General

On Deboonkers

Deboonk-ism is a phenomenon by which people rush at debunking what’s perceived to be a wild conspiracy theory. Debunking, as in deconstructing a theory or a system, can be a great way to analyze a problem. However, in most cases it’s done out of faith and prejudice, without any real research to truly understand the root of the issue at hand, which is usually a lot more complex than initially thought.

The typical deboonker has a general idea of what the scientific method is about, but has also an idealistic view of science, as some religion that is practiced in academic circles and that is able to produce consistently objective results, all with an acceptable degree of confidence, and all vetted and communicated by benevolent gate keepers coming from the corporate world, political world and the press.

It becomes then a tribal and religious act, one that does more harm than good. Tribalism is a human thing, but modern social media has certainly amplified the effect. We all have a tendency to hypercorrect trends. Truth may be in the middle, but we tend to get there by arguing by extremes and holding certain beliefs for years at the time. Anything that doesn’t conform to a prescribed narrative, is immediately ridiculed an belittled, no room is given to skepticism and actual critical thinking. Hypotheses that are ad odds with the mandate of the day are quickly shot down. Any evidence, or lack of evidence, is dismissed on the spot, as some infectious disease that will rot the mind in minutes.

From a social perspective, it pays to follow the mainline, because the infrastructure of conformism gives some form of insurance towards mistakes, it’s a shield against humiliation. As long as you stick with the plan, you have moral right to debunk the skeptics. You won’t be criticized in case of obvious mistakes, because you were simply following a narrative coming from above, and those that are above are professionals at deflecting blame (see “George Carlin on the language of politics”, a must watch in my book).

On the other hand, being a skeptic is dangerous, because any mistake becomes automatically confirmation that one should not have dared to stray from the herd. Even worse, one is automatically bundled together with any other person that is considered to be a skeptic, also known as “guilt by association”… i.e. “you’re not one of those flat-Earthers, are you ?”.

The social pressure makes things worse, because the more rational skeptics tend to be silent for fear of reprisal, leaving the job to speak out to those that may be a bit too obsessive if not downright paranoid. This amplifies the effect of conformism, where the deboonkers can go wild, and wild they go. It’s a power trip to be right on social media, dispensing smackdowns on the few that still dare to bring up points that sound too crazy to be true, whether or not there’s any actual truth to be had.From a purely practical perspective, being a conformist and toning down critical thinking is necessary to make things work in a collective. There’s no doubt that humanity gets in the way of productivity. As technology improves, we employ more and more robots to help us with labor, but robots aren’t necessarily mechanical. Historically, the majority of humans have been employed to work in a very organized fashion, something that requires limited critical thinking and limited creativity.

Even in a future in which less labor will be required of us, for as long as we’re considered an asset, or even just a competing force to be discouraged, there will be a structure in place to sustain uniformity of thought. I guess that deboonkers are here to stay.

The explosive “boredom” problem of civilized societies

As years go by, it’s harder and harder to find movies that I’m interested to watch. One could say a lot on the evolution of the movie industry and how high budgets correlate with low creative risk. For sure, we could do better than yet another “retired hitman is forced to do one last job“… kill me now ! However, as creative and intelligent a script can be, at the fundamental level there are only so many narratives that attract the general public.

Story lines follow the demand from a public that has certain basic fundamental tastes, some of which are timeless, just like our own biology (we do evolve, but primordial instincts are hard to shake off). Entertainment may have cultural flavors, but at the core, the stories that are told are revealing of human nature. The popular themes and tropes clearly show what we consider exciting and what we’d be curious to experience. Under that light, we should also note how much of what we consume does include extreme danger, loss of life, crime, violence, wars, torture, post-apocalyptic settings, dystopic settings and more.

Some say that portrayal and glorification of those themes is a form of instigation. That may be true in part, but there’s clearly a positive response from the public. It’s not like we’re unable to demonstrate disgust and to walk away from what we don’t like. Conflict and violence clearly attract us (generalizing here, this certainly varies across genders, age groups and individuals).To me this is revelatory of the “dark” side that exists in people both individually and as a collective. The risk of war, mass discrimination, oppression and self-inflicted totalitarian regimes, is always present, because as humans, we still crave for some kind of strong experiences, some drama and strong feelings. It’s a form of masochism that we need in order to check some of our biological boxes.

It’s no surprise then, that at the first appearance of something remotely reminiscent of a zombie apocalypse, millions and billions of people jump in to play the game. Finally some entertainment where one isn’t just a spectator, but also a participant. It’s all so much more interesting than the old boring life. There are things to do, procedures and rituals, dictated by patriarchal and matriarchal leaders and their high priests. Suddenly, living becomes surviving, as well as having the power to save lives, and the power to prevent others from endangering lives.

Many live a life of struggles and may sometimes wish for a collapse of society, hoping that a new throw of the dice may give them something better. This is understandable, but what intrigues me more is how people that live a generally comfortable life are so often also ready to jump in and play, simply because their life is boring, and normal forms of entertainment are just not enough.

This is probably also what happens with organized violence that tends to come out from supporters of sports like soccer, where some younger spectators enact urban battlefields for no reason other than to let loose and to get a fix of violence and the relative adrenaline rush that comes with it. It would be too easy to categorize hooligans as crazy… they are men whose ancestors survived because of their fighting skills. There is a genetic component that cannot simply be repressed.If you’re a leader aspiring to more raw power, this state of relative boredom should help you to steer the masses where you want. However, from a perspective of an ethical leader that aims at a more stable and rational society, a society that is less “hackable”, it would be important to promote a lifestyle that is just less boring.

Some here will quickly point the failures of the education system… if only institutions could impart more knowledge and a better civic sense, but this avoids the root of the problem. No amount of schooling is going to erase certain instincts. Education can help to repress instincts and primordial needs, but repression breeds instability.

I’m not sure what would take to build a society that is both efficient and not too deprived of the kind of experiences that fulfill certain primordial calls. Because work tends to take a good chunk of life, and it’s often a source of boredom and frustration, the ability to let people periodically rotate on more exciting jobs may be helpful, although not very productive and potentially dangerous. Who knows, maybe some amount of VR could alleviate the issue, although I’m not the biggest advocate for living surrogate lives.

I don’t see an easy solution, but it would be already a step forward to admit that civilized societies are a breeding ground for explosions of mass hysterias, and that we should start to acknowledge and deal with our instincts, instead of ignoring and repressing them with a veneer of culture or, even worse, with drugs.

You are probably being simulated, to some degree

I recently released another video presentation on algorithmic trading where I state that in order for that to be practical, it’s necessary to have the ability to simulate activity on a market.

In the presentation, I also mentioned how pervasive the concept of computer simulation already is, using a few well-known examples, but the concept of simulation is a lot more fundamental and it has a lot more potential than what it’s being used in engineering, weather forecast or architecture.

Having a computer model of anything is going to be more and more necessary to be competitive at the global scale. This is both for big business and nations (not that there’s much difference anymore).

In the early 80s, the movie “WarGames” introduced me to the availability of personal computers, and also to the concept of simulation. At the center of the movie, there is a NORAD computer capable of simulating thermonuclear war scenarios, something that is probably the most believable and realistic feature of that fictional computer.

One can only imagine how truly advanced are high-end government-funded simulations today, which can be built to deal with just about anything, including in some ways our own lives. Nowadays there is so much personal data that is being collected and used by more than one entity, that it would be plausible to think that somewhere there is a simulation that can have a good guess on when I’ll be stepping out of the house to go to the convenience store next. If not today, it’s only matter of decades.

I should pause for a minute here and clarify the fundamental difference that I see between the concept of statistical models and a simulation (disclaimer: I’m not academically trained on any of this).

A statistical model gives a snapshot of a data set. Correlations can be drawn to reach conclusions, and simple extrapolations can also be made, as some form of prediction.

A simulation is more like an animation. Models for each actor are built, then they are iterated in a simulated timeline. A simulation system is inherently more powerful because it implicitly requires that elements at play are coded in a programming language.

電子マネー|自販機情報|ダイドードリンコIn my specific case, that simulation wouldn’t be able to guess what I’ll be buying, because of my refusal to use point cards and because I still use cash whenever I can, but more and more people use some form of point cards and digital payments.

It’s safe to say that these simulations will only increase in detail and accuracy with time. The reason why this is tolerated is, firstly, because there are some practical benefits to everyday life. The more a system knows you, the more it will be ready to cater to your needs.

The second major reason why this is possible is that we’re all fairly narcissistic. We want to be noticed, be that through some work that we do, some opinions that we express, or even to be tracked by some kind of Big Brother software. This is because from an existential point of view, it’s better to be spied on than to be ignored. I’m guessing that this is something that is ingrained at the biological level (animal species do this instinctively), and something that modern means of communication have exacerbated to an extreme.

There is a downside to all of this. The convenience and perhaps, warm feeling, of existing also as a lump of data in some digital cloud, can also turn into a massive inconvenience. Here comes the typical privacy issue, where any “good citizens” that has nothing to hide, sooner or later can find himself or herself on the wrong side of those with the keys to data and simulation of any individual that has been deemed as a threat. This will always be true, unless we now believe that any kind of progress is possible without some form of opposition, and unless we believe that those in power somehow like to play fair, because they are just a bunch of sensitive and altruistic souls.

That turned into a little bit of a rant, but that’s just an example of the power and potential repercussions that can come from the application of computer simulation when applied to a field that is perhaps less obvious, but potentially much more consequential to the human race.

Kibun Tenkan, VR edition

There’s a useful term in the Japanese language. One of those terms that one adopts because it really fits nicely the concept. The term is “kibun tenkan” [気分転換] which loosely translates as “change of pace/mood”, but it’s used more when there’s a breakthrough moment that leads to some change. At least that’s how I use it.

Breakthrough moments are often more about a recognition of something that had been brewing for a while, and this is definitely the case here. I’ve felt for a long time that entertainment was a time waster that took me from doing things. Then a few years ago I was listening to a Q&A after a John Carmack presentation about his work at Oculus. In the presentation he talked about optimizing rendering for mobile, with a special focus on the Netflix VR theatre app.

This app places the user in a beautiful and cozy living room with a fantastic view of snowy mountains outside and a megascreen where to watch the Netflix content.

In the Q&A, an attendee perhaps naively, perhaps facetiously, asked to Carmack, what was the point of the app. Carmack paused a little and answered something along the lines of: “it’s for those that want to experience that setting, but that cannot have it in real life” (paraphrasing here).

That both sounded like a plausible alternative, but also like an act of pity. It’s one thing to want to experience something truly exceptional like recklessly flying a 100 million dollars jet fighter, climbing a mountain with no training, or exploring deep space, but it’s pretty sad when VR becomes a surrogate to something that almost anyone could obtain by working hard and becoming moderately wealthy. Granted, money can’t buy the kind of teleportation that VR offers, but who needs to jump around when you can spend a few real days in a real place ?

That to me was a “fuck this” moment. I don’t want my passion for technology to become also a limitation of my ambitions in life. Nothing that really matters is easy to obtain. I’m not buying into this.

More classical entertainment, such as movie and TV series, can also be a huge time waster, but with VR, things can really go to the next level, in a bad way. If we also add the push now to create a metaverse out of social media, then we’re talking of a potential to truly turn billions of people into atrophied zombies.

I’m all for innovation, but I can’t see an upside to this. In fact, I think that this can be considered a colossal scam. The elites will continue to accumulate actual wealth, buying land, estate and commodities, while the general population is sold the virtual equivalent of those.

Many will buy into this, because the world is chock full of NPCs, but you’ve been warned.

Mass formations and loss of freedom

Last month I listened to an interesting interview titled “Why People WILLINGLY Give Up Their Freedoms” with Prof. Mattias Desmet on the Aubrey Marcus podcast. Here the focus was about “mass formation”, a term used to define mass events and mass hysterias like we’re experiencing these days.

The discussion can be seen on Aubrey Marcus’s YouTube channel. I’m not sure how the rest of the channel is, but this podcast episode was very interesting to me, if anything because it confirmed my impression of how society moves and because it gives a framework to better understand what is happening.

Here’s the full video:

Here’s a list of key points that I thought were worth highlighting:

  • [@1139 s] — People are happy to follow the narrative of perpetual fears because the anxiety that derives from it allows for a new social bond. Bonding being something that humans crave for, but that lacks in modern large societies.
  • [@1247 s] — Mass formations are a kind of hypnosis. Hypnosis is possible when someone is made focus on a narrow view of things (i.e. a virus), and away from a broader perspective (i.e. loss of freedoms). See for example anestesia via hypnosis, where the mind of the patient is being focused to the point that he/she can’t feel pain in a certain spot.
    Here Aubrey notices that ability to focus on something and ignore the broader picture is important for productivity and for mental sanity, so it’s a double-edged sword.
  • [@2067 s] — Raw intelligence of the individual doesn’t matter. In a mass formation, the collective mind takes over and anyone can lose the ability to be a critical thinker.
  • [@2170 s] — In a mass formation, only about 30% of the people are hypnotized in the beginning. Then there’s an additional 40% that goes along, even if they may not agree, because they don’t want to or are afraid to go against this vocal minority. The remaining 20-30% are those that do speak out one way or another.
  • [@2645 s] — It’s essential to continue to speak out against the narrative at the root of a mass formation. The hypnosis may not disappear, but it can become less deep, which may be just enough to avoid extreme deterioration of the situation (see: dehumanization, labeling as “domestic terrorist”).
    Note: It’s also my conviction that one should never expect for a person to change his/her mind on a topic just from a new batch of information. It’s a slow process of detoxification that requires time to take shape.
  • [@3664 s] — Sacrifice makes for an even stronger social bonding, and it’s glorified. Giving up on Christmas celebration with families, wearing masks and social distancing are all big and small sacrifices that make people feel closer to each other. It becomes a ritual, and people can go to great lengths and perform extreme sacrifices while under the spell of this mass hypnosis.
    Note: As an example, see the brotherhood that derives from combat during wars. Sharing danger makes for very strong bonding.
  • [@4224 s] — In 1953, Hannah Arendt said that even though we’ve seen the decline and fall of Nazism and Stalinism, the trend towards totalitarianism hasn’t stopped, and very soon we’ll see a form of world-wide totalitarianism that is lead no longer by strong leader figures, but by technocrats and bureaucrats.
    Nevertheless, totalitarianism is always self-destructive and it’s likely that now we’ll just have to wait for this new form of totalitarianism to rise and fall. In the meantime, it may be a good idea to be on the sidelines while this happens.

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 resulting from thousands of years of civilization, and that it’s peak objectivity. In reality however there’s corruption at every level. Leaders tend to be self-serving and experts tend to support those leaders that 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. 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, and not necessarily because they have served well the population that has elected 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 public.