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.

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

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

I need to preface this short story with a disclaimer. The origin of this work is that much has been said about GPT and machine learning. The consensus is that it’s obviously not intelligent or sentient (for a naïve definition) and that it’s mostly smokes and mirrors. And to a large extent, I agree, even though it still has merits (see our podcast episode on this ^^).

We will never know if an AI is conscious, not anymore than I can be certain that you are conscious. But I realized that we can pretty easily try to put ourselves in its shoes and see the world through its eyes.

This work is my attempt at providing you a way to do that. Like an algorithm, you will see only neutral symbols in text without any point of reference. My point is that you can derive meaning from the patterns, imagine, and even maybe understand “something” without any reference to the real world.

It turns out that it’s not that simple and most people I tried this on had to be strongly motivated (using emotional blackmail) to produce any kind of meaning from the text. But it’s not a complete failure, because they eventually did. Maybe feeling empathy with an algorithm takes a particular kind of person (children?), or a particular context (art museum?), or some drugs… This is in itself a very interesting question to answer. Still, I think it’s really cool to try, and interesting to see that it’s harder than I expected.

If you manage to get any kind of meaning/story out of this, please let me know in the comments below. The second part of this work is a collaborative interpretation work. If there is an aspect that is shared by everyone’s inferences of the patterns, it would be a very strong hint that an algorithm could equally infer this piece of semantics, whatever it may be, and I find this very exciting.

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Paradoxes and Interpretations

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

How logic is impossible

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

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

“If [A] is true, then [B] is true”

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

Angelic Twaddle™ Comics: Modus Ponens

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

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

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

Fundamental axiom

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

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

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

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

Kolmogorov complexity - Wikipedia

There’s only atoms and interpretations

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

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

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder | Shirtoid

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

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

Uploaded consciousness

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

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

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

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

What if you're a Boltzmann Brain - 9GAG

Moral philosophy

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

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

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

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

Chidi gets a mouthful - The Good Place - TV Fanatic

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

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

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

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

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

Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

My Bioshocking Randt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Little Wonders Educational Facility | BioShock Wiki | Fandom

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

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

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

 

Kapitalism Damacy

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

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

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

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

  • The market doesn’t respond to logic

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

Related image

  • Currency puts everything on the same unique scale

And it yields some… curious comparisons.

Katamari Damacy REROLL (Steam Key) | Bandai Namco Store

Avoiding the metric system - memes

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

  • Everything is absorbed by the market.

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

  • Shallow celebration of individuality to make you buy in

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

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

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

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

Everything goes back to the investors.

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

What you’re consuming is literal shit.

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

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

Katamari Damacy Sisyphus - Imgur

The dissolution of Herpo the foul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the Book of Maki

TW: Jordan Peterson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Withering with you

Circumstances have kept me away from writing this article that has been burning in the back of my brain ever since I went to the local premiere of Makoto Shinkai’s latest movie – Tenki no Ko (weathering with you), in presence of the director himself. So let’s eagerly jump into it, with a lot of spoilers ahead for a movie you probably shouldn’t see.

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I’m a big fan of Makoto Shinkai, and have been following his career with attention, including a bunch of interviews. Lately, he’s been finding inspiration in real world tragedies. Kimi no na ha (your name) was self-admittedly inspired by the nuclear disaster in Fukushima. It strikes me as a bit odd how you go from a real world tragedy to a fiction “love comedy” like that, but I can kinda see it, I guess it has something to do with awe in the face of something so much bigger than humans, or something about how beautiful human connections/solidarity are in the face of difficulties… 

This time Tenki no Ko is apparently inspired by global warming (the movie directly echoes many “record rains/temperatures/cyclones” that the director was telling us about seeing on TV). Very brief summary: in a world where the weather is getting worse and worse, a girl has the magical power to bring about the sun with certainty. She realizes that the only way to stop the trend towards environmental catastrophe is for her to disappear, which happens. 

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I’ll skip the problems I have with the cliche element of the story or its execution (and even over the borderline climate-skepticism ^^) to focus on what comes next. In a somewhat unexpected turn of events, the boy-love-interest refuses to sacrifice and comes to her rescue and persuades her that she should live, so she un-disappears and environmental catastrophe happens. 

Let me start by saying that I fully understand what the director was going for here. In the Q&A, he was explaining how our polarized society has become extremely judgmental and that it was important to be more tolerant, forgiving and let people live. He obviously also wanted to show that even if the environment is completely destroyed, we can still rely on human connections, find each other, find happiness, and ultimately live. He wanted it to be a message of hope and tolerance in the face of a gloomy future, and on some level I appreciate and respect this.

But this doesn’t mean we can ignore the content and implications of the movie, whose main motive is essentially “it’s okay to follow your desires even if it destroys the world”. Boy-love-interests simply willfully chooses the girl, meaning his desires, and by extension the material comfort of consumerist life, over actual efforts to solve the world problem. He chooses the selfish and easy way, even if it causes terrible consequences. Granted the situation would have been more complicated from the point of view of the girl, but the movie follows the boy.

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And that’s where I fundamentally disagree with the premise of the director. Sometimes when the stakes are so big it’s dangerous to cut oneself some slack and celebrate it. Huge problems like global warming simply can’t be solved by following the easy path. They require constant effort and attention. I don’t remember if the Q&A or the movie was mentioning that the character’s actions were okay because catastrophe “is not one’s person fault”, but using this to rationalize and exonerate individual actions is obviously a very dangerous slope. In actuality, it’s not one’s person’s fault means it’s every person’s fault and problem, and it’s simply not okay to not do effort and be proud of it. Seems like it’s precisely what got us into this mess.

In the Q&A, Shinkai was telling us that one of the things he cared the most about this movie was a scene at the end where the girl, back in a now destroyed world, was looking over the result of the catastrophe addressing a silent prayer. He was using this to justify that the characters cared about the world. 

not this one, imagine it under the rain

But of course they care, just not enough, and this scene illustrates the problem with a tragic clarity. Her empty prayers are too little too late, completely ineffective, especially when put in contrast to the actual effort that was effective. In a way, this picture shows brilliantly that intentions and care are not enough, and that they mean nothing compared to our choices and actions which are what destroyed this universe. This  may make her feel better, but it doesn’t actually help anything, and it may even become dangerous/negative if used to disculpate destructive actions (“I know I’m doing the wrong thing, but I still care and pray it away”). We actually have a great example and all know too well how effective are “thoughts and prayers” at stopping the mass shootings in some parts of the world. 

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This movie’s accidental depiction of the meaninglessness of intent versus choices and actions is pretty beautiful and certainly its greatest success. This is all well and good, but it wouldn’t be this blog if we just stopped there and didn’t dig a little more, would it? When all is said, I may have had a very hard time watching this movie, but I still think there are two extra noteworthy points to take out of this… morally questionable enterprise. 

Japanese consumers use 30bn plastic shopping bags each year, but it lags behind major European initiatives on phasing reusing and recycling.

The first one is a great cautionary tale about the appeal of individualism, consumerism and material comfort. Japan, with its mostly-coastal cities and its frequent typhoons, is certainly being hurt pretty bad by the climate crisis. But if even Japan can rationalize choosing consumerism over environmentalism, it says a lot about how strong its appeal is, and how strong efforts need to be in order to stop its excesses. If even the regions most impacted by its side-effects can be seduced into an over-indulging lifestyle, the will we must deploy to counter this attraction is quite formidable. Especially when inaction is always easier.

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The second point is about intent: as I said, I have no doubt that Makoto Shinkai did not set out to make a pro-climate-crisis movie, and just wanted an uplifting tale of hope. So this movie is actually a great example of how you can end up writing something very questionable even with the best intentions, without realizing it. It’s so easy (perhaps inevitable) to be misunderstood or have unintended consequences. You can probably never be sure that what you say or write doesn’t have a potentially completely opposite effect to your original intent. So be careful about what you say and do, and the way you do it. And most importantly, be lenient with others, be tolerant and forgiving. Through a weird roundabout (and meta) way, Makoto Shinkai actually demonstrates with this movie what he wanted to say in it.

The output of the machine learning

robot call center

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…).

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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 ^^

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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.

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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 ^^).

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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.

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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.

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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.