These are just extracts of the most interesting thoughts from conversations I have, or articles I read, or things I languidly think about. Hopefully this can serve as a place to record my response to things to both re-evaluate later and invite public discussion on to correct my takeaways, so I’d love hearing any feedback or related ideas! Title inspired by the incredible rabbitholeathon. Usually phrased in the form of questions, as that’s a fairly simple way for readers to critically come to their own ideas as well.
In an ideal world, I would both survey my opinion on the topic before the reading, and after the reading, and maybe make some concrete predictions or somehow stake my opinions? But there isn’t a super easy way to do this right now. Maybe staking some bounties here or setting up a manifolds market folder for myself would work well? Open to suggestions. I will probably start a similar page for the books I read soon, but for now they are on my goodreads.
This alive doc will be updated every time I feel the desire to pen a thought.
Thoughts from articles
Popularized by Westworld, is The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind reasonable, either as a model for the origin of consciousness or the synthesis of consciousness?
- I got curious about this after the clear impact this book had on Westworld. While the core theory isn’t really falsifiable (i.e. we can’t really confirm or deny there may be some species that thinks bicamerally, or some branch of ancient humans may have thought like this), I think it is very interesting and thought provoking. There can be scientific disagreement over subpoints (maybe it’s not exactly left vs right brain or maybe it is, maybe it’s related to some subset of schizophrenia cases or maybe it’s not, maybe there’s evidence from Bronze age and older literature or maybe that’s just how they wrote, maybe auditory hallucinations are evidence of bicamerality or maybe they are drug induced or just tools of manipulation) – while they are all interesting to ask and wonder about, they seem just as unknowable as the core thesis. I think it’s a compelling hypothesis for why so many earlier societies were far more god-centric than we are, but maybe that belief stems from lack of broad scientific understanding. Regardless, it is a cool theory that I think more folks should know.
What the hell causes my chronic fatigue? I frequently yawn during workouts, sugar crash to sleep after one cookie, and cannot stop myself from falling asleep while reading a dense paper or attending a difficult class. This post on fatigue has a lot of really interesting replies.
- Some promising things from this thread are potentially ADHD causing fatigue without stimulants (test here), mild celiacs, beta thel minor causing less effective sickle cells that potentially benefit from carnitine and folic acid supplementation, and this potpurri mineral deficiencies that might cause issues. Maybe there’s an asthma link too? I haven’t noticed standard doses of caffeine (< 100mg) having an impact, but perhaps I should try higher doses? I’ve heard NSDR potentially works as well, but haven’t tried it.
Can feral children talk to animals? And if they then learn a human language, can they act as a translator?
- There are so many examples of such children but there don’t seem to be a ton of data from the rehabilitated kids about their ability to “speak” the animal language, just calls as far as I can tell. Interspecies communication is fascinating to me – reminiscent of Westworld or ChatGPT, if we can have cogent conversations with an animal made of flesh and neurons, what is the threshold at which we can be sure that they are conscious and self-aware? Animals seem to have some form of default mode network in their brain, but it’s unclear if it’s the same as it is in humans (in humans, this brain part is thought to be responsible for a sense of self or ego, and allows self-reflection and spontaneous thoughts). There seems to be a number of examples of human-dolphin communication via a whistle pidgin with 30ish sounds.
If we can talk to animals via either Project CETI or feral children, can consciousness be transferred to them with coherent conversation building up higher level concepts and pattern matching?
Dreams are the one of the anti-memetics that we know about, not the weakest but also not insanely strong. What are the others, and can we arm ourselves to understand them better?
- From an interview with qntm himself,
Things like dirty secrets, taboos, passwords, dreams, politically inconvenient historical facts, complex equations, boring tax code, injunctions and super-injunctions. I call these difficult-to-share ideas “antimemes”.. For some of these (boring tax code), there are specialists that it is almost always better to defer to. Other things like dirty secrets and taboos intrigue us even from early childhood. Complex equations can give you insane predictive superpowers, but they take intense focus to shield against their anti-meme powers. I haven’t dug into the world of super injunctions, but I bet theres a treasure trove down there.
- Framing math in terms of fighting antimemes could be awesome for education.
- From an interview with qntm himself,
Are there memetics classes? Inspired again by qntm’s interviews.
- Memetics is kind of sort of not really a pseudoscientific field. I bet it would be a fascinating class though even just from a historical perspective, and I would absolutely take one. Is there any such class online? If anyone knows, I’d love to hear. Maybe searching through the syllabus galaxy could help. Maybe I/someone else can teach an IAP class on it if we find useful literature to teach from?
- An 9 person experiment from ‘73, in which a few folks feigned hallucinations to enter mental institutions – after immediately saying those symptoms disappeared, they were still forced to admit to schizophrenia, take medication, and admit to having a mental illness. Even funnier was the followup, in which a hospital invited Rosenhan to send pseudopatients to be weeded out. They suspected 41/193, but Rosenhan sent none. I am skeptical of the validity of the 9 person experiment, because pretending to have a mental illness should not be surprised when diagnosed as that. The followup, while more curious, also doesn’t seem to imply the conclusion most seem to have taken: they don’t quite prove that mental health is overdiagnosed (while this is almost certainly true). The hospital was ID’ing folks that seem like they might be faking, not trying to identify folks who don’t have mental disorders. Regardless, I think the state of diagnosis and treatment is completely fucked and the result of decommissioning such hospitals is good – I think effective therapy and humane treatment, rather than arbitrary labels, will make more of a difference than any existing drug (except maybe psychedelics).
- This article does a great job of breaking down the problem and it’s history for a layperson. I’m pretty convinced that naked antibiotics are very harmful, but I’m not sure if subdermal administration is sufficient for humans as well, or if the mechanism of action requires consumption, or if balancing it with opposite probiotics is sufficientlly palliative.
Can bounties be used as a sustainable way to encourage a community to surface information?
Thoughts from conversations
These are all based off of others’ ideas, including Justin, Max, Saffron, and Shreyas.
Why aren’t there more fission advocacy groups and individuals deeply devoted to proving to the public that fission is now completely safe?
- A friend brought up the good point that nuclear fission has not proliferated partially due to arms controls laws in case the nuclear capability is misappropriated, but mostly due to public perception and fear of meltdown. This fear is no longer reasonable given the leaps and bounds in fuel tech that cannot physically meltdown and way better designs. A group devoted to public informing and advocacy could be quite interesting, or even a lone wolf Varoufakis-type advocate for fission.
To what extent does the benefits of hastened globalization from an energy abundance mindset (pro fossil fuels) outweigh the cons of an energy scarcity mindset?
- The burden for decarbonized energy often disproportionately falls on third world countries (i.e. Kenya had to globalize via a supermajority of renewable energy). Is that actually subsidized enough to make it cheaper than fossil fuels, or are poor countries left to pay the upfront and maintenance costs to offset the continued greed of globalized economies?
What is a videogame design that cannot be botted?
- This question is pretty important as AI gets more and more powerful, scripting becomes easier and easier, and games add assets that have massive real economic value. A friend asked me this but we could only think of one such function together. Would be curious to hear what other folks can cook up from first principles.
What are the most novel ways to experience local culture?
Will Project CETI lead to cargo cultism in whales?
- A system of belief in which a less tech advanced society is contacted by a more advanced society, and the less advanced society resorts to ineffective means like prayer to try to bring the more advanced society to bring more goods, like guns. Interesting to wonder if this will be a possible fear with interspecies communication projects, like humans aiming to talk with whales.
What does one do about carpal tunnel symptoms?
- I dealt with this nonsense for several years of my life: I had the whole ergonomic gambit, and it stopped me from playing my favorite sports and even typing and writing for a whole. On strong recommendations of several of my friends, I was led down this rabbit hole. One of the most prominent rehab centers in the USA is the NYU Rusk Rehab center, and one of their longest tenured members for 50 years (and the director of the patient clinic for a decade) was named John Sarno. He was also a Professor of Rehab Medicine at NYU – as one of the foremost experts at one of the foremost institutions, this guy was the real deal. He published a book detailing some of his most effective methods for dealing with chronic pain, which was a theory that the pain is caused by tension in the muscles. This tension comes from psychosomatic causes, aka repressed anger and emotions that manifests itself as pain. It might sound psycho, but given this man’s credentials I decided to try his book. After the short 3ish hour audiobook and maybe 5-10 hours of focused reflection and therapy, I basically resolved my symptoms – no more lugging around ergonomic equipment, no more physical therapy, no more movement avoidance needed. Given that this book also basically cured all 3-4 of the friends I recommended this to and the 3-4 who recommended it to me, I would highly recommend giving this a shot – it’s relatively low cost, even if it doesn’t work.
I suck at making music. How can I make more of it?
- One of the most insane experiences I’ve ever felt is sitting in an office in 2am darkness, one tiny light on the desk, feeling like it was a mini music studio, and jamming with an incredibly musically talented friend to write songs together. It seems simple, but it was almost surreal to be in that kind of creative flow; words transforming to poetry being sung as lyrics and slapped on a beat; it felt beautiful and creative and I loved it and I want more of it. I have negative musical talent, but I can write so-so lyrics. I wonder if I can turn mastery of AI music tools into becoming a pseudo-producer or something and work with my favorite artists (I sent a beat anonymously to my favorite signers’ manager who actually said they’d be down for me to come into the studio with her??? If only I had more time and talent…)
It brings up another question – how do you consistently induce an environment conducive to creative flow, specific to the kind of work being done?
- Offices seem clinical, and this kind of musical setup doesn’t seem conducive to something like circuit writing or design or reading or whatever else. The best I’ve found is with collaborators in a room with whiteboards, with non-English music in my headphones.
What is the point of poetry?
I’ve had this discussion with various folks over the last few months, and one recent discussion distilled my thoughts quite well – communicated here as the socratic dialogue I wish I had then.
Student: Why doesn’t the poet just say the thing outright, like an essay?
Gojo: Just as how papers are how one communicates science, essays how one communicates ideas, poetry is how one communicates emotions. Rather than trying to describe an emotion outright, it’s often more powerful to draw associations and invoke the feeling via metaphor, that a reader can triangulate in embedding space. This is often be more globally evocative of the feeling they are trying to communicate, by pinpointing it on more dimensions: by using the specific to invoke something more universal and general.
Student: Why have things like rhymes and structure then?
Gojo: You don’t need it, strictly speaking – and many poems don’t use it. But constraints can help with creativity i.e. needing rhyming words can evoke almost random threads of thinking that would have been hard to conjure without it, or make it more fun to consume. This quote from The Artist’s Way sums it up well: “In limits, there is freedom. Creativity thrives within structure.”
Student: What about interpretation? How can you possibly derive so much joy from the meaning of just a few words?
Gojo: The conciseness of the medium implies intentionality of every word – you can’t waste words, and most poems are deeply thought out. This means that the depth of analysis and inferences you can make about the meaning are more likely to actually have been intentional, and so you can extract a lot of meaning from a single sentence.
Why don’t all solar power installations (like roof installs) come with auto-rotating mirrors that minimize the number of expensive panels? Basically, these mirrors would face the sun at the optimal angle to just reflect the sunlight onto the existing panels more cheaply. You’d have lower efficiency admittedly, but probably far lower cost. (Inspired from a chat with Sampriti, Justin, and Grimes)
Thoughts from videos
Is the kind of obsession that Benny Blanco has replicable?
- There are dozens of videos on YouTube about how this man works – and it’s clear he cares about the beautify of the music and emotional connection with other artists first and foremost. He just jams when he wants to, and has the kind of artistic influences that make all of his songs massive bops. There are so many stories of obsession, but this is the first I saw with such raw video footage online – is this kind of obsession possible to imbue in another or in yourself?
Personal Reflection Thoughts
- I often give myself a hard time after screwing up. This article recommends compassion instead – the example of being late and beating yourself up over it (and not changing) feels relatable. I like the Alexander Technique-esque practice of expanding awareness in such situations, with the goal of becoming an observer of your mental loops rather than mired in them.
Playing half earth (https://play.half.earth/) was incredible. What if a game was true to reality? What if such a game updated in real time, could that be genuinely politically useful? What lessons can a citizen take away from such a game?
- Going to just dump all of my thoughts as I play. One thing I noticed is that political capital needed to harness specific memes beneficially is really hard and takes away from other things. Risks and uncertainty is hard to elucidate. There are a lot of hidden levers that would be awesomely served by creative folks who have worked in high speed research organizations watching the scientific priorities and risks, and allocating funds to clarify those ideas. Keeping track of how changes affect our resources and align with research timelines is really hard. Novel research incentives to reduce timelines are critical. How can short, driven, targeted, publicized projects help this? How can we foster such a culture in the education system more broadly? How can we encourage more risky innovation like this geothermal breakthrough research?
- My answer is to enable more research donations, increase no-strings-attached grants to ambitious students, and subsidize independent research organizations with low overhead. Part of this is also that you make way more money in industry – is there a way to create in-house software/hedge-fund style returns inside top research institutions? I wish this game was a bit more progressive; so in the beginning, there were only a few cards and a ton of quick unlocks (maybe it started in like, 2000, and mapped how you did relative to the actual policymakers of the time?)
- Green roofs and architectural stability seem really important. Yikes, struggling on production shortage. Improved combustion mechanisms are still valuable, and large improvements here can be potentially more valuable than small changes to things like solar. The price of solar is plummeting; when does it become cost-effective to install? Do solar radiation management plans (i.e. sulfuric pumping) really have that bad a reverberating effect on the world? Is land really so dominant of a factor? The complex interplay between new technologies for mass food production cost so much energy that I’m not as bullish on the artificial research anymore for crops and animals… Are algae biofuels really that bad?? I wish I had streamed myself playing this…
- One meta-takeaway here is to fund development of such games in specific, or fund bugfixes to this game. The charity that funded this game (Jain Family Institute) seems interesting; they fund bringing public policy and economics research into concrete, large scale studies with large institutional partners with the goal of practically determining efficacy and passing policy. It’s sort of surprising that they found out about this project, I’m curious how they determined this aligned with their philosophies since it seems a bit tangential. I’m a bit concerned that a key Jain trustee gave 4 million dollars to Fyre Fest?
- Some links I bookmarked: Steam reviews, the cost of renewable energy, and the book.
How does one learn the halo2 zero knowledge proving language, which is rapidly becoming state of the art (proof system breakdown here)?
Are there sustainable ways to fund non-profits pushing innovation with for-profit umbrellas?
- I thought about this a lot in the context of recent organizations making massive progress but with some sort of for-profit funder, especially in things like education or cryptography. For instance, in Deepmind’s situation, they had almost unlimited Google money to pursue crazy ideas like Alphafold, and OpenAI had enough cloud credits and startup funding to train unfathomably large models. Can you have a similar model with education, where you run a small lifestyle-sized for profit umbrella, that siphons a significant chunk of money down to the actual non-profit ideal that helps the world maximally? Or with cryptography, where a massively grant funded startup can have some product drive revenue, but at the same time actively release puzzles and grant rounds and bounties and challenges and fund open source researchers with good ideas with a significant chunk of it’s money, in order to actually encourage real innovation?
- I get the sense that scrounging for grants is a far harder and more draining process than getting VCs to ape in, and it seems like the gap between what the two such funded organizations is just in the goal. At first, I thought that there is some strict exclusion: money is too corrupting with too many strings, and can only serve to advance narrow interests of the funders. But I get the sense that speculative investors (most VCs are doing some variety of spraying and praying) are OK with pretty big haircuts in order to get into a round: I can see them investing into a kernel of some minimally profitable idea, but most of the money is allocated to encourage insane levels of grant funded innovation.
- My favorite proposal here is from my friend Josh, who is running a project where investments are strictly for research or nonprofit work and are equity free, usually for hard tech moonshots. People are also given free lab space in an upcoming city. As people move into that city, the property value goes up; since the investor owns most of the property in that city, they make their money off of other people purchasing property that becomes more valuable. I think standard money inflating techniques (in this case real estate) being used to fund scientific innovation is key – it’s unsexy to work in real estate, but “city design” feels exciting.
Can you induce lucid dreaming?
- I am trying to use the Sleep as Android Lucid Dreaming function – it detects REM sleep via microphone, then plays a “lucid” sound. It also tracks when they played it, so its possible to cross correlate with the Oura data. On the very first night, I briefly turned lucid but couldn’t open my eyes fully to tell where I was, and woke up – I think this has promise so I’m going to try it more (though the built in alarm turn-off is pretty buggy).
- I’ve been trying this app that basically lets you train yourself to enter a highly aware state once a specific sound plays, and then tries to play that sound loudly during REM sleep. It seems to do a poor job of playing the sound loudly enough to penetrate my consciousness, and has no logs so I can’t tell if the sounds are even being played, and if their prediction of REM sleep aligns with my ring.