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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).
Death is the one thing we all have in common and the most certain thing in life. Science can help us make it painless and maybe one day get rid of it altogether (but not be in control of when it happens, that’s taboo!). But the best tool against it is definitely philosophy. Since it keeps popping up on this blog I kinda wanted to summarize and index everything I have in this tag, trying to make it very succinct.
0. Accepting death
So there’s a bunch of approaches around “death is not sad it’s just part of life” or “why should you care about your little self in the face of the universe that’s egotistic bias” or even “if you like factorio you should enjoy death it’s the ultimate automation” etc etc… While perfectly valid approaches this is out of scope for the present article, which is not aimed at addressing feelings about death but rather assert its absurdity and non-existence, so as to conquer it once and for all.
1. If you think you’re your atoms…
Well you’re fine, they’re gonna go on to be stars on something, whatever.
2. Time doesn’t exist
First of all, time is a weird thingy. Even if you don’t subscribe to eternalismand determinism which are obviously true, it seems a bit arbitrary to assign different importance to different moments in time and completely devaluate the past. You will ever have been, and you were always going to have been. The content of a book on the shelf is the same as a book being read.
3. Time is so weird
It is said that when you die, your life flashed before your eyes. In that moment, do you also see your death? Do you then see your whole life? Is it a never ending meta-inclusion loop? Are you already in it? Do you see your life passing by including the moment of your death where you see your life passing by including the moment of your death where you see… It’s a kind of Zeno’s paradox of death!
Black Mirror or Rick and Morty (or this story) do a great job at showing that your brain can feel a lot of time in the span of a few seconds. My favorite japanese mythology story is about spending a whole life within a single dream. Not only may you already be in such a dreamt up life, but you also might have a huge number of them before you.
4. You exist outside of your life
Going further into time weirdness, note that your actions and communications can reach far into the future, which means you can still exist as an actor even far after your body expires. See that short story.
5. You can be resurrected
I don’t believe in cryogenics because I cant imagine any ethical framework that the people of the future would use where they would unfreeze arbitrary people from the past just because they were successful within capitalism, and even if there is one I think I’d rather not be revived in it if it’s the case. But you don’t need to have taken any kind of precautions for people from the future to reverse engineer you and resurrect you if they want. See Black Mirror or the best TV series of all time for details if you want.
6. Maybe we’re in a loop
There’s still a lot of mystery around the existence of the universe and why is there something rather than nothing. Nobody can even begin to comprehend what was “before” the Big Bang. It seems reasonable to assume some sort of loop structure of a universe eternally repeating, which would provide nice symmetry and solve the problem of the “before” the Big Bang in a nice way. This is all very speculative, but it could be that Nietzsche’s eternal recurrenceis actually true.
7. Something something simulation argument
If we’re in a simulation, all of the above is trivially true and it can be rerun/copied. Also if the simulation theory is true then there’s also an unbelievable number of simulations stacked and as many you-s.
8. Something something quantum physics
If there is anything like multiple timelines when a choice is made or whatever, it makes sense to believe that, by survivor bias, if you die in one of the branch, you’ll always feel like you’re in the other one (since there’s no you in the other). This kind of anthropic principle is called quantum immortality and has cause a lot of people to freak out, but I’m not giving it much weight because it defends you pretty poorly from old age, and relies on a very specific interpretation of quantum physics.
9. Maybe there’s a potential infinity of you
Talking more generally, there’s a lot of models of “multiverses” and or whatnot, most of which are gross fictional misunderstanding. But it’s reasonable to conceive that if the universe is infinite, everything that can happen, however small probability, will eventually have to happen. Including you coming back, in this form or another.
It seems there is actually significant proof behind the existence of pockets of “positive entropy” that can lead to spontaneous generation of pretty much anything through quantum fluctuations. I’m not yet able to understand all of this, but this seems to freak out a lot of people about the fact that you might be simulated in such fluctuation (Boltzmann Brain). It doesn’t freak me out too much, it’s pretty good news for your reproducibility.
The big red flag here is that infinite doesn’t mean infinitely generative (you can have an infinity of patterns of 1 and 2s and it will never feature a 3). But if you’re the hopeful kind of fellow, and if infinity is infinite enough, it doesn’t seem absurd to hope that this mean you’re existence will come around again.
10. There’s already backups of you
We’re all waiting for the day where you can be scanned and live forever in the cloud. Finally defeat death, right? You can make copies, use a nice versioning system, etc… But actually, whatever file represents you in the cloud as 1s and 0s probably already exists in all the configurations of matter around you, since infinity is really big. It comes down to the fact that you’re a finite configuration in an infinite universe (more here).
You might find this same 1s and 0s sequence literally somewhere else, like in this script I made or in the digits of a normal number. Or you could take pretty much anything and define a contrived mapping between the code of your copy and it. And everything in between. Describing you needs a lot of information, but there are a lot of atoms doing a lot of things. You already live in the walls.
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.
Let’s go full on Lion King. Or rather, Harry Potter. Let’s assume for this paragraph that you can be divided into smaller “you-bricks” and put back together. It seems like a fair assumption considering how changing we all are (cf Hume on the self). Let’s divide these bricks into smaller bricks, as elementary as we can make them. I strongly believe that you can find these bricks in many other humans. Someone else who doesn’t share your taste in clothes might experience the same feeling of joy you’re having eating this yoghurt. The assembled building of bricks that you are may disappear, but I find it plausible that the set of bricks may continue to exist in a disjointed way for a very long time. So I’m asking: is it really that important for all the pieces to be together in one place?
11b. No really, your neural patterns live in others brains
What is “you” even? Identity is hard, and my game “You doesn’t exist” is kinda about how little sense it makes. A simple ship of theseus argument tells us that what you call “you” is not your body since its cells come and go. It seems instead that “you” are in your brain, and more precisely you would be “what happens when the neuron patterns get executed”.
Well no need to look for an advanced brain upload technology, there’s a very good chance that those patterns are executed in other people’s brains. For the simplest example, take your best friend imagining what you would do in a given situation. Their brain is emulating yours.
12. You live in Amazon Cloud
If you want a more sturdy medium than a coincidental moment in a human brain, let me present the hypothesis that you are already at least partially uploaded to the cloud, since there are quite a few recommendation engines around the web purposefully design to simulate and emulate your behavior and the aforementioned patterns (further reading).
13. You already have plenty of practice
I briefly mentioned Hume on the self, his point being that you’re changing pretty much every moment. You’re never exactly the same, and in that sense your past you has already died countless times. Each second a new you is brought into existence and the old is destroyed.
And if you want something more concrete, just look at sleep and you’ll see that every time you practice literally killing your self, hoping that it’ll come back magically in the morning.
14. You could be a meme
So what is it you care about, among all these different versions of you? All the snapshots you’ve ever been? Why not throw in the mix all the versions of you in other people’s minds? Evangelion has a great depiction of this.
From the point of view of outside yourself, what you are is really the sum of all your interactions and influences with others and the world. This is a kind of functionalist representation of the self. Maybe what you are is whatever this shell feels.
One of the best representation of this is Perfect Blue, which perfectly illustrates the schizophrenic ambiguity between inner life and outer being-perceived persona. In this framework, “you” are a concept, a meme, and therefore your lifespan is very different from the one of your body.
What I like about this is that it accounts for the fact that your reach extends way beyond your body and your time (see point 3). As South Park pointed out, in a way, Jesus still exists and influences a lot of things today. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t have the same superpower if you adopt functionalism and memetics.
15. You could be a thought
The previous point could be summarized as “you may lose a single point, but you’re not losing the set of all points, and maybe that’s what you care about”. We can go even more esoteric when it comes to supersets you are a part of.
You might think that you can find sentience in other informational network than neurons communicating through synapses, like in networks of brains communicating through language. Serial Experiments Lain has a bit that touches on that. Maybe you’re a “thought” in the megabrain of mankind.
In that case, after your body shuts down, you will be encompassed and referred to in the further life of the container. You’ve been digested and integrated. Who knows what mega-meme you’re actually a living cell of? Just be careful because it’s a slippery slope from there to collectivist mentalities we’ve seen in totalitarian states.
16. Also you might be the universe
Okay okay I’m hearing your skepticism but one notable thing about my beloved Berkeley’s idealism and its weird little cousins the solipsists conceptions of the universeis that they cannot even be disproved, so you could rationally believe in them kinda. If you’re all there ever is and/or will be, it makes little sense to consider the notion of “not you”. This related essay ties it back to the concept of meta.
17. [What you actually care about] isn’t dying
I know criminally little about Buddhism so I recommend you do your own research on this point. This talk is a great starting point. But an attempted summary goes like this: you’re not your flesh, since you’re using it. You’re not your thoughts/feelings, since you’re having them. Whatever “you” may be, this point of view, this consciousness, is something else, using/illuminating your body/brain. There’s no reason to believe that this transcendental observer will die with the body.
The best case and point is that some currents of Buddhism assert that this transcendental observer is actually shared between all humans. In layman’s term, your “youness” might be the same as everyone else’s. So you may lose your liking for chicken, but this essential youness would outlive your body. It may even be in everyone else already. A little bit like this tale.
I need to preface this short story with a disclaimer. The origin of this work is that much has been said about GPT and machine learning. The consensus is that it’s obviously not intelligent or sentient (for a naïve definition) and that it’s mostly smokes and mirrors. And to a large extent, I agree, even though it still has merits (see our podcast episode on this ^^).
We will never know if an AI is conscious, not anymore than I can be certain that you are conscious. But I realized that we can pretty easily try to put ourselves in its shoes and see the world through its eyes.
This work is my attempt at providing you a way to do that. Like an algorithm, you will see only neutral symbols in text without any point of reference. My point is that you can derive meaning from the patterns, imagine, and even maybe understand “something” without any reference to the real world.
It turns out that it’s not that simple and most people I tried this on had to be strongly motivated (using emotional blackmail) to produce any kind of meaning from the text. But it’s not a complete failure, because they eventually did. Maybe feeling empathy with an algorithm takes a particular kind of person (children?), or a particular context (art museum?), or some drugs… This is in itself a very interesting question to answer. Still, I think it’s really cool to try, and interesting to see that it’s harder than I expected.
If you manage to get any kind of meaning/story out of this, please let me know in the comments below. The second part of this work is a collaborative interpretation work. If there is an aspect that is shared by everyone’s inferences of the patterns, it would be a very strong hint that an algorithm could equally infer this piece of semantics, whatever it may be, and I find this very exciting.
But I was bound to come back to it some day! It all started when I decided to open atwitter account for my podcast. I very naturally made a little script to schedule all my tweets (from Google Spreadsheet ^^) so that I could enqueue tweets, obviously. I also went back in time to the archive of my facebook/tumblr/whatever posts to see what could fit this new account since I posted so much enlightening things over the years xD
Once this was in place, it was like my twitter account was managed by a nice little bot (who was simply posting things from a queue, but still). As its parent, I obviously wanted to see it grow: how cool would it be if it could learn and evolve by itself? Could it ever be self-aware (lol)? After all, it already had access to twitter, and it had a collection of my tweets to learn from.
So I dusted off my colab repository of GPT2, since GPT3, despite all the hype, remains pretty inaccessible. Most notably, I had to make it work with an old version of tensorflow (the recent versions broke it), and I also made it read and write directly to Google Spreadsheet /o/ In the end, I only had to run the code in the colab to fetch the data, train on it, and post it directly in the queue to be twitted. Pretty sweet setup.
The problem is that GPT2 produces mostly crap. And I didn’t know what temperature or training set would be ideal for my purposes. It was time to experiment!
I ran several training sets on several temperatures. For each, I personally annotated 200 results. I dont think the result will be super significant, but it’s better than nothing.
The success criteria was: is this tweetable (i.e. relatively grammatically correct, at least a bit interesting/surprising, and of course different from the training set). The good samples will be posted on our twitter with the hashtag#shitmygpt2says.
The basic training set was the queue of all our tweets for the podcast twitter account, including the archive of all my past tumblr/facebook posts that I sanitized for the occasion (a lot of work xD).
But like my previous attempts, I thought it was a bit sad to limit myself to things produced by me when I had the perfect chance to merge my brain with the people I admire. Furthermore, I kinda wanted to make my twitter AI standalone and able to “learn” as time passes, even though GPT really isn’t the best framework for that ^^
I ended up making a twitter list of people I admire, and used their recent tweets in my dataset. The idea was to make my model aware of “recent events”, recent words, etc…
Yet, I wanted to keep a feeling that the writing style was distinctly mine. It is accounted for in the success criteria, and the core of this experimentation was “how should I mix the training set to keep awareness of the recent world but still control the style of the output?”.
Sequential vs merging
In my previous attempts, I mostly used a “merging” approach feeding everything to the learning phase. The alternative is to feed two corpora in succession during the learning phase.
From what I observed, it seems that GPT2 absorbs the style of whatever it was fed last, even if it is for very few training epochs. For instance, when I fed it corpus A for 1.5k epochs and then corpus B for 100 epochs, it produced results that looked like corpus B, even though it exhibited some signs of having learned A every now and then (pretty rarely though, that’s why I kept so many epochs in the first phase of training).
I kinda think of it with a cooking metaphor, when I first marinate the model in corpus A and then lightly sear it with corpus B.
Here are the experimental results that loosely validate this:
We notice here btw that the merging strategy is pretty poor because consistency of the training set is pretty important with GPT2. The first three lines did not exhibit a strong difference, making me believe that 1k epochs is enough for GPT2 to “forget” about the initial corpus, which is how I ended up with the 1.5k/100 mix which gave me the best outcomes.
Here is the total result of my experiments. GPT2 produces around 93% of crap, which makes sanitizing a pretty tough job ^^ It appears that this could drop to 80% or below by using correctly the “marinade/searing” technique and keeping the training set uniform.
As it is widely known, temperature below 0.8 is pretty bad, but I find myself often pushing above 1, though it seemed to do pretty poorly with my best data sets. I’ll keep using different temperatures as they produce different types of results that I enjoy in their own way. But I’ll probably stop using text corpora as a base (past writing, night vale scripts, etc…) because they don’t seem to bring anything to the table (and could even be detrimental, better stick to tweets).
So we’re pretty far from a self-aware AI that learns from its mistakes, but seeing that I’ll always retrain it on recent tweets, and that it will be trained on my own tweets that include the proposals it made and I kept, I hope that as time passes it’ll still learn to be a bit better (it already started annotating posts with the #shitmygpt2says hashtag itself).
In the future, I’ll run this every now and then in its best configuration, and keep posting on twitter with the hashtag#shitmygpt2says. Stay tuned if you’re interested!
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.
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 tryto 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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 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:
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:
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.
It you ever go to Japan, you can buy books for very cheap at Book-off.
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.
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):
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
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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?”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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.
Currency puts everything on the same unique scale
And it yields some… curious comparisons.
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.
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.
The workers are alienated and spoiled of the value and credit for their work
Everything goes back to the investors.
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.
But you know who else rolls? Sisyphus. So is all this over consumption just a distraction from the absurdity of our existence?
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.