Entries Tagged 'life' ↓

Bits and bobs as we enter 2010

  • OpenCog is getting get a bit of comment on twitter, which might in part be due to it being linked on Hacker News.
  • I’ve started up at Jai Thai Kickboxing, which is just around the corner from where I live so I hope to get 4-5 sessions in a week. After my first session my shins and feet are somewhat bruised, this could indicate that my technique leaves something to be desired. Equally likely however is that my shins just need to harden up!
  • I read in the paper that Avatar is the faster movie to reach a billion dollars at the box office. It was very pretty, but it was also only a passable story. I hope that Avatar’s success will show the movie industry that they need to adapt by making cinema an immersive experience so that they are providing people a reason to go to the cinema instead of watching movies at home.
  • My life experience keeps expanding and it makes me feel alive. I stand by my assertion that the meaning of life is experience.

Connectedness and gift giving

It’s Christmas time, and I enjoy getting gifts for people even though I’m not religious. I’ve also been enjoying getting rid of lots of stuff I don’t use/need. This not only makes me feel like I’m clearing out mental space (I have Tyler Durden’s words echoing in my head “The things you own, end up owning you”) but also makes me feel good that other people are getting something that they want/need. Especially since I’m either giving the stuff away or selling it cheaply on TradeMe.

I googled “It’s better to give than receive.” since that’s the quote that’s automatically been ingrained into my psyche. Turns out it’s from the Bible, Acts 20:35 (King James Version):

“I have showed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'”

(I guess “more blessed” translates to “better” these days.)

Never mind that giving psychologically makes us happier than spending money on ourselves. It also physiologically affects us, by releasing, not only the good old reward molecule Dopamine, but also the love neurotransmitter Oxytocin (unfortunately the mention of oxytocin isn’t in the abstract, but it’s discussed here).

There is another aspect of gift giving I want to mention, which I haven’t got any references for, but is based on my intuition on the mechanics of intelligence. When we give someone a gift, we usually have a reason for it, and when we choose a gift for them we tend to think “Will the person like this?”. The act of that means we have to emulate, model, and predict what they want and by activation it re-enforces their pattern within our mind. Does this inadvertently get us thinking of other aspects of their personality and of what other people might like too? I’ve discussed how part of love is the strong bonding of patterns, one’s self in another mind, their mind emulated in the self. This twinning makes us feel connected to the other person. To me, it makes sense that going through this process while selecting gifts for other people will inevitably make one feel more connected in general. And as mentioned above, the neurotransmitter associated with love is also released during giving.

Maybe this is why the gifting economy of Kiwiburn (and the American equivalent) is such a central part of the festivals and contributes to them being such enjoyable experiences.

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
— Winston Churchill

Will it be okay?

This is a piece of writing from Hubbards cereal newsletter #36 – I used to have it on my wall when I was incredibly depressed, it was a amusing light in otherwise dark time. I’m miles from that place now, so am going to throw the newsletter out, but the writing itself deserves transcribing.

Will it be okay?
by Crescent Dragonwagon.

Yes it will.

But what if a big dog comes?

You will know whether it is friendly or not, if it is friendly, you pat it, if it is not you stand perfectly still and unafraid and it stops barking and comes to you and sits quietly beside you.

But what if there is thunder and lightning?

Continue reading →

Things I have learned

I’m not old, a mere 27 years in fact, but there are a few things I’ve come to discover. Things that it’d be nice to have been taught in school, but that instead I’ve discovered haphazardly:

  1. The first step to doing anything is believing you can – One thing that I’ve noticed, is that some people sabotage themselves before they even try. They just believe that they can’t do something, or it’s too hard. Some people have told me I’m smart, whereas mostly I think I’m pretty average. What I do however, is have an absence of restriction. If I want to do something, the only restriction is time. This is important when you’re doing something like working on a thinking machine.
  2. You can’t do everything – You’ll notice the caveat above about time being the only restriction. When I was a kid, I wanted to read the entirety of Encyclopaedia Britannica… I got to about “Aardvark” before I realised it was mostly dull (no offense to the long-nosed beasts!). I’m still struggling with this one, I have so many things I’d like to do, that I frequently wonder if I’m overcommitted and if the more optimal path would be to obsessively focus on one thing and one thing only… but then I realised that if I tried that I’d get bored. I’m too curious and have grown up in the age of variegated knowledge at our finger tips.
  3. Emotions are cues – they give you an indication of something going on internally. Something that might not be able to be immediately expressed verbally, and if it’s a negative emotion it probably indicates something isn’t right. And by “isn’t right” I don’t mean it’s necessarily to do with the external world, it could be an indication that there’s something inside that hasn’t been resolved. However, don’t make them the focus.. since everyone likes analogies, and I’m particularly good at straining my analogies: think of emotions like the gauges on your car for temperature, fuel, etc. They are important, so that the engine doesn’t explode, or so that you don’t run out of fuel, but if you spend the whole time focusing on the gauges, you’ll miss the scenary. Anger specifically, I feel can be boiled down to “when something or someone doesn’t act the way you expect/want them to” – every time I’ve been angry, it’s because my expectations don’t match reality… so mostly it’s about having a world view that doesn’t quite match reality (or the consensus of reality, as described below).
  4. Nothing is objective – you can argue whatever view you like, but most of us reach consensus about a specific interpretation of physical reality because of shared modalities and the wet-ware for interpreting them. That doesn’t mean you’re right if you subscribe to the current scientific consensus. Humanity collectively believed silly things like the world being flat, or the Earth being the centre of the universe. Knowledge and truth are dynamic, and they’ll continue to be so. Keep an open mind. And because I like loops, link back to point 1 about believing you can… since nothing is objective, you can believe you can do anything you like[1].
  5. I’m sure there are others, but those are the ones that came to me just now. What do you wish they’d mentioned to you when in school?

    [1] If you believe you can fly, you can (buy a plane ticket, or go sky-diving). But jumping off a building is just dumb, so don’t do that ok?

Aha, it makes sense now

An essay by Paul Graham on Why Nerds are Unpopular:

When I was in school, suicide was a constant topic among the smarter kids. No one I knew did it, but several planned to, and some may have tried. Mostly this was just a pose. Like other teenagers, we loved the dramatic, and suicide seemed very dramatic. But partly it was because our lives were at times genuinely miserable.

Bullying was only part of the problem. Another problem, and possibly an even worse one, was that we never had anything real to work on. Humans like to work; in most of the world, your work is your identity. And all the work we did was pointless, or seemed so at the time.

And there was no way to opt out. The adults had agreed among themselves that this was to be the route to college. The only way to escape this empty life was to submit to it.

Which, in my personal experience is completely true.

I’m a lot happier when the work and tasks I’m doing have a reason. Written problems bored me silly, and I got much more reward back from helping my friends with them. Scripted laboratory work was similar, although a little better.

Perhaps that’s why I liked computer science early on. It was possible to easily experiment with whatever you liked. You didn’t need the tutors to arrange the right chemicals or reagents beforehand (as in biochemistry or genetics).

Love and Separation

In the past, I’ve written about the drug like effects of love. When I wrote that, it was from a retrospective viewpoint based on my prior experience but while single.

Now I find myself in love again, with a fantastic woman, and it’s interesting to be just a little bit more aware of the psychological stuff that goes on. The warm feeling of love, the companionship, and the equality.

However, there have also been the less pleasant effects. For instance, I’ve noticed that after spending a lot of time with my partner, and then going to a period of her absence, the day after I feel listless and generally down. “Of course” you say, “that’s what it’s like, you miss your partner when you’re apart!”. I understand that, and I don’t want to be indifferent to when the next time I’ll see her will be. It’s nice looking forward to spending time with someone. At the same time however, I wish the physiological effects were not so real, because they don’t actually contribute to my mental health as far as I can tell. After the initial down, I fortunately remember that I really appreciate and enjoy my time alone and get to work on a variety of fantastic and interesting projects. Time as an individual cements the concept of my independent self, which I think is important, so that when I spend more time with my partner I have more to offer.

In fact, she’s expressed similar ideas, but from a different angle. Bringer together two whole people is more amazing than seeking yourself in or minimising yourself for another.

Zero-point existence

Recently I’ve been reading a combination of Undulating ungulate‘s book draft which discusses science, mysticism, and reality.

I’ve also been reading up some about quantum physics, and the idea of the evolution of physical properties of the universe. I’d like to read more about the ideas and work of John Wheeler and David Finkelstein (both being suggested researchers to investigate when I asked Ben Goertzel about a starting point on evolving physical laws).

This, combined with working on stuff for OpenCog, has led to several immensely surreal moments. Mostly while lying in bed about to drift of to sleep, when all reality and time collapses into a single point. Well perhaps not all reality, but at least my life and memories. Possibly this is a cognitive effect of memories being more easily retrievable in the state just before sleep? At any rate, given that: I think free will is just an immensely useful illusion of consciousness, and that physics tells us that the fabric of reality is space-time instead of two perpendicular concepts. It’s not infeasible to believe that seeing the future is possible. In fact, that’s exactly what intelligence does. We make predictions about the future. The question is, can we make predictions on things that, based on our limited of knowledge about the universe, are essentially random or make predictions that are more probabilistically accurate than our past experience allows?

I’ve also bought Outside the gates of science by Damien Broderick, which should be an interesting read. The book addresses some of the paranormal effects in experiments that have been deemed statistically significant but as of yet cannot be rationally explained (actually I bought this last year, I just have lots of reading queued up).

Navel gazing from the past…

I’ve going back through some draft posts which I never published. Here’s one from way back last year some time. I should note that I don’t really believe I have Asperger’s or anything like that. I also now believe that “breadth of ideas” is a natural consequence of the parallel nature of the brain. But, being the hoarder and preservationist of digital information that I am, I couldn’t just delete this… so here it is.

In the past I’ve read about aspects of Asperger’s syndrome and in the past have wondered if I’ve got some small inclination towards it. I function reasonably well now though, but this is only through years of practice and working on the things the are traditionally deficient in someone with the syndrome. On deeper reading of the wikipedia article, it’s more likely that they are simply surface similarities. I certainly learnt a lot from being in intimate relationships and am constantly trying to improve (and maintain) my social abilities, but the fact is that I taught myself to look people in the eye while holding a conversation, to exhibit confidence instead of trepidation and to use my empathy to feel what others feel (instead of shutting it out of my head due to it being overwhelming).
Continue reading →

Off to the land of Oz

I’m not a particular regular updater with this particular blog (too many things have been demanding my attention lately), but I thought I’d drop a note to say I’ll be off the radar for a week or so…

I’ll be attending Burning man. I’m immensely looking forward to this as this is the first year in several that’s actually been feasible for me to get there from New Zealand. I’ll be with an Australian theme camp called Straya that a friend of mine put me in contact with, and who’ll also be there.

As well as Burning man, I plan to hang out in Washington D.C with Ben to talk about our work on OpenCog. Then I’ll stay in San Francisco for 5-6 weeks (end of Sep till start of Nov) to attend the Singularity Summit followed by the CogDev Workshop (an OpenCog coding jam, details to be finalised, but likely to be just after the Summit).

If you’ll be at any of these events and want to chat, drop me a line 🙂

You/Food/Exercise are the perfect drug

This is the first of a number of essays I’ve drafted out, but have left stagnating in my “to write” pile. They are distinctly without references, because I didn’t have the time to trawl for them, but I welcome critique and/or addendum from my readers.

Government’s seem to have a fascination with criminalising substances that change mental awareness, however there are so many things that do this, it’s strange that they intervene in some cases but not in others. Consistency and reliability are key components of trust, how does one trust a government with an erratic value system for experiencing our consciousness?

It’s been exclaimed in poetry and songs, love is a drug, a quintessential part of human experience. The euphoric highs when you meet someone special, planning how you might met with them again for a coffee in order to get another dose of those powerful attractants. Let alone all the other emotions which they themselves are based on a concoction of organic compounds. Being human, love is a strong attractor for the complex system of the human mind. If you get torn asunder from this attractor, it can feel like physical pain: severe withdrawal symptoms that can lead to anger, regret, and depression. In extreme cases murder (if other people are involved), and/or suicide. And yet the government allows it. This seemingly random experience that we cannot control – unlike substances that change our awareness, which we are free to control through our own will and determination in the universe (if you believe in free will of course, I chose to, even if I don’t really, because it’s leads to a much more effective life).

Continue reading →