Sunday, July 23, 2006

Symbols

Processing symbols is trivial. Every simple computer does it. All the time.

Processing meaning is difficult, though. Only humans seem to be able to do that.

Humans. Not people. For not all people are human. The distinction between people and humans can be drawn exactly along the lines spelled out above: many people merely process symbols. They are sub-human -- they are no more human than a dog or a bug is human.

From the outside, it can sometime appear as if a symbol-maipulation mechanism was actually processing meaning. Or vice versa. Drawing the distinction can at times be difficult, in particular when the object of investigation declines to cooperate.

A test has been devised to distinguish the two: the Turing test. There's many forms of the Turing test and no one single question or answer can decide it by itself. But there are obvious thrusts that a Turing test can take.

For instance, the questioner can probe in the direction of absolute certainty; knowing that denial of such constitutes a failure of a turing test.

Or, pursuant to the above, one merely need establish the value placed on symbols by the object in question: anybody who would pray to symbols or imbue symbols with any kind of import has already failed the Turing test right there. Anybody who gives a rats ass about a cross, a flag, a yin-yang or any such trinket is obviously processing symbols instead of meaning.

I'm mentioning all these obvious bits right now since of course anybody who cares one iota one way or the other about flag burning is certainly a mechanism. An automaton. A brainless, mindless symbol-manipulation machine.

A thing, not a human. A thing which is incapable of grasping meaning and thus instead clings to worthless symbols. Proclaims sybols valuable and worthy of protection.

And the more they insist that any one sybol is of any kind of value, the more vigorously they are railing against "desecration" of that symbol, the more emotional they get over the symbol, the farther away they are from self-awareness. From meaning. From the ability to see the distinction between a symbol and what it stands for. And, ultimately from the realization taht all symbols are completely meaningless - for that is, of course, what makes them symbols.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Honesty

(another oldie, placed here for future reference)

In some other post I ask "what's wrong with honesty?" Let me expand on this a little. As usual, input is welcome.

Just for the duration of this sentence, let me commit the sin of oversimplification by separating communicative environments into competitive and collaborative ones. It is understood that very few (if any) real situations will fall squarely into either of these categories, but that we have to understand real, human, interaction as a composite of both; sometimes a little more to the one side, sometimes a little more to the other. Sometimes quite clearly on either side. Sometimes pretty much in the middle.

I am separating the two, since they present different communication-paradigms and since therefore they will result in different optimum strategies.

In a collaborative environment, things are simple: You are as honest as you can. If you benefit from my being well-informed, then it is in your own best interest to keep me well-informed. Even to the point where you might want to review what information I have available to me and correcting it if you see problems with it. At all times, it would hurt you if you withheld information from me or if you presented me intentionally with false information.

In a competitive environment, things get trickier: if you can benefit from my misinformation, then there's an incentive to lie. At least occasionally. The optimum strategy goes something like this:

A) Be honest as often as necessary to maintain credibility. If you lie too often, people will simply not believe you and language as a tool becomes useless.

B) Lie as often as necessary to obtain the maximum possible gain from lying that is possible without getting in conflict with (A) above.

Understanding these situations, there's certain obvious strategies in dealing with them. Obviously, your strategy is going to depend on your perception of the situation: it doesn't really matter whether any situation is "really" competitive or if competitiveness can be measured or any such thing: you are going to adopt a competitive strategy if you think that you're in a competitive situation.

If you adopt a competitive strategy, then my response to it is simple: I will be as skeptical of your words as I can. The more skeptical scrutiny I can muster, the more I can effectively force you to be honest, since you'd get away with less lies as per the above. A competitive response to a competitive strategy.

The other alternative is to establish cooperative environments. If I can convince you that it is in your own interest if I am as well-informed as possible, I can expend less resources on critical
examination of your statements and more on producing content. Essentially, I have to convince you to examine your own thoughts with the same critical scrutiny that I would have to expend
otherwise.

As usual when communicating about communication, all these have obvious abuse-potential built into them, once you understand them and if your intentions are other than well-meaning.

I am bringing this up here mostly to give a bit of a background to my own communications: First off, I tend to try to be as honest as I can. And as honest as is appropriate: if I tell you a yarn that is clearly marked as a yarn and serves the purpose of entertainment rather than information-transmission, then that's a different item, obviously.

Second, you will find me fiercely skeptical of people's claims, simply because that will force them into honesty (or into hiding, if they think that they must be competitive and that I am undermining their ability to do so). On the other side I am really trying to encourage discussion and interaction: I am not skeptical because I dislike people or any such thing - I am skeptical because I see this as the only tool at my disposal to compel other people to be honest.

This means that my communication-strategy has the same two-way structure as the above:

A) Be as skeptical as possible.

B) Establish as much of a cooperative (rather than competitive) feeling to the communicative environment as is possible without violating (A) above.

This is how I try to establish honesty. I'd be curious to hear alternative strategies or alternative methods of arriving at them.

Monday, July 03, 2006

The myth of addiction

(Another oldie, placed here for future reference.)

"Addiction" is as much a mythical concept as "God" or "State" -- inventions created by humans. Fiction. Something people made up. And because the fantasy is so damn pleasant, they all agree on it. But agreeing on it doesn't make it real.

Wether you kill "for the Fuhrer" or "for the glory of God" or "because the Party said so" or "to feed your Addiction": all you're doing is appealing to some fictional entity outside yourself as a motivator or generator for your actions. An attempt to deny the responsibility for your own doings and undoings. You desperately try to deny the personal responsibility for the morality of every single thing you say and do, for every thing that goes into and comes out of you.

Nobody has ever "been addicted" against their will. Every human being always has the choice to do XYZ or to not do XYZ. And then they have the choice to do or not do it a second time. And a third time. The consequences are either known to you or otherwise you're knowingly doing an experiment and will learn of the consequences. And at all times it is entirely up to yourself; the decision is yours at all times.

YOU are in the driver's seat and nobody else. In particular not mythical entities that people have invented outside themselves for the express purpose of absolving themselves of the responsibility of their actions.

"I couldn't help it, I was addicted". "I was only following orders". "It was the will of god". "I thought it was horrible, personally, but it was for the best of the Party." All these are the same statement. They are the perennial statement of the Nazi black-boot, the communist thug, the mafia killer, the christian murderer. The sub-human pigs who are so desperate to deny the personal responsibility for their actions that they invent entities outside themselves to take the blame.