Twitter cuts (#26)

The tweet stream begins from this (I think). Its progression is enthralling:

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Quotable (#52)

A chunk of impressively scrappy Bitcoin politics commentary at qntra:

In a piece appearing on ZDnet today Ken Hess wrote a piece on his letter campaign to inform United States Senators of “Bitcoin’s illegality” and of how Tom Coburn’s office responded. Mr. Hess’s case for Bitcoin illegality consist of his reading of Article 1, Section 8, Clause 5 of the United States constitution which enumerates as a power of Congress: “To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;”

And which Mr. Hess interprets as meaning with respect to Bitcoin: “What makes it illegal is Article 1, Section 8, Clause 5 of the Constitution of the United States. Only the US Treasury can coin currency. If the US government doesn’t produce currency, it is illegal. End of story. Now you have the confirmation from a US Senator to prove it.”

This of course is the result of a tortured reading of the United States Constitution and gross misunderstanding of the relationship between Bitcoin and the United States. Bitcoin is foreign to the United States, and the politics of Bitcoin are such that Bitcoin exists. Bitcoin exists whether the legislature of the United States wants it to or not. The only extent to which the United States can allow anything at all with respect to Bitcoin is the extent to which it can reform itself to work inside Bitcoin.

Quotable (#51)

Bakker summarizes his arguments (they’re good):

The first is a straightforward pessimistic induction. Historically, science tends to replace intentional explanations of natural phenomena with functional explanations. Since humans are a natural phenomena we can presume, all things being equal, that science will continue in the same vein, that intentional phenomena are simply the last of the ancient delusions soon to be debunked. Of course, it seems pretty clear that all things are not equal, that humans, that consciousness in particular, is decidedly not one more natural phenomena among others.

The second involves what might be called ‘Cognitive Closure FAPP.’ This argument turns on the established fact that humans are out and out stupid, that the only thing that makes us seem smart is that our nearest competitors are still sniffing each other’s asses to say hello. In the humanities in particular, we seem to forget that science is an accomplishment, and a slow and painful one at that. The corollary of this, of course, is that humans are chronic bullshitters. I’m still astounded at how after decades of rhetoric regarding critical thinking, despite millennia of suffering our own stupidity, despite pretty much everything you see on the evening news, our culture has managed to suppress the bare fact of our cognitive shortcomings, let alone consider it any sustained fashion.

Intelligence is not something humans have, but something they very occasionally catch a hazy glimpse of.

Twitter cuts (#25)

Gates does OK, but Letterman takes not getting it all the way into the twilight zone. This kind of retro-futurism is vaguely cruel, but it’s a valuable guide to digging out unsuspectedly idiotic priors. (And, yes, Bitcoin is going to be huge.)

Templexity Matters

Postulated: The intensity of time-travel fiction — and specifically backward time-travel fiction — is a critical index of modernity. As the time of modernity, initially grasped as a departure from traditional cyclicity, is prolonged into deepening nonlinear vortex, it provokes time-travel narrative as a figure in which to seek resolution. The apocalyptic, or communicative action of the end upon its past (through prophecy), is destined to final subsumption within the image of templexity. With the formulation of the Terminator mythos, in the last years of the 20th century, this process of subsumption is essentially complete. In this rigorous sense, the Terminator — as its name suggests — announces the inauguration of the End Times, when the thought of auto-production, emerging in phases from developments in cybernetics, is culturally acknowledged in its comprehensive cosmic-historical implication. The time-travel ‘bootstrap‘ or ‘ontological paradox’ is hazily recognized as the occult motor, or operational singularity, of the modern historical process.

Any positive cybernetic dynamic is open to logical interpretation (and dismissal) as a paradox. The Epimenides or Cretan Paradox, for instance, describes a reality-consistent recurrent cycle of escalating skepticism from the perspective of positive cybernetics, but nothing more than a concurrent self-contradiction from that of formal logic. The ontological paradox invites the same divergent reception. Auto-productive being is either a realistic foundation, or a formal absurdity, with the variance depending on whether self-reference is apprehended as a substantial dynamic or a static formality. From a certain — respectably established — orientation, the encouragement of circuit ontology within advanced modernity can only appear as a solicitation of madness.

Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar (2014) is a movie whose narrative loop is based explicitly upon ontological paradox. (It arrived too late to be referenced in Templexity.) The circuit of auto-production it describes is looped around black-hole cosmology, involving specific gravitational information that is inaccessibly occluded by the event horizon of collapsed stars, yet indispensable to the survival of the civilization eventually capable of retrieving it. The templex pattern outlined in the movie is exquisite. (Kip Thorne is doubtless owed considerable appreciation for that.)

The hypothesis of templexity is that the machine stimulating cultural absorption in the ontological paradox cannot stop. In regards to what has already happened, we haven’t seen anything yet.

Quotable (#50)

Kevin Kelly on the banality of early-stage super-intelligence (from October):

… a picture of our AI future is coming into view, and it is not the HAL 9000—a discrete machine animated by a charismatic (yet potentially homicidal) humanlike consciousness — or a Singularitan rapture of superintelligence. The AI on the horizon looks more like Amazon Web Services—cheap, reliable, industrial-grade digital smartness running behind everything, and almost invisible except when it blinks off. This common utility will serve you as much IQ as you want but no more than you need. Like all utilities, AI will be supremely boring, even as it transforms the Internet, the global economy, and civilization. It will enliven inert objects, much as electricity did more than a century ago. Everything that we formerly electrified we will now cognitize. This new utilitarian AI will also augment us individually as people (deepening our memory, speeding our recognition) and collectively as a species. There is almost nothing we can think of that cannot be made new, different, or interesting by infusing it with some extra IQ. In fact, the business plans of the next 10,000 startups are easy to forecast: Take X and add AI. This is a big deal, and now it’s here.

The entire article is sensibly disconcerting.


Quick links (#20)

Behind the curtains at APEC. China’s energy strategy. Betting on the New Silk Road. The Great Firewall gets mean.

Could Nepal return to monarchy?

The metropolitan exception. Urban villages. Private cities and public places.

Terraforming and geopolitics. The demographics of secular stagnation.

The economy of attention. Beyond privacy.

VR prospects (plus, art in the Oculus Era). A 3D printer in space (but it could destroy the world). IBM enters the email race. Teespring. Permacoin. Blocksign. Mist. Hard drives for cellular computers. Supercomputers still getting superer.

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Quotable (#49)

Megan McArdle on GruberGate:

… let me finish by noting what I actually find disturbing about the whole Gruber episode. It is not that voters aren’t particularly well-informed; voters could not possibly be well-informed about all the issues that our government deals with. No one can be, which is why, when people ask me my opinions about foreign policy nowadays, I say, “I don’t know. Looks like a hard problem to me.”

Nor is it that politicians lie to voters. We reward them for lying, because we want to be told that we can have everything we want, plus a pony, and the only cost will be that some undeserving layabout will get their benefits cut off, or some very rich person we don’t like will have to sell the second yacht and pay higher taxes instead. We should not be surprised when they tell us exactly that. I’m not saying that I approve of this, mind you; I’m just saying that the way to stop it is not to tut-tut at the politicians, but for voters to stop demanding that they give us the pretty moon.

No, what really disturbs me is the sight of so many journalists acting like insiders. …

Objectified Growth

In The Nation, an exceptionally thoughtful article by Timothy Shenk explores the strange novelty of capitalism as an academic object. When examined by historians as an event (or thing), rather than by economists as a generic form (or type), it emerges as a peculiarly neglected target of attention which — despite its apparent familiarity — remains to a remarkable degree theoretical terra nova. Shenk notes:

Capitalism might seem like a strange topic to require discovery, yet until recently, scholars concerned with the subject tended to style themselves practitioners of economic history, or social history, or labor history, or business history, not the history of capitalism as such. But that is the genius of the label: it names a topic, not a methodology, opening the field to anyone who believes capitalism worth studying.

Taking the work of Harvard historian and “academic entrepreneur” Sven Beckert as a clue, Shenk outlines the emerging problems — and ironies — of the shift towards a growth-oriented perspective. Rather than representing the incarnation of a political-economic idea, or a ethico-political dilemma, “capitalism is defined not so much by its institutions as by its results — not by what it is, but by what it does.” The new capitalism studies sheds presuppositions in order to gain cognitive traction upon the plastic dynamism of a self-expanding system. Previously-dominant modes of engagement in both economics and history are disrupted in consequence:

Instead of focusing on the experiences of wage workers, scholars now dwell on the variety of ways in which labor of all sorts can be commodified and exploited. Plantation slaves and factory workers become different points on a common spectrum, rather than fundamental opposites. Commodified persons and the deft financiers capable of exploiting their commodification provide these narratives with their central figures — new embodiments for the old categories of labor and capital. […] In this rendering, capitalism is less a specific entity whose precise contours can be outlined than an infinitely resilient blob capable of absorbing every blow dealt against it and emerging stronger. It is a view that imposes stark limitations on the realm of the politically possible. Hyman is explicit on this point, arguing that “American capitalism is America, and we can choose together to submit to it, or rise to its challenges, making what we will of its possibilities.” Reform might be achievable, but the only revolution on offer is what Beckert, with a sly wink to Leon Trotsky, calls the “permanent revolution” of capitalism itself.

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Quotable (#48)

Some semi-random snippets from the (truly) extraordinary Autophagiography:

… (for some reason the keyboard of my phone predicted ignorance with capital I after divine — this intelligence knows better sometimes) … (37-8)

The ‘now’ does not coincide with itself. (52)

Humans are led to thinking that thinking itself is inhuman. And by the same thinking they are led to thinking that they themselves are inhuman. It shows that thinking is at place in humans while utterly displaced, so that when humans think thinking they are thinking horror through being nothing and when thinking thinks humans it is thinking nothing through being horror. (55)

Salvation is the sheer non-existence of anyone in need of saving. (62)

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