synthetic zero


April 30, 2002

Fuck indies and their soul-sucking commercial garbage which is destroying American popular culture. You wanna know why music industry sales are down? It's not because of Napster or Gnutella. It's because of indies.

What's even worse, these idiots in the United States Senate want to outlaw general-purpose computers now. This is no joke.

Oppose this insanity. Donate to EFF.

April 29, 2002

I'm coming to New York this week for an extended stay. If anyone out there reading this feels like putting up a stranger (if you don't know me) or putting up good old Mitsu (if you do) please email me. It's not that I'm a cheapskate, I will pay for a hotel if needed, but... I like staying with friends, and it's more fun than a hotel, and I do like to save money. What's in it for you? Gifts, conversation, meals, walks? If this sounds like a good deal to you email me. Note: my plan is to rotate around from friend to friend, not staying more than any given friend is willing or able to put up with me. So even if you can only spare your floor for one evening, send me a note.

April 28, 2002

My mom and dad were rear-ended a couple of days ago; they were in their giant SUV (they use it to transport their dogs, though I disapprove of that car somewhat, there is a semi-practical reason for it), and they were hit by a guy driving a old gigantic boat car. My brother and I went out there to see what happened (it happened near our house in LA where I was last week). Both cars were incredibly massive, and neither sustained much damage, although my parents felt some neck creakiness and so forth afterward... he had hit them at full speed at the intersection, maybe 25 miles per hour, didn't even slow down (my parents were stopped at the light). If either one had been a normal or compact car, severe damage would be resulted, no doubt. What was interesting was that the man driving the car was only three years older (at 69) than my parents (at 66)... but he looked ten or fifteen years older (when we said "ten years older" my dad's comment was "I'm not going to look like that in ten years!") He really looked terrible, and acted and sounded like a very old man. He was Japanese-American, like my parents, and lived in Gardena, like my parents... so the difference is probably just lifestyle, diet, perhaps mental attitude. My dad likes to ride his Honda 750 VFR sportbike around town --- he's ridden motorcycles since he was a teenager (he mentioned this to the guy... I think trying to say "you can act younger if you want"), and this guy who hit them drives this huge and ancient 70's or 60's Lincoln (I think it was). The guy reminded me of my late grandfather more than my dad. It really does matter how you live your life --- it can make a big difference in your older age.

My mom has always been fascinated by pirates, and she recently picked up this book: Booty: Girl Pirates of the High Seas, illustrated with children's book-style pictures of women pirates, telling their stories. Apparently these women pirates were quite ruthless in combat.

April 26, 2002

More from Three Roads to Quantum Gravity:

When Fay Dowker began her presentation on the consistent histories formulation, that approach was generally regarded as the best hope for resolving the problems of quantum cosmology.... she proceeded to demonstrate two theorems that showed that the interpretation did not say what we thought it did. While the 'classical' world we observe, in which particles have definite positions, may be one of the consistent worlds described by a solution to the theory, Dowker and Kent's results showed that there had to be an infinite number of other worlds too. Moreover, there were an infinite number of consistent worlds that have been classical up to this point but will not be anything like our world in five minutes' time. Even more disturbing, there were worlds that were classical now that were arbitrarily mixed up superpositions of classical at any point in the past. Dowker concluded that, if the consistent-histories interpretation is correct, we have no right to deduce from the existence of fossils now that dinosaurs roamed the planet a hundred million years ago.

....[the consistent histories approach imposes] on reality a radical context dependence: one cannot talk meaningfully about the existence of any object or the truth of any statement without first completely specifying the questions that are to be asked. It is almost as if the questions bring reality into being. If one does not first ask for a history of the world that includes the question of whether dinosaurs roamed the Earth a hundred million years ago, one may not get a description in which the notion of dinosaurs --- or any other big 'classical objects' --- has any meaning.

What I believe is that we are actually constantly bleeding off into these crazy non-classical universes--- but these universes cannot support awareness, because they are nonlocal and entangled, and therefore they cannot support the feedback loops that awareness requires. So the universes in which we can be aware are the only ones which "survive" in a sense (or the only ones in which we survive). And yet -- those universes exist in some sense --- that is, we can infer their existence by the effects they have on our awareness and observations (interference effects and entanglement, "spooky" quantum action at a distance, etc.)

April 22, 2002

Been reading Wittgenstein again. The following quote struck me:

Everything ritualistic (everything that, as it were, smacks of the high priest) must be strictly avoided, because it immediately turns rotten. Of course a kiss is a ritual too and it isn't rotten, but ritual is permissible only to the extent that it is as genuine as a kiss."

....I might say: if the place I want to get to could only be reached by way of a ladder, I would give up trying to get there. For the place I really have to get to is a place I must already be at now.... One movement links thoughts with one another in a series, the other keeps aiming at the same spot. One is constructive and picks up one stone after another, the other keeps taking hold of the same thing.

Back from a meditation retreat and a visit to Doug, and also my old friend from high school and college, Susanna. I haven't seen Susanna in 15 years or so. We had Indian food and spoke of many things, especially decision-making. Doug played the piano for us and we discussed his top secret math project (if he pulls it off he will be world famous) as well as some new ideas I have had with respect to the structure of the universe. I borrowed some books of his, and discovered that no one seems to have had my idea yet --- and the idea appears to be consistent with current thinking. It's kind of surprising, yet kind of exciting at the same time. In short, I think I might have found a way to relate consciousness, quantum mechanics, and the measurement problem --- which I now think could provide a way to solve the problem of quantum gravity in a clean fashion that would also lead to an explanation of where spacetime comes from; that is I believe I have a good idea that could be used as a foundation or point of departure. It has that quality of utter simplicity which makes it crazy enough to be true, I think.

April 19, 2002

Unravelling the myth of Barak's "generous offer".

I haven't commented on Jenin because I prefer not to say anything until the facts are clear, which they are clearly not. However, the Israelis aren't doing themselves or anyone else a service by having restricted access to reporters for so long.

"It is not and never has been our intention to offend anyone." What clueless assholes. I've always hated Abercrombie and Fitch because the clothes are bland, homogenizing, corporate crap. But I didn't realize they were also racists.

April 18, 2002

What you don't know can hurt you (via David). Nassim Taleb is a severe critic of trading strategies that depend on reliance on the statistical predictability of financial markets. Instead, he points out that unusual events are far more common than one would expect --- because financial markets are driven by human decisions, and human beings are fundamentally unpredictable. If financial markets followed a normal statistical distribution, you would expect large (greater than five standard deviations) movements in the market only once every seven thousand years. In reality, you see them once every three or four years. These movements are often precipitated by crazy events in the human world: the Russian national bank defaults on its loans (causing the destruction of a giant hedge fund, Long Term Capital Management), planes crash into the World Trade Center, etc. Freak events? Perhaps, except that events that come in from the unexpected occur all the time. In general, I think we as human beings tend to systematically underestimate the potential for events to march in from the unknown and dramatically affect our world.

April 17, 2002

Some (fair use) quotes from Salon's article on the increasingly balanced view Americans are taking of the Israeli-Palestinian mess:

In what until recently would have been considered an unthinkably aggressive stance regarding Israel, O'Reilly, who's made no secret of his suspicion of American Muslims post-Sept. 11, belittled Pipes' claim that the Israeli incursion into the West Bank was analogous to America's bombing of Afghanistan, took issue with his suggestion that 90 percent of Palestinians "want Israel destroyed," and pressed Pipes about what people were supposed to think when they saw Page 1 photographs of Israeli policemen clubbing peace activists in Tel Aviv.

...there's evidence that Americans are seeing through the rhetoric of pundits on both sides, and viewing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a long-running, nationalistic battle for land, with plenty of blame on both sides, and one in which both sides will have to compromise to reach peace.

As Abraham Lincoln famously remarked, "You can fool some of the people all of the time. You can fool all of the people some of the time. You cannot fool all of the people all of the time."

Has the CIA gone back to the bad old days of covert operations to topple democratically elected leaders we don't like? At least this time the coup (thankfully for both us and the Venezuelans) failed, almost ludicrously. Some news stories: Conn Hallinan predicts the coup last December. There was an American plane at the island where Chavez was imprisoned for the two days of the failed coup. Pro-Chavez demonstrators were also fired upon and killed during the demonstrations, a fact that was unreported at the time. The LA Times reports that US officials discussed a possible coup with Venezuelans, and did nothing to alert the Chavez government. The New York Times reports rising criticism of the Bush Adminstration's failure to condemn the coup attempt.

April 15, 2002

I have difficulty remembering arbitrary facts ... instead I remember patterns, or procedures for (re)constructing ideas. I did well in school, except when we'd have a test that involved pure memorization; names and dates disconnected from context, for example. I didn't have too many tests like that, thankfully, but when I did I did very poorly. For me, remembering and learning something new are very similar processes; in both cases I have to figure it out almost from scratch. Some people are good at memory, and others, like me, can't remember facts out of context. I am also poor with names, etc. But: because of this, I think very, very fast, about almost anything, familiar or not, with almost equal ease (otherwise I'd be useless --- because I have to reconstruct everything I know, I have to do it fast). Knowledge for me is very fluid... dynamic. Because I'm constantly rederiving everything, when new information comes in I will often derive a new theoretical interpretation of it.

I was discussing Popper and Kuhn and Lakatos yesterday with some acquaintances... I've always been a big fan of Lakatos and Kuhn. Imre Lakatos is less well-known --- he was Karl Popper's protege, but he ultimately discovered major problems with Popper's philosophy of science. He tried to save Popper's overall idea of a demarcation criterion, but ultimately Popper himself felt that if Lakatos was correct, Popper's ideas would have to be discarded. In the end Lakatos ended up much closer to Popper's nemesis, Thomas Kuhn, as well as Feyerabend, with whom Lakatos shared a warm friendship and a friendly intellectual rivalry. Proofs and Refutations by Lakatos is a classic work.

April 12(b), 2002

The problem with Arafat is not that he's too aggressive, it's that he's too indecisive. What the Palestinians need is either Gandhi or Nelson Mandela. What they have is Zelig. I was listening to Dennis Ross, former US envoy to the Middle East under both Bush I and Clinton, and he was making this point as well: Arafat is too passive. Ironically, this leads to more, not less, violence and instability.

April 12, 2002

Strange patterns.

On quite a few days at the Tao of Tea, a number of people who work there have noticed that the day will develop a "theme"; for example, one day, most people will order the same set of snacks, or on another day most people will order a particular tea, except for their regular customers who might have a customary favorite order. And it isn't just that the customers unconsciously imitate each other: sometimes the entire place will clear out, and then the next party that arrives will continue the pattern.

One day last year I was thinking about the fact that when I turn my head to look over at someone driving in the next lane on the freeway, they often turn to look back at me. It occurred to me that this is a bit odd, since they would be hardly likely to be conscious of things so far in their peripheral vision. So I decided to do a little experiment: while I was riding in the passenger seat of the car, I decided to turn and look at the driver of the next car over while we were still slightly behind them, but far enough up that they wouldn't have been able to see me in their mirrors. Sure enough, quite a few people would turn their heads to look at me, even though there is no obvious way they could have seen me turning my head to look at them.

It was later that I discovered, as I posted last week, that Rupert Sheldrake has been doing a number of studies demonstrating that, on average, in his experiments, people were able to guess correctly 60% of the time whether someone was looking at them or not (some people performed better, some just at chance levels, but the overall result was 60%). There has even been an experiment done using a closed-circuit television camera, with similarly impressive results.

A couple days ago my friend Jen was over and she was resting (though not asleep) in the living room with her eyes closed. I decided to go over to other side of the room and gaze at her (I wasn't doing an experiment, just watching her resting there); within a few seconds she opened her eyes and looked around, and immediately said "I knew someone was looking at me!" She then said that she always knows when someone is looking at her, especially if it is someone she is close to.

Go ahead and try this at home.

April 11, 2002

"This was our heritage that the stupid Taliban destroyed," said one resident, Haji Hussein Ali. "It's good that they are going to rebuild it."

But in a poor city that has been a battlefield for years, there are also other priorities.

"We cannot rebuild it on empty stomachs," the 55-year-old Ali said, rubbing the tips of his fingers along a set of pink plastic prayer beads.

First things first.

A mind-boggling architectural crime.

Crazy egalitarian West Coast dot-com startups weren't all without substance.

On my first day, a tall friendly guy in jeans and a T-shirt came by. He introduced himself by his first name and asked me if I needed anything. My computer seemed to be working fine, and I had already gotten into my e-mail, so I thanked him and said no, thinking this was an awfully friendly I.T. guy. It took me a few days to realize that he was my new CEO.
Decentralized, network organizations are the only ones that can pull off complex technical challenges in a short amount of time, because the organizational structure must mirror the structure of information flow in the project. Hierarchical organizations isolate the leaf nodes from each other --- they separate "marketing" from "engineering" from "QA" from the users --- but leaf nodes often have to interact closely and directly when the product itself is complex enough that every aspect of the project affects every other.

April 10, 2002

One of the most valuable things a culture can encode is an awareness of paradox: that is to say, awareness that at any moment, a comfortable self-consistent world view may have to be significantly amended, extended, transcended, synthesized, or replaced by something new. This can happen when the culture encounters a new other, it can happen with a recognition of the other within one's own immediate experience. In either case this awareness is critical to the long-term survival and health of a culture or civilization.

Wood's Lot also reminds me of this Baudrillard article, Plastic Surgery of the Other, which I originally found on Lemonyellow:

This (successful?) merger of a masculinely projected hysteria onto femininity is renewed by every individual (man or woman) on their own bodies. An identification and an appropriation of the body as if it was a projection of the self, of a self no longer seen as otherness or destiny. In the facial traits, in sex, in illnesses, in death, identity is constantly "altered." There is nothing you can do about it: that's destiny. But it is precisely that which must be exorcized at any cost through an identification with the body, through an individual appropriation of the body, of your desire, of your look, of your image: plastic surgery all over the place. If the body is no longer a place of otherness [alterite], a dual relationship, but is rather a locus of identification, we then must reconcile to it, we must repair it, perfect it, make it an ideal object. Everyone uses their body like man uses woman in the projective mode of identification described before. The body is invested as a fetish, and is used as a fetish in a desperate attempt at identifying oneself...

Everyone talks about alienation. But the worst alienation is not to be dispossessed by the other but to be dispossessed of the other, that is to say to have to produce the other in his absence, and thus to be continuously referred back to oneself and to one's image. If we are today condemned to our own image (condemned to cultivate our body, our look, our identity, and our desire), this is not because of an alienation, but because of the end of alienation and because of the virtual disappearance of the other, which is a much worse fatality....

What is the solution? Well, there is none to this erotic movement of an entire culture, none to such a fascination, to such an abyss of denial of the other, of denial of strangeness and negativity. There is none to that foreclosing of evil and to that reconciliation around the Same and his proliferated expressions: incest, autism, twinning, cloning. We can only remember that seduction lies in not reconciling with the Other and in salvaging the strangeness of the Other. We must not be reconciled with our own bodies or with our selves. We must not be reconciled with the Other. We must not be reconciled with nature. We must not be reconciled with femininity (and that goes for women too). The secret to a strange attraction lies here...

This is really the sentence that jumps out at me: "the worst alienation is not to be dispossessed by the other but to be dispossessed of the other..." Attempting to erase the other by appropriating it is a disaster of immense proportions. Yet once we have done it we become unaware of even the possibility of its absence. We erase the evidence of the crime, and, even worse, we erase even our ability to remember it as a crime, since we are unable to acknowledge that there once was an other which we have erased.

April 9, 2002

Big picture overview of the history of the Middle East via Goethean.

About the split of the left over issues like Kosovo and Afghanistan (via Wood's Lot.) As I've written before, I have always been sympathetic to the left but nevertheless in disagreement with it on many fronts. How can one define one's political thinking in terms of mere opposition to what our government does? Of course the far left comes up with brilliant arguments to support its positions --- yet they are almost always, coincidentally, in opposition to what our government does. I believe this stems from a deep-seated tendency in human psychology to adopt polar thinking: you "support" one side or the other, you like the Mac or you like Windows, etc.

I am and have always been bitterly opposed to almost all of our ridiculous CIA operations during the Cold War: Angola, Iran (Mossadeq), Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Chile (Allende), the list of our misdeeds and sins of omission goes on and on. But I do not oppose them just on moral grounds --- I also opposed them because in my view they did not even achieve what they were supposed to achieve: long-term security for the United States. What we ought to have done instead was support truly democratic processes --- because democratic, prosperous countries are the only ones that are likely to be our friends in the long run. If what you really care about is security, then this is the way to get security.

But. When Saddam Hussein attacked Kuwait, I supported our war against him. Not so much because I think the Kuwaiti government was enlightened, but because it was a good time to establish the principle that the UN can and would do something to promote international security and discourage military adventurism. The fact that we had ulterior motives was regrettable but nevertheless I didn't think this invalidated the overall merits: I believed then and now that this war had the potential to save more lives in the very long run (by discouraging future land grab wars and establishing the UN as a credible deterrent to regional instability) than it cost. Similarly, I felt we should have ousted him at the time, not stopped because of Saudi pressure, because allowing Hussein to stay in power could well lead to far more disaster and suffering for Iraq and the region later. Furthermore, I think we ought to have done something in Rwanda, and we were right to do something in Kosovo --- again, not only for moral reasons, but to promote our long-term security. I also believe we should never have supported religious fundamentalists in our proxy war against the USSR in Afghanistan --- so we belatedly addressed our failure there by correctly ousting the Taliban.

However, now I am again in the position of abhorring US policy. We are failing in Afghanistan: we ought to be providing far more security and support for democratic processes there. Yet again we're making the same mistake: thinking that it is merely a matter of morality to help the Afghans --- it is a matter of morality, but it is also needed for our own long-term security. Our ridiculous posturing against Iraq is not doing any good --- it is too late for that. Putting Iran on the "axis of evil" list was a gaffe of historic proportions. Talking about first use of tactical nuclear weapons is dangerous, insane, totally out of control. And of course we're seeing the results of our confused, disengaged, and uninformed policy in the Middle East.

People like Christopher Hitchens disturb me because although I agree that some of our government's foreign actions have been justified in recent years, to talk about making some sort of "shift" to come around to this view strikes me as inherently absurd. Why is reflexive opposition to American policy supposed to be a coherent view? Why does one have to struggle with changing it? So he starts out a critic of Bush and then he becomes a mild proponent... even saying he has exhibited "strong leadership" --- but we all know Bush is nothing more than a spokesmodel for the government, something that was made painfully clear during Bush's idiotic untutored performance in front of the microphones at his ranch last week (no advisors around means: Bush is going to blow it. Memo to the Republican leadership: keep your boy away from the reporters when he hasn't been given his script to read.) Just because the Bush administration did one thing semi-right (the first part of the war in Afghanistan) doesn't mean they don't deserve severe criticism now. The time has not come to "switch sides." What was stupid and wrong before remains stupid and wrong now --- it's just that different people do stupid and wrong things at different times. Sometimes it's our side, sometimes it's their side, sometimes (often) it's both sides. Let's grow beyond the politics of "sides" and move on to a politics of open-minded engagement.

Another thing: either blindly supporting OR opposing what our or any other government does is not not not equivalent to being "anti-" or "pro-." There is nothing pro-Israel about supporting what the idiot Sharon is doing; and it was and is not anti-American to have opposed our many crimes at home and abroad; it certainly wouldn't have been pro-American to support our stupid and misguided CIA operations mentioned above. I am anti-Sharon but pro-Israel; I am also pro-Palestinian and pro-American. When I see my government doing something that not only hurts others but also hurts our own long-term interests, it is a pro-American position to oppose it.

April 8, 2002

From one of my housemates, Paul:

Toaster Art (yes, it is a picture of a toaster made out of toast. Any second now and it will become conscious).

And: this very, very disturbing link.

Some search strings that have reached this site in the last week: sadface, zero, khaela maricich, picasso, sad smiley, implicit learning, the culture of my family, appealers birdied contributor fretful bottoms, axis of evil penis, biographic or abstraction or giddings or bulldogs or locomotion, busta rhymes videos, cameroonian novels, college party pictures jen, dilbert cartoon 16 august 2000, earinfection.com, film beloved march 2002, flinching veto jewell vientiane unprotected, generosity, gmt updates, history of pinewood derbys.

A reader of this site, Scott James Zimmerle, wrote to me telling me he has started his own new weblog, Goethean. He flirted with making it a multi-author blog but got burned; thankfully the offending posts have been deleted and he's proceeding on with his own vision now.

April 7, 2002

What is this obsession we have with assigning qualities to people and things, even ourselves? Yes, we all have habits, but are they attributes of us, as difficult to change as the fact that we have bodies, or are they merely ruts we get into because we fail to see an alternative? Don't be so quick to dismiss that exit sign.

The cat is less interested in the dry food that is already in the bowl than new food that he hears me add to the bowl with that clinking sound against its glass edges. It's the same food, but the stimulus of the sound puts him more in the mood to eat. He probably thinks the food tastes better after he hears me pour it into the bowl.

Everybody has to die, yet here we all still are. What persists are patterns, not individuals. Patterns that keep arising. Given the complexity of the world it is amazing that all life we see around us are examples of patterns that have been repeating, in intricate interrelationship with each other, slowly evolving for hundreds of millions of years. Who needs immortality when you have that kind of longevity? Life has been repeating on this planet for a time that is not an insignificant fraction of the age of the universe.

April 6, 2002

When I step outside at night, the smell of spring hits me with ten times the force it does during the daytime. Everything reeks of aliveness, growth; I gulp it down, I smear it all over my face, I remember the future and the past and it all collapses screaming silently, joyfully, down my throat.

April 4, 2002

Miranda came over and we talked about an epiphany she had just had, and it reminded me of an epiphany I just had last week, although mine was sort of yet another level of meta (or really the opposite of meta --- more concrete) beyond hers, but it was basically in the same direction. I wonder if epiphanies tend to come in groups like that all the time. Are thousands of people all over the world having the same epiphany? Or is it just groups of friends who have the epiphany? Or is there a limited supply of epiphanies, and we all just have them over and over again, so it only seems like a coincidence when we have the same or similar one?

If you've had an epiphany lately, tell me about it.

April 2(b), 2002

The situation in the Middle East has gone to a point where there may not be a way back. What people like Sharon and our own government fail to understand is that peace cannot be achieved solely through military means --- if the people are against you, you can never win. While our media focuses on the terrible suicide bombings, we fail to recognize that the reason for the radicalization of the Palestinian people is the fact that for every Israeli killed there have been three Palestinians killed: including women, children, infants. The line that Israelis are trying to avoid civilian casualities and Palestinians are trying to cause them is hardly credible --- while I am sure it isn't Israeli government policy to kill civilians, there are always rogue elements on the front lines who ARE interested in killing civilians, and the numbers prove it. And the fact is, the situation is the same on the Palestinian side. There is not the difference in the two sides portrayed in the press: both sides have rogue elements that they are failing to adequately restrain. The numbers speak for themselves: there have been more Palestinian civilians killed than Israelis, despite the fact that suicide bombers attack civilians. These are like two cousins fighting, much more similar than different.

In a conflict like this there is no military solution. The only solution that would have worked would have been a peace deal, a risk: withdraw to the 1967 borders, dismantle the settlements, compensate the refugees. Arafat would have had to have swallowed giving up the right of return, Israel would have had to swallow getting rid of those fucking settlements. But neither side had the courage to achieve peace, but what is happening now will only lead to disaster. Both sides are now committed to war. That way lies madness.

April 2, 2002

Rupert Sheldrake. Remember Rupert Sheldrake? No? He made a pretty big splash back in the 80's with his theory of morphic resonance; one of the examples he used, the hundredth monkey phenomenon, entered the public consciousness. Though most scientists still cringe when hearing his name, Sheldrake is respected enough that, as I recall, Steven Jay Gould, back when I was a student, invited Sheldrake to give a lecture to his class in order to present a "contrasting" view. However, even if there is some validity to his hypothesis, a big problem is that it is very difficult to test; how can you repeat an experiment when merely running the experiment might change the universe in such a way as to make it unrepeatable?

Sheldrake has more recently begun to examine other much more testable hypotheses, and he's been getting some interesting results, particularly in the area of animal clairvoyance (dogs who know when their owners are coming home --- even when they come home at unexpected times and no one in the house knows when) and the sense of being stared at.

April 1, 2002

Japanese version of a suicide bomber (not an April Fool's joke). This sort of suicide bomber only kills himself.


march (part 2)