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Multiple heuristic equilibria (cognitive patchwork)

If we are living through a “semantic apocalypse,” a likely implication is that the signal-to-noise ratio in most explicit political debates is not only lower than it might seem, but asymptotically approaching zero. The differential value or accuracy of true news vs. fake news, or smart opinions vs. dumb opinions, is increasingly slim relative to their shared arbitrariness and inadequacy with respect to the complexity of our environment.

How, then, do we regenerate heuristics for our intentional cognition that are aligned with our systematic, scientific cognition?

While there is only one true reality, there exists almost an infinite number of conceptual registers in which one valid scientific model can be stated. In short, there exists an extreme nominal arbitrariness to scientific models. The register that ultimately gets selected as the recognized register is a function of intellectually non-justified criteria: social forces (e.g., marketing considerations), individual psychological forces (e.g., personality-contingent word-choice preferences).

All of this suggests to me that the most promising path at present is small-scale efforts of world-creation, in which strategically arranged social and temperamental forces are leveraged to generate novel heuristics for intentional cognition in a scientifically disciplined fashion.

“Scientifically disciplined” is very different than “scientific.” Groups can think, say, and do almost any number of things in a fashion that is scientifically disciplined, without any of it being scientific and without the different groups necessarily converging or accumulating as science does.

At the core of being scientifically disciplined is simply admitting what you don’t know, which anyone can do.

Being scientifically disciplined still permits the widest variety of the most fantastic inventions–so long as they don’t pretend to an epistemic status they do not really possess.

What this means is that we could very well see a huge number of multiple cognitive equilibria: a variety of small groups that generate radically different heuristics for thinking about each other, sustaining internal order, and productively interacting with the outside. They might sustain the flourishing of members and the health of the community equally well, with insanely different conceptual registers, behaviors, and affective tendencies. They could all be equally scientifically disciplined and therefore calibrated to the complexity of reality, with seemingly no convergence or accumulation in their “findings,” or internal wisdom.

This itself is very hard to process given our intuitions about what it means to be scientifically valid. Our intuitions about science and empirical validity make us feel like pursuing the truth and understanding how society really works should look, sound, and smell like a bunch of people trying really hard to arrive at a certain set of shared words through a difficult and combative process of testing and critiquing different individuals’ and group’s proposals or hypotheses. This is the hitherto socially selected image of science, selected due to contingent factors related to Modernity (centralized institutions, progressive metanarratives, etc.). But it is not at all what it means to live an authentic life that is scientifically disciplined. What that looks like under postmodern conditions still remains to be seen.

A machine superintelligence might never display itself

This seems to me a crucial point not often discussed by the AI Risk folks such as Bostrom and Yudkowsky. Whether it’s a bug or a feature of the AI Risk industry is harder to know, a thorn in the side of their project, or beneficial for (potentially endless) fundraising? Only time will tell, or it won’t.

This is from Superintelligence cannot be contained: Lessons from Computability Theory (Alfonseca et al. 2016):

Another lesson from computability theory is the following: we may not even know when superintelligent machines have arrived, as deciding whether a machine exhibits intelligence is in the same realm of problems as the containment problem. This is a consequence of Rice’s theorem [24], which states that, any non-trivial property (e.g. “harm humans” or “display superintelligence”) of a Turing machine is undecidable.

I have a short article coming out soon in an IEEE publication, which builds on this insight.

Left Singularity

…modern political history has a characteristic shape, which combines a duration of escalating ‘progress’ with a terminal, quasi-punctual interruption, or catastrophe – a restoration or ‘reboot’. Like mould in a Petri dish, progressive polities ‘develop’ explosively until all available resources have been consumed, but unlike slime colonies they exhibit a dynamism that is further exaggerated (from the exponential to the hyperbolic) by the fact that resource depletion accelerates the development trend.

Economic decay erodes productive potential and increases dependency, binding populations ever more desperately to the promise of political remedy. The progressive slope steepens towards the precipice of supreme radicality, or total absorption into the state…

Photic Stimulation with Philipp Streicher

Philipp Streicher is a doctoral researcher in Informatics at the University of Sussex. Philipp studies photic brain stimulation, i.e. the use of light to boost brain activity. He is currently trying to combine light stimulation protocols with neurofeedback technologies, to help people improve their brain function. His startup, Augmind, recently won funding in the 2017 StartUp Sussex competition.

I visited Philipp at his lab, he conducted one of his experiments on me, and then we recorded this podcast. We talked about brain stimulation, economics, politics, and more.

You can find Philipp's web page at the University of Sussex here. You can also find a nice video about Philipp's Augmind project here.

Aesthetic Performance with Greg Osei

Greg Osei is a Soul/R&B musician, performer, storyteller, and model.  His music combines African, Latin, and Afro-Caribbean musical styles, in English and Spanish. He performs regularly throughout New York City. He describes his mission as creating spaces of "possibility, change, questioning, incitement, joy, helpful discomfort, and ultimately love through art and a collaborative creative experience with his audiences." Greg just released a new video of a performance at Sofar Sounds, which you can find here.

I asked Greg to chat with me because I remember him as a very powerful person. We went to high school together, so when I recently saw his work on the internet I thought it'd be fun to see what he's been up to. I've always been drawn to performers because I'm interested in the aesthetics of existence; I'm not a performer but I do want to exist more truly, which is to say, more beautifully. Genuine performers have specialized knowledge about how to exist aesthetically, so there is a lot we can learn from them. And Greg is definitely a very authentic performer in the sense that his performance tendency colors how he carries himself, his everyday demeanor, attitude, speech, etc. This is why I remember him as a very powerful person, because the ability to perform is the ability to shape reality.

You can find Greg's website at You can also find Greg Osei on Instagram here, and on Spotify here.

#13 - Geoffrey Miller (Part 2 of 2)

Geoffrey Miller is an evolutionary psychology professor at the University of New Mexico in the USA, and is best known for his books The Mating Mind (2001), Mating Intelligence (2008), Spent (2009), and Mate (2015). He has a B.A. from Columbia University and a Ph.D. from Stanford University, and has also worked at NYU Stern Business School, UCLA, and University College London. He has over 120 academic publications addressing sexual selection, mate choice, signaling theory, fitness indicators, consumer behavior, marketing, intelligence, creativity, language, art, music, humor, emotions, personality, psychopathology, and behavior genetics. He has given 192 talks in 16 countries. His research has been featured in Nature, Science, The New York Times, The Washington Post, New Scientist, and The Economist, on NPR and BBC radio, and in documentaries on CNN, PBS, Discovery Channel, National Geographic Channel, and BBC. He has consulted for a variety of Fortune 500 companies, governments, NGOs, advertising agencies, market research companies, and social media companies. He is also active in the Effective Altruism, ancestral health, academic free speech, and polyamory movements. His current priority is leveraging evolutionary psychology insights to reduce the existential risks from Artificial General Intelligence.

Geoffrey's personal website:

Geoffrey on Twitter: @primalpoly


Capitalism, genetics, intelligence, etc. (00:00)

Polyamory with a purpose? (00:13)

Groups, clans, missions, cults, and the politics of optimal lifestyle design; blockchain polyamory? (00:26)

Public opinion toward free speech; hypothesizing about why some people reject free speech. (00:24)

How long will Trump last? Betting and prediction markets. (00:46)

Geoffrey's advice on how to live an intellectual life. (51:00)

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