Legacy System

Android-Jones_Forward-Escape

Android Jones, “Forward Escape”

Summary

This paper proposes the creation of what I call the “Legacy System,” a system whose design begins, in phase one, with a person’s systematic capture of their own personal data. It is a system for ensuring that data generated by a person remains of that person and for that person.[i] The system includes (1) an organization (conceived as non-profit or not-solely-for-profit), that issues (2) an iron-clad, user-protecting contract for (3) a device and operating system running (4) an application (“legacy software” / “legacy app”) that backs up (5) personal data to (6) a private, secure, user-controlled virtual machine. In phase two, the “big data” on that personal machine is subjected to (7) artificial intelligence algorithms (machine learning code) whose goal is to maximize (8) personal happiness (conceived as an ongoing exercise of virtue, with respect to both success and fulfillment).

Motivation

We begin with human existence and meaningful human action as our primary value. Humans are a technological species. We use tools. History demonstrates that our species began differentiating itself from others with the invention of the handaxe. Following philosopher Andy Clark, the handaxe can be seen as an extension of the human body, of the human mind. Perhaps even more importantly, language is a human invention, a human technology. Language helps us form thoughts and communicate them to others. Language is the original telepathy. Fast forward to the digital age, and humans are still humans, but we are using digital technologies and, because of that, we are leaving digital traces or “data”. Following Matt Ridley, there is a reason why the handaxe and the smartphone are roughly the same size and shape. The human hand holds a smartphone as it would a handaxe. Both are extensions of the human body, the human mind. These observations make clear why it is crucial that in the Legacy system the human interface begins at the device and operating system level. In the generation of “data”, there is no break in the chain of “input” from human mind to human hand to smartphone to operating system to application.  This point is just as important for user experience as it is for the legal protection of any data generated by such means.

Humans, using technology, are the wellspring of data. The fundamental idea behind the Legacy system is to establish a private pool at the wellspring of data—before it escapes into the wider world. To use another metaphor, the Legacy system keeps the original “wet-ink” data, and releases a “copy” into the world (through an app, etc.). If users track themselves and retain a copy of their actions at the device and operating system levels, there can be no legal argument against the claim that the user owns the original.

Think about the sensors (and actuators) in your smartphone device. To name a few: camera(s), microphone, radio, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS, gyroscope, accelerometer, magnetometer, proximity sensor, thermometer, hygrometer, barometer, and ambient light sensor. Channeled through an operating system, these sensors and actuators provide the hardware infrastructure for the primary software functionalities that comprise the reasons we carry our smartphones: phone calls, SMS, email, internet, social media, navigation, and myriads of applications.[ii] Each time we use any of those higher level software functionalities, someone else is capturing our data inputs (e.g. Google search, Facebook like, etc.) Originally, however, that “search” or “like” originated with our all-too-human life and its perceived needs. Why put our lives in the hands of someone else who manifestly does not have our best interests at heart?

Personal data privacy has been in the headlines since Snowden. Recently, the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandals have highlighted the issue once again and have prompted some to call for a “User Data Bill of Rights.” Holding businesses accountable for their collection of user data (which is sometimes massive—looking at you, Google and Facebook) is certainly a good start, but doesn’t strike at the root of the issue. The Legacy system does.

Early Prototypes

The core vision of the Legacy system (and its early concept) is something I call “VirtuAlly,” inspired by a seminal article by Danny Hillis, the Quantified Self movement, and of course, Aristotle’s discussion of “Friends of Virtue” in his Nicomachean Ethics. The idea is to turn the self into Big Data and run Machine Learning over that data. IOW, the goal is to build a system to collect as many of my own digital traces as possible into a database. The machine learning that runs over that data would have the explicit goal of making my life better (and not, for instance, serving me ads or trying to sell me shit I don’t need). A truly personal AI. The following mind-map provides a glimpse into the data-capture side:

VirtuAlly
One shortcoming of this early concept is that data capture operates downstream from the application layer. As such, it is beholden to any number of “contracts of cohesion” which may cede the data as belonging to the platform.

Moving from concept to prototype, I have developed the following personal journaling system using IFTTT and Evernote, a project I call “LifeLine” (think “Life Timeline”). IFTTT.com (If This, Then That) is a service that allows users to create “recipes” (basically little logic modules) to connect up various popular online applications using front-door APIs. The “If” side specifies the inputs (or “triggers”) and the “Then” side specifies outputs (or “actions”). So IFTTT provides the logic, and Evernote serves as the data repository / database. Here is a sampling of the types of logic rules I have setup to generate input:

Lifeline-Input_All-blur

And a sampling of the output:

Lifeline-Output_001-blur

Steve Jobs promoted the principle that technology should be either beautiful or invisible. A benefit of the above system is that it operates invisibly. I simply go about my daily life, and the logic rules work behind the scenes to capture the data I’ve told them to capture and to archive it in Evernote. In my Quantified Self practice, I primarily use such data for health purposes (the system provides excellent data benchmarks for diet and exercise),[iii] time-management, and a sort of externalized (and infallible) memory. As more features are added to the system, it becomes clear that the database itself could function as a sort of “digital legacy” to be handed down to heirs—along with, or instead of, a shoebox full of photos. It is a step in the direction of digital immortality.

A problem remains, however. As mentioned before, the current early prototype falls prey to the same issues as the early concept—in the current architecture, data capture operates downstream from the applications themselves (e.g. Facebook, Gmail).

Prototyping Proposal (Data Capture)

Fast-track for prototyping the Legacy system. The hardware (device), operating system, and VM components could be off-the-shelf solutions. Device (smartphone) is conceived as GSM phone. Operating system is conceived as a kernel-hardened, open-source version of Android. Virtual machines would use something like Amazon Web Services (likely running Linux). Smartphone data plan could be negotiated via strategic partnership with a company like FreedomPop (uses Sprint & AT&T networks; currently offering “Privacy Phone” / “Snowden Phone”). If we are able to use off-the-shelf infrastructure, the main work would be building the “Legacy software” app, which is basically a massively powerful key-logger (actually, an all-activity-logger) that uploads daily to a Virtual Machine proprietary to the user.

Ideally, all data would be stored on the blockchain for security. Of current solutions, Ethereum seems adequate for the task.

Prototyping Proposal (General AI)

A discussion of the General AI involved merits its own conversation, and a separate paper, “Developing Conscious Agents”, is forthcoming (in collaboration with a developmental psychologist). For present purposes, initial prototypes for the Legacy system would begin with off-the-shelf machine learning techniques. This means the “Big Data” of the self would be collected privately and analyzed privately by a personal AI. Private, personal data collection lays the real and legal foundation for a culture of consent with respect to data. Opportunities would exist within this culture for sharing specific amounts and degrees of personal information, anonymized appropriately, with a communal AI whose goal would still be to help the community and its individuals maximize their personal and communal virtue. To be clear, there are two levels here: the personal AI, and an opt-in communal AI.

A highly abbreviated summary of “Developing Conscious Agents” is worth sharing, as its core ideas will scaffold the AI in all later generation VirtuAlly instances.  The word “developing” in the title is critical. Much ink has been spilled of late wondering if AI is best approached using the model of child development. Let’s take this strategy to its logical conclusion. The idea is to clone human intelligence as it develops in real time. In short, we propose developing a virtual agent modeled after a live newborn subject. In each instance of the experiment, the experimental design would include two developing agents: (1) an infant with real senses (and also equipped with virtualizing sensors, including camera, microphone, environmental sensors, et al), and (2) a virtual infant with virtual senses living in a virtual environment. The virtual environment, and all virtual bodies within it, are a physically realistic construct of the real world, driven by a highly accurate and granular physics engine (including, but not limited to an optics engine).[iv] Sensory data, collected from the real infant’s experience, streams to the virtual infant’s database where nested modules of machine learning algorithms constantly run over the collected data. The physical infant’s sleep periods provide extra windows for processing and engineering assessment. The virtual infant has the opportunity to learn EXACTLY what (and how) the real infant learns. Because the virtual agent’s conscious experience is simply actual experience copied into a virtual environment, the virtual agent “develops” exactly as the infant does, with dynamics such as joint attention, visual cliff, mirror phase, and theory of mind emerging for both agents simultaneously in real time.

The benefits of this experimental design are too many to elaborate here.  To highlight one, per Saussure’s linguistics, the virtual agent will inhabit a rich world of signifiers but also a rich world of signifieds. Like the real infant, the virtual infant learns through interaction with its caregivers and adapts to a rich physical environment and a warm social environment infused with a wealth of linguistic content. The mapping of physical experience to linguistic meaning allows for the formation of concepts and practical reason. The first 200 words a baby learns are not necessarily the “top 200 words” output by frequency analysis algorithms—although significant overlap is likely to occur. More importantly, the way in which an infant learns language (through oral repetition and the labor of learning to vocalize phonemes in the context of joint attention) will allow its virtual agent to follow the same path. Many impatient types in Silicon Valley will despise this experimental design because the experiment will take at least 18 years to complete. However, it solves the AI alignment problem.

It is this AI, properly aligned with human values, that will eventually serve individuals and communities as their VirtuAlly, their Friend of Virtue.

Conclusion

We misunderstand Danny Hillis’ dream of Aristotle (as an artificially intelligent personal tutor) if we assume it to be equivalent to what some today call “AI personal assistants”, e.g. Siri or Alexa. If we care about augmenting our own virtue, using everything from today’s computerized technologies to ancient techniques, we must set our sights higher.

In discussing existing prototypes for the Legacy system project above, I outlined my “LifeLine” project. Actually, before that, for years, I kept a journal. And even before that, I engaged in a pursuit of virtue as a social animal. That’s the true underlying technology here. That’s what’s foundational. If language is a technology, how much more so is how you speak (your idiolect, as well as exactly what you choose to say and when). If philosophy is a technology, how much more so is your personal philosophy a technology? And personal virtue is a technology. Once we understand personal virtue as a technology, we can hack it, tweak it, make it better. Like Susan Sontag, “I’m only interested in people engaged in a project of self-transformation.” If these kinds of people come together, the novelty of the technology we use for communal and personal transformation is immaterial. Our resources are both of the moment and of the millennia.

RESOURCES:

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics (350 BCE)
Andy Clark, Natural Born Cyborgs (2004)
Joel Doerfel, Slices and Traces (2012)
Daniel Hillis, Aristotle (The Knowledge Web) (2004)
Jaron Lanier, Who Owns the Future? (2014)
Cathy O’Neil, Congress is Missing the Point on Facebook: Americans Need a Data Bill of Rights (2018)
Tim Palmieri, What Sensors are in a Smartphone? (2018)
Matt Ridley, The Rational Optimist (2011)
Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics (1913)
Doc Searls, The Intention Economy (2012)
Gary Wolf, What is the Quantified Self? (2012)

ENDNOTES:

[i] Following thinkers like Jaron Lanier (2014), “data” is defined here primarily as any information or digital trace generated in digital space by the actions of a human person, and secondarily as private information deriving from an outside source that is the rightful sole property of that person.

[ii] In Andy Clark’s sense, these become human functionalities, extensions of our human functioning (e.g. when is the last time you navigated without GPS?).

[iii] A high-ranking, explicit motivation in capturing data about myself is to track my physical and mental health. As such, all data captured should be subject to HIPAA protection.

[iv] IOW, the virtual environment is basically the Matrix. A side benefit of the experiment is that afterwards, you also have the Matrix (and can use it for things like discoveries in physics; like Feynman says, “there’s plenty of room at the bottom”).

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cosmodicy of local systems (a thought experiment)

yggdrasil_by_friedrich_wilhelm_heine

“problem of evil”? no problem. evil doesn’t exist. neither do omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent beings.

to say that “evil doesn’t exist” means that “evil” doesn’t exist as a standalone generic category (or “universal”) or as a mysterious cosmic force. propagandist tabloid-thinking that takes up “evil” as this sort of “false universal” does irreparable harm. a “war on evil” is just as foolhardy as a “war on terror” (fish, 2001).

if we stipulate that “evils” refer to specific, concrete acts of “evil”, then we might allow that a generic, historically-open concept of “evil” exists as the sum of all evils. this would be like a register of all individual grievances, outcries in the face of suffering, feelings of being wronged, etc. an open, descriptive amalgam, not a closed, prescriptive code.

suppose, for now, that we do not wish to distinguish between sources of moral reasoning (in the strictly logical sense of “moral”, i.e. that from which a “should” is derived, in the sense in which a logician speaks of a “moral” premise) as these bear upon specific existential judgments about an action’s moral status (e.g. judging a human action to be “bad”, unsavory, intolerable, detrimental to ourselves and our own, strategically misaligned with the greater good, etc). we can still note that specific existential judgments about an action’s moral status are *relative*, and require a local context.

after einstein, physicists no longer acknowledge newtonian absolute space. in a newtonian cosmos, an object can be in motion (full stop). in an einsteinian cosmos, an object is always in motion “with respect to” a frame of reference. just so, there is no absolute evil, only relative evils. in fact, just as the einsteinian worldview swallowed the newtonian, wherever notions of “absolute evil(s)” have arisen historically, their existence can be explained by the “relative evils” theory–where “evils” are defined as relative to some culture’s holy book (and since most holy books are hallowed because they are “old” and “closed”, definitions of “evils” are perpetually “under-coded” in the wake of advances in any culture that follows such a book).

just as “evil” is a false universal in the moral realm, so “motion” is a false universal in the physical realm–specifically with respect to the centuries-old discussion of “free energy” or “perpetual motion”. in classic formulations, “perpetual motion” can never and will never be achieved because “a system that has more energy output than input” contradicts both logic and physics. so too, in classic formulations, one will never reconcile “god” and “evil” because doing so would contradict both logic and physics. both classic formulations lack a frame of reference, or what might be called an “ecology”.

what *can* be done is to frame the ecology as a closed system, both physically and temporally, as systems that do useful work for a useful amount of time. neither we nor anyone else will ever build a perpetual motion device. we can, however, build a 10,000 year clock. we can build communities that run solely on renewable energy for many generations. much effort in construction and maintenance may be required, but we will do it if we deem the output to be worth the input. similarly, neither we nor anyone else will ever win a “war on evil”. we can, however, enact local laws, establish local norms, and instill local values that curb the expression of injustice, inequality, oppression, and other specific, concrete evils.

in our local system, it may be that we could win one battle against one evil. organizing into larger groups, we may be able to expand our community’s sphere of influence to battle larger systematic injustices. ultimately, the planet itself is our ecosystem. if we can build a 10,000 year clock, perhaps we can build a planet whose societies, with constant maintenance, approach the limit of fairness toward living beings, one law, norm, or value at a time. from this perspective, doing so would be a question of engineering within our ecosystem.

a grand thought experiment, perhaps. but surely, one worth thinking.
______________

references:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Problem_of_evil
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodicy#Cosmodicy_and_anthropodicy
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-monotheism
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perpetual_motion
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Problem_of_universals
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Said#Orientalism
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Essentialism
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotivism

http://www.nytimes.com/2001/10/15/opinion/condemnation-without-absolutes.html (fish, 2001)

The Philosopher’s Tooth

Digital StillCamera

“For there was never yet philosopher
That could endure the toothache patiently.”
~ Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing, V.i.36

“It’s been like this for years.” The old Armenian doctor with a thick accent and a kind face heavily scarred from acne is yanking back and forth on my numbed tooth.
“What?” I mutter absent-mindedly.
“The infection. It’s been like this for years, no? This affects everything: heart, brain, everything.”
I think back to when I had the filling put in.
The Saban Free Clinic off Beverly Boulevard. Jennifer, a dental student at USC, worked on my teeth. She told me she’d X-Ray the area and if there was no infection, she’d give me a filling. Otherwise, I’d need a root canal. I knew it was at least mildly infected, as I sometimes used to have to pop little pustules on my gum above the tooth. I didn’t say anything, because I was a student too, and couldn’t afford a root canal. Jennifer read the X-Rays negative. I got a filling. That was four years ago.
“Four years? I’ve been running my arteries & nerves through a cesspool of infection for four years? How has this affected my writing?” I wonder. I get another burst of body-wide perspiration. I’m trying to control the shaking. I’m light-headed. I’ve barely slept or eaten for three days. I’m using the deep breathing and mental focus techniques I’ve learned in the last few years to control my panic attacks. I’m having one now, but it’s not like the others.
“Breathe normal,” the old man tells me, as if that were easy.
He’s using a drill to cut my molar into three parts. I smell burning enamel and taste sand grain-sized tooth particles on the non-numbed side of my tongue. He puts the drill down, picks up dental pliers, and starts yanking again.
All I feel is pressure. There’s no pain. So why am I reacting this way? What’s up with my bodily reaction? It’s beyond my control.
Maw. Something is happening to my mouth. My mouth is a cave surveyed by an alien intelligence with hostile intent and precise metal tools. My mouth is a stage filled with tiny white actors. A flash of recognition and the prolonged gaze of the specialist makes my mouth visible as an object for my consciousness as a vulnerable opening-for-another, in addition to the usual invisible apparatus for subjective chewing. So this is what it feels like to have one’s subjective mouth objectified. Uncanny, unsettling, surreal. Mouth-subject becomes mouth-object, but the latter is missing a habituated concept, so the alienated concept of “cave” temporarily substitutes. A cave at once mine and not mine. Mouth now exists in some uncomfortable place between subject and object. With the mouthwork as the site of transformation, the “I” with which I usually identify has become liminal: I am the subject, and the subject is this open mouth. Or, as the Narrator in Fight Club might say, “I am Jack’s infected molar.”
“Unngh! Unnnggghh!!!” There’s the pain. The alien pulls his pliers out of my mouth. “I’m super light-headed.”
“Let’s stop a bit,” the Armenian obliges. “Sit up.” He pushes a lumbar button and the robotic dental recliner shape-shifts into its upright configuration. “Turn toward me.”
“Now head down.” He pushes my head between my legs and puts his hand on the back of my neck. “Push up!” he commands.
I push against his hand for a few seconds. Then he lets me sit up. He takes my wrist and pulse.
As soon as he reassures, “Pulse is normal,” “I know” comes out of my mouth. I do know. I’ve become an inside-out expert in the various kinds of panic attacks and can distinguish among their subtle experiential differences. So I know my pulse is normal. Still, it’s comforting to know that he knows, and that he’s willing to say it out loud to me. We make small talk for a few minutes.
“We go again?” he smiles. I consent. I lie back. More yanking, twisting, pulling.
The old quip, “The only thing to fear is fear itself” is eerily poignant to people who get panic attacks. Thinking about the fact you’re panicking makes you panic more. It’s a feedback loop.
Feedback loops have a structure and function all their own. Since physics often provides cognitive metaphors for metaphysics, the idea of a feedback loop may prove a rich source for philosophy. Poetry is one of my favorite genres in which to write philosophy and I’ve written a poem or two using the meme of feedback loops. Very different from linear causality.
Another tremor. I usually don’t shake during panic attacks. This is different. This is body trauma. Something doesn’t want to let go.
Yank.
“Owwwwwwwwnnggghh!!!”
Excruciating pain.
He removes the pliers. “That hurt?”
Thank you, Dr. Obvious. Yes. It hurt.
Scarface puts down the pliers and picks up a syringe. He pokes the needle into the roof of my mouth, just as he’d done at the beginning of the surgery. I feel the prick, the hot flow of chemicals into my system. It burns for a second, then feels good. As we wait for the numbing agent to kick in, I resolve that if I ever do this again, I’ll wait the extra day and go in for general anesthesia.
In circumstances like these, a day is no small matter. A couple days ago, I ingested enough painkillers to kill a medium-sized zebra. And that was just to get the pain manageable. In the last week, I’ve only had two truly “pain-free” instances, each lasting only a few moments. First instance: 10mg hydrocodone, 1000mg acetaminophen, 400mg ibuprofen, 20% benzocaine (topical). Single dose. One hour later, pain free for about two hours. Second instance: oddly enough, after no other topical or oral combination worked, 6 drops of cannabis glycerin. Immediate relief, pain-free mentally and physically for a few moments. Then enough pain reduction to get a highly rare and extremely coveted hour of sleep. Then six more drops. A second hour of sleep.
The doctor pushes against the huge, swollen, infected mass that covers the entire right side of my hard palate. “Is numb?”
“I can still feel it.”
Another injection.
I used to live near here, back in the day. Less than a mile from this office. Golden years. Post-religion, pre-anxiety. Sacred Dice glory days. My first drug phase, which remade me as a philosopher. “Consciousness rides chemicals” has been my formula, ever since the days my mental village turned cosmopolitan. Pre-divorce too. Talk about emotional trauma. Worse than my mentor’s suicide or the wholesale social exile and character assassination that often accompanies leaving a conservative ideological group. At the end of those days, I was an utterly desperate man as the finality of the separation descended, shamelessly crying my eyes out in public places like the Wilshire & San Vicente Coffee Bean or at La Cienega Park, where just this morning I strolled with my wickedly intelligent and ravishing girlfriend of two years. Destruction and creation.
“Is numb yet?” He pushes again.
“I still feel it.”
The doctor explains to me that the infection is blocking the medicine. He’s injecting local anaesthesic straight into pus. From here out, it’s pliers vs tooth, no filter. Raw pain.
“Ready?”
I lie back. “I can deal with pain,” I think. I played high school football. Invaluable training for mental toughness.
Yank.
“Oooowwwwnnnnnghhh!!!”
This is not high school football. The Armenian grows bold, pulling harder, working faster than before. He takes our chat as license to inflict any pain necessary to get the job done.
Yank.
Burn your thesaurus. The pain is beyond words. I clench my fists as tears stream down my face.
My friend John introduced me to mind-altering drugs. At the time, he fancied himself something of a shaman, even loaned me his copy of Castaneda’s The Teachings of Don Juan. Following his lead, part of my induction into the world of shamanic drug use was learning the art of willed psychosomatic mindfulness. My eyes opened wide onto a new world rife with magic. Back then, I had enough of a mind-body connection to look my friends straight in the eyes and extinguish a burning cigarette on my hand without feeling any pain. I achieved this feat two or three times before the blister on my hand pulled me back into my body and checked my misguided shamanistic egoism.
This isn’t that. There’s no escape.
Doc clamps onto my tooth and TWISTS his pliers from the right side of my mouth all the way to the left.
Medieval torture. Nerve rape. Back in the Middle Ages when the theory of “humors” ruled medicine, they’d drain fluids to restore the body’s balance. They believed vile spirits inhabited certain fluids. I’m shaking and sweating and hoping for a quick drain. Extraction as exorcism.
I hear my tooth crack. I clench my fists harder, looking for somewhere to go in my head.
During my darkest hour, when my version of Winston Churchill’s “Big Black Dog” was at its biggest and blackest, I used to identify and catalogue suicidal ideations by noting which internal sensory modalities they affected (e.g. images, voices, feelings), before summoning the courage to stave off most varieties by taking mental vacations to El Matador Beach. It’s a tiny State Beach nestled just north of Zuma on the PCH. Sea caves. Tide pools. No tourists. Feels like a private beach. I’ve had beach sex there several times. Think about the good things. Easy trick, really. Dissociation.
Yank! T-W-W-I-I-I-S-S-S-T-T!
Then I remember the scene in Fight Club where the Narrator has been visiting self-help groups for people with all sorts of fatal ailments he doesn’t have. He’s just there for the camaraderie. The guided meditation guru at one such group recommends a similar pop-psychology magic trick: find a safe place and a power animal. Whenever pain or fear intrude, go to your safe place and find your power animal. The Narrator chooses an ice cave with a penguin. Fuck that. Tyler Durden holds the Narrator down and pours lye on his hand. The Narrator tries to dissociate. Tyler won’t let him: “This is the greatest moment of your life man, and you’re off somewhere missing it.”
Narrator grovels, begs.
“First you have to give up. First you have to know… not fear… know… that someday you’re gonna die.”
“You don’t know how this feels!”
Tyler shows Narrator burn mark on his own hand.
Narrator becomes placid, subdued.
Tyler’s closing remark: “It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.”
I decide to try it on the next yank. Clenched fists, tears gushing spontaneously. Blood, I’m sure, too. I can’t see the blood, but I know it’s part of the process. What is pain?
Yank!
Oh, that’s pain. Suddenly, I’m in my body. I’m integrated. Whole. There’s a sort of twisted peace in this. It’s not perfect. I’ve still got thoughts and ideations. I imagine my tooth as the cork to a champagne bottle. I know I don’t get better unless it comes out. I focus on the tooth itself, the pain, the meaning of it all as part of the healing process.
POP!
It’s out. Immediate relief. The doctor informs me that pus is oozing out. The pain is gone. What’s utterly amazing is that the panic is gone too. Years of anxiety ooze out, their enamel headstone uprooted.
The doctor waves the bloody crown and root in front of me. “See?”
I do see. I’m hallucinating crystal clarity. Like sunrise over downtown Los Angeles after a night of hard rain from the top of Runyon Canyon. Like years of high-decibel television static, switched off in an instant. Like mushrooms.
Doctor Incredible sews me back up as I marvel at my new superpowers. All that pus. All that anxiety. How will this affect my writing? I’ll probably need to go home and rest. My friend Lauren brought over the Star Wars trilogy. A New Hope sounds good.

performing conscious process

Photo credit: Android Jones

in consciousness and life,
we identify with our practice.

being “in practice” as a philosopher
is more about daily reading & thinking
than having a degree on the wall,
just as being a practicing martial artist
requires daily discipline.

if you wish to become anything of value,
you must train daily to become who you are.

hypotheses:
consciousness is procedural.
identity is procedural.

the salience filters of consciousness
are in constant flux.
they are more like a standing wave
than a sieve.

many (if not most) of the lived categories
that suffuse our lives with meaning
are ad hoc,
since our lives are ad hoc
(we don’t merely experience generic concepts like “hat” or “friend”,
but “this particular favorite black ball cap of mine” &
“that individual friend with whom I discussed X yesterday.”)

the “this” of the “hoc”
in “ad hoc”
is temporal, spatial, & idiosyncratic:
“my” “here” “now”.

cognition & perception
(including those of the “proprio-” flavors)
are procedural & largely ad hoc.

hence the effects in
self-talk,
well-performed magic tricks,
hypnogogic hallucinations,
hypnotic states,
and psychedelic states.

for a while now
i’ve been fond of saying that
“consciousness rides chemicals”:
in other words,
consciousness is procedural
(at least in a chemical sense
if not other senses as well).

conceptual distinctions (e.g. “categories”)
& cognitive context
may be sedimented into core cognitive operations.

such sedimentation is common in early development.

later in life,
it becomes clear that
for many forms of
conceptual & cognitive infrastructure,
the “use it or lose it” rule applies:
neurons that no longer fire together
relax their wires.
machinery not well used & maintained
decays into
the neuro-chemistry of forgotten skills.

as it is in detroit or in ancient rome:
so it is with the mind.

many mansions of the mind
lie in ruins.

____

“framing”
is a local & logical
piling up of memes
such that a thesis makes sense.

“framing” is how some academics today manage to cling to partial intelligibility.

framing is local.
for framing to perform any useful logical work,
the local frame
must resonate with a sedimented conceptual framework,
leading to resonance with the thesis.

in rare cases,
local framing
may alter a conceptual framework
on a specific topic.

(nested contexts,
re-contextualization,
re-metaphorizing.)

hypotheses:
consciousness is performed.
consciousness is performative.
identity is performed.
identity is performative.

what i
“identify with”
or
who i
“identify as”
change,
often dramatically,
with life circumstance.

_____

graziano hypothesis:
consciousness is signal processing.
only signals & processors exist.

like the genome,
the neural substrate for signal processing
will appear largely similar
across individuals
in most test cases.

however,
like small individual differences in the genome,
sedimented or locally framed infrastructure
that provides a salience context
for signals
may differ wildly,
especially with respect to high-level, abstract sub-signals
like those we find in religion, politics, morality, or worldview.

who tunes the channels
for the internal radars
that sniff out
significance
in our lives as animals
or
in academics?

when i say
“consciousness is procedural,”
on one level,
i mean to echo
something very similar to
graziano’s “attention schema theory”:
viz., “awareness is a model of attention.”

saying “consciousness is procedural”,
means i wish to treat
consciousness as a physical process,
highly attuned to initial conditions.

change those initial conditions,
(e.g. by changing your conceptual frame,
changing your set & setting,
changing your life situation,
reading an article full of useful & persuasive philosophical distinctions,
drinking a glass of wine,
or smoking cannabis),
and you’ll change consciousness-as-process
as well as consciousness-as-(signal)-processor.

existential upshot:
consciousness & identity are in flux.
they’re procedural & performative.
they’re part of a great becoming.
daily practice helps determine them.
choice is involved.

even one’s sedimented conceptual framework
& salience filters
are in flux
and may be altered.

no “soul” exists.
no “mind” exists.
no “i” exists.
(or, if that’s too strong for you:)
“i” change (even “the i” we mean by “i” changes.)
“existence precedes essence” (sartre).
you only ever “are” who you “are” here & now.

consciousness & identity are procedural & performative.

that’s why it’s important
in your ongoing quest for awareness & self-awareness
to pay attention to set & setting
and
to develop a practice.
__________

bibliography:

https://aeon.co/essays/how-consciousness-works-and-why-we-believe-in-ghosts

The Essence of Peopling

http://www.sciencealert.com/consciousness-occurs-in-time-slices-lasting-only-milliseconds-study-suggests

Intuition of the Instant: French Philosopher Gaston Bachelard on Our Paradoxical Experience of Time

http://groups.psych.northwestern.edu/gentner/papers/GentnerKurtz05.pdf
http://groups.psych.northwestern.edu/gentner/papers/KurtzGentner01.pdf
http://csjarchive.cogsci.rpi.edu/proceedings/2009/papers/101/paper101.pdf
http://psych.utoronto.ca/users/peterson/psy430s2001/Barsalou%20LW%20Ad%20Hoc%20Categories%20Mem%20&%20Cog%201983.pdf

https://www.amazon.com/Consciousness-Social-Brain-Michael-Graziano/dp/0190263199/
https://www.amazon.com/Surfaces-Essences-Analogy-Fuel-Thinking/dp/0465018475/
https://www.amazon.com/Stuff-Thought-Language-Window-Nature/dp/0143114247/
https://www.amazon.com/Metaphors-We-Live-George-Lakoff/dp/0226468011/

Infinite Material Gratitude

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Infinite Material Gratitude
is “infinite” in the sense
that it is practically limitless.

Isaac Newton, in his “Calculus,”
developed the mathematical notion of a “limit“:
the value a function or sequence “approaches”
as the index (or input) approaches some value.
In practice, in appropriate circumstances,
limits “round up” the impractically large to infinity
and “round down” the impractically tiny to zero.
Contemporary physicists borrow this
Newtonian conceptual slang
when discussing the mass of blackholes:
“Infinite mass, zero size.”

The Infinite Material Gratitude of Being Human, then,
begins by recognizing that each of us
is born onto a fully-developed,
inter-connected social, cultural, and communal stage.
We didn’t “work” for Michaelangelo’s “David,”
or Einstein’s relativity,
or Rumi’s verse.
We simply inherit it.
For free.

Without this free, common, cultural heritage,
we’re the biological equivalent of great apes.
Our human cultural heritage makes us who we are.
And we are freely given this birthright in bright,
diverse, continually-evolving overabundance.

In their book “Multitude,” Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri
talk about how even the “non-working poor”
contribute to our humanity
through their existence and actions,
their thrift, their aspirations,
their ingenuity, their family and community lives,
their resistance to oppression.

In any population,
there will be a group of people
who break social norms,
whether by necessity or choice.
French sociologist Émile Durkheim called this group “deviants,”
and argued that while deviance in society is,
by definition, a deviation from “normal,”
it is utterly normal for populations to evolve
outliers, fringes, and deviant groups.

The poor in the USA today
are treated by the system
as deviants,
often criminals.

Especially the poor who,
for whatever reason,
are currently “non-working.”

But anyone who has ever done any “work”
(on the “forces” model of Newtonian physics,
not just a post-industrial, capitalist “jobs” model)
feels our visceral interconnection:
that culturally speaking,
we not only “stand on the shoulders of giants,”
but that we also are knit
into local and global communities.

Chefs, plumbers, electricians, artists,
grocery store clerks, city workers,
preschool teachers…
Challengers of fathers, helpers of siblings, comforters of loved ones…
Smilers at strangers…
Speakers of English, Mandarin, Farsi, Ancient Greek…
Archaeologists, botanists…
Lovers…

None of us does exactly what any Other does.

And yet, we all depend on each Other.

Materially.

Aristotle said that we
owe our parents a debt of
“infinite gratitude” –
they gave us LIFE itself,
and no market can put a price
on that precious gift.

We owe each Other this infinite gratitude.

We owe it to
our families,
our lovers,
our cultural forbears,
our fellow-laborers,
our employers,
even our (sometimes broken) governments.

That doesn’t mean we sink into
reactionary politics or
reformism or
apathy.

It means we don’t undermine
our own projects
by kicking the giant footstool
from beneath our own feet.

Let’s bury ingratitude
in the Imperial,
colonial past.

Better:  let the dead bury their dead.

Politics require tactics.
The best revolutions do too.

If there’s something within
post-industrial capitalism
that IS the problem,
it’s this:

blinding ourselves to the Other
(and to the infinite gratitude toward them
it is our birthright to foster)
behind the isolationist curtains
of privacy and individualism,
summed up in the
institutional history of the practice
of private property
(Specifically, the history of private property on the Imperial, colonial, “rape-murder-privatize” model. Yes.  That was us.  Both on the giving and the receiving end. No one gets a free pass here.)

The gratitude we each owe each other is infinite (practically limitless).
The gratitude we each owe each other is material (as in actual money, raw materials, material preconditions of the good life).
And the “Others” to whom we owe this gratitude are standing right next to us in real life.

Let’s get busy.

The Singularity is Social

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What is experience?  What is first person subjectivity?  Well, in a way, it’s that evanescent flux of sensation and perception that is, in a way, all we have and all we are.  It’s the multi-dimensional matrix of first person experience unfolding moment by moment.  It’s the voice in our head that lets us know that we exist.
       – Jason Silva

Where’s the social?
Where’s the sociopolitical in our thinking today?

Most of us have a modicum
of success
in our jobs, in our schools, in our families.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a goat farmer in Mozambique
or a corporate executive in Silicon Valley,
what makes our lives meaningful
is the people around us.

It’s their stories
that help us tell our own,
their values that we shape and serve.

It’s in this dialogue
with the people we love
about the values we cherish
that we create a shared world.

To experience a rich social life
is to experience the meaning of life,
what philosophers since Plato and Aristotle
have called “The Good Life,”
what French philosopher Michel Foucault called
“The Art of Existence.”

These philosophers were talking about
so much more
than what contemporary self-help gurus
& technicians of individuality
have to offer.

Life without other people
isn’t life.
You can see this in the way
dogs socialize at a dog park,
in the tragic stories of feral children
who end up being unable to receive & transmit
the rich social & cultural heritage
our species has accumulated over millennia,
and whose lives then amount
to little more than the life
of any other great ape.

And I think people are understanding this
more and more
as we move past a Cartesian solipsism,
a self-obsessed consumer culture
that has led to cults of personality
and an ever-widening income disparity
and an ever-shrinking fraction of 1% holding
the golden ticket to Elysium.

What’s so exciting to me
is that we’re all coming together.

This is the age of Occupy,
Wikileaks,
and Arab Spring.

This is an age where a single
contract employee of the NSA
can call to accountability an entire
global apparatus.

This is the age of a digital democracy
spawned by the invention of the internet
and a smartphone in the pocket
of every global citizen —
which means that,
increasingly, every human being
has the power to
create audiovisual and text content,
charged with their social, political, and communal values,
and instantly communicate those messages,
that voice,
over the technology-mediated,
mass-telepathy experiment
we call the “internet.”

As the Singularity draws near,
we’re democratizing its abundance,
its longevity,
its health,
its power,
and spreading it to
all the people.

And that’s exciting.

Pragmatics in Praxis

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This morning, I read a New Yorker article on A.I. entitled “Why Can’t My Computer Understand Me?”  It’s worth a read.  The article’s protagonist, Hector Levesque, denounces the Turing Test as too easy to scam.

I agree…with the proviso that, in the development of useful expert systems, we’ve reached a historic plateau in which, for business purposes, a useful metric is:  “Time to Turing-Complete” (TTTC).

My thinking on general AI still orbits a praxis-to-pragmatics approach, as opposed to development of highly specific algorithms that remain in the realm of mere semiotics or semantics:  (e.g. Explicit / Latent Semantic Analysis, Cluster analysis, Inverse Word-Frequency Analysis, HMM, etc.; e.g. Google search, Google Knowledge Graph, Evi, Siri, Wolfram Alpha(?), etc.)

However, lately I’ve been pondering a radical pragmatic expansion of Dedre Gentner’s “ad hoc categories.”  A popular stock example of an ad hoc category would be “Things you’d grab from your house in a fire.”  (Of course, life is always even more ad hoc:  “Things you’d grab from your house if there was a fire in the kitchen and you knew you had at least two minutes, but probably not five.”)

The radical pragmatic expansion is prompted by meditation on the social.

In every social system we engage, we generate an entire Gestalt, ad hoc, fabric of meaning (e.g. shared meanings, shared allusions, private codes, inside jokes, et al).  It’s as if there’s a pragmatic “terroir” to our everyday actions (e.g. My girlfriend appreciates the subtle inflections of what it means for me to do dishes these days, given my current projects.  On another level of granularity, every time I do dishes, I use an ad hoc cognitive map of which regularly-used bowls in our apartment fit inside other bowls).  In a social context, ad hoc categories are the rule, not the exception.  We live a social tapestry of ad hoc categories, an ad hoc cognitive tapestry.

To get what I mean by “pragmatics”, a concept as simple as J.L. Austin’s “performative utterance” suffices as an initial springboard: “By saying X, I hereby do Y.”  E.g. “By saying ‘I do,’ I hereby commit myself.” But Austin cared about “how to do things with words.”  Praxis approaches pragmatics from the action side rather than  the semantics side.  Thus, I envision a sort of socially-aware “performative activity” / “performative agency”:  when J does X in context Y, it means Z to M.  How to signify things with actions.

For General AI, then, one requires:

– Machine Learning
– Basic self-awareness (can represent and manipulate its own code) **not strictly necessary, but super cool…and perhaps easier to code.
– Social awareness & social self-awareness (awareness of oneself as a social agent among other social agents)
– Event ontology – Event matrix, Causality matrix, Pragmatic matrix (notion that every event derives meaning from social fabric)
– Rules for principled norm-keeping & norm-breaking
– Multi-modal & cross-modal representation paradigms (requires at least two sensors…e.g. audio, visual, text)
– Socially engaged experience
– Abstraction to rules from particular experiences, integrated with a
– Categorical ecology (continually updated “ontology”) derived from the social realm (others in this situation, do X, mean Y, etc.).

For the AI envisioned by the New Yorker article (let’s call it “Alligator-AI”) you need much less (for an initial prototype):

– Machine Learning
– A general pragmatic ontology (including all relevant facts about, say, an alligator…like its body plan)
– Precise grammatical parsing (proliferate potential grammatical models, then use a semantics parser / neural net to narrow down to a frame)
– The ability to invoke an answer-frame appropriate to the question-frame (Alligators can’t run 100M hurdles. Gazelles, on the other hand….)

…or we could just rest on our laurels with the accomplishment of AI in Twitterbots with the same satisfaction as if we’d just built the Great Pyramid.