Rick and Morty in the Wisdom Tradition

“Nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody's going to die… come watch TV.” - Morty

In 2015 physicists used human instruments to detect gravity waves, ushering in a new era of listening to ripples in the structure of space-time itself. You will be forgiven for wondering “what does this mean?” because it is in your nature to wonder such a thing: you are a human, you are a meaning-maker.

In an age where we are presented with theories of black hole time travel and infinite universes nested inside of infinite universes we are deeply straining our abilities to connect the findings of science and its models of the cosmos with the appearance of the world that we live in daily. 

It is one thing to posit a spherical Earth, or a rotation around the sun, or that you are made of cells, these things are actually rather tangible: walk for a while and measure some shadows, get out your star charts and track a few months, and take a look at some of your skin under a microscope. Even atoms and photons can be somewhat observed. Yet the newest findings of science are not so embodied, they are not so observable. You and I are not going to fall through a black hole any time soon. Nor can we perceive the trillions of nested universes that might make up the space between the space in the atoms of our cells. 

The world we live in is the same as it ever was—except that we can tweet about it-- but the models of our cosmos have never been more exotic. “The truth,” it seems, has left us all behind. 

Enter Rick and Morty: the show that says “what if we actually could observe the multiverse, and moreover what would happen if we started wandering around between infinities?”  

Rick and Morty is loosely based around the misadventures of a fringe “scientist” Rick (in the style of Doc Brown from Back to the future) and Morty (in the style of a Marty from the same franchise, but much less girlfriended). Together they jump through the multiverse using Rick’s flying ship and his interdimensional portal gun, and one time they have to take a detour through interdimensional customs.

A new age demands a new philosophy, and in Rick and Morty I have found the most salient distillation of the findings of the modern hard sciences, and the wisdom traditions into one thesis: all meaning is local and temporary and all morality is local and temporary. Perhaps even truth itself is just a local ordering of available information. 

We are in the post-postmodern age now, when we must accept into our hearts, minds and souls that no 'outsider' is coming to help us make meaning, no one is coming to help us decide what is right and wrong, only we can make such decisions, only we make meaning.

It is our responsibility, it cannot be handed off to a god or a demon or aliens, it is only the purview of us, the finite organisms called humans on the beautiful rock called Earth. Against the nested infinities we humans stand as little droplets of order. Together we are the meaning.

Whatever images of gods we can conjure in our minds, we cannot shake the full reality that we alone find ourselves entrusted with the daily quality of our lived-in reality. Our beliefs are choices, works of art that we enshrine into our personas. If you have a belief in something specific without acknowledging the potential arbitrary-ness of belief itself then you're missing out on the real opportunity. Beliefs are real, but the believer is more real.

As the sociotechnical web of cybernetic global capitalism continues to envelop the planet and the worlds’ societies, we have crossed into a new age. Now and forward human will is a primary influence on the macro state of the earth, from climate to the features of the crust.

There is a profound dissonance in our world today. We are collectively, to use Jung’s analysis in “Man and His Symbols”,  a neurotic.

Some of us try to plant trees as others of us destroy entire forests. Some of us try to create new coral colonies as global industrial activity acidifies the oceans killing whole reefs. Some of us try to help the global poor as others continue to utilize their labor and bemoan there being “too many people.”

This is where thought and art comes in. We can imagine being an alien coming to visit our world. Before you see any of us individually, you would likely first see humanity as a superorganism. You would observe our hives glowing in the darkness. You would see the holes we dig into the earth looking for minerals. You would see vast strips of land parceled into repeating patterns.

Then you would learn gradually about the little units called “people” that make the macroscopic patterns you observed from space. You would find it fascinating and disturbing to learn of the immense dissonance in these people’s dealings with each other. They often work against each other! 

Re-enter Rick and Morty.

In one episode, Summer gets a new job and Rick begrudgingly finds himself the only one who can spare the time to drive her to work. So he gets to meet her boss, Mr. Needful, who is running a store where all the items are free; one never pays here, not with money muahahaha

“Mr. Needful” asks Rick what he desires, to which Rick replies “eh, I make my own stuff” and then immediately identifies him as the Devil, which catches the devil flat-footed. After some disinterested poking around by Rick and banter, the Devil thinks he has found the item that can tempt Rick: a microscope that reveals things beyond comprehension. Then Summer banishes Rick because she likes the feeling of community and order that the Devil, er Mr. Needful, is giving her in her chaotic teen life.

So naturally Rick comprehends the microscope and the whole scam that the Devil is running. And he manages to ruffle feathers with a strong opinion in the process.

“Does evil exist, and if so can one detect and measure it? – rhetorical question Morty the answer is yes you just have to be a genius.” – Rick

He then returns to Mr Needful’s shop with a metadevice that can detect and catalog all of the Devil’s cursed items. Along with a cure for the first customer’s curse. After a brief fight with the Devil, Summer again banishes Rick. Yet this time Rick decides to open a store across the street to remove the curses whole sale. So now the devil is merely giving away items for free and no one is paying him with their soul, instead they are paying Rick money.

Despite beating the devil, Rick is not a ‘good’ person. He professes to not care, and when people try to call that out as a bluff he leans right into it by making them feel stupid for even trying to get him to care.

Rick faces the infinity of possibilities in the universe daily and has become jaded to the very idea of good and evil. Faced with the immensity of possible experience, Rick is just along for the ride and trying to have a good time.

Yet still, Rick is a human, and no matter how he tries he cannot shake off the human nature to try and find meaning in the world. Rick’s catchphrase “wubalubadub dub” is not just nonsense, it is a cry for help.

In one episode of Rick and Morty, the entire population of the Earth gets Kroneburnged, turned into grotesque monsters, because Morty asks Rick for a love potion. The love potion is fool-proof, Rick assures… unless it comes in contact with the flu…

Naturally, Morty was already out the door before he learned of the flu caveat, headed on his way to the annual “Flu Awareness Dance.”

“Sometimes science is more art than science, Morty. A lot of people don’t get that.” – Rick

After a few failed attempts to reverse the terrible cascade of genetic mutations that Morty’s deployment of the potion evoked, Rick makes a decision: leave the reality they destroyed and find another. Luckily for them there are infinite universes, so Rick finds one where he and Morty had freshly been killed by an experiment and portals over to fill their selves’ place. 

Naturally, Morty is upset at burying his own corpse. Yet later on it gives him a clarity of vision that is unmatched by those of us who still believe that things are “meant to be” or that there is a “plan.” He is able to help Summer calm down about her own angst by scaling up the existential angst to include death, and then both of them can enjoy just being.

Rick and Morty is part of a long tradition of art which is about embracing death and infinity and finding peace in the midst of chaos. Once chaos is embraced then one is free to be oneself, and one can relinquish the desires for control to work with the desire to explore and be.

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And here is where the show touches me deeply. We do not have a portal gun for our meat, only for our minds. We do not know how to touch other universes, we can only think about that and make art to play with the idea. Us as living beings only have this one Earth. The infinity for us is only theoretical. We cannot actually go to an adjacent universe. We do not have an infinite supply of worlds to go to if we mess this one up. 

Which means that we cannot actually be Rick, we can only remember the lessons of his character. Just as in the Bhagavad Gita there is Krishna who is astride reality and sees all, when a man Arjuna tries to join that stance at the edge of a battle about to take place and renounce action Krishna kindly reminds him that he is there to fight and so he must. But that the stance of infinity is there to remind him that his actions can never be boiled down to good and evil - all we ever are is that we are. 

In the Dharma blossom sutra there is a story of a great poet who writes a flowery expose about his abandonment of care for the world and material concerns, and sends it to a zen master. The zen master writes a reply: “fart fart”. The poet becomes enraged upon receiving the letter and rushes over to the monastery, only to realize in trying to confornt the Zen master that he the poet who said he knew how to let go of care had totally failed the lesson of not giving a crap. 

That is the beauty of art, and for today’s post-postmodern era I see Rick and Morty as part of the same tradition as all great wisdoms. It is an elaborate thought experiment in thresholds of absurdity and the human minds’ ability to order chaos. Rick is constantly going on adventures, and his mantra is usually “don’t think about it!” as Morty attempts to weigh morality, Rick knows that such things will get them killed in the multiverse.

Together Rick and Morty—along with Beth, Summer and Jerry—are analogs for you the viewer. Rick is boldy going where no one has gone before, but is not taking any notes and has no real agenda other than “see cool shit and do exotic drugs.” Morty is drawn in, but is trying to grasp for meaning. Yet every time Morty tries to help and impose moral order on the multiverse he finds some unintended consequence that makes his efforts pointless, or even worse.

The word “wisdom” is not an answer itself, but a pointer to a reminder: there are no clear answers, there is no clear good and evil. Anyone who is selling you some kind of clear vision of the world probably has an agenda and will profit off you buying in. Being uncertain is a power.  Dissonance is only painful if you try to remedy it - what about just letting it be and seeing how it evolves? Embracing your limits opens up infinity to you, even if just in art and mind.

Don’t be the hapless townspeople falling for Mr. Needful then relying on science Rick to cure you - be Rick and make your own stuff. But don’t copy Rick because he is a mess: Rick is fragmented because he thinks meaning is a crutch, so he just drinks himself out of caring. If you want meaning, go ahead and put it there. Just don’t forget that meaning is arbitrary or else you’ll be a brittle mess getting flustered by every challenge to your world-view. When you profess your heart and someone replies “fart, fart” you can either laugh and roll with it, or get flustered. 

Buddha, Jesus, Krishna, Rick, these god-person characters are all about offering you a challenge much more than a thing to follow. You’re supposed to take up the mantle, to assume the challenge of driving your own destiny. When Jesus says “I am the sun of God” you can repeat after him and say for yourself “I am the sun of God”. When Buddha is still in the face of fear you are invited to join that stillness. When Krishna tells you that what some call the slayer and the slain can only be called itself, you can break the spell of duality within you. When Rick says “don’t think about it” you are invited to action and to follow your curiosity. But with all these characters you are required to remember that they are art, mere thoughts of the wider picture. It’s up to you to synthesize them together. Great art in the wisdom tradition, like Rick and Morty, offers you the perceiver a unique chance: by breaking apart the personalities into characters you get to recombine them into something more real. 

Make your own stuff, see the absurdity of it all and still choose to give a shit. Because even though we get infinite art and ideas, we only get one Earth. 

"I asked my love, what do you need, to make your wild heart beat? And this, my love, he said to me wholeheartedly...Whatever makes you happy!"

- Snarky Puppy

 

 

Art Math, Math Art - Toward a Boundless Grounded Infinity

Anything digitized has become an abstraction, so let's embrace it. When I draw into a computer with the flourish of my hand we can take it beyond pixels, beyond even vectors, toward universal mapping attempts, toward a truly metamedium. A curve drawn by hand is a chance to try fitting a function to the line. A function is just waiting to become metaphorical graphics. Digital ink will move beyond 'networked paper' to become a magical plane where computer vision partners with the human hand functioning as an interactive external imagination. From sketch to code, from code to sketch, no longer a pipeline but rather a constellation of possibilities, an ever-expanding network of opportunities to map expressiveness and flow to logic and math directly. 

And as an amazing first demo available today, Chalktalk has just gone open source! I wrote about it two years ago when it was still research code that I got access to, now everyone can play!

Harness Semiotics to create external thinking support, make it interactive as digital inking.

Harness Semiotics to create external thinking support, make it interactive as digital inking.

Two papers I wrote at Georgetown's Communication Culture & Technology program are loaded with nuggets, even if don't read them through, give them a skim!

Retrieve ideas from the past to enable a new conversational medium.

See what wonders we create As We May Sketch.

Harness the power of drawing into computers to let a blank canvas become running code, bridge fuzzy expression with rigid logics into an extensible by default play/work-space for all ages. 

Explore the concepts that can help us get there:

Conceptual Blending - PDF notesheet

Bridge Blurry Inputs With Formal Rigid Logics - Blog

Making As Method - Riddles & Jokes - PDF notesheet

See notes below and start seeing my trajectory of thinking. Apologies for the crazy writing in some parts, I'm pulling the curtain back on my madness so it won't all be directly interpretable! 

I love computing's affordances, especially when used to make digital ink, now it's time to bring the computer to life at the depth of mind with the speed and intuitive action of our hands.

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Allow for infinite mappings.

Allow for infinite mappings.

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Thinking about a visual thinking medium.

Thinking about a visual thinking medium.

#MeToo

The more I embrace my feminine energy as complimentary to my masculine energy – the more I am complete in the act of Human Being – the more I notice sexual aggression, toward me and around me.


I get cat called, casual remarks about wanting to fuck me, I've had wet-lipped males grope me, guys offering me drugs with fires of thirst in their eyes, and I've been lied to for access to myself by women who I know were leaning heavily on their masculine side channeling domination and power.


I can brush these things aside and keep going much more easily than my feminine-formed peers because the society allows me to do that. Yet to talk about it feels risky, the society does not prize ally males to femininity, it wants ally males only to masculinity - it craves duality, and I refuse to give it that.


There is a hunger in this world for feminine energy and form, a seemingly endless desire. Now with technology we try to satisfy the hunger, but that hunger only grows via exposure to hyper sexualized imagery and sensations. 
Masculinity needs to chill the fuck out, in whatever body it might express itself. 


There is no magic fix or techno trinket, as masculine is want to lean on in solving problems: there is only empathy and meditation on the Self. Each of us is both Masculine and Feminine - each of those sides has a different relationship to sexuality and the act of sex yet shares the nonduality of the Allbeing which we all are. The tension without is already within, and there we can understand it for ourselves that we may respect, protect and support others and ourselves.


Thank you to everyone who is using these channels to enlighten what is still going on in the shadows. I apologize if I have ever hungered after someone in a way that they did not enjoy. I forgive the hunger directed toward me only that it may not weigh me down - but we can't just forget this and move on. It takes transformation. I'm sorry if I've ever tried to move healing along too fast in others, and in myself. Transformation takes time and reflection as much as it takes forgiveness and release.


Sexuality is our closest reflection to sacred source: sex itself is the beautiful moment when individuals link back together to act the remembrance of our tangible unity of shared being. Sexuality is for play and love, and so when it is abused the hurt is beyond words, the hurt ripples outward.


I dream that we may remove this hunger from the world that all bodies may know peace. I believe that remembrance of our shared Self can help us transform and understand and let go of personal hurt that drags one down so. 


I know that refusing to accept rampant masculine power is how we get there. It has come time to end the run of the dominant infantile masculine and to embrace being balanced Humans aware of our two sides together as one. 
No longer do we need to reward dominance with power, power is within each of us and so we say that compassion is where we can choose to place our power.

It all starts with bringing the darkness to light.

SIGGRAPH 2017 & The Birthing Of Interactive External Imagination

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I attended SIGGRAPH 2017 in LA and was struck by how mature the technologies are. It felt like a capstone moment, when so much of what I had dreamt of over the recent years of my life started to look tantalizingly possible. This post is a collection links from myself and others, please click around and explore the future As We May Think - There has long existed a dream of what an augmenting medium could be about, and a profound new chapter feels close at hand if we choose to build it...

 

At SIGGRAPH I was delighted to see Ken Perlin in the interesting demo #MeetMike. I recorded his talk on my phone, so it's not the best quality, but ironically the main thing I want to share is not the visuals, although they are incredibly impressive, but rather Perlin's message: we need to work with humanity as we build social computer experiences. Perlin would rather see a cartoon with great expressivity than a photo-realistic avatar with rigid muscles. Perlin is a pioneering researcher and thinker currently working on HoloJam and Chalktalk.

That said, the #MeetMike demo was extremely impressive in showing a glimmer of what a photo-realistic avatar could be like. The possibility has been lurking, but Mike Seymour and his team brought it to life and gave it an application, and they did an amazing job!

In my touring around the booths I encountered Imverse in the back of the room with a cool first take on making the creation of Mixed Reality really easy. Talking with Javier the CEO was really fun, his tool already has some of the elements of Perlin's HoloJam, but could use a lot more interactivity in creating real-time advanced animations, as Javier agreed and is working on. Unlike HoloJom though, Imverse is a commercially-ready application that works on more standard VR gear, without the need of a fully tracked room, making it ripe for experimentation by us mere mortals without lab-space!

Another highlight: I was really blown away to wear ODG's Mixed Reality glasses because they were so light! They run Android and will cost a bit over $1,000. Their form factor made me think, "yup, this one will actually get used in the field like it should." They're a self-contained computer, which limits graphics but mobility is my favorite element of what makes Mixed and Augmented Reality so special - computing out in the real world, with our hands free! 

With Apple's AR kit and small glasses like this we are getting ready for Mixed (or Augmented) reality sooner than I thought! 

But before any of this we also need to think hard about computation and what we're trying to do - what is the Center Of "Why"?

And I'm intent to explore where we've already been to make sure we're always breaking new ground and/or refining the garden we're already in. A recent ACM panel gives a great crash history through the present with the ethics.

Most of the improvements we need are in conceptual understanding of computation - SIGGRAPH showed me that the raw technology is ready for anything! So it's up to us to imagine a more robust version of just what it means to "use a computer". We need smarter interfaces and a more expressive form of programming, and we can begin experimenting today even before all the gadgets are ready.

If I talked with you at SIGGRAPH I probably told you I'm tired of clicking little buttons and using inert spaces which I must instruct EVERY element of the action I wish to perform. I mean it. I want to paint with math and math with paint. I believe that computing is a shared substrate for all of human endeavor, and I know it needs to let us be fully human within it. 

In graduate school I started exploring the research that is currently present for making a much more expressive interface for computing based on the the mighty pen, hypercharged by the affordances of a digital substrate: As We May Sketch

I am fascinated by the dream that we might eventually Converse with Computers in new forms of conversation, even if it is just to make graphics in a more user-friendly way.

There are already methods for approaching "artificial" intelligence in computers that will let us switch from thinking of machine learning as a data problem to having machine learning become an expressive experience allowing us to bridge rigid logics with blurry imaginations.

I am struck to my core that computing can and ought to move beyond us as explicit instructors and toward us as cooperative participants with an increasingly dynamic and intelligent substrate ready to hold our creations and let our minds soar. We in our physical bodies and full humanity are at the center of the vision of the future.

Still beyond our wonderful maturing pen-based tablets with 2D motion screens, we are entering into a time when graphics can move outside of rectangles - a time to explore more Humane Representations of Thought. We do need to keep humanity in mind, both our soaring potentials and our consistent ambitions and nagging flaws, books like Rainbow's End help situate the affordances against stories.

Back in 2015 I wrote a collection of three scenes from a School Astride the Metaverse, an attempt to envision a school that bridges material and virtual reality into a kind of whole:

One about Expression Capture Day and some musing from a teacher.

One about a typical Final Assignment

And one in which a kid educates the system...

This vision is not complete, it is playground to think about possible styles of school in the future. The first two are grounded, and the last one is more fanciful. There's an entire arena to go into with mixed reality and even more simulation space games - I'm working on it, but for now want to re-surface these since they are starting to look almost conservative in light of this years' tech I witnessed!

This is not meant as a description of the future, but rather a constellation of ideas about how the future of education might look in a world where technology keeps getting better and cheaper, yet overall amounts of money spent on education remain relatively constant. This is not a utopia, this is meant to explore the feeling of what certain compromises and perspectives might manifest as. You certainly do not have to agree with or love or even like this vision, but I do hope that you want to discuss it and the ideas within since this is a world not too far away. Mere decades really for some parts of it; other parts are less clear...

It's important to think and converse about holistic visions for the future of education, not just individual technology artifacts in the classroom and moderate systems deployments. This is my attempt to help add a little flavor to the conversation.

Let's make a future where learning is an adventure and allow new generations to soar past our wildest dreams.

The Trouble With Buying Soldiers...

 

The US has been continuously outsourcing large segments of its defense, security and intelligence work, including direct on-the-ground war fighting, to for-hire private firms and contractors, known as paramilitary contractors or PMCs.

While many PMCs are ex-military, by offering up their services as a soldier for money outside of the military, they have still crossed a new threshold into a land of marketized contracting: they are now mercenaries working as part of firms and corporations.

Successful firms bestow on their employees a measure of pride and loyalty that functions to provide incentives in the social realm that transcend what money can buy. They make their employees into “insiders.”

The problem is that by taking their skills to the market, PMCs are now more “outsider” rather than “insider” in relation to the nation-state of the United States of America and its government. 

People who are “inside” the system of an organization often need less monetary incentive because they achieve a higher utility by contributing to something which they feel they own a stake in. Those “inside” of an organization are essentially loyal, as they are part of the organizational family. Their orbits around the nourishing sun of the organization’s shared identity give them a social utility that is not easily replicated by simplistic incentives.

Conversely, to those “outside” of an organization, their allegiance to it is much more dependent on monetary and other incentives. People on the outside of the organization are not close to its proverbial sun and need other rewards to nourish themselves.

So where does the loyalty of a PMC lie at the end of the day? 

To the nation that pays him surely! So the US should be able to retain its contractors as long as it has the most capital to spend compared to other groups on Earth. The danger leaps out! A military is the last line of defense of the nation when all other areas are crumbling, but the US government–in a short-sighted desire for efficiency from some and outright corruption from others–is maneuvering itself into a situation where, if the proverbial ship starts to sink, the individuals it currently calls on to fight on its behalf risk being the first to desert. 

Through the 80s to today, the extolled virtue of free-market problem-solving has created an increased marketization of most aspects of life. Now war itself is moving to the market, with money playing a direct role in incentivizing combat activities and actual fighters. This could be disastrous for the security of the United States.

History is filled with examples of mercenaries having flexible loyalty, with Machiavelli arguing against the use of mercenaries for this very reason. As he explained: if mercenaries lose in combat they are useless, and if they win they can become dangerous, since a mercenary force that is stronger than the entity that hired it no longer needs that entity’s financial support, it instead has its own power.

Rome fell because it hired foreign soldiers, but the "mercenaries" were not loyal to Rome. In the year 476 mercenaries under Orestes of Rome revolted under Odoacer and then proceeded to dispose of the last western Roman Emperor Romulus Augustus.

Mercenaries will not a military make. Too many of them is a known liability. If the US government intends to buy itself soldiers on the open market at best price, it will find that some day that market will close; perhaps even might buy them right back at gunpoint. 

If a lawmaker is advocating for excessive use of PMCs and continued privatization of the military they are undermining the stability of the very institution they are trying to serve. Some specialized troops for hire are part of the world, but too many risks unbalancing the power of the nation. 

 

 

Resources: 

Identity Economics http://press.princeton.edu/titles/9108.html

The Prince http://www.constitution.org/mac/prince.pdf

Bridging Rigid Logics with Blurry Imaginations

The tension between ‘what is’ and ‘what can be’ is omnipresent in technological design. The ‘what can be’ side of the tension further striates into what ‘ought be’ and ‘what can afford to be’ in an industrial economic setting. To me, nowhere is the tension between ‘what is’ and ‘what can be’ more apparent than with digital computers. These devices are substrates for logical operations, and as increasingly diverse communities of people have integrated them into their practices we see a flowering of implementations in software. Yet the initial boundary conditions of the history of computing powerfully shape what it is – where computing has been is the ground for us as we stretch to search for what it can be.

“The devices and systems of technology are not natural phenomena but the products of human design, that is, they are the result of matching available means to desired ends at acceptable cost. The available means ultimately do rest on natural laws, which define the possibilities and limits of the technology. But desired ends and acceptable costs are matters of society.” (Mahoney, 122)

So far ‘desired ends’ of the computational society have been seeded with industrial concerns and perspectives.

“the computer industry was, more than anything else, a continuation of the pre-1945 office equipment industry and in particular of the punched card machine industry.” (Mahoney, 126; quoting Haigh) “But making it universal, or general purpose, also made it indeterminate. Capable of calculating any logical function, it could become anything but was in itself nothing (well, as designed, it could always do arithmetic).” (Mahoney, 123)

Thus, in the 1970s, humanist artists began wading into computation, and we have witnessed an explosion of ‘high level’ creativity as to what the metamedium of ‘computation’ can actually do for us as meaning-makers. Ideas flourished that saw the computer as not just a machine for counting, but a substrate for human imagination. Yet the histories of computing set the devices we compute with on a path that has shaped its form: a device with baked-in logics that we recombine. The histories of computing feature engineering, science and data analysis as the kernel of the computer’s unfolding into the wider sociotechnical ecosystem. Art was tacked on later as an affordance of having enough 1/0s to spare. Computer programs are precise manipulations of the state of an electro-atomic system we call a computer. Yet human language too manipulates other electro-atomic systems (aka, other humans) in a much more blurry and imprecise way - yet this blurriness leaves room for emergence, and this I think is the key to the future direction of computing itself.

I am struck more and more each day by the 20th century origins of computing, and harden my resolve to lean more and more into what the 21st century of computing looks like. The future will see the “front” and “back” of computation merge into a holistic loop where generative logics allow computers to learn as they are used. The loops in our minds will be further augmented by loops through machines that begin to not just manipulate saved libraries, but increasingly generate new forms. We are, I think, at a profound crossroads in the path: will computing be continually defined by linear “processing”, or can we move it toward continuous relational inference? I think we must move to the latter, for the affordances of the future will enable and demand new human-scale ways to program computers. We are in the midst of a latent programming revolution.

This thinking has been culminating for me with the input of this class and my continued experience with the Microsoft Surface. The Surface device that I am typing this on is perhaps the perfect symbol for the crossroads that personal computing is currently in. The Surface has two distinct interface modes: the touchscreen/pen digitizer, and the keyboard. The mouse is unified with the digitizer pen decently well, but the keyboard remains a realm unto itself.

I am finding it increasingly jarring to coexist in free-flowing writing inside of digital inking applications and interfacing with programming.

To this day when writing to a computer at the level of its logical comprehension we are forced to bring our hands together and cramp over an un-changing keyboard. We input 1/0 commands into the machine through keys that correspond to symbols, which in sequence will (when interpreted) illicit the electrical state of the computer to evolve step by step as fast as the system clock allows.

The more I use a pen on a grid, the more I believe that there is potentially another way to program.

The work of von Neumann and others who pioneered the study of cellular automata has shown me that computing does not have to be about direct control using predefined symbol sets, but rather can be about boundary conditions and evolution.

I wonder if we cannot use digitizer grids and pens to allow human operators to sketch with computers. Already much of the power of the computer comes to us via adding abstraction. To edit a photo with machine code directly would be impossibly tedious, but thanks to many layers of abstraction I can use a tool like photoshop to move around thousands of pixels and billions of transistors in large strokes.

Programming languages have been path dependent upon 20th century paradigms. To me, programming a digital computer feels like playing with a near-infinite movable type: there are libraries of modules that I arrange in patterns to produce sequences which instruct the machine and can even mean something to a person.

Yet I wonder, is that the only way to program computers? Must we only use rigid pre-delineated symbols?

I think we can begin to write higher level programming environments that allow us to write to our computers, not type, but actually write.

I discovered a groundbreaking paper recently which shows that a unification between the way humans reason and the way computers process might be increasingly possible and fruitful.

Researchers Lake, Salakutdinov and Tenenbaum instantiated a “machine learning” concept by creating a “Bayesian program learning (BPL) framework, capable of learning a large class of visual concepts from just a single example and generalizing in ways that are mostly indistinguishable from people.” Using digital inking they developed a technique to parse drawn symbols via vector and temporal relational information and allow the computer to generate further symbols from these inputs.

“Concepts are represented as simple probabilistic programs—that is, probabilistic generative models expressed as structured procedures in an abstract description language.” Their framework brings together compositionality, causality and learning to learn. “As programs, rich concepts can be built ‘compositionally’ from simpler primitives. Their probabilistic semantics handle noise and support creative generalizations in a procedural form that (unlike other probabilistic models) naturally captures the abstract “causal” structure of the real-world processes that produce examples of a category.”

“Learning proceeds by constructing programs that best explain the observations under a Bayesian criterion, and the model “learns to learn” (23, 24) by developing hierarchical priors that allow previous experience with related concepts to ease learning of new concepts (25, 26). These priors represent a learned inductive bias (27) that abstracts the key regularities and dimensions of variation holding across both types of concepts and across instances (or tokens) of a concept in a given domain.”

“In short, BPL can construct new programs by reusing the pieces of existing ones, capturing the causal and compositional properties of real-world generative processes operating on multiple scales.”

Finding this paper feels profound to me. Lake et al have been able to create a learning system that does not need huge amounts of data, but rather using smaller stochastic programs to represent concepts and building them compositionally from parts, subparts and spatial/temporal relations.

BPL is a generative model for generative models.

The BPL approach gets us away from the traditional histories of computing with their emphasis on large datasets and toward smaller evolutionary rules-based generative computing.

Using the BPL method, concepts are represented as probalistic relational programs, so anything entered by the human operator (or theoretically by other BPL-taught machines) becomes instantly absorbed into a formal logic and is combinatorial at a mathematically grounded and sound level.

The key of BPL is that, like human beings, it allows the computer to start working on relational categorization after just one example. This is how “machine learning” can go from tool of the corporation toward tool of the individual. We individuals do not have thousands or millions of datapoints to give to our personal computers, but we do have individual ideas that we can sketch to them.

I truly think that computer science is going through a revolution in understanding: no longer will computing be about “business machines” and cracking cyphercodes and massive datasets, but instead will increasingly feature generative creative inference and blurry conversation.

The BPL approach, if embedded into the OS of modern personal computing could enable humans to converse with designed emergent libraries of recombinatorial mathematical artifacts. BPL is much more “as we may think” than any of the ‘neural net’ approaches that require astronomically large datasets and vast number crunching. Programming can evolve from reading “tapes” with rigid logics into sketching blurry ideas and creating relational inferences. This is not a replacement, but rather a welcome addition. The BPL approach is still “grounded” in piles of 1/0, but the way that BPL structures the 1/0s is much more modular and inherently combinatorial than previous approaches (from my limited perspective at least).

I think this approach is a keystone I have been seeking to merge ‘symbols that mean’ with ‘symbols that do’ into a unified mathematically complete “metasymbology” that will allow us to merge programming with language. Going further, the authors (and I) see no limits to using a BPL style approach to allow computers to engage with all forms of human symbolism, from language to gestures to dance moves. Even engineered devices and natural complexity, all the way to abstract knowledge such as natural number, natural language semantics and intuitive physical theories. (Lake et al, 1337)

In their history computers have been substrates for enacting human logic, moving forward computers will also become ever better substrates for enacting human dreams.

--

Sources:

Michael S. Mahoney, "The Histories of Computing(s)." Interdisciplinary Science Reviews 30, no. 2 (June 2005).

Brenden M. Lake, Ruslan Salakhutdinov, Joshua B. Tenenbaum “Human-level concept learning through probabilistic program induction” https://www.cs.cmu.edu/~rsalakhu/papers/LakeEtAl2015Science.pdf

 

originally for Georgetown CCT class CCTP-820: Leading by Design – Principles of Technical and Social Systems 

The Blockchain is So Meta, Maybe That's Why I'm So Excited By It

The blockchain seems magical: a system that can verify itself. Distributed trust.

Any problem we have today with high transaction costs to bridge it is easy to imagine bridging the gap with some kind of proof of stake, or work, or reference technology. 

This in many ways is the ultimate continuation of the “control revolution”: creating a money that is not a token so much as a network. Something that knows about itself at all times, allowing transparency of a level never before possible. Truly cybernetic society with feedback loops abounding. Imagine a future built environment more like a forest than a static city: where the environment knows how to grow and adapt to what we need.

Yet this world will not simply happen. And it will not allow us to just escape from existing theoretical and historical realities. We are in complex times and complexity is path dependent. We search the fitness landscape from where we are not where we wish we were - unless we take a random shot at mutation.

As we have seen as the internet has matured, promises of utopia are merely waiting for the other shoe to drop. We live in a Topia, the jungle of reality. Both Dys- and U- versions of topia miss the mark on the full truth, yet they do help us shape our trajectory.

{Toward the Answer Engine: Promise & Peril}

We will have to be on guard for both opportunities and downsides as we navigate the future. Through history we have learned that once systems are in place it is difficult to uproot them. Even new shiny systems emerge from the old.

{Capitalism, The Internet & Network Power}

It's important to ask when trying to use technology for "good" what is it that we mean?

{Interview on Millenial Universe - Using Technology for Good}

 

 

 

There is much to consider as we turn the internet into the cyberspace of fiction.

{A New Economy From AR Visors}

A nose for guiding theories and scientific investigation of base principles will be required. I was fortunate to study at Georgetown's Communication Culture & Technology MA program where I explored standards setting, new economic theory and the limits of the calculable, social network analysis and the evolution of technology, among lots of other amazing trans-disciplinary pursuits.

{Lit Review: Information Flow & Link Formation in Networks - Hidden Metric Spaces}

As our understanding grows we see how to avoid the lazy monopoly scenarios - after all simple experiments show us that inequality is a natural emergent behavior of any economy with unequal starting points. Indeed power laws abound in many areas of our world...

{Beyond Network Feudalism} 

If we do this right, we’ll get to somewhere wonderful:

{100 years from now}

Figures from "The Origin of Wealth" by Beinhocker

 

Resist Reaction, Step Into Response

I feel that one of the most important acts of resistance we can all do each moment is to remain optimistic and find moments of stillness to cultivate our own solid power. 


As we fight for peace we are encouraged to practice it in our daily lives. Breath will leave you when it is your time, for now love each breath as the sunrise and sunset of your soul. Hear the beating of your heart as the metronome of your being. Rejoice to play your music, rejoice to hear it resonate with the Allmusic.


Keep planning for a bright future. Do not let people seeking anarchy sway you, continue to believe in community and love. Do not let injustice move you, simply move it back. Do not bemoan it, simply change it. We are allowed to free ourselves from reaction and step into response. 


We are getting a rude awakening: this reality is programmed by all of us. Human will shapes the world because we are of the world. We choose. Fear got a head start because it is an easy and cheap vision: think of all the fast ways to make art depicting "hell." There is nothing special in predicting doom, that is the lowest prediction for death comes for us all. To live is harder, to live is the subtle glorious complex simple empty full grandeur of the flash of infinity being itself. 

We have to remember that Donald and his kind are afraid at a very visceral and personal level. Thus we must not lurch up above them and destroy them, for then we would be evil. We must walk the middle way: we must help coax the collective nation and world out of fear and into faith.

We are reality programmers. Our intention makes the world. Our act of resistance must always be to imagine and practice kindness and love. Imagine and build beautiful artful things. Imagine technologies in harmony with nature, technologies designed to help heal mental and physical wounds. Before humans could fly we dreamed of it.


Fear got here first, only to lay the mud for growth. Out of it the flowers of our love for each other can bloom. Inside that love we will continue to build. We are the warriors of the future manifesting love from our hearts. Keep striving, I love all of you who try. 

Exploring the Limits of Trying

This universe! Made of transformation! Endless trying! 


And now we have computers: machines for exponentially increasing the ability to try.
Anyone who endeavors to think about the world must engage with computation as one of their lenses. Computation is a culture embodied in a sea of standing metaphors. Listen closely to the computer, hear its subtle unique vibrations? It is the universe being a computer, matter made to obey math. But sometimes not...


The culture that built the computer did not value vibrations, it valued pieces. It knew about vibrations, it just didn't value them enough to work with them like they liked to work with pieces. 
Turing designed a simple assembly line in his head and had the genius to use it to assemble information. Today's computers are made from this same design. Trillions of fluttering 1/0 switches piping data down lines in rows sequentially. So today's computers generate electromagnetic fields as a byproduct of the segmented interacting electricity boxes, not as their primary goal.


Needless to say, science has changed since the idea of a computer was first opened up!
Tomorrow's computers are built from entangled fields. Particles themselves all tips of waves, states are induced by getting hundreds of standing wave tips to hum together as one. Oscillations along the standing waves create resonances in the entangled hum. This means that no longer will computers be an assembly line. Instead they will become a literal mathematical symphony. 


Something new is happening from the primal agelessness: exploring the transformation style "computation." There is clear thinking that illuminates the scale, but the specific designs still elude everyone. I think it's because we are still stuck inside this same boring box-based culture!!!! haha This is a time celebrated in history: when the fabric of the cosmos is most aligned for re-arranging in the very most literal sense! "

The time is upon us, dawning through us. 

What of power clashes when the world is fully realized as being for trying?
When the universe is realized as a song what wonderful responsibility to find all the music?
When humans continue becoming wizards and gods of our myths!
We can program the world through song and brush.
Then the artists must play, and from the heart, no mere near reflection of culture, come all the way back to reflect reflection itself.

Copper Soldiers Battling Over Shapes Melt Down All The Same.

When form is made, possibility constrains, yet action opens up.

When action is taken good and evil emerge, yet love becomes possible.

When entangled in love arguments lead to fruit, yet arguments drive apart love.

Feel deeper, do you taste the dance?

 

We are all points of a oneness, empty and full at once and neither.

Saying we are many united is but less than the truth.

Saying we are one divided is but less than the truth.

Look subtler, look beyond looking.

DeepSea.gif

 

I am you and you are me.

The air we breathe has touched both our lungs

And the lungs of dinosaurs

The lungs of Christ and Buddha

No one is God, all of us are.

 

We are enlightened in our illusion

And deluded in our enlightenment.

 

The pool reflects the moon

reflects the sun

reflects hydrogen fusion

reflecting reflects primal nothing

that is everything.

 

Surveying the stars scattered like dust I remark: what path is right?

What is the purpose of all this?

Round and round we build up symbols.

Round and round we do the maths.

Round and round we give God forms.

 

Jealously guarding answers.

Righteously jostling to make truths.

Intensely defending positions from the ramparts of sand castles.

While questions foam eternal.

 

Every point is but the frothing tips of the roaring reality ocean.

Appearance is but a momentary crest.

All waves return

Having never left.

 

What of my answers that I seek so desperately?

The cosmos is mute in its roar

Only cares about raw possibility.

 

Container for all with biased form toward none.

The voidness full of all that can ever be and never was.

 

You hurt me

I hurt you

Don’t touch the fire is said,

But only learned when burned.

 

Bemoan the world

Celebrate the world.

We are the victims and the perpetrators.

We are cells of the Earth body

Blessed to fight

Fighting to bless.

 

Do great good

Do great evil

While we work against each other

While we work with each other

We are in form,

Just next to truth, but still grasping.

 

No one knows the truth

Everyone is the truth.

 

With a wink and a smile I spar and dance with you

Thinking we move

In our motionless.

 

Copper soldiers battling over shapes

Melt down all the same.

 

The pulsar sings its clock

Shine shine shine

The stars slowly spin round the cosmic drains

The hum of consumption, the din of radiation

Time is the character of music, music makes the character of time.

 

Bodies the standing waves between birth and death.

I am stardust fusing

I am all my cells

I am not my cells

I am ephemeral and gross

I am made of eternity

I am bound to die.

 

I am a suspension between saint and sinner.

When I judge I am but a tiny ship,

Sailing through infinity lost toward death.

When I surrender to no descriptions,

I am infinity sailing through itself.

 

Look inside yourself to see there is no inside.

Look outside yourself to see there is no outside.

Stillness is motion.

Motion is stillness.

 

Lub dub

Lub dub

Lub dub

 

Hear it? Feel it?

There’s your heart

The pulsar of your soul.

You are an instrument in the all symphony.

 

When you feel less than, realize your infinity.

When you feel more than, realize your finity.

Balanced between sound and quiet

The symphony becomes itself.

 

See the World Clearly, Work For Change Beyond One Election

UPDATE: What I wrote here is both valuable and irrelevant. All zits eventually pop. Here we go!

With Trump vs Hillary counting down to the wire it is tempting to look desperately for other options. We find ourselves forced by Trump’s incompetence, brittle psyche, awful lack of empathy and absence of basic cognitive ability to vote for Hillary. Yet we find ourselves increasingly disillusioned and dejected by the Neoliberal status quo that she represents. We wonder: is there another option?

I’m all for a third party candidate in theory but Stein and Johnson are not viable.

Moreover, this election has me going crazy with how people seem to be mis-perceiving the job of the president: in addition to checking the legislature, the president is primarily the commander in chief of the armed forces and an interface with other nations! Our legislature is supposed to handle the domestic policy, the president is supposed to interact with the world and serve as a check domestically if the legislature does something very screwy that doesn’t fit with the context of the wider reality.

I understand the desire for a more peaceful president who cares about domestic policy and is outside of the status quo, but I think it is misguided in light of the options available to us. The president is a warrior job by design, they command the generals and admirals directly, not the legislature!

Both third party candidates inspire no confidence from me that they could handle the pressure of helming the modern apparatus of the cybernetic military. They are attempting to be pure in a world of shadows. Assigning blame for the shadows does not get rid of them!! We still need to live with the shadows that we may heal them.

The truth is that the world is on a knife edge because predation is real: predatory impulses and strategies are entirely natural. Arms races and perpetual conflict stances along borders, while stupid intellectually, are the most stable real-world equlibria.

So my unpopular stance comes now: Hillary is the best candidate for the job, even disregarding Trump. She is the status quo candidate and I want the status quo to continue.

We think that sick people should be left to live so that they may be healed, and I urge us to consider our nation-state system as superpersonages: we are diseased, but that disease also brings with it the possibility for our healing as we see our maladies.

Neoliberalism is here to stay as long as we have fiat currency. The military industrial complex is here to stay as long as the legislature is gridlocked. The current power distribution of military arsenals is here to stay and will have to be carefully re-adjusted over a long period of time, unless the desire to ‘shake it up’ is so strong that it leads to war before it can be rolled back.

The United States has 11 aircraft carriers, with 7–8 deployed continuously keeping the status quo alive for international shipping, which allows us all to have these conversations with our computers made in China, Korea & Taiwan.

Trade has created great incentives for peace among the elites and commoners alike, but trade is still an abstraction above the bedrock of threat of violence.

By my analysis the international order is due for a shakeup in the next decades, in many ways it has already begun. The omnipresent power of the US is fading as other actors gain relative power. More than just nations, there are vast criminal networks that would, as animals are want to do, seize on any opportunity to jostle for more power and influence in the world.

We will see more hot offensive conflicts, more proxy wars, more cyberspace incursions. Even space is in the process of being more militarized, with China demonstrating that it can destroy satellites and future technologies of 3D printing allowing new classes of spy satellites to actually physically tamper with existing GPS and intelligence networks. Moreover individual actors have never been more empowered to wreak their violent designs.

I’m sorry but this is not just a “conspiracy theory” to keep us scared, the world is genuinely a very hot place which we as citizens are insulated from. Again, we can assign blame as to why it is so hot, but that does not make it cool!

I write passionately about ending the cybernetic military presence in the middle east. I am these days even thinking that the US Navy should relax its territorial claims in the south china sea to let China police the region rather than US aircraft carriers. But make no mistake the multitrillion dollar weapons & sensor network of the US military is here to stay for the foreseeable future. The US military is still the queen and the bishops and even the rooks on this stupid global artificial chessboard called International Relations. The president must be able to act swiftly and violently if conditions demand. this is the real world and in the real world predators murder their prey. The governments of Putin and Xi Jinpin are jockeying for greater power in the game. Japan is even considering abolishing article 9 of its constitution to allow itself to have an OFFENSIVE military because of the expansionary desires of China.

I have been seriously searching my knowledge, my mind and my soul and cannot even begin to take Stein or Johnson seriously. They are not prepared for the reality of the job of president, which is a brutal thing.

Stein is singing about a gentler world while other actors are becoming harsher.

I know this rings defeatist, but please understand that it is not. What is needed is a grassroots revolution in electing local representatives to the legislature! The legislature can roll back NSA, can curb the use of drones globally, can create standards for computer warfare; the president just uses the tools they have.

It took France two tries to have a successful revolution, and each time was brutal. Our world and its billions cannot afford such a blind charge into “liberty”. We must be much more adult than romantic if we seek to improve the world.

Do I agree with the Neoliberal Clinton / Obama / Bush style of international relations? No. Do I accept that it is reflective of the nature of the international order as it was set up by the VICTORS OF A GLOBAL WAR? Yes.

Hillary understands the designs of neoliberal policies and the military industrial complex better than any one of these third party candidates can ever dream of because she is the shadow that helped build it.

I want our world to become a garden, but that will take intense negotiations backed up with the threat of force. Humans are animals, and our nations reflect our animal nature.

We feel inspired to action by studying the ugliness of the world, but change will take more than just one election cycle. It will take the death of most of the legislators alive today and a conscious effort among us millennials to demand a kinder legislature and step into legislative roles. It will take perhaps the fundamental rattling of the concept of fiat currency. It may even take hot conflict in the south china sea, or continued aggression in the Ukraine and Northern Europe to get us to re-evaluate the design of the international system. It will take hurricanes and millions more emigrants from scorched lands to convince us of the truth and directness of climate change.

Yet the US DoD, General Martin Dempsey and the joint chiefs, all consider climate change a massive threat to national security. The US military itself has no desire for war and indeed has desires to help create peace, even if its tools are often not well-suited.

The US DoD is the largest employer IN THE WORLD, employing 3.2 million people counting all the various bureaucrats and such. The momentum on the current design of our world is immense. In my striving to be a better futurist I’ve had to accept that my dreams of new designs for our tomorrows will take more than just tomorrow’s time.

But still the reality is that the US military must be, in the continual calculus of global military strategists (of which there is feverish computer-driven analysis like never before), seen as too costly to engage with. Massive strength and targeted violence is the real-world deterrent allowing this version of society to function.

Please, I urge you and anyone reading this to look upon the world as we strive to do ourselves: with honesty and clarity.

You can still pass your personal judgement on the design of the international order, but I only hope that we can all see that the continuation of this status quo is, right now in this real moment, the optimal outcome.

Chaos = war and I do not want to fight in a war with these modern deadly technologies. It would break our spirits perhaps even before it killed us all.

Putin and Jinpin do not share the kind ideals of Stein, or the hands-off desires of Johnson. Each of them seeks to expand the power of their respective nations for the benefit of themselves and their circles. They must keep their citizens placated with continual growth, for the world has not yet awakened beyond the material reality. This can be bemoaned intellectually and spiritually, but with one’s root chakra one can see that there are finite resources and finite territories on the Earth.

Human “civilizations” are only a few thousand years old. We are still very much inside of the ancient designs.

Trust is the least likely outcome of any given interaction. Game theory emerged and flowered in the cold war to try and understand how to get to the trust outcome. We have made strides, but we cannot afford someone whom will turn from violence when it is required.

I suffered depression in my college days in large part due to my studies and the perceived impossibility of de-militarizing the world. I wrote my thesis on the inevitable deadly spiral of drone use two years before I read the first “serious” articles commenting on the problems of the US precedent in line with my analysis. Then Snowden revealed just how deep the rabbit hole has been dug. We are inside of a hostile design and it is not turning quickly away.

It will take the collective consciousness and directed action of millions of people to actually change the nature of the international order. In all real likelihood it will take a few generations of that kind of sustained energy to actually improve the world, as it seems to have always.

I believe it is possible to make a more peaceful world, but my beliefs do not make reality. Even a president’s beliefs are ultimately second-order to the reality of the international community’s desires and the path dependency set up by the history of nations’ choices. It has only been 70 years since Hiroshima was destroyed in nuclear fire.

Hillary is a Hawk, and Stein is a Dove. Unfortunately, Putin is a bear and Jinpin seems some kind of Tiger.

We the people of the US must assert to Hillary that we wish her to minimize violence. We must demand that she foster peace wherever possible.

But we the people of the US also rely on a bedrock of violence to keep the status quo of our way of life. We, with clarity, must accept that we are living in an empire and our comforts & securities are the result of a history of violence and a present of military posturing.

Is the status quo brutal? I think so. Do I want it to change? Yes. Do I want it to disintegrate? Absolutely not, for I would be compelled by duty to fight in the great war that would emerge, and I have no idea what the sides would even be.

I cannot possibly agree that we should entrust the US military to Stein, for I see in her no desire to interact with violence, which makes her unfit for the job. The president is a check not just to the domestic legislature but to the other leaders of the worlds’ nations: it must be believable that the president of the US would deploy violence if the bedrock of insanity is reached.

Mutually assured destruction is still the glue holding the international order together.

There are no clean ways out, the world that has been given to us to live in is filled with death and destruction as it is with love and creation.

It is not time for Stein, not as the commander in chief of the largest military ever constructed. I will welcome her to the legislature, but I am compelled to campaign against her as president.

Peace is a luxury of the affluent, and the world is becoming in many ways poorer.

As we rape our planet the incentives for war grow. Russia has no high technology and its oil is becoming less valuable by the month. China needs to continue its growth lest its population begin to feel unrest. The US put itself in the position of global police force and that is not a job that one simply turns away from, regardless of how terrible it may be.

Path dependency is real: the international order is held together still at its bedrock foundation with the reality of kinetic destructive power. This is not ideal, but the world is not ideal.

I’m sorry to be so blunt and so verbose but I am tormented by this too.

I haven’t given up, I am just seeking to see as clearly as possible that we may make a gentler world rise from the madness of the current. Ultimately I love my friends and family more than I love ideals and I am limited in this way: I want the status quo for that is the way that I know that we will be safe.

I simply do not have confidence in Stein as the commander in chief of the current design of the US. We live in an oligarchy and this is hurtful to see, but also it is the default design of most of human civilization. Changing this is bigger than one election. But the universe is made of change, so I still have hope. I only urge everyone to stay level-headed and clear-eyed!



Become Warrior Giver

I am privileged to love. I am beautiful to behold. I love you and want to know what your dreams are; I want to share in how you see and look with you together at the wider world we can see with our sights combined.

I am a heart open to the universe and all that is alive in it.

This is not sustainable. This will destroy me.

Creatures such as we humans are not good, nor bad, but both. Each an expression of uncountable energy interactions. Each of us meeting again and again as energy strangers, struggling to know the other beyond the skin, often unable to know what energies were absorbed by the other since our last encounter. Even closest friends and intimate partners are embedded in the world, and are thus fallible to energy coercion.

It is, I am learning, required of each of us to develop a neutral space to filter out the energies of interaction. Inside of us is an authentic energy of love that will be drowned out unless we make space for it.

After leaving the isolation and intellectualism of graduate school I am feeling a growing conviction that I must form a bridge between spirit and material. In the tradition of a shaman I am seeking. I am unafraid to have no words. I am finally unafraid to leave a wordless, personal and non-falsifiable space in the middle of myself for God.

I write this because today I hit a dying point in my spiritual growth, and thus here before you I am reborn. This post may be controversial to you, I ask that you read this as coming from my experience and thus not the entire picture.

I have been on tour with my musician friends Hippie Sabotage, each night experiencing a glorious stew of vibrant human energy. Love unquantifiable. Now I am in Atlanta, Georgia taking two days off; five days on, two off, it’s a grind being in the circus!

I gave myself the gift of a fancy hotel room with a big bed that overlooks the city and shared it with a beautiful spirit I had met earlier in Athens. The tiny bunks in a tour bus are wreaking havoc on my shoulders! After having a lovely and enlightening date she gave me the opportunity to express my tenderness in holding her in sleep. I awoke the next morning in joy with her, took her back to her car and she went back to her life. I was buzzing. I hope without expectation that I will see her again; I know already I will write her a letter when the tour is over.

Such positivity, I am thinking, my spirit journey is going well! I walk down to the Olympic Park to read a book, one unlike the others I usually read, titled 'You Are the Answer' by Michael J Tamura

Almost nothing in the book is falsifiable, but all of it hits my being with a resonance that suggests that my life’s service to rational skepticism must be re-evaluated. I know a plethora of facts about the world, but I am floundering for meaning. Tamura’s conception of spirit fills me with positive ideas for meaningful living. It makes sense to say that I am spirit, that I am indescribable yet readily perceptible if I quiet my mind and listen to my wider self.

As I am reading the book, buzzing with affirmation and positivity from a restful night’s sleep in a real bed with beautiful femininity to hold beside me, I am approached by a man. He asks to sit down, and I allow, being filled with joy of spirit and body I feel invincible. My heart is out in the open, and it feels strong enough for anything.

He begins to start discussing spirit, telling me things I would not have looked up since they are not falsifiable. I appreciate it. He seems composed and like a potentially helpful spirit friend. What luck, my mind thinks, more opportunity for positive growth in this new domain I am exploring!

My heart is skeptical, but my socially-conscious mind compels me to continue talking with him. It is a good conversation mostly, and I think down to my heart, I am aware of your perception, but let’s hear this guy out. So I listen, while my heart, ever wise, is waiting guardedly for his pitch.

Then it comes: He has a daughter, he claims, and needs $500.

Before I can even react another man appears, visibly disheveled. He also has a suffering daughter, shot in the face in a coma, he claims. This man though is simply sad, not composed. He begins to cry and I feel compelled to rise from my seat and hug him. He cries harder. He has not asked me for money although I know he intended to. The hug seems to take him to a different plane, even just slightly. I am buoyed by the possibility that I could help someone at a human level rather than a material level, for all I really have in the material is debt.

The first man though is seething. He wants the other man gone.

It becomes clear that neither one of these men wants healing, or being more kind to them, none of the men are centered enough to accept it. The second man shambles off and I am aware of my heart’s stronger message: you are a privileged kid and these men want things from you; this has nothing to do with spirit and entirely to do with material needs. Stop being so naive!

The first man is fully angry now. He resists all my urges to get him back to neutral so that we can continue discussing spirit. He has become only resentment of the second man for ruining his pitch, since the second man’s appearance did indeed snap be out of my reverie and back to reality: I am an animal and in nature there are predators and prey, parasites and hosts. I am feeling increasingly like a host and I am guarding up in case I switch to prey.

The man cannot show me a picture of his daughter because his phone is dead. My rational skepticism is buzzing.

What am I to do?, my heart and mind connection asks from the middle of itself.

Despite my growing skepticism and psychic duress under his angry energy, I still feel for this man. I know intellectually how broken material society is, since I went into meaty debt in order to go to graduate school to study the exact specifics of the brokenness of the world that I may help fix it. I want desperately to help him, but I do not have the money to spare.

I am not rich, only privileged. I have money to live and some lines on possibilities for more, but not enough to give to every stranger’s story. I am privileged but not lazy, I earned the money I have. Despite the immense gift of my social placement allowing me to get money, my work is still my work. I owe it to my family and myself to move forward in the social class I was gifted in birth. To slide back would be to dishonor my parents’ and my grandparents’ hard work. It would remove me from my ability to meaningfully help society. I have met too many souls who have been ejected from the Elysium we call "developed society" and they are unseen. Elysium is brutal and I must be realistic for I seek to improve its design. 

As I am trying to rationalize, the man’s growing anger answers for me. The man invokes Jesus to guilt me. I am not Christian, but I know that using Jesus as a lance is not the intention of that series of stories. To use love as a lance seems to me to be succumbing to the seductive power of evil.

Then the final straw comes when he threatens my future directly: if I do not give, I will be punished. Like a bad chain mailer but in the power of flesh before me.

That is my compassion’s death.

I say “do not threaten my future, sir,” and make my exit. I say it not in anger, but with conviction. After all, I would never threaten his future. Is my not giving a threat? No, it is a denial of a request. I did not create the conditions of his predicament. As I leave I still feel compelled to give him $20 and feel his continued disdain for me despite getting from me what is a lot of money for me. I am not rich despite being privileged. Elysium has many levels higher and I am only just within it.

I see now as I write that I am lucky. I could have completed this brewing revelation through bodily harm, instead I learned it through temporary psychic suffering. The man dumped huge piles of negative energy on me just before I took leave of him. 

It took time, and this post, to clear out all the negativity that I had let in with my wide open heart. I felt betrayed: he came to me on terms of spirit but was forced by whatever unseen circumstances to be confined in truth to the material. I felt duped, by him and the world itself.

But now, writing this I am reborn in new knowledge:

Empathy does not grant omniscience, it only creates a door for compassion.

Today I finally took the lesson: without awareness compassion can become destructive.

I knew this before, but had not connected it fully to my life. My first job when I was 16 was as a California State beach lifeguard. In training they teach us that the rescuer’s safety must come first, always. If you rush headlong to save a victim but become a victim yourself you have made things worse; another rescuer will have to get both of you! In training we are instructed to hand the buoy over first since a drowning person will, under their animal duress, seek to clamber over you using you as a floatation device even though you have come to save them with a neutral flotation device! Their primal fear does not know compassion in that moment, so you must guard yourself.

The training was good and I have prevented dangerous situations through early intervention and even saved a handful of lives directly through getting in the water. I have even accepted my death, held under the un-fightable force of large swells running low on breath. It was so much more peaceful to surrender than I had imagined. I surrendered and made peace only to find the bottom and burst to the surface, saving my victim.

But only today does the fullness of that training cement for me. It’s not just about physical harm, but psychic harm, even monetary draining. If I become another victim then I have not improved the world, I have only added to its suffering

In this connected series of encounters in Atlanta, both beautiful and disappointing, I feel I finally see with clarity a continuum of Godliness. That it is neither good, nor bad, but rather is a substrate for choices. How I choose is how God is in part. Same with you. And all of us.

It makes so much more sense to me that we are making God’s will together, rather than God's will being some external force. This is a responsibility that I find many religions disappointingly do not accept fully. The monotheistic faiths keep focusing on God as external rather than emergent. This is, to me, a deep illusion. External God is not just unfalsifiable, it is dangerous in practice.

I feel with conviction that God’s will expressed on Earth is made by the people who live here. I feel that those who say God works in “mysterious ways” have given their power away, as they are unwilling to actually embrace the power of their will to manifest material reality.

People of the monothesitic faiths give their power away, to institutions or pronouns in the sky. They have a sense for spirit, but lack the conviction in their freedom necessary to seize back their God-given power.

Today I died. John the Giver has become John the Warrior Giver. I have to finally face the reality: the world is not tender, it is the world.

As a child I was all mind and patterns, lost in my imagination. I still am to a degree, but I am working to lessen. Once social interactions were awkward and terrifying for me, I always feared making a “mistake.” So I have been putting myself way outside of my comfort zone the last few years, really out of most people’s comfort zone if I’m being frank. Offering rides to strange hippies I meet in Seattle. Listening to the ravings of the homeless, affirming their existences. Trying to talk spirit with a stranger sitting next to me on a bench.

Each time is a deep risk to my wellbeing, but I did it each time to prove to myself and the world that tenderness can win.  

I must finally admit a degree of defeat.

Tenderness needs nurturing space. Tenderness is the delicate bloom in the cool moonlight. Tenderness is not the default mode of the world, as much as I have always wished it was so, my wishes do not make the world.

Today I died and am reborn. Now my heart is still tender but protected. I have carried a shield, but was once given advice to drop my sword. This was bad advice.

I am a creature and I need claws. The world of tender Burning Man and bedsheets is not the whole world.

I inhale and feel the urge to hate the world for making me become that which I thought I was sent here to alleviate. I exhale and let this urge go out into the imperfect universe. I feel for my holstered sword, heft my shield and send a loop of self-love to my heart. I embrace the truth: good and evil are both of God. They are the polarities that define the edges of the possibilities in this world.

I am a creature; I did not design the world. I weep for the last time today as the tender reality I have dreamt of is finally destroyed. Now I am in darkness, but open to spirit. Now I am without a clear dream, but open to discovery. I throw my visions into fictional writings and remove them from my world model.

I become a universal truth detector rather than a personal truth projector. I pledge to myself that I will be more aware and more attentive to my intuition. I pledge to myself that any being whom will be tender with me deserves the full strength of my animal intelligence, perception and ferocity to protect. I pledge to be a lifeguard not just on the beach, not just of the body, but also of my soul, and any others who are with me in tenderness.

Today I lose the absent-minded professor aesthetic, the open-hearted lover desires, and I become of this world as it is, not as I wish it to be. I pick up my shield and sword and stand to face the blistering enormity of the real present.

But I fear not, for my heart is still in the middle. I am of the world but I am also beyond it, just as you are. That ineffable edge that we all feel and that many material houses of worship try to describe with the frailty of words. That godliness, that spirit. The sacred feelings unique to each of us.

I still dream of more tender worlds. Except now I know that tenderness is stuck in game theory. Tenderness is the ideal outcome but it must be an agreement.

I start each game now not as an open banner, but rather with shield raised and hand near sword.

I am a creature and my purpose in life is first and foremost to survive.

God asks less of us than we do of ourselves through our stories. God only asks that we exist. The world is broken for many and beautiful for others. This was done by human intention.

I believe that God is the substrate for choice. If anyone threatens you with God's will or wrath they are threatening you directly, since their intention is the instrument of God.

Never let anyone threaten your future, no matter what material injustices they may have suffered, you too are of God and thus deserve to live. I did not design the world, and today I let go of all attachment to stories as guides and instead embrace my feelings. Intuition is the compass of the present, and present is the only reality.  

I did not design the world; I relinquish open-heartedness for real-heartedness. If you choose coercion with me you will be deflected, or if necessary destroyed. If you choose tenderness with me I will give you all I have bursting to give.

I am now officially a warrior of the heart. I now trust my intuition completely. I will not rationalize my feelings with fragile slow words, I will be my truth embodied in my response to energies of the world. still pray for a better world, but now, I am fully alive in this one. I finally admit, with no defeat only acceptance, that the world is a battleground of intentions. If you are a warrior of the heart, if you wish to spread tenderness, I pray you fight beside me. If you seek to sow more coercion I have no time for you. If you force yourself upon me still, if shield cannot deflect, then I must use my sword.

I am a creature and my purpose is to live. I am not good, nor bad; I am.

An Organism At War With Itself Is Doomed

Recently, a question was asked in a class that I am a teaching assistant for, fundamentals of technology in Georgetown's Communication, Culture & Technology graduate program. The student wondered, almost marveled, at the power of war to birth technologies - does war not push humanity forward? All the ingenious inventions as a result of the impetus of warfare. Must warfare not be a key component of human technology? After all, war seems to have been with us for some time and it seems here to stay...

This question touches on many patterns in my mind which correspond to many patterns in the world that I have been studying in my yet young existence. And just now I found a powerful talk by Samar Habib on the macro-history of warfare that inspired me to write this attempt at a response to the student's question and an appeal to you. I hope to create a small space here where you can reconsider what your options really are in this world, for so often the buzz of culture can make us feel that our world is permanent rather than constructed in part by you. 

Technology is a reflection of human agency. It goes where intention demands. It destroys what fear wants gone. The technologies of death are on a trajectory: from the start of warfare the desire has been to distance the death dealer from the consequences of their dealing. To let the user deal death maximally while also staying alive maximally. So we will have iron man suits and robots and such in the future - the modules are lining up nicely these days for both remote piloted and embodied styles of mechanical soldiers to emerge and then get iterated upon in the next decades.

Humans in the war mindset certainly do breed technologies, whole legions of clever solutions to neutralize and kill others. Yet always it is the humans birthing the technologies and humans waging the war. 

Today in our world huge populations of brilliant minds and trillions of dollars are spent to create ever more elaborate technologies of death. Ever more clever ways to find even single humans and neutralize their agency - "because they might one day try to harm us" the logic now goes. 

Fear becomes evil when it drives you to act against a fellow person's agency. The leaders who wage wars on terror are mirror loops with the terror they try to fight. A war fought to end war only breeds universal warfare.

When the Manhattan Project yielded the world's first atomic bomb, Oppenheimer was reminded of a line in Hindu scripture, where Vishnu appears before a human prince and transforms, revealing his godly form proclaiming "now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds."

War is a stance of fear and there is no wisdom in fear. There is much cleverness, but no wisdom. Do you create out of fear? Do you create just to be cleverer than an enemy? Likely you create the things in your life for a much different reason; your reason is perhaps a path to genuine wisdom. Why then do you accept leaders who are so unwise?

War does not breed technologies, humans do. Technology reflects the desires of the humans who craft it, or in this world we live where some humans control the actions of others, the desire of the humans who have the money. Is war worth clever gadgets? Must we suffer technologies of death to keep inventing technologies of communication, creation, and health support? 

I believe that there are other ways. I know that we will need to find them if we are to survive. We are one species, we are one planet. An organism at war with itself is doomed. Are we become death, destroyer of our world? Or can we find a new vision for ourselves where courage triumphs over fear? I believe the journey before us is one of self-healing. Where each of us can realize the beauty in difference and the wonder of discovery.

A world view continues to exist that sees the world as a single body, one which deserves loving health not fearful anxious destruction. You and I and all humans, all life on this earth, are part of one system: a mote of dust floating in a sea of eternity. 

We begin as one, and then learn to segment and divide our minds, while our bodies remain as one with the earth we are made from. A body at war with itself has cancer. Fear of the other is the cancer of the human spirit. Love and tolerance is the antidote.

Come ye fellow creatures, stir from our caves of fear! Look upon the world we are one with and you will know that you and everyone belongs, you and everything is connected. We are a way for the Universe to know itself. We are a way for the universe to express fear and love. We can choose which is expressed most. It is time we took that awesome responsibility seriously.

If a would-be leader is advocating war and segregation as solutions, turn away from them for they are too cowardly to be a true leader. A true leader has the courage to forge new paths. A true leader has the courage to embrace the wisdom of diversity, the immensity of possibilities by which people may express themselves. A true leader knows that respect of others is the key long term survival, since through diversity we find the beneficial adjacent possibles. Through diversity the cosmos dances its long flow of change.

Real courage is not taking stances against others, that is always cowardice no matter how much chest-puffing the Putins and Trumps and Hitlers get up to in order to convince you otherwise. Do you consider a person who hurts himself to be strong? Then why do you consider leaders who would hurt humanity to be strong? You and I are part of one global organism. All is dependent upon the other. Real courage, real leadership, comes from those who embrace the changing flow of time, not those who would try to stop it. Real courage is found in love.

We fight because we are scared and we are scared because we fight. Yet we have the gift to see the source. No war will ever end war, only peace will do that. "Human nature" is no excuse, for we are humans and we are nature and thus it is within our power to shape our nature. Just look at the cities and religions all around us. It is time for humanity to own up to our power and embrace loving compassion for ourselves and the world that birthed us. There is another way than fighting, will we have the courage to choose peace? I believe so. I see in us great courage, I hope we can see it in ourselves.

 

Some books I love

These books contain wisdom and draw one's inner wisdom out. These books can help free your mind. I think you'll enjoy them.

I will say upfront, I believe that you can read nonfiction books in parts and perhaps never finish them and still derive amazing value and insight. However fiction books, once started, have to be finished. You have to complete the trip.

 

Nonfiction:

The Wisdom of Insecurity – Alan Watts

In all my studies I have found only probabilities and flow; the only constant in the universe is change. Watts helps us make sense of this truth and offers a new stance for living a happy life by alleviating the desire for stability and having faith in the flow.

The Nature of Technology – Brian Arthur

An ambitious and deeply helpful approach to viewing technology as modular combinatorial evolution driven by human imagination. Those words will make sense after reading this book! Arthur articulates one of the most usefully humble assertions of human designs: technology is harnessed phenomena. We did not invent fire, we harnessed it. We did not invent electricity, we deployed it. A must read if you seek to truly understand what it is that humans can do in this world.

Network Power – David Grewal

Why is English such a dominant language? Why did Facebook become so large so fast? What is it about certain standards that make them so appealing to everyone that they have to participate, even those who would rather not? This book is required reading if you want to have any hope of understanding where real power lies, especially in the modern world. 

Who Owns the Future? – Jaron Lanier

Even in a world of 3D printing, someone still can sell you the printing goop, always there is a chance to extract rent and profit wildly. In this serious yet fanciful account, Lanier takes you through the challenges of balancing power in the emerging technological reality. This book will leave you demanding better answers for how wealth is accredited and distributed, and can help guide you to thinking of your own. I was channeling it in my response to Jeremy Rifkin's "Zero Marginal Cost Society;" it is not enough to have technological systems, we must also have systematic justice.

Bastard Culture – Tobias Shafer

It seems like a great time for creatives, after all our work is seen everywhere now! In this book Shafer asks us to look twice before we consider the Internet an empowering force. He shows us that we must pay close attention to the design of the systems we use to communicate and share our art. The age of the monopoly is still here, it is only a transmutation. This book is a kind of response to accounts like The Wealth of Networks by Benkler, and I used it in my ambitious (if meandering) attempt to explore why capitalism still creates such wealth inequality.

The Second Machine Age – Erik Brynjolfsson, Andrew McAfee

The first DARPA self-driving car grand challenge was a joke, self-driving cars, it seemed were impossible. Twelve years later the entire automotive industry is bracing for a near future where cars drive themselves, insurance companies are crunching the numbers and policy-makers are even starting to stir. Exponential change is illusory, everything stays the same, until it doesn't. This book is a practical primer to the shape of changes ahead for us economic actors.

The Origin of Wealth - Eric Beinhocker

What is wealth? Why do some have so much while so many have so little? This is a text of reference for anyone seeking to understand the nature of the world. Evolution and economics, it shows, are not separate but rather deeply tied.

Surfaces & Essences - Douglas Hofstadter & Emmanuel Sander

Analogy is the fuel and fire of thinking, argue Hofstadter and Sander, it is the ability to create novel solutions to novel problems using a finite set of knowledge. When you see something as being like something else, you are being intelligent. 

I am a Strange Loop – Douglas Hofstadter

What is consciousness? I am conscious. This "I" though, what is that? It seems important to this whole consciousness business... A brilliant exploration of the interplay between simplicity and complexity through the lens of your own mind, mathematics, and analogy.

Finite Games and Infinite Games – James P. Carse

A wonderful romp through the nature of games with asides about the seductive draw of control leading to evil paths. This book offers a new way to see the society around us, and presents us with productive opportunities to re-evaluate our interpersonal and political relationships.

 

Fiction:

Invisible Cities – Italo Calvino

Each city reveals the traveler to himself as much as the traveler reveals the city to itself - always the process is incomplete and subjective. A poetic account of place and letting go of the desire to know all that can be. 

The Little Prince – Antione de Saint-Exupery

Through the eyes of children the world makes sense. Keep those eyes, they are the gift.

My Ishmael – Daniel Quinn

Some time in the past, dear reader, members of our culture decided to lock the food up - to privatize that which was once public; we have been suffering in mounds of excess ever since. Be warned: this book will change your view of the world and your place in it.

Happy are the Happy – Yamina Reza

In our rush for grandeur and acceptance we can overlook that life is living. I found this book like a perfect splash of refreshing water upon my face. Cool down, everyone is living. Judge less, everyone is living. There is joy if we let it in.

City of Thieves – David Benioff

A political prisoner, Lev is given an assignment: get eggs for the Colonel's daughter's wedding cake, behind the German line. Stark walks through winter, small respites, and omnipresent yet varying degrees of danger make this novel sparkle with a gritty glow. The absurdity of Lev's assignment juxtaposes perfectly with the gravity of living in conflict.

The Giver - Lois Lowry

This story shaped my childhood. I still see the scene of the sailing ship that Jonas illegally gave to his baby sister to soothe her mind. Especially in the modern world where emotion seems the loudest voice in discourse, and its banishment seems like the only path to peace, The Giver speaks louder still, reminding us that emotion is the texture of life and the core of humanity. Reminding us that forgetting our history does not save us from it, it only robs us of the potential to see more clearly.

The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula K. La Guin

On the winter world of Gethen the people are androgynous until their mating season. These people may be "male" on year and "female" the next, each one may be a mother and a father to different children. They have not yet waged large scale war. Their culture is rich with tales of the danger of future-telling. This book is essential if you desire to see around the gender binary and consider what love might really be. Also make sure to read the forward. There is a great audiobook out there that I have listened to and thoroughly enjoyed.

Aurora – Kim Stanley Robinson

Aboard a ship bound for a new world around a distant star, the inhabitants of the ship know no life other than drifting through space in their enclosed biome. A journey they did not choose to begin they must complete. Aurora is a powerful meditation on our relationship to our environment and our home planet, along with providing a compelling character in the Ship itself.

Mars Trilogy (Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars) – Kim Stanley Robinson

Politics follow humans wherever we go. In the Mars Trilogy we find a wonderfully detailed account of claiming, inhabiting and fighting for a new world with new values in the midst of the weight of history streaming in. I still find myself missing the surface of Mars from this world, Stan Robinson takes the time to show you the vistas, to place you on Mars. This is a must read for anyone who dreams of building a better world here on Earth or beyond.

The Years of Rice and Salt – Kim Stanley Robinson

The Plague destroys Europe, how does human history progress? What constants might there be, what twists? This book is a beautiful exploration of history making and human spirit woven together with characters who we follow through reincarnation era and era again. 

Enders Game – Orson Scott Card

The Circle – Dave Eggers

Transparency will usher in a new era of equanimity, a new potential for peace, a world where all of us are aware of each other. A world revealed to itself. A utopia where politicians are accountable and knowledge of your loved ones' safety is always just a tap away. But wait, what's that dark spot in the middle where all the information is routed through?... A must-read for anyone who uses the Internet.

Nexus trilogy (Nexus, Apex & Crux) – Ramez Naam

A drug is sweeping the streets, Nexus. The first trip is a flight through your own subconscious, and after this usually very jarring experience you can now touch the minds of other Nexus users. Imagine feeling someone else's full emotions directly in your mind and them feeling yours. A young Bay Area hacker makes improvements to the street drug creating Nexus 6, and kickstarting a global revolution. His version is stable enough to take Nexus from emotions to concrete experience, and allow users to run applications on their mind. A powerfully exciting and thoughtful exploration of a near future world where the humanity that was born begins to conflict with the humanity that is designed.

Existence – David Brin

Earth – David Brin

Otherness – David Brin

Neuromancer – William Gibson

Snow Crash – Neal Stephenson

Snow Crash is an amazing romp through a 90s-chic future world that would make intense Libertarians swoon. In the world of Snow Crash everything is drive through, everything is corporate, and everyone’s in it for biz. Our main characters are Hiro Protagonist, master sword-fighter, expert hacker and co-inventor of the Metaverse, and YT, a radical skate Kourier who surfs the wild traffic of LA. Written in 1992 the book has aged a little, with some questionable caricatures of certain ethnic groups, but really the world of Snow Crash is itself a caricature of trends in the “free market” happy and race-relations-challenged United States. I came in to read about the Metaverse, which is still inspiring modern day Virtual Reality efforts, but I stayed for the semiotic viruses, ancient Sumerian legend, the unstoppable harpoon-wielding mercenary Raven, high speed traffic surfing, and sword fighting. Snow Crash is a damn fun read.

Cryptonomicon – Neal Stephenson

Rainbow’s End – Verner Vinge

Bicentennial Man – Isaac Asimov

Foundation series – Isaac Asimov

The End of Eternity – Isaac Asimov

 

Short stories:

The Last Question – Isaac Asimov

What would happen once the last question is answered? This story keeps helping me see human endeavor anew almost every day. This is a source of wisdom.

Stones of Significance – David Brin

So you think you want to keep 'progressing' do you? You want to achieve new heights of understanding and control? Go for it I guess, but don't say I didn't warn you... 

The Machine Stops – E.M. Forster

When we have developed the world, when the last of us is connected to each other through a grand tapestry of standardized machinery, what then will become of the creatures that built the tapestry? From 1909 Forster gives us the most prescient story I have ever read - this tale will continue to ring more true into the deep future; keep it close to you and remember what it is to be embodied and free.

"The Dynamics of Ecological Crisis"

 

I came across a brilliantly ambitious model that spoke to me. Gregory Bateson's attempt spoke to that urge in so many of us humans, "if only we could model catastrophe we could avoid it!"

 
 
 
 

I love "hubris" as a module in this system. Classic political science! I wanted to accentuate the strength of "hubris", since in my studies hubris seems like an ultimate driver of humanity and deserves more attention when invoked. So I recreated the diagram in vector form to explore: 

 

Now it occurs to me that the model should be alive and that the central modules should have tunable parameters. So for example, hydrocarbon-dominant technology increases pollution, but fusion-dominant technology reduces pollution. Then the size of the outer modules either grows or shrinks. If a module becomes too big it will eat the model and the sim is over. Getting rid of them can become a goal of a gamified form of this model. The inner modules touching or overlapping could add further complexity over time to better express the nature of the listed dynamics.

I'm still thinking of all the parameters, but I think this could be a fascinating model to animate as a simulation of itself! I'm hoping I could do it in p5.js or D3.js.

This will be a fun experiment!

 

Virtual Tribes and the State of Privacy

Click to Download PDF

Click to Download PDF

Earlier in the year I was invited to participate in an event Booz Allen Hamilton convened at Georgetown discussing the idea of Virtual Tribes and the future of privacy. The findings from the two-day long conference have been finalized and you can read the report here: People2People Virtual Tribes.

There were interesting presentations and discussions in physical space, but also running parallel was a "virtual debate" that was semi-open to the public around the question "digital privacy: good, bad, dead or alive?" Myself and the other student moderators got into some good flow on the issues and I think you'll enjoy that discussion in particular; it begins on page 50 of the report.

 

 

Humanity the Super-Organism: Fostering a Realistic Idealism

Humanity the Super-Organism: Fostering a Realistic Idealism

Humanity is an adolescent super-organism. We still lack a broad understanding of ourselves as we are: nodes of a holistic system. Our current journey is one of personal discovery. We humans find ourselves in a systemic environment featuring immense inequality and pockets of persistent violence. Yet even this is only a fleeting moment, temporary equilibria.  If we are to move beyond this moment we must better understand our place within it. "The economy" is not some “other” outside of us, it is us; it is the emergent pattern of our activity. We are the Invisible Hand. Today the system prizes techno-trinkets and abstracted capital wealth; tomorrow it must prize humanity. 

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Inequality is a Feature Not a Bug

MiniThesis - Cybernetic Inequality 

Digital networks and data increasingly codify value as transition toward an information economy progresses. Governments’ power over markets is waning. Surveillance opportunities placated them at the expense of control. Code is the new law. Existing capital holders are currently in the best position to write future law of civilization, and their primary motive is profit. Inequality is growing as the socio-technical system evolves.

The architecture of modern Internet applications/services reflects capital’s growing control of cyberspace. Connected devices are designed primarily to siphon and aggregate value in central positions through API-mediated platforms. IoT continues this trend. Pervasive and excessive concentrations of capital will abound. Platform monopolies are making global economy overly rigid in key areas with new players building inside existing company’s platforms.

Inequality will not fix itself, so how are we to begin? Guaranteed minimum income is a pipe dream. A negative income tax offers more realism, but is similarly unlikely. Maturing the sharing economy is the low-hanging fruit. However, without architecture changes it risks mirroring the old system. Moving from centralized radial network architectures to peer-to-peer architectures is key. Literal meshes are long goal, but blockchain approaches begin the path. Two broad exploration areas: 1. New revenue models for social networks based on microtransactions with cryptomoney. 2. Trust and contracting systems encoded to distributed databases.

The goal is enabling the sharing economy to express more of its latent emergent potential. New forms of money can allow nebulous digital “social capital” to act as actionable capital. Money is essentially a social network; this conceptual merger has not been explored in sufficient nuance and offers fruitful prospects. This is not a panacea, it is a beginning.

Standing Tall Atop Technology: Retiring the Wheelchair

Once when I was young, around 9 I think, I slipped while exploring tide pools at Crystal Cove State Park in California and fell on a sharp rock. It stabbed me just below my right knee. It was quite a violent blow and it caused quite a trauma in the moment; I think my body still remembers it because my leg is demanding I touch the scar as I write this! Yet it did not hurt. Quite the contrary, I could not feel anything at all. For a brief yet timeless moment, I was paralyzed. I will never forget the feeling. I was not afraid or sad; I was stunned and morbidly curious. Suddenly I could “hear” my previously quiet motor system yelling, screaming at my legs to move; but they simply would not. I tried and tried from inside my mind to will my legs to move and they just could not. As I experimented with this new problem and the delirious state of shock took firmer hold, I actually ended up finding it funny. I remember my mom yelling to me asking if I could get up, to which out I sort of half-chuckled and replied, “I can’t.”

Every time I recall this story I am thankful that control quickly returned, and that I can move my legs today. After that moment I became aware of just how precious it is to have control over one’s limbs, and how fragile the human body really is. The experience left me with a lasting impression and a heightened appreciation for the power of walking. To have something taken from you shows you how beautiful it is. I think of those who have found themselves bound to wheelchairs and it saddens and frustrates me. There has to be a way to bring their mobility back, to give them the gift of walking again! Now, as the 21st Century gets firmly underway, there is hope on the horizon.

The World Cup demonstration signaled the world: a new era is dawning; an era where standing tall is a reality for all.

The wheelchair is a powerful enabling technology, but it is also an ancient technology; it has unfortunate and intractable trade-offs. Being in a wheelchair places you in a kind of nether state, just below full mobility and full participation. You are seated while others stand, always looking up. You cannot take the stairs. You cannot drive an unmodified car. You are not part of the "main" world; you are part of another world imposed on you by the limits of an ancient technology. Thanks to human decency expressed in laws like building codes requiring ramps wheelchair users are integrated into society, but those measures will never be enough to fully empower. Wheelchairs do not provide an equality of experience for those who must use them. Wheelchairs are a flawed technology, a compromise from an ancient time.

The long era of the wheelchair is finally beginning its end. Exoskeletons will bridge the gap and grant real mobility and independence to the previously chair-bound. No longer will paralyzed or otherwise immobile people be forced to sit while others stand; they too will be at eye level with their peers.

I think this will be a boon not just for the physical well being of those who have found themselves in wheel chairs, but for their mental well being too. No one wants to feel helpless, or somehow less than others. Every individual should have the right to be in charge and in control of his or her life and exoskeleton technology enables this more than ever before. Those who would have been locked to a chair in the previous century will literally be able to stand tall and reclaim a huge part of their lives.

Sophie Morgan using Rex, a joystick-controlled exoskeleton.
 “Until you have been in a wheelchair for years you cannot understand what it’s like to stand up, physically or emotionally,” says Sophie. 
“It was a bizarre feeling. I’m 5ft. 10in. And the floor looked so far away. I felt safe, but it was all an emotional blur. Afterwards I couldn’t believe that I had been walking around, and wanted to do it all over again.”
Her boyfriend Tom said, “it was the first time I’ve seen her standing up.”
“It was wonderful to be eye to eye with each other. We just hugged and hugged,” added Sophie…
 

While the World Cup demo may have seemed clunky, it was quite unique and revolutionary. Unlike previous exoskeletons that are controlled by joysticks or controllers, the World Cup suit was controlled by thought. This is a major shift as well, granting the fluidity of experience that comes with action mirroring intent directly. So much of the power of walking comes from its ability to fade away from conscious thought, to let us ferry ourselves around our daily lives without any need to think how we’re doing it. My brief brush with having my normally unconscious cycle of intent to action broken showed me how powerful it is. Giving this fluidity back to chair-bound people will be monumental. They will once again be able to move with action mirroring intent, able to navigate the world on their terms.

With this tech costs are still high and performance is clunky, but that is only temporary. Exoskeletons and the brain computer interfaces that will make them fluid to use are digital technologies, and as such they are enjoying the benefits of rapid exponential progression. Over the coming years exoskeletons will get better, faster, cheaper, smaller and “smarter” to the point where they be fluidly controlled by thought alone and even may be able to fit under clothes. Like all truly powerful enabling technology they will fade away into the background of their users' lives. I think we'll see this quality of exoskeleton before 2020 at a cost that is manageable for a middle class individual, with further cost reductions on the horizon.

Yet exoskeletons are just the beginning. Eventually we will have the medical prowess to repair any damage, and even augment beyond physical limits. For now, exoskeletons will be an incredible bridge technology enabling a better quality of life.

“The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed.”

It will be interesting, and somewhat troubling, to watch the progression in mobility and rehabilitation technology during the first half of the 21st century. We may see overlaps of technological fixes, with biological fixes emerging while exoskeletons are still being refined.

The progression may be: first richer people get exoskeletons while poorer people are still relegated to wheelchairs, then poorer people will get exoskeletons while richer people have moved on to biological fixes, then poorer people will get the fixes while richer people perhaps have moved onto augmentation.

Although I personally think that augmentation will be a surprisingly level playing field of cost and adoption. Synthetic biology is shaping up to have very strong grass-roots potential. But that’s a discussion for another time…

Still with the state of financial equality on Earth, and particularly medical care in the US, the benefits of exoskeletons will be unevenly distributed at first. Decent ones are on the market as of 2016 for $40,000. But like all digital technology, exoskeletons will become a commodity eventually. 

From exoskeletons to stem cells, new technology is seeing wheelchairs nearing the end of use.  In the 21st century we will finally be able to retire a technology that has been with us since the 6th century BCE. We will finally be able to grant every human true mobility and control over their lives, to let them stand tall and walk on their terms.

A few generations from now, kids will learn of the amazingly progressive and empowering laws in the US and other nations that helped wheelchair-bound people integrate with society, and it will likely just confuse them.

"Why build ramps? Why didn't you just fix everyone’s legs? Or give them new ones!"

"Because we didn't know how… but we learned."

- JH

Winds of Imagination, Waves of Change

A philosophical and metaphorical musing on looking to the horizon of the future.

This universe is full of waves. Even particles are waves at their deeper more meaningful quantum level. So it is with change. 

Think about standing in an ocean. There are small waves you can make, ripples that radiate from you effecting limited space, but still impacting the whole system even if just slightly. Then there are the grand waves, the ones that come from out beyond the horizon. These grand waves are fueled by wind. In the world of humans it is much the same, although now metaphorical. Humanity generates a powerful wind of imagination and desire. The waves of change are fueled by our combined imagination, under no one's sole control, yet effecting all. 

Now that we humans are networked together directly this wind is growing in strength, and the waves it is making are growing larger than ever before. These cannot be controlled, but they can be noticed. 

The oceans taught me this. If you wish to catch a wave, first you must see it coming. You may not know how high it will be, or exactly where it will break until it is just in front of you; but if you have been watching the wave arrive it will not surprise you. You will be ready, and if you place yourself in front of it just so, you will ride it. 

Yet you must be vigilant. If you do not notice the wave until it is upon you, it will crash over your head. If you rush too far out to meet a wave it will pass by and break behind you leaving you stranded far from shore. If you catch a wave too late, only just as it is cresting, you will fall off its crest and smash into the trough below. You may try to duck under the waves as they come, preferring to let them pass you by but this is a losing battle; your breath will tire eventually and the waves are relentless. Change, like an ocean wave, can be immensely destructively powerful. But if you pay attention, you can ride the change.

This is how I look at the horizon of the future. I do not look to the future to predict specifics, I look to identify the bumps on the surface of possibility, the tell-tale signs that a wave of change is available to happen. 

arctic-ocean-ripples_823_600x450.jpg

This is the work of foresight, of analyzing trends: to see the wave of change before it breaks, to follow its latent potential all the way until it finally rears up and reshapes the world, and to share that knowledge with others so that we may all ride together. Change comes inexorably, it is a constant of the universe. Waves pulverize shells to sand and mold lumpen stones into spheres. Life constantly evolves. Stars are born live and die. The galaxies spin and collide and coalesce. All matter and energy is seeking all that is allowed in the universe, spinning out in an elegant dance of radiant permutation. Whatever is possible has a chance of happening. 

The system of humans on earth is not some amusement park wave generator, we cannot simply “turn off” the waves of change we make. The change we bring is fueled by that endless growing wind of imagination and desire, of questions asked and answers sought. We are a part of the system that is the universe and so are enveloped in its constant of change. We are the universe expressing possibilities, we are a mechanism by which it changes itself, changes ourselves. We are a seething, roaring ocean.

In this moment, there are monumental waves on civilization’s horizon, ones grander than we have ever seen before. Waves of change fueled by winds of recombinant networked imagination, the strongest winds society has ever generated. The crests will keep getting higher, to ride the waves will become ever more perilous. From fire to nuclear weapons the potential to fall off the crest has been growing with the height of the fall. Synthetic biology, programmable matter, quantum computing, these are waves so immense that they are only now finding land, only now starting to rise up and show us their true height. Even the grand waves of traditional computing and digital networking are still rearing up, still not fully washed over the world. Yet already we see what they have brought. Some people have ridden them well, many more have been left behind.

We cannot fight change; to fight change is to fight nature. But we can ride it. We can harness change so that it may be useful, so that it may propel us forward. If we teach each other how to, we can all ride together; and if we catch the waves of change just right, it can even be fun.

- JH