We kicked off the new season with a discussion of the letter.wiki exchange between Vervaeke and Chapman. We generally agreed that it was worthwhile reading but it would have been more interesting if they got around to disagreeing about anything rather than just uncovering the depth of their parallel convergence. When speculating about where they might disagree @dglickman suggested the topics of neoplatonism and esoteric Christian theology, and @red_leaf was able to confirm with Chapman’s own recent quotes from the eG slack.
It seems letter.wiki hasn’t seen much traction since they were turned down by YC and subsequently acquired by substack (I think). I participated in a few letter.wiki exchanges myself, including one with Peter Limber on The Metagame.
We discussed the Joker movie since that was a theme Vervaeke brought up in the exchange. Like Chapman, I haven’t seen it, but unlike Chapman I’m not refusing to see it . This led to a long digression on pop culture and the atomization of subcultures over the last couple decades, facilitated by the internet. I suggested the the atomized subcultures (microcultures?) have augmented subcultures rather than replacing them. For example, there are hundreds of subgenres of electronica and metal music now, but they are all still part of the larger subcultures, arranged in a hierarchy.
One of the newest subcultures I’ve personally joined is also one of the largest, namely the bitcoiners (only around for the last 10 years or so). The bitcoin subculture is part of a larger blockchain/crypto subculture with bitter rivalries between various factions, now morphing into a web3 subculture including DeFi, NFTs, and DAOs. Within the bitcoin subculture there is a faction of bitcoin maximalists (maxis), and within that there is a Christian faction, see the Thank God for Bitcoin book. Quite strange.
We revisited the meaning of metamodern, differentiating the political variety (Hanzi-style) from cultural (a la https://whatismetamodern.com/), the braiding of irony and earnestness.
Apparently Valeria has extended family members that “actually talk to spirits”. I thought the phrasing was funny because it can be construed to mean “talk to actual spirits”, so we got into a discussion about what that could mean. Are the models of other people we hold in our heads spirits in a sense? If we continue conversing with our internal models of people after they die are we talking to their spirits?
I took this opportunity to offer my new definition of “supernatural” as anything that exists in the world of ideas, supervenient on physical reality but not itself physical. I pointed out that everything we currently consider to be in the category of supernatural, e.g. ghosts, gods, vampires, faeries, and the like, are also supernatural by my new definition.
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The discussion began with a critique of the article. I suggested that the initial agent model represented by Alexei the robot was a bit of a straw man, if that was being contrasted with the MIRI embedded agent approach. For example, what if Alexei was playing a chess game against a human opponent, then there is no way it could represent the game in its internal model. Initally I thought the embedded agent model was being presented as an improved (as in more powerful) approach to AI, but thanks to input from Evan and Daniel I revised my perspective substantially. Embedded AI is (obviously) not more “powerful” than AIXI (for example) but more constrained and realistic. That makes a lot more sense in retrospect.
The discussion turned to comparing the actual results of DeepMind vs MIRI, and recent restructuring at MIRI. I was about to bring up the Logical Induction paper but Daniel beat me to it.
There was some disagreement about whether societies has a lot of knowledge of the world before the invention of math. No doubt humans can get along fine without math, building houses and getting enough to eat (like beavers, I suggested), but it surprised me that it wasn’t obvious to others that our knowledge of the world has exploded since we’ve been developing mathematical (i.e. scientific) models.
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I mentioned I had a related bit string theory proposing that what we perceive as the world is embedded in a recursive function. Daniel dissented but Evan agrees were are likely living in a Tegmark level-4 multiverse.
Evan mentioned a theory of suicidality as a eusocial behavior and I related that to how soldiers essentially sacrifice their lives for the collective good. I mentioned that I observed that I am significantly more individualistic than average (I see collectivism as the practice of farming other people, to use Evan’s phrase), which brought us back to ob. Kegan stages. (h/t Valeria)
Vassar’s theory was revisited, that Kegan stages were tied to trauma levels and that stage 4 and 3 were reversed in that 4 implied more trauma. We discussed definitions of trauma and I suggested that trauma was a defense mechanism, drawing on a book I listened to last week about how IFS therapy was used to heal trauma:
The 3 of us had quite an animated discussion, in roughly 3 acts. Act 1 was all about the nature of counter-factuals. I suggested that when we are talking about counterfactuals, we are referencing different Everettian timelines. @dglickman was very quick to object, a theme would return to in Act 3.
We agreed that technically counterfactuals shouldn’t work at all since logically anything follows from a false premise (in other words, a counterfactual). But we do use them extensively and they are meaningful, so what is going on?
I suggested that counterfactual situations have a distance from the factual situation we observe. To illustrate I mentioned two fictional worlds depicted in film:
In some sense, the 2nd is closer to reality because we share a history before 1939, the beginning of world war 2. It is at least physically possible, as opposed to Reign of Fires that includes real dragons flying around battling modern helicopters. Dragons could not evolve on earth (though I concede we did have very large flying reptiles a 100 million years ago on Earth, and it may be possible that an alien lifeform on a lower gravity planet could look a lot like what we would call a dragon. Not sure about breathing fire, maybe an acid attack like the bombadier beetle’s defense, except it ignites in the alien atmosphere?
Counterfactuals are imaginary. I recalled a message I posted to the neurophilosophy channel on The Bridge discord arguing that imagination is an extension of memory. Once a species evolves memory (which are imaginary in the sense that the experience is no longer true), the next step is to take control of the memory models and tweak parameters to generate other possibilities:
A hierarchy of powers. No choice without imagination. No imagination without memory. No memory without awareness. Make sense?
Act 2 was about the nature of belief. I argued that beliefs were only part of agent models and used to explain and predict conditional behavior, which seemed to be much in line with Peirce’s definition, especially the third part:
And what, then, is belief? It is the demi-cadence which closes a musical phrase in the symphony of our intellectual life. We have seen that it has just three properties: First, it is something that we are aware of; second, it appeases the irritation of doubt; and, third, it involves the establishment in our nature of a rule of action, or, say for short, a habit.
I produced a list I’ve collected of words I equate with belief:
The common theme here is the agent will tend to behave in some way under some conditions.
Act 3 was about the nature of probability and was the most contentious. I suggested that probabilities can be equated with measures over Everettian timelines. Like for a fair coin flip, 50% of the timelines (more or less) would contain a version of me that observed heads and the other 50% would contain a version of me that observed tails. The fact the Daniel objected strongly to this characterization took me by surprise since I thought it was obvious and non-controversial. My understanding of Daniels position is he thought that 50/50 split in timelines would only apply to quantum level observations like observing the spin of a single particle, and the classical events like a coin flip would have all (or almost all?) timelines collect in the observation of heads or tails.
We tried to find the crux of our disagreement with various modifications of the experiment, such as a biased coin, a double-headed coin, and a robot that flipped the coin in very controlled circumstances to fix the outcome. In all cases we would bet the same way, so were unable to distinguish our disagreement despite some fairly heated discussion
For better or worse, I was called away to work before we reached any resolutions. To be continued?
After a brief discussion of Pinker’s new book on Rationality (which I’m currently enjoying) and Julia Galef’s recent book The Scout Mindset (which I recommend, though @dglickman didn’t finish it) we got into Jessica Taylor’s article on counterfactuals and how acceptable (or not) it is to entertain logical inconsistencies. @Valeria’s description of how we only observe projections of thin slices of reality, and how two projections of the same thing from different perspectives can look inconsistent on a first pass reminded me of the cover art from GEB:
I would still argue here that reality is always internally consistent, and any apparent inconsistencies could be resolved at least in theory, with a deeper understanding.
I was aware that there were many competing decision theories, namely:
I speculated that they were invented to resolve decision paradoxes like Newcomb’s, the smoking lesion, and Parfit’s hitchhiker. Daniel ventured that the paradoxes were more likely invented to illustrate the different approaches to decision theory.
Somehow we got on to a long tangent about how our current technology stack in computing is a terrible mess (largely due to leaky abstractions) and we are in dire need of a complete rewrite (like urbit is attempting but not necessarily the way urbit is attempting).
So if we ask “Why is the physics of our universe the way it is?”, an important part of the answer is “Because we observe the universe the way we do”.
I was not the only one to get strong Tegmark 4 vibes for obvious reasons.
The part on alien interpretations of the Ruliad led to an interesting question: Could there be the signature of civilizations lurking in seemingly random phenomena like the CMB?
Still on of my all time fave books:
10 years and 1 day ago I proposed the Reality Equation which equates the Continuum (real numbers) with Reality:
The idea was that since the binary expansion of the reals includes all possible patterns, it also necessarily includes all ideas, all programs, all simulations, all observations, all observers, i.e. the Ruliad.
@Valeria posted a link to The Egg. We had all seen or read it before, but some were surprised to learn that it was by the same author as The Martian. (No, not that Martian )
We got into a bit of a rabbit hole on whether infinities exist in any real sense. Some subscribe to the school of thought that not even very large numbers exist if our universe is finite…
I speculated that we might be embedded in a finite Ruliad, limited by the total amount of information in our universe. Estimates like this are sometimes arrived at by treating the whole universe as a blackhole using the Bekenstein bound.
How many ANNs do we need to simulate one real neuron? Probably <1000 assuming biological neurons aren’t any more powerful than Turing machines. Evan argued that we just don’t know whether or not we would have to simulate down to the atomic particle level to replicate human intelligence (or consciousness? unclear). This led to a general dunk on neuroscience as being too infected by folk psychology.
It readily became apparent why this selection was suggested (h/t @dglickman), the connections to Chapman’s meaningness project were obvious with the theme of exhortations against the Scylla and Charybdis and Eternalism and Nihilism. I confessed I felt attacked (as in, “it me”) by the criticisms against materialists which seemed to be identified with anyone not believing in previous or future lives, though to be fair the criticisms were mainly against the goals of acquiring wealth and power in this life. @Evan_McMullen suggested that I don’t really fit the bill because it was really about believing in causality (reading between the lines, I guess).
The deep dive of the week (inspired by @Valeria’s mention that she has started meditating with at the a Shaolin temple) was exploring possible common ancestries in the various lineages of Eastern traditions, contemplative and martial arts and the intersections. Some topics that came up:
The rant of the week was about the dangers of Kundalini yoga (h/t @Evan_McMullen)…
Somehow we got on the topic of color perception and I expressed some disbelief that some cultures may only discern two color bands in a typical rainbow (I see at least 5 while conceding there are no hard boundaries):
In the end I asked if Garland of Views contains wisdom, are the claims true? Not at all unexpectedly, Evan suggested that was the wrong way to look at it. GoV should be considered a metamap, a guide to when to apply various different maps to different situations. Definitely worth a read, especially considering the text is over 1000 years old.
Next meeting will be Jan 8
We’ll start reading Heidegger’s classic, just the intro (around 70 pp)
Page numbers are from the Mcquarrie and Robinson translation. @Valeria is reading it in the original German! Before this meeting, I would have given even odds on whether the group would vote to continue, but happily, everyone found the intro to be more intelligible (or less obtuse) than the reputation that preceded it. I noted that the material, especially the last section of the intro defining the world “phenomenon” was more pedantic than anything else I recall ever reading. Normally this would be taken as a criticism, but in this case, it was appreciated.
We welcomed back @Sahil after a long hiatus, who led with a question: Is being a question? Others agreed that rather than Being being a question itself, Heidegger was interrogating what it meant. Evan mentioned that “seek” shares a root with “sniffing out”
The discussion of seeking reminded Valeria of the work of Jaak Panksepp…
We spent quite some time discussing the meaning of Dasein. I wondered if the term applied only to humans, or maybe only a subset of humans (for whom Being was an issue, as Heidegger says)? The jury is still out on that question, maybe it will become more clear later.
Evan noted that Heidegger’s project bears more than a family resemblance to Eastern traditions, especially Buddhism and Zen. For such a wordy book it seems to lean away from linguistic philosophy. I noted the passing similarity to the work of Heidegger’s contemporary Wittgenstein, working in the analytic tradition, but likewise attempting to uproot the whole of the Western philosophical tradition in a sense. Was Plato ultimately responsible for putting Western civilization on this path? What if he had never existed? Would that have been preferable even if that means that a completely different set of people would be alive today? (Personally, I would rather be alive )
Before I had to go we were talking past each other quite a bit until we defined what we meant by Hierarchy - Wikipedia. It is good to define one’s terms!
We led with a discussion of Heidegger’s writing style. Was he being deliberately abstruse, writing for his peers in early 20th century European academia (almost certainly). Dreyfus was apparently able to cover the same ground in a much more approachable manner, but obviously with the advantages of hindsight. Would there even be a Dreyfus if Heidegger had not paved the way?
We contrasted Heidegger’s aversion to making up new words for new concepts with LW-style rationalists, especially Eliezer. LWers were often accused of failing to include proper academic attribution for their arguments and ideas, but of course, that criticism only lands in academia.
I made an attempt to associate Heidegger’s phenomenology as pre-conceptual, and giving rise to subject and object, with Pirsig’s Metaphysics of Quality and Landry’s Immanent Metaphysics.
I had just recently been listening to an episode of the What Is Money podcast discussing Pirsig’s philosophy and his book Lila.
TIL Peter Thiel was literally a student of René Girard at Stanford
I found a couple of free study guides linked on reddit
We began with a discussion of the translation. Chapter 3 talks a lot about “equipment” and I was wondering whether “tools” would have been a better translation or even a modern term like “affordances” since that seems to be the gist. For what’s it’s worth, Valeria thought not. We got a brief lesson in German word construction based on “zueg” for “thing”, e.g. Flugzeug “flying thing” for airplane, and Feuerzeug “fire thing” for lighter.
The word “thing” in English might be the most generic noun. Everything is a thing. Even numbers are things in a sense. That led to a discussion of what is real which reminded me of the TOE podcast I had just started with Vervaeke and Bach. Daniel had already listened to it, and confessed that he was lately finding more to disagree with Vervaeke.
Daniel recommended this recent episode with Rovelli. (I recognized the name because of his recent book on the history of QM, Helgoland)
Valeria asked if I had an elevator pitch for my own TOE. I said we’re all living in a simulation, but not a synthetic one, but a natural one, emerging from randomness. Basically, if there is a primordial realm that is generating all possible patterns, then the universe that we observe must be one of them. There is a brief writeup of my “bit string theory” at the metamind site.
We got into another debate about the many-worlds interpretation of QM and whether it makes any practical difference. I suggested that Everettian timelines provided a physical explanation for probabilities while (deja vu) Daniel disagreed. We’ll have to continue that one later. The conversation turned to different interpretations of probability, Solomonff induction, AIXI, self-locating in possibility space, and the metaphysics of probability theory.
Somehow we looped back to TOE podcast where Joscha Bach was describing how colors were not out in the world, but rather a construction of mind, as he discovered building robots at MIT to play soccer (not that this was a new discovery, but one that we have to keep rediscovering I guess). @Valeria recommends a color discernment game for mobile devices: I Love Hue (can confirm the first few levels were fun to play). We speculated that most people have not yet internalized that colors are not wavelengths, despite the popularity of optical illusions demonstrating this fact.
(the squares labeled A and B have the same pixel values)
There was some disagreement over the merits of Evolutionary Psychology in general. Though we all agreed that there are many silly EvoPsych explanations in the popular press, we seemed to disagree on whether there was more to it than that. Does EvoPsych matter? What does it buy us? I suggested that if you are trying to deal with a significant societal problem at the policy level (I suggested violent crime as one example), then it does matter whether how much of the source of the problem is genetic vs cultural. I offered up Harden’s new book as evidence that it matters:
@dglickman mentioned he was surprised at how well the book has been received, at least on the podcast circuit, given that the message is essentially the same as the one in the infamous The Bell Curve. Good point.
As planned with started with a discussion of the TOE episode:
I thought we would eventually pivot back to the book but was surprised that the ensuing threads of discussion often wove in Heidegger so there was never a point where we had to make the switch.
We all noted that though Vervaeke and Bach have a lot in common academically they came in with very different conversational styles, Vervaeke was very apologetic and tentative in an authentic relating style of dialogos that he is known for, while Bach is very much an austic German (in @Valeria’s words ) and, while still very good-natured, was having none of this touchy-feely stuff.
I mentioned last week that I was only an hour into the conversation but I was surprised at how little they seem to disagree about everything. I was amused when near the end Bach made exactly the same observation. To be fair, this conversation was labeled Round 1, so perhaps we should expect them to defer getting into the real arguments at a later date.
It seemed that Bach was quite sympathetic to Vervaeke’s Neoplatonist stance so we discussed how to interpret that.
That rabbit hole of the week (again? seems like deja vu) was the question of what is real, or in what sense various things could be said to be real. Do physical laws exist? How do we know they are universal and/or immutable, given we can only infer them from observation?
This naturally transitioned into a discussion of the reality of abstractions, concepts, and patterns. Are abstractions necessary for thought? Are patterns functional (I suggested they are, they are used for pattern-matching). Is a concept a “thing”? (@dglickman says no, I say yes)
On the topic of what it takes to learn quantum mechanics, I proposed a model involving students as photons passing through two polarizing filters, one for high school (that turns them off of math), and a second one at the university level (that requires an interest in math, so it is orthogonal to the first filter). No students can get through unless a 3rd filter is intervened between the first two at an intermediate angle (representing rekindling the students’ interest in math). Only then can the students make it out the other side with an understanding of QM.
If anyone wishes to start learning about QM I recommended a couple books:
Daniel rightly pointed out that both are biased toward the Everettian (many worlds) interpretation. I concede other interpretations exist, but they have to make additional assumptions to collapse the wave and rule out the other possibilities described in the wave equation:
I’ve started reading Wallace, but it is going to take some time to absorb…
Transcripts for Awakening from the Meaning Crisis
(I tipped the transcribers a sufficient amount to get an offline version, the pdf is >1000 pages!)
We started our brief return to Chapman with a discussion of the concept of the essentially contested concept. Strange that this seemed new to us, given that it is at the core of the culture wars and has been since the beginning.
We asked the question of whether it was possible to be certain of anything? I suggested that I can be certain of purely logical statements, like assuming ~A or B is true, and A is true, I can be certain that B is true (modus ponens).
I challenged @Valeria’s contention that it was possible to be rational without being reasonable and she offered Spock as an example. I’m not convinced because I see Spock as kind of a caricature of a rationalist. Julia Galef did a good job of showing how Spock is in fact not very rational:
@dglickman brought of Sorites paradox in the context of the limits of logic.
In the end, I conceded that I can’t be certain of anything in the real world, in the sense that it is always possible that I’m mistaken, even when I’m essentially betting my life that it is safe to cross the street.
Can we locate the first domino falling in the 19th century with non-Euclidean geometry?
Humans have been physiologically modern for >250k years. What changed 10-15k years ago to launch civilization?
One amusing theory is the invention/discovery of beer
Returning to the very beginning of the article, Chapman wrote:
For centuries, the systematic mode had provided certainty, based on those illusory understandings of meaningness. I want to show you their shock, horror, and bewilderment as their justifications fell through beneath them. Unfortunately, I cannot do that, because I am incapable of imagining such certainty. Probably you are too. I have lived all my life in a culture that constantly reinforces the message that meaning is a matter of perspective.
I find it fascinating to think that people born not too long ago lived in the world before the collapse of rationality at the beginning of the 20th century. I remember visiting my great-grandparents on my father’s mother’s side who were both born ~1885 so they were young adults when this happened.
On the topic of how important society is to living a meaningful life, we considered thought experiments of what humans would be like if they could somehow be raised without any culture.
TIL someone was allegedly raised by ostriches:
Next week we return to Being and Time chapter 5 (sections 28-33, pp 169-202)
It fell upon just @dglickman and me to interpret the first half of ch. 5, seemingly the most difficult and important one yet. We started by discussing how to interpret what Heidegger meant by various terms and concepts: throwness and possibility, fear, understanding and interpretation. I mentioned that the mode of discourse employed here was quite reminiscent of post-modern philosophers like Derrida and Foucault, which led to a discussion of the split and character of Continental vs Analytic philosophy, and how American philosophy (e.g. Peirce and Dewey) were related.
Even ancient philosophy like Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations written over 1800 years ago seems much more approachable than Heidegger. Is that mostly because the English translations are better (perhaps) or because Aurelius was “just some guy” as Daniel put it, not a pretentious academic? Almost certainly some combination, but I’m leaning towards the latter. Aurelius was relatively plain-spoken when writing just for himself, not trying to impress fellow academics for status.
Returning to ch. 5, my interpretation of “understanding” is that it requires access to a model of what is understood, the better the model, the deeper the understanding. Daniel asked when the concept of model started being employed in philosophy, relatively recently? I speculated that it probably started when cognitive science was integrated into philosophy of mind with academics like Dennett, Churchland, Fodor, and Searle. The latter elicited quite a reaction of disgust from Daniel and I had to agree, no one likes Searle, not really. Daniel thought he is over-rated, and I think he is just wrong.
This tangent led to the rabbit hole of the week with Daniel’s provocative assertion that most philosophers do bad philosophy. I suggested that this might be necessarily true given the nature of philosophy in exploring concepts on the edge of our (humanity’s) thinking. If it was more rigorous then most concepts would be prevented from entering the mainstream, so standards must necessarily be more lax at the border.
What kind of philosophy has the highest standards? I proposed mathematics. Which has the lowest? I proposed theology. I still find it hard to believe you can get a PhD in theology at high-status universities in 2022 given that it is entirely premised on nonsense. Daniel objected, suggesting that it was possible to find some decent philosophy within theology such as Plantinga. I’m not familiar enough to say, so I’ll have to reserve judgment.
I do think it is possible to do decent philosophy of religion. There seems to be a recent (and somewhat surprising) revival of religion entering the liminal web space with thinkers like Vervaeke, Peterson, Pageau, and Limberg.
We ended with a discussion of salons. What is the logos and telos of the Aubergine Society? I pointed to Chapman’s bridge article. We want to find a way to meta-rationality, to Kegan level 5, to the fluid mode. In other words, how to live real good by thinking real good
We started the session with some Idle Talk about the devolving political situation in Canada which led to an interesting discussion about polarization vs. atomization. I suggested they may be two ends of a spectrum, with polarization implying two opposing sides (opposite poles), while atomization corresponds to increasingly numerous and small tribes.
We spent some time avoiding talking about the book, instead discussing the nature of categories. I suggested categories were sets, but agreed that they aren’t the same as mathematical sets after Daniel pushed back. Vision is a useful metaphor for talking about categories which led us to pareidolia and optical illusions.
Valeria presented several images that could be characterized as sexual pareidolia. Funny that if you think any are NSFW that just means you’re the one with the dirty mind
Somewhat reluctantly returning to Heidegger, I mentioned a remarkable synchronicity on my twitter timeline:
From the above article:
The philosopher Martin Heidegger calls this type of discourse “idle talk”. According to Heidegger, “When we engage in idle talk we do not so much understand the things which are talked about; we are only listening to what is said-in-the-talk as such. What is said-in-the-talk gets understood; but what the talk is about is understood only approximately and superficially. We have the same thing in view because it is in the same averageness that we have a common understanding of what is said.”
The article was focused on the section about “Idle Talk” which just so happened to be the next part of the book I was reading.
Daniel had a nice quote, “synchronicity as a conspiracy that defies thermodynamics”. Here’s another one:
Another short break from Heidegger to return to a recent article from Chapman. As @dglickman mentioned last week, this one covers familiar ground, but it hit me differently this time. I had read and understood Chapman’s critiques of eternalism at an intellectual level, but for whatever reason (maybe I was just properly primed this time), reading this article caused a subjective shift in my mindset to the point I felt I was experiencing some form of epistemic vertigo. I compared it to the sensation of swimming in deep water when a sudden realization that there is a vastness below and anything can be swimming around down there causes a bit of a panic attack. One paragraph in particular triggered this felt-sense:
When that is done, you can use two systems concerning the same subject matter, at the same time—even if they are contradictory. Contradiction is not necessarily a problem in the domain of meaning, because meaning is nebulous.
I was thinking that logical contradiction was my main tool for distinguishing truth from falsehoods, and if I can’t depend on that then I have no way of telling sense from nonsense. For a moment I let go of clinging to this raft in deep water and felt the aforementioned vertigo.
@Valeria recounted one of the first time she felt something similar when doing grad studies in a prestigious neuroscience lab. Going in she had an idealized view of how science was done, but was quickly disillusioned by how it was done in practice. It was all about funding and the politics of peer review. She didn’t know that it was called p-hacking but she knew that it was wrong. It didn’t help that the lab’s director was a hypocrite.
We celebrated @Evan_McMullen 's return with a deep dive on how communities are often susceptible to takeover from grifters and parasites.
Coincidentally the subject of a recent Stoa:
What it feels like to realize all your beliefs are groundless according to Valeria
Being and Time, finishing Division 1 with ch. 6 (pp. 225-273)
In the end it was just @dglickman and me with the fortitude to finish the first half of Being and Time. I confessed it was quite the slog, probably the most difficult book I had ever (partially) read, excepting university text books. In retrospect I’m glad I had read it in the “achievement unlocked” sense, of kind of like how you might not enjoy a vacation in the moment but you do enjoy the memories and stories later.
Still, there were valuable bits and we both enjoyed the discussion of Dasein and truth in the latter part of ch. 6. I like how the ancient greek word for truth, alethia (αλέθεια), literally means unhidden or disclosed. Daniel’s interpretation was that Heidegger is suggesting that truth is a process, and that certainly resonates. I’m slowly but surely coming around to the conclusion that everything is a process a la Whitehead.
Daniel posed the question, What is the real difference between materialism and idealism? I said I was leaning towards Landry’s Immanent Metaphysics with the view that they were two sides of the same coin, that one implied that other and there was something more fundamental that gives rise to both, that Forrest locates in “relation”. The question arose because I mentioned I had just discovered the Essentia Foundation apparently directed by Bernado Kastrup, which
aims at communicating, in an accurate yet accessible way, the latest analytic and scientific indications that metaphysical materialism is fundamentally flawed. Indeed, clear reasoning and the evidence at hand indicate that metaphysical idealism or nondualism—the notion that nature is essentially mental—is the best explanatory model we currently have. This is known in specialist communities, but hasn’t yet been openly communicated, in an accessible manner, to the culture at large.
Everyone involved agrees that Sabine Hossenfelder’s conversation with Bernardo Kastrup on Superdeterminism and Metaphysics was a disaster:
Daniel and I discovered we both have aspirations to learn modern physics and thus a new spin-off book club was born! We’re planning to cover Sean Carroll’s new series starting with:
Sadly it won’t be published until Sept. 20 so we’re considering starting with the related 24-part video series:
For the remainder of the session we did a deep dive on the history of religions, nation states, and egregores. What might a new religion look like based around the idea of a “liberal theocracy”? To explore the idea I role-played a curious acolyte and asked Daniel to give me the sales pitch. Of course the devil is in the details, but by the end of it I was willing to sign up. Another potential project!
For next week we’re going to continue with Meaningness:
We’re planning to mix it up a bit by including related external material as we go.
We began the discussion with personal accounts of our experience with Eternalism, i.e. religious backgrounds. @Valeria connected growing up in a Catholic/Spiritism culture to her current Buddhism.
No matter what hardships you might encounter, it was all part of the plan, the spirits are conspiring to test you for your own good. I made a connection to “playing in hard mode”, a concept from video games. I was reminded of “fun theory” which recognizes that a game that is too easy or too hard is not fun, their is an optimal difficulty for engagement, learning, and reward.
@Evan_McMullen talked about choosing to quit the boy scouts when he was young over a requirement to submit to a “higher power” however broadly defined. (Not unliked AA I noted) This reminded me of the notion of preference falsification, and I related it to how my employer, like many tech companies, is now requiring ideological submission rituals.
We did a deep dive on trying to understand Nihilism, and it really came down to the meaning of meaning. I was pleasantly surprised how quickly Valeria and I arrived a consensus definition, that meaning is the product of the process of interpretation. Meaning is subjective to the extent that it depends on the interpreter, and “objective” to the extent that different interpreters translate the same observations (inputs) to the same meaning (outputs). Since there can be no universal interpreter (assuming no god), then there can be no truly objective meaning.
We spent the remainder of the session interpreting the meaning of a twitter thread proposing a theory of the difference between rats (LW rationalists) and post-rats:
tl;dr The LessWrong sequences have content and vibe, and post-rats generally accept the content while rejecting the vibe. Valeria confessed she hates the vibe of LW, so is sympathetic to the post-rats. I personally don’t mind the vibe, but I can still imagine how others might find it annoying or otherwise cringe. Of course everyone is free to create another community blog with the same content and better vibe, but no one has yet done so as far as I know.
I plan to be on a beach somewhere near Cancun during our regular meeting time next week, so it is unlikely I will attend but the meeting will proceed without me covering the next chapter:
We started with a discussion of the meaning of meaningness. Though Chapman explicitly says his book is not about semantics (the meaning of words and symbols), I speculated that there might be a deep relation between semantics and the kind of meaning that Meaningness is about (purpose, ethics, selfhood). @Evan_McMullen suggested that Chapman might disagree with some of the assumptions upstream of linguistic semantics.
It is indeed a bit strange that philosophy was about Chapman-style meaningness for most of its history from ancient Greece until the so-called Linguistic Turn. We blamed Frege, Russel, Wittegenstein and Kripke.
Cool that Kripke is still around today!
We took a brief detour talking about SSC and the Rationalists and I mentioned that I had enjoyed Tom Chiver’s (very sympathetic) book
and was surprised to find myself mentioned by name:
Back to Chapman, we agreed most people probably subscribe to the Eternalist stance, and they likely understand the problems or inconsistencies at some level but actively avoid asking questions. Evan called this an anti-memetic defence, referencing the popular SCP series
ACX has a really fun (pay-walled) short story on a related theme called The Onion Knight
Somehow this led to a discussion of institutional human sacrifice and how it disappeared in most of the world around the same time as agriculture arose which may not be a coincidence.
Finally returning to the material we discussed Chapman’s concept of enjoyable usefulness:
Enjoyable usefulness is the stance that purposes are co-created in an appreciative, compassionate dance with the world; both mundane and higher purposes can be meaningful; you might as well find things to do that are both enjoyable for you and meaningful for others.
… which reminded me of the Japanese concept of ikigai:
When I say “think about thinking about,” I mean that if you ask “How do you think about questions of meaning, value, purpose, or ethics,” the answer is something like “I’m a Christian / existentialist / progressive / Jungian.” Or more likely, nowadays when few people want to commit to a single system, they may mention several.
@Evan_McMullen made the interesting point that when things are going well in your life you typically don’t think about meaning, value, and purpose very much. Only when things are going badly or you’re in a depressive state are those topics foregrounded. Ethics, on the other hand, often comes up many times each day, if not for your own actions, then when judging the actions and statements of others.
I also agreed with Evan that the domain of driving offers a microcosm into the world of ethics. The ethics of attention (or more precisely, inattention) has become quite salient with the advent of smartphones in the context of driving. Distracted driving has always been a serious issue, but seems to have become significantly worse in the past several years.
One of the first lessons that parents pass onto their children is the classic and fundamental “look where you’re going” which turns out to be pretty deep when you think about it. I find myself silently wishing this lesson on grown up strangers all the time. That, and the similar message “it is OK to be slow or even stop, but at least get out of the way”. I’m beginning to understand why older people have a reputation for being grumpy all the time.
The topic turned to some recent drama at a Rationalist workshop. Without going into too many private details, Evan offered an explanation for why this seems to happen more often than one my expect (attributed to EY himself), and that is that when organizations can’t pay their volunteers with money they pay in narrative instead, and that has a side effect of introducing a lot of drama because identity and reputation get intimately involved.
We had a full house, with Arizona (Christian) joining the regulars. We revisited the meaning of meaning in the meaningness sense, agreeing that it was possible to find meaning in practically any pattern, even the Virgin Mary in a slice of grilled cheese…
We agreed that Plato is the worst (@dglickman said “without Plato there would be no Hitler”). @Evan_McMullen blames Plato for neutering the Western shamanic tradition as described in Kingsley’s Reality:
I blamed Plato for literally inventing academic philosophy, taking philosophy out of the streets and out of practice, into the The Academy. We didn’t have much good to say about Freud either. I recalled an old favorite book that took both Plato and Freud to task:
Evan suggested that science was made of copium. I responded with a proposal that science was made of equal parts cope and vibe, but Evan asserted cope is more fundamental which reminded me of Landry’s metaphysics. This line of thought led to a breakthrough, a new triple: cope is immanent, vibe is transcendent, and cringe is omniscient. There was much rejoicing.
The rabbit hole of the week was discussing how to make sense of the notion of God. It seemed that every time we were able to arrive at a concept that made some sense (e.g. Jung’s God or Spinoza’s God), we had drifted away from the common understanding. This was further complicated by confusion between God as concept and God as referent, same label for both.
Arizona recalled that Carse and Vervaeke agreed that neo-Platonism was a decent starting point:
After the meeting, Arizona discovered that Vervaeke in a recent (published Friday) conversation with Rowson ended up in pretty much the same place we did on the topic: