Locklin on science

Biological anomalies

Posted in Book reviews, Corliss, Open problems by Scott Locklin on December 19, 2021

Biology is filled with weird things. Biology as a subject is one of many things I’ve cultivated deliberate ignorance of, but it’s fun to think a little bit about it by examining some of the anomalies associated with it. Corliss’ books aren’t exhaustive; he only explicitly covers human, mammal and bird anomalies.

Meteor/comet plague correlations. (BHH3/6/7) Fred Hoyle and N.C. Wickramasinghe wrote a book on this, which has not been met with broad acceptance, but which certain people trot out from time to time. The correlations are probably spurious, but they’re pretty neat anyway. Historically comets and meteoric events were seen as signs of coming plague; there are numerous examples in history; the plague of London, plague of Justinian, so they decided to take the idea seriously. It was developed into a sort of panspermia idea, as much of the genetic code is actually viral segments. Wickramasinghe is still around working on the idea; he even famously published something guessing corona-chan came from a bolide which blew up over China in 2019; in fact he predicted the outbreak. This is a lot of fun, and infuriates everybody, and you never know; maybe he’s right. I mean, I don’t think he is, but it is fun to behave as if he is and fear the appearance of comets and meteors in the night skies. Corliss also noted how weird the periodicities and propagation of diseases like influenza were (in part based on Hoyle and Wickramasinghe’s work).

Pandoravirus. I came across this one looking into the panspermia idea; it is the second largest known virus at one micron or so -pretty much bacteria size, with comparatively huge genomes (2 million base pairs; corona-chan is only about 30,000). They mostly seem to reproduce in plankton and amoebas. It was speculated that they might be a separate domain of life, or even a kind of space alien virus because its genome has so little in common with other species. Now a days they’re finding mechanisms which indicate they sort of self mutate to generate their long genomes.

Existence of human/primate blood polymorphisms. (BHC12) Everyone’s got one of 8 major blood types; A, B, AB, O and Rh+/-. Blood types are actually known to have certain advantages and disadvantages versus one another; malaria, polio, heart disease, even dat rona virums. There’s also weird shit nobody knows what to make of: correlations of blood type with socioeconomic class in hierarchical societies like Great Britain.  What is weird about this is the persistence of these very different blood types: they should confer some advantage and be selected for, but people persist them in populations, despite the strong negative effects of blood type on stuff like fertility (rh negative women stand a strong chance of having stillbirths with rh positive fathers).

Human-Endosymbiont Interface: (BHX6) Corliss recognized that stuff like Mitochondria are weird and probably archaic organisms, but he also speculated that stuff like cilia, centrioles and nerve cells might also have been microorganisms which were absorbed into animals. He also pointed out that we carry around a lot of other organisms in and on the body, rather ahead of the “gut biome” craze.

Manipulation of Human Behavior by Viruses: (BHX14) Corliss noticed stuff like rabies makes people behave a certain way (so do colds; they make people sneeze), a very complex and bizarre behavior which helps spread the Rabies virus. It’s now known that other parasitic organisms have similar effects on humans and other animals. There’s lots of human behaviors which are evolutionarily extremely unadvantageous but which might serve the purpose of some kind of mind-altering parasitic organism. Rabies, however is pretty astounding. It’s only 11,000 or so base pairs and it makes people and animals behave a certain way. Very impressive; one could speculate that other viruses do similar manipulations of human behavior, but we don’t notice them as they don’t kill people.

Inverse relationship between Human Parasites and Allergies: (BHX13) Corliss basically anticipated a modern allergy treatment modality. This is classic Corliss; he attributed this a fairly low data quality (his eagle eye spotted a study in some isolated Pacific Island)  and admitted we didn’t know a damn thing about immune systems so it wasn’t particularly anomalous either. But it appears he was right. You can learn a lot by studying lists of anomalies.

Humans and apes have different numbers of Chromosomes: (BHG5/11) Humans have 46, apes have 48. Human ancestors must have experienced a Robertsonian fusion in the distant past to be missing a couple of chromosomes. It is the 2nd chromosome where this happened; a big chromosome with about 8% of the human genome and a vestigial centromere in it. This isn’t just a human/ape thing, Corliss points it out in many other species (BMG2); most horses have more than 50 chromosomes -as many as 66, but different species of Zebra may have 32, 44 or 46 chromosomes. Mongolian horses and Zebras don’t look that different, yet one has 32 chromosomes, and another has 66. Interestingly Robertsonian translocations are relatively common in humans (trisomy-13/downs), and such translocations may be involved in speciation and rapid evolution in general when there are genetic bottlenecks. Aka if your 46 chromosome ape-like forefathers attempted to mate with a 48 chromosome species, the offspring likely wouldn’t be viable, but the smaller initial population of 46 chromosome ape-like critters would. There’s lots of fun examples of giant chromosome variance in insects, rodents, fish and other such vermin, and plants such as the humble cabbage family provides many other examples.

Organ Transplantation Memories: I didn’t notice this one in Corliss (might be in there somewhere), but there are  well documented cases of people experiencing memories of the people they received transplanted organs from. Could be imagination/suggestion somehow, or it could be messenger RNA memory; who knows. Weird though.

Transfer of Learning via Brain Extracts: (BMB8) more messenger RNA memory evidence. They did various experiments with rats and complicated memory/learning stuff via brain extracts. Man I sure would like my mRNA indo-european language injection upgrade package.

Human animal psychological interfaces: (BHX2) apparently you can hypnotize a cobra by grabbing it a certain way, and small animals by strapping them to a board and turning them upside down. You can also, as any farmer with chickens knows, hypnotize chickens; my Uncle Van taught me to do this. I use it on other people with underdeveloped nervous systems, like lawyers. Another fun one: petting rats ruins their will to live. Either that or rats that allow themselves to be handled  by humans have less vril/life force to survive a Richter water chamber.

Morphological differences between normal human brains: (BHO19) human brains are hugely different -male and female brains differ by 15% in size (a much larger difference than body size), hypothalmus size (2.5x bigger in men) corpus callosum (bigger in women) and a lack of interthalmic adhesion in some men. There was also recent work on the number of glial cells. If you attempt to google this, there are a number of laughably insane opinion pieces in famous journals asserting that everyone is the same, but it’s not true. Corliss cites a study asserting left-handed people have statistically very different brains than right handed people.

Remarkable capabilities of badly damaged brains: (BHO20) lest there be angry buttmad lefthanded women after reading that last entry, actually damaged brains don’t seem to lose as much as you’d expect. People have had big chunks of their brains removed and continued to have more or less the same level of IQ. There are famous cases of people with relatively tiny amounts of brain tissue who have cerebrospinal fluid pressure imbalances, but normal or even high IQs. Whatever the standard deviation between physical parts of the brain, they sure are weird and don’t act much like a pentium chip. Of course that rustles the jimmies of muh Church-Turing numbskull autists, but such people’s jimmies deserve to be rustled.

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  1. Rickey said, on December 19, 2021 at 7:31 pm

    As far as Chandra Wickramasinghe predicting an outbreak in Nov 2019, I was in Japan and Korea in Dec 2019 and there was already talk of a new strain of flu coming from China. He was merely observant. The bolide theory was just probably click-bait.
    I like to jerk the chains of obnoxious secularists-materialists who treat evolution like a religion and pontificate about natural selection, environmental conditions, selective breeding of domestic animals, etc. I shall start a conversation about different breeds of dogs. When I state that humans are also animals and these same influences apply, there must also be differences between the races and sexes besides just skin color and reproductive organs. I get the standard “you’re a racist-bigot-misogynist” response but they never address the issue. I believe all persons should be treated equally under the law but to state everyone is the same and not influenced by their environment and culture is just willful ignorance.
    The rats and learned helplessness article was spot on. It is sad to contemplate how many children are ruined by bad parenting or workplaces with toxic conditions due to poor leadership. I have seen too many persons get into trouble since they have the attitude that I am going to get screwed no matter what I do so I might as well do whatever I want.

    • William O. B'Livion said, on December 20, 2021 at 1:51 am

      > environment and culture is just willful ignorance.

      A lot of what lets us live together is willful ignorance, and selective blindness.

      • Sprewell said, on December 21, 2021 at 1:35 pm

        Why should we “live together?” While I’m not as against immigration as that guy, modern technology increasingly allows us to go off on our own or create new self-selected groups, even if only virtually like in this comment thread, and people are increasingly choosing to do so

    • Privilege Checker said, on December 20, 2021 at 2:07 am

      The ministry of truth has deemed that the genetic basis for race is purely physical, not neurological. There are NO differences in the genes that code for the brain in Africans and Asians, for instance. If you say or publish anything regarding the relationship between IQ, cognition and/or race, you will be fired & put on a do-not-hire list.

      Women and BIPOC scientists are some of the most productive and creative types in the world, get over it!

      • Scott Locklin said, on December 20, 2021 at 11:00 am

        There’s plenty of people talking about this:

        https://scholar.google.com/scholar?start=20&q=IQ+race&hl=en&as_sdt=0,5&as_ylo=2020

        I don’t recommend bringing it up in your company’s diversity coffee klatch, but it’s hardly a secret, and you’d expect different races of people to be measurably different in all kinds of ways.

        The differences in female and male brains, on the other hand, are pretty weird, much larger and largely unacknowledged except among Archie Bunker types.

      • Sprewell said, on December 21, 2021 at 1:41 pm

        You’re a little behind the times, there are no physical differences either!

        Angela Saini: ‘An understanding of history reminds us race is a social construct’

        • Altitude Zero said, on December 21, 2021 at 2:14 pm

          I remember back in the eighties, Allen Bloom remarked that every society has a type of insanity that appears totally sane to them; gladitorial combats, witch hunts, foot binding, pederasty, etc. I think it’s safe to say what future generations are going to say ours was…

          • asciilifeform said, on December 27, 2021 at 8:14 pm

            The thing is, you can’t have an effective totalitarian shithole (currently 100% of planet, for folx who were perhaps sleeping in cryostasis since ’45) without a patently nonsensical Official belief system for plebes to jump over one another in signalling conformance to.

          • Verisimilitude said, on December 28, 2021 at 3:42 am

            It’s odd to mention foot binding without mentioning either of circumcision or tranny “sex-change” “surgeries”, both from the same tribe. Of course, people have been trying to mark the former as evil mutilation for millennia, and that hasn’t stopped them, whereas it only takes tricking one generation to spread it, so it’s likely these disgusting rituals will remain with us for years to come.

            I agree it’s important to acknowledge who are human and who aren’t, but not mutilating the humans amongst them is also fairly important, and it still happens daily from the same idiots who cry about a lack of religion in society. What could be more religious than mutilating infants? The Romans were right to call others barbarians.

        • Scott Locklin said, on December 21, 2021 at 2:59 pm

          That lady is great; living clown world meme.

          • Altitude Zero said, on December 21, 2021 at 3:49 pm

            One of the reasons for the current insanity is that, back in the 1960’s and 1970’s, the progenitors of our current ruling class went all in, and I mean All F**king In, on the idea that the races were identical, insofar as they existed at all, and now many in the “elite” are coming to suspect that this is not true, at least in some degree. But since of course the Constitution has essentially been re-written, via “disparate impact” to reflect this assumption, and “Civil Rights” is one of the founding myths of our current regime, there can be no retreat from this assumption – hence the insanity, like suicide bombers blowing themselves up to convince themselves that they really do believe in Islam.

            The two founding myths of the New Left revolution (or coup) that brought our current rulers into power are the Myth of Civil Rights, and the Myth of Vietnam as an evil, stupid, unwinnable war. As the regime has increasingly wanted to fight its own evil, stupid, unwinnable wars, Vietnam has been downplayed, so Civil Rights is all that they have left, even though it has manifestly not lived up to the high hopes its founders had. Despite its increasing untenability, it will be defended to the death – or at least until they can cook up a new power-legitimating myth. Maybe that’s what Covid hysteria and Jan 6th are about…

            • Scott Locklin said, on December 21, 2021 at 7:48 pm

              Caldwell’s book on this was very brave. Kind of weird he wasn’t immediately cancelled for insulting the state religion.

              • Altitude Zero said, on December 22, 2021 at 12:34 am

                Yeah, I figured the sky would fall on him, but it didn’t happen. He must have Friends.

  2. mitchellporter said, on December 21, 2021 at 1:10 am

    What was the study on brain differences between left-handed and right-handed people?

  3. Agent Cooper said, on December 21, 2021 at 8:17 pm

    Corliss takes enigmatic topics like fish organs (BFO) and attributes use cases; like fish develop unusually large brains near glaciers to be used for processing electrical current and acoustical data of avalanches. His way of attributing use cases to why mysteries exist is what make his books so fun.
    I wish you could expand on “you can learn a lot by studying lists of anomalies”. Other than preventative measures, what insights can be learned from anomalies? I don’t think anomalies are applicable for design or tech for example. In fact, quite the opposite. Autiste Bucky Fuller boiled down biology in its simplest, most-universal form (the triangle) to build the geodesic dome.

    • Scott Locklin said, on December 21, 2021 at 9:35 pm

      People thought it was a big breakthrough giving allergies people parasites on purpose to treat the allergies; Corliss kind of thought of it a lifetime before.

    • Sprewell said, on December 22, 2021 at 8:38 am

      In tech, anomalies are called “bugs.” If you’re not looking for them, someone else is. Of course, just like these biological anomalies, you have to go through hundreds that don’t pan out before you can find something hugely important like that.

  4. jrackell said, on December 21, 2021 at 10:29 pm

    May I commend to your attention James Tour’s excellent 13 part series on Abiogenesis on Youtube. I am not sure if this is an anomaly, but it is definitely unexplained — it is pre-biology. As far as I am able to follow, he really skewers the glib explanation starting with the Miller Urey (sp?) experiment. Dr. Tour is born again, but that doesn’t really play a part — just the background motivation. Sorry if off topic…but it just blows me away when one hears as a layman, the end of science, everything has been explained. We aren’t even close apparently.

    • Scott Locklin said, on December 22, 2021 at 10:08 am

      FWIIW Corliss seemed to take creationist arguments and evidence quite seriously, and such things were a source for many of his listed anomalies. More people probably should; science don’t progress without criticism.

      • Chiral3 said, on December 22, 2021 at 1:41 pm

        I have a fairly pessimistic take on science’s ability to progress. It’s hard for me not to feel much doubt in that department. Someone mentioned Bloom before, whom I believe also criticized specification and the university’s role in the narrowing of fields and unintended consequences of that path. I wouldn’t even know how to begin and end a listicle on this…

        1. Ideology: Fundamental physics may be the best example of this in that it has graduated to a bunch of immovable ideological camps that do *words* as opposed to science. Virtue signaling, politicking, tribal behavior, …., all things that are the opposite of rational inquiry. String theory may be the pinnacle of horseshit.
        2. Science’s own Gini coefficient wouldn’t look great: ok, the brilliant condensed matter people have always been screwed, but it’s worse today. Pick your cult, but there aren’t many. Data science, string theory. Granted, certain federal funding hasn’t changed too much recently but it all seem ossified and cult-like.
        3. Basic skills: “shut up and calculate”. SUaC has taken on a different meaning for me through the years. For me, today, it’s a bit more like climbing mountains or lifting heavy things. You can’t lift heavy things better than anyone if you’re maintaining an instagram account. Further, you lift heavy things to lift heavy things to be better at lifting heaving things. SUaC used to be about skills. It was essentially getting reps in. To paraphrase: those problems aren’t going to calculate themselves. Don’t read chapter two and copy the formulas for a week; spend a week deriving equation 2.14 from equation 2.10. This shit hurts one’s head, like jacking off with a non-dominant hand. It’s hard (literally). But SUaC isn’t the norm anymore.
        4. Scientific curiosity: the box is smaller. I don’t know it it was the chicken or the egg but that thing is smaller. Maybe the curse of dimensionality via socialization deflated the volume of the box that resulted in the ideology and tribes or the ideology and tribes…. the net result is that we just don’t ask questions like we used to. For those of us that were in grad school being taught by great minds that have now passed on we can remember the types of questions they asked us that you just will not hear anymore: “That’s interesting but take the weekend and think of an experiment that may verify that theory.” “Interesting, if you can write down a suitable Lagrangian feel free to take the next month away from classes to fully work out your theory.” “That doesn’t agree with [insert citation], but you should study ..] closely and finish your work and see if they still agree or not.” I mean it was just a different group of people shaping minds.
        5. Fundamental shifts away from exploring causality: the role of data science, what more to say, Applying soft science techniques to hard sciences, and ossified theories that people reuse to revisit or discard.
        6. Much of what we call “science” today, and I will lump technology in here, is incredibly derivative (as opposed to calling it specialized, which is misleading), moving sideways, not deeper. Increasing software-based, and I will not re-hash it, but what is fundamentally new these days? Cf cell phones, automobiles, rockets, etc. As I get older it becomes increasing more apparent why we need to discard facts from history to be able to convince ourselves that we are somehow innovating (e.g., Asian Flu and Hong Kong Flu from the 1950s and 1960s is a great example of something relevant today).
        7. The university system, save for a few research institutions that most people will never be able to attend, is fucked beyond the point of unfucking. Ref #2. QED.

        I could keep going but it seems Corliss, who I haven’t read, having only heard of him here, was a man and a mind from that previous generation that endlessly kicked the tires, revisiting assumptions and things that don’t quite fit or stand out as oddities, and fostering intellectual curiosity. I can only assume he was a good teacher.

        • Chiral3 said, on December 22, 2021 at 1:44 pm

          G’damn spellcheck. Specification, socialization = specialization

        • Scott Locklin said, on December 22, 2021 at 3:37 pm

          Ever read “Man and Technics?” Probably most important thing I read in grad school (thanks Rainer):

          “The Faustian thought begins to be sick of machines. A weariness is spreading, a sort of pacifism of the battle with Nature. Men are returning to forms of life simpler and nearer to Nature; they are spending their time in sport instead of technical experiments. The great cities are becoming hateful to them, and they would fain get away from the pressure of soulless facts and the clear cold atmosphere of technical organization. And it is precisely the strong and creative talents that are turning away from practical problems and sciences and towards pure speculation.”

          Corliss though, he had a lot of fun building rockets and giant robots. I think it’s possible the old Faustian culture could have a dead cat bounce at least, but it’s more probable Corliss’ time was peak for this sort of thing.

          • chiral3 said, on December 22, 2021 at 4:28 pm

            That’s a great Spengler quote right there.

        • Sprewell said, on December 22, 2021 at 6:10 pm

          Interesting diatribe, but what great need do you see for science to progress? Back when you were “being taught by great minds,” there were no smartphones, no widespread MRI usage, no cheap flights to Bali. We are much better off materially today, so that people like Scott can leave science and enter other quantitative fields that pay much better. An incisive mind back then had few better intellectual chewtoys than in science, today you can find so much more outside.

          As for the university system, it seems fairly obvious that it is as outdated as a bunch of dispatchers sitting in a room telephoning all the taxis where to go. There won’t be a university system in a couple decades.

          • Scott Locklin said, on December 22, 2021 at 6:20 pm

            There’s an obvious reason scientific and technological progress is desirable: our entire economic system is predicated on economic growth through increases in efficiency which come from technological progress. I would rather not go back to living in the long-house, which seems to be the glorious future our lizard slavemasters seem to have in mind. No trips to Bali for you. You’ll be eating cockroaches in your mud hut.

            The total lack of vision as to how to make progress in any field other than turning your phone into a combination casino panopticon is a matter of concern to serious people. Even VC types have noticed, though they continue to go after ridiculous woo that won’t work but sounded good in the science fiction novels of 50 years ago. I mean, you may be happy calling 3 cameras in your phone or slightly better video games progress: I’d prefer something a little more substantial. Shit’s going to get weird when they try to power a modern economy via pinwheels and solar panels.

            • Sprewell said, on December 22, 2021 at 6:38 pm

              Ah, but he was largely talking about “science’s ability to progress.” My point was precisely because science has been so successful in the last century, we now have giant technological fields built on that science where much of the brainpower has been redirected. We always need new science, sure, but as he says, the current system is so rotten that I wouldn’t recommend people go in till the university system has been blown up.

              I will also quibble with the need for “economic growth:” that was because of population growth, but with people in developed markets having so few children, it is possible we’d do just fine if we produced less, as we’ll have less mouths to feed.

              We should always aim for “increases in efficiency which come from technological progress” though, and we will see a lot more soon. I suspect the internet will lead to great scientific and technological gains, just as the printing press spurred the scientific and industrial revolutions. Of course, our horrible political class could always blow the whole thing up, but that’s always been the risk.

              • Scott Locklin said, on December 22, 2021 at 6:43 pm

                I mean, it could happen that we’re at the dawn of a glorious new age of progress because of the interbutts. So far; not so much. The lack of human capital makes the need for more efficiencies all the more acute.

                Avoiding the 100 years war that came after the printing press or the telegraph would also be nice.

                • Sprewell said, on December 22, 2021 at 7:21 pm

                  While I agree that the techies mostly lack vision, I think we’re in for a second enlightenment, with three big dark clouds on the horizon:
                  – Our previous run led to human flourishing in some high-cognition countries but simply dragged the rest of the populace out of historic misery into basic poverty, while they continued reproducing like crazy. If we don’t get that teeming mass at least borderline educated- no, not the crap that passes for “education” today, I’m talking real, practical increases in “human capital”- they could well overrun us.
                  – Previous new communication technologies let us spread science, but they also spread quackery. The internet is no different. Turbulence is inevitable at the dawn of a new age, let’s just hope this time it doesn’t end in nukes going off.
                  – Our governance structures are hopelessly outdated: everyone cargo-culting a 250 year-old experiment in the US constitution, while adding a bunch of crap that makes it completely different, isn’t working out. I think the internet can and will do a lot here, but if the old guard decides to fight tooth and nail, it’s not going to be pretty.

                  In sum, I agree with a lot of both of your criticism but perhaps I’m more optimistic in seeing a way out, while trying to be realistic about these potential pitfalls.

                  • Scott Locklin said, on December 22, 2021 at 7:34 pm

                    Well, young people are supposed to be optimistic. I have a hard enough time convincing people that current year technology and scientific progress has a problem.

                    I mean dipshits are still pretending they can do quantum computing (at least they stopped, mostly, with “nanotech”), or that it even matters; meanwhile, the people actually running the shitshow can’t even count well enough to manage our way out of a seasonal respiratory illness.

                    Also lol at James Lindsay; dude banned me like a decade ago for trying to explain to him how liquidity providers work. Retardo.

                    • Sprewell said, on December 22, 2021 at 8:41 pm

                      I agree that there are real problems today, largely a result of backsliding and taking it easy after a 20th century of unprecedented technical success, though let’s not forget that was also accompanied by unprecedented barbarism in the two world wars and various communist revolutions. I don’t consider the current Instagram culture or bitcoin bubble any great validation of the internet, these are merely the early “motorized carriages” that crudely let us try out the new tech. Much better versions are coming.

                      While I have no connection to it, robotics appears poised to break out. I don’t know precisely which year I’ll be able to buy a bunch of robots to automate away all manual work in my house, from cooking my food to cleaning every corner, but if we can automate away all rote labor in 50 years- robots for the physically rote, software for the mentally rote- that’ll get us to a nice place.

                      I consider that the baseline scenario and think we’ll do much better, if one of those dark clouds doesn’t kill us all first.

                    • Scott Locklin said, on December 23, 2021 at 10:51 am

                      > robotics appears poised to break out

                      Doubt.

                      Open problems in Robotics


                      The probability of a breakthrough in anything reaching you via marketing BS like that is approximately 0. In fact, it might be a good signal that nothing is happening in that domain.

                      FWIIW I consider trustless internet protocols like bitcoin and IPFS to be the only interesting things happening at the moment, other than a few corners of statistics. To my delight and complete lack of surprise, almost none of it is being done by academics. In fact most of the people working on it aren’t even college graduates.

                    • asciilifeform said, on December 27, 2021 at 7:41 pm

                      > dipshits are still pretending they can do quantum computing

                      It’s “easy money” (from NSA), and doesn’t involve e.g. Java, and often enough doesn’t even require clocking in at a cube farm. Pays the bills. (In fact I recently discovered that a QCism “startup” recently opened right next door.)

                      Similar to e.g. employment as a court alchemist in the 1600s, but with perfect diffusion of responsibility for the inevitable abject failure and considerably smaller risk to health (I’ve not heard of a QC pusher brought to the public scaffold to have liquid He3 poured down his throat. Unfortunately. It’d be pretty great to watch IMHO.)

                    • Sprewell said, on January 19, 2022 at 1:10 pm

                      > Doubt. https://scottlocklin.wordpress.com/2020/07/29/open-problems-in-robotics/

                      Thanks for the link, I finally got around to reading it. Most of your open problems have to do with mobility, I would not even go there right now. Rather, I would focus on miniaturizing and generalizing stationary robots like these, so we could replace most remaining stationary factory workers and some more high-touch jobs, like stationary cooks in high-volume kitchens, with robots. Trying to solve all the problems related to robotic mobility when we have so much stationary work remaining to be automated would be like Jobs and Woz trying to follow up the great success of the Apple II by launching a giant R&D process to create the Newton in the 1980s, yet that is what many in robotics are stupidly trying to do.

                      I don’t know how much of the Boston Dynamics videos is “marketing BS” as opposed to real generalizable R&D, not sure how you would either without inspecting their IP deeply.

                      > I consider trustless internet protocols like bitcoin and IPFS to be the only interesting things happening at the moment

                      I’m a skeptic of “trustless” approaches: I don’t see the need and they do not seem to work either, as more eminent crypto people like Schneier and Laurie also say. The real benefit of the current crypto bubble is decentralization, say with the Pest p2p messaging protocol linked below, I hope to see a lot more of that instead.

                      > To my delight and complete lack of surprise, almost none of it is being done by academics. In fact most of the people working on it aren’t even college graduates.

                      My understanding is that that is the way it’s always been done, despite a lot of academic propaganda claiming otherwise.

                    • Scott Locklin said, on January 19, 2022 at 1:21 pm

                      Boston dynamics is ridiculously obviously bullshit; they wouldn’t need to be bought by sugar-daddy Google if they could actually do the things in their “demos” -they’ve basically solved most of the problems I listed. Naively thinking marketing BS is real is one of the great nerd sins of our time.

                      Trustless and decentralized mean the same thing; think about it.

                      Anyway I look forward to reading about your robotics startup.

                    • Sprewell said, on January 19, 2022 at 2:07 pm

                      > Boston dynamics is ridiculously obviously bullshit; they wouldn’t need to be bought by sugar-daddy Google if they could actually do the things in their “demos” -they’ve basically solved most of the problems I listed.

                      They were bought by google in 2013 and divested in 2017, not sure what connection you’re drawing between that brief past interlude and their current impressive demos.

                      You may be right that it’s all spit and bailing wire, or you may be wrong. I wouldn’t decide without inspecting their software.

                      > Naively thinking marketing BS is real is one of the great nerd sins of our time.

                      Sure, but another failure mode is cynically slagging things you haven’t looked into.

                      Another common failure mode is perpetually researching rather than commercializing some of your work, maybe BD suffered from this but is finally being forced to sell real products. We shall see.

                      > Trustless and decentralized mean the same thing; think about it.

                      No, decentralization requires less of some kinds of trust, but it can almost never go full “trustless,” ie zero trust or something close to it. For example, consider Urbit, which decentralizes but with a more explicit system of trust. And before you start inevitably slagging Urbit, I simply offer it as an example of decentralization with some explicit trust mechanism. It still has plenty of other stupid ideas like their Nock VM, so despite making good decisions like not trying to go fully “trustless,” I don’t expect them to succeed because of those other bad decisions.

                      > Anyway I look forward to reading about your robotics startup.

                      I plan to get into robotics someday, but there is too much low-hanging fruit in software not to do that first. Suffice to say, I would not go anywhere near mobility to start off with. 😉

                    • Scott Locklin said, on January 19, 2022 at 5:01 pm

                      > I wouldn’t decide without inspecting their software.

                      Credulity is a sin around here. You can find people who believe corporate press releases anywhere else on the internets. Boston Dynamics has been around since 1992, and has been producing these BS “demos” for over a decade now. If they can do the things they claim, they have plenty of ability to print money. Where’s the money?

                      >No, decentralization requires less of some kinds of trust….

                      Are you just being an argumentative twatwaffle for lolz? There is never actual trustless anything. You’re always trusting something. Big deal! Decentralization and trustless are generally the same thing.

                      Urbit will work or not work because people like or don’t like it, like any other product. Trustlessness and decentralization is ultimately social.

                      Anyway I look forward to your low hanging fruit; there is certainly plenty of that.

                    • Sprewell said, on January 19, 2022 at 5:44 pm

                      > You can find people who believe corporate press releases anywhere else on the internets.

                      These aren’t press releases but demos that have amazed millions.

                      > Boston Dynamics has been around since 1992, and has been producing these BS “demos” for over a decade now. If they can do the things they claim, they have plenty of ability to print money. Where’s the money?

                      Why did Jobs have to say, “Real artists ship”? There is a kind of research mindset that is only interested in exploring, not the dirty work of commercialization. In fact, in my reading of history, the researcher almost never ships: it takes others with a more common touch like Jobs to ship the research the Xerox PARC researchers never could.

                      Perhaps that’s the case here with BD. I have no inside info and could very well be wrong, but we both appear to be speculating.

                      > Are you just being an argumentative twatwaffle for lolz? There is never actual trustless anything. You’re always trusting something. Big deal! Decentralization and trustless are generally the same thing.

                      I disagree. I see a spectrum from centralized systems that require high trust, say that Amazon won’t simply delete controversial books from your Kindle, to federated systems like Urbit in the middle, all the way down to so-called “trustless” systems, which some claim Bitcoin or other new crypto products are, wrongly IMO.

                      If we agree that true “trustless” systems are currently not possible, I wonder why you still use that term, ie what level of minimal trust are you comfortable still calling “trustless” in your prior comments? Conversely, I don’t use that term precisely because it can’t be done.

                      > Urbit will work or not work because people like or don’t like it, like any other product.

                      Sure, but a big part of that will depend on how well it works too, and I suspect its inferior technical design means it won’t work well.

                      > Trustlessness and decentralization is ultimately social.

                      Sure, but our new software gives us new tech like hashing and zero-knowledge proofs with which we can build new mechanisms to check and enforce that trust, or less trust, allowing more decentralization and entirely new social structures because of that new tech.

                    • asciilifeform said, on January 19, 2022 at 5:51 pm

                      “Trustless” IMHO is (an often deliberate) misdirection — you are always trusting your counterparties (i.e. someone on the other side of the net connection, whom you explicitly decided to trust.)

                      The more interesting distinction is whether a system also, implicitly forces you to trust some meddlesome parasitic toad (a SVcorp-owned server; a central indexer; the author of an unreadable “obfuscated-C-contest” pseudo-Opensource program, and those of its massive wads of dependencies; your ISP; etc)

                      Possibly the correct term for hypothetical systems where these are removed, might be “toadless”.

                  • chiral3 said, on December 22, 2021 at 9:11 pm

                    “Previous new communication technologies let us spread science, but they also spread quackery. The internet is no different. ”

                    There’s a quote out there that’s stuck in my mind for a long time. It was an interview with Jack Welch from some time in probably the 90’s. I don’t read business books and Welch is someone I would have regarded as an asshole so I have no idea why I was watching it. He said something along the lines that the internet will never be to spread information or ideas as people say. It will exist to drive and direct consumer spending. It’s sole purpose will be commercial regardless of what people think. That got me thinking at the time. The game is so much more than simply making money, though; it isn’t even simply about reality but shaping people’s perception of reality, real higher order stuff. I am not sure the Gutenberg Press had that much potential.

                    • Sprewell said, on December 23, 2021 at 1:47 pm

                      I mean, data related to “commercial” and “consumer spending” is still a class of “information or ideas,” just as the Sears catalog was once a popular print artifact. While such commerce plays a large role in any new communications tech, most people spend far more time amusing themselves on Netflix today or reading romance novels back then than shopping or imbibing new ideas. Bread and circus is a constant of human nature, I don’t think anyone ever claimed any new tech would change that.

                      As for “shaping people’s perception of reality,” has any technical artifact ever done so as powerfully as the Gutenberg bible? I suppose you could argue that twitter and the upcoming metaverse are more all-encompassing, with print never dominating as much of the average person’s life, but print and other broadcast media started world wars and touched off all kinds of fanatical revolutions.

                      I actually think such shaping will happen less with the Internet, as it is fundamentally a unicast medium so your iMessage or Whatsapp group is much more p2p and idiosyncratic, thus less prone to mass propaganda.

                • Altitude Zero said, on December 22, 2021 at 7:32 pm

                  Whether science needs to progress is a philosophical question, but the fact that it hasn’t progressed much in the last thirty years is almost certainly telling us something, and probably not something good. As for the internet, it’s enabled a new level of academic plagiarism, made it easier to organize witch hunts, and made it easier to obtain high-quality . That’s about it, as far as I can see.

                  • Sprewell said, on December 24, 2021 at 12:23 pm

                    We spend hundreds of billions of dollars on “science,” it’s no longer “philosophical” but a utilitarian question. At the risk of sounding like I’m saying we’ve got all the science we need- which I’m not- I’m saying we need to fix our governance problems first. What does it matter what science you want to do when the scientific bureaucrats in charge don’t know the first thing about science: “Unlike scientists with whom I had worked for decades,… I never saw [the Fauci Covid task force] voice any critical assessment, methodological or otherwise, of the pitfalls of any published studies.” That’s not to mention how many of those billions are wasted because these dimbulbs are the ones allocating funding.

                    The world has big problems today, science is the least of it. Fixing the large governance problems should be the priority, not more science. Of course, we always do both and a James Watson is only really interested in science and should stick with that, but for those able and willing to fix tech or governance or the whole host of non-scientific problems, ie they “could have done anything” like chiral3 below, I cannot recommend they spend time on science.

                    • Altitude Zero said, on December 24, 2021 at 1:26 pm

                      In my opinion, our governance problems and our science problems, and lots else besides, are at base level the same set of problems. When we solve the base level problems, we’ll be surprised at how rapidly the others resolve. Now how you do that is another question.

                    • Sprewell said, on December 24, 2021 at 3:55 pm

                      I’ll bite: what do you see as “the base level problems?” Because I’d take different approaches to fixing each of those different domains.

                  • Apicus said, on December 25, 2021 at 2:53 pm

                    In his book “Not Even Trying: The Corruption of Real Science”, Bruce Charlton makes the case that science as we knew it is dead. It’s hard to disagree to with him. The reproducibility crisis is a symptom. The response to the reproducibility crisis–“nothing to see here”–is another symptom. The conditions under which science flourished have largely vanished, why would we think that it could survive outside of its natural habitat?

                    On the other hand, if you scroll through the peer-reviewed articles quoted by the “New Real Peer Review” on Twitter you might become convinced that “science” has gone totally insane. This is bad news if you believe Longfellow’s aphorism “Whom the Gods would destroy they first make mad.” It means that Nemesis is coming for us and she is not pleased.

            • Privilege Checker said, on December 23, 2021 at 2:23 am

              A misanthropic time-travelling sniper could leave with a few hundreds rounds of ammunition and set us back to the stone age, probably with some rounds to spare. What seems like a trivial idea to most (i.e., the “mere” engineering problem) may have been a 1 in a billion neurological misfire.

              One would be inclined to believe that, with an unprecedently high population, we ought to have more such outliers. Have these types failed to actualize? Or has their power and influence been thwarted by something greater.

              • Sprewell said, on December 23, 2021 at 8:27 am

                I completely agree that if it weren’t for a Claude Shannon or Oliver Heaviside magically appearing once in awhile, we’d still be sitting by campfires. Why don’t we have more now? Some possibilities:
                – When you’re fairly rich in developed markets, it’s easy to get distracted with just making a good living doing data science or SaaS tech, ie there’s not as much of a pressing need for breakthroughs.
                – Doing anything new requires learning much more of what was tried before, as opposed to back then when it was all new frontier to explore. The worst part may be current pedagogy, which makes out that we know more than we do rather than always emphasizing gaps and anomalies, like this post by Scott.
                – Our great success in quadrupling the world population from 1.5 to 6 billion in the 20th century certainly included a lot of dysgenics.
                – Giant bureaucracies have been built up to go after the much greater funding for science and other research, and the political types like Fauci elbow out the real scientists and innovators at that funding trough.

                All those probably play a role, but I’m optimistic that the internet will create a whole new environment for intellectual activity, eg the largely online open source movement that has revolutionized the creation of software, that will propel us forward soon.

                • Scott Locklin said, on December 23, 2021 at 10:53 am

                  Bruce Charlton thinks it’s straight up dysgenics. I don’t agree, but maybe I haven’t watched idiocracy enough times. I certainly don’t have too many smart friends with kids.

                  • bruce g charlton said, on December 26, 2021 at 11:53 am

                    @Scott “Bruce Charlton thinks it’s straight up dysgenics. ”

                    Not so! I have always argued there are many causes; but dysgenics puts a ceiling on attainment. If there are no potential geniuses (e.g. nobody of sufficiently high intelligence with the right kind of creative personality) then there is a limit to what can be achieved.

                    Yet the major factor is probably Western Christian apostasy leading to the secular society (loss of belief in transcendental truth, beauty and virtue) – because this is behind the Not Even Trying phenomenon – which destroys the chance of even moderately-high achievement.

                    For example, when it becomes clear of a movie or TV series that woke considerations are primary – we know that the result *cannot* be any good; since making good TV and movies is very difficult, and if that is not the priority it will not be done well.

                    The same applies – and more so – to the highest human achievements in science, literature etc. Unless someone is highly and specifically motivated, and gives it their best shot, the outcome will without doubt be mediocre.

                    • Scott Locklin said, on December 26, 2021 at 3:10 pm

                      I guess I’m editorializing, but you did say stuff along these lines along with Ed Dutton in “Genius Famine.”

                      https://geniusfamine.blogspot.com/2015/10/the-genius-famine-why-we-need-geniuses.html

                      You guys are my go-to for this sort of thing, as you’ve given it more thought than anybody else I know about. Not even trying is another issue. But back to dysgenics, I was watching the launch of the new space telescope this morning, and found it remarkable the people editorializing the thing (seemingly all phds in astronomy) were all vapid nincompoops. I mean, a lot of people who train in the field are very smart indeed, but people who stick around for government welfare cheese look a lot like other sorts of people who partake in government welfare cheese. It was remarkable reading the history of American physics how it went from something a few weirdoes were super passionate about, to an important thing to mobilize in wartime, to a government welfare cheese racket: pretty much incinerated what was going on before.

                      Anyway, Merry Christmas to you Bruce!

            • remnny said, on December 23, 2021 at 5:21 pm

              >No trips to Bali for you. You’ll be eating cockroaches in your mud hut.

              You’re being a tad too optimistic.

            • Marty said, on December 23, 2021 at 7:07 pm

              The EV “revolution” is going to be a tremendous shit show. Although well intentioned (Elon) people want cars that are more energy efficient, the mass adoption is going to hurt a lot of working class people.

              If we had energy “too-cheap-to-meter” (nuclear), would be all for EVs.

              • Scott Locklin said, on December 23, 2021 at 10:16 pm

                What you don’t want to pay $27k to replace your battery every 6 years? You’re probably a vaccine denialist.

                The vision these dipshits have is to actually use the cars as large scale distributed energy storage that someone else pays for. Of course, these same numskulls are the ones who thought they could train people to turn the air conditioner off when it’s hot out, or the heater off when it’s cold out using “price signals.”

                It sort of boggles me that nobody has figured out how to turn a profit selling the things yet, even with the welfare cheese that comes with it. Lots of people making bucks out of the stonk speculation I guess.

                • t said, on December 27, 2021 at 5:02 pm

                  i think their vision is to use the distributed battery packs as a volatility suppresor for the spiky grid demand.

                • asciilifeform said, on December 27, 2021 at 6:31 pm

                  The even more perverse thing is that these autos won’t move a millimetre without an Internet connection and minute-to-minute permission from a central server. (And AFAIK this cripplement isn’t even unique to the Tesla.) And that this is not even widely regarded as perverse.

                  It is difficult to think of a more obvious, undisguised instrument of the “cockroach-eating evil future”.

          • chiral3 said, on December 22, 2021 at 8:06 pm

            I can’t say it much better than what Scott said: the benefits from the last 100+ years have been based on technological growth. Whether we peg that to economic growth or other outcomes it all leads to the same spot. So the need isn’t so much a need but instead is empirical and has historical precedent and if we remove technological progress what supplants that. Speaking generationally, and this should be of concern, it’s one thing to challenge the status quo and build off one’s inheritance in a new direction; it’s another thing to reject one’s cultural/ technological inheritance. I will not generalize to the whole but there’s certainly more of the latter than I would like to see. I’d argue that in a capitalist/democratic (anocratic) society economic growth is more often than not synonymous with technological growth and technological growth has been seen for centuries as an antidote to a growing population (food, medicine, resources, wealth accumulation).

            If app development and NFTs are intellectual chewtoys than we are talking about different things. I am talking about hard problems and the solutions to which had huge implications that were tangible, like creating the automobile or radio. Taking class D amplifier + radio + car = car radio isn’t exactly paying the Malthusian invoice off like car, amplifier, or radio did.

            I don’t know where the university system is headed. I am very good at specific predictions, but not at being a general futurist. I will say that the combination of university as a corporation and the whole roundfile the inheritance versus build on it would suggest something sinister. Occam’s razor suggests that universities continue to trend towards increased specialization, credentialization, and profit maximization thereby begetting more specialization and derivative fields. I left physics for wall street twenty years ago because I had all these skills but I didn’t know how to run a business. I could have done anything, though. Build computers, build lasers, do fundamental research, build weapons to kill people, biotech, intelligence work,… Now I can run a large global company and I still know how to build things. That flow doesn’t exist anymore except for a small subset of people coming from a few institutions. That leaves over 300M people SOL and they want theirs’ too.

            • DamnItMurray said, on December 22, 2021 at 11:34 pm

              I’m an engineering student and I feel for what you are saying on the specialisation front, shits out of wack! How would you recommend one try and be more generally competent, how should we delegate our study time, what concepts must we internalise?

              • Sprewell said, on December 24, 2021 at 3:43 pm

                I was an engineering student once, here’s what I did:

                – We were expected to take a couple of fundamentals courses out of fix or six subdisciplines in the large engineering discipline I studied, then increasingly specialize in one of those subdisciplines from then on. I took all the fundamentals courses instead, except one or two of the subdisciplines, then took most of the courses the next layer up from that too. Shit got crazy as I’d average five or six tougher courses a semester, when most engineering students I knew would take four or five mostly medium or easy courses instead. Of course, I had almost zero social life.

                – We were expected to take maybe 10% non-engineering courses, where most would goof off with basic “intro to economics” or something. I maxed those out instead, taking the weed-out course for premed majors, for example.

                – I took a fair amount of math, which I thought would help with engineering someday. It only did in a negative sense, I know enough of it to know how it’s mostly useless.

                – I continued this in grad school, ie maxing out my course load and keeping it diverse. I took a course that PhD students in that specialty were afraid to take while doing my masters (that one whacked my GPA hard, they were rightly scared), despite it not being my nominal specialty.

                – I always read widely and followed my curiosities the whole time: if I had to choose between time spent on my wider outside interests and the course material, I usually chose my interests. I should mention that I rarely attended class, only showing up to turn in homework or take tests. Most professors are horrible lecturers (if you think my university or department sucked, they were ranked in the top 3-7 for my engineering discipline, for what’s that worth): I’d show up for a couple of the first lectures then inevitably stop going after that, so a lot of time to read.

                That’s how you do it, but it was a huge waste of money for me to do so at a university, as I could have done all that reading on my own (I almost never conversed with teaching assistants or the professors at office hours, taking it as a point of pride to figure things out on my own). However, I was unemployable once I left the university, as my GPA was nothing special and every engineering employer only wanted to know what I’d specialized in and either didn’t care about or found my wide course selection puzzling. I ended up never working in that engineering discipline, but I think those choices have served me well since, though I now wish I had never gone to college.

                Of course, I have the mind of a generalist, like my father and some other ancestors. You should specialize instead if you think your mind is built that way. You can always mix in some generality, by doing some of what I did.

                Also, while being a generalist is very useful, almost nobody in engineering ever hires for it (the only person I ever saw say he’d hire for it is an open source project lead who had formerly worked at some leading tech companies). The optimal strategy may be to portray yourself as some sort of specialist while secretly operating as a generalist: I think that’s how most generalists who have to get hired get in. This may be changing, as there was a David Epstein book called Range that made the case for generalists a couple years ago.

                If you’re hoping to fill out your resume, don’t bother: no one cares. If you’re looking to gain genuine insight, despite society not looking or caring for it, generality is worth pursuing.

                • DamnItMurray said, on December 27, 2021 at 9:07 am

                  Beautiful, insightful, mesmerizing – this is why I read this blog. To pick your brains and immense experience a little bit more:
                  1) Why is most math useless in engineering(I have this secret feeling too, most complex things are staunchly inapplicable to real-world problems, none of my course mates knows this)
                  2) What career path did you choose? (will understand if you don’t want to post personal info)

                  • Sprewell said, on December 27, 2021 at 2:01 pm

                    Glad you liked it, I was beginning to think I had rambled too much.

                    1) Two reasons:

                    – Most engineering nowadays consists of using CAD tools that don’t require knowing much of the underlying math. A few engineering PhDs collaborate with some programmers to write software tools that automate and abstract away the math, so the vast majority of engineers only have to tinker with much simpler design rules. These tools may not have been as widespread when I was in college, but nobody does the math by hand now. I’m sure the profs still try to justify it as the engineers having some sense of the underlying math and physics if the software puts out wrong results, but the abstractions are piled so high at this point that this is as unrealistic as expecting a programmer to diagnose and replace a busted capacitor on his computer’s motherboard (I’ve actually done this, was fairly happy when it worked!). Engineers should obviously recognize wildly wrong results, but if the software is moderately off, the vast majority are simply not going to do the math themselves and realize it.

                    – Most math is simply a logical system, and as engineers we only care about some piece of math if we can model something in the real world with it. While there has been vast gobs of math developed over the last century, more and more of it was abstract and unrelated to any real world system. While we can occasionally find some use for some of that abstract math too- Hardy worked on number theory, satisfied that there was no practical use for it, only for some of it to be used in cryptography that secures your credit card transactions today- to be really worthwhile, I think math needs to be co-developed with scientists and engineers exploring the real world, else your base axioms and logical elaboration are unlikely to be useful. That’s not to say wild flights of mathematical and logical fancy like Hardy once indulged in shouldn’t be done, but I think we spend far too much funding on such mathematical development unmoored from real world use today.

                    Finally, I agree with Wolfram and Zeilberger that all math and physics should be done by computers now and all hand-written math should be thrown away, though we may disagree on which computational approaches are more promising.

                    2) I’m in software, like a lot of other engineers (I’ll sometimes ask people I newly meet in software what they studied in college, it’s usually some engineering discipline that has no connection to the software they work on now). I never see this discussed, but most types of engineering jobs in the US have been flat or down for decades (I don’t know how accurate that data is, you can find more charts at the first link). Many of us end up in software.

                    Personally, it was a good shift, as the feedback loop between idea to practice is much tighter in software and I enjoy that freer environment, but you miss some of the rigor of dealing with the real world as you do in engineering.

                    • anonymous said, on December 30, 2021 at 4:20 pm

                      I dunno: If you want to be a generalist, you need to understand what you are doing. Delegating understanding to a CAD system doesn’t get you there. Ideally, it would be why schools still insist on all the derivations.

                      Computers don’t think, they just calculate. There is some sort of distance between “doing math” (figuring out what *needs* to be calculated and how it corresponds to the world) and calculation.

                      It seems we have this sort of trap that our civilization has fallen into where the first generation makes a tool which concretizes their thinking, then pointy-headed managerial types decide the next generation of people who think are unnecessary and all they need are button pushers. The tools eat the tool-makers, and generation 3 is SOL. We’re left with rigid tools which do what the original toolmakers intended, and people who never learned how to do the thinking that allowed those tools to be invented.

                      Anyway, there is nothing for it but to learn how to do the thinking.The more understanding of fundamental things you have (physics, math), the better able to orient yourself you’ll be when faced with any particular application. (Then again, you can’t live in a world of abstract math and make the journey directly to applications from Platonic space either, you need the concrete examples to anchor your thinking. Or at least, I do.) You need both – there is a sort of Zen like balance here.

                      One particular bit of useful orientation:

                      Most physical problems of engineering interest can be broken out into a geometric part and a physical scaling part. The geometric part is usually some painfully complicated thing, if you want it exact, that depends on the geometry and scale of the situation, but is some nondimensional number (and even then, usually some small number (0.1 – 10 or something)). The physical scaling part is where the meat of the situation is, and can be deduced from the simple toy examples you do in class. Usually things can just be factored directly out.

                      Example: Magnetic field strength in the center of a helmholz coil (or any complicated coily thing): You usually have a current and a lengthscale that can be factored out, then some nondimensional map of field strength with position.

                      Example: Flow over a flat plate, and when things trip to turbulence. The classic Prandtl boundary layer problem: Aerospace engineers still take this problem, squint, and fold it over the wings of what they are analyzing, because computers suck at solving for turbulence. Why we still have wind-tunnels.

                      The key thing here is that 1. you can get a rough idea of the right answer, even a pretty good rough idea of the right answer with nothing but these simple equations and a piece of paper, and some nondimensional roughly-analogous geometry factors. (Lift coefficients for a wing, shape factors, etc) This allows you to do *design*, which requires rapid exploration of the parameter space and an analytical understanding of what the physical variables of interest are doing. 2. The computers can help you get the right number for the “geometric factor”, but in the end this gets you from an answer that might be within the right OOM (+/- 50%) to within 5% – nice, but not world-shaking. Understanding takes you from no-idea to rough OOM, computers get you the rest of the way, but computers wouldn’t tell you that the important variables in problem X are discharge voltage and the magnetic insulation of a gap.

                      Even if in your first few jobs, your boss just wants you to push buttons, the knowledge is valuable and will give you the range to jump to more interesting things later. In my own career, I’d never have gotten as far as I have without wanting to know how everything works at a fundamental level. (In fact, I’d even suggest stealing time here and there to study the fundamentals of whatever it is you are working on.)

                    • anonymous said, on December 30, 2021 at 5:35 pm

                      That Zelinger opinion … I’m an engineer, not a mathematician, but I have a bit of a strong reaction to that. It seems to me a fundamental misunderstanding of what proving things is about: If a computer has “proven something”, and hasn’t produced an epiphany in a brain about why something must be true, then it hasn’t proven anything (by my definition), just twiddled some bits. Computers twiddle bits all the time – which of those patterns of random RAM states correspond to the proof of this or that theorem? It would depend on forming a correspondence between the bit-patterns and a system of thought. A different interpretation/decryption/correspondence and that same bit pattern is a few rows of a cat picture, or the source code to EMACS. A sort of library of babel thing (Borges’s idea) is going on here when ascribing “proof” to a set of symbols.

                      Whenever we crack the general AI problem, and computers do something at a higher level than the merely mechanical, then they can be said to be “proving things”. IMO, proof is about understanding. A proof that can’t be understood hasn’t advanced understanding.

                      Not a formalist, though.

                    • anonymous said, on December 30, 2021 at 5:42 pm

                      Edit: Zeilberger

                    • Sprewell said, on December 30, 2021 at 11:12 pm

                      > If you want to be a generalist, you need to understand what you are doing.

                      This has nothing to do with being a generalist: I was simply answering his question of why I found “most math useless in engineering.”

                      > Delegating understanding to a CAD system doesn’t get you there. Ideally, it would be why schools still insist on all the derivations.

                      That’s a tricky matter: if you write code in C++ and not in assembly, have you lost “understanding” of what you’re doing because you used the intermediate tool of the C++ compiler? Probably not, though you are delegating a lot of low-level reasoning and detail to the compiler.

                      No CAD system allows you to just pick some template and then it magically “understands” what you want and does it for you. Instead, the software gives you a simpler and more abstracted set of rules with which you can design and tinker, then translates that into the needed computation and lower-level details.

                      The “derivations” have always been useless, that was just so the third-raters who teach could scam some money off the kids.

                      > Computers don’t think, they just calculate.

                      Sure, and the pencil and paper we used to use before don’t think either. 😉

                      > There is some sort of distance between “doing math” (figuring out what *needs* to be calculated and how it corresponds to the world) and calculation.

                      First, I would not call that “doing math,” nor do I suspect would anybody else. But if we employ your dichotomy, I would call the former “engineering” and the latter “doing math.” And if we see what CAD software does, it does some of the first two and all of the calculation.

                      The great utility of the software is that it standardizes and automates all three as much as it can, while allowing you as the engineer to produce the high-level design. Of course, if a particular software is for designing cars, it’s going to be no use in designing bridges, but there’s other software for that.

                      > It seems we have this sort of trap that our civilization has fallen into where the first generation makes a tool which concretizes their thinking, then pointy-headed managerial types decide the next generation of people who think are unnecessary and all they need are button pushers. The tools eat the tool-makers, and generation 3 is SOL. We’re left with rigid tools which do what the original toolmakers intended, and people who never learned how to do the thinking that allowed those tools to be invented.

                      There is a fair amount of truth to this viewpoint, but some falsity too. There are a lot more programmers today, now that we use the tools called compilers, than before when you had to write low-level assembly language. And there are always young kids coming up who create new programming languages, ie new tools. If you look at the number of engineers globally, the same has happened in most technical professions, except maybe for some that were obsoleted altogether like the blacksmiths. 😉

                      > Anyway, there is nothing for it but to learn how to do the thinking.The more understanding of fundamental things you have (physics, math), the better able to orient yourself you’ll be when faced with any particular application.

                      Ah, but most engineers aren’t “faced with any particular application,” most simply have to crank out the next Accord sedan or Core i5, and the CAD tools standardize and automate a lot of that work for them, while still needing the engineers to provide a high-level design.

                      The “thinking” and “understanding” simply becomes more specialized and high-level and removed from the low-level fundamentals and computation.

                      > (Then again, you can’t live in a world of abstract math and make the journey directly to applications from Platonic space either, you need the concrete examples to anchor your thinking. Or at least, I do.) You need both – there is a sort of Zen like balance here.

                      Agreed, that was my initial point, that taking more classes in the math department was not useful for my engineering. But I would go further and say that now that we have all this software, we should ditch teaching all the math too and focus on the high-level concepts for engineering undergraduates.

                      > Example: Flow over a flat plate, and when things trip to turbulence. The classic Prandtl boundary layer problem: Aerospace engineers still take this problem, squint, and fold it over the wings of what they are analyzing, because computers suck at solving for turbulence. Why we still have wind-tunnels.

                      Obviously there are domains where no math/computation, whether hand-written PDEs or automated numerical meshes, works well and we still have to eyeball it.

                      > Understanding takes you from no-idea to rough OOM, computers get you the rest of the way, but computers wouldn’t tell you that the important variables in problem X are discharge voltage and the magnetic insulation of a gap.

                      I suppose it depends how often your engineering discipline faces such new or bespoke situations, where all this low-level design hasn’t been standardized and automated in software already. I don’t think this new work is more than a small minority of engineering revenue today.

                      > In my own career, I’d never have gotten as far as I have without wanting to know how everything works at a fundamental level. (In fact, I’d even suggest stealing time here and there to study the fundamentals of whatever it is you are working on.)

                      Sure, that can help, but it’s unrealistic for most engineers these days, especially if you’re including the math with the fundamental concepts. More and more programmers only use IDEs nowadays, I’ve been surprised how many are incapable of just using a text editor and command-line tools. I’m sure you’ll find the same with most engineers and their CAD software tools.

                      > If a computer has “proven something”, and hasn’t produced an epiphany in a brain about why something must be true, then it hasn’t proven anything (by my definition), just twiddled some bits. Computers twiddle bits all the time – which of those patterns of random RAM states correspond to the proof of this or that theorem? It would depend on forming a correspondence between the bit-patterns and a system of thought. A different interpretation/decryption/correspondence and that same bit pattern is a few rows of a cat picture, or the source code to EMACS. A sort of library of babel thing (Borges’s idea) is going on here when ascribing “proof” to a set of symbols.

                      I see random scratches on paper all the time: who decides that those mathematical symbols constitute “proof” either? This is actually a fairly deep question, if you want to go there, and Zeilberger has some more recent opinions that may blow your mind, if you think computer proofs are suspect.

                      I doubt many mathematicians would agree with him, but I think he’s right about most of what he writes, ie the discipline is largely wrong.

                      > Whenever we crack the general AI problem, and computers do something at a higher level than the merely mechanical, then they can be said to be “proving things”. IMO, proof is about understanding. A proof that can’t be understood hasn’t advanced understanding.

                      I completely disagree. What we call “proof” today is simply coming up with a series of logical deductions that seem to show a connection within a logical system. It is merely a path we’ve found through the rules of a logical system, which computers already do better in many areas than us meat-abacuses. It has nothing whatsoever to do with understanding, though that sometimes helps or can be the outcome for how things work in our brains.

                    • anonymous said, on December 31, 2021 at 1:16 am

                      Funny you should mention the 4 color theorem. In 8th grade geometry class, I and a few other bored students (our public school teacher had forbidden us from actually learning trigonometry ahead of her reading the textbook) had formed a “math club” and met to work on random things in study hall. One of those things was the 4 color theorem, because we had read in an old textbook that it hadn’t been proven (This was 1996 or so.)

                      I came up with something that, while it probably wouldn’t be regarded as sufficiently airtight by a formalist mathematician, was enough of a proof for my own satisfaction in 8th grade. It had two parts:

                      1. In order to force the necessity of a 5th color, you needed to construct a situation where at least 5 territories each touched the other 4.
                      2. You can’t do this in a plane. (The tedious part that I imagine they did by computer.) You can shrink the territories to dots and the connections to edges in a graph (topology, though I didn’t know what it was called at the time.) Then you have to go through all 5! (120) cases of trying to legally connect them up without crossing an edge. All cases have crossings.

                      So while it isn’t publishable, and all I have is my claim. I may have scooped the computer proof by a bit. Eat your heart out John Henry.

                      Though I also think there have been various ways of violating the 4-color theorem by playing various games with fractal territories that have infinitely interleaved borders of zero area – things like that.

            • Sprewell said, on December 30, 2021 at 4:35 pm

              > if we remove technological progress what supplants that

              Your original post was about “science’s ability to progress” though, not technology. We already have plenty of past science and tech to build future tech on.

              Obviously, new scientific discoveries would help but since we can’t expect much from our declining universities, do you really think science should be the priority right now?

              > it’s another thing to reject one’s cultural/ technological inheritance

              I don’t know what this refers to, nobody is burning their iPhones and going off grid.

              > a growing population

              I’m sure you’re aware that the US fertility rate has been down for decades and the population would be declining if not for immigration.

              > If app development and NFTs are intellectual chewtoys

              App development can be, I don’t pay attention to NFTs.

              > I am talking about hard problems and the solutions to which had huge implications that were tangible… paying the Malthusian invoice off like car, amplifier, or radio

              Let’s see: a tech to commute, to amplify, and to communicate? Zoom, social media, and Wechat? I doubt the Apple engineers who stuffed 30-60 billion transistors into their latest M1 chips to power those online services would agree that they’re not solving “hard problems.”

              > I don’t know where the university system is headed.

              The roundfile, should’ve happened a long time ago.

              > Now I can run a large global company and I still know how to build things. That flow doesn’t exist anymore except for a small subset of people coming from a few institutions.

              I doubt that, and I don’t think running large groups like that will be done much anymore.

              > That leaves over 300M people SOL

              I suspect they will have better lives than your generation. If not, it will be because they screwed it up, which would be on them, or from paying off the giant public debt their parents rung up, ie on your generation. 😉

          • asciilifeform said, on December 27, 2021 at 8:04 pm

            > no widespread MRI usage

            Observe that the “scan yourself every morning for microtumours” SF-future of MRI has not panned out.

            Because this would need room-temp superconductivity (otherwise you’re stuck with the current $10mil Dewar bomb) which is quite likely physically possible, but “lizards” torpedoed all even halfway-promising research avenues to it — likely because it is a clearly “dangerous” Gutenberg-style “disruptive technology” with unpredictable social effects.

            • Scott Locklin said, on December 27, 2021 at 8:31 pm

              A friend of mine built a non-superconductive MRI into his mattress out of spare twine and redneck spit. It’s possible to do, I think and there is an enthusiast community around this. Probably has some FDA horse shit preventing it. I got a CAT recently because I live in a non-insane country. Cost $75, probably increased my lifespan by 3 months from the hormesis effect. Even got a little essay by a doctor about how cool my lungs look.

            • Sprewell said, on December 27, 2021 at 11:01 pm

              Eh, Kubrick’s handheld tablet computers from his 1968 movie 2001 didn’t happen for another 40 years either, then all of a sudden they were here and they’re glorious. I’m touch typing this on my tablet now while I lie in bed. If home MRIs are possible, someone will do it eventually.

        • Tom said, on December 22, 2021 at 8:20 pm

          Specialization has already infected (and IMHO ruined) most of mathematics. I got immense pleasure reading through the old soviet journals where they started with a concrete problem and used that as a guiding post to the mathematics needed (be it elementary or advanced). Nowadays it’s all this Langlands crap where they’re trying to unify god knows what (and then blogging about it).

  5. anonymous said, on December 22, 2021 at 3:34 pm

    Was reading something recently on this random cave system in Romania: Movile caverns. A geologist located the cave system and they drilled into it as part of a geological survey: The caverns had been cut off from the surface for x million years. And the caves were full of spiders 😛

    Apparently a very strange ecosystem down there powered by hydrogen sulfide and ammonia bubbling up from some geothermal source. Maybe not anomalous in the sense that it is an inexplicable hole in our understanding of how life works, but certainly very weird. Maybe relevant to hopes of finding life in lightness subsurface oceans of gas giant moons.

  6. remnny said, on December 23, 2021 at 12:23 pm

    A collection of cases where transplant recipients experienced new memories / personality traits after the transplant: https://wiki.chadnet.org/files/personality-changes-following-heart-transplantation-the-role-of-cellular-memory.pdf

    New favorite foods, hobbies, temperaments… even a lesbian woman who turned straight after receiving a straight person’s heart. There’s also the chilling implication that they *lost* a part of themselves when the damaged heart was excised.

    ——————–

    You’re not the first person to posit that the rainbow people are victims of some behavior-modifying parasite. Twatter user @QuasLacrimas has compiled an impressive dossier tracing the pathogenic “spread” of the “gay germ” in post-Renaissance Europe: https://www.apostategallery.com/exhibitions/2021-11-24-gaygerm-d0/

    I’m not fully on-board, but he makes an interesting point about how rare male homosexuality was in the ancient world, even in places with no sanctions against it.
    (the other exhibits on that site are straight-up hilarious)

    • Scott Locklin said, on December 23, 2021 at 2:05 pm

      Depends which ancient world/time period you’re talking about I suppose. I got the idea from Greg Cochran. It’s a little bit silly, as humans do a lot of things that are worse for human fertility, like go to grad school/join the priesthood/become Shakers: evolution says these things should weed themselves out in a few generations. Still, it’s worth thinking about.

      Chadnet is turning into one of the great internet resources.

      • chiral3 said, on December 23, 2021 at 3:07 pm

        The whole behavior/intelligence having pathogenic etiology is really intriguing but it can’t stand on it’s own. I usually come back to simple ideas – primarily because I don’t have complex ideas on these subjects – from evolutionary anthropology. For instance, to continue the grad school, shaker theme, it makes very little sense that we kept women around after menopause. Not to say that they don’t serve a tribal purpose in helping with home and children but they were more of a cost and vulnerability than a benefit. So it makes no evolutionary sense… and I certainly can’t argue that there was a virus that played into it all. It’s not hormonal or environmental. It’s probably complex and ensemble-based social rules that kept the strong an young from throwing them off cliffs.

    • Sprewell said, on December 23, 2021 at 3:17 pm

      Any evidence of a “trans germ?” Because I find it weird how that’s spreading, particularly among coders who work at Big Tech firms.

      • anonymous said, on December 23, 2021 at 5:37 pm

        I’d like to know what happened to programmers in general, as a population. In the 90s, they were these free-speech-absolutist anarchist types who were very territorial about their computers, their privacy, their code, their professional autonomy. Now you have these pod-people who claim to like the glass-box panopticon offices they are planted in under heavy surveillance, and are totally down with building a shitty surveillance state, agile micromanagement, and letting Apple/Microsoft brick their machines every other week with “security updates”. They claim to like pair programming, and are all enthusiastic team players.

        It’s like a total population replacement. What happened to all the irascible assholes with *minds of their own*?

        • anonymous said, on December 23, 2021 at 5:41 pm

          Also, how on earth does this happen to an industry where the programmer owns the entire means of production by default, with no barriers to acquiring it. (His brain, a keyboard, a screen, and any number of cheap devices.) It’s not like he’s trapped by his inability to individually acquire a text editor.

          • asciilifeform said, on December 27, 2021 at 6:51 pm

            IMHO the “secret” here is very simple: the actual real-world commercial demand for novel (or even genuinely *working*) software is nearly zero. Observe that the “1980s micro” world of folks making a first-world living by selling useful soft on floppies with mimeographed manuals by mail-order is gone.

            What virtually all current-day programmers occupy themselves with is the maintenance of duct-tape-and-chewing gum abominations for “too big to fail” bureaucracies and their pseudopods. This has gone on long enough that it has in fact palpably changed the type of person who is even willing to enter the field. Hence the pestilential abundance of “apparatchiks” of all stripes.

            • Sprewell said, on December 27, 2021 at 10:11 pm

              I would present this differently, though we may be describing the same phenomenon. While it is true that indie programmers had it easier in many ways decades ago, my mental image is that eventually roving gangs of the “pod” programmers got together and mobbed them.

              Specifically, those larger groups got together and created operating systems or search engines that were so large and cheaply priced that the market consolidated on their software, just as the big three automakers once put the hundreds of indie automakers out of business a century ago. While their software may have been of good quality initially, they eventually got fat and lazy and the bureaucracies got out of control.

              However, I also think that early organization that led to the Big Tech corporations of today was fundamentally misconceived, ie beavers build dams because that’s all they know. While there are some real analogies between the earlier automative scaling and current software scaling, the economics and culture are fundamentally different for intellectual products, so I see the software corporations dying out in the coming years.

        • Scott Locklin said, on December 23, 2021 at 10:22 pm

          >What happened to all the irascible assholes with *minds of their own*?

          They retired. Or got used to gritting their teeth.

          I had a lunatic friend who blamed the holocaust on inadequate German toilet training techniques in the early 20th century. Believe it or not someone at Berkeley got tenure for this insane idea: https://www.amazon.com/Life-Like-Chicken-Coop-Ladder/dp/0814320384
          I always thought she was a barking looney, but there’s definitely something wrong with how kids were raised in the US in the last 30 years. Kids aren’t meant to be kept in prison. I was running around the neighborhood on my own when I was 3 for Chrissakes.

          • Apicus said, on December 27, 2021 at 2:57 pm

            scott

            > They retired. Or got used to gritting their teeth.

            They are gone. Almost no one knows or cares about the history of computer science, especially programmers. This is a shame because it has much to teach us. Here is my abbreviated version. In 1962 Engelbart published a paper called “Augmenting Human Intellect” where he put forward his vision for personal computers: a tool to help us think more clearly, to better understand, and to solve complex problems. This vision drove the early development of personal computers. You can see these ideas in action in the “The Mother of All Demos” video from 1968.

            These ideas inspired the early pioneers of computing such as Alan Kay and the Xerox Parc engineers. In the early 1970s the Parc team invented the modern PC as we know it today. The computers we have on our desks differ little from the 1973 Xerox Alto. Sure, our computers are faster and have better graphics but conceptually differ not all. Conceptually, ours may even be worse.

            From this I see two things worthy of note. One is how often do you see augmenting human intellect as the primary goal of computing? Rarely if ever. Now it is all about monetization, clicks, “engagement”, diversion, and all the other petty things so common today. The early spirit of computing with its bold, if naive, goal has been corrupted and lost.

            My second point is that this history shows that the idea of linear progress is false. The computers we have 50 years after the Alto are technically better but not conceptually better. If they had progressed according to the original vision then the computer I am using to write this would be critiquing my arguments, identifying fallacies, providing points and counterpoints, maybe suggesting historical examples (and counter-examples), etc. Alas, my dumb computer does none of these except spell-checking.

            A better model than linear progress, therefore, is more like this: when something new comes along there is a great, creative explosion. During this creative phase all the ideas latent within the new form are expressed. After the creativity comes consolidation where some of the initial ideas are worked out and refined. And finally comes the corruption phase. In this phase the creativity has been exhausted and the original impetus forgotten. Trivial changes are called progress but the reality is one of decline. Eventually a bold new vision takes hold, the old is swept away, and the cycle repeats itself.

            • asciilifeform said, on December 27, 2021 at 6:40 pm

              “It’s the money.”

              The cost of living in the “civilized world” was (quite artificially, but that’s another discussion) jacked up to the point that virtually everyone who is even remotely qualified to work on “intelligence augmentation” is instead slaving away at keeping the “duct tape and chewing gum” nonsensical software world in a play-pretend semblance of working order.

              And the “open source” concept is no effective pill — no one will be baking a replacement for the current idiot CPUs and the consequently idiotic OSes with a lunch-money budget and nights-and-weekends work.

              • Sprewell said, on December 27, 2021 at 10:39 pm

                Yeah, I call bullshit on any “cost of living” excuse. They choose to take it easy and work on duct tape nonsense, because they could always instead work there for five years, save half their income, and then go live someplace cheap and work on their own software ideas. That’s the way entrepreneurship was always done: it is even easier now, though it still takes real sacrifice (I don’t include the devil’s bargain of running after dumb VC investors).

                As for open source, you do realize that the most widely deployed OS kernel in the world right now is open source and the CPU ISA with the most buyin as the next big hardware platform is an open standard? I’m not saying either is a technical marvel, but Linus did in fact bake the replacement for Windows as linux is now the most widely deployed OS.

                However, I do agree with you that the lack of money in open source is a big problem. The crypto guys were able to do it by floating their own currencies, but that hasn’t panned out as nobody actually uses them for anything other than speculation, ie real, practical use for payment is miniscule. The two most widely deployed software projects of the last decade, Android and iOS, were a mix of open and closed source: that is the model that will power and pay for the sea of programmers routing the corporations.

                • asciilifeform said, on December 28, 2021 at 12:23 am

                  > work there for five years, save half their income, and then go live someplace cheap and work on their own software ideas

                  Not everything (and especially not fundamental research) is a good fit for entrepreneurship. (Picture if e.g. Heaviside had to convince a modern VC of the positive ROI of his work…)

                  > the most widely deployed OS kernel in the world right now is open source and the CPU ISA with the most buyin…

                  They’re garbage. Concretely, overflow-and-crash-lang (C & friends, and the architectures which force their use) is 40+ years past its sell-by date.

                  • Sprewell said, on December 28, 2021 at 2:19 am

                    We weren’t talking about “everything” or “fundamental research:” you said “no one will be baking a replacement for the current idiot CPUs and the consequently idiotic OSes” with “the ‘open source’ concept.” I pointed out the former is starting to happen now with RISC-V and the latter has already happened with linux.

                    As for the separate issue of quality that you now raise, I agree that linux leaves a lot to be desired, don’t know much about RISC-V but others too say it’s outdated. But these are the early attempts at more distributed, open-source development, and when mixed with closed source as with Android, that hybrid model already dominates the market. I think that presages a move to an even more decentralized tech development process with much more competition, which will hopefully raise the level of quality and innovation too.

                    Btw, check out Heaviside’s bio some time: he was “chronically poor” his whole life, often depending on family, and still cranked out great work, while fighting the establishment of his time. He didn’t sit around waiting for VCs to fund him or would likely even deign to talk to them: he just went out and did it.

            • Verisimilitude said, on December 28, 2021 at 3:35 am

              Firstly, this is my first comment here. Hello Scott, I’ve enjoyed reading this website every now and again when I’m reminded it exists. Consider using a comment system that allows those of us with websites to host our avatars; here’s mine, as an example:

              >Almost no one knows or cares about the history of computer science, especially programmers.

              I agree, and have written about this here: http://verisimilitudes.net/2020-09-24

              People don’t even understand for why the machines exist. Personally, I see rather none of the foundation of current computing worth keeping. My latest work takes issue with the omnipresent idea of representing text in machines character-by-character. I’ve been refining the ideas behind this for a while. Earlier work was in the opposite direction of the issue, taking issue with representing programs in that same character-by-character way. If Urbit weren’t stupid and unoriginal already, keeping ASCII around would be a prime complaint to hold about it. I don’t want to be obnoxious about linking to my website, so anyone curious should follow the links I’ve already given and find them in my prime article index. My point in mentioning my work is that there are still people working on novel ideas, but none of you had ever heard about me before, I figure, and why would any of you’ve? The Internet is for spreading disgusting sexual ideas and disgusting commerce nowadays. If nearly all intellectual work worth doing weren’t already a solo effort, this would be a real issue.

            • Sprewell said, on December 28, 2021 at 6:46 pm

              I can’t disagree with your overarching theme of conceptual decline, but I do quibble with some of your underlying points:

              – “Augmenting human intellect as the primary goal of computing” was only ever something that early adopter crowd of autodidacts wanted. Most people don’t have much of an intellect to augment, and as I noted earlier in these comments, would much rather amuse themselves at the current circus of reality TV shows or youtube cat videos. Given the much larger market for the latter than the former, it’s understandable that most in tech work on those “petty things” the masses want rather than the original “bold” goals that few want.

              However, I agree with you that we have greatly under-invested in the latter, and hopefully we’ll see “a bold new vision” come about soon for those of us who want it. I have several ideas in that vein that I hope to build into real software one day.

              – If my computer were capable of “critiquing my arguments, identifying fallacies, providing points and counterpoints, maybe suggesting historical examples (and counter-examples), etc.”, it would fairly soon go Skynet and take over the world. 😀 Lenat has been working on Cyc to power something like your assistant for 40 years, and appears nowhere close to offering even a rudimentary version. I’ll settle for an updated electronic version of Bush’s more mechanical Memex.

              Also, It is interesting that you lay out a three-act cycle of development, as I was just thinking in such terms yesterday when trying to figure out how so much recent tech gets stuck in the early stages and never really progresses, eg how hypertext systems got stuck in whatever came out of the early ’90s ferment when they first spread widely and have not developed much since. I conceived of the natural progression of tech as

              – an early barren stage where the fundamentals are still being discovered, similar to a butterfly in chrysalis
              – a creative flowering, where it spreads its wings and undergoes much elaboration
              – a mature stage, where most of the inherent capability of the current form is known and employed to good, stable use

              The problem is that in current tech markets, money rushes in so fast that it stunts the first two stages, as everybody is in such a hurry to get to the profitable third stage, eg Berners-Lee posted the first Web page in 1990 and less than five years later, Netscape raised $150 million in their IPO which kicked off the dot.com boom.

              I suppose it’s good that the money is now available to entrepreneurs, but I wonder if the more enlightened ones might not soon start turning down the money in the early stages, to keep the investment at the right level and lower the risk of crashing and burning like WeWork.

              • Apicus said, on December 30, 2021 at 1:45 pm

                All fair points. I admire that the these early pioneers had a goal that wasn’t just “make money”. Augmenting human intellect wasn’t that bad as far as technocratic idealism is concerned. It clearly didn’t survive contact with mass society.

                My wish-list of features for writing software was fanciful and probably inhabits the world of flying cars and domed cities, or whatever the newer versions of these are–self-driving cars, quantum computers? Still it wouldn’t have to be endless-paperclip-generating-AI to be useful. I’d be happy with something like Symbolics’ Concordia from 1985. The Open Source movement has been a disappointment in this regard, very little actual creativity and mostly derivative.

                The three cycle theory I put forward is more of a hunch than anything well thought out. All cultural endeavors–the arts, science, philosophy, etc.–seem to follow cycles of fruitful creativity and of decline. I suspect there is a natural cycle at work. I don’t pretend to understand it very well but I think a cyclical view has more merit than the myth of Progress.

          • asciilifeform said, on December 27, 2021 at 7:14 pm

            I suspect that there are still plenty of folks trying to do something genuinely original. ( I for instance am trying to bring back “the old Internet”, i.e. genuine P2P routing — http://www.loper-os.org/?p=3969 ) but you won’t hear about it from the glossy magazines, apparatchik academia, or the SV funding circus.

            • Sprewell said, on December 27, 2021 at 10:54 pm

              Cool project, and you’re right that there’s always original work bubbling up somewhere. I love that you’re going straight p2p, can’t wait to replace this shitty Matrix app I’m currently trying with a real p2p alternative.

              What do you think of Chaum’s mix networks approach, if you’ve seen it? I love that they’re focusing on a real usecase like private messaging rather than simply creating yet another speculative token, but I’ve not looked at their technical approach in any detail.

              • asciilifeform said, on December 28, 2021 at 12:25 am

                > What do you think of Chaum’s mix networks approach

                It’s yet another shitcoin. And inescapably centrally-controlled (all shitcoins are guilty until proven innocent of central control via premining/premeditated early-mining.)

                • Sprewell said, on January 19, 2022 at 9:08 pm

                  Replying to your above comment here, since the nesting got too deep up there:

                  > “Trustless” IMHO is (an often deliberate) misdirection — you are always trusting your counterparties (i.e. someone on the other side of the net connection, whom you explicitly decided to trust.)

                  > The more interesting distinction is whether a system also, implicitly forces you to trust some meddlesome parasitic toad (a SVcorp-owned server; a central indexer; the author of an unreadable “obfuscated-C-contest” pseudo-Opensource program, and those of its massive wads of dependencies; your ISP; etc)

                  I don’t see much of a distinction there, as you are technically opening network connections with all the “toads” too at some point.

                  I would instead list four broad categories of parties you might have to trust within various online systems:

                  1. Those you are directly interacting with, say someone you’re sending Bitcoin.

                  2. Third parties who intermediate that interaction, ie the server, indexer, or ISP you list.

                  3. Third parties using the same tech who you may never directly interact with, unlike the first two above, but who still affect you. A good example might be the buyers and sellers of Bitcoin who drive its price up and down, which affects you if you own Bitcoin even though you don’t interact with them. Another would be all the video traffic consumed by other Netflix users, none of whom you interact with but who can still slow your Netflix stream to a trickle at peak hours.

                  4. Those writing the software itself, ie the author you mention.

                  I wasn’t including 4. when saying Bitcoin isn’t really trustless, because even though that matters a lot, I don’t think they ever claimed you could not vet the author or source code of your Bitcoin client software and be fine. Rather, they claim their various software mechanisms minimize trust in the first three categories I listed, for example, because it takes a majority of miners to insert fraudulent transactions and such collusion is unlikely.

                  That’s certainly not trustless to any significant extent, nor am I impressed with their aims or all the mechanisms they came up with.

                  How do you deal with similar problems in Pest: I notice you have a solution for NAT, would it work well for dynamic IPs too? Most ISPs don’t provision static IPs to most network users these days, especially on cellular networks, which causes problems for most pure p2p systems.

                  • asciilifeform said, on January 19, 2022 at 9:17 pm

                    > I notice you have a solution for NAT, would it work well for dynamic IPs too?

                    The algo given in sect. 5 treats dynamic IP as simply an aspect of the NAT problem, and is expected to work, in all cases where a freshly-booted station is able to reach at least one untrapped peer.

                    Note that the two current prototypes do not yet implement sect. 5, however.

                    I expect there are uncommonly fascist specialized NATs where all forms of practical drilling fail. But anywhere one can presently use e.g. Skype, will be able to Pest.

                  • asciilifeform said, on January 19, 2022 at 9:24 pm

                    The ISP does not always necessarily belong on the list of “whom trusted” in this sense. It belongs there strictly if your application’s traffic is cryptographically “naked.”

                    In the case of crypto-signed traffic (signed with keys under your control, rather than the centrally-masterkeyed SSL Reich circus) it is being “trusted” merely to deliver your packets to the specified destination; if it fails to do so, or attempts to monkey with the payload, your (or the counterparty’s) system will simply resend; and if the situation recurs chronically, get a new ISP.

                    In a properly-designed protocol, you “trust” your ISP in the same exact sense you “trust” your electric company.

            • anonymous said, on December 28, 2021 at 4:45 pm

              I’m sort of writing (because migraines and work eating all my time) a peer-to-peer messaging/mail application (client/server at every machine, addressbook of friend IPs). I’ve been bogged down in Handbook of Applied Cryptography for a while, but have all the large integer math stuff working reasonably fast by now.

              • anonymous said, on December 28, 2021 at 5:28 pm

                I’d throw down and challenge you to be the first to implement the decentralized encrypted peer-to-peer com solution, but unfortunately I’m not much of a credible threat right now. Good luck, and I’ll try to find my brain.

                • asciilifeform said, on December 28, 2021 at 7:10 pm

                  > be the first to implement the decentralized encrypted peer-to-peer com solution

                  Note that there are already two published and working prototypes of “Pest” — which is not only decentralized (and without the typical caveats) and encrypted, but whose complete spec presently fits in a brochure-sized space.

        • Sprewell said, on December 24, 2021 at 1:03 pm

          I have never worked at those pod-people Big Tech corporations, but my impression is the irascible ones took up the golden calf and stay quiet because of the millions they’re making now. Some leave and start up the few open source projects worth anything, that quietly power a ton of services layered on top by others. Every once in awhile a prpgrammer like Damore will believe the corporate BS about welcoming feedback and they quickly chuck him out to keep the gravy train rolling, sending a clear message to those more politically savvy than him of where the third rail is.

          The problem is that the programmers are never very business-savvy, so they have no real alternative to working for the few technically literate founders who are capable of coming up with new business models, Gates, Brin, Jobs, and so on. That’s why Jobs died richer than Woz would make in a hundred lifetimes, despite Woz knowing more tech than Jobs could garner in a thousand lifetimes.

          As for means of production, I don’t think those corporations are sustainable with intellectual products though, which is why I think the open source process of a sea of programmers collaborating online will win out in the medium-term, ie no corporations (not all the software will be open source: some high-value components will be closed-source, just as Android and iOS are a mix of both open and closed source). The crypto bros are building this out, the Bitcoin software conspicuously wasn’t written by a company but a ragtag group of coders collaborating online (their product isn’t very good yet despite being overvalued: it’s still early for crypto).

          The pod people are not programmers, they’re outsiders who horned in for the money. I have a relative at Big Tech like this, was never very interested in tech till he realized there was big money there. Crypto is in some ways the programmers striking back, but it won’t work unless they get the business models right this time (speculative shitcoins, including bitcoin, are not the answer).

      • remnny said, on December 23, 2021 at 5:54 pm

        That’s all environment, IMO. My pet theory is that being online all day causes you to develop a disconnect w/ your meatspace self, which manifests as a sort of “internet dysphoria” that is mistaken for gender dysphoria. Most of the egregious troons I’ve seen don’t want to be a woman so much as they want to be an internet presence. My theory explains, among other things:

        – The disparity between modern trans identity and traditional ones (thai ladyboys, sworn virgins, hijras, etc.)
        – Why so many are autistic (autistic people feel awkward and impotent in real life – the fine-grained control the computer gives them makes it easy for their internet presence to surpass real life)
        – Why so many are internet forum moderators (the most internet-addicted are the most susceptible, and being a mod gives them clout they lack in real life)
        – Why so many are obsessed with shoujo anime like “Sailor Moon”, “K-On”, “Azumanga Daioh”, etc. (these shows were originally intended as wish fulfillment / copium for dumpy awkward girls – provide an ideal of their lost “girlhood”, and a reminder that *women* can be maladjusted losers, too)
        – Why so many have empty, tepid ideals of what life as a female would be like, informed by porn, anime, or internet loser subculture

        A good test of this hypothesis would be to look at a culture like Japan, where having multiple “faces” is normal, and the social norm is to have a “secret life” on the internet without trying to integrate those disparate parts of yourself. Crossdressing catamites are definitely a thing over there, but AGP troons? I doubt it.

        • Sprewell said, on December 24, 2021 at 1:06 pm

          Could be. I don’t hang out with these people, I just see their github profiles one by one flip from blue to pink. It’s made me seriously wonder if there’s something in the water in SF.

        • asciilifeform said, on December 27, 2021 at 6:55 pm

          IMHO at this point even being willing to consider entering the software field today as a 19 year old is evidence of serious psychiatric issues. The co-morbidities in light of this are unsurprising.

    • anonymous said, on December 23, 2021 at 5:31 pm

      I dunno: The ancient Greeks were simultaneously very masculine, and thought of as normal a lot of behavior we would think of as very gay.

      All ancient cultures were under tremendous Darwinian pressure: Every tribe went to war with every other tribe every summer when things warmed up enough to go campaigning. The hill herders were always raiding the plains farmers, and vice versa. A lot of Greek murals of the local team going out to stab the next town over with spears: Like football, but with existential stakes. It would make sense to me that this would tamp down on weirdness that was maladaptive, but also on purity purges, allowing some of it to exist.

      • chiral3 said, on December 23, 2021 at 5:59 pm

        I think the term is from linguistics and is called “semantic shift”. It’s when a word changes meaning through time with use. Examples are gay, faggot, guy, flirt. As far as I can tell dudes used to engage in getting each other off on the reg whereas there’s very little to suggest that women did this. There was no gay culture or identity politics then. It wasn’t a lifestyle. Dudes would be away from Rome and give each other tugs. They didn’t make tee shirts or ask for a designation from the church or assemble in groups and demand acknowledgment. So I think the direct comparison of gay today and gay then is impossible. Apples and oranges. This doesn’t stop people from trying, though.

  7. […] Locklin on Science looks at biological anomalies, or just plain weird things. […]

  8. bruce g charlton said, on December 26, 2021 at 11:58 am

    “Remarkable capabilities of badly damaged brains…”

    My colleague Ed Dutton has a book in press which documents a surprisingly high prevalence of prematurity and underweight babies among geniuses – and some interesting theories about how some kinds of damage in some kinds of brains might be a positive factor in what is needed for genius attainment.

  9. Verisimilitude said, on December 28, 2021 at 4:09 am

    Hey Scott, I’ve made two comments, but it appears the first was consumed by the approval process itself. I’m unable to resubmit it, because the machinery correctly identifies it as a duplicate comment. Since I put time and effort into that comment, I’d appreciate this being corrected. However, I won’t mind this comment itself being deleted afterwards.

  10. Sprewell said, on December 31, 2021 at 6:57 pm

    Btw, got another 30+ year-old “anomaly” for you, many diagnosed with “AIDS” tested negative for HIV, as laid out in RFK Jr’s best-selling anti-Fauci book too. One great thing to come out of Covid for me: I’ve known the medical establishment was stupid for a long time, but I didn’t know they were so criminal too.


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