“Evidence never works, stop trying to respond to it”

… as the world becomes even more random and confusing, the brain very slowly adjusts its highest level parameters. It concludes, on a level much deeper than consciousness, that the world does not make sense, that it’s not really useful to act because it’s impossible to predict the consequences of actions, and that it’s not worth drawing on prior knowledge because anything could happen at any time. It gets a sort of learned helplessness about cognition, where since it never works it’s not even worth trying. The onslaught of random evidence slowly twists the highest-level beliefs into whatever form best explains random evidence (usually: that there’s a conspiracy to do random things), and twists the fundamental parameters into a form where they expect evidence to be mostly random and aren’t going to really care about it one way or the other.

Antipsychotics treat the positive symptoms of schizophrenia – the hallucinations and delusions – pretty well. But they don’t treat the negative symptoms much at all (except, of course, clozapine). Plausibly, their antidopaminergic effect prevents the spikes of aberrant prediction error, so that the onslaught of weird coincidences stops and things only seem about as relevant as they really are.

But if your brain has already spent years twisting itself into a shape determined by random coincidences, antipsychotics aren’t going to do anything for that. It’s not even obvious that a few years of evidence working normally will twist it back; if your brain has adopted the hyperprior of “evidence never works, stop trying to respond to it”, it’s hard to see how evidence could convince it otherwise.

— Slate Star Codex, “Treating The Prodrome

Because no one argues for them, no one argues against them

Stances are very simple, and don’t require any specific beliefs or practices. No one explicitly promotes them. You pick them up automatically from our cultural “thought soup.” They are the ways people talk about meaning in soap operas and cafes.

Confused stances are insidious, because they are unnoticed. Because no one argues for them, no one argues against them. They are memes, mental viruses that people propagate by talking, without awareness of them.

— “Stances trump systems“, Meaningness

“Effective in the same sense as coffee”

And my position on the larger problem of meaning is to notice that my life always seems really meaningful and great when I have coffee. If I’m going to try to figure out what the actual meaning of life is, in some sort of deep principled way, I’m going to do it with as much attention to Truth as possible. And if I’m going to give myself some emotional hack that lets myself go on and continue finding life worth living, I think caffeine probably has fewer side effects than falsehood, and is just as effective.

And if you don’t respond to caffeine as well as I do, then I think the overall lesson is that the emotional problem of meaning is a basically biological one, that doesn’t connect with the philosophical problem of meaning nearly as much as you think. Get a good psychiatrist and you’ll solve the emotional problem. The philosophical problem might not be solvable, but “helping others” or “creating a positive singularity” or “[your ingroup’s political goals here]” are, though not Perfectly Objectively Grounded, grounded enough that most people don’t really want to question them once the emotional problem is solved.

I find some of Peterson’s non-truth-value-having writing effective in the same sense as caffeine; it makes me more emotionally willing to follow the truths I know I should be following. Since, jokes aside, I can’t literally be drugged 100% of the time, I appreciate that. And maybe the drug would be stronger if I were to swallow his truth-value-having claims too. But that’s not a risk-benefit profile I’m okay with right now.

— ibid.

The romance of Semitic

Most researchers of Semitic morphology refer to the principal characteristic of Semitic morphology as non-linear or non-concatenative. Namely, instead of morphemes being placed linearly, one after the other before or after the word stem, as prefixes and suffixes, as in English, the morphemic structure of Semitic words is characterized by at least two morphemes interwoven (or interdigitated) within each other in a discontinuous (or non-concatenative) manner. One morpheme is inserted into the other (call it template, pattern, or scheme) in certain slots of the word stem structure. As two morphemes, the root and the template are incomplete in every respect, morphologically, phonologically, and semantically, until they merge to form a word or a word stem.

— Joseph Shimron, Language Processing and Acquisition in Languages of Semitic, Root-Based, Morphology

After the ritual “clearcut”, bloom

All rituals look to have been “clearcut” in the modern world, because few rituals are well-adapted to the new technological human reality. But this new reality may also be seen as an island: a pristine space, unoccupied by past rituals and very leisurely by historical standards, where sensory exploitation selection may flourish: rituals may serve the emotional and aesthetic needs of humans more than ever before, because they are under fewer constraints. Only a tiny percentage of the population is now needed for the production of food, fuel, and other necessities; selection for collective action in unpleasant areas has been dramatically relaxed. There is more room for arbitrary beauty.

— Sarah Perry, “An Ecology of Beauty and Strong Drink

On disorders of totalization and fragmentation

It may be that we need to acknowledge a second kind of life, outside of time, for those who are not capable of living in time. It consists in palliation of the eternal now, rather than plans for the future, like a really horrible version of Zen Buddhism that’s not half as funny, but that is more comfortable than the alternative. The technological and material wealth of modernity could allow a new kind of human zombie to exist, who would have in earlier eras perished by suicide.

Feeling the Future, Sarah Perry at Ribbonfarm

Who can really say?

When I see other people making a big deal out of seemingly-minor problems, I’m in this weird superposition between thinking I’ve avoided them so easily I missed their existence, or fallen into them so thoroughly I’m like the fish who can’t see water.

And when I see other people struggling to understand seemingly-obvious concepts, I’m in this weird superposition between thinking I’m so far beyond them that I did it effortlessly, or so far beneath them that I haven’t even realized there’s a problem.

— Today’s Slate Star Codex, “Concept-Shaped Holes Can Be Impossible To Notice

Particularly resonant today.

Yesterday I reviewed a good summary of Kegan’s developmental stages, and since then, I’ve found myself every few hours waffling between “I’m so metasystematic I can’t even remember Stage 4” and “I’ve never learned how to cope with systems”.

America in decline: nothing personal

When I arrived in the United States, curiously enough, it was precisely at the end of the long positive structural-demographic (SD) trend, which saw historically unprecedented rise in broadly based measures of well-being, including its economic and biological aspects. The trend reversal from the integrative to disintegrative SD trend can be dated fairly precisely to 1977-1978…

In other words, just as the US was triumphantly winning the Cold War and becoming the world’s sole superpower, deep down in the American society’s foundations, a disintegrative trend was gathering steam, the significance of which is becoming glaringly obvious only today.

— Peter Turchin, “1977-2017: A Retrospective

Our moment is the first in any living person’s lifetime (or in America’s lifetime, most probably) of convergence between structural-demographic “disintegration” and imperial decline. How does this manifest in today’s politics? “Make America Great Again” as an all-purpose banner for fear of emasculation and obsolescence.

Not being the sole (or even primary) geopolitical superpower isn’t a tragedy. Just ask the happy, prosperous folks in Denmark, or the happy, piss-poor folks in Bhutan. But for people who lived the unipolar moment of the fabled 90s, disorientation is to be expected.

To what degree is international status anxiety contributing to America’s internal “disintegrative” trend by making people feel like dispensable losers? It’d be hard to gauge. To be sure, it’s not the main driver of our spike in partisan rancor, mass shootings, fatal overdoses, and endemic complacency.

But the degree to which Americans cling to exceptionalism can’t be psychologically healthy (Hell, I voted for Ron Paul and Bernie Sanders, and the thought of America not being #1 even stings me a bit!). And when this clinging plays out at the ballot box, tectonic plates shift—and never in our favor.

How can we convince people that changes in the global order needn’t be experienced as personal tragedy?

Chapman on metasystematicity

Metasystematicity is closely related to the complete stance. It is the attitude that systems of meaning are of great value (because meaning is patterned), but none can be complete or fully correct (because meaning is nebulous). Instead, we must deploy multiple systems, comprehend and negotiate the conflicts and synergies among them, and be willing to act even when no system can guide us.

— Meaningness, “Desiderata for any future mode of meaningness

If you dig David Chapman’s approach, this—the future-building series—is the node of Meaningness you should be engaging with most closely. The quote is a nice restatement of Meaningness’ applied nonduality, and just that. Do read the whole post.