General

What’s your vote really worth ?

When the time comes for some major political elections, there's always a big push to "get out and vote". A big deal is made about how every vote counts, and how if you don't participate, someone else will vote for you, meaning that the vote from others will have relatively more power. For example, in a pool of 1 million voters, if you don't cast your ballot, each voter will have a stronger impact, albeit by a mere 1 millionth of a vote.

Voting is pushed as empowering and individualistic. In reality it's a completely statistical issue. Your own vote by itself is irrelevant in the context of millions of other votes. From a purely individual point of view, you may or may not cast your ballot, and the outcome of the election will be exactly the same for all intents and purposes. No butterfly effect applies here.

To make a pop-science analogy, this can be seen as some sort of poor-man's quantum superposition. The voting booth can be considered as a closed system, where anything that happens there has no effect on the outcome of the election. The "you" that votes A, B, C or abstains, can coexist with no practical effect to the outside, all because of the extreme dilution of a single vote.

There is some value however in the intent to cast a vote in a certain way, and that is to apply self-reflection to have an estimate of the outcome of the election, at least as far as your own demographic goes. That in itself is not a greatly applicable knowledge, being in itself only a guess of a portion of the voting population, but it's more consequential than actually casting a ballot.

To me this is interesting as it highlights the duality between perceived direct decisional power and actually usable power. We're sold the idea that we have a say on things as active participants, while in reality the only true power resides in the ability to self-reflect and predict the direction of a herd, but even that is not something that is directly applicable in most cases (maybe guess how the markets will react the next day ?). The greater power is that of introspection. The act itself of realizing and reasoning over the actual practical effect, or lack thereof, of voting, is further knowledge into understanding the place of the self amidst a collective.

If the power structures were honest, they would plainly state that civic duty is not about casting a ballot, but it's actually to behave like a statistical sample. It would not be a good civic duty to behave as an observer of yourself and to act out of left field, driven by some sort of superego. It's a good civic duty instead to act predictably, as it makes things easier for the manager class in the governmental institutions, as well as for the private ones.

In practice, one could still go and vote, but at least, as a thought experiment, it's worth considering why the actual practice of casting a ballot is not an act of free-will, rather it's a statistical sampling of a collective mind that is an amalgam of popular culture shaped by mass media.

DuckDuckGo cheated on me. I’m now dating Presearch

I recently moved from DuckDuckGo to Presearch.

The reason for the move was the announcement that the engine would filter results to favor a specific party on the Russia - Ukraine conflict.

Last year DuckDuckGo did already show its cards with "woke" discrimination of potential employees, where they'd favor less skilled employees as long as they had enough melanin in their skin and relatively uncommon sexual preferences.

DuckDuckGo supposedly still shields its users from being tracked for advertisement, but I think that most users went in expecting relatively unbiased results.

It should be noted that, as far as I understand, DuckDuckGo itself is a little more than a customer of Google and other major search engines. In practice, DuckDuckGo simply buys search engine usage from Google. For this reason, it was always a temporary solution, because Google's bias its already built-in in the results, plus they could pull the plug at any time, transforming DuckDuckGo into a sitting duck. Remember: if you don't build your own technology, you're just a power user.

Presearch looks more interesting, it's decentralized, it has its own search engine and also allows to quickly select other classical search engines.
Presearch was founded by people that already years ago had issues with Google's search engine result manipulation (see: "Google Penalizes Local Businesses On City’s ’Shop Local’ Website"), so, hopefully the founders are in it for the long run.

It's important to keep in mind that Presearch is just another offer. I don't plan to get married to it, but my time as a user is better spent on a new interesting decentralized project, than supporting DuckDuckGo, which is no more than a gate keeper.

On the Moon landing

In a previous post I reasoned on the importance to entertain the wildest theories and to listen to those that propose them.
I truly believe that it's important to keep an open mind, either to learn something new or as an exercise on how to find holes on such theories. It's all brain food.

I was recently listening to an interview to a relatively public figure that would normally be labeled as a conspiracy theorist. At some point, the subject of the 1969 Moon landing came up. Unsurprisingly, the interviewee was skeptical about it.

The general reaction of most would be that of disbelief, with an immediate rejection on the basis of pure reverence of NASA as an organization, but I don't think that that's enough. As I said, I think that it's a good mental exercise to try and find why certain claims can't be sustained, even if the conclusion is probably the same as the mainstream belief. Forming your own reasoning is a valuable experience, something from which new tools for reasoning can be acquired.

Onto my defense of the Moon landing, the simplest validation that I can think of is the argument against the visual effects that would have been needed to simulate a different gravity while filming on Earth. Believable representation of different forces of gravity has been the hardest thing to do in science fiction for many years. It has basically been impossible until we achieved photorealism in computer graphics.
Some say that Stanley Kubrick did that well in "2001: A Space Odyssey", but that's an exaggeration. The film was exceptional in many ways, but the visual effects used in it are a far cry from what's seen in the broadcast of the first Moon walk.

The reason why low gravity VFX took decades to start to become believable is due to our innate ability to judge certain physical phenomena. Our brain is wired to recognize dynamics, in fact we are naturally excited when we see movement, collisions, explosions, even rag dolls, because we can instinctively recognize the realism of the physical world.

I don't know to which degree our ability to recognize and appreciate dynamics is innate or learned. For sure, we show awareness from an early age, and it constitutes the bulk of child play. This also gives us the apparently uncanny ability to recognize a friend from afar and from behind, if he's simply walking.

It's very hard to trick the brain about dynamical phenomena. Any sort of wired complex rigging that would have been required to simulate low gravity on video in 1969, would have looked unnatural if not downright silly.

That's my reasoning on the subject. It's not a sophisticated approach, but I think that is one that has possibly the best ratio of believability and relatability vs the amount of time invested in research.

Happily ever after

One year ago I wrote the "My Space !" blog post, where I was giving my reasoning for leaving social media, meaning Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

I erased my Instagram account, since I had truly no use for it. I kept my Twitter and Facebook accounts as a notification tool, to post links to content about my trading system and my blog posts. Eventually, one day I'll stop doing that as well.

At the time I downloaded a backup of my Twitter and FB feeds. The backup was easy to obtain, erasing years of history however is a different matter. It was easy on Twitter, but on Facebook it turned out to be a multi-day effort.

Last year, the only option to erase FB activity in bulk was to download a Chrome script that would emulate manual deletion of the timeline, one item at the time. On top of that, because the plug-in relied on an older FB design, I had to use a plug-in to also transform the UI of FB to an older version. The operation was long and error-prone. The plug-in even had a speed setting. Too slow and it could take forever, too fast and the procedure would miss deletion of items.

A couple of months ago I looked again into my FB feed, and noticed that I still had my 2017 posts and comments. FB now allows to batch-delete up to 50 posts at once, however the interface can get incredibly slow, and it would only delete 8-10 posts at once. For sure, the batch cleaning feature in FB is the most buggy of the whole site. It's obviously something that they put there to check a box for some demand, without any real effort to make it usable.

I opted not to completely delete my accounts, because a few people still find it useful to reach me via the occasional DM, and because I wanted to use my existing connections to keep people on the loop about the progress of my trading system project, that I obviously want to promote.

I don't miss social interaction one bit. In fact, it's a weight that was lifted from my shoulders. At some point, daily social media activity became a chore. Quick blurbs of text and funny or interesting videos can quickly become repetitive. It's a kind of interaction that is pointless and, of course, incredibly time consuming.

Maybe if I were a hot chick, I'd think differently, but for someone that has always had a self-image centered around his R&D as well as his interest in sharing his own "deep thoughts" ("deep thoughts and simple food" was my mantra already 30 years ago), reducing my publishing activity to "tweets", was a lobotomizing experience.

I'd be lying if I said that I'm above the need of validation. I like for my work to be appreciated as much as the next guy, but it's much more meaningful to have a blog with three readers instead of thousands of "contacts" scrolling past your name every day.

What makes things worse, is that Twitter and Facebook are controlled platforms built to serve interests of shadowy entities (including your own "democratic" government), and that believe in selective free speech (that would be an oxymoron, btw). It's like being a guest at a shitty party… I'd rather be home doing my own party with a couple of friends. It's a no-brainer for me.

Early on, Twitter had the power to get me loosely connected to people with common interests, mostly other game developers. Today however everything reeks of politics, making some Twitter feeds look like endless passive-aggressive rants. Get me out of here.

Facebook is the worst social platform of the two. It's a nostalgia platform. Though it can be cool to keep in touch with virtually anyone across decades, there are reasons why some people normally lose track of each other in life, even if they care for and respect each other. Keeping in touch today is very easy, but it's healthier if it's done privately, with the intent to keep in touch, rather than simply living in the same cyber-neighborhood.

Monkeys with lipstick

For a kid, the revelation that Santa Claus is indeed not real is a bit of a rite of passage. Welcome to the real world, there’s no magic, you’re now an adult like us. It’s almost as if one wakes up from a dream to start his or her new life as an adult on planet Earth. A few decades after that revelatory event for me, I’m starting to see some irony in it.

The world of adults is a mixed bag. Adults with a developed brain are able to think rationally and to execute rational tasks, while also living ordinary lives immersed in irrationality. I suppose that we could all be excused for engaging in suspension of disbelief, given how inexplicable is the wider context of the universe in which we’re living in, both in terms of space and, even more puzzling, in terms of time.

Anyone that has ever paused to rationalize their existence, had to eventually crawl out of that rabbit hole and suspend their disbelief in order to go back to have a life. This is a prime example of how we're able to engage in suspension of disbelief. It's not just something that we can do, but it's something that we must do.

Another, perhaps less profound reason on why our mind is able to put objectivity on the side, is a predisposition to skepticism towards what’s new and unproven. Prejudice is a necessary component for survival. Occasionally one may be better off selecting for the unknown, but the risk is higher, so, there's a predisposition to go for what's known.

At the societal level this can be seen with political movements or ideals. We tend to pick a side and stick with it. A person will defend their political party to extremes because, for example, some accusation of some misconduct may turn out to be invalid, or there might be a noble justification, or maybe one simply doesn't want the other party to get a win, because they are perceived to be inherently and fundamentally wrong, if not evil.

There are many reasons why one may be willing to consciously or unconsciously allow for exceptions to the integrity of an ideal. Nevertheless, this happens and it's part of how we function. Things get worse from here: although suspension of disbelief is a necessary trait of our minds, it's also something that can be hacked and used. Any sufficiently unscrupulous and clever individual or small organized group, can target the mind of another person or group and get them to suspend their disbelief to an exceptional degree. This makes for a dangerous world. One where large swaths of the population may get hacked to operate against others and against themselves.

We study history and see how we've advanced, how enlightened we've come to be. To me, this is only a facade. We judge our progress by great practical achievements in the field of science, engineering and architecture, but I'd argue that great achievements were obtained by exceptional people, in spite of how primitive we are, not because humanity as a whole has made much progress. Literacy has elevated the level of mediocrity, but better mediocrity is not progress. You can train people to do exceptional things, but that only shows how good we've become to impart knowledge, how good we've become at producing very advanced robots, but robots nonetheless.

When we're welcome in the world of adults, we leave Santa Claus behind, only to enter a world made of bigger, more sophisticated and much more consequential lies. At the top of the chain, there's probably the lie that we're following a path of progress for humanity. We're like pigs in a stall that get excited for a new feeding machine, and don't you dare complain about your living arrangements. You ungrateful pig ! You would be nothing without our democratically elected leaders and their appointed experts. Stop grunting and get your new tastier feed.

From time to time enough people find the collective energy to question the status quo, and maybe even gather some political power. But the system has a way to digest those flukes, either from the outside with oppression, or from the inside with corruption.

Happy New Year !

Next level thinking ?

"Informatics" is the term used in the Italian education system in place of "Computer Science". For one reason or another, I was never in tune with standardized education, however there have been times in school when I felt that I learned something that gave me a new perspective on things. One such moment was when a relatively rogue professor, spent a whole lesson explaining the fundamental importance of information and science of information, and how that encompassed the whole universe.

The concept of information is possibly the most important abstraction that our brain has ever conceived. Every living creature can collect and manipulate information. What sets humans apart is the ability to be self-aware of that ability.

With that self-awareness, together with observation of nature, also comes the ability to conceptualize recursion in the abstract. Recursion adds a dimension to abstraction. This is what allows us to contemplate quantities from the infinitesimally small to the infinitesimally large, both for material and immaterial things. Recursion is indeed embedded in nature (see reproduction), but the ability to use that in the abstract is what makes humans as intelligent as they are.

Now I wonder if there's a concept that is more profound and fundamental than that of being able to recursively conceptualize/abstract things. Perhaps our brains already would have the plasticity to work on a new plane of thinking, but we're stuck with what we can conceptualize by extrapolating only what we observe.

This pursuit of new fundamental planes of reasoning may be a necessary step towards answering the bigger questions in nature. The hope is that we may reach it by "bootstrapping" from the current analytical tools that we have, much like we do with mathematics. Unfortunately, I'm not sure what this would look like, because it's one of those cases where one doesn't know what he doesn't know.

Perhaps my view of what's fundamental reasoning is too much a matter of interpretation, it's hard to quantify something so abstract. Either way, it's still something worth considering.

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.