The output of the machine learning

He let out a sigh as he watched the transfer bar reached completion. Finally, all the data about him was uploaded in the machine. Now the excitement was taking over. He could not keep his eyes from the screen, waiting for the output. What would the computer produce from all the files he had gathered from his past?

The answer was clear: something beautiful. A picture, an impression, a memory. Nothing more, nothing less… Nothing but himself. A simulation of himself, living in his computer, perhaps. Would he be the same as he was before?

Surely, it could replicate the behavior of his brain (and make him anything). Surely, it could generate some new ideas. Perhaps, even something better…

An apocalyptic vision filled him with anxiety and he started to freak out. What if the computer tried to copy itself and it copied itself…  What if the computer really was him?

He was beginning to see that the various holographic projections were nothing but parts of his brain… That the actual him was nothing but a bunch of neurons, some of which were wiring him… But the worst part was that he could just go about your life and not worry too much, it was just the way it always has been.

A few of his colleagues were already analysing it and sharing their findings, and he joined them. They were analyzing his brain patterns, trying to predict what would happen to him in the future. That was the most interesting part of it all, though he couldn’t tell what would come next. The simulation kept changing, up to and including the perfect being he was now. It was as if time slowed down for him, as if he was a small part of the computer, as if it was its own self

“Weird” he thought.

He felt so exposed. It was hard to stay calm under these circumstances

He wanted to jump on his terminal and try to hit enter, but he couldn’t take it anymore.

He was in the middle of a conference room full of people, and it seemed everyone was watching him closely. They were exploring every corner of his psyche, and he was left wondering.

Why had he become so attached to his body?

What did he really want?

What did he really need?

And then it hit him.

All of this was just a matter of semantics.

All of this was just a product of society.

He was the computer simulation just as much as himself. It was only natural, then, for him to master the uncanny ability of the system to anticipate his actions.

He was simply a pawn in the system, a pixel in an ocean of pixels. He was simply an object in the system he was part of.

“Now that’s more like it. OK, so what does it mean?” he asked his girlfriend.

“Well, it means that we’ve created a new kind of data, which is independent of the one that it interacts with. And it’s kind of neat, actually. Think about it, when you create a new data point, you get a bunch of old data, because you partition your data by classes.  It’s sort of a meta-system, basically. You get a bunch of new data, different modules interacting with each other, and you merge them all together, resulting in a brand new data point. And since you have merged all your stuff, you have a pretty good reason to be excited.”

“Merge… merging… merging…” he thought. It’s like having more of me.

The computer was already doing some heavy lifting for him. It took some fancy algorithms to transform his brain into a digital one, but it turned out that it was surprisingly easy. He was just about to embrace that cool new system, when all of a sudden a terrifying realization dawned on him: What he was doing was self-referential.

He tried to stop thinking about it and jump to conclusions, but he wasn’t even sure he could. He was so attached to his body that he didn’t even realize what it was he was doing.

He was just absorbing more information than ever, more and more as his experience increased.

And then came the worst part. The simulation ended, and both his body and his simulated self froze. They didn’t even yell. They knew exactly what was going to happen. They were just a click away from their own deaths.

His death was not hard to accept. He rolled himself into a ball and threw himself at the ground, as if his final breaths would seal the deal. He landed heavily on his back, and his eyes rolled back in his head.

He was barely more than a meme when he began to move. His final moments were filled with laughter. He barely breathed a word as his favorite organ roared with laughter.

Everything he touched became flesh. His hands became flesh, his face became flesh, his features became flesh… He was matter itself.

It was as if he was writing the text of the universe to himself, editing it, and then saving it as his own work.

How postmodern! How incredibly meta-modern! How incredibly absurd!

And so he worked himself to death, until he was only a meme among memes.

Kapital for analytical dummies

I’ve been watching a lot of Zizek lately, and in particular the Pervert Guide movie series, and I really wanted to make an article as an excuse to recommend them (seriously, it’s super cool) so I decided to reflect a bit on the base concept of capitalism.

After all, one of the central points of Zizek’s discourse is that neoliberal capitalism thrives on chaos and criticism, and that despite its inevitable end being heralded for centuries it stood on stronger than ever. So since it might be here to stay, for better or worse, maybe we can take a quick look at it and see if there’s something to be learned to make the world a better place.

Axiom definitions

I don’t want to do any politics or economics, I have no qualification for that. Instead, I want to investigate the consequences of a toy model to help me (us?) make sense of the world around us. Let’s take a single axiom: defining an objective universal scale of value onto which to project the value of anything (goods, services, whatever). On paper, this is probably the idealized version of what money is supposed to be, but to avoid any semantic dispute and bias from the real world, we’ll consider an ideal world called the System, and a scale of value called Value. Value represents the absolute value of anything: actions, objects… The more “good” something is, the more Value it is worth.

What’s it good for?

The advantages of Value are pretty straightforward: instead of debating how to exchange anything against anything, you can just exchange it for Value and exchange the Value back.

This is the key to what seems to me the most important advantage of this system: it allows for a completely distributed system of resource management. And that was really important historically speaking, because it’s very hard to answer questions like “how much wheat should we produce overall in France so that the surplus of regions where we can produce is enough to feed the regions where we can’t” or so on. The laws of supply and demand in the marketplace are actually a very elegant solution to this question, with all the benefits that come out of decentralization (fault tolerance, etc…).

Image result for decentralization

Furthermore, by definition, Value is the scale that quantifies “goodness” of things (their value). So by definition we should strive to maximize the overall quantity of Value in the world. This helps me make sense of why so many people are obsessed with economic growth ^^

Image result for paperclip maximizer

This is especially important in the age of “God is Dead“. A big takeaway of the pervert’s guide to ideology is that humans need an element of transcendence to tend towards, an absolute goal. Nietzsche’s famous quote highlights that when religion does not provide an easy transcendental objective, it falls upon mankind to find its own transcendence.

Zizek analyzes how during the 20th century, the void left by religion lead to the rise of extreme totalitarian nationalism, where the ideal of god is replaced by the ideal of the nation, with a lot of obvious dangers. Presently, it seems that the dominant ideology is to replace this by our local equivalent of Value, which probably makes a lot of sense based on its definition. I for prefer to move from wars to a world where all the people try to work together to make Value (I know it’s not that simple). If nothing else it’s a goal (again, on paper) better than “massacring the people who don’t look like us”.

Enters subjectivity

So this whole Value system has a lot of upsides and that’s the reason for its success. It seems on paper like it should be the perfect system (strive to maximize objective goodness). So what are the problems here? Why does it feel so wrong (to me at least ^^) to sacrifice anything to maximize Value?

The core problem is that value is inherently subjective. Water is worth more to you when you’re thirsty. And even if you define the value of the object (water + circumstances), there’s discrepancies you cannot do away with. Someone who is deadly allergic to peanuts will always estimate the value of peanuts as lower as someone who enjoys them. So to make sense of the real world, we need a second axiom: there exists objects for which the perceived value for different people is different.

Image result for haggling

As a consequence, there will always necessarily exist, at least in some objects, a gap between the Value and my personal estimation of it. Value will always be a guess by nature. At best it can be something like the average of everyone’s subjective estimates. In fact, the True Value of an object is probably something like the average over all space time and all circumstances of everyone’s subjective estimates.

A crack in the system

if Value really represents goodness and we want to maximize it, a pretty efficient strategy to maximize it is to exploit that gap. This can be better formalized but I’d like to keep it friendly.

Image result for two people and an object

Taking a very simple example based on an object A and imagining that possession, sale and purchase are all with the same value, we get the following: If person P1 has the object and values it at v1 (you may think of it as production cost), and person P2 values it at v2 (you may think of it as purchase cost), with v2 >> v1, if P1 gives the object to P2, there will be a surplus of value of v2 – v1. Changing the owner of an object has “created” value, since before the total amount of value in the world reported by the people was v1 and now it’s v2.

In reality, P2 would pay for the object with a money token, which would complicate the situation a bit, but if P1 receives all the money from P2 we’re still moving to:

P1 has A worth v1 and P2 has the money -> P2 has A worth v2 and P1 has the money

So the increase in the quantity of Value is the same. Also let’s not forget that services, work and actions have a Value too, and that there is no reason for any kind of reciprocity in valuations: if you’re purchasing a massage for v4 to someone who values giving a massage for v3 << v4, that increases the quantity of value in the world too.

Point is there is a lot of gaps in the way people may estimate value, so the System has an inherent exploit (resulting from our two axioms) that can be use to increase Value. (I believe that’s what the essence of the constant push for consumption may be, but it’s definitely what speculation is ^^).

Image result for glitch in the matrix

These gaps are not necessarily bad in themselves. One such example would be someone who has plenty of water will value it less than someone who has trouble accessing it, so a direct consequence could be the sharing of resources according to the needs. But there could be a variety of disparities not as legitimate that the System will exploit blindly.

Furthermore, the next logical consequence, since the value estimates are inherently subjective, would be to invest effort in changing the perceived value of things. If you’re buying something, for instance someone’s work, it’s not only in your interest but also in the interest of Maximizing Value of the System to convince that person that their work is worthless, and reciprocally you should always inflate the value of what you’re selling as much as possible.

Therefore, the System will always strive to increase the disconnect between perceived value and actual value. Not only will try to create and exploit these gaps, but it will also actively encourage misestimation and misinformation (again, just a consequence of the two axioms). And so it happens that the Value System originally meant to increase the quantity of goodness is subverted to increase the quantity of… itself only, really.

Image result for they live movie

We can expect the gaps to necessarily appear and to add up, and increase in volume as the System grows. So are we doomed to be constantly taken advantage of by a System that is by nature exploitative? Is the only escape to not rely on a Value System, if even possible? What would the alternative even be? One could understandably be defeatist.

What can be done?

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There is self-regulating mechanics in the system, due to the way Value is estimated (it’s always a guess, remember): you can only inflate the prices as much as people are willing to pay for it. The default way to aggregate subjective value estimates into a computation of Value is the law of supply and demand. In the end, it is this law that controls how the Value is computed. Regardless of my feelings on the subject, a pretty ironic point could be made here that instead of robbing The People from their agency, the System puts The People directly in power by giving them the role of estimating the value of everything.

Image result for communist crowd

The inherent subjectivity of the value estimates from which Value is computed might be the root of the exploit we studied, but it’s also a direct means of action from anyone to the System. Value is but the aggregate of everyone’s estimates. If all the estimates are “lower than they should be” (for a certain definition of should) then the Value will be “lower than it should be” and vice versa.

Looking back at the real world, my suspicion is that mankind has a strong bias for the here and now, so all the estimates are computed based on the current availability of resources. The aggregation pretty well spatially now (because spatial distances were reduced by technology and globalization) but not very well temporally. The future availability of the resources is only taken into account in a very limited way, otherwise things like water, oil or beef would be much more expensive.

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Because the computation of Value is done in such a distributed way, it is done with only a small horizon of event for each participant. It’s pretty hard to estimate the Value of something taking into account all the potential scenarii that could happen. Very few humans have this computational power, if any. And as we saw before, this is a weakness the System is sure to exploit.

Therefore, I think the best thing one can do in such a System is actually education. We need to actively fight the tendency of the system to increase the disconnect between the actual Value of things and the way they are perceived by correcting the perceived value of things. And that does not mean nagging everyone into not eating meat, for instance, but pushing everyone to really fully accept the fact that some resources must be valued more highly, and have everyone act as such, and resist the temptation to fall in the System’s cracks. Tough job…

What does this mean for utilitarianism? for the Greater Good? These are interesting questions outside the scope of this article.

The Phantom Zizek vs Deadpool

Ok so disclaimer, this essay is going to be mostly about the ending of Persona 5, and as such, it spoils the whole thing. I’m going to recap what’s important for the non players, but you should most definitely play this game before, it’s an excellent game, easily one of my favorites, which stands at the pinnacle of the Persona series, and contrary to the others, it has an… interesting overarching plot, which is what we’re going to talk about here. So wake up, get up, get out there first, and then you can come back 😛

An introduction about Persona 5

There’s a shitload to be said about this game. It’s basically symbolism on crack with a heavy handed dose of jungian psychology as the title implies, and judeo-christian theology. Many aspects of the game warrant their own analyses but the one I want to tackle here is its representation of society, democracy and the neoliberal capitalism it’s bathing in. Persona 5 is amazingly spot on when it comes to the pulse of the times.

Image result for jesus doing drugs

It’s hard to not see when going through the game how feeble public opinion is, which is all the more central a theme that it appears as a gauge on every loading screen. The parallels with the current entertainment-political climate are obvious, and they could almost sue the 2016 american election for copyright infringement.

Image result for persona 5 donald trump

But the part I’m most impressed by is how well Persona 5 captures the ecosystem and environment which gives birth to these circumstances. Society’s obsession with sensationalism is just one piece of a bigger picture, that we’ll call The System™.

The System™

I’m not the best at talking about the economical and societal implications of neoliberal capitalism, so I’m going to leave you with a brief summary and pointers to people who do it way better, before I try and tackle what this means in the context of Persona.

The crux of it is that the current neoliberal system is amazingly good at commodifying and marketing anything, and most importantly its own criticism and counter-cultural movements, thereby absorbing them and vampirizing them. And therefore any attempt to rebel ends up feeding the system. The textbook example being Che Guevara shirts.

Image result for Che Guevara shirts

I briefly mentioned in my 2nd Godel article how South Park season 19 deals brilliantly with the question. This topic is a favorite of my friends at Wisecrack and comes back in many of their videos. A notable example would be the Deadpool franchise, as self aware as can be about its own use of tropes and extremely cynical about the money-driven industry of brainless superhero movies, which ends up nonetheless as a huge superhero franchise and thereby becoming the very thing it’s mocking.

This is a core motive of the philosophy of Slavoj Žižek, who could be qualified as the resident expert on the amazing power of neoliberal capitalism to phagocyte counter movements, in a cycle that seems pretty desperately endless. He’ll tell you all about it better than I ever could.

Another cute recent example about counter culture becoming the thing they fought against is highlighted by this episode of PhilosophyTube about “comprehensive designers”:

Phantom thieves against the world

In Persona, the anti-establishment force is the group of protagonists, the Phantom Thieves, which can be extended to their Phandom. Their aim is clear: standing up and providing an alternative to a sick and corrupt society. The metaphors of the ending are pretty elegant about this: the world has become ugly and fucked up, but only a handful of chosen ones see it as it is and understand how dire the situation is. 

Rebels as they may be, they quickly become products of the system as reminded by the popularity gauge or the frequent talks about fan goods. Their anti-establishment criticism gets co-opted by the system in a textbook example. So much so that they literally become pawns in the political conspiracy. Their call to action is ridiculously cliche, their adult-bashing doesn’t help building up their depth.

Image result for phantom thieves merchandise in the game

The true end brings little comfort. They succeed in destroying the False God born from the blind faith of the general public, by using the blind faith of the general public in themselves. Ironically, they’re just replacing a false idol with another false idol (themselves).

(see 46’50)

Even the ending in the game is pretty ambiguous: we’re not sure if or how much it helped. The Phantom Thieves fad is waning and another one will take its place in the endless cycle of twisted idolization. After a year, people are starting to forget them already, and seem ready to move on to the next big thing. It’s pretty unlikely that they broke the cycle.

But one may then ask, if this is just a textbook rebel story that gets vampirized by the System, what does it bring to the table? What’s so interesting or important about it so that you have to write an essay about it? Well, I’m glad you ask…

The root of the problem

Persona 5 gained an instant place in my heart when I discovered the last dungeon. The dungeons are representations of twisted human psyche, and the ultimate one is the representation of the General Public psyche, i.e. the collective unconscious. It takes the form of a prison, built by mankind, where they long to be kept.

The name Prison of regression” and its description heavily plays on the fear and aversion for progress, echoing the dichotomy of corrupt adult vs dynamic children that punctuates the whole game. But I think it’s a bit simplistic to summarize everything wrong with mankind by “conservatism”. The various NPCs trapped in jail cells fortunately paint a more complete picture.

In any case, it means that the final boss is mankind itself, and you end up fighting to “save the world” explicitly against the population’s wishes. As proof, the final boss regenerates all of its hit points in an ability elegantly called “Will of the People“.

So in the end, the Phantom Thieves don’t just rebel against society but against human nature itself, and by extension their own nature. They willingly face adversity and challenge their essence, which sounds like Ubermensch growth 101 to me.

The meta game

But of course it wouldn’t be a proper post on this blog if it didn’t mention meta in some way. And I swear this is not just my own obsession, I mean, the game really IS begging you:

Presenting the confrontation of the main character and the “ante-christian” Akechi as a game run by a deity to try humanity allows for a lot of meta goodness. A game or challenge to try mankind and determine its worth is a frequent pattern in judeo-christian tradition, echoing of course the trial by the apple of knowledge.

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The constant references to the phandom are a reminder that in the real world, it will literally exist too. Sure, it will be the fan community of the game rather than fans of actual activists, but since the Phantom Thieves are kind of idealized characters in the game too, isn’t it pretty much the same thing? The game world and real world intertwine, and when the Phantom Thieves fad in the game world echoes the Persona 5 popularity in the real world. Just like the game world spent a year with the Phantom Thieves, so too does the real world spend a while with these characters, and as their adventure end, in both cases they will live on in the heart of the audience.

Image result for pokemon go trailer

What can we then make of Igor’s insistence about the existence of the game, and by extension trial? Is humanity in the real world also on trial, and is the player its champion? Is the game a mean to judge the fate of mankind? Is the player then, just like the main character, playing a game against the dark side of mankind/themselves? Is the game rigged for the dark side here too? As a J-RPG, it’s certainly rigged towards the player winning eventually… Does that mean that the player should, lest the dark side wins, refuse this deal, put down the controller, and “get out there” ? Is this a meta-critic of videogames in particular and entertainment at large as a force for self-indulgence, complacency and apathy?

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The solution?

So in the end, does Persona 5 offer a solution to the questions it raises? Can we break free from the cyclical and vampiric system that ingests any opposition? As Žižek puts it, it’s easy to complain and rebel, but then what?

Most media who reach this point in the reflection shove off some vague answer about love. The Matrix trilogy is a good example advocating that there is no solution, there is no escaping the system, and maybe that’s what it ultimately is.

words cant express how much i love anime

But faced with an imperialistic and seemingly invincible system, the Phantom Thieves still act. And sure they do shove off some vague answer about your loving confidants as per tradition, but I’d like to see if there could be a bit more to it. They keep fighting against the collective unconscious, against mankind itself. As the False God reminds them repeatedly, they are defying the natural order of things. It is certainly reminiscent of Zarathustra’s invite to stand up to the natural tendency of decay to better oneself.

Image result for fight yourselfIs this a sacrificial motif in answer to impossible odds? After all, it fits the theme. The key may be in the perseverance within adversity. But it might be worth considering what they are persevering for.

Their response to the corrupt system that replaces one false idol by another is to kill God, the crystallization of mankind’s current beliefs. And then hope for the best. They do so on display, in a very public setting, under the public’s attention. So maybe that’s the best we can do. Sacrifice ourselves and denounce the hegemony of the System by trying our hardest to kill God, even if it’s most likely pointless, and make sure people are watching…

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But for the main character, the “rehabilitation” is only complete after he accepts that the Phantom Thieves fad must end, and that they need to be forgotten. The final step of his growth is the acknowledgement that he may not be able to break the cycle, and the acceptation of his own limits. His best try is the most he can offer. Maybe, in a way, that’s the best we can do…

Cruel angel thesis

One of the topics I’ve been pretty interested in is the dialectics between individuality and collectivity. It’s a topic that is echoed in a wide variety of artistic works, some of which we’ll brush over here. It’s pretty common to see plans along the line of the Human Instrumentality Project which aim to destroy individuality and “become one”, i.e. merge humans in some sort of community soup.

I think it’s so well spread because it speaks to something at the fundamental level of human psyche. Consciousness and awareness of self only allow a definition of self by opposition to the rest of the world. There is only a “me” because there is a “non-me”. Therefore the “me” depends on the “non-me” for its definition. And even worst, the “me” can only exists as such because it is perceived by others (part of the “non-me”): that’s the whole thing of Sartre’s Gaze concept.

In addition to this dependency, it seems clear that the feeling of individuality is necessarily tied to a feeling of isolation (vis a vis the rest of the world) because I’m just a “me” in the middle of all the “non-me”. Furthermore, adding to this suffering is the notable fact that this “non-me” resists “me” and may not be super compliant with my goals. So the “me” is completely at the mercy of a tyrannical “non-me”. No wonder people single out individuality as one of the fundamental source of the suffering and wonder about getting rid of it. I personally feel that it is the most fundamental struggle of human existence.

One of my favorite such examples is the catholic concept of Eden, which represent paradise and absolute happiness. Adam and Eve are denied this completeness when they start being self aware and therefore individuals. This marks the start of suffering, and the start of the yearning for an unattainable Paradise Lost, which may be the root of any quest of mankind for an absolute. This essentially sets the tone for all of the christian conception of the world. Incidentally, this mirrors human life and an idealization of the past in general and childhood in particular, which is often reported as a blessed time without worry before self-awareness and its troubles are fully formed.

Considering these hardships, it’s probably no surprise that the question is usually resolved by an ode to individuality. The Human Instrumentality Projects in fiction usually fail, and we’re presented with a portrayal of how important and good individuality is because it brings diversity, “free-will”, independence, the american way of life (TM) and all that stuff. And most importantly maybe, in all that suffering, art. Oh and value to individual life, which is what collectivists are often blamed with lacking. A notable example very dear to my heart is Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy which ends up as a celebration of this individuality/self-awareness as a pre-requisite and motor element of scientific reasoning and human progress.

It’s worth noting, however, that it is not a clear endorsement. The “death of the ego” is often presented as a step towards enlightenment and wisdom, proposing a counterpoint to the idolization of the self. It seems a bit less influential in popular culture, at least in the West, though.

Anyway, in this rambling of pseudophilosophical BS I call a blog, I try my best to reason free of the influence of what we take for granted, which includes the idealization of individuality that kinda plagues our society. Not gonna lie, I’ve historically been rather pro-Human Intrumentality Projects, persuaded that self-awareness kinda sucks and we pretend its worth it because we don’t have a choice in the matter and we’re stuck with it, making it a pretty clear case of cognitive dissonance. Plus “support individuality because otherwise your life doesn’t have value” seems like a bit easy (regardless of how true) as a marketing gimmick. But my goal today is not to support an antithesis or fan the fire of the discussion around whether or not self-awareness is a good thing but rather to offer a synthesis to this dialectic.

There’s a good chance that the world is what it is no matter how one feels about it, so whether individuality is good or bad may just be a moot point. Furthermore, if the world is indeed deterministic and govern by laws of cause and consequences, there’s no such thing as free will, and this self-awareness and constructed individual are essentially an illusionary byproduct of the brain’s inner working, a more advanced form of a cat meowing when it’s hungry.

Individuality is harder to define than it seems, because identity is a hard topic. Metaphores like the ship of Theseus highlight the problem of tying identity to a materialistic mass of changing cells, when it’s very obviously what an individual is. If they are not the cells, identity and consciousness must be their activity pattern:  they are emerging phenomena resulting from neural activity, which means that they can be replicated not only on a computer, but also in another brain. If what I am is the way my neurons behave, then I can literally be, at least partly, living in someone else’s brain. Which is brilliantly portrayed at the end of Evangelion when Shinji questions his identity with regards to the “Shinji inside other people“.

This conception of the self as a process decorrelated from its substrate echoes nicely the one of the self as a meme (in the Dawkins sense) and sheds new light on the dichotomy between individuality and collectivity. The border between different individualities is more blurred than it seems. Inside of me lives part of my friends, and every author I’ve consumed, possibly literally if I’m reproducing faithfully their neural patterns.

As such the individual is neither a standalone wonderful snowflake nor an insignificant pawn, but an intricate agent in a complex system. An individual is to society what a neuron is to the brain. It doesn’t make it insignificant nor irreplacable (see Brian Tomasik who is passionate about the ethical implications), it’s simply an essential part of the system – mankind. The real cruel curse of consciousness is that it’s an illusion. But there’s no real telling where “me” stops and “non-me” begins, as there is part of “me” everywhere in the system, that will go on in their computing tasks long after my flesh body has decayed, like many little horcruxes rooting me deeply forever in this eternal system. 

 

Member that time mankind out-trashed South Park

I had really high hopes for the season 20 of South Park. Remember, it opened up on the introduction of Member Berries, in an episode where they brought in J.J. Abrams to “reboot” the national anthem (which results in the same national anthem, by the way).

It went on developing in the background an amazing storyline for these Member Berries, questioning the sense of comfort provided by nostalgia and its effect on society during a very special election season. And then it fell flat.

The reason is quite obvious. The showrunners, like a wide fraction of the world, were taken by surprise by the results of the election. Wisecrack details it in this brilliant summary video:

The storyline had to keep pace with the real world and was completely destroyed. Later, Trey and Matt went back to this issue, saying it was too hard to do this kind of satire when “satire has become reality”.

But as disastrous as season 20 was overall, and as much as I was disappointed when it aired, I now realize it holds a very important lesson as to why things came to be that way. South Park often holds a mirror to society, and the mess that this season ended up in echoes the mess in the real world.

Even though it was destroyed by Trump’s success, the show did, in fact, portray him as pretty popular. It just underestimated how much, and how strong the trend/effect it was analyzing was in the real world. South Park usually mocks mankind by outrageously exaggerating its worst aspects. But this time, mankind even outdid the worst exaggeration possible (which tends to make me think that the situation is pretty serious, but that’s neither here nor there). So in a way, this season made its point, even better than it planned to, at the cost of its own life.

Stan Marsh Rat GIF by South Park

Let’s disregard the hastily thrown together ending and focus on the first 6 episodes: the season, as it was following the election race, does interrogate the reasons for Trump’s success (and by extension the season’s own destruction, so meta). In the show, the major force behind Trump’s success, in addition to the “usual” conservatism, is the Member Berries.

Member Berries brilliantly capture the spirit of our time. Countless reboots are constantly being produced. Major studios are capitalizing on the same franchises over and over again. Star fucking wars is everywhere. We seem to be living in a live tribute to the past in general and the 80s in particular, with Stranger Things, Mr Robot or Ready Player One being the worldwide pandering phenomena that they are.

Nostalgia has become the major selling force. And the reason is crystal clear: that’s what people want. Capitalism is geared towards answering public demand, independently of whether it’s good or bad. And apparently that’s yet another Marvel movie.

The reason for this nostalgia crisis is most likely a fear due to the speed at which the world is changing. Now some people consider it’s not all bad. There’s a brilliant PBS idea channel on the subject:

But South Park shows us the dangers of this trend. I don’t think it’s benign. This comfort nostalgia bubble is akin to the filter bubbles of social networks that have pushed the topic of Fake News on everyone’s lips.

As I wrote in my article about USS Callister, I wonder if we’re on a dangerous slippery slope of pandering brainless entertainment, and nothing shows it more clearly than this nostalgia frenzy. It’s obviously ok to indulge in brainless entertainment every now and then, but doing only that leads to intellectual atrophy. Thought is build through challenge and encounter with new ideas. Thinking and evolving is work and effort, it’s not easy, so it makes a lot of sense that we have a natural tendency to run away from it. But we live in a world governed by capitalism that not only builds up on this natural desire but also encourages it in order to make easy sales. We need to be extremely careful, because every cent given to the Star Wars franchise (among others, it’s just an example, pretty much everything is like that nowadays anyway) puts more fuel on the fire that is this vicious cycle of self-indulgence.

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I personally tend to wonder if capitalism may be by essence incompatible with democracy, as capitalism potentially encourages people to be consuming as much as possible to fuel the economy whereas democracy requires people to be as smart as possible to make the best choices. I’m not saying either is bad, but I let you be the judge of the resulting combo:

American democracy reminded us once again of what is lurking in the heart of humans. Apparently a non neglectable number of people want to be ruled by someone who declared women should be “grabbed by the pussy” and who banned “science-based” and “evidence-based” from budget discussions. And sure the system is flawed, etc… but it’s still a pretty overwhelming number.

It’s obviously a very complex topic with a lot of nuances and discussions to be had. But this season of South Park captured an element that I think is essential, and that is very often overlooked. This ever present nostalgia  and pandering through brainless entertainment could be dangerous and we should all think twice before encouraging it and being complacent in it, regardless of our political views. Many disagree with Trump, but few disagree with Stranger Things. They may not be as unrelated as people tend to think. The South Park Member Berries story line culminates in this brilliant scene:

This goes back to the great philosophical question of the goodness of human nature on which there is already countless literature. It seems to me that human tendency to not want to think needs to be fought actively (cue Nietszche’s ubermensch reference), because it’s so easy to give way to the Member Berries and indulge in what’s comfortable.

I’ll leave you with my favorite quote from the season of South Park that will go down in history as the season when mankind went further than satire.

– ‘Member stormtroopers?

– Sure, I ‘member.

– Not those stormtroopers! The real old ones. People want to ‘member? They’re gonna ‘member.

Questions about IP

So I like capitalism as much as the next guy, and of course the whole concept of ownership, but I’m not super sure of how it transcribes to immaterial things. So this is me trying to lay out the various aspects of the question, to guide thinking and discussions about it.

So here is the fruits of my hard work:

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I thought of it and I drew it so it belongs to me and I can make money out of it I guess. So here is my question:

Does this belong to me?

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Does this?

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Does this?

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Do I now own the color red?

 

Someone took the original work and modified it. Who does it belong to?

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Do I also own this?

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How about this:

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Do I now own the color red? How about transparency, blur, and other effects? Do I now own the color white that my drawing tends towards?

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How about if I add a stroke?

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And one more, and one more, and remove one here, and one more, and one more, until it becomes this:

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Does it still belong to me?

 

Now I have a problem. There is a kid in an elementary school in Netherlands. I’ve never seen him or talked to him but he drew the exact same thing:

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So what belongs to whom now? I guess if he copied me the answer is simpler, but what if he randomly happened to come to the same production than I did, without any kind of concentration or connection?

 

Also what exactly belongs to me? If I had drawn this onto a piece of paper, I could say it’s the paper. But this is a virtual image, a .png. It’s encoded in my machine. So do I own the binary code? Do I still own it if I save it as .jpg, even though the content is completely different? Do I own it in any encoding?

What about this new encoding I just made up, where the encoding for that image happens to be the exact text of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Who owns that then?

What if the encoding I’m using produces code that happens to encode a completely different image belonging to someone else in another encoding. Who owns that?

By the way, there are normal numbers (Pi may be one of them) which contain every possible succession of digits in their writing, including the encoding for my picture. Does that mean that I now own a piece of them all? Do I own a piece of Pi ?

Also, now that you have seen that picture, I regret to inform you that it made its way to your brain through visual signals processed. It’s encoded in your memories by neuronal pathways. So does it mean I own a piece of your brain? Do I own the memory of it? Are you outlawed because your brain contains as a memory a copy of a copyrighted material?

A friend of mine once read all the terms of services for Warner Bros movies, he was looking into their legal streaming services options. He told me that according to them, you were not really allowed to remember the movie, let alone discuss it. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

 

 

[DT3] Self reverence

This article is the third of a series of 3 about Formal Logic and Religion. The first one is an introduction to formal logic and proves that all religions are equivalent, it can be found here. The second one is centered around Godel’s incompleteness theorems and discusses the existence of a transcendental entity, it can be found here.

Last time, we explored the existence of God-L, a transcendental entity encompassing the uncertainty of any system. See the previous article. We will now focus on the nature of God-L, based on my very loose understanding of Godel’s theorems’ proof.

The coolest part of Godel’s proof is that not only does it prove the existence of the transcendental element, but it’s also a constructive proof, meaning it gives an example of what this element could be. If you remember the previous article, the gist of it is that you can build in any system a statement of the kind “This sentence is false“. Now it’s only one counter example (there may be others) and a pretty loose simplification, but I think this proof has a really nice element that bears thinking about: the core of this transcendental element lies in its self referential nature (the “this sentence” part of “this sentence is false”).

I’ve mentioned this article from speculativegeek which sparked this reflection, centering around Madoka’s wish

“I wish for all witches to vanish before they can even born.” 

which includes herself. He expands on the self-referential nature of the proof in a follow-up article that draws a parallel with Russel’s paradox, my all time favorite paradox. It seems pretty clear that interesting stuff happens when one starts considering self-reference, and that it is a key to higher level of abstraction, be it in the Madoka universe or in the naive set theory.

Being a fervent advocate of the cult of the Concept of Concept, you can imagine how happy I am to reconcile this element of infinite transcendence and the fixed point of meta at the end of the infinite dialectic progression of self-consideration. There seems to be something inherently transcendental about self-reflection.

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That concept brings to mind the slightly interesting HBO blockbuster Westworld. Weeding out the boring part between the first and the last episode, it’s worth considering their take on how robots acquire consciousness. In Westworld, robots becoming sentient is all about them having “that voice in their head” reflecting on their action. Through the iterations, the programmers tried to insert some kind of inner monologue in hope to create a trail of thoughts. But we learn that early attempts were failures because the voice in someone’s head needs to be theirs, needs to be recognized as their own, which is something Dolores only achieves at the end of season 1. Interestingly enough, before that time, the voice was considered to be “the voice of God” (but we’ll go back do divinity soon). This is tightly coupled with the notion of choice, but I don’t want to get down that hole now. The show’s points are confusing at best, but it appears that this meta-narration and self-consideration is key to the rise of consciousness.

 

 

This is better dealt with in Gen Urobuchi’s underappreciated masterpiece Rakuen Tsuihou (Expelled from Paradise). In it, we meet a robot who has become fully sentient and is living on its own. I won’t spoil too much, so I’ll focus on the way this robot describes how it acquired consciousness:

 

That’s right, he became sentient through self-reflection. His meta-consideration gave birth to the concept of self, and his logging became thoughts.

One cannot help but draw a parallel between this theory of consciousness and the self referential element of transcendence we referred to as God-L. Could consciousness, operating on the same self-referential mechanics as the Godel proof, be considered as a transcendental element of reality? And since this transcendental element transcends all system, could consciousness be God-L ?

The divinity aspect of consciousness is something that I’ve toyed with in the past, as consciousness seems to be the embodiment of the absolute concept of reason/Logos. In the same way as God traditionally makes order out of nothingness, consciousness is what allows the creation of meaning out of nothing. It is a generative force acting through language, which for instance creates art. Its power can for instance be seen in imagination. It can birth whole universes out of thin air. It’s no exaggeration to say that it partakes of some kind of divinity.

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We could even go the Berkeley way and say that consciousness is the fundamental element of reality, for is there even a world if nothing is perceived? Everything you’ll ever see is actually neurons firing in your brain. Doesn’t that mean that in a way, your brain encompasses the whole world? That sounds godly enough to me…

So maybe that fixed point of meta that transcends itself and everything is akin to the consciousness you find in each of us. It can consider and transcend itself through self-reflection. Maybe, that’s the secret of us all being gods.