Quotable (#193)

Lessons from zombie-psychosis:

Cotard’s Syndrome—in which a person can believe that they’re dead, that their organs are rotting, or that they don’t exist—was first identified by the French neurologist Jules Cotard more than a century ago, in 1882. But the condition is so rare that it’s still far from fully understood. […] … But Cotard’s Syndrome isn’t simply interesting from a neuroscience or psychological perspective. In the world of artificial intelligence, roboticists are working to build ever-more complex machines that replicate human behavior. One of the central questions is whether machines can truly become self-aware. Could understanding Cotard’s Syndrome provide the answer?

This could go so wrong …

Quotable (#188)

This stuff is basic:

In medieval times, privileged sinners found absolution for their guilt through more formal contractual penance. Churchmen consulted books of penitentials that prescribed precise medicinal doses — donations, pilgrimages, fasting, and a host of other sacrificial acts — to offset particular sins to get them right again with God. The key was to find a way to keep enjoying sinning and still get to heaven on the cheap. […] In our atheistic and agnostic society, inexpensive, loud, and public virtue-mongering has replaced church penance — with Black Lives Matter, La Raza, Al Sharpton, network anchor people, NPR, the New York Times, and such acting as the new bishops who can dispense exemptions. […] The wealthy, the influential, the intelligentsia, and the cultural elite all broadcast their virtues — usually at a cut-rate rhetorical price — to offset their own sense of sin (as defined by feelings of guilt), or in fear that their own lives are antithetical to the ideologies they espouse, or sometimes simply as a wise career move. Sin these days is mostly defined as race/class/gender thought crimes. …

It’s almost like a state church …

Quotable (#183)

Kevin Rudd in The Guardian:

The slow, but steady decline of the UN, and the wider multilateral system which has the UN as its foundation, would be catastrophic for an increasingly unstable world. The peoples of the world, in one way or another, are increasingly asking the question: “Is anybody in control anymore?” when they see growing disagreement among the great powers, the re-emergence of old inter-state conflicts, terrorists on their streets, chaos in their markets, and jobs disappearing with nothing to replace them. People are questioning whether we are beginning to see the beginning of a deeper crisis in the foundations of the overall post-war order itself.

[Sarcastically derisive editorial comment deleted]

Quotable (#139)

PHNOM PENH: One of the Khmer Rouge’s top surviving leaders on Wednesday (Feb 18) challenged his life sentence for crimes against humanity and said he had only fought for “social justice” in Cambodia, in rare comments made to a UN-backed court. […] … “What I want to say today and what I want my countrymen to hear is that as an intellectual I have never wanted anything other than social justice for my country,” Khieu Samphan told the court’s seven judges on the final day of the appeal hearing.

Fair enough.


Quotable (#128)

‘The Fatal Conceit’ escalated to a whole new level:

Nowadays many of us have little contact with the wilderness, making it easy to view nature with rose-tinted glasses. The images we see of nature feature mostly pristine landscapes or healthy, photogenic wild animals. But this incredible beauty masks huge suffering. Many wild animals endure illness, injury, and starvation without relief. For example, the pain of animals that fall prey to predators like Cecil is especially horrific. Gulls peck out and eat the eyes of baby seals, leaving the blinded pups to die so they can feast on their remains. A shrew will paralyze his prey with venom so he can eat the helpless animal alive, bit by bit, for days.

The natural suffering of wild animals is real and breathtaking in its enormity, but incredibly little is being done to reduce it. Although many organizations work to preserve ecosystems and biodiversity, few focus on the well-being of individual animals. And despite more people taking notice of the torment wild animals endure at the hands of humans who hunt and poach them, little thought has gone into the question of how to help wild animals avoid natural agonies.

Despite the exotic nature of this example, it is still illustrative. There’s probably no ideological polarity of greater ultimate significance than that dividing those who want to shrink spheres of moral concern / interference, and those who want to — perhaps very drastically — expand them.

Fermi Paradox

It’s worse than you thought:

The Fermi paradox is the discrepancy between the strong likelihood of alien intelligent life emerging (under a wide variety of assumptions), and the absence of any visible evidence for such emergence. In this paper, we extend the Fermi paradox to not only life in this galaxy, but to other galaxies as well. We do this by demonstrating that traveling between galaxies – indeed even launching a colonisation project for the entire reachable universe – is a relatively simple task for a star-spanning civilization, requiring modest amounts of energy and resources. We start by demonstrating that humanity itself could likely accomplish such a colonisation project in the foreseeable future, should we want to, and then demonstrate that there are millions of galaxies that could have reached us by now, using similar methods. This results in a considerable sharpening of the Fermi paradox.


More recent Fermi Paradox sharpening here.

Descending from the abstract plane, there’s this slender thread to hang on to.