Sunday, June 12, 2011

Death to Dichotomy. (Lifestyle Business, Self-Teaching, AI, Lucid Dreaming, and the Interests of People Like Us)

I'm interested in artificial intelligence. I volunteer for the Singularity Institute, and I play at writing game AIs. When I do the game AI thing, I compete, and when I compete, it's with Levi. Levi's my cousin. We've been best friends since we were about 6. I always thought that was probably why we were interested in the same weird stuff, like AI and lucid dreaming.

Then, one day, I was reading an interview with AI maniac Ray Kurzweil where he said he did some of his best inventing in lucid dreams. Weird, ok. Gotta tell Levi about this one.

Later I started reading stuff by lucid dreaming prodigy Beverly D'Urso, and I thought "Holy crap, this girl is good." I had to look her up and stalk her a little. It turns out she has a PhD in artificial intelligence. Ok, now this is weird . . *flicks the light switch, counts fingers. *

Figuring out what accounts for weird clusterings of traits is a big passtime for me and Levi. Levi's an actuary/data scientist and I've got a background in anthropology. We're a good team.

Every time I go to the casino, I see three or four people with neck braces. I work at a pretty crowded college, and I can walk around for a month without seeing a neck brace. Why the clustering at casinos? Well, my running theory is that the kind of people who commit insurance fraud tend to also be addicted to gambling; they're preoccupied with making it big in a way that doesn't depend on conventional factors like skill, work, and heredity. The explanation fits well enough that I don't lie awake wondering about neck braces at casinos.

But the connection between me and my kinsmen proved more elusive. There seem to be all of these people, unknown to each other, inventing for themselves the same strange culture. When this blog started to get semi-popular, people started to email me. "You're into both Stoicism and anarchism, too? That's odd..."

So the other day, I was in the car, listening to Vampire Weekend's album Contra, and it came to me:

"Never pick sides / never choose between two."

(It took me a week to realize that the song I was listening to is probably what subconsciously prompted my revelation.)

If there is a sole attribution, a first cause for all of the eerily aligned interests of People Like Us, it is this: our profound distrust of canonical trade-offs.

I know professor types who won't work out because fitness is for dumb jocks. Fitness types I  know don't read because reading is for pathetic nerds. I've always wondered why one couldn't just as well be smart, cool, and buff. The brains/brawn dichotomy is false. That trade-off is a lie. Most people will agree to that. But to hang a question mark on some of the other canonical trade-offs, it would seem you have to be a Dork Like Me.

* Important note (mom): I don't identify with all of the following. I don't know anyone who does. But most of my eery similars align themselves with at least about half of the listed refutations.

Canonical Trade-Off
"You can't have money and security without a nine-to-five."
Lifestyle business
"You can't have education without school."
"You can't have justice and order without government."
"You can't be asleep and awake."
Lucid dreaming
"You can't have happiness without sadness."
"You can't have life without death."
"You can't have heaven without hell."
Christian universalism
"You can't have commitment without exclusivity."

Having found that so many of my ways can be explained by an a priori impulse, I have to say I'm a little disheartened.

You can't explain something without explaining it away.

Or at least that's what they say :)

Support this blog by paypal-ing me 99¢, and I'll email you two songs I wrote in a dream.
(Ooh, bitcoins are cool too! (Thanks, Jonathan!  1JPVPdwyUAGn3GvCRN1FLDi9u9xoY9MDap)


  1. Excellent post. One quibble.

    "You can't explain something without explaining it away."
    I think we both know better than that.

  2. For many people, arguably most, these trade-offs are valid. If they are not valid for you, then you have only begun the analysis, not completed it - so don't be too disheartened.

    Why do you look at a situation in life and see the traditional way of dealing with it, and yet continue to think about it?

    Why, when you have one easy, workable, generally agreed-upon, socially-acceptable answer, do you not stop there and proceed? Why do you keep working at finding answers - occasionally arriving at better ones eventually, but at considerable cost in mental effort?

    Why isn't "good enough" good enough for you in these areas?

    As you write and work your way toward answers, I will keep reading. Because I am looking for the answer to the same question. And that, by the way, makes us kinsmen of a sort.

  3. Maxwell, :)

    Arctiidae, my epistolary friend, object of my bromance, Dallas is closer than you think.