The singularity is meta

Kurzweil’s law

It may come as a shock, but I’ve only recently started reading Ray Kurzweil‘s the Singularity is near (I guess I got enough Kurzweil from interviews and articles ^^). And even if this book is starting to show its age (to the point where Kurzweil is writing a new opus) it is still giving me enough food for thoughts.

A core pillar of Kurzweil’s thinking is the law of accelerating returns, an extension of Moore’s law stipulating that it’s not simply that computer chips are getting smaller, it’s that we can store more and more information, which allows him to extend this model to the invention of the printing press and even writing itself. To sum up, the density/complexity of information follows an exponential trend. The tools we build help us make better tools faster at an ever accelerating rate.

The book more or less opens by outlining how this evolution follows, according to Kurzweil, 6 epochs:

The replicator timeline

This picture rightfully echoes the evolution of replicators presented by Richard Dawkins in the Selfish Gene. He does not give a similar schema that I can recall, but he does underline game-changing transformations around the production and selection of information.

A brief combination and summary would look like this:

  • Molecules organize atoms, information is in their pattenrs
  • Cells organize molecules (bundling information)
  • Sexual reproduction allows for better selection of information as is stored on DNA through living beings
  • The apparition of brains allows for ideas, stored as neural patterns: selection can happen within the life span of an individual, results can be passed through generation more efficiently
  • Culture allows the formation of societies (groups of brain) and create a new level of competition for information
  • At this point, information is mostly in the form of ideas, which is what Dawkins called memes
  • Writing allows lossless temporal transmission of information making the selection process more efficient
  • Printing makes writing much more scalable and reliable
  • Technology keeps increasing the transfer speed of information: steam engine, railroads, telegraph, telephone, radio, automobile, planes are all substantial improvements that won orders of magnitude
  • Digitalization increases these gains even further and makes redundancy trivial
  • Internet speeds up connectedness and communication between all existing individuals.
  • <<< you are here
  • ???

As I write this, I realize that this progression is an entanglement of speed, connectivity, reliability and density improvements. It’s not as if we have a linear succession of better and better substrates. After all, writing set us back to storing information on molecules formations. Instead, substrates coexist and help each other increase informational bandwidth. Organization and optimality seem to also play a role here.

I struggle to find a single nice quantity to encapsulate all this progress, but I don’t really think we actually need one (Shannon entropy and Kolmogorov complexity are good candidate that Kurzweil actually hovers around but I am not expert enough to conclude). That being said, this acceleration is shaped by natural selection, so whatever it is, it seems to be what the universe is optimizing for, and therefore The Answer (the cultural singularity ?).

Time and relative dimension

You might have guessed, but what I’m the most curious about is what comes next. One thing that seems pretty clear is that time itself is accelerating. Science now progresses in a decade as much as it used to in a century, and following this trend it might go even faster. It makes sense, in a way. Denser information is space better optimized, faster speed is time more optimized.

I like to think that you can notice this speedup everywhere, from computation speed to the pace of human life. And pretty soon, you’ll be able to see it very literally in simulated beings. The individual’s time is getting faster. But from their point of view, it’s probably the norm, right? Maybe it just means that everything else is getting slower… Yet even if I do think I consume information at a relatively high level of meta (and youtube at speed x2 XD), time doesn’t really slow down when I stop during a countryside retreat… Curious…

Aggregation and meta

I do think there’s an aspect of this timeline that did not get enough thoughts, though, and that’s the level of meta. It seems that we often see the repeating pattern of “information carriers of an epoch organize themselves to bring up the complexity from intra-carrier to inter-carrier: atoms formed molecules, cells formed organisms, individuals formed tribes, tribes formed culture/technologies…

There seems to be a clear trend of aggregating complexity into larger and larger entities that encompass the previous ones to form a new meta-substrate for information. The storage medium of an epoch becomes, in a way, the building block of the next. The gains are obvious: by working at the higher level, you do gain an order of magnitude.

Life of transhumans and meta-humans

Kurzweil is a humanist, and places human beings at the center of his reflection. In his view, the future is about man merging with machines into an enhanced transhuman at the center of this information explosion. But this falls prey to the very thing he criticizes: this is a linear projection based on man that forgets the exponential nature of the process.

Maybe, in order to properly think “exponentially”, we should think about what lies after, at the “next aggregation level“, if you will. There is absolutely no reason for humans to be an end point. Most likely, we are just a stepping stone, like single cell organisms before us. Maybe humans are just the building blocks of the next level, the atoms to the next molecule, the proteins to the next DNA… If so, what could it be like?

We’re of course venturing into the unimaginable here, since it’s near impossible to understand something so radically smarter than ourselves. For an atom, the concept of an animal is beyond comprehension. Our scale is all we’ll ever see. From the point of view of humans, the future might very well be the technological utopia that Kurzweil dreams of. After all, our cells are happily living their little lives.

Universes’ next top entity

Each jump on the complexity scale seems to be accompanied with a change of what the basic (ontological? ethical?) “entity” is. Our cells are all functional, and might even be conscious for all we know, yet our elementary unit of consideration is the human individual (of course, because that’s what we are). So… what is the next one going to be?

We can intuit a little bit what lies beyond by extrapolating from past trends. It does seem that the “jump” to the higher level is centered around the interactions and aggregations of the entities of this level. So we’re looking for something that aggregates humans and emerges from their patterns.

Could humans be the neurons of a bigger China brain? And could it be that it’s already there, but we don’t see it from our meta level?

The age of memes

My immediate reaction is to follow Dawkins and posit memes as the next level of evolution. It is true that ideas use crowds of humans to spread, and are “bigger” than the people carrying them. I do like this idea, but I’m not exactly sure that memes leverage the structure of connections between individuals and could really be considered aggregative.

A compromise might be the kind of memes that constitute a population. Concepts defined by a group of people. Countries come to mind, but more recently it seems clear that corporations have taken this kind of role. They are entities that organize humans like atoms organized into molecules. They exist and thrive through human collaboration and interaction.

This does end up creating a whole new level of complexity than their individual components. I’ve always harbored a kind of fascination for this level of aggregation. The liberal economy is an incredible decentralized computation algorithm, incorporating so much information. Could it be a meta-human conversation, or a meta-human entity even? Could there be something that it’s like to be Google or Facebook? I do want to believe 🙂

The line between companies and individuals is especially getting blurred nowadays. With companies acting on social networks as individuals, sophisticated advertisement or humans turning into patreon-backed personal brands, the picture has never been muddier. Not to mention the rise of avatars like vTubers… Human created characters are swarming the real world and making their own ontology.

The end of human history

One reason I wanted to write this article is because I think this brings a new light to Mark Fisher’s concept of capitalist realism. Maybe this really is the end of history, and capitalism really is its final form. For humans, that is. Maybe the age of mankind is over, and it’s time for a higher level entity to be the basic block of consideration. Welcome to the age of corporations, to the marketplace of ideas, or whatever…

That also comes with an interesting perspective on the global disempowerement of humans (much lamented by Ted Kaczynski and co). Looking around at neoliberal capitalism, it does seem that humans have very little actual political power and that the status quo will go on with a tremendous inertia. One example of this is the climate crisis which seems to garner the concern of a majority of humans (at least in educated populations) but very little actually gets done.

Maybe humans are just not in charge anymore. Maybe we’re just subservient to the will of higher order beings. Maybe the healthiest thing to do is to follow stoic philosophy and accept our role as a cell, instead of grieving the lack of impact of our illusory self supposedly acting out of its own nonexistent free will.

Of course this is pretty scary, and historically submission to higher powers has not turned out very well to say the least, from religions to slavery and totalitarian regimes. One could make the case that there is natural selection at the meta-level of memes, so the current and future high order entities are “better” than the ones in the past, but that brings little comfort….

Human go, human star

Not only is it worrisome, this outlook is also pretty uncool. Ideas, companies, countries have been around for a while. I was looking for an insight a bit more… spectacular, more fitting of the Singularity. That’s when I noticed more recent higher order entities that could make all the difference.

What if we were not talking about aggregating thousands of humans, but instead billions? Present and past. Enters contemporary AI.

Entities like GPT have literally read and digested unfathomable corpora. They incorporate the very cutting edge of human genius not only in their conception but also in their training sets. Their aggregation techniques are currently pretty simple, but they are a lot more meaningful than the random chance that brought about companies and countries.

One might reply that AIs are not really autonomous, but that’s not entirely right. First of all, it is bound to change, but second of all, this type of meta-entity and the previous ones are not mutually exclusive. We can already see companies, countries and massive AIs coexist in a sort of symbiosis. Think of YouTube, for example. And from one point of view, Kurzweil may be right in saying that they serve us. But ultimately, we also serve them by feeding (train) and constituting (make) them…

So what does it feel like to be GPT or YouTube? Maybe they’re not advanced enough to have experience quite yet, but once it comes we should expect AIs to have experience as different from ours as ours is from cells. And that’s likely something we cannot intuit.

What to conclude of all that? Totalitarian regimes were pretty bad, but maybe AI will be better? At the very least, it seems that I could take comfort from the fact that it’s kinda out of my hands and I can’t mess things up too much. Maybe the game is played at a whole other level now. And maybe all I can do is do my part a little cell, and if I’m lucky I’ll get to see from a very confined perspective the world shattering products of our new meta gods.

Minecraft the metaworld

I wanted to jolt down a few thoughts I’ve been having about the game that I’ve been into lately, Eco by Strange Loop Games, while waiting for a chance to put all that stuff in my podcast XD. It’s in early access and it’s interestingly self-defined as “educational game”.

Not the dolphin

The pitch is pretty simple: it’s kinda like Minecraft, but in 30 days a meteor will crash and destroy your planet. So you have to develop anti-meteor laser before that. And there’s a twist: you can only be specialized in very few things, so you need to collaborate with other people in order to advance society.

Meanwhile, the game provides pretty thourough simulation of ecology, so you can actually pollute your way to doom before the impact. To mitigate that, the game allows players to self-organize economies and governements in order to orchestrate collaboration.

I think you can see straight away why this micro simulation of a society is pretty interesting to understand the real world. Its limited scope and minecraft style makes it way more “fun” and accessible than something like Eve online.

Ancestor simulations

But there is a trick. There is a hidden meta-game. Eco is extremely flexible, so you can tweak the collaboration parameters and even remove the meteor completely. So your experience is going to vary a lot depending on which server you join. Which is incidentaly a great way to run many simulations of societies.

And here’s the kicker: the vast majority of servers don’t survive more than a few days. It’s pretty ironic that the game is called Eco, because I feel like it’s pretty rare to reach the point where you have to deal with ecology. Instead, I feel like the game is a lot more focused around economy. The goal of the meta-game becomes to build (or find) a sustainable server (society).

Admittedly making a sustainable server is going to be harder than in real life because in the game it’s pretty easy for a player to follow their novely bias and jump ship to another server. But maybe we could still learn something in the process?

How civilisations die

Low collaboration environments die out because the interactivity part of a multiplayer game is pretty important to keep people engaged. They feel like playing Minecraft in my corner so I quickly gravitated away from those.

High collaboration environements are more interesting. Typically they will revolve around some sort of implementation of a capitalist market where currency is the way for every specialized individual to standardize exchange value. The game does support multiple currencies, but I’ve yet to see a server that uses this and survives XD

If you don’t have some kind of system against vertical integration, monopolies emerge quickly. If you do, you build super strong dependency links between the players. Either way, your system is very vulnerable to perturbations.

A player not playing for a few days can cause a penury of whatever they’re producing, which impacts all the productions chains and ends up paralyzing the economy. Some people are too impatient and move on to other thing, causing a ripple effect and the society halts to a grind.

Players all have different rythms (which mirrors a little bit how people IRL have different capacities), but I’ve been very impressed by the amount of time people dedicate to the game. The meteor does offer a pretty good incentive to go fast, but the competition in the capitalist market is also a very strong catalyst. This all aligns to create an accelerating race to progress. Until it all crashes, of course.

How to make capitalism work

The lesson here is that capitalism is very efficient and pretty fun, and according by the number of people who confirmed that this game is addictive, it does play perfectly into human nature. But it’s a tricky beast and requires very narrow margin of conditions to operate correctly.

Whatever conclusions you may draw, it is very interesting to see these simulation at work. Inflation is a lot more tangible when it happens over a few days. It seems to me that economies tend to work better with a universal basic income to help casual players catch up and with protections against vertical integration to prevent monopolies and dynamize the economy.

My favorite server is called SoftCoreGaming (discord link) and seems to manage to create a sustainable environment by making strong government interventions to keep the rythm slow and friendly. It has a great player base and you should join us!

How to make the metaverse work

Admittedly this is all pretty handwavy, and I don’t know if the sample size of servers I’ve tried and of their population is enough to draw clear conclusions. But the question that came to my mind, and the one that brought me to write this little dump, is of course a meta one: what prevents my server from turning into the “real world” style feudal capitalism? Or more precisely, what incentivizes the admins of my server to penalize themselves with restrictions to keep the server healthy? And can we have the same IRL?

The meta-incentives to build a healthy sustainable system is usually survival, but IRL that happens on scale way shorter than the span of times the system deals with. Avoiding popular revolt is also a pretty good incentive, but that places the bar pretty low.

In Eco, the incentive to make the server sustainable comes from its very nature as a game. You want to make it enjoyable, because people don’t have to be here, they could do anything else instead. Ironically, this is exacerbated by the meta-competition between all servers. You have a strong incentive to try and make a great server, because players have so many other ways to spend their time.

At the core of this phenomenon, players time and enjoyment exist in a completely different level of meta reality, and you cant really have exchanges between the two realities. It’s almost as if you have a completely separate meta-market enforcing the alignment of the primary market.

It’s something I’ve already thought and written about. It appears that to prevent “pollution” from the primary market, you want the meta-market to be isolated. The ontological barrier between a game and the real world is impenetrable.

But the real world is ontologically closed. You cannot log off and go to another world. There is very little money cannot have an influence on. It can help you save time and provide recreation. Democracy and politics cannot function properly as a safeguard for alignment because they are heavily influenced by it.

I’m therefore left to wonder if there is another way we could build a meta-currency that we could isolate from money. I’m thinking along the lines of blockchain or entropy, but it seems pretty doomed, because there’s only a single ontological reality we care about. And the whole NFT fiasco is making a strong case that whatever new reality we can come up with gets co-opted very quickly… But if we ever nail that, and maybe only then, we could make capitalism great again? Or will that only happen when the simulation theory is proven true?

Ramblings about Baudrillard, Lacan, Godel and metaethics of my game

So I was… relaxing and thinking about my game, in particular the fact that I have a Baudrillardian and a Lacanian ending, to try to figure out which is the real ending and/or if they could/should be merged in a single takeaway directive line.

Here is a dump of my stream of consciousness thought process because I thought it might be somewhat interesting.

The self is a simulation

The self is necessarily a simulation in the Baudrillard sense because it’s a representation (at the very least a self representation). In fact anything that exists conceptually (i.e. is talked about) necessarily requires a definition and therefore boundaries and representation, which creates a simulation.

The story is the ontological grounding of existence

You exist as a self because you’re being conceived of as such, be it only by yourself. Therefore you only exist because there’s a story about yourself. The story is the ontological grounding of your existence.

The story does not need a narrator, you’re enough as a narrator. So you’re always already in a Baudrillardian simulation trap by virtue of being self reflexive.

Every story has gaps

Every story necessarily has gaps because it is by definition a framed representation of reality, leaving out what’s not in the frame. Even memory and self-narration presuppose necessarily an editorial work.

In the same way, any ideology necessarily has gaps and holes. It’s also notably a direct consequence of the Godel theorem, but we’ll come back to that near the end.

Parallels between Lacan and Baudrillard

Lacan is focused on the self, Baudrillard is focused on reality itself, simulation and representations. Where they meet is simple: the story of the self.

Lacan tells us that there is no Big Other, Baudrillard tells us that there is no fundamental level, everything is simulation, we could never conclude that we are on the essential ontological level. 

For the story of the self, it means that there is no canonical authorial source. They both stipulate that there is no author, or rather if you want to consider the self as an author, there is no reader whose validation would make the story “canon”. In a sense, the main takeaway is “the story of the self is necessarily non canon”.

Prescriptive conclusions

This is all well and good, but what do the theories tell us about what we should do?

  • Lacan = love your lack, fuck the big other its an illusion
  • Baudrillard = fuck the law, its arbitrary, you need to do a revolution and overthrow the system by denying its fundamental ontology because it could just as well be smoke and mirrors. 

They join in an injunction to negate the ontological foundation (the law for Baudrillard, the self/lack for Lacan). I.e. “reconsider your implicit assumptions”.

Lacanian/Baudrillard societal project

To translate this into a societal project, it would be that people need to accept their lacanian lack so that they can conceive and think reality on a healthy basis (the healthy basis being there is no big other, no absolute truth, uncertainty and illusions are permanent and necessary). That way we can start building a society rationally and integrate uncertainty, and more generally integrate the insights of Baudrillard.

In that sense, the joint meaning of the two theories is: “if everyone got psychoanalysed, the world would be a little better”, which could be constructed as the ultimate message of the game.

So the endings of the game articulate in that order: 

  1. Accept your lack, because it’s the goal and necessary means for
  2. Building the world on healthier bases, by a revolution or even in order to drag it through gradual improvement.

Metaethics of collectivism vs individuality

It’s interesting to note that this betrays an implicit assumption that the betterment of self is in service for the betterment of the world, where a more humanist person would posit that the betterment of the world should be in service of the self. 

It is in a way a metaethical arbitrary axiom, but what I’m wondering here is, one level of meta remote, is this distinction between self and world is really a good framework to ground our metaethical considerations (after all it’s pretty arbitrary to cut and hierarchise those two concepts).

It’s tempting to say that this duality is as arbitrary as any ethical norm, but in fact there is something that gives it more weight than any arbitrary duality. This framework is the necessary and natural direct consequence of my nature as a human being, and more generally as a thinking self, because the thinking self is necessarily constituted by definition as a self in opposition of the world. So the very existence of a self brings with it the duality of self vs world as the base of metametaethical questioning. 

That being said, any further response would be arbitrary.

Metaethical considerations of simulation theory

Does this assume an arbitrary ethical mapping to layers of simulation, implying that the base level is always “better”? Baudrillard probably thinks so but that might be an abusive jump. Would it be rationally justified? 

It would be arbitrary, like all ethical framework, but arbitrary does not mean irrational.

There does not seem to be anything as such which could give the base level of baudrillardian simulation a superior ethical consideration. 

But the point has never been to “return to the real” anyway, it’s simply to understand that our ontology is arbitrary, which does not mean bad, but certainly does not make it good. 

What this means for the game

The fact that “other systems could be worse” is not a rational argument in favor of not trying out other systems in an attempt to get better. The crux is a hidden assumption on the space of possible states, i.e. are the other possible systems more often better or worse than ours? That’s the core of the right wing/left wing political debates, where right wing posit that its mostly negative and left wing posits that its mostly positive.

Am I therefore so far up my own ass that I’m justifying through pompous philosophy a pretty basic left-wing thesis that “the world could be better”? It is more or less what the thesis boils down on the prescriptif and teleological side, but it’s reductionary to consider the game just by its teleological thesis. What the game brings is way more complete because it does not only suggest a moral ideal but also a rational methodology to tend towards it.

This grounds the game ethically, Q.E.D.

Rationally grounding ethical frameworks

So in order to decide “what” is better we need ethics, in order to do this right and see how we decide what is better we need metaethics, and I’m wondering how to do that right, so we would need metametaethics?

But every level of meta consideration will run into the same problems: there is no absolute, everything is arbitrary, so there is no objective grounding possible for a framework at level N. That being said, even without an objective rational grounding for the “good” of a framework, the framework can still work as a means to make more good. It’ll just neve ever be provable.

The infinite hole of meta considerations

Trying to ground your thinking in an objective meta framework, you always end up going one level deeper in meta consideration, which brings to mind Zeno’s paradox and Lewis Carrol’s Achiles and the Turtle short story. 

Maybe I love this paradox because you can see there is a fundamental whole in reality, or at least in rationality, which rationally wants to ground itself but necessarily will never ever be able to do so.

That also clearly echoes the Lacanian lack. 

But does this hole in rationality matter? It might just be a meaningless detail without real importance on your thinking framework. But this question is precisely what’s in the hole, and will necessarily remain without answer. We will never be able to tell how bad the hole is, so the Lacanian attitude to accept your lack seems to be the best rational answer.

Godel theorem applied to metaethics

Actually, it’s a proven mathematical theorem that is going to be true no matter what, which is pretty impressive if you ask me. Godel’s incompleteness theorem proves that you cannot ground at meta level N a framework in a satisfactory way in the language of the level N and you need to posit axioms of level N+1 as arbitrary postulates.

On the one hand, it’s fairly obvious and trivial to say that you cannot ground an ethical framework in the same level of meta-considerations, so is it even worth mentioning Godel? But on the other hand, it does prove that those discussions will necessarily never conclude, and in that way it makes metaethics a doomed field because it’s rationally proven that no conclusion can ever truly be reached.

That being said, as I mentioned before, this is not a valid argument to say that “we should not try to do better”, we can always try to do better, but we won’t ever be able to prove it. I wonder if that’s just a retelling of this article, or if we should throw in a Kierkegaardian leap of faith…

How meta is like entropy

Since every time you think about something you add a layer of meta, it only increases. Any reaction to a situation, be it speech or ignorance, is nonetheless a reaction, so it adds a layer of meta. Any second, more and more layers of meta pile up that way, coating the world more and more and I’m sometimes suffocating under the weight of the infinitely growing amount of layers of meta. We can see clearly an analogy with entropy here.

It’s pretty clear that if you try to do things right, rationally and objectively, you necessarily fall into an abyss of recursive layers of meta. In a way, it makes the Godel theorem the absolute level of meta and the final closure of the universe beyond which we can never go.

Don’t buy it, be it

I like to write a little something to remember each milestone in the evolution of my thinking. Today I want to commemorate my reading of Alex Mazey’s Sad Boy Aesthetics. I’m an avid fan of Baudrillard, so when I saw Alex’s essay on Genshin Impact and Baudrillard, it immediately spoke to my heart.

Sad Boy Aesthetics: Mazey, Alex: 9781913642532: Books

Previously, on Baudrillard

Let me try to give a short simplified summary of the whole deal, but considering how Baudrillard theories are important and relevant nowadays, I invite you to expand with your own research! Please forgive me for the lack of rigor and loose terminology ^^

The TLDR is that neoliberal capitalism co-opts everything (and in particular, rebellious movements), and turns it into profitable commodities (i.e. Che Guevara T-shirts). In this way, it loses its depth and subversive meaning. In the end, everything is a copy of a copy of a copy (a simulacrum) and nothing is real and meaningful (think of the whole post-truth era thing).

Nothing is sacred anymore, everything is for sale. Meaningful/holy things are tokenized into marketable commodities. This culminates in an era of replica and images, where appearances are all that matters. Baudrillard seems to conclude that this loss of depth (i.e. aestheticization) may be the worst part of this process, in a famous line that Alex quoted somewhere:

It is often said that the West’s great undertaking is the commercialization of the whole world, the hitching of the fate of everything to the fate of the commodity. That great undertaking will turn out rather to have been the aestheticization of the whole world — its cosmopolitan spectacularization, its transformation into images, its semiological organization”. Funko Pop! The Vote - Bernie Sanders Vinyl Figure : Toys & Games

Genshin ideology

That’s the core of Alex’s essay on Genshin, by the way, as Genshin’s world offers a pale defanged copy (simulacrum) of all the cultures of the real world that inspires it (european for Mondstadt, chinese for Liyue, japanese for Inazuma…).

This should come as no surprise tbh, since Genshin is the product of a company founded out of love for the Japanese contemporary culture, which is a true post-modern powerhouse of turning sacred into simulated commodities. Forget giant robots fighting biblical concepts, the common rage nowadays is to gamble your money to get a chance of getting a digital representation of some God turned singer idol… It doesn’t get more Baudrillard than this.

Summon Simulator | Fate Grand Order Wiki - GamePress

But playing Genshin, I couldn’t help but notice that no matter how simulated your objects are, you cannot help but carry around an ideology. Like a good old american settler, the protagonist of the game goes over the world, literally destabilizing political institutions everywhere through the usual western-way-of-life-individualistic-feel-good-you-can-succeed-if-you-believe-disney story. So while it is true that nothing is sacred anymore and everything is up for negotiation, it seems that there is one thing that remains a holy absolute: the aestheticization process itself.

There’s no fighting this relentless march, it cannot be defanged. That being said, it’s another beast altogether: it’s not a sacred that comes from belief, but rather an ad hoc empirical conclusion. Is a God that continues its work regardless of belief still a god?

No way out

The invincibility of the phagocyting process of neoliberal capitalism is enough to make anyone despair. It does seem that there is no practical way out. What can you even do to escape an all-encompassing cancerous system?

Emo politics

That’s where Sad Boy Aesthetics comes in. I confess I bought it because seeing the meme aesthetics, combined with “sad boy”, Baudrillard and Wittgenstein intrigued me. I found out by reading it that it was actually a commentary on emo rap, of which I know next to nothing about. But Alex’s pretty thorough analysis taught me a lot, and in particular I noticed for the first time the political dimension of the emo movement.

Emo is about, let’s face it, whining. But maybe the “antidote” to the commodification of everything can be found precisely in the sincerity of the expression of self suffering. Especially if you know that nobody really wants to hear emo poems. Maybe in a world where nothing actually matters, a serious honest expression of feelings, devoid of irony and mercantilization, could be the one authentic act to transcend the omnipresent commodification, cringy as it may be. Dare I call it art? Could its lack of political engagement constitute precisely the strongest engagement there is?

Of course an easy counterargument would be that emo can and has been co-opted by the system and turned into yet another profit machine. But I do find that perspective intriguing. And most emo poetry probably just ended up in the oblivion of the depths of the web anyway.

Lust tint my world

This blog is all about making original weird parallels, and Alex got to the one between Baudrillard and Genshin first, so I want to submit to you the case of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. The songs are on my playlist fairly frequently, so when I last listened to Rose tint my world (which I usually don’t like that much), I started connecting this trail of thoughts to the ending (and the message) of the famous cross-media experience.

In this big explosion of joy where everyone gets fulfillment after their tribulations, Rocky admits that “Now the only thing I’ve come to trust Is an orgasmic rush of lust“. It echoes Janet’s point about Frank that “His lust is so sincere“. In a chaotic world, Frank’s sincere lust is the beacon that guides everyone to enlightenment.

J'ai testé une séance du “Rocky Horror Picture Show” au Studio Galande

The RHPS is basically the story of how this authenticity comes to transcend Frank and Janet’s static system of beliefs. Maybe one of the reasons for its lasting success is this celebration of authenticity.

Shitpost padding

I don’t have much more to say about this but it feels like I should talk more about the movie so let’s indulge a good old fashion BS-commentary:

The Rocky Horror Picture Show...Brad and Janet | Rocky horror picture, Rocky  horror picture show costume, Rocky horror picture show

It’s obvious that Brad and Janett represent “stuck up normies”. But going further, it’s nice to see that they too are basically imperialistic invaders trying to commodify and use Frank into a marketable utility (“Can we use your phone?“). Note that one of the first thing that happen to them is they get stripped: all appearances, tokens and commodities removed.

Meanwhile Frank, like a sexy Baudrillard trying to get our attention, literally creates simulacra, copies over copies of men. He shows us the dangers and pitfalls of the simulacrum cycle: Eddie and then Rocky are less and less human. This process removes the heart of our humanity! We become nothing more than… dare I say flesh, meat, food!

RHPS Caps - The Rocky Horror Picture Show Image (2156671) - Fanpop

The whole structure of the film itself draws attention to Baudrillard theories: self-references, opening song, the narrator… It simulates the codes of a B movie very consciously. This could be seen as a critique of the lack of depth of formulaic movies the industry is moving towards. At the late night picture show, nowadays, everything is a copy of a copy of a copy of a marvel.

Rocky Horror Picture Show: The Movies And References Behind Science Fiction Double  Feature - Den of Geek

The theme of nostalgia and time passing (Time Warp) through the movie shows us how much worse off and impoverished society is by this trend. Sacred symbols and rituals have lost their meaning and disappeared: Whatever happened to saturday night? Whatever happened to Fay Way? This is highlighted by the very conclusion of the show, whose very grammatical structure is destroyed by this relentless force, leaving us lost in time, lost in space, and meaning….

Maybe the most important lesson is that Frank’s solution to escape the market’s grip comes at a high price: he has to live as an outcast, shunned both by American and Transylvanian society. Really, “it’s not easy having a good time“.

The market for self expression and authenticity

Now this isn’t the be-all-end-all of this reflection. I do appreciate the political (system-defying) dimension of authenticity, and how it could take different forms, be it suffering in emo poetry or lust in the Rocky Horror. But it must also be noticed that authenticity (not coincidentally) is also more and more at the core of the commodification process itself. Gigantic booming industries like Twitch, YouTube or Instagram are running on the promise (or rather appearance) of authentic parasocial relationships.

It’s a fine line to thread between embracing your true self authentically like RHPS recommends, and self-expression through overconsumption like capitalism encourages and requires. I guess what this means is that we need to be wary and careful. Though I guess, ultimately, a truly sincere self-expression is probably completely blind and unconscious of this tradeoff xD. So be yourself like nobody is watching. Maybe it will still serve neoliberal capitalism’s tentacular interests. They’re impossible to destroy. But maybe there’s no better way to fuck capitalism than through authentic uncalculated acts of love.

10 Things You Didn't Know About ROCKY - Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma

Madokapital records

The thing about masterpieces in art is that you can keep going into them and get new things all the time. And Puella Magi Madoka Magica is definitely one of these works.

Meguca - YouTube

Just let Madoka die already

The current diffusion of Magia Record (part 2 at the time of writing), in addition to reminding us that Shaft can still create some really beautiful animation despite pretty much everybody having left the company, is not without its lot of controversies.

After all, it’s a pale copy of a copy, an adaptation of a spinoff mobile game (a mere simulacrum if you wanna get Baudrillard about it). No wonder that people are calling “cash grab”. The original inspiration for this article was the “Let Madoka Die Already” plea from OTAQUEST.

Indeed, it’s pretty fair to lament that the Madoka franchise keeps getting exploited for profit. After sequel movies that the writers hadn’t planned (which ended up pretty interesting, still, in their own deconstructive ways), the franchise has grown into a pretty lucrative trademark of pachinkos and gatcha mobile games (financial cooptation doesn’t get less subtle than that).

Spotted Madoka and Kyubey in Tokyo last month: MadokaMagica

And now the writers are called back for a new movie on the horizon. I understand how it can seem bleak. It’s like Madoka is trapped in an endless cycle of exploitation, getting more and more extracted out of her without any hope of escape… Oh wait…

Do you want to make a contract

I don’t know why it took me so long to realize that, but this development opened my eyes to the fact that the show is a pretty perfect analogy for capitalism. Take Kyuubey. He provides a service in exchange for a price, all tied up in a neat little contract. Of course, he hunts for where he can make the biggest profit (get the most entropy), and to that end, he fulfills optimally the demand (he realizes wishes).

As a good free market would, it fills demand and extracts surplus value out of the transaction wherever it can be found. Just like capitalism, he will fulfil any and all demand! It’s ironic that his extraction is saving the universe while ours is killing the planet, but that’s beyond the point. Seen through that lens, the show has a lot to offer as areas of reflections!

Manufacturing demand

Let’s start at the very beginning. The main series is basically a story of marketing. At first, everything’s just fine and everyone is happy. But this won’t stand for Kyuubey, who notices the prospect of immense profit in Madoka. He therefore does the only rational thing: he dedicates his whole energy to try to tempt Madoka into wanting more.

Being content is the enemy of capitalism. If you’re not purchasing, you’re dead weight. With his injunction to consume, and his relentless campaign for Madoka to make a wish, Kyuubey creates a demand where there was none before. His harassment is as intense as the many notifications fighting over your attention you receive on your phone every day. Can you spot examples of artificially manufactured demand in the real world? Jeez, I wonder…

And the lesson here is that he eventually wears her down. Marketing really works, you guys. There’s other things really on point here, like the importance of the social aspect in marketing for instance (all your friends are doing it, why don’t you?). In the end, even the fucking messiah cannot resist the power of advertisement. I guess that means be careful and forgiving?

Be careful what you wish for

A point that really interests me here is the content of the wish. Kyuubey is incredibly honest about what he delivers. In fact, more honest than most current companies and advertisements. He gives you what you want, what he promised, the content of your wish. Isn’t that pretty much the motto of capitalism?

Where Madoka excels is specifically at showcasing the dark side of this. There’s no trick in the wishes, they’re executed verbatim. But it turns out that we’re pretty bad at knowing what we want and what the consequences of our desires might be. It’s also uncommon for our desires to actually be what we wish we would/could want (extrapolated volition). What we want is rarely what we really really want, and certainly not what we need. This gap is the core of the alignment problem of the market btw…

Nowhere is that clearer than in the series, where all the wishes, when carried out, pretty much cause more suffering and destruction than good. Maybe your overconsuming hedonistic lifestyle just causes you depression down the line…

Enlightened consent

This is closely tied to the problem of imperfect information. Maybe we’d make better choices if we knew exactly how we feel in detail, or how things would turn out. But here’s the thing: this doesn’t make you consume, rather the opposite. So the market’s incentives are to push you in the other direction. It’s in its interest to mislead you as much as it can get away with. Information gap is a source of surplus value to be harvested. It’s a little bit what Kyuubey gathers, in a way.

A lot of people are (ofc unfairly) mad at Kyuubey because they feel like the “real price” is hidden. Admittedly, deception can help the market derive more value. But it’s not necessary: there’s inherent computational limitations. The real price cannot be known. It’s impossible to understand all the complexities and ramifications of the market’s behavior. Just try to track down the ultimate moral cost of your latest purchase.

Maybe the girls in the show don’t realize that the contract is “too good to be true”, that their consumption cultivates a system where children are continuously sacrificed. But we can wonder what would change if they did. When Madoka makes her choice, she’s fully aware of the implications… We know full well that our system is killing the planet and causing terrible consequences. When you buy an iPhone, on some level you know there’s blood on your hands. But we are remarkably willing to act as if we didn’t and persevere in a doomed system. Zizek has a lot to say about this better than I could 🙂

I’m talking about 59’40

Privatize the magical girl sector already

It could be said that Kyuubey is a good example of objectivism: pushing the liberal market to its logical conclusion and being as exploitative as he can get away with. The magical girl contracts are as honest as the ones in Bioshock (i.e. showing clearly the need for any sort of legislation better than I could ^^).

“Cows, pigs, and chickens have a much higher rate of survival in captivity, more than they would in the wild. So you see, the relationship is mutually beneficial for both parties.”

Now I don’t want to go too deep into that subject because as the Ayn Rand foundation so cutely puts it themselves, they just want to be selfish, whereas Kyuubey actually wants to save the universe, so that’s kind of the opposite and the similarity stops short. I guess in the end Kyuubey is closer to Adam Smith…

Magical girl flexibilization

Another interesting point is that the battle of the magical girls against the witches happens entirely unbeknownst to the population. The magical girls are the only ones aware of this cycle of suffering. As soon as they learn about it, they are doomed to suffer from this knowledge. They have to live everyday knowing how bad things are out there. Awareness of the system brings nothing but despair and suffering. You can’t escape or destroy it. No wonder why reflections about the inescapability of capitalist realism often end up in suicide

Paradoxically, as if to further mock this powerlessness, capitalism and the magical girl system both heavily emphasis individuality. This is a weight the girls have to carry largely alone. Nobody, not even each other, can absolve them from the individual responsibility of their choice. The system even puts them in competition with each other in war of everyone against everyone (see Kyouko). This radical individualism pushes the view that the system is morally neutral.

8 Kyoko Sakura Quotes Madoka Magica Fans Won't Forget

As Mark Fisher points out, making mental health an individual responsibility/pathology distracts and negates its systemic components and roots. How else can you react when the system simultaneously screams at you that you’re responsible for everything but that everything is irremediably bad?

Like in the world of magical girls, the ones who confront the system all end up in the darkness. They might rebel at first, but their idealistic children’s souls (gems) get corrupted by the system and end up cynical. There’s no better metaphor for it than the transformation of a hopeful magical girl into a bitter crony witch. Should I count the number of people who were activists in their early years and ended up bitter and disillusioned?

The politics of walpurgis

Maybe Madoka can help us make sense of our situation. For starters, it may be very straightforward, but I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that in the two shows, just like in real life, oppressive systems are powered first and foremost by fear. The menace of Walpurgis night forces Madoka’s hand, the cruel fate of the witches provides the impetus for Magius in Magia record. I wonder what’s on TV tonight…

Pure ideology

Can the show help us figure out what to do when you’re stuck in a toxic and seemingly invincible system? As with any good ideological system, it really seems that there’s no way out… 

The Hegelian perspective often showcased in Ikuhara work is to transcend the system, through love and compassion. But Madoka shows that things are not as easy…

For starters, “follow your heart” is pretty much the core of capitalist ideology. Kyuubey realizes the wish dearest to your heart. You fight to protect your loved ones… Love has already been co opted by the system and made into one of its strongest pillars (what better engine to spark consumption? You’re not gonna be the one who doesn’t give them a present for their birthday, you monster?).

But it goes deeper than that in the show. Every time love is on the table, it ends up counter productive. The love of Homura for Madoka condemns her and creates a mountain out of a molehill. Sayaka’s love drives her straight to despair… Could it be mirroring the dangers of empathy, which push you into emotional reactive thinking and make you lose sight of the bigger picture? You can’t take down an ideological behemoth with narrow thinking. But can you take it down at all?

Meta exploitation

When Madoka wishes for the end of the exploitative system, another system, perhaps less barbaric but still, takes its place. We already know that Magius’ efforts won’t succeed, since they take place before the end of the series. No matter how smart or outside the box you are, it seems that some systems of oppression just cannot be toppled.

I love it when art and reality mingle. The exploitation in real life of the Madoka brand mirroring the exploitation of the character in universe is like candy to me. But maybe what it shows us is that like Madoka, who will surely wane and be replaced by another brand, the end of any bad system is another bad system. But maybe this one could be slightly less bad… And through an infinity of efforts and iterations, we may yet drag ourselves out of the labyrinth of the witches…

Endless learning

It is the height of summer. I’m still struggling with learning Japanese, slow and steady, probably forever… But I’m also learning a lot about language learning itself, and it’s no secret that repetition is an important part of the process. And what better example to study than Haruhi Suzumiya’s Endless Eight (for people who don’t know, it’s a series of 8 episode displaying more or less the same events and it’s one of the greatest piece of art in anime history).

When I study Japanese, I write down how many new words I encounter, and how much of the dialog I understand for each episode (one per day). The structure of Endless Eight is a great source to showcase how much repetition helps with understanding.

As an extra datapoint, I’ve also revisited the same episode (6th, so that it’s in the “middle”) to see how much the learning sticks/how fast I forget after a week, month, 3 and 6 months (of continuous unrelated learning practice).

I don’t think this is solid enough to conclude anything, but it displays nicely how repetition yields diminishing return with stronger benefits at the start and how learning fades but a core does stick. I don’t think I was trying to get anything else out of this other than a pretty graph xD

Cats And Relative Dimensions In Space

Of the impossibility to train cats

For someone interested in cognitive sciences, I do a lot less observation/experimentation on my cat than I probably should, do be honest. For my defense, all low hanging fruits of deep philosophical insights gained with pets have probably been picked. But lately I’ve had an idea, and I thought it was well worth a little writeup to mashup everything going on in my brain xD.

Like any pet owner, I find myself doing a bit of training (don’t go on that table, don’t fight, don’t meow too loud, etc…), and mostly failing because cats are notoriously resilient to training. But I can’t help wonder what their experience feels like.

It is pretty clear that they have a concept of “what I’m doing is wrong”, judging by they behavior when they notice that they are being watched, or by how sneaky they are acting to bypass these rules. So my conclusion is that they may be incapable of counterfactual reasoning (i.e. “if I don’t do that, I won’t get punished”).


I suspect that, more simply, they cannot do causal reasoning (i.e. “if I do X, Y will happen”). And if that’s the case, I’m wondering if we could reframe it as “they do not perceive time“. If they live in the here and now, they might be completely unable to conceive of such a thing as “the future”. Maybe they don’t see time as a line like we do, maybe all they see is a dot.

Laser Pointer For Cats | 8 Hour Entertainment Video | Relax Your Pet |  Leave On All Day | iPad - YouTube

Can you tell where I’m going with this? I was wondering if cats live in some kind of version of Flatland, the amazing book about the tribulations of a 2 dimensional square who visits a one dimension space, a zero dimension point, and a third dimension space (highly recommend it, though it does lack in cats). What would the Flatland equivalent of time dimensions be?

Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions | EDWIN ABBOTT ABBOTT, pseud A  SQUARE | First edition

Perceiving time is probably the biggest advantage humans have over other animals. I’m low-key fascinated by the ability of humans to make bargain with the future, and to consider future potentialities as actual real factors and act on them. Maybe the “sensory organ” for time dimension is some kind of neural structure in the brain? In any case it does seem like we perceive “something” to be there (which we call future) that the cat might not.

flat cat. @Wanda Jackson Santoso @Judhyory Maurits Maurits @nadya lev  Andriasari | Cats, Crazy cats, Cute cats

We may be pretty good at living in the 1 dimension line of time. Like Mr Square we can kinda imagine what it would be like to live in lower dimensions and take this imaginary trip to FlatCatLand. But like Mr Square’s adventures, this begs the question: what would it even be like if there were higher dimensions? Can we intuit it in any reasonable way? Is there a TimeCube looking down on us and making fun of our limited sight and how we’re stuck in FlatTimeLine?

How our intuitions distorted our view of time

Maybe the reason it hits me right now is because I have been binge watching the amazing science channel Science4All on YouTube (sorry it’s in french :(() which helped me understand a lot better general relativity. I won’t explain it here because I’d do a much worse job of course. But I do want to talk about the difference between general relativity and more traditional Newtonian physics.

Indeed, Newtonian physics is a pretty great model, and it works really well under a lot of circumstances. I believe it’s even a strict subset of general relativity. The main difference, as far as I see it, lies in the conception of time. Newtonian physics rely on a universal uniform time axis. General relativity showed that this is not how the world actually works. So we should expect Newtonian physics to work fairly well whenever time behaves quite uniformly, and to break down when it fluctuates.

Spirituality, Quantum Physics & Life: Theory of Gravity - General Relativity

This also explains why we were stuck so long with a Newtonian conception of the world: it’s because of my nemesis, Anthropocentrism. Of course we’d love Newton’s conception, it fits so well what we experience and intuit in our little selves living their daily lives in our FlatTimeLine where time does not fluctuate too much.

Quand la Terre était le centre de l'univers

But fortunately some genii noticed that this conception didn’t quite fit what we were observing in a few edge cases. They went back to the drawing board. They shut down their anthropocentric intuition, and looked at the bigger picture. And like Mr Square they got to peek at a world where time was a completely different dimension, along which one could have much more complex motion than previously anticipated.

To be perfectly fair it’s not completely like Flatland since time is kinda already a dimension in Newtonian physics, but come on, they were focused on objects moving through a 3D space with a universal clock, not objects in a 4D space.

GP-B — Einstein's Spacetime
Japanese has a word for your position in 4d: 世界線

I don’t know about you, but seeing history stuck for centuries in a 3D conception of a space that was actually 4D because of close-mindedness really makes me wonder: what other dimensions have I overlooked? What if our 4D general relativity is just a simpler case of what’s really going on? After all, it seems that we’re already observing a few edge cases where the model doesn’t quite fit… rings a bell?

So how many dimensions are we living in

I’m not a genius, nor a physicist. I expect that quite a few people had this train of thoughts before me. As far as I can understand, there is open questions about the possibility of extra dimensions (Kaluza–Klein theory??) and this unexplained corner cases (with LKK particles??). Alternatively, this whole process helped me take string theory and its crazy number of dimensions a bit more seriously (even though apparently string theory is more of a family of models than a precise model?).

Cat String Theory shirt - TShirt Shoping Online

I am, however, trained in Computer Science. And as such I have to admit that computationally speaking, we’re clearly living in more than 4 dimensions. A given point has a spatial position and a temporal position, but doesn’t it also have a color, a temperature, etc etc… If you program the universe into a computer, you’d have to specify more than 4 pieces of information to describe a given elementary point of the universe.

3D voxel / volumetric plot with rgb colors — Matplotlib 3.3.1 documentation

The hard part is sorting out through everything we can and can’t feel, and see what are elementary dimensions and what are not. Temperature, for instance, is some sort of particle agitation. That happens in time and space, it’s not a new dimension. Electromagnetism, on the other end, AFAIK, doesn’t reduce to the 4 spacetime dimensions. I’d tend to think it’s a pretty good candidate (i.e. a particle has a position in time, in space, and a charge).

Ofcom 5G Electromagnetic Spectrum Infographic - Vodafone UK News Centre

It’s a bit related to a question I wonder often about: how many informational pathways are there to transmit a signal around us? Touch (including taste and smell), sound, light, radio, wifi, etc… are all different spectral bands of either particle motion in space or electromagnetic waves (a specter of specters, if you will). What am I missing here? Help me complete this picture and count all the dimensions!

Multiple dimensions in time

Coming back to time, we can try to take a step up and imagine that time is no longer a simple 1D line, but a 2D plan. You’d get our canonical time line, but other possible time lines. In other words, you get some sort of multiverse. Maybe it’s as simple as considering potential futures.

Maybe there are other representations, though. One possible way is what I do to fall asleep: I imagine my consciousness leaving the timeline we’re in and wandering through this imaginary dimension in order to find a way to reach the timeline in which my dream happens (because it seems to happen in a 4D spacetime of its own). I guess you could also use imagination and the suspension of disbelief to travel to fictional timelines.

Time Travel in Fiction Rundown - YouTube
Real world: —————>

I’m honestly not sure if imagination should count as an extra dimension. I guess that would be kinda cool, and could be tied to the fact that semantics/information as a whole seems like it may be be a completely other dimension. Not to mention panpsychist conceptions of the universe. But this is getting a bit speculative, I’m really uninformed about the physical basis of information. This was mostly an aside to plug my own short story, none of these strike me as great candidates for elementary dimensions.

The Q word

Another thing missing is of course the other side of contemporary physics, the one looming over this article that I’ve been avoiding since the beginning, the one whose name has been misused so much that it’s sheer mention makes me cringe. Quantum physics.

Like most people, I know even less about it. I assume it’s not completely crazy to think it might help with all the multiverse or information dimension stuff mentioned above. But I just want to briefly touch on why I think it’s less relevant than it appears at first glance.

You’d tend to think that there might be a few dimensions hidden in there. After all, there’s this whole mysterious collapse from potential states (i.e. a dimensional space of possibilities) to a finite observation. All the potential states do seem to form an extra dimension not captured by the 4 canonical ones.

What would it be like to live in the quantum realm? | Quantum Physics Lady
imagine the waves on the left jumping out of your screen plz

There’s nothing mystical about this, though. I suspect quantum physics is a lot more like normal physics than people think, except instead of manipulating a definite point (i.e. number) you manipulate a distribution (i.e. a line). After all if there was randomness or magic involved, how would we be able to manipulate qbits deterministically?

However, a line is still one dimension above a point. So quantum states need at least one extra dimension, but from the little bit I understand about Richard Feynman’s work, this may well be the same dimension as the electromagnetic dimension mentioned above.

Final tally

That leaves us with at least 5 dimensions accounted for (3 space, 1 time, 1 quantum/electromagnetic), whatever the hell information may be, and of course everything I missed! I’m counting on you to help me figure out what these may be. I guess I’ll update this list if I ever learn more. In any case, I’d like to make sure that we’ve exerted the full capacity of reflection and perception of our little human brain, before I accidentally jump on the metaphysical table of an extra-dimensional wrathful time-cube god.


18 Arguments against death

So you’re dying, what next?

Accepting Your Death | Know Your Meme

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.

We're all going to die

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 eternalism and 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 recurrence is 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.

(cue Lion King’s music: “he lives in 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.

11. You live in others

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 universe is 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.

18. Endings are an ontological oddity

It seems that in the universe there is a form of conservation or continuity, and that endings all correspond to arbitrary boundaries. Indeed, atoms generally go on their merry way, entropy keeps on increasing, etc… If you think about all the encoding of your brain states that we mentioned before, it makes a mathematical sequence of numbers, and mathematical sequences don’t end. When you have a set of infinite possibilities, it’s extremely unlikely to find one with an ending (there’s always one bigger number). So it would be pretty weird that that thing you care about would be an exception.

You can go even further and consider that the universe is fundamentally ontologically computations, and there’s a bunch of interesting theories there, but I don’t know enough to discuss them.

PS. Knowing all that, please don’t try to kill yourself, it’s usually illegal and it’s completely meaningless cause you’re gonna die eventually anyway so chose the easy way and be patient a bit.

What is it like to be an algorithm

What is it like to be an algorithm? What does it mean to understand something?
We will never know if an AI is conscious, not anymore than I can be certain that you are conscious. But we can try to put ourselves in its shoes and see the world through its eyes.

There’s a trend in machine learning to amass a lot of data and draw conclusion without really “understanding” it. Critics have claimed that this kind of AI, like GPT, may seem to produce impressive results, but do not really understand the world. And to a large extent, I agree, even though it still has merits (see our podcast episode on this ^^).

This work makes you see what a machine learning algorithm does. You’ll see text designed to have as little connotations as possible. If you can draw meaning from a succession of symbols without any kind of reference to the real world, so could an AI. If we all converge to the same kind of semantics, whatever it may be, then it proves that it is universal and that algorithm could also access it.

Let’s solve this question by extending this into a collaborative interpretation work!


























Paradoxes and Interpretations

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

How logic is impossible

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

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

“If [A] is true, then [B] is true”

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

Angelic Twaddle™ Comics: Modus Ponens

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

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

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

Fundamental axiom

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

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

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

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

Kolmogorov complexity - Wikipedia

There’s only atoms and interpretations

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

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

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder | Shirtoid

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

Zoo ou L'assassin philantrope | Salle Jean Renoir |

Uploaded consciousness

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

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

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

What if you're a Boltzmann Brain - 9GAG

Moral philosophy

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

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

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

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

Chidi gets a mouthful - The Good Place - TV Fanatic

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

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

Its pronounced &quot;cunt&quot; - #181545776 added by boehsling at I Kant  even now

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

Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.