Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Machine For Making People Unhappy


- I saw you here a couple of days ago. I was sitting beside you, this same chair. Did you notice me?
- Yes.
- Then I saw you again yesterday. And here you are again today.
- You were here earlier today and left. You came back. Was it to talk to me?
- Yes.
- Really? Why?
- I just moved to the neighborhood. I wanted to talk to somebody.
- You couldn't find anyone better?
- I couldn't. And you look like you might be, what's the word, conversable? What are you writing?
- I had this idea...
- What?
- I would start a story with the line, "American life is a machine for making people unhappy."
- Is that what you think?
- If I say yes, are you leaving? What do you do, by the way?
- I act. Tell me what you're writing.
- It's a wonderful irony. Stupendous even. We Americans love our technology, especially love our computers. But as computers become more like us, acquire artificial intelligence, we become more like them, acquire computer intelligence.
- What's that?
- Theorists of artificial intelligence said from the beginning that working on how to make computers think would help us understand how we think. That didn't happen. It was the other way around: it took study of human beings before programmers could tell computers how to think. And then when smarter computers were thinking more like human beings, human being threw themselves more and more into thinking like computers, that is like computers used to think in the days before they were educated and taught to imitate humans. Computers apply rules to symbols. American society has a symbol, money, and the rule, get it. Success once was our religion. It was optional. Freedom of religion. Then it became science, the economics of Neo-Liberalism, and applicable to all. No one escapes the rule of nature. If no one will pay for anything you do since nothing else defines society you have to die. No other human qualities recognized. You are by character, education, habit or experience suited to a different kind of life? Too bad. You have to die. We operate on each other like computers on the symbol money, applying the rule, get it. Such rule application to symbols was the highest intelligence computers could produce before a philosopher taught them to act more like us. I mean us before we became Neo-Liberal.
- What did the philosopher teach them?
- And that we've forgotten? Computers had a hard time locating in the world, the particular world they were given the job to look at, the things symbolized. The symbols they were programmed to operate on named a class of things: chair, table, person. When a digital camera fed the computer an array of light and dark pixels, how were they to find in this multitude the shape of some particular thing that was an instance of a class symbolized? A philosopher told them how.
- What was his name?
- Dreyfus. U.C. Berkeley. 20th Century philosophy, in the footsteps of an ancient tradition, had worked it out. We learn to see by moving our bodies through real world of things. If a computer did the same, it would be able to know which arrangements of pixels to look for, what kinds of arrangements: lines, circles, grids, whatever. When certain movements of our eyes and hands found a regularity, a shape comes into sight out there in the world, we try those movements again, and confirm again. We develop habits of looking and we see the thing out there.
- Confusing.
- Yes. But it is what we do. Computers were taught to do it and it worked.
- Really?
- Really. First they were programmed in the neural structure of the brain, where individual neurons learn, change in response to experience. Then robots were built such that when you moved them they remembered, and compared how the world changed in appearance as they moved through it. They learned.
- Wow.
- Wow is right. Not so wow is that at the same time humans were, in country after country, moving in the opposite direction, instituting Neo-Liberal policies that explicitly reject or devalue individual learning and creativity. We humans regressed to rule and symbol, the symbol money, and the rule, get it.
- We did make the computers though, right? We had to learn to do it. That was creative.
- Ok, so we haven't totally regressed. We are professionally creative. But still our creativity, if we don't go beyond what computers can do, shares the same limits computers have to what they can learn.
- What limits?
- Learning by developing habits of movement always has a history of movement behind it, influencing which movements to try. For living beings there is always a history to the history, actions that led to the formation of the habits we use at the moment. When we program a computer to work like our brain, or teach a robot by moving its arms, development of habits starts from a fixed place. That place we built the machine from. The causality of our development, however, our education of sight by movement, goes back into the beginning of time: childhood, infancy, fetus, chromosomes, evolution, the big bang. We can imagine for ourselves no physical beginning, always a cause to a cause. In computer learning the choice of habit to be tried, like the choice of words in the creative use of language, provides an infinite number of paths to be taken, each path different depending on initial conditions. Causal determination allows for individuality. But individuality is not at issue. It's not good enough for us human beings. We can imagine for ourselves something very different and much better.
- What?
- That the experience we know as beauty, love, religious union, was there at the beginning setting us out on a very particular kind of path. The computer has no good reason to choose one path over another. What kind of shape should it start moving to look for when seeing each different shape require moves in an incompatible direction? When computer scientists tried to simulate Darwinian evolution, natural selection by random mutation,** they couldn't get anywhere. With chance producing variation, no path was continued, there was no development. When programmers try to simulate human choice they come up against the same problem. With no particular goal, the computer does not know which of many possible paths to pursue. A chair can be put in the category of wood, category of less than 10 pounds, category of to be sat upon, etc.
- How do we, people decide?
- Beauty guides us. When it does't, we act like the computers that can't evolve, can't move consistently in any one direction.
- But computers do learn. Isn't learning creative?
- Robots, computers learn, but strictly speaking this kind of learning is not creative. All is pre-determined by rules, symbols, world. The decision what category to put the chair in, wood, heavy, to be sat on, will depend on the chance factors of where the program began, and then all what subsequently happened. It's all predetermined. Beauty arises only when determination can be interrupted.
- How?
- When decision of which habits to try is guided by memory of beauty. Because we have learned, also from the beginning, that certain choices, kinds of choices, lead us back to beauty. We go from beauty to beauty. Love to love. A computer, not starting from beauty but some or other condition, set by us, never can get to beauty. How can a computer, with rules operating on symbols, ever get its entire apparatus invisible to itself? See a world whole, undivided? That is, get to beauty? The result of rule operation on symbols always will only be chance and meaninglessness.
- From love to love: what kind of story is that?
- A story of its loss and return. Trying to break out of the world of rules and symbols. Stories like a fairy tale. We start out happy, someone or some chance betrays us, we get lost and have to find our way back home. While lost the world is strange and we are strange to ourselves, the world is unclear and we see ourselves in a role, see ourselves exclusively in our habits of movement. We know from computers, as we've been talking about, such observed and guided movements educate our seeing when we get the rules right for choosing them. In these stories of going from love to love we learn how to get from the alien world of rules and symbols back home. We practice a kind of technology, using expertise with one world to get us into another. And perhaps, our experience suggests, that other world, the world of love, exercises a technology of its own, perhaps it throws its weight around in the world of rules and symbols.
- Extra sensory perception, messages from spirits. Miracles.
- I'll tell you a story, about what isn't a miracle but looks like one. I used to wear my wedding ring.
- Aren't you wearing one now?
- A different ring. I got complaints. The consensus was I shouldn't be wearing a wedding ring, it gave people false ideas, kept woman away, or in another version, attracted them. I took to saying that if I found another ring that would fit not my left hand ring finger but middle finger, was gold and the same style I'd retire the wedding ring.
- And you're going to tell me you found one? On the street? The ring you are wearing?
- All correct. Now this isn't a miracle. I used to buy and sell old watches when I was living in Europe. I have what we've been talking about, an educated eye, in relation to the kind of old things one finds at a flea market. I live in Beverly Hills. It's not at all unlikely when you think about it to find gold on the street here, rings dropping off careless, diet thinning, rich fingers. But here's another story. A British biologist has claimed that the rapidity with which birds flying in a flock react to predators demonstrates thought transference: reaction time to change of direction are four times faster than minimum tested reaction time. I went back to the original research to see if the first birds taking action responded much slower. They did. They respond with a normal reaction time. The birds with the impossibly fast reaction time aren't looking at the nearest bird in the flock but several birds away towards the initial response. They begin to calculate well before the wave of successive movements reaches their position. Human beings, when they collaborate with each other, if they stay together in the same place can achieve great results by doing the same kind of calculation. Like chess players looking many moves ahead, they think of a new idea, imagine their collaborator's response, imagine their own response to that, on and on, and reach a conclusion whether this idea is a dead end or not, and if so, move on to a new idea. Nothing telepathic or mysterious going on.
- Never?
- If they are only friends, no, I don't think so. But if they are more to each other, if they are each other's home, maybe. If failure of their project risks home. Does the world seem unreal, do they see themselves only in habits and role? Then the tools of the technology of love are set out, their creativity may attain to what we call art.
- Where does telepathy come in?
- When connection that is solidified in love makes an appearance in the world of rules and symbols. The British biologist did a study with dogs. Their human companions were told, at an arbitrarily selected time of day, to set off for home from miles away. Recording cameras on the dog at home showed them going to the door to wait at the same time.
- You said he was discredited.
- I don't know if the bird flocking research was revised after he had cited it. And people make mistakes. Anyway calculative group behavior like flocking is not going to be where we find love. I'll tell you another story. I met an acquaintance at Starbucks a couple nights ago, the night you first saw me. Maybe you saw him.
- No. I don't think so.
- We'd meet each other by chance about every few months. He invited me that night to the restaurant next door. I've been there only once before, two years ago. I'd struck up a conversation down the street with a beautiful woman putting coins in a parking meter. She was an actress, she wanted me to meet her boyfriend a movie director who was waiting for her at the restaurant. Now the next day, yesterday, I was at Trader Joe's in Westwood, waiting in a long line to pay. My attention was drawn to a woman waiting a few lines down, her face hidden by her long hair. When I'd just reached the head of the line she appeared beside me, announced, "I moved over here" and before I could reply, the cashier said, joking, you're together I hope? I'm ringing everything up together. No, just the banana was mine. Then he said I would pay for her? No, she said. She would pay for me.
- She said he said and a banana. I don't get the point of the story.
- I paid my 19 cents, said she could pay for me next time, and looked over to take a parting look at her. My thoughts stopped dead in their tracks. The beauty I'd expected was hidden behind the vale of hair was in fact there. I left in a rush. A minute later I wondered at my rush. I wished I had spoke with her. I realized she reminded me of an actress I knew, a reader of my stories on the internet who I'd met once for coffee. She'd never outside that entered my life, but she stayed in my life, if you know what I mean.
- Stayed in your thoughts.
- Yes. So later in the day, that same day I get a message about my latest stories from this actress reader that I'd not heard from in months. And then later that night I met the acquaintance I told you about here at Starbucks and he takes me to the same restaurant the girl met on the street took me to.
- Who, I take it, was the same girl you saw at Trader Joe's. She was the actress who brought you here to meet her boyfriend.
- I think so.
- Must have been. It explains her forwardness. She knew you.
- A lot of correspondences, coincidences. Was I intuitively following through on some theme, or was this an example of the world of love interfering with the world of rules and symbols, like the dog sensing from a distance the home directed movement of his human companion and going to the door to wait?
- I don't know.
- I don't either. I wrote beauty into the story in my choices, in which case I am the artist, or the world was in charge, the behind the scenes producer. Good both ways.


- So you live near by?
- Not far. With a mother and son. The mother lost her mind long before she got old. Sometimes she goes crazy and attacks me. The son says he is doing god's will saving the needy of the neighborhood. He's saving me.
- Is he crazy too?
- You can decide for yourself. I'll introduce you.
- No thanks. There's a name for it: messiah complex. A good subject to write about.
- I don't want to write about life with these people. I'm sick of it.
- Write that. It's funny.
- When I was growing up I believed there was some good in me, some beauty, some love that would attract love and beauty towards me. And instead I get this.
- Get what? Self pity? Get a job. Sorry. I've another idea: use the family as an example of what you were telling me, of American life, people making themselves unhappy by turning themselves into computers.
- Write that the son operates a rule on symbols. The rule: help those in need. The symbol: the needy. He does this self-consciously, deliberately not paying attention to the individual character of anyone. He keeps his eyes on the symbol, he's not interested in whether he really helps or who the people really are he puts in the class collected under the symbol. I wrote this all out long ago and threw it on the internet. No one particularly cared. Alright, here's an update: last night the mother decided I'd made her a gift of underwear and wanted to return it to me, the size wasn't right.
- Too big or too small?
- Too big. I asked.
- So she imagined it?
- Of course! Do I look like I buy underwear for eighty year old women?
- Where did it come from then?
- I'm not interested! Maybe someone threw it in the window.
- That's even stranger.
- The son knows some strange people. Yesterday morning I woke up to a woman sleeping on the floor a few feet away from me, her two shopping carts parked at her feet.
- Nice.
- The son goes out every day, giving away few dollars to the desperate, goes out at night, gawking at naked girl at strip clubs. Doing god's will by day, buying prostitutes by night. Paying a prostitute is giving her money. Giving money is helping. Helping is good. Doing good is doing god's work. Every thing is in some way like everything else, everything can be fitted into some class, made to be included under the symbol. He gets nowhere.
- Like the computer.
- Only love allows development and consistency.
- Love must have been there somewhere in him before computer craziness took hold. This giving away money of his, visiting strip clubs: not every night, every day?
- No. He's on an allowance.


- What are you doing later?
- Nothing. I never do anything.
- You eat, don't you?
- I eat. You too?
- I eat. Wouldn't you like to invite me for dinner?
- I would but can't afford to.
- Just one time.
- Maybe I should. It's an occasion. The poorest woman in Beverly Hills has met the poorest man. An old woman I know lays claim to the title, but she's a fraud.***
- Let's go eat.

Further Reading:
How Do You Make A Computer Not Want To Be A Computer?
The Picture Of George Sand
Hubert Dreyfus - Human versus Machine
** Monsters
*** Bird Song & Machine Talk

P.S. Anarchist Text: "Two Kinds Of Mystery"
Can you get people to make a better world just by demanding it, or do you first need to talk about what kind of people can actually make a better world?    
A dispute over helping people is not a dispute of reasons and logic. With a few exceptions everyone agrees it is better to keep people alive and healthy than not. The dispute is over where people find mystery.  
There are two places to find mystery, and the corresponding two kinds of people who find themselves living in these places.  
 First, there are the people who think they owe society, and society owes them.  
 And second, there are the people who think social obligation comes from what they owe themselves. "Social justice" is the demand of people of the first kind. The mysterious knowledge that this is right comes from their unconsciously learned, repeatedly regained security of acting in role. They feel a "patriotic" love of the scenario that they play roles in, and believe society owes them justice as payment for fulfilling their obligations to play their roles.  
The mystery the second kind of people see is that love makes us happy, and that when we forget to love we owe it to ourselves to remember. Their demand is personal integrity, not social justice but the personal justice of being fair to ourselves.    
They say: We don't owe others anything, except to remind them to remember to love. We owe each other that because of the coincidence of motives that makes social life possible. When I help you remember to love, not only is there a chance you'll love me in return, but you serve as a reminder to me to love when I forget. Helping you I help myself, when I remember what I have done, when I look at you now and am reminded, and in expectation of good things from you in the future. The people who believe in obligations to and from society don't agree with each other what these obligations are. How can they when the origin of their mystery is unconscious learning?    
And the people who believe only in obligation to oneself can't agree to any set program of social justice at all. They want to find out what social arrangements, in this particular time and this place, work best to help people remember what they owe themselves.    
The people who believe in social obligation each know which programs they want, but they can't agree with each other.    
The people who believe in obligation to oneself can agree with each other, and don't have any preconceptions of the best way of moving forward.    
We have social mystery, we have personal mystery, both somehow locked within our nature. You know, don't you, what kind of people can actually make a better world.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

We Make Brains

Art + the Brain: Stories and Structures
California Nanosystems Institute, UCLA
November 14, 2014


- I'm a physician specializing in the treatment of pain. I do brain surgery, but would like to avoid it if there's a better alternative. Your MRI research shows different brain states for someone lying and someone telling the truth. Some of my patients are able to tell themselves there is no pain, and they stop feeling pain. Sometimes a suggestion from a hypnotist does the same. Do you think your research will enable us to identify the mechanism involved here and set it in motion?
- Pain is real.
- Yes. But for some, lying about it makes it go away.
- I'd be happy to discuss this with you afterwards off the record.


- Hi.
- Nice to meet you.
- Likewise. While waiting to go off the record with the professor can I ask, suggest something?
- I agree of course that pain is real. If I kick my rabbi, he's feels it, even if I assure him he doesn't.
- I'd like to kick a few rabbis myself. I was thinking that in hypnosis, whether you do it to yourself or another does it to you, two things are happening. First, we make a break, decide not to act. We decide to reflect. We will let someone else tell us what to do, or do the telling ourselves as if it really is someone else telling us. Up until now the self we are wants to respond to the pain we feel. But this other, suggesting self, takes upon itself the decision to do nothing. Pain is associated with unthinking response. When we rule out response - in meditation, or maybe confusing response by the simultaneous multiple minor pains of acupuncture needles, or an outside hypnotist - we rearrange the organization of our experience, reevaluate importance of information so it does not lead to the report of pain which is inapplicable if there is to be no response. That re-organization can be near immediate. If this is possible, there is no actual lying going on.
- What do you do?
- I write stories.
- That's why you're so smart. I've got to go to eat. See you later maybe.


- Interesting.
- Are you with the Doctor?
- Yes. I have to go.
- What did you find interesting?
- The reality of pain like everything else is a matter of perspective.
- Is it a matter of perspective if the Defense Department, currently funding brain research to determine the best techniques of persuasion, uses the results to lie more persuasively to us?
- If the government tightens up society that is a natural thing. We are social beings.
- Are you serious? You don't mind having your life completely controlled?
- We already are all controlled. We just don't think of it. We act by instinct.
- We are both social creatures and act by instinct. If we are persuaded by our government to kill the Jews and everyone else we don't like, and set our instincts free doing it, that's fine, you're good with it?
- I didn't say that.
- What did you say?
- We just think we are free.
- We have no consciousness.
- Consciousness is an illusion.
- The professor talked about the difference between using charts to gather information, showing simply the effect of one or a few measured features on a few other features, and taking so called "global" pictures with MRI scans. He didn't go into this, but for example in researching new drugs it is common to begin with a gene responsible for a disease, identify the protein it directs the production of, and then attempt to counteract the effect of that protein. It is not necessary to understand how the disease actually develops, and use that knowledge to stop the process. We need only to take before and after pictures and look for change. Now, this is the problem. The brain is organized as a network. Each node has its own history and disposition, and responds to the other nodes. We can see globally all the nodes and their interactions together in a picture, but we miss the story of one node's disposition, the story of how its past history affects its present response to the other nodes.* What looks like a lie from the global perspective can from the local perspective look like a reasonable reorganization.
- How?
- You heard the other UCLA professor's talk about his project, rather than simulating brain network activity in a computer program, building a model of brain network directly?
- No. I must have missed it.
- Working directly with molecules, after "culturing" them to fall into network arrangement, he figured out how to create a chemical switch at the nodes, which turned on after a number of visits from electrical current. That gave the nodes a memory of past actions on it from other nodes, and similarity to how our brains work. When connected to a current videos show concentration of activities in one region after another, similar to what is seen in human brains, as an open passage facilitates more passage. What if when we tell ourselves we aren't going to act, we turn off the current as it were, then turn it on again, letting a spontaneous reorganization occur something like what we can see happening in the molecular network? From the history of the individual that reorganization would not be a lie at all.
- We can't turn ourselves on and off.
- Not if we aren't conscious. But if we are conscious, turning ourselves off is simply to stop and think. Stop acting, start reflecting.
- Reflection is acting too.
- It is the action of ourselves thinking of ourselves.
- Caused by outside influences.
- Such as hypnosis?
- Yes.
- And if we hypnotize ourselves, as many can do?
- We are caused to do that.
- What if that is just how it looks like when you take pictures, scoop up the data, and don't follow the history of each path? I asked the brain engineer afterwards what he thought the social implications were of his work. He said it has been suggested there was some connection to Buddhism. What? I asked. The individual losing his identity in the group, he said. No, I said, god in the group? In the network? That didn't work. That was all body. All causality. No spirit. God was not in the network, but in the guy who made it. He was the god of his network.
- What did he say?
- He smiled. Oppenheimer, director of the Manhattan project that developed our nuclear bomb, famously said, quoting Indian Scriptures, We Have Become Gods, or words to that effect.** The pain sufferer who "lies" to himself that he feels no pain is being god to his network, turning it on and off, allowing it to reorganize itself more appropriately. That god-like action, seen in before and after maps of brain activity, is only a lie, and perhaps the success of the lie. Studying however how the network works from the perspective of the individual tells a different story.
- But we are not gods to ourselves turning ourselves on and off.
- We are turning our attention from outside to inside. In fact we do that for reasons coming from outside, but once we turn away in what the spiritual call conversion our own history determines our choices.
- I've got to go.
- If you've got to go you've got to go. God be with you.
- You're not funny.
- Say hello to the doctor for me.

Further Reading:
Bird Song & Machine Talk
* More people living in democracies say they are happy than those that don't. Does that mean democracy creates happiness? Impose democracy on unhappy people and it doesn't last long. Then does happiness lead to democracy? Obviously not, since many of the countries with more people who say they are happy don't live under democracy. Historical, intellectual, cultural factors apply. But in general, happiness is related to democracy, and it may be true, in general, both that happy people will eventually get democracy, and that eventually more people living under democracies will be happy. The "global" relation of happiness and democracy is a matter of probability, which is good enough for certain kinds of decision making. It is good enough, for example, for machine translation of one language to another. It is not good enough for machine production of language, except when that is only the translation of the language of the machine into human language. It is not good enough to know what makes people happy. Happiness, which the productive (creative) use of language relies on, is a confidence that means are at hand to achieve the ends of the moment. No general picture of the state of the world will be able to answer the question whether those means are supplied the individual. Democracy isn't going to make people happy if they don't know how to use it. Happy people are not going to make democracy last if the economic underpinnings of the peoples' happiness are removed.

** "We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, "Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." I suppose we all thought that one way or another." - J. Robert Oppenheimer

Monday, November 10, 2014

Bird Song & Machine Talk

- I'm famous, you know.
- I don't recognize you.
- I'm the poorest person in Beverly Hills. I'm the Pope Of The Poor, quote unquote, front page story in the Times. Come to my house, I'll show you the paper.
- And I thought I was the poorest person in Beverly Hills. Where do you live?
- Above Whole Foods. The only federally subsidized low income retirement housing in Beverly Hills.
- How much do you pay?
- 200 dollars. Actually less.
- Why are you the Pope Of The Poor?
- I give classes in improvisation, I do videos: interviews, documentaries...
- About what?
- Being old and poor in Beverly Hills. Come to my house. I'll show you.
- Will they let me in?
- Why not?
- I'm not old.
- Are you saying I'm old?
- How old are you?
- 74. Do you think that's old?
- I was at an conference last night at UCLA where the name most mentioned was that of a 84 year old.
- Who?
- Noam Chomsky. Professor of Linguistics and Philosophy at MIT, retired.
- Is he married? Is he rich?
- Not married. Probably rich.
- How do you know?
- His wife died recently.
- So he's probably still active. He can marry again.
- You can ask him yourself. He answers email from everyone.
- Write down his name.
- I'll say it slowly. N-o-a-m C-h-o-m-s-k-y. Memory needs to be exercised. You don't want to get senile.
- You're not funny.
- Why does the Pope Of The Poor in Beverly Hills want to marry a rich man?
- Why else? She's poor.
- Well, Pope Of The Beverly Hills Poor, after living 74 years aren't you tired of all this Beverly Hills talk about money? Of the endless calculations of what you have to do to get money, of who you have to know, of how you have to sell yourself? Aren't you tired of everyone sitting alone in their houses calculating? Do you know what I do when I'm alone?
- Are you married?
- I had a Hungarian wife a couple years. I still could be married. I'm not sure.
- That's impossible.
- It's possible. If you were married to a Hungarian you'd understand.
- I was married to a Hungarian.
- Really? What happened to him?
- I divorced him. He was obsessed with pornography.
- That's not what I do alone. Though some might say there's a similarity. Every morning I cause about a million messages to appear on computer and phone screens across the world when there owners log into their social media accounts. It takes about 15 minutes, about 100 messages sent to about 10,000 social media accounts. What comes back to me are statistics saying about 1,000 times people have clicked on the message links and been taken to one story or another I've written. Something is happening with all this language, all these machines put into action, but I don't think it is communicating. Do you ever go to the UCLA campus?
- Sometimes. What about it?
- The conference I attended was both on device art - artwork that incorporates machines - and on the work of the federally funded big time UCLA team researching bird songs. According to its director they are within one month of proving birds use a language like our own.
- Bird language research, art machines: what's the connection? Besides they cost a lot of money.
- Maybe that is the connection. I don't know what the people at the conference said, I came late and didn't get around to asking what they were getting at. My guess is something like, if we are to successfully integrate machines, computers included, into our lives, for good not bad, we need to know what computers can do and what we can do, where the beginnings of one end and the other begins. We don't want computers degrading us by making us like them, and we don't want our limitations as living beings stop us from taking advantage of the strengths of a computer. Anyway, the most popular device art sitting on a shelf waiting to be put on by us guests was an apparatus you could put on your head, covering your eyes, that projected sound focused in a single direction. If you were close to someone wearing the device you could feel a wave of vibration move over your face as the wearer blindly swiveled his head in your direction. You'd feel something like birds feel when they use the same high frequency sound for echo location. I think the statistics I get back out of the my message sending are such an echo location.
- Is anyone really reading?
- Maybe, but again this bird like call and response activity I'm executing is not what I'd call communication.
- What would you call it?
- Thinking with language. Language is used for thinking before it is used for communication.
- Everyone in my building talks to themselves.
- I believe you. Every morning I send out messages like a bird greeting the morning with song. I'm operating a device, the internet. I play with it. As if language were a machine I play with language. In return there's this echo of statistics sweeping over me. It feels good. There are people out there, I'm sending out messages, I know messages are going out there, their echo comes back to me as part of the morning. I greet the morning like the bird sings its song. But messages don't change the world.
- Why do you want to change the world?
- That's what human being do.
- No one can change the world.
- The world can be changed but messages can't do it. Something else can.
- What?
- Practices. Practices that are of a kind that help words be understood. Practices that transform thinking into communication.
- You need to practice your messaging. I don't understand you.
- Ok. You're the poorest of the poor in Beverly Hills. In Westwood Village there's this tall, always hooded old man, his grey beard a foot long, who at a crawling pace pushes one at a time, in relays, one quarter block at a time, two carts overloaded with black trash bags themselves overloaded with recyclables, paper and plastics cups mostly, never redeemed. They represent to him his treasure, like jewelry for other people represents their wealth. A morning not long ago one cart was on the left of the entrance to Extreme Pizza, he was passed out in its shade, and on the right side of the entrance was his other cart. UCLA students were strolling past unconcerned. I slowed down, asked a student who passed me didn't he think it was a sign of the times that people take an interest in extreme pizza but not in extreme life? What extreme life? he asked me, confused. The old man dying unremarked on the street as hundreds of people go by, I said.
- What did he answer?
- Nothing. He didn't get it. To understand, to sympathize, there has to be shared experience.
- Of dying on the street?
- Of doing things with other people in a way that creates community.
- Helping.
- Helping each other do things together. The doing things together is as important as the helping.
- People don't do things together. I see kids my grandchildren's age in restaurants. They are on a date but they don't look at each other. They push buttons on their phones.
- Say I'm like one of the artists at the conference. I make a device, not to help people communicate, but instead send them to each other to build things with each other. Suppose I advise the world that to save itself it needs to set set up a social media site where each member, after submitting profile information, is greeted going on the site with the question, what do you want to make? A school, a labor union, a political party, a house, a toy? And asked, do you want to find someone to work with you interested in doing the same?
- That's cool. Why don't you do it yourself?
- To take that step I'd need people to step out with, right? And I don't find them and they don't find me.
- You need to have the site first to find them.
- So it seems.
- So you send out one million messages a day, including I assume some about that site?
- Yes.
- And you receive back this wave of bird transmission-like echo of a thousand reflecting clicks. You know there is something out there. You've sung your song to it. But that isn't communication. What is it?
- It's song. Thinking without communication. No one has done anything with me, and no one wants to. I'm singing to the morning. I'm doing echo location, talking to myself, I'm locating my position in the world, I'm reassuring myself something is out there in the world to start my day with, that some possibility awaits.
- Maybe that's what the bird thinks too.
- Maybe. The UCLA language study worked by identifying a thousand different phrases in the song of one species of bird, and then letting the computers do their thing on the data, looking for connections. The result was that some phrases were found to be significantly more commonly followed by some others. Bird language has a hierarchical structure, as Chomsky had argued our language does.
- Chomsky. The rich guy.
- Your future husband. He famously argued that language couldn't be learned just by doing what the UCLA computers are just beginning to do with bird language. There had to be an inborn facility, a language organ, to recognize the structure of language, to tell us where to look for significance. Maybe no one found bird language before this study because no one knew what to look for. We were like babies with no inborn knowledge. UCLA decided to look for what we do with language without having to learn how to do it, and they found what they were looking for.
- What is a language organ?
- A kind of machine that processes information. A word is a kind of habit, and a habit is the operation of a machine. Our habits instruct us: when the world is like that, do this. Habits can influence the development of other habits, their strengths. Habits are invisible machines, and we play with them like the artists at UCLA intend us to play with the devices they make. When we speak we go word by word, each choice influencing the later choices, but unsure of how exactly the sentence will be completed. The words, being habits, "want" to be spoken, and we choose between them as they vie for our attention. If, that is, there is attention, because we can also make a habit out of how we speak, a habit of our choice of words. That's why there can be communicating without thinking, the bird mechanically warning of danger, if that is all it is doing. Just as there may on the contrary be thinking without communicating, which is what I'm doing when I sing to the morning my million messages. I'm starting a conversation, but the response is only an echo, telling me something is going on out there but whatever it is it is not communication.
- Why not?
- People out there in the internet world can't reconstruct the choice between words I've performed, and that is what is necessary for understanding.
- Why can't they?
- Because they are not practicing themselves this choice between habits. Instead of making a web site that sends people to each other to do things, they make a web site to help people meet all on the same page to discuss political and social and work issues. But this is like the bird warning of danger. It is something that's "to be done" according to instructions. A habit. Something mechanical. It is communication without thinking. No artist works the device. The professor was talking about this, actually. Waiting for the lecture portion of the evening to begin a small group had gathered in a circle around him. I stood a little distance away and listened. The uncertainty, he explained, in deciding whether communication involved thinking was brought out by the Turing Test. Would a computer answering questions inside a closed room be able to fool someone outside that it was human? In other words, was there something other than communication involved in being human? In another thought experiment, "The Chinese Room", a man puts himself in the position of the computer in the Turing test. He is given instructions in English for translating one Chinese text to another, an operation that can be done without him knowing Chinese by simply looking at the shape of the characters. To the Chinese speakers outside the room it seems like a question they've asked in Chinese has been correctly answered in Chinese. The implication is that we can't tell from the communications alone whether consciousness is behind them.
- Did the professor think birds were conscious?
- He said no one, including him, has been able to solve the Turing test. I told him I could.
- You can? You really are an egomaniac. You should seek treatment.
- I'm getting the treatment now.
- Whatever.
- I said that computers have programmers who made them, but computers don't have the same kind of connection to their makers that a human being does to the past self that made his present self.
- What past self?
- A self with different habits of speaking. At this point in my exposition the professor turned away and went back to talking with the others.
- He didn't know what you were talking about. I don't either.
- Computers don't have direct access to their programmer. However they can, and computers used for research already do, learn to program themselves. On the basis of the new results of their latest experiments they construct new hypotheses and reprogram themselves to investigate them. Got it?
- Pretend I do.
- Now human beings have something like a programmer. We call it the unconscious. I was taken as a guest to a self improvement seminar the night before the UCLA event. Gurus of these cults make a good living helping people dredge out of their past what they "don't know they don't know". That is, something from the past they don't know about that is stopping them from learning what they need to know to get what they want in the present.
- A mental block. Repressed trauma. Among my other lives I was a psychotherapist.
- Like you were married to a Hungarian.
- I'm telling you the truth.
- Guests and members in attendance were offered three autobiographical cases, the testimonials of three satisfied paying customers. The first told how she'd stopped loving her father, he was dying then, and she'd wanted a new start with him. The second wanted to move back to LA from Sacramento, had looked but couldn't find a good job here like the one he had there as a corporate lawyer. The third wanted to know if it was right for him to risk his six figure paying dream job in the music industry to work on a start-up without pay which would give him the life he had before his dream job became routine. The cult leader goes at their vanities, their pride and confidence from doing the same things in response to the same circumstances, shows the first her block was fear of disapproval of her father, shows the second it was unwillingness to lower himself to going door to door looking for jobs, shows the last it was his forgetting his love of risk. One person finds his old habits of love, another finds his old love of risk, another finds old willingness to play. One puts pride aside and really talks with her father, just in time before he died. One takes himself less seriously and goes door to door looking for the right L.A. job, and finds it. One takes a chance on the start-up and becomes a millionaire. Each with the help of the cult leader strengthens abandoned, disused habits of their old selves. The computer doesn't have access to a separate past. It reprograms itself out of the elements already part of its operation, like the invented machine an artist creates is made out of any available part. Whereas the cult members, instead of reprogramming themselves with new ideas of what to try, hypotheses which are build out of experience already incorporated in their "operation", instead of this they return to an old path, revive a branch on the hierarchical tree of habits that had become a dead end. I realized, talking to the professor, there might be a way to test for this happening. What question will the computer and human answer differently?*
- How should I know?
- Let's go back to the cult. Tens of millions of relatively wealthy and well connected people have paid to take courses from whichever business or spiritual guru is in fashion. Why isn't the world a better place? Why don't the program graduates at least make the part of the world immediately around them into a better place?
- Maybe they do. They treat their friends and family better.
- The daughter expresses her love to her father before he dies, the lawyer gets the L.A. job, the six figure music executive does the start-up and a year later sells it for millions: they've made their lives better, but not the world better.
- So?
- Imagine a computer could be programmed with a fictional past that could mimic the reprogramming that the cult provides for its members. But there would not be a real block, a real wall separating the conscious present and unconscious past. That block represents the two worlds we live in: the machine like computational present, and the dark world of our habits in abeyance that has the potential to drive us towards an unknown future. We don't aim to recover our ability to express words of love to a father before his dies, we aim to love. We don't aim overcome our rigidity to get a job, but to play and recover clarity of sight. We don't aim to take risk for its own sake but to know the importance of recovery from everyday life back to a beautiful life. We move from dark to light, find the disused habits that hide in the dark of our past and letting them free move toward the brilliant light in the future. We find community when in our search for the light our habits of life align with the habits of life with others doing the same. We respond to the world together. We live at ease together and in appreciation of those who've we've spoken well with, we are at peace when we manage with our habits to say something, see something, do something we like, think is beautiful, judge to be true. The Extreme Pizza students: they live completely in the reprogramming world. The unconscious is not dark and the conscious is not bright. All is defined. They don't know what it is like, don't know when they see it, to struggle across the barrier, to draw out from the dark of themselves a future world that attracts with its brilliance but is unknown to them. They've never done it. They think the guy dying on the street is practicing a life style: a reprogramming of life we call a style of life. They don't understand that guy went behind the barrier and couldn't get back. He couldn't make a community. Invisible in the dark place he's in, he receives no help getting out. At best he's offered cult reprogramming, choice of a new life style that will keep him in the light of day.
- You think that simply by creating communities we will care about each other?
- No. Community is our means to the end of moving from darkness to light. We don't want community for its own sake. It's nothing to us.**
- It's nothing to you.
- We shouldn't, neither me nor you, insist on any particular state of the world, even community, for its own sake. That's the mistake of seeing the world of classes and divisions, descriptions and definitions.
- You lost me again.
- I'll give you another example. A few years ago a philosopher wrote a book rigorously defining the concept of species and then claiming that our perception naturally worked by identifying species. And so naturally we identify races, nationalities, tribes. Therefore prejudice, fear, hatred, mutual incomprehension were natural between groups. The problem is, a soldier trained to hate his enemy in battle when the war ends can very soon live amicably with his former enemy. Class hatreds are the product of establishing relations between classes, not vice versa. End the class relation, the hatred ends with it. The philosopher didn't make this simple test by thought experiment because he himself lived within class relations that made such testing unnecessary. In that world there is not another world always waiting to show its influence and create an unanticipated world. Rather his goal was to be found entirely within the world of academic relations, the rewards were there in making the proposal itself, guessing it to be satisfactory to conservative leaders looking for philosophic justification for injustice and inequality. The philosopher theorized like the computer reprogramming itself creates a new hypothesis to be tested, like the machine artist creates his machine but without art, the new hypothesis working efficiently with the relations of class already established in the professional career of an academic philosopher.
- Academics make a habit of rearranging then repeating the same words. I should know. My ex-husband was one.
- Future husband too. The philosopher never crosses the barrier between dark and light, never gets out of the world. He speaks for himself, to obtain the rewards of his profession, he doesn't communicate with, is blind to the particular people he actually lives with. Nothing new to us that is in a way already ours will ever come out of nowhere in his kind of life: it is when and if that happens that the problem of the Turing Test is solved. Nothing ever comes out of nowhere for a computer.
- As long as he's rich I'll marry Chomsky.
- See? You remembered his name.
- You can go to hell. You're in love with darkness.
- The way you talk about money: are you sure you aren't in the same position as the philosophy professor? Same words are spoken in the same conditions. All light, no darkness. Sometimes a new hypothesis arises: marry top dog Chomsky. Reprogram. But what about all the other words waiting in the dark with me in hell, the hell everyone experiences when deprived of security? Take a look at this chart I printed from the internet:

Look at all the different economic and social possibilities. The market economy in which we live is one way among many of organizing our social and economic lives. We can also form cooperatives, barter, create our own money, give things away within a reciprocal or central organization or individually, etc.
- Alright then. Some want to make a community, some don't. Don't dictate to me what I should want.
- The rewards of these alternatives are in the movement from dark to light which they allow, not in building any one kind of community. We don't look ahead to a social or economic structure but to a feeling of peace and gratitude to others for allowing us to make this transition. Such feelings are invisible to those trapped in the market. They feel something else, something illusory: a force moving them, like the electricity that sets the computer going. The electrical force they feel has a direction, but it is nothing more than habit being exercised, each repetition producing a greater disposition to be repeated again. The electrical force they feel seems to accumulate a reservoir of power within them, but that force is nothing more than the relief and security of regular results from repeated action in regular circumstances. Those trapped in the market must repeat the same actions with the same people, and with the same kind of people, as only the right kind of people can perform the repetitions reliably. Thus their hatred of the wrong kind of people. In the presence of the wrong people they feel negative energy, loss of force and direction: they realize the weakness of where they start from in an unfinished world. Whereas envisioning life with the right people electrifies them, leads them on looking ahead to the strength they'll have when they get to where they are going, the world of only people like themselves.
- And we definitely don't want that, me included by the way Mr. Philosopher. We have enough of prejudice and hatred.

Further Reading:
How Do You Make A Computer Not Want To Be A Computer?
* A computer in the Turing Test might conceivably still fake in its responses a discontinuity of behavior between before and after reviving disused habits. But a human being in the Chinese Room, given the task of imitating the reported behavior of passage from before to after, would be acting fully in character as a human being, and the test of the thought experiment passed. Though computers may be able to imitate all human behavior, we know how to describe something human beings can do and computers can't and which is a sign of consciousness.
** Two Kinds Of Mystery

Monday, November 3, 2014

Bad Technology

(George Orwell)


- We've talked about the technology of good.* Is there a technology of evil?
- There is. Technology is knowledge of the world that we use to make things. We also have knowledge of people that allows us to make social things: governments and institutions, customs and habits. Institutions can be creative, but usually they are ritualistic.
- Meaning?
- Knowledge ritually learned is learned without conscious awareness. Rituals can be deliberately constructed, or occur without conscious intention.
- How are rituals deliberately constructed?
- By eliciting passions, and creating a situation where there is only one direction for everyone to go.
- Starting a war, everyone is angry, everyone gives up material comfort and does what he is told without complaint.
- Right.
- So evil is social technology, constructing rituals to manipulate people?
- When deliberate. But it's complicated. We don't always know what we are up to. Remember what we said about doing for the sake of doing, making money for the sake of making money, power for the sake of power?** Would you like to know what is happening behind this seeming circularity?
- Tell me.
- Orwell in his novel 1984 *** says that leaders of totalitarian countries maintain inequality for the sake of power. But I'd say it works the other way around. We use our power for the sake of establishing inequality. We don't want power for its own sake. We don't want to control nature, don't even really want to possess things. We want to operate our social technology. We want security in our lives with other people. Inequality provides that security, in a perverse way. In 1984 the party leaders spy on and torture the led not only for the practical purpose of maintaining order, but more importantly to get practice in, to perform a ritual of inequality in the most extreme form.
- Perverse. When we do something for the sake of doing it, make money for the sake of making money, we are practicing a ritual. What is the right way to practice social technology?
- Creatively. With love. The act of conceiving and instituting ritual produces inequality: the operator of the ritual operates on the operated, the leader leads the led. Apes making faces at each other are operating a social technology, instinctively created. We can experiment with this technology, creatively invent new rituals. Orwell argues that if a totalitarian government is to be stable and last, leaders have to be free to re-invent rituals, and in the work of reinvention keep partly self aware, alert to the world and able to deal with incipient rebellion. However they could not choose not to do that job assigned them: being assigned the job is ritual operating on them, and they unconsciously learn they must accept the job.
- Who established that ritual assigning them the jobs? Who operated on them?
- No one. Or they each impose it on the others. I've described**** how antique dealers sometimes are able to set "market" prices: sharing the same profit loving character, each demands 200 percent profit from a resale. Because anyone wanting to sell to them meets the same low offer from all, a "market" price granting high profit is set without any conspiring between dealers.  In Orwell's novel the idea of rewriting history is hit upon as a means of protecting the effectiveness of ritual subordination as the world changes in inapplicable or unanticipated ways. Just say it didn't happen, an idea immediately occurring to anyone with experience of forgetting himself in ritual practice, to anyone self-consciously aware of his ability to create ritual. With this shared knowledge and experience, everyone agrees to accept changed history, the bad guy is now a good guy, black is white, because the result, as long as everyone agrees, is that it works. The power of the ritual is regained. Anyone who breaks ranks falls from the category of leader to led, from the creative instituter of ritual to passive consumer and victim of ritual. The mental possibility of accepting the contradiction relies on the fact that only one term in the contradiction is the product of a voluntary process of thinking, the two opposing "beliefs", the ritual and the independent, operate each in their own sphere.
- But if the leaders' participation in ritual assigning them the job of rewriting history is not creatively modified, won't the totalitarian government fail, according to Orwell's ideas? Leaders, he wrote, have to act creatively if they are to maintain alertness to threats of rebellion.
- Yes. The government won't fail from individuals making what freedom they can for themselves, becoming more and more independent, but by the incompatibility of rituals to the real conditions in the world, since the world is not controlled by rituals as people are, is not in fact changed by rewriting history. We have global warming, danger of natural disaster from nuclear weapons, etc.
- We have allowed technology to be used to construct ritual by people themselves in the grips of ritual. And, as you say, it is not necessary. We don't need to apply social technology to ritual.
- Ritual is a possibility inherent in our species nature, not a destiny. It is a deviant path.*****
- We could creatively construct creative societies.


- What stops us?
- From what?
- Creatively constructing creative societies.
- Assume Orwell was right. Oppressive governments oppress not for sake of control over things but control over people, Totalitarianism aims not for power in the abstract, but to maintain subordination. Surveillance and torture are practiced not primarily to discover secrets, but to give leaders opportunities to subordinate the led. If this is so, then conquering totalitarianism is not a matter of changing relations to things, of spreading them around more fairly, is not a matter of economics at all. If subordination works by creating fear and the repetitive group action in response, then it can be defeated by substituting stability and cooperative creativity for the artificially produced fear and group repetition. Provide people with enough of things, and an opportunity to work creatively and cooperatively together and they'll care more about making things than possessing them.
- But you said that wouldn't happen. The government is on its guard to prevent it. And anyway, to people with neither enough of things nor an opportunity to cooperatively create things, such a proposal is to exchange what they know provides security, for a freedom they haven't experienced.****** We can't sit by idly and wait for an environmental catastrophe to wake us up.
- The prophet hopes he stirs the imagination and memory of those he warns and they act to stop him from being proven right.

Further Reading:
Liars And The Free Market
Einstein And Intellectual Physics
The Search For Evil

Monday, October 27, 2014

Crazy People

- Do you really live with crazy people?
- Yes.
- You take care of them?
- No. They take care of me.
- What do you mean?
- Financially, since I don't pay.
- You know Foucault's idea* that we didn't know what a crazy person was until we started locking them up in hospitals and trying to cure them? That we didn't have a sense of justice until we start locking up criminals?
- What did we have?
- You know this very well, stop pretending. We had immorality, we had the weakness of giving in to our inclinations.
- And what changed?
- We began to make claims to knowledge. We became specialists in criminality, experts in insanity.
- And according to Foucault any claim to knowledge becomes a source of class war.
- Yes. Tell me why, if you can.
- Knowledge becomes class war because of two factors: leadership, and property. Those who know, it seems reasonable, should lead, and those who are led become a kind of property of the leaders.** But it doesn't have to be this way.
- Knowledge without leadership and property?
- Exactly. You know, I actually met Foucault. I was working on this idea when I was 19 and sent my college thesis to him. He invited me to visit him in Paris.
- What did he like about your idea?
- That I had worked out his idea. You've seen Foucault's debate with Chomsky?*** Foucault says even the oppressed fights the oppressor for power, not justice, because justice is just an artifact of class relations, of knowledge turned to power. Chomsky argues there is justice, approximate but real, based on knowledge. Foucault denies there is justice independent of class and power.
- And how did you work this out?
- By accepting both sides of the argument. I imagined, in the tradition of Plato's Republic, the construction of a state, beginning with the assumption no one knew the nature of humanity and therefore there could be no central authority. Groups were voluntary and diverse, could decide for themselves the rules about what harmed human nature and what didn't. Right to property in some views would be tromped by right to life, in other views it wouldn't.
- No leaders exerting force. No assumptions about property. Voluntary associations, and voluntary association between associations, I suppose. 19th century anarchist theory, with some philosophic analysis thrown in. I can see why Foucault liked it. The question of what we know of human nature is avoided, agreed upon knowledge is not there to become the basis of power, yet the analysis of force and property**** allows justice in by the back door, as it were, for those who're interested. So you've had philosophic correspondence***** with both Foucault and Chomsky. And you live with, are taken care of by crazy people. You have to be the best argument against taking philosophy seriously I ever heard of.

Further Reading:
The Debate
Enquiry Concerning Political Justice And Its Influence On Morals And Happiness

Foucault Interview
** Principle Of Sharing + Exception Of Private Property + The State = Class War
*** The Chomsky Foucault Debate
**** Freedom & Property, part of The Technology Of Good
***** Noam Chomsky & Mental Things