explanation is that believing is training yourself to have lower discount factors (i.e. to value the future more). In other words, in this framework, god is an increment of the discount factor. 

And I guess it can be good for you? be it only if it helps you mute irrational negative qualia that don’t bring anything to the table.