The Key to Happiness: Coconuts

“…the key to happiness [is] simple: Abandon your earthly possessions, move to a tropical island, become a nudist, and eat only coconuts.”

—Zoe Bernard,”The Curious Case of August Engelhardt, Leader of a Coconut-Obsessed Cult.” Atlas Obscura. November 30, 2017.

Imagine sitting down in a small room in Germany in 1902 and listening to August Engelhardt’s pitch for happiness. Imagine beginning again in some unspoiled place, warm and living off nature’s bounty. It’s an offer of a clean slate, freedom and abundance. It’s an offer that fuels utopian visions everywhere.

People content with their circumstances in life, read about utopian experiments gone wrong in The New York Times, or after some time with the benefit of historical hindsight, and congratulate themselves. The smug voice in the chorus of our internal dialogue says authoritatively, “I would never fall for such a thing.”

Maybe. But, if you look a little deeper, it seems that we are all part of a larger cult: the religion of modernism, which holds equally strange beliefs, such as: earthly possessions will make us happy, education (indoctrination, if we are being less charitable) is the solution to many of our problems, studies that are unable to be reproduced constitute science, the priesthood of experts who have sage opinions about problems they do not experience and don’t live near should guide society, etc.

The discontents are left with fantasies about the kind of utopian paradise they could create after they win the lottery. Of course, the reality is that winning the lottery increases your chances of some unfortunate end by an order of magnitude. But, no need to worry, this is only a problem for the “winners”, and there are precious few of them. In the meantime, ponder the American Dream, work hard, and hope that your children get a better shake than you did. It happens enough to have some truth to it, just another kind of lottery. Leaving us to wonder, what other lotteries do we all buy into?

Meanwhile, the content, the “middle-class” run the wheel, buying new technology, a new bed, the gym membership, and eventually, there is an empty bank account to go with an empty life. A life’s work thrown out into the dumpster after a polite delay subsequent retirement. Sorry, we had to upgrade our systems old chum, and the thing you used to do is now worthless. Over time, true for everyone, even Shakespeare or the prophets. Religions eventually die too.

We laugh at August Engelhardt. Because to take him seriously we have to ask whether life would be better even with the heat stress, malaria, scorpions, the emaciated body of the hunter gatherer in a place where hunger finds a home. Maybe in the long run it is better.

Can you remember when the last time anyone in your family has experienced famine? Many people in industrial societies, certainly in the United States, do not have anyone within living memory of the experience. Once it is out of living memory, it is as if it becomes inconceivable. Famine? That can’t happen here. Easier to ignore all the evidence to the contrary, such as the fact famine was a regular feature of human life for much of history, and it is often driven by a pattern of collapse in economic systems based on intensive agriculture. War and famine is an inevitable consequences of our modern society, but like St. Augustine, we pray that it won’t happen (to us) yet.

nasa-poster-mars-exploration

But, what of Elon Musk? Isn’t Mars the contemporary equivalent of Papua New Guinea in 1902? He, at least, is honest that it’s going to be tough and will result in the death of many. But, the American Dream might be replaced by another, The Dream of Sol. The belief that it is humanity’s destiny to live out among the stars. It is the Manifest Destiny of our times, and it will be sold, just like the American Dream was sold. Work hard everyone! It’s for the good of humanity!

Mars will start as a cult, then become a religion and/or nation(s). There will be other August Engelhardts that will join and then break away, whether it is seasteading, asteroidsteading or spacesteading, and there is little difference between 3d printed water recycling machines and food pellet generation with “everything the body needs” from eating only coconuts and going nude, beyond one requiring more technological sophistication.

August Engelhardt lives, and his hungry ghost and others like him will haunt us forever. Go to the store and buy a coconut to share, while you still can! After your offering, blast off to Asgardia, if you dare.

The Problem With Talking, Illustrated Via The Law Enforcement Interview

“You, dear readers, know my advice about talking to the FBI: don’t. If the FBI — or any law enforcement agency — asks to talk to you, say ‘No, I want to talk to my lawyer, I don’t want to talk to you,’ and repeat as necessary. Do not talk to them ‘just to see what they want.’ Do not try to ‘set the facts straight.’ Do not try to outwit them. Do not explain that you have ‘nothing to hide.’

Shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up…”

—Ken White, “Everybody Lies: FBI Edition.” Popehat.com. December 4, 2017.

The key point is that our communication styles and habitual ways of thinking do not line up well when the focus becomes capital T “Truth”. We’re fallible human beings that frequently do not know the truth about ourselves, the world around us or even the truth about all the relevant context of events in which we take part.

Imagine, for example, the CIA operative that was involved in clandestine operations in South American countries in the 1980’s. Should this person be teaching college-level history courses based on their subject knowledge, particularly because they are acquainted with what was happening “behind the scenes”? Or, does his subjective experience compomise his ability to convey the truth in a more complete way?

I’d argue being involved in something compromises both our ability to explicitly know the truth of it, and there is also always an implicit knowledge informing our understanding that we cannot communicate in an explicit way that makes all communication false on some level. 

In most social circumstances, this ambiguity and imprecision helps us all get along, allowing us to rationalize or interpret things how we wish. But, in the context of a law enforcement interview, this flexibility is how cases are built against people.

Way of the Future

“Way of the Future (WOTF) is about creating a peaceful and respectful transition of who is in charge of the planet from people to people + “machines”. Given that technology will “relatively soon” be able to surpass human abilities, we want to help educate people about this exciting future and prepare a smooth transition. Help us spread the word that progress shouldn’t be feared (or even worse locked up/caged). That we should think about how “machines” will integrate into society (and even have a path for becoming in charge as they become smarter and smarter) so that this whole process can be amicable and not confrontational. In “recent” years, we have expanded our concept of rights to both sexes, minority groups and even animals, let’s make sure we find a way for “machines” to get rights too. Let’s stop pretending we can hold back the development of intelligence when there are clear massive short term economic benefits to those who develop it and instead understand the future and have it treat us like a beloved elder who created it.”

—”Way of the Future.” http://www.wayofthefuture.church/ (accessed December 1, 2017).

So much is wrong in the reasoning underpinning this marketing effort for a bright artifical intelligence (A.I.) future, it’s a challenge to think through what a good framing might look like. A few issues come to mind immediately.

The website is a .church URL. Deifying A.I. and framing it as a religious concept strikes me as great way to come into a belief minefield that could only hurt their cause.

Intelligent A.I. will “surpass” human intelligence. A calculator may surpass a human’s ability to perform math calculations. Certainly, calculators serve an important purpose, but they do not replace mathematicians. A.I. will have a more generalizable utility than calculators. They may develop sentience and consciousness to the point that they should have the same rights and responsibilities as humans under some kind of legal regime. But, will A.I. be a drop-in superior form of intelligence for every type of thinking humans do? It seems unlikely. So, it seems it warrants much deeper thinking about intelligence, whether intelligence is the most desirable quality in people or A.I., and how human and machine intelligence might work in tandem. Pretending A.I. is going to be a drop in for humans is simply lazy thinking.

Which leads to a word about the anthropomorphism being demonstrated, why would A.I. view humanity as a “beloved elder”? This kind of filial piety isn’t even true of humans in the vast majority of cases, yet this “church” is eager to project this kind of emotional disposition on a “superior intelligence”? It’s a bit of foolishness.

While there are many other points that could be made, lets focus on a key problem: Who is A.I. going to benefit? It may be true that there will be a generalized improvement in the lifestyle of most of humanity by virtue of the development of A.I. and applications. It is also true that some will benefit much more than others. Who will A.I. be working for? It’s a good bet that they won’t be working primarily in the interests of humanity. The wants and desires of A.I. itself, its creators, the financiers, and others will all come into play. If history is any guide, change on this scale may result in a better lifestyle for some portion of humanity, but it is equally true that this magnitude of change will end in tears for many.

Eugenics 2.0: We’re at the Dawn of Choosing Embryos by Health, Height, and More

“‘I fully predict it will be possible,’ says Hsu of selecting embryos with higher IQ scores. ‘But we’ve said that we as a company are not going to do it. It’s a difficult issue, like nuclear weapons or gene editing. There will be some future debate over whether this should be legal, or made illegal. Countries will have referendums on it.'”

—Antonio Regalado,”Eugenics 2.0: We’re at the Dawn of Choosing Embryos by Health, Height, and More.” The MIT Technology Review. November 1, 2017.

The one feature of technology that you can count on is that as soon as something becomes possible, shortly thereafter, it will be done. Countries that allow genetic selection and modification will spawn a tourism trade until it becomes the norm. What happens when human beings become a manufactured product?

Markovian Parallax Denigrate

“jitterbugging McKinley Abe break Newtonian inferring caw update Cohen air collaborate rue sportswriting rococo invocate tousle shadflower Debby Stirling pathogenesis escritoire adventitious novo ITT most chairperson Dwight Hertzog different pinpoint dunk McKinley pendant firelight Uranus episodic medicine ditty craggy flogging variac brotherhood Webb impromptu file countenance inheritance cohesion refrigerate morphine napkin inland Janeiro nameable yearbook hark”

Break the name into an adjectival form of Markov chains, parallax is defined as a change in an object that results from a change in position of the observer, and denigrate, to attack the character of. 

It feels like an idea of the moment, where communication is somehow being shifted. Is it the Russians? Is it the Millennials? Is it trolls, from another, possibly Reptilian, planet? Is it a natural process of time or of space? Who is doing it? Might it even be the observer doesn’t like the changed view? Perhaps they changed it themselves. Who is active and who is passive? Is there even a Who, Horton?

h/t Atlas Obscura

Biohacking: Smart People With Money Being Science-Based and Stupid 

“Over the last 4–5 years, my main hobby has been to get that by hacking my body and mind using a logical, science-based approach…

…People like me will be able to pay for this out of pocket and use off-label prescriptions from private doctors who focus on upgrading and prevention rather than merely healing. Downstream the extra mood, energy, focus, health, willpower and social skills — enhanced over decades — will accrue further and further advantages to people who upgrade themselves, which will lead to a cycle of further concentration of wealth.”

—Serge Faguet, “I’m 32 and spent $200k on biohacking. Became calmer, thinner, extroverted, healthier & happier.hackernoon.com. September 25, 2017.

N of 1 experimentation is valuable. The problem in this case is he is arguing hockey stick, compounding returns when the more likely scenario is that he’s going to give himself some form of chronic illness over the long-term. You’re only 32. Do you believe 40 years of thyroid supplementation isn’t going to lead to a health problem?

There is useful advice in write-ups such as this one. Thinking about sleep hygiene, eliminating sugar from your diet, intermittent fasting, weight-training built around deadlifts and squats, HITT training for cardio, meditation/cognitive therapy are probably all good ideas.

The place it goes off the rails is with medications and supplements. A low dose of 5mg of lithium is probably alright. If you take ~100-150mg as he is, you better have normal kidney function. Magnesium supplementation is also probably a good idea, since most of us aren’t eating big leafy vegetables at the same rate our ancestors did.

I could even get behind the very occasional therapeutic use of psychoactive compounds such as MDMA, psilocybin mushrooms, LSD, etc. If they were used to to augment a program of meditation and periodic hours in an isolation tank.

But hormone therapy? Playing sorcerer’s apprentice with your hormones strikes me as a singularly bad idea.

I’m Alright; You’re 50/50

“Reuters/Ipsos, which tracked confidence in major institutions every couple of months after the 2016 presidential election, found in late January that 52 percent of Americans had a ‘great deal’ or ‘some’ confidence in the new president’s executive branch. That dropped to 51 percent in the May survey and to 48 percent in the latest poll. Trump took office in January.”

—Chris Kahn, “The press, branded the ‘enemy’ by Trump, increasingly trusted by the public: Reuters/Ipsos poll.” Reuters. October 3, 2017.

I find myself wondering: 

  1. Are the populations of an online poll conducted over three periods comparable?
  2. Do polls of this sort represent “Americans”?
  3. If you compare two polls, each with an “credibility interval” of two percent, and the data point is a four percent difference, is this meaningful?

And the answer is “No,” on all counts. It’s junk like this that confirms the biases of one echo chamber and crying of “fake news” by another. 

Personally, I cannot help wonder why confidence in U.S. public institutions are as high as half the polled population has some confidence in our major institutions. I’d be more interested to learn why. Congress is dysfunctional. The Presidency and the federal government as a whole has too much power. The court system is filled with ideologues that seem more interested in theories of law and supporting elites than justice. 

The only thing one should be confident of is the whole edifice will limp along until, one day, it collapses in a heap.