General

The biggest question

It's hard to believe how little concrete understanding there is about the fundamental question of existence.
This is probably because it's such a deep question that can't be verified one way or another, and so it's relegated to philosophy and religions. Much debate can be found, but not in an academical and scientific fashion.

Here I'd like to make a case, based on what we know today and from my very personal perspective.

One popular suggestion these days is that we live in a simulation. This may sound scientific, but I think that in the end it's a more modern and technical way of saying that "there is a God", so much for ditching religions.

Regardless of the hype and popularity, I think that this is a theory worth entertaining, and in fact it's the most plausible today, though it would not satisfy the question completely, because at the deeper level there would still be the matter of "who created the creator (of this simulation)", but it would still be a step forward (or upward).

The concept of life as a simulation was popularized in modern times by movies like "The Matrix" and "The Truman Show". The latter wasn't about a full-sensory digital simulation, but it showed a perspective of a life that was constructed in a physical setting that created the appearance of a world more complex than what it really was.

More than movies, I think that the biggest case for the idea of living in a simulation is due to the recognition of what we've been able to do with digital computers and video games.
Games are something that is very close to me. My involvement in game development came early in life and was generally a technical one, mostly focused on the real-time graphics side of things. I was always interested in simulating realistic experiences to the limit of what the hardware was capable of.

Computer graphics in games is very much about using a limited set of resources to give an impression of reality. Major optimizations are used, such as using hollow meshes of triangles that are built with just enough geometry and textures to look as realistic as possible at an interactive frame rate.
This is where "The Truman Show" analogy comes in. In the movie, the protagonist is fooled into living in what is a very extensive and complex movie set, where even the sky is artificial.

When Truman Touches the Wall @ Dale McGowan

This is also what happens in video games, where virtual objects are created at a level of complexity that is necessary just to fool the player. Most games can get away with using a textured dome, (or just a cube, with some perspective trickery) to represent distant objects such as mountains and the sky, without the player necessarily understanding the level of approximation that is used for those virtual object.

Imagine it in world space:

In practice, players today can still spot graphics artifacts due to limitations of the hardware, but these limitations are fast disappearing as hardware evolves and 3D rendering gets closer to be indistinguishable from reality. To be clear, I'm not suggesting that we're going to simulate our own reality to a truly unbelievable degree anytime soon. My suggestion is that it's become obvious to us how relatively easy it is to construct relatively complex virtual worlds. It's certainly easier to create virtual sub-realities than to evolve in the physical world with all its limitations.

From the perspective of a software engineer and game developer, it seems obvious that given the progress that we're making into creating more and more complex virtual worlds, we are likely to live in a virtual world ourselves. In fact, to think that we're not living in a simulation, is probably akin to thinking that Earth is at the center of the Universe. It would be arrogant to establish that our reality is just too special not to be a sub-reality itself.

This would also satisfy the observation that complexity can be captured in a fractal structure (self-similarity across different scales). Of course, an observation in this reality doesn't necessarily have to be true at higher realities, but my guess would be that higher realities would be structured on something that is more evolved than a fractal, not less.

8 Stunning Fractals Found in Nature | The Science Explorer

One counter argument to the idea of being in a simulation is that what is being simulated down to the atomic level is just too complex and it would consume too many resources. First of all, it's more likely than not that this simulation would be generated by entities in a universe that is far beyond what we can imagine and that doesn't respond to our same laws of physics. In that case, to our creators we would be more like a bunch of pixels in the Game of Life.

conway's game of life | Jumptuck

Secondarily, we ourselves have an incredibly limited perception of the potential matter in the know Universe. We have been observing celestial bodies for a long time, and we have been able to determine their movement and mass, so, in a sense we can reach very far with our deductive abilities, however that is still an extremely low resolution observation, and even as we expand our abilities to observe more in detail, it's a practical impossibility to truly inspect the far corners of the universe at the full purported resolution of the matter.

Let's not forget also how convenient are the fundamental laws of physics that restrict the speed at which particles can move (speed of light), restrict the resolution of matter (Planck constant) and how determinism is lost when entering quantum mechanics. This reminds me how in software engineering determinism can be dropped in favor of performance, like when converting an algorithm to work for multi-threading or when processing data in a lossy fashion.
Perhaps these known limitations of nature are due to our current comprehension, but they may also be hard limitations due to the complexity of the machine on which a software is running. In a sense, the conclusion by which information in this universe simply can't travel faster than the speed of light, is similar to having reached the walls of the stage in The Truman Show.

Is this all there is, or are we boxed-in from a deeper reality working on a different plane of existence ? My guess is that we are boxed-in, and we are some sort of emergent intelligence with the goal to solve the riddle and find a way out.

14 Films Sets You Can Visit at Universal Studios Hollywood ...

The flaw in this argument is that it's a very egocentric one. Here I'm assuming that humans are the key characters, but perhaps even though we're capable of guessing what the game may be about, we may still not be the species in this universe (biological or otherwise) that is equipped to solve the riddle. Maybe we have to make more powerful computers to solve this question, or maybe other life forms are the better candidates.

Shameful death for the non-compliant

I've been meaning to write about this for a while, so here it is.

With the current coronavirus situation, one thing that truly upsets me is how death has been exploited and honor of those that die has been tarnished.

I've seen news of people that have seemingly died of complications related to COVID-19, and that were portrayed as poor idiots that didn't jump head first into getting COVID shots. In some cases members of the family would comment and smear the perished family member, practically outing him as a dumb victim of conspiracy theories.

A shameful death is definitely a very unpleasant scenario, and I wonder how many people get vaccinated just so that if they died by COVID, they won't be considered recipients of the Darwin award.

The press is always going to be slimy, but family members should think twice before backstabbing their beloved ones after they can't defend themselves. In one specific case, a man in the UK died and his daughter was used to admonish those that, like her father, waited to getting his jab, while he tried to inform himself... what a disgraceful thing to do. The daughter totally missed the lessons about critical thinking and respect for the dead, and instead jumped right on board with the establishment (BBC) in shaming her own father.

Institutions and their brainless lapdogs (journalists) are practically blackmailing people into compliance. One more reason to be skeptical about everything.

Adopt a conspiracy theorist

For a while now I've come to the conclusion that it's important to occasionally listen to the so-called conspiracy theorists to see what's their take on just about any issue.

Of course in general if you had to bet your life, you'd be better off following some official guideline more often than not (stress on "more often"). However it's also important at some point to scrutinize things, so to keep in check those leaders that are tasked to serve the population that depends on them. This is even more important when talking about leaders that were never elected and simply came to be by virtue of raw economical power.

It's important first to understand how one should go about judging information. One big issue is that people tend to see what's true or not in a binary way, however most issues are not binary. Objectiveness is hard to reach because one first needs to define the domain of what is that bit of information that one is trying to definitely categorize as truth, and then one has to make sure that information that allows for that categorization to be made, is indeed reliable.

Different domains, perspectives and resolutions can make it much harder to come to a conclusion that is satisfactory.
To establish what is true, it's then clearly a complicated and lengthy task that we end up delegating to leaders, which appoint experts that use their knowledge and, ideally, also their best judgment.

People from the outside are assured that this is a very professional, ethical and honest structure that is the results of thousands of years of civilization and that is peak objectivity. In reality however there's corruption at every level. Leaders tend to be self-serving and experts tend to support those leaders which are a vehicle to their ambitions, be those ambitions for wealth, fame or both.

Institutions and leaders that guide them, have a great impact on everything, and corruption can be found at any level in this chain of delegation. People are promoted not because they are honest, but because they've served well those that have appointed them.

In all this, the "conspiracy theorists", those that are skeptical of everything, are a necessary component, because they will on occasion point so some truths (often in plain sight) that are otherwise never even considered by the general population.

Brains to computers, not happening

The idea of somehow uploading the state of the brain into an artificial one is often mentioned not just as science fiction, but also as some sort of transhumanist hope that is being worked on. This may be an interesting exercise to entertain, a research goal to pursue, but it's definitely doomed to fail, because it's a flawed idea on multiple levels.

The brain is a physical and very dynamic object, one built by cells which are living things. Neurons are destroyed continuously and are partly generated. Nutrition, physical trauma and many more subtle things, all affect the continuous changes of the brain. Neurons in time can establish different connections... everything is so dynamic and biological, it's a system so complex and so dependent on external environment that it's practically impossible to somehow recreate the necessary complete system that would operate, respond and evolve even remotely like the actual thing.

So, a digital brain that by some incredibly futuristic technology would be able to initially mirror an original biological brain, would progressively diverge from the original brain, because of fundamental mechanics but also because it couldn't possibly be exposed to the same effects, unless the digital brain would be so advanced that would for example be able to sample the blood of the host for drugs and alcohol and simulate those effect that a normal brain would have... but here we'd be talking about an understanding and a simulation so complex that by the time that one would be able to achieve that, the human brain would be practically irrelevant.

Of course one could simply decide to switch to a digital brain and go along with its relatively crude simulation, perhaps unable to process external effects related to what one ingests and breathes in. That would definitely quickly become something very different, where, paradoxically, the potential plasticity of that artificial brain may have to be limited to mimic the real thing using some arbitrary and approximative parameters. That is assuming that one may even reach that level of sophistication that today is unthinkable.

In conclusion, the digital brain replacing a biological one is just a flawed idea. If the goal is some sort of immortality, then one either tackles it from a biological point of view. The alternative would be to recreate a perfect biological simulation, basically a small virtual universe that mirrors the laws of nature, while also operating under the laws of nature (hard/impossible task in itself). Otherwise one simply decides to switch into some technology that is incredibly advanced, but simplified, and that is tweaked to mimic the real thing with some sort of containment programming put in to avoid that the artificial brain takes its own wild evolutionary path... which doesn't sound fun at all.

The “rich enough” fallacy

How many times have we heard about the ultra-rich wanting to "give back", saying that they just have too much money and that they feel the need to get rid of it.

That's of course a lie. It's just a way to avoid paying taxes, allocating that wealth instead towards charitable organizations that in exchange will accept to sustain whatever cause the donor wants to push for. It does make sense not to want to give your money to the government, but it is unfair that ultra-rich are able to do this while the rest of the population can't. Of course everyone can donate, but that doesn't buy them power and influence.

The point though it's that there's no such thing as feeling like you have too much wealth and that you have to give it away. It takes a lot of effort to reach a certain amount of wealth. One needs to own 10 millions before owning 100, and then needs to own 100 and 500 before owning 1 billion.

There's plenty of time and plenty of chances to stop becoming that rich in the course of the many years that it takes. It also takes a special drive to want to accrue that much wealth and the power that comes with it.

The general population can't normally wrap their heads around the idea of wanting more wealth and power for its own sake (or more likely, as a competition). When you live dreaming of owning a couple of houses and a couple of sports cars, you may think that anything beyond that is just gravy.

That's not how it works. To become extremely wealthy it takes a special kind of drive, the kind of drive that doesn't just dissipate. In fact, with time one may feel inclined to think that he's some kind of god figure, and may start to feel entitled to mold the world to his own image. This works for politicians as well, although those tend to settle for perhaps less actual power, but more visibility.

Anti-socials

Four months in, quitting Twitter and Facebook (I never really browsed Instagram) feels great. As I wrote when I decided to quit, I felt that it was repetitive and that I wasn't going to miss anything. I can confirm that now.

I still have personal accounts, but I use them solely to repost posts from my business accounts, something that happens maybe twice per month. I also have a Discord chat for business, which in itself is a bit of a community. Discord has an IRC vibe to it, although it's of course corporate stuff with no privacy.

I also didn't do much about alternative socials such as Gab and Minds. I've had accounts there for a long time. When I was on Twitter I'd at least repost those tweets, but now that I'm out of the loop, I don't feel like posting anything on any social networks. I think that it's the format itself that is wrong.

What makes more sense it's to just hang out in private groups of friends on messaging apps. That's definitely more natural and also a lot safer for people that may be afraid to lose their job for saying certain things on public squares such as Twitter. Thankfully that's not my case, but nevertheless, I recognize the benefit of small chat groups as opposed to openly posting on socials where it's more likely to be noticed the day that one says something that gets him crucified.

Hypnotized emotional beings

As a kid I grew up excited and optimistic about the future. The wonders of modern technology, the great achievements of the human species, such as landing on the Moon and the promises of computers, AI and robotics, all gave a picture of living in an era exponentially more advanced when compared to the past up to that point.

The end of the Cold War was also an incredibly hopeful event, one that showed great promise towards some sort of ideal Star Trek-future, where humans have settled all major diatribes and now need to go out in Space to look for new challenges also at the societal level.

As far as technology goes, I still dream of what will be possible in future, but when it comes to people, that's a different matter. No matter how we advance technologically, at the core we're still very emotional and instinctive. There's clearly a place for emotions in our biological make up, because those tend to favor procreation.
It's hard to argue against natural selection. Nevertheless, I think that it's important to understand how other humans think and behave, because we all depend on each other and we're subject to the choices that others may impose on us, directly or indirectly.

I have been following on and off the US politics during the years. I got dragged into it again in 2015 with the presidential campaigns and elections. By the end of 2020 I came to the conclusion that we live in a very artificial reality. There are people that are incredibly motivated to come to power, there's a power structure that allows them to reach a certain level, and there's infrastructure such as the media (news and social) that is also vital to support those power structures.

In all this, the general population is stuck in the middle. They are pushed and pulled until they pick a team and they are periodically fed half truths from their team. In addition to that, today, suspicion of the government and of institutions in general will quickly label anyone as a gullible conspiracy theorist.
Admittedly, many people do go overboard with their skeptical thinking at some point or another, but they can't be blamed too much for losing trust in institutions that are virtually always selective with facts, supposedly for the greater good.

Looking a bit deeper into the past, my conclusion is that humans haven't evolved that much. There's less poverty and maybe more justice now, but emotions still run the show. Rational arguments have a place, but they are not where power lies on. Power is acquired by persuading the masses, and that happens pretty much by any means possible.

I used to think that it made sense to call on hypocrisy the other side on a political or ideological war, but I realize now that that's an unproductive defensive position. It's naive to think that hypocrisy is something that is going to dissuade someone from getting their chunk of power. In the battle for ideals, those that stop and try to be rational are those that tend to lose.

Perhaps rationality has a good enough effect in small groups, but at the larger level, all that matters is sound bites and general propaganda. Repeat, repeat, repeat, until there's a working reality distortion field of your choosing. Lying is perfectly valid. It doesn't really matter as long as you can sell it.
Of course I wouldn't do that, but I'm also not trying to start a career in politics 8)

Teach a dog to wear its muzzle

Recently I left the house during daytime to go for some errands in a more crowded area of Tokyo. It was impressive to see 99.9% of the people all dutifully wearing a mask, even in the open and in spots that are not so crowded. I personally wear a mask when I enter a closed area, mostly out of respect, because there's a stronger demand to do so, because there's an obvious limitation of the air circulation. In the open however I consider it as an excess, and I think that people should consider reclaiming the freedom of not being muzzled as much as possible.

I guess that many don't take the mask off because it's easier to leave it on. Some I'm sure actually like the idea of a mask. Maybe because it gives them more privacy, maybe because they truly feel that they are "saving lives".

I'll assume however that most people would rather go back to the default of not wearing a cloth also for their face. By now we've heard contradictions on just about anything regarding COVID-19. Yet, most people would rather live a guided life, one where there's no questioning of authority, even in face of obvious contradictions and even at the cost of personal freedom.

Part of me wishes that people would realize that this level of conformity is dangerous to themselves and to society. Lack of individuality can be used to further truly evil plans, but it's also a state in which mediocrity can flourish at the expense of exceptionalism, without which technology and society can't evolve.

The other part of me is "black pilled", if most people are happy with being guided by politicians and high priests of creative science, to the detriment of their freedoms, then perhaps they deserve it. What is my place in all of this then ? Should I scream from the rooftops and try to tell everyone that life is not that good if you're just another brick in the wall, or should I perhaps come to terms with the fact that that's just how society is right now, and if I can't fight the social engineers, then perhaps I should join them ?

If people are willing to be scammed, maybe that's what they deserve and maybe I need to take a piece of that. I suppose that by trading the markets I'm already making a buck out of people's stupidity, because it's likely that most of what my algorithms earn comes from the "dumb money", from people that jump into trading thinking that money is there for the taking, while it's only really there because them and their peers are losing it.

However it goes, I'll always value family and friends, and I still consider myself as a good guy, but in some ways life is a zero sum game. Help those that want to be helped, but don't break your back to help those that act like sheep and are begging to be taken to the slaughter.

Seek financial independence

Although I can be rather formal and I'm generally not a rule breaker, I'm also somewhat of an anticonformist with a strong need not to feel like another cog in some machine, be that machine society or place of employment.

As a kid born and raised in Italy, I remember this culture of aiming to someday "find a job". Passion for computers and programming and a willingness to move outside the country was thankfully my ticket away from a possible life that I would have considered a curse for myself.
I then proceeded to work for many years in game development, doing mostly 3D programming, something that always compelled me, because it was both technically challenging and also offered the exciting perspective of tapping into the creation of virtual worlds where one could easily experience new things.

On my first real try for independence I still went for video games, because that's what I knew best and because there were things that I wanted to create and publish, which can be quite rewarding.
However games aren't really such a great business. Today, game development has largely been commoditized. The first mobile hardware still required a certain degree of technical skills to publish something noteworthy, but that has progressively not been the case.

Although I think that there's still a lot of room for application of technology to game development, that's something that is better done in a larger team, as an employee with maybe a great salary, but still an employee nonetheless, at an age when one is supposed to become a manager and stop worrying about software engineering... no thanks.

From that perspective, the best move that I could have done was probably what I did when I put all my efforts into making something of algorithmic trading. It's taken a lot of time and effort to finally have some degree of confidence in it, but it's given me a direct path to build wealth. Unlike when developing a game, right from the start there's a sense that one could put some algorithm live on some market and start to print money. That's unfortunately not the case, and all things considered it still took a good couple of years of continued work before hoping to truly see some profits being generated with some degree of confidence.

Nevertheless, to be working with finance it's still a much more direct path to wealth, and one naturally develops skills necessary to understand investing, something that everyone should know something (or a lot) about.

All this may sound like I'm obsessed with wealth, but it's really more about independence. We live in an unfair world where money is never enough. At some point or another, one needs an excess of wealth to solve some problem. My paranoid side tells me that it's a mistake to live a standard live with a good salary and hope to get comfort, health and occasionally some justice... that is of course if one values his own individuality, a view that nowadays may not be as popular, but to each their own.

Truth and reality

Premise: Not breaking any new grounds here, but laying it down as a reference.

Something is true if it’s real. Everything that we conceive is the fruit of perception, which is an intake of signals from our sensory abilities, such as vision and hearing. For all intents and purposes, there is no objective reality. Our mapping of reality is limited by our sensory abilities, which are limited by nature. Reality is also how we integrate those signals into our model of the world.

To try and establish a common base reality, one should follow two major rules:

  1. Reality is defined by consistence. This at the root of the scientific method. Nothing can stand on its own, unless it’s consistent with the rest of the established theories built on observations. This does not mean that established theories cannot be changed, but they should only be changed or amended as long as the new model adds new details that gives a better understanding of nature.

  2. The observer should question the environment if there’s a sense of impaired mental capacity of the self. This is to avoid dream-like states of mind. When dreaming, belief is usually momentarily shaken by the fact that one is unable to perform trivial mental exercises, such as actually looking at a screen with code and being able to edit and debug it. This is a sign of the fact that the brain is busy trying to generate its own reality instead of simply processing inputs from the real world. In popular culture this is sometimes defined as pinching oneself to see if there’s a sense of pain. The idea is to perform a sort of brain pinch to see if there’s struggle to achieve a level of mental acuity that is known to be possible.

Of course, these rules are relatively vague in themselves, so for practical purposes they are guidelines, but I believe that they are what one should strive for to establish a reality to work with.

It’s very easy to claim to be consistent. In fact, one should always apply some self-doubt at certain junctures to rethink on whether or not he/she is indeed being consistent and see if perhaps there’s a deeper level at which this may not be the case anymore, such as when added details would negate the consistency of thought.