Philosophy

Be nice to other people

Not long ago I realized that Derek Sivers is on Twitter after someone retweeted a tweet of his. The tweet was:

Smart people don’t think others are stupid.

And I thought, uh… yes they do. Everyone does. So I tweeted:

Smart people don’t think others are stupid. They know.

OK, I know, lame, not funny. But still, at one time or another, everyone thinks that at least a few other people are stupid, or at least their actions are, or their ignorance about something is. That doesn’t necessarily mean everyone thinks they are better than everyone else, that the human population is made up of arrogant snobs.

However, I would say that a smart person is nice and polite to everyone. Just listen to those Leo Laporte calls in my last blog post. He’s talking to people who obviously don’t have much of a clue about certain things. In the privacy of my home, I can laugh my head off. Are those people stupid? Or is that way too harsh, and we should try to understand where they’re coming from? After all, not all people have nearly the same level of experience with computers… and if Leo Laporte, who’s making money off of people’s ignorance (you don’t call in to have a question answered if you’re not ignorant about something, and we’re all ignorant about somethings), started laughing or belittling his more-ignorant-than-usual callers, people might fear calling him and he wouldn’t be in business for very long.

In other words, it’s just good manners to not treat other people as if you think they are stupid, even if that’s what you think, and everyone is bound to think it now and then.

Also tweeted by Derek Sivers was this article: Are you capable of being ruthless to get ahead?

Go ahead and read the article, it’s a pretty quick and easy read.

OK, are you done? What took you so long? You must be stupi… uh… I mean… very good.

There’s nothing really innovative about a person like Saul. There have been people like him since the beginning of mankind. There are probably monkeys like him. And while I envy their power of success, I ask myself: could I do something like that?

Well, if I wanted to, I don’t think I have the social skills. I don’t think I have what it takes to pretend to be interested in what someone else is interested in to get ahead. I’m just not sure I could make up something interesting to say about any topic on the spot. I could pretend to be interested in some people, if such an act is mainly comprised of asking people questions about themselves. (Some people feel honored and important when others ask a lot of questions about them, others can get annoyed and suspicious.) But I couldn’t keep up the act that I’m interested in, say, fishing, or NASCAR, or gospel music. Perhaps trying to research those things to get myself ahead would simply be too much of a sacrifice of my time.

But I also just think it’s wrong. I mean, isn’t that using people? As much as I might joke about thinking other people are stupid, I could never in good conscience become someone’s friend for only the sake of business.

And I know that that might be how a lot of businesses work, especially when there’s a lot of power and money involved. Perhaps in Hollywood, where rich producers and celebrities can never know the difference between true fans and the people who just want to kiss their… you know.

So maybe not playing that social game is bad for business and won’t do you any favors in terms of getting ahead.

But, come on, wouldn’t businesses everywhere be better if no one was being “ruthless,” if no one was playing some social game, if people were pursuing their true interests and not trying to climb some power ladder?

And I’m sure there are a lot of people out there that agree with me, and those are the people I’d rather work with.

But only if they’re interested in Mozart.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Music

A little thought on consciousness and stuff

I hope this blog isn’t becoming too self-conscious… aha… ahahaha…

Ahem…

On pages 39-40 of Daniel C. Dennett’s book Consciousness Explained, Dennett writes:

Some people are convinced that we can’t [understand consciousness] in any case. Such defeatism, today, in the midst of a cornucopia of scientific advances ready to be exploited, strikes me as ludicrous, even pathetic, but I suppose it could be the sad truth.

It might be the sad truth, but that won’t be the failing of science, it will be the failing of consciousness itself. For example, we can theorize about the big bang, about the nature of time, about string theory, but we can’t conceive four or more spatial dimensions, we can’t think about time not existing, we can’t even imagine ourselves not existing. (If you’d like to get religious: we can’t understand the nature of God.) These are the limits of our mind. Why do these limits exist? Are they based on limits of the real physical world, or are they purely mental? A dog can’t conceive suicide, yet he might run out in front of a car. Just because he can’t conceive it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Is it the same with humans?

So… what if consciousness fits into this category? Well, we know it exists, that’s not the issue. The issue is why? How? Perhaps that is beyond our consciousness’ ability to know; it is not a failing of our reasoning or our science, it is just a limit of the nature of our existence.

Funny Leo Laporte videos

Lastly, since I’m now going to post Stuff I Found stuff here (and kill that blog), here are some funny videos of clueless people calling Leo Laporte (former host of that wonderful show of my yesteryears, The Screen Savers). Enjoy.

Phantom of the Opera sequel

I’m listening to the Phantom of the Opera sequel, Love Never Dies, on Rhapsody right now and it’s… uh… interesting. I hate how musical soundtracks these days have no reverb. I like the old musical recordings, when it sounded like the singers were on a stage, when it made me feel like I was in a theater. Music wise, it’s good, but not very Phantomy… or at least with a huge atmospheric twist, since the story takes place on… Coney Island. Not very… gothicy… more like the haunted fairgrounds of a Scooby Doo episode. It’s just… odd. A very different spirit to thing.

I wonder if they can get Michael Crawford to sing some of the songs… just to hear what it would’ve been like.

Gah, so annoying with no reverb…

By S P Hannifin, ago
Non-fiction books

More boring thoughts on consciousness

I’ve heard that later this month, Google’s Blogger will be discontinuing the FTP upload feature, which means my other two blogs, Stuff I Found and Book Quotes, will sadly have to come to an end. I could convert them to WordPress or move them to something.blogspot.com, but I think I will just kill them off, and integrate future posts that would’ve belonged to them into this blog here. It’s probably a better idea just to have everything in one place anyway, yes? So I shan’t be using Google Blogger ever again; it’s all WordPress from now on.

And now on to our regularly scheduled blog post. On page 24 of Daniel C. Dennett’s book Consciousness Explained, Dennett says:

Love is one of those phenomena that depend on their concepts, to put it oversimply for the time being. There are others; money is a clear instance. If everyone forgot what money was, there wouldn’t be any money anymore; there would be stacks of engraved paper slips, embossed metal disks, computerized records of account balances, granite and marble bank buildings — but no money: no inflation or deflation or exchange rates or interest — or monetary value. The very property of those variously engraved slips of paper that explains — as nothing else could — their trajectories from hand to hand in the wake of various deeds and exchanges would evaporate.

Basically I think he’s saying that things like money and love are things of the mind, concepts that come from the mind. How we act in relation to them is dependent on how we think of them, how we understand them. And we can disagree about our philosophies toward them, but there’s not some tangible non-psychological objective evidence in the outside world we can ever use as evidence to support our position. For other things, this is not true. The examples the author uses are diseases and earthquakes. Our understanding of those phenomena can and has changed through the years, but those phenomena remain the same. An earthquake doesn’t shake differently when you understand; but how you spend your money does change depending on how you understand it. Money’s very existence is dependent on our understanding of it.

Of course, the author is then planning to apply this concept to consciousness. Is consciousness more like love or an earthquake? The author will argue it’s more like love… but to me it seems a confusing question, and may require me to think differently about the concept. I’ve always thought of consciousness as a purely physical phenomena, right? What if love is understood as a purely physical phenomena, as an emergent property of chemicals moving around in the brain? Is love then like an earthquake?

The trouble is, creating this dividing line between things like love and money and things like earthquakes and diseases seems a bit fake. It’s like, there are these physical things that tangibly exist, and then there are concepts, emergent properties in the mind. Usually I’m OK with creating that dividing line, but consciousness sits right on it, it links the two. It leads to the philosophical questions of solipsism… everything you see, everything you feel, hear, sense, they are all physically in your mind… what is the nature of existence in general? It’s like asking on what side the dividing line is in relation to itself.

So I disagree with the author and would say that the question is invalid; it’s too oversimplified. Still, its implications are worth exploring, and oversimplifying may be necessary to get anywhere, so I’ll keep reading.

As I was reading this part of the book, I also thought, hmmmm, what about religion? Where would God fit into this? Is God like love or an earthquake?

Atheists and theists argue about whether or not God exists, but not about the nature of the existence of money (or at least don’t argue about it nearly as often). We don’t say that money isn’t real, though we do understand that it’s more a psychological concept than a tangible property of the world. We don’t say that money’s existence is relative to our beliefs, yet we have no problem in having different understandings of it.

Whether or not you believe in God, you’d probably believe that the nature of His existence doesn’t change with your beliefs, but how you act in life and towards God (or lack of God) and other people does depend on your beliefs.

So it’s like God is perpendicular to the dividing line between psychological concepts and tangible worldly concretes. Both theists and atheists treat the belief in God more like it’s an earthquake on some distant planet nobody can see, and that makes it like love, because that sort of understanding is all that’s left.

Confusing?

And then the question is: so what? What can we do with this way of thinking about the nature of the existence of God? Anything?

Perhaps understand that the dividing line itself doesn’t exist? That we are part of both understandings of the world, both psychological and physical beings, and, most importantly, that both understandings of the world are the same world? Can that understanding change the way we act?

Or, if you don’t feel like thinking about God, what about the nature of an objective difference between moral right and wrong? What about the nature of Truth itself?

Obviously, I don’t really know, and I’m really just confusing myself. Argh!

The author says on page 24 and 25:

If the concept of consciousness were to “fall to science,” what would happen to our sense of moral agency and free will? If conscious experience were “reduced” somehow to mere matter in motion, what would happen to our appreciation of love and pain and dreams and joy?

I am confident that these fears are misguided…

… let us remind ourselves of what has happened in the wake of earlier demystifications. We find no diminution of wonder; on the contrary, we find deeper beauties and more dazzling visions of the complexity of the universe than the protectors of mystery ever conceived.

Yes, yes, I agree, because I are smart. I’ve heard similar fears from composers and music lovers who think that if we could explain why we think certain melodies sound so beautiful then they might not sound beautiful anymore, as if the beauty is in the mystery of why it’s beautiful. A “we-murder-to-dissect” kinda thing, understanding it might kill the wonder of it. Nonsense! The only beauty I see in a mystery is born of the desire to solve it, to one day truly know.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Computer music

Is there a different way to compose music?

I don’t have the answer, but I’m interested in the question.

Of course, I’m really interested in automated computer composition, but a few things are blocking my progress in that area. 1) The algorithms I’ve come up with are too computationally demanding. Oh the things we humans could do with more computer power. That’s always a problem when you’re trying to do something that’s never been done before with computers, isn’t it? And that’s part of the reason it’s never been done. 2) I lack an understanding of how we humans perceive music. I think most people do. We can’t create a program that writes music like humans if we don’t understand how humans do it. Without that knowledge, we’re basically creating algorithmic and/or recombinatorial music, which can certainly be interesting and sometimes convincing, but it’s not the Holy Grail of the subject (at least, it’s not my Holy Grail).

Anyway, earlier today I was daydreaming of creating a programming language (for fun), and then I thought, hmmm… what if I create a programming language designed to help with the composing process? And I thought, well… that’s just dumb. But I kept thinking, well, how could the composing process be changed? Currently, I just use Overture to click in notes. I think these days there are two main ways to compose music: 1) Write down the notes. Either click them in to a notation program on a piano roll or a blank staff. Or, be old school and use tangible staff paper and a quill pen. 2) Play the music on an instrument. Piano, perhaps. Or even sing it.

Now, some people say “no, I compose in my head!” Oooh, what a genius you must be! I don’t think. All composers compose in their heads. The “composing process” I’m referring to is a matter of getting that music out. You either play it (and perhaps make a sound recording), or you create corresponding graphical symbols (sheet music) to represent how to play it (for either the computer to play, or other humans). What can make composing completely in the head difficult is mainly memory, not lack of intelligence. Writing down or recording the music helps solve this problem. They are processes to aid you in your act of creation while you compose in your head. If you have a good memory and are able to compose a piece completely in your head, don’t look for any praise from me, I really don’t think that’s a very amazing feat.

(On a side note, I think sometimes the composing process is mystified and romanticized to inhumanly heights by people who just aren’t as interested in it. We once had an article in the paper about a local teenager who composed a piece of music for something, and the writer seemed very amazed that a 15 year old could *gasp* write music. Either the writer was just being gracious, or he didn’t realize just how many young composers are out there, and how good they can be. Really, in any art there’s always talk of certain artists being “geniuses” and “prodigies” but, in my opinion, it’s mostly just a romanticizing. Anyone can become “great” with enough practice (it might even be easier to learn when you’re younger, making prodigies even less amazing). “Greatness” is subjective, and fame is an emergent property. People say “we don’t have any Rembrandts today!” or “we don’t have any Mozarts today!” Yes we do, they just haven’t been dead for hundreds of years yet. These artists are put on such romantically high pedestals it seems impossible to compare them to non-famous artists today. But I think the skill level is definitely there. The fame takes time. And you can be “great” (though probably not famous) at any art you’d like… if you’re willing to put in the hours… and it will take some long lonely hours of practice and study. But I do believe that genius is mostly hard work, not a mystical God-given gift given only to a few fortunate fellows (maybe the desire to to do all the required work is… it’s a gift, and a curse… usually when one daydreams of being a genius, one dreams of it coming easily). I might’ve already said all this is some past blog post, but I believe it and it’s a view that not many people seem to share, I think… as far as I can tell. Really I think it’s because people don’t like to think of fame as an emergent property but rather as something that’s destined for objectively “great” people. And that stems from our natural psychological problem of induction, of trying to find cause-and-effect processes where they don’t exist, of noticing patterns and implying improper things from them. So really everyone should just read The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. Awesome book.)

Where was I?

Ah yes, the composing process…

So, I’m trying to think another system of music representation. Sheet music is designed for a human to read and play the music back. Piano roll view is kind of an “easier to see” version for manipulating notes on a computer, but almost the same thing as regular notation. Both are really just a graph (or a collection of graphs) of time (x-axis) vs frequency (y-axis).

What if we add another axis?

That would be dumb.

But I’d still like to explore the possibilities of designing some other kind of representational system that’s designed for composing instead of for a human to play back. This system might be jarring for composers to use, at least at first. (“At least at first” hahaha… get it?) It would require composers to think in a different way. But that’s the point. Well, really the point is to allow composers to compose faster, and so the point is to experiment and see if there’s way to compose faster if we think about the process in a different way.

I have no specific ideas for this system right now. I’m at work, and I’m just blathering off the top of my mind to help the time go by. Two not-very-specific ideas I have for this system (I’m not sure if they’re any good):

1) Representing changes instead of just frequencies. What if we said something like “up 2, up 3, down 4, up 2” instead of naming notes?

2) Grouping notes. Right now, if you have 6 notes, you have to write all six notes. But what if we group these 6 notes, and then work with that group, and the changes that happen to that group? And then we can go farther and build groups of groups, and look at how those groups are different from one another, and how they’re the same. What kinds of patterns would we find and how could we work with them to compose new music?

I’m not really sure, and none of this may be very innovative anyway, but I am interested in exploring it and getting into more specifics about it.

The goals of the system would be to:

1) Compose faster (i.e. with greater ease). This would in turn allow us to…

2) Explore more possibilities while composing.

And, if possible:

3) Make composing more fun. And thus, attract more people to the act of composing, and help procrastinators and people with composer’s block.

Well, that’s my blather for today. I’ll continue to post my thoughts on this as I have them…

If you read all that, I have two things to say:

1) What’s the matter with you?!

2) Thank you, you are to be commended for your bravery and endurance.

P.S. It was nice to see Michael Giacchino win the Oscar for best score (even though the presenters had no idea how to pronounce his name).  I do love his Pixar film music work, he’s doing some of the best film music today, using those things called melodies.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Non-fiction books

Some boring thoughts on consciousness

I’m reading a book from 1991 called Consciousness Explained by Daniel C. Dennett. (I’m not sure I’ll read the whole thing, as I have a habit of reading the first third or fourth of a book and then having my interests shift to other interesting-looking books.) These are just my thoughts / reactions to some things I read in the book.

In the first few pages, the author talks about the “brain in the vat” thought experiment, the thought being that your brain might actually be in a vat with a bunch of wires providing your complete neural stimulation. Basically, The Matrix. The question is: is there anyway to realize you are actually in a vat? (In short, I can’t see how. If we’re in a matrix, we’re stuck here. Even if we got woken up, what’s to say we wouldn’t just wake up in another matrix? A question never considered in the Matrix films, I think (I only saw the first one).)

Anyway, the author spends some time talking about how technologically sophisticated such a vat-brain-machine would have to be. And I was thinking, well wait a sec, what’s to say we even have to be a brain at all? If consciousness can be broken down to just a number of physical atoms moving (A LOT of them of course, but keep in mind that “a lot” just means too much for our minds to comprehend; it is not an objective term, it stems from what we are able to fathom, there is no “a lot” in the universe, only in our minds), then couldn’t we really be anything? An air conditioning system? Pebbles on a shoreline? Quocks in a billver? (I made those words up, it might as well be something we can’t fathom.) Or what if consciousness can’t be broken down to just a number of physical movements? What does that leave? I have no idea. My point is, our consciousness doesn’t have to be a brain in a vat having its senses tricked, it could be just about anything. And we can only judge how technologically complex such a system must be by comparing it to the technology we have available in this world. What if, in the world that our consciousness really sits, things our unfathomably more complex? And our world, to whatever conscious beings are out there, is an extremely simple simulation? I mean, isn’t complexity itself a rather subjective thing, determined by our own mental powers? Not new thoughts at all, I’m sure.

Also, there’s the subject of free will. It’s probably natural to think that the wires hooked up to our brain in the vat would also have to read our thoughts to determine our decisions, such as us deciding to move a finger, so that the wires can determine what sort of sensual feedback we should receive. But couldn’t the wires just tell us to move a finger, and also tell us to think that it was our own decision? I mean, aren’t our own thoughts, decisions, beliefs, memories, etc., all senses? Senses from one part of the brain to another? Couldn’t that all therefore be controlled by the wires as well? (The author does mention this line of thought later on. Aren’t I smart?)

Consciousness doesn’t have to be a feedback loop, does it? Couldn’t it be completely feedfoward?

Another idea that interests me is the idea of a meta-consciousness. What if we are all part of some other conscious being that we can barely fathom, and everytime we talk to each other, it’s like neurons sending messages to each other?

Anyway, the author ends up saying by page 7:

One conclusion we can draw from this is that we are not brains in vats–in case you were worried.

What?! Seems a rather large assumption. Both religiously and scientifically, I don’t think we have any way of knowing what we truly are, nor do we have any way of finding out. Maybe it will be revealed to us through we call death?

Overall, though, of the 23 pages I’ve read so far, this is a pretty interesting book, it’s giving me lots to think about.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Movies

Album’s site is up and Burton’s Alice review

I spent my day off work working.  Enterprising, no?  I created a small site for my vanity label Hannifin Records.  Of course, there’s not much there yet.  But you can see a bit more of my first album’s cover art revealed in the title banner.  And, if you navigate your way through it a bit, there’s a page for the album with previews of all the tracks.  Next I need to experiment with PayPal buttons, since I’m guessing that’s what I’ll use to take orders.

Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland review

Also, I just got home from watching Tim Burton’s version of Alice in Wonderland.  Read no further if you plan on seeing the movie yourself and fear having your opinions tainted by my own.

Still reading?  OK, well, that’s your own fault.

I liked some things, didn’t like others.  Like most movies.

The artistry was great.  Especially the architecture of the castles, in my opinion.  Just awesome stuff, awesome to look at.  I do wish I could live in castles so well designed.  Though how do you get a laptop to go with the surroundings?  The special effects were great; I look forward to seeing them on blu-ray eventually.  (Our movie theaters here still don’t seem to like using digital projection or actually putting the picture in perfect focus.)  The music was also very good.  Danny Elfman’s music does tend to please me.  I’ll probably buy the soundtrack.  Good film music, especially compared to the more-atmospheric-less-melodic music films tend to be using nowadays.  Why don’t they throw us a crumb?  What’s wrong with letting us tap our toes a bit?  I’ll let you know when Stravinski has a hit… oops, sorry.  Helena B. Carter was also very funny.

The bad… just about everything else.  Which I actually won’t blather about because, you know, I like to focus on the good.  OK, actually I’m just lazy.  But I do think I could’ve written a better script.  If I didn’t have to base it on a book.  I mean, with such awesome visual artistry, I think there are more interesting stories to be told.  Why keep telling the same stories?

I did get a few ideas for novels and short stories while watching.  And the ending kind of made me want to invent a bunch of chess variants.

That’s all I have to say.  Guess what I get to do all weekend?  Go to work!  Yeah!!

Bye.

By S P Hannifin, ago
My life

Hannifin Records will never die…

HRLogoSmallHope you like my little Hannifin Records logo for my vanity label.  I sent my album to the manufacturers yesterday, so it’s all in their hands now (or, for now, in the post office’s hands).  I think waiting will make me a bit restless.  Gotta work on the Hannifin Records site now.  I’d like to be able to sell the album on the site right when I get them from the manufacturers, instead of having to wait for CD Baby to do all their setting up (though I’ll still definitely send it to them).

Yeah, my posts have been really boring lately… not that they were ever really that interesting.  I should start a blog on how to make money blogging; I think those are the blogs that make the most money.  How come those blogs never start with posts about starting off poor?  I mean, how do you start a blog like that?  What do you put in your first post before you’ve made anything?  And then do you blog about only having made a few cents?  I think you have to start off lying, saying you’ve made way more than you really have…

By S P Hannifin, ago
My life

Nothing of importance

If I can get all the paperwork in order tomorrow morning (my part time job gets in the way… but at least provides me the funding to be able to do this), my CD manufacturing order will be in the mail tomorrow afternoon.  I’m not sure how long it will take them, but I’d give them the rest of the month.  In the meantime, I purchased the domain www.hannifinrecords.com (doesn’t go anywhere yet) as Hannifin Records is my new record label that I will use to sell the album (along with CD Baby and iTunes and whatever).  So I’ll be busy setting up that site while waiting for the manufacturers.

That’s probably not very interesting news, is it?  I really haven’t been up to much else; been spending my free time obsessing over this project.  Probably too much obsessing, but it’s a lot of fun, I’m excited.

Oh, I did get a couple rejections for my fantasy short story No One Was Abendsen.  One of these days I’ll sell something, even if I have to buy it myself.

By S P Hannifin, ago