SEEING

I wanna tell you something. It’s probably the second-most important thing I’ll ever tell you.

I don’t really know how to have you get it, but I think it’s very important that you get it.

Many have tried before me, and failed. Heck, I’ve tried before and failed.

I hope I won’t fail this time.

I’m desperate to get this to you and I don’t know how. So I’m going to try to hit it from a million different angles in hope one lands. In reality eight, but you get what I meant.

If you get what I want to tell you, you got it. I’d be so happy. Get the message, drop the phone. Let’s do this:

(1)

A few days back I witnessed something that shook me.

Someone, I can’t remember who it was, was on the telly and they said ‘I don’t like using other people’s words but…’ and then they proceeded to use some idiomatic expression.

I found that preface so raw, rare, and refreshing.

What would happen if people did not use words that weren’t theirs?

This sounds like a fun thought experiment but it’s very serious.

We know that a few words are used with disproportionate frequency. I think the same is true of a few expressions.

We know that words can mean something other than what they say: the ‘How are you? Good, and you? Good. Well, see you later! See you!’ exchange is doing something other than what the words say. In the same way, when people use expressions they’re doing something else than what the words say. In fact I think they are painting over and glossing over what is truly happening for them. They are pointing in the general direction, but enough years of general pointing will have you forgetting where precisely you were pointing to in the first place.

(2)

The worst thing one can do with words is surrender to them. When you think of a material object, you do it wordlessly, perceiving your mental model with a sense that has no name. If you want to refer to it, only then do you render it in words.

Instead of looking at the world, you are relying on symbols that were given to you, and they make you feel smart. When you struggle to explain your beliefs about the world (even just in your head), the problem isn’t that you can’t express yourself, it’s that you did not see

(3)

New gear: Poetry.

Poetry, the idea of poetry, has always evoked in me both fascination and repugnation. I want to be distant from it and explore it from a safe distance.

Twenty years later from the time I first felt that way, something clicked and I realized it attracts and repulses me in the same way that anything that is relevant to my psychological setup does me: attraction because of the promise of transumation, but which also entails my destruction (and hence the fear, the distancing, the repulse)

Here is a fascinating bit about poetry that hits exactly the right place:

A poet is somebody who feels, and who expresses his feelings through words. This may sound easy. It isn’t. A lot of people think or believe or know they feel — but that’s thinking or believing or knowing; not feeling. And poetry is feeling — not knowing or believing or thinking. Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself. To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting. As for expressing nobody-but-yourself in words, that means working just a little harder than anybody who isn’t a poet can possibly imagine. Why? Because nothing is quite as easy as using words like somebody else. We all of us do exactly this nearly all of the time — and whenever we do it, we’re not poets. If, at the end of your first ten or fifteen years of fighting and working and feeling, you find you’ve written one line of one poem, you’ll be very lucky indeed. And so my advice to all young people who wish to become poets is: do something easy, like learning how to blow up the world — unless you’re not only willing, but glad, to feel and work and fight till you die. Does that sound dismal? It isn’t. It’s the most wonderful life on earth. Or so I feel.

Two themes stand out in this passage that I’ve seen other poets express as well: the importance of feeling over thinking, and the importance of finding one’s own words.

(4)

Gendlin, of course, Gendlin has these two themes as well: directly connecting you to your bodily knowledge (felt sense) of what is the true for you now, over intellectual speculation over what is or could be, and taking the time to find the very precise words that express that. And in that expression transformation.

The thing is that for you to speak new words you have to see new things and for you to see you need to move beyond or temporarily drop your ontology, your preconceived, socially-outside imported, conceptualisation of the space. (Gendlin calls this the unit model.)

You need to, and there is nothing harder than this, forget about what you know and just stare.

(5)

Val talked about this too: Kensho and the parable of the phone.

(6)

In the Predictive pProcessing model this is relaxing your top-down priors and moving a step ‘lower’ in the hierarchy. Another way of saying this is you’re relaxing the structure you’re imposing on the incoming perceptions. Or changing the quantity of perceptions to imaginations you’re attending to at or over time.

(7)

Plato also spoke about this, in his Allegory of the Cave.

(8)

DOING things will force you to confront this. Words are useful in that they allow fake magical connections between things. This is what allows the scientific method: you fiat via words that things are connected and then investigate to see whether or not is the case. The investigation is possible, the world bites back, because it does not admit fake magical connections.

It’s easy to think you have non-magical connections. This experiment is illustrative: Artist Asks People to Draw a Bicycle from Memory and Renders the Results

 

P.S.: Ofc it wouldn’t be a post of mine without telling you how to defend yourself. Because of anti-inductive adversariality I can never give you a straightforwardly articulated Defence Against The Dark Arts course I wish I could – maybe posthumously like von Clausewitz– and distrust all those that say they can but I can give you things with subtle readings so you can connect the dots yourself without losing my advantage. Yes, this way of being confused, of not seeing, 100% gets used against you. If you think via the concepts you have via the words you’re getting from the outside you’re easy to own. If you look with your own eyes, much harder. An example? The recent twitter thread on manipulating procedural outcomes It doesn’t even make sense until you start looking at things instead of looking at what they are called and the symbols for them.

How to Explain Anything to Anyone (Commentary)

This a good post with a simple, compact, solid recipe for how to explain ‘anything to anyone’.

In a past life I used to pitch [company] to [investors] and pitching is half explaining, half seduction; so I have a few ideas in the space.

I can’t comment directly on the post and this is my blog, so here is my comment/revision/proposed changes/the way I think of it:

1. Decide what you want the audience to believe
2. Find out what the audience believes
3. Express the first in terms of the second

I like the description above because it decomposes explanation in terms of change of beliefs.

 Decide what you want the audience to believe

If the conversation goes the way you want, what are the beliefs that the audience does not currently hold but that they will come to hold?

 Find out what the audience believes

As in the original post, ‘Ask them’. It’s a sorting problem. You need to have a model of broadly what categories of distance from the target beliefs there are, and to be able to ask questions that disambiguate between those pretty hard.

This is like searching for a word in the dictionary. Open the dictionary at half way, then if it is further open at half-way between now and the end, and keep doing that.

I’ve always asked about people’s background — work or study —, and what they’ve heard about the space. This is usually enough to sort them. If you need more, you can ask about familiarity with specific concepts.

The background quesiton is very non-threathening, and people can feel dumb by having you ask whether they know something and having to say they don’t. If they seem to be saying ‘yes’ but falsely offer them a ‘broad overview’ of the field, either historical or conceptual. If they jump on it, that’s what you need to go for.

 Express the first in terms of the second

A broad explanation isn’t the only thing that works, however.

Once you have a model of what they believe and in what shape they believe it you can refactor the beliefs you want them to have into that shape and express them such.

You can go breadth-first here, explaining the whole area of relevant beliefs in successive detail, at each step taking a step further from what you gave them. Or, you can go depth-first, by iterating on a concept or belief until they nailed that, and then doing it for the next one.

This comes to the preference of the listener, and what level of clarity/detail they’re aiming for or comfortable with.

Notably the second will make it very obvious if the concepts are unclear to yourself, which is often the case, so people shy away from it.

Words, words, words everywhere, and not a thought to be thought

“The individual words in language name objects—sentences are combinations of such names. In this picture of language we find the roots of the following idea: Every word has a meaning. This meaning is correlated with the word. It is the object for which the word stands.” — St. Augustine

I won’t lose much time with the picture theory of language above. It’s wrong. Language, be it words, sentences, or paragraphs are just expression of felt senses. They’re just pointers. Reality is this unitary ‘sum of all things’ it and language just serves as pointers pointing to a particular aspect of reality. Of course this aspect doesn’t exist by itself but exists only because an epistemic agent picks it out from the rest, distinguishes it from the rest, as meaningful for him, and then as meaningful for others, via language.

Ok, cool, so that’s done. The theory above isn’t precisely wrong, it’s just incomplete. It is a good description of technical languages. In technical languages a lot of work is done to make sure that each word or symbol has a matching concept, and no more than one matching concept. Lexical clarity. A lot of work is done to make sure the right, or most useful for the current tasks, concepts are picked out. Conceptual clarity. But the point is that this takes work, to do and to maintain. It is not the default state.

Next, use-mention distinction. Quoting wikipedia:

“The use–mention distinction is a foundational concept of analytic philosophy, according to which it is necessary to make a distinction between using a word (or phrase) and mentioning it, and many philosophical works have been “vitiated by a failure to distinguish use and mention”.

The distinction between use and mention can be illustrated for the word cheese:

Use: Cheese is derived from milk.
Mention: ‘Cheese’ is derived from the Old English word ċēse.

People fuck this up all over. It is hard to read the symbol as merely a meaningless pointer and so people don’t. Call the cake you’re selling ’The Best Cake In The World’ and people will let the meaning slip inside their minds. ‘But is it the best cake in the world?’ The question is there so they won and you lost. It’s the same as if the cake was called ‘sponge cake’ or ‘chocolate cake’ or ‘Anne’ or ‘Joe’. The name of the cake does not necessarily give you any info about the taste, the components, or anything really, about the cake. You can call your pet rose ‘Cake’, and nothing of substance would change. A flower by any other name, except beat this into your head because you’re getting screwed.”

Now, arbitrage. Wikipedia:

“In economics and finance, arbitrage is the practice of taking advantage of a price difference between two or more markets: striking a combination of matching deals that capitalize upon the imbalance, the profit being the difference between the market prices. When used by academics, an arbitrage is a (imagined, hypothetical, thought experiment) transaction that involves no negative cash flow at any probabilistic or temporal state and a positive cash flow in at least one state; in simple terms, it is the possibility of a risk-free profit after transaction costs. For example, an arbitrage opportunity is present when there is the opportunity to instantaneously buy something for a low price and sell it for a higher price.”

Basically if a guy is buying something for 10 quid and another for 5 quid you can get yourself in the middle and make 5 quid. If someone incorrectly thinks that the name of a thing changes the thing you can get yourself in the middle and exploit that.

LessWrong:

“A word’s denotation is our conscious definition of it. You can think of this as the set of things in the world with membership in the category defined by that word; or as a set of rules defining such a set. (Logicians call the former the category’s extension into the world.)

A word’s connotation can mean the emotional coloring of the word. AI geeks may think of it as a set of pairs, of other concepts that get activated or inhibited by that word, and the changes to the odds of recalling each of those concepts.”

Ok finally, sorry about all the necessary concepts.

Now that we have those we can see what is happening: arbitrageurs that don’t have your best interest at heart use the use-mention distinction to slide in meaning via connotation.

“Trump is a literal fascist” cannot be read denotatively with a straight face, it is meant to be read as “Trump is a Literal Fascist” or as “Trump is a ‘Literal Fascist’”, where “’Literal Fascist’” here is a name. Like “The Best Cake” or “Joe” or “Anne”.

Autistic nerds will discuss whether he is a literal fascist by looking up the definition of fascism, the history of fascist regimes, and entirely miss the point. The point is that the idea is sitting on your mind and it gives people excuse to coordinate. It’s a coordination-beacon. “Let us tell this literally but passable lie and in doing so together give each other an honest signal that we’re willing to coordinate against this person”.

Of course this gets used all over leading to semantic hyperinflation. A word gets used as a coordination-beacon in more and more cases to send subterranean messages and its meaning inflates to the point of meaninglessness (‘rational’, ‘nazi’).

Nerds get adequately confused.

How long has this been happening for and how long have nerds been confused by this? Well…

“A superior man, in regard to what he does not know, shows a cautious reserve. If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success. When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music do not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot. Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect.” — Confucius, 551 B.C. – 479 B.C

 

 

 

 

P.S. Not even 2 h after I posted this: here. A UN resolution called “combatting the glorification of Nazism”. US voted against. Does that mean the US is PRO- the glorification of Nazism!?!??!?!??!?! IT’S JUST A NAME, IGNORE THE NAME, SEE THE CONTENT, THIS IS HOW THEY’RE OWNING YOU. No one gets owned this way you say? Then why not call it resolution 4830? Exactly.


*Of course this just goes on and on. ‘Racist’ (a person who believes in racism, the doctrine that one’s own racial group is superior or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others) is really a ‘you’re bad and we’re now coordinating against you’ call to coordination. Of course once people get wise to the trick the thing moves. Now racism is ‘experiencing systematic oppresion’. Like a political-language-for-coordination arms race. And of course, this.