Archive for September, 2016

Emotional literacy

Sunday, September 18th, 2016

One of the skills that I have been cultivating over the last few years is emotional literacy. This is a set of skills involving understanding what I’m feeling, what possible neural activity is driving those feelings, and whether it’s what I want to be feeling and what actions I should take if it’s not.

The most significant piece of this, for me, is just being aware of what I’m feeling throughout the day. I think a lot of the time before this I was only aware of emotions when they were extremely strong, but understanding what I’m feeling when I’m not feeling strong feelings – when I’m only feeling slight ones, or no emotions at all, also helps inform what changes I should make in my life and my ways of thinking. Since I want to have better experiences than I’m currently having, being aware of what actions are emotionally null, or emotionally negative is helpful in learning how I should shape my future life.

I wonder how many of my friends study their emotional responses during the day, and what they have learned.

One of the things I have noticed is that writing and tracking music is a highly emotional experience. Not all good – there’s the ego crashes, the frustration, the sense of the hopelessness of ever getting paid to do this.. but there’s also the highs of having that musical ‘perfect moment’ – what my friend Nicka used to call ‘music orgasms’. Comparitively, my IT job doesn’t generate a lot of emotion – in fact, emotion generally gets in the way. I always suggest to people who are angry and trying to debug computer programs that they get themselves to a more centered place first, because anger seems to be actively hostile to the logical debugging process.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that emotion often gets misdirected. I’ve observed that because of the number of subnets connected to the bus that dumps the chemicals into our bloodstreams that cause emotion, often emotions are the results of summing many inputs – and sometimes our storyteller side will tell a story about a emotion we’re feeling which isn’t completely accurate about which subnets are pushing the buttons that are resulting in us feeling that emotion. Also, because summing is involved, many emotions are the results of several components.


Sunday, September 18th, 2016

So, one of the big discussion points on the interwebz (especially facebook) right now is a football star who refused to stand for the national anthem in protest of the way some of our citizens have been treated.

There are a number of people who are roundly criticizing him, talking about how he’s dishonoring veterans, how it’s just grandstanding because he’s a has-been-football-star, etc. Personally, I think that what he’s doing is great.

Now, I understand that humans are somewhat herd animals, and that we find it alarming whenever anyone behaves differently than the herd. However, if we want to claim that we are in fact in the USA free, we should embrace people who perform acts which are different than what the rest of the herd is doing, because when we see them doing this, we are seeing that we are in fact still free.

It seems like a number of people on my friends list want us to be hypothetically free – that is, we’re free in theory, provided that we never test that freedom. And, it is true that people should be free to criticize his action – after all, that’s part of what freedom means. I just wish people didn’t feel the *need* to criticize his action. He’s acting in the greatest tradition of a patriot – he’s identified a significant problem and he’s drawing attention to it so it can be addressed. He’s fertilizing the tree of liberty.

As far as the people talking about how he’s just grandstanding – every time I read about a cop shooting a unarmed innocent, I get angry. If I were a football star I doubt I would stop with not standing for the national anthem. I do not think this is grandstanding on his part – I think he genuinely is upset about the problem and wants to do something about it. I also think that those of you who believe that his reaction is less than honest and personal are playing the ‘us’ vs ‘them’ game that I mention elsewhere in this blog. You don’t know this person personally, generally, so you don’t have a lot of data to draw on, but you’re choosing to believe that his reasons are less than honorable or that he’s less than sincere in his protest, possibly because that’s easier emotionally than accepting that America has some serious, possibly fatal flaws that need to be addressed.

Corporations vs. People

Sunday, September 18th, 2016

So, one of the things I see repeatedly is people hating on corporations. This is understandable insofar as corporations have a number of flaws – the biggest one being that they often optimize for profit over other, more valuable goals. There’s been a lot of discussion about the legal decision to treat corporations as people, with all the same rights (but apparently none of the responsibilities). There are a few things that distinctly separate corporations from people – and I may in fact be rehashing old material here, but I was having a discussion with my dad about it and I thought it was interesting so I thought I’d post about it.

1) People are a tightly coupled neural network. While you’re not consciously aware of being directly connected to everything you know, you are a neural network with data stored in all the associations between neurons. Corporations are much more loosely coupled, with much information not being shared at all between individual ‘neurons’ (corporate members)

2) People optimize for a number of different things (see the hierarchy of needs pyramid). Corporations generally optimize for very few things, and unfortunately in the way they are set up in the USA, they optimize first for profit. (The ideal corporation, in my opinion, would optimize for serving the employees first, serving the customers second, and then for profit third – in fact, not making a profit, but simply breaking even while providing value to humanity would be considered a win. In the current system, *destroying* value for humanity is a win if you make a profit while you’re doing it)

3) People can experience consequences for suboptimal behavior in ways corporations can’t. A corporation can’t be placed in jail, can’t feel physical pain, and won’t necessarily learn from things like fines – in fact, if a activity will generate a fine but is profitable beyond the fine, a corporation would normally decide to perform the activity anyway.

Corporations are often used as liability shields – or legality shields – for questionable behavior. I’m not sure what the ideal fix would be (see, already displaying the hypocrisy I talked about in the previous article) – although I do think one thing we could do that would help a lot is adopt the german ownership and directorship model for corporations in place of our own.

One big problem with corporations is that they (probably inadvertently) can exacerbate the problems caused by the Milgram effect. Individuals can be acting against the interests of the species as a whole, against other individuals, and even against their own common sense and feel that they are obliged to do so because the corporate rules and standards require it.


Sunday, September 18th, 2016

So, a friend of mine who will remain anonymous to protect the guilty has been heavily and actively promoting a end to oil pipelines, and speaking about the energy extraction industry in ways that make it pretty clear they consider the energy extractors to be evil and motivated only by greed.

This is extra-ironical to me because this friend of mine spends a LOT of time on jet airplanes, so them complaining about oil extraction is a lot like the addict complaining about the existence of their dealer. I am not sure they are aware of how many megawatt-hours of energy it takes to hurl them across oceans, but I would assume they at least have the sense of the order of magnitude involved.

The truth is, the people who work in the extraction of energy are not mustache-twirling villains – they are good, honorable people, often doing a very physical and dirty difficult job. And, even though I would run the grid very differently if it were up to me – nuclear for baseline load – next generation nuclear that can burn what we currently think of as waste and is meltdown proof – and wind and solar for peak load – even with the grid operating the way it is now our energy network saves far more lives than it costs. I also certainly wouldn’t do fracking, because clean water is far more valuable than oil or natural gas, and it probably takes more energy than they’re recovering to return the water they’re using to clean. But, while I would run it differently, they are running it. They are keeping the lights on, and I think we should recognize that. If we asked them to run it cleaner, and offered to pay the larger bills that would result in the first few years from installing clean capacity, I am sure they would.

And we are transitioning to a better grid. Just look up a graph of wind generation in the US over the last 20 years. We are not doing it particularly quickly or efficiently, but we are doing it.

This definitely falls under the category of a topic where I am fairly sure despite all the moaning, groaning, and disasterizing, we will get where we need to be. In the meantime – it is important to have the new infrastructure up and working before you disassemble the old infrastructure. My friend who’s so critical of the power mix doesn’t do any local generation despite having quite a large stream wandering through their backyard and plenty of sun falling on their land, nor have they even called their utility to try and make arrangements to buy their power from a cleaner mix. Both of which would be a far better way to effect change than posting about how we should stop building pipelines on facebook.

Long term, do I want a better grid? Absolutely. But I think it’s in general a bad idea to identify the people who are keeping the power on as villains. I have similar feelings about Monsanto. I’d do things very differently if it were up to me, but they are a part of feeding hundreds of millions of people, and I don’t see all the people lambasting them proposing alternate solutions.

In general I guess I feel the world would be a better place if people would wait to complain about things until they had a viable alternate solution to propose. I acknowledge my position here is hypocritical insofar as I probably complain about things all the time without having a alternate solution to propose – but I do have it as a long term goal to get to a place where I don’t complain about things until I have a better idea in mind.

Another long term goal of mine is to do less “us” vs “them”-ing. I think that’s part of what my friend is participating in here when they talk about the evils of the extraction energy.. thinking “they” are somehow less than “us”.

Voting for God

Monday, September 12th, 2016

So, one of the things I have to accept is that I’m not in the middle of the bell curve on anything. So things that are intuitively obvious to me (and of course I could be completely wrong about) are things that many people are never even able to see.

One of the possibilities I consider often for God is that everyone who believes in God assigns a certain amount of neurons to the task of imagining God. If we are all connected via some sort of network we don’t understand, then these may all aggregate together to form God.

However, one thing that seems likely based on the things I see and read and hear and experience is that you get to vote for what type of God you want to believe in. It seems like your beliefs form filters that then validate the experiences you’re having. So, in essence, what you believe about God forms a basis for what sort of God you’re going to experience.

And there don’t seem to be a lot of restrictions placed on what sort of God you choose to believe in. If you want to believe it’s holy for you to shoot a bunch of people, make nuclear weapons, destroy the planet you live on.. whatever, really.. you can do that. If there’s one thing ISIS demonstrates to me – not that I needed further demonstrations – it’s that you can sell yourself just about any story you want about what $diety might be like and might want. Our neural networks are extremely programmable, and if there’s a outside force insisting your beliefs about God fit a certain pattern, I haven’t seen signs of it.

Well, I should stop there and add a few side thoughts. Any information about anyone else’s experience but mine must necessarily be treated as somewhat of a unknown. I haven’t *personally* experienced proof in a horrific God, I’ve just *heard* about it. I don’t really have any way of knowing how much of the data coming at me is from where. I need to expand upon this thought further in some future article – I’ve probably talked about it before, but it’s something I’m still exploring – but for now let’s just say, everyone’s reality might be a custom mix and I might have signed up to experience what I’m currently experiencing.

But, back to the main thread here. I don’t have any reason to think the people who wrote the various religious documents circulating were any wiser or better informed than I am. But, those of you who choose to believe in them, please consider carefully whether you’re voting for a suboptimal God by doing so. If God does exist implemented in a shared or mesh network of our neurons, then you may be degrading the experience of all of us.

When I choose to believe in a diety, generally I prefer to believe in one better than I could possibly imagine. This acknowledges that I’m in no position to get into the mind of a creature who may have many orders of magnitude more neurons than I have, while at the same time recognizing that morality doesn’t change just because you get more neurons. (Or does it? This is probably how we justify eating cows.. ) In general, the logic I’ve been using is kind of the modified golden rule here – if our roles were reversed, would our respective behaviors still seem reasonable?

UK Trip

Sunday, September 11th, 2016

For anyone who wants to see large numbers of pictures, some out of focus, of my recent UK trip, they are available at

Sell the vatican, feed the world..

Thursday, September 1st, 2016

(The title is a allusion to a video by Sarah Silverman) – So, yesterday I was looking at the York Minster – which is undoubtedly a beautiful piece of work, but it did make me wonder, how many people could this building house? I mean, it’s huge – it’s a unbelievable number of square feet under roof. And then I started wondering.. if in general we converted churches to housing, would we *have* homeless people?

That’d be one to back-of-the-envelope one of these days when I’m feeling bored.

And yes, I understand there are problems with this. I used to regularly let homeless people crash in my garage, until the level of stupidity exhibited by one of them went too far. (Dude was smoking next to large cache of very flammable objects despite being asked not to). And I will admit that I worry sometimes as I consider offering housing to down-on-their-luck individuals, will they be violent towards me? Will they steal everything I own and sell it for meth? Trusting people enough to live with them is a challenge for me.

I do wonder to what extent the homelessness problem is that we all have a hard time trusting each other – thanks, Gun Nuts… (well, to be fair, knives are also a problem here, and so are fists.. perhaps if I believed I would say thanks, all-powerful-God-who-loves-or-at-least-doesn’t-stop-violence..)