Thursday, March 22, 2018

Science and Conspiracy

I never believed that vaccines cause autism or that fluoride in the water has a nefarious purpose.  But I was raised in a culture that lead me to believe that evolution is a lie used to convert Christians to atheists, and that the idea of anthropogenic climate change is merely a tool to bring about socialism.  

I think it’s natural to lump all theories about how science and/or government is misleading us to our doom (chemtrails, evolution, fluoride, flat-earth, vaccines, 9/11, etc.) into one conceptual category.  My background of buying into some, but not all of them, makes me believe there’s a spectrum. The fact that I’ve turned my thinking around on these issues gives me some anecdotal experiential data that leads me to think that arguing over “the facts” is not a generally successful strategy for convincing someone who believes that some well-established scientific consensus is bunk.

The problem with deep conspiracy thinking is that there is no possibility for error-correction with facts, because every fact offered can be seen as a lie that is part of the conspiracy.  Given this unassailable bulwark against contrary evidence, how can a person who believes in a conspiracy be reached? This is where the spectrum comes in. It seems to me that a person can be rated higher or lower on their susceptibility on a scale of predilection towards conspiratorial thinking.  Many personality traits come into play to push this rating higher or lower. Extreme suspicion of authority is one obvious trait. Another one I think is important is a person’s skill at pattern recognition. Most people have experienced absently looking at a wall or floor and seeing images in the random patterns.  This process can be applied to our worldview as well, picking out patterns in society, government and such that may or may not exist, but that support our interpretive framework of reality.  This process relies heavily on confirmation bias and the availability heuristic.  I think it’s a double edged sword, because most of the great innovations and art come from this pattern-making process.  

So while I think that conspiracy thinking resides on a continuum, I think that there’s one factor that determines whether a conspiracy believer can ever be reached.  And it is this. Do they actually want the truth, or do you want their theory to be true? Is it possible for them to even imagine that their theory is flawed? If so, there’s hope for error correction.  It just so happens that there’s a system humans have worked out that does error correction far better than any other system. It’s called science. Science is not a group of people in lab coats or professors in an ivory tower who hand us pre-packaged Truth.  Science is method for error correction. If you want Truth, your best bet is to study the method of science, and employ it in your theorycrafting.

To that end, I’ve been collecting arguments from my past, and from current conversations I’ve seen from people who believe in all sorts of conspiracies.  I’m putting the most common ones here. This is less a list of me telling you how to think, and more a demonstration of the conclusions I’ve come to that compose my current thinking.  Feel free to take or leave whatever you like from it.

  1. You know how people can look at the random distribution of the stars and see shapes like fish and warriors and bears and spoons?  That’s cherry picking. Any sufficiently complex field has millions of data points. It’s super easy to cherry pick the ones that support your position. And it’s easy to pick from good science, then arrange the pieces into bad science.
  1. You can find people with Phds and doctorates to back up literally ANY crazy claim.  Want to prove the earth is flat? There’s a Ph.D for that. Want to prove aliens built the pyramids?  There’s a Ph.D for that.
  1. It’s very easy for someone with a medium amount of specialized knowledge to ‘wow’ people with lingo and a scattering of facts, and that is often convincing to folks that this medium amount of knowledge is actually a deep and profound amount. (And who would you go to to figure out how good they are, besides the very colleagues they’ve told you are wrong?)
  1. Experts are not all the same.  Personally, I can’t tell the difference between an intermediate level ice skater, and an olympian level ice skater.  They both do amazing things that I can’t imagine myself ever doing. I’m equally impressed by both. Why? Because I’m not trained or educated to perceive the subtleties that actually make a HUGE difference in expertise.  Unless you are a highly educated scientist YOU can’t tell the difference either. But with science it’s even MORE pronounced than it is with the ice skater because the dazzling things a scientist advocating for a view does are several more steps removed from what you and I understand about the ice skater.
  1. Scientific theories do not pop like a balloon if a handful of apparent problems with the theory exist.
  1. The fact that a theory is used for political reasons says NOTHING about the veracity of the theory.
  1. The fact that widely accepted scientific claims from the past are no longer accepted does not weaken any current widely accepted scientific claim.  The fact current science changes is an important antidote for hubris among the scientific community, but it does not work like a binary lightswitch, automatically making all scientific claims invalid.  It is, in fact, a STRENGTH of science that the process is open to limitless input.
  1. For your alternative science idea (hypothesis) to compete with accepted science ideas, it needs to be a theory.  The word ‘theory’ in the science context is not a synonym for hunch, idea, or thought experiment. It requires the ability to be repeated and falsified.  It also needs to make predictive claims. The stronger those claims, and more they are shown to come true, the stronger your theory. If your conspiracy theory can not be falsified and cannot make predictions you should not expect it to compete with scientific theories.

Ok.  So changing my mind abou those 8 things lead me to abandon my previous conspiracy theories.  Now here’s a practical application of these principles to what my old self would have latched onto.  I… LOVE expanding earth theory.

Here’s a brief video that will get you the jist of it.

Here’s a longer one if you want to hear more.

Almost everything about this theory appeals to me on an emotional and aesthetic level.  I love the models that have been created for it. I love how it provides a more intuitively satisfying answer for the way the world looks than the tectonic theory provides.  I love how it’s been applied to other planets and moons with similarly evocative results.

What’s interesting to me -from a psychological viewpoint- is what’s MISSING in ME, that I used to have.  Which was a kind of in-your-face glee at the thought of all those stuffy arrogant scientists being DEAD WRONG.  In Young Earth Creationism, there’s a schadenfreude itch that’s being scratched. It runs deep in the anti-intellectual tradition of evangelicalism.  Image result for left behind series
We faithful few had the Deep Truths, and those lost souls who lacked whatever it is that WE had, were trying their best to fool themselves and everyone else into believing their lies.  I think this is why the whole End Days, book of Revelation, Armageddon thing is so popular among evangelicals. It’s the ultimate revenge fantasy: The dominant culture may think it’s won, that it’s got everything figured out, and then makes fun of us for daring to believe differently, but just you wait, they’ll get what’s coming to them!  

Well, I don’t go in for all that us-versus-them stuff any more.  I still think that the field of science is prone to foibles, both on the personal and institutional levels.  My background makes me perhaps a bit too skeptical. But what I lost was the paranoia of thinking that there must be a plot at work, or even an unconscious deep seated need that most scientists have to reject Christianity or what-have-you.  I do still think that most scientists are attempting to find answers to questions that have historically been answered with religion or philosophy. But that’s just the nature of the mechanics of science. I don’t think it has anything to do with the psychology of the scientific community.  But I do think it makes sense to talk about the psychology of the scientific community, diverse as it may be. I think it’s safe to posit the idea that in general, a particular personality profile is drawn to the sciences, and that this profile (or constellation of them) is weighted towards certain proclivities which will naturally channel minds towards certain kinds of conclusions.  I think it should be safe to say that without inviting one crowd of people to say “SEE ALL SCIENCE IS OUT TO GET US” and another crowd from saying “OH I SEE, YOU DON’T BELIEVE IN SCIENCE”

I think if there’s one philosophical move I’ve made over the years that has brought me peace and clarity it’s my abandonment of binary thinking that leads me to impulsively put every idea in the True or False conceptual buckets.  It’s ok that everything resides on a spectrum, and It’s ok to not know exactly where on the spectrum every idea is. I’m guessing that leaving behind the conspiracies had much more to do with that epistemological shift than it had to do with any hardcore investigations into the specific claims of the conspiracy theories.   

So there you have it.  That’s where I’m at right now.  I enjoy talking about these sorts of things, so feel free to hit me up for convos.  Here’s some additional material if the subject interests you.

Updated research on the Backfire Effect.  Why belief and attitude are two different things.

Comic about how our emotions influence our acceptance or rejection of ideas.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I totally understand why a lot of people hated The Last Jedi. The original mythological foundations of Star Wars are being shattered with a post-script. The Happily Ever After implied by the fairytale framework of the original trilogy doesn't hold up when you've got a post-script that includes more realistic character arcs such as divorce, estranged kids, disenfranchised heroes, etc. The fact that they are bending the franchise in that direction DOES create an aesthetic and thematic disharmony. I feel like this is the awkward teen years for the franchise. It couldn't stay a fairytale forever since the fanbase has grown up, had kids, divorces, been disenfranchised, etc. Many of us want those kinds of gritty anti-fairytale themes. But right now you have those more realistic moments uncomfortably sitting next to the mythological and the whimsical in the same movies. And that's bad art. That doesn't mean people can't love it despite those flaws, but I still recognize them and understand why it's upsetting/unsatisfying for so many.

That being said, no Star Wars film has ever resonated so deeply with me as The Last Jedi. As a 5-15 year old, the aliens and action were the things that made me love the franchise. As a 42 year old who's been divorced, has an estranged son, suffered through a faith crises and had to rebuild my epistemological framework... Somehow they made a space-wizard movie that SPOKE TO THOSE THINGS. I think that's important. I think that's worth celebrating.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

My Spiritual State in 2017

I don’t think I’ve accumulated and articulated where I’m at spiritually in the past several years, and this facebook post from Mike Duran seemed like a good springboard for doing so.  

Mike Duran:
Why is it that SO MANY Christian creatives -- musicians, novelists, filmmakers, artists -- drift from orthodoxy to religious progressivism?
Nowadays, it's becoming a rarity to find a Christian creative who believes that Adam and Eve were not a myth, that the Bible is God's Word and speaks authoritatively to all aspects of our lives (for example, they don't argue that Paul was a misogynist and his commands about women were culturally conditioned, etc.), that personal feelings and social mores should not take precedence over Scriptural Truth, that Jesus is the ONLY way to heaven, that Christ was actually God and was born of a virgin, that He actually walked on water (and an assortment of miracles typically disavowed by secularists), that marriage between a man and woman is God's ideal, that Hell is real, that the Devil is real, that homosexuality is a sin, that human life is sacred and begins at conception, that traditional roles of men and women are rooted in God's design, that there is such a thing as heresy and apostasy, and that the heart of the Gospel is about sin and salvation and NOT social justice.
Sadly, conservative, historically orthodox, Christian creatives are becoming a rarity.
Why is this?

I think it's a wider cultural trend.  I don't know if creatives are more prone to it or not.  I have theories about the association of creativity and liberal tendencies, but I'm just a guy and I don't have a way to test or verify them.  But I think it's hard to deny that "openness to new ideas" is a prominent trait of a liberal mindset, (not that conservatives can't or don't ever share this) and if one is TRULY open (not simply giving lip service to the idea) then drift is inevitable. (unless they happen to be that one lucky person who stumbled into believing every. single. fact. of the universe. From the start.

There are some things I can point to in the above comments from my own journey that might be helpful if your goal is to combat what you see as a problem.  The idea that creatives drift because they don't know their Bible, want to sin with no consequences, dislike rules, or can't express themselves in the Christian community all ring false to me.  I was an avid Christian apologist for a decade.  I know ALL the books by all the apologists from C. S. Lewis to Josh McDowell to Chesterton.  My Dad drilled me on Bible memorization throughout my teens and I have many chapters of the Bible memorized.  I've read through the whole Bible multiple times.  I am a part of my church's creative team and meet with my pastor (I go to a Foursquare -traditional evangelical- church) where we go over sermons and come up with artistic and creative ways to emphasize his messages.  I've taught kids sunday school where I came up with tons of fun art projects.  I also like rules.  I want to do what's right to the best of my abilities.  This is such a passion to me that I spent a lot of time developing and articulating the values that animate me and came up with a ceremony to pass them along to my kids.  (I'll post a video below.)

I'm saying these things because I think it's important for my conservative brethren and sistren to engage with the actual people who they consider to have 'fallen', rather than a bundle of stereotypes and assumptions.  Mike, I'm glad that you phrased this post as a question, rather than merely a rant against 'those people'; one of which is me.  So I'm doing my best to answer you from 'this side'.

I don't know how typical I am as a representative of a conservative Christian creative who has become a liberal Christian creative.  But here's my one point of data for what it's worth.  My journey began with the breaking of a formula.  Whether this formula was pure or corrupted, I had imbibed the idea from my church upbringing that if I did all the right things God would bless me and my family.  Fast forward through a youth group sweetheart married at 18 who literally became a crack addict a decade later, and a terrifying series of events wherein my two sons were taken to drug dealer's houses, exposed to weapons, pornography, etc.  Fast forward through two years of crying on my face before God that he would restore my wife and marriage.  I was taken to the point where I had to make a stark decision.  Stay with my 'promise' of standing-by with nothing but prayers, or actively seek a divorce to protect my children from being taken to drug dens.  The sacrifice was profound to me, because back then I thought at the point I did that, all future romantic life potential was dead.  I would never be aloud to look at women that way again.  But my fatherly instincts prevailed and I got the divorce and throughout several years and many thousands of dollars managed to get full custody.

At this point, my former-conservative-brain would have latched on this part of the story and said: "A-ha!  He drifted from orthodoxy because he had a flawed theology which lead him to disappointment with God and now he's bitter and just wants to walk away."  However, that's not at all what happened.  Instead, after my 'shameful' divorce I had the most vibrant renaissance of my spiritual life.  I felt closer to God than ever.  I recognized that my former theology was an immature primal "I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine" relationship with a pale version of the same kind of god that mankind has attempted to propitiate since time immemorial.  If anything, the experienced brought me much closer to orthodoxy.  So while my emotional state was very enmeshed with my traditional evangelical orthodoxy, the fact that it happened after the breaking of a formula (as immature as I know believe the formula was) is what I believe set me on my current trajectory.  I didn't find myself in the shame and sorrow I imagined must come after something that 'must have broken God's heart'.  In fact, my life had never been better, more rich with joy and love (remarriage to the most amazing human on the planet helped) more zeal for God and my church community, etc.

So it was this simple idea that 'got me': If my formula had been so wrong... how many OTHER formulas had I gotten wrong?  How many Truths where out there, hidden from view by my lack of perspective, experience, intelligence, or just plain bull-headedness?  This lead me to what is my current modus operandi: Does something seem ridiculous, terrible, stupid, gross, wrong, etc?  If so, RESEARCH it.  Find the very best arguments for it.  Find people who live it and connect with them as humans rather than as plague-carriers.  While this process has certainly lead to plenty of 'dead ends', meaning: no matter how hard I research I can NOT find a way to accept it, I've also found such a depth and breadth of human experience that it became untenable to apply my former filters (orthodoxy) to them all in a way that doesn't turn into cartoonish caricatures or disrespectful arrogance on my part.

THE reason I can't still be a conservative orthodox Christian is because my epistemology changed.  I lost all confidence in my own interpretive faculties.  I used to think my adherence to orthodoxy was humble submission to God.  I now perceive that adherence as an exaltation of my ability to parse reality.  I no longer think that highly of myself.  What this leads to is not some shiny new set of alternate beliefs.  I’ve seen that in many people.  They go from being zealous evangelists of one creed to feeling they were SO STUPID to have believed it, but NOW they found the TRUTH, and they become zealous evangelists for some different creed.  In that case, their epistemology didn’t change at all.  Only the nouns they attach to their worldview.  Not so with me.  I am not arrogantly saying I’m too smart to ‘believe your pedestrian doctrine’ because I’ve learned so much and got so smart and wise, and learned this other set of Truths.  No.  I simply no longer have beliefs in anything.  I’m more -or less- convinced of things.  (More convinced that my hand is real than that bigfoot is real.)  But even for the things of which I am most convinced: I am still open to being wrong about them.  This may or may not obliterate faith, depending on your definition.  But the trajectory of my life has me still clinging to many of the tenets of Christianity, but rather than collecting those in a Faith bucket, they are in a Hope bucket.  God may damn me for my lack of faith, but He’s got a funny way of warning me.  I’ve never been at such peace, so full of joy and Love, so motivated to spread Agape Love to the world around me using the creative gifts I have.

Hopefully this helps in some small way.  Take it for what you will.  :)  If any conservative Christians want to pick my brain, I’m available.  Ask Me Anything!

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Chance Disguised as Skill

I just finished the book Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.  Being in the general cultural bubble (of tech culture, skeptical, philosophical, ethical podcasts, blogs, etc.) that reference the material in this book constantly, I figured I better go back and read it even though I feel like I've absorbed most of the ideas by osmosis already.  Kinda like the way I made myself watch Blade Runner for the first time a couple years ago; and yeah, it's impact on me was almost negligible because its ideas have be retread, expanded upon, and improved over the years.  I was afraid that would be the case with this book, and most of it was indeed kind of a slog over the various cognitive biases I've heard about a hundred times now.  (Kahneman and his research partner were the ones who discovered and named many of them.)  Also, I should note, this is an extra hard book to read when you’re aware of the replication crisis that is apparently extra bad in the social sciences, and how heavily Kahneman leans on the results of experiments that have specifically been called out as potentially highly flawed.  But as far as I can tell, the stuff I want to talk about does not rely on that.

The standout to me was chapter 20, and YIKES is it a doozie!  I'm kind of shocked that no one in my bubble is talking about this... but then, I’m not shocked because I have a pretty good idea why.  This chapter is about how hindsight bias leads us to construct false causal narratives that we then instantiate in tradition, institution, business practice, etc.  Kahneman says the stats back up something I've always secretly thought:  Analysts provide the same amount of predictive power as chimps throwing darts at a target.  That is: exactly zero.  It's totally random.  The people on Wall Street who get paid millions for their "skill" in reading and playing the market are simply random guessers in a large scale self-deception-powered industry of post-hoc rationalization.  Same goes for political pundits and anyone else getting paid to make predictions about complex things.  So we’ve got massive pillars of our economy and politics predicated on something that’s been proven false with math.  (If someone has a rebuttal to the statistical analysis referred to in chapter 20 I’d love to see it.)  

Kahneman talks about how the financial-something-or-other company who hired him and provided the data he analysed took the news that their entire industry was based on faulty assumptions.  They politely listened, and promptly swept it aside.  I mean, what CAN you do with a claim that says everything you put value on in your career is a mistake?  That the REASON your company and industry exists is a sham. Shut down the company?  Of course not.  And so it is with the broader application of this hindsight bias/post hoc causal narrative problem that humans have.  The implications are too vast for an individual -let alone a society- to digest.  Our institutions require the illusion, and our egos are too fragile to recognize the massive role that chance (rather than skill or virtue) plays in our lives. This is not to say that skill and virtue can’t play ANY role in success.  Only that it is disproportionately misattributed in a massive scale.  

The Problem of Low Numbers when it comes to our perceptions of ‘hot streaks’ leads to misapplying attributes other than luck to people who have had successful careers.  Think about it.  If you gave every human on earth a coin and had them flip it over and over, there would be SOME people who get heads a ridiculous-seeming number of times in a row.  It’s a statistical necessity, having nothing to do with talent or virtue.  If you abstract that to any group of people doing any particular activity you’ll understand that some will excel to a very high degree, but we don’t look at those people as lucky.  We assume they must have some amazing talent or strategy and then everyone buys their book.  

I’m guessing the reason this concept resonates with me so powerfully is because it seems like evidence for my ‘broken epistemology’.  I don’t actually think my epistemology IS broken.  It’s only broken in relation to the organization and conceptual frameworks of most humans.  In the same way Kahneman’s hot take on financial projections simply don’t fit anywhere in the paradigms of that sector.  It’s not that his information is broken.  It’s that there’s no way to incorporate that information into the system.  The only appropriate way to deal with that information is to dismantle the system and rebuild it on different premises.  But the SYSTEM is a reflection of human psychology.  We couldn’t rebuild a different financial/business/government systems without first addressing the human cognitive biases that drive our impulse to misattribute phenomena like hot streaks and personality to skill and virtue.  

I don’t know what to do with this.  I’m convinced that human brains are terrible at interpreting reality.  And this is not limited to individuals.  I think those cognitive illusions are magnified and reinforced by our traditions and institutions.  And I don’t know how to challenge the individual problems without advocating for a wholesale destruction of every current paradigm.  Even if I thought that such a process was feasible, desirable, or morally justifiable, who the hell am I to tell the world how it should change?  I’m trapped in the same maze of cognitive illusions as everyone else.  

I guess that’s why I keep going back to my life goal, which is to make the world more loving.  I’m not sure how to do that.  But I know that inspiring human brains with stories of Fierce Love is the strategy that resonates the most with me.  

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Reverse Engineering my Goals

The year is 2075.  I’m on my deathbed.  I’m surrounded by family and friends.  My son and his two children, and several of their children.  Along with my closest friends collaborators in my business, Breath of Life Art Studio. They are a diverse bunch.  I took a lot of risks in hiring people based more on the shared value of propagating love than on raw talent.  I’m about to breathe my last and I’m content.  I feel like I accomplished just enough to have met my life’s goal: to make the world more loving with stories.  I know I can’t quantify that.  But I have evidence. The wall of my bedroom is covered with print-outs of letters from people who claim that their lives were changed for the better by the work my company has done.  I’ve highlighted the ones where a person has claimed that they respect and love others more because of the stories that Breath of Life has created, the characters that inspired or challenged them.  The metaphors they’ve drawn from the adventures and world of Talifar.  I’m especially proud of the letters from people who don’t care for the work that Breath of Life produces, but have been positively impacted by the community of fans who have formed a kind of family around the work.  A family that values love and acceptance in a fiercely self-sacrificial way.  They are finding new and creative ways to manifest that Love in the ever-changing technological landscape that the world has become.  

My death is not painless.  I want to be lucid as I slip away.  I want my last words to carry the weight of a life lived in the pursuit of noble goal.  A hush falls on the room as the cyborg doctor detects the immanent last breath.  I summon my remaining strength to hold my head off the pillow and look at everyone in the room.  “I love you all.  Keep it going.”  

As the white light subsumes my vision I fade, content, knowing that truly passionate, energized people will carry on the work of Breath of Life Art Studio.  They all share the vision of making the world more loving with stories.  

I have NO problem coming up with goals for myself.  But I ran across this interesting concept in a business podcast called Story Brand with Donald Miller.  The idea is pretty simple.  Start with your final perfect goal or scenario, then work backwards from there to implement a path to getting there.  Of course nothing ever goes according to that plan.  But the more specific your goal is, the more you can marshal what resources you have to accomplish it.  I mean, in regards to my deathbed scenario above, it’s far more likely that I’ll die of pancreatic cancer at 54 and my last words will be a fart.  That’s not the point.  This is not about making a prediction.  It’s about shooting for a clear target.

What this exercise has done for me is alerted me to several areas I need to start investing at least some cognitive overhead.  Just laying the tracks for what I hope to be able to create later, when I have the resources to put something ON the tracks.  For example, I’ve always had this hazy notion that I’ll need to find people with a very specific set of talents AND values in order to find collaborators with my vision.  Reading my deathbed scenario I’m reminded that finding those kinds of people is hard to do by interviewing random candidates.  Instead, I should be scouting right now for people I want to keep my eye on for recruiting 10 or 20 years down the road.  Nothing reveals character better than seeing how a person operates over an extended period of life.
Another aspect is the nature of the fanbase/community/family I want to cultivate around the work that my company does.  All the IPs I know grew a fan base mostly before social media.  The fans they attracted had to do with the aesthetic or themes of the IP.  For example, Star Trek fans tend to be introverted intelligent and philosophically oriented.  Marvel fans have a different profile.  Tolkien fans another, Star Wars another, Harry Potter another.  There’s a lot of overlap in the venn diagram of these fandoms, of course, but my point is that the communities are more an accidental organic growth than a purposefully cultivated garden.  Since I’m working on building a platform from which to launch this IP, I’m already thinking about how one might go about cultivating a fan community that embodies the values that I hope to propagate.  A top-down approach is pretty much out of the question in the digital age.  I can’t possibly hope to personally (or with a team) weed out toxicity from a fan community.  But I can be MORE articulate and vocal about it than other IP companies are. There is obviously some financial damage a company will sustain if it specifically prunes certain personality profiles since that can turn away a lot of fans.  Most community philosophy I see is about finding the balance of how MUCH toxic behavior and attitudes can be expressed in their communities, vs. the freedom of expression that inevitably gives space for them to exist.  If you go too heavy towards censorship you lose potential revenue.  If you go too lenient you get a toxic swamp that drives off every decent fan, leaving you with a toxic swamp.  I want to know if there’s another approach.  I need to be doing more research into community cultivation.  I have this (probably dumb) idea of finding a way to convert or drive away trolls with a kind of community sit-in.  Like a virtual group hug.  From what I can tell, trolls operate like predators with lone or weak herd animals.  Their techniques work because they are able to get what they feel they want from a person.  (a good, juicy reaction of pain and anger)  What if, instead, a community was SO organized and principled that they could, as a group, surround all trolling with a solid wall of love and acceptance?  If they could absorb the toxicity with no damage to themselves and smother the troll with loving words of kindness?  I doubt such a consistent community reaction could be coordinated, but if it could….


One of the problems I’m running into with this visualization of my life goal, is that, as mentioned, the world is an ever changing technological landscape.  And that technology isn’t just going to be transforming the world around us with cooler devices and more efficient ways to live.  It’s going to be fundamentally altering what a human IS.  Cyborgism is here for the disabled, soon to be for enabling enhancements. Genetic engineering is here, soon to be applied to enhancements.  Truly deep AI is around the corner.  (Whether it gains the same kind of consciousness as us or not, it’s going to be indistinguishable to our perception at some point.)  XR is going to fundamentally change our perception of space and the value we put on our consumption of physical goods.  Robotics is going to put almost everyone out of a job and that cornerstone of civilization ‘you are worth what your job pays you’ will crumble.  And that’s just what I’ve heard LATELY from those who think about the future.  It’s all going to keep changing.  And as it does, our values will change.  They will NEED to, or we will drive ourselves into oblivion.  I think that sense is something that has subconsciously driven me deeper and deeper to find a sort of bedrock for values.  Something that doesn’t NEED to shift as what it means to be human changes.  That’s why I put a flag in the ground at Self-Sacrificial Love. It’s not a perfect foundation.  Like every other concept, it’s composed of words that can be twisted and perverted. (Like an abusive partner convincing you that you need to keep taking the abuse because your love should be ‘self-sacrificial’)  And I think that’s where the stories come in.  They demonstrate the way a value like Self-Sacrificial Love manifests in lived scenarios.  And people extrapolate ways to live out those values from there.  I don’t know that human psychology will ever be changed so much that stories won’t still be the primary conduit of values.  

So that’s what I’ve got so far.  There are my life goals with a very specific end point, and a very nebulous middle, and a quickly cementing foundation.  If I had to guess at a middle, it would be something like this.  

  1. Release the first three Tales From Talifar books to a mostly uncaring world.
  2. Launch The Cutscene Subversion Project, which has just the right amount of controversy to pull in a massive audience. Demonstrate my community cultivation theory to see how it holds up to a divisive topic about videogames on the internet.
  3. Convert 20% of that audience to fans of Breath of Life Art Studio in general, and Tales from Talifar specifically.  
  4. Grow that TfT fanbase by releasing regular videos and blogs about the worldbuilding and involving their thoughts into the design.
  5. Release more TfT books at about one or two per year.
  6. Attract a business partner who shares our values and goals.  They help me figure out how to split our resources/profits in a way that allows us to grow toward the remaining goals, while also demonstrating the company's values such as giving to charity, supporting/respecting our collaborators, etc.
  7. ???
  8. ???
  9. Create the first TfT video series.  (probably the Scarred King trilogy)  The format will be episodic, probably divided by book chapter, and can be any length.  This can only happen once the Uncanny Valley has been solved and there is no difference between a CG animated film and a live action film.  (The lines are already getting blurry)  
  10. The huge success of the video series attracts a huge amount of talented artists who are all knocking down the door to work with us. They think the idea that their stories will be canon in such an exciting IP is worth the price of suffering through the heavy scientific vetting and story consistency edits they will have to endure.  Leveraging their fresh takes on the world of Talifar we proceed to create more media of every type that exists.

So there you have it.  A simple 10 step plan to world domination.  How could it possibly fail?

Friday, September 15, 2017

When Our Evidence Doesn't Hold Up

We are in a funny time in culture when we have all these social science studies that are being cherry picked and used for political purposes (most of which I agree with) and in the last year or so it's been discovered that there's a major replication crises with so many of those studies. So now, if you point out the problems with the studies you get labeled as a racist/sexist/etc.
When I first heard of The Implicit Bias Test I was skeptical. Not because I didn't think that we all have implicit biases we don't acknowledge or admit. But because the core assumptions seemed inadequate to me. The idea that minute time gaps in associating words and pictures could only be explained by latent racism/sexism/homophobia/etc. seems preposterous to me. My understanding of human psychology (as a layperson with no official education on the subject) is that all kinds of biases fall under a giant umbrella bias, which is simply this: We are more comfortable with what we are familiar with. That seems so... like... DUH! OF COURSE that is the case. But it is not an evaluation of an individual, nor does it offer prescriptive solutions to what is simply human nature. I think this is why white people hire people with white sounding names more than unfamiliar names. I'd bet my left pinky finger that people in India predominantly hire people with familiar Indian names. It's not because they harbor deep distrust of a specific race. It's because they are naturally drawn to what is familiar and repulsed by what is not.
To me, what makes one more or less racist is not what the 'system 1' gut reaction is to less familiar races. It's HOW OFTEN and HOW ENGAGED we are with turning on our 'system 2' reasoning skills in order to challenge those gut reactions. Are we content with our gut reactions? Do we rationalize them and reinforce them? That is the path to racism. Having 'Implicit Bias' is not equal to 'being racist' any more than not being able to pronounce a foreign word the first time you see it.
Another problem I've not heard brought up with the racism form of these tests is another super basic part of human psychology. We evolved to be afraid of the dark. Night time is the scary bad time of being eaten or robbed. Black is almost universally seen as negative in most cultures. (OF COURSE there are exceptions) The idea that flashing a negative-association word, then a picture of a dark skinned face, and assuming that the time difference to react is indicative of racism seems fundamentally flawed to me for that reason.
Anyway, here's a great podcast where two liberals talk about the problems with the Implicit Bias Tests, but more interesting to me, the How and Why of why it got so popular. (among certain demographics) Racism is OBVIOUSLY a huge problem for all societies and as humans, we owe it to future generations to work towards ways to end it both on the personal side, and systemically. But that fact should not bind us to poorly done science.