WARNING: WORK IN PROGRESS. This text is a huge mess but if I wait for the moment where I have enough time to polish it up, it will all be obsolete or I will simply be dead. Therefore I dump it on the internet as-is and will update it whenever I see fit, which could be: tomorrow, next month, in ten years, or never. Consider yourself warned: do not expect a coherent whole despite the fact that the first sections may appear well-structured.

This text is the successor to my older rant, which to be honest is crap for a large part. It is still available though for the interested.

TL;DR: this is not a text for people who think everything can be summarised into a single sentence.

Last (significant) change: 2016/09/01.

Before you start reading, a few rules

  1. You must not read this text if you are younger than 16 years, are in a depression, belong to an extremist religion, or have never thought with at least some depth about the meaning of life. If you are a fervent humanist who believes humanity is infallible and who cannot stand any criticism about it and rather sticks their head in the sand than listening to arguments why we should do certain things differently, then this text is not for you. Most likely you do not want to read this text at all, but of course you will only notice this when it is too late. The author of this text cannot be held responsible in any way for possible malicious consequences of the reading if this text. It is solely at your own risk.
  2. You must not force anyone to read this text (obviously, especially not anyone from the groups mentioned above). You may suggest it, but must respect their decision if they do not want to read it.
  3. You must not read this text if you do not want to, even if anyone else asks or urges you to.
  4. You should not link to this page or put it on a social network site unless you really, really want to. I have not put any visible links to this text on my site or elsewhere, with the intention that people will only find it through search engines. I would like to keep it that way. If you do want to link, you must link to the top of this page, in other words make sure these warnings are not skipped.
  5. If you are adamant about posting a part from this text somewhere but you want to honour the previous rule, feel free to either copy that part or rewrite it in your own words. The main reason why I do not want to brag about having written this text by pasting my name all over it, is because a lot of it is merely a reformulation of things that others figured out long ago. And I am too lazy to research whether those parts that I did figure out by myself, have not already been derived before. The whole idea of this text is that it does not matter who wrote down something, it is the content itself that matters. It would be nice if you would stay true to this idea by not making it seem as if anything you copy from this text is your own work. If anyone asks for the source, try to get away with: “I found it on the internet.” If they keep asking, of course I will not mind if you do give them the link.
  6. You must not do anything stupid inspired by anything in this text. Really, don't. If you do anyway, I distance myself entirely from it.
  7. This text contains expletives. If you do not want to read a text containing expletives, then by all likelihood you wouldn't want to read this text either with the expletives removed.
  8. Usual copyright stuff applies to this text, even though I deliberately omitted my name. You must not copy parts of it in publications without my permission. That would violate the second rule anyway.
  9. You will not mail me about this text nor will you speak about it if you ever meet me in real life, unless you are certain you have a very good reason. Some examples of bad reasons are: asking clarification about anything that you could also look up yourself, or throwing an emotional tirade at my head because you feel insulted about something. And please, no mails in the vein of: “I agree with your text, but may I suggest adopting [insert some common way-of-life here]” that basically mean as much as: “I did not read or understand your text at all,” or: “I want to shove my way of life up your nose,” or: “I have no control over the instinctive part of my brain that still lives in a small village where it is efficient for everyone to be similar.” I am also not interested if others wrote texts similar to this one, I know that is obvious. I did not write this to elicit a discussion with others, I do not like to participate in lengthy discussions. I did it mostly to vent off steam about stuff that bothers me in everyday life. I do not want to be reminded of that stuff. This text is basically a few hundred pages of bile distilled into text, glued together with reason in an attempt to reduce or even neutralise the bitterness of the bile. Many of the conclusions in this text came at the time when I was working on it. This could be considered a kind of polished ‘brain dump’.
  10. Even if you just want to say “thanks” because you feel this text changed your life or something, I'd rather you would not. If you agree with the text, then do something in your life that will visibly improve the state of the world so I can see it happening. That will put a much bigger smile on my face than a textual message that probably only says: “I agree but I am too lazy / chicken / scared to act.”

The core idea of this text is something that cannot be grasped in language. Either the reader will already know what I am trying to tell here or not, but they will not get the point by reading this text unless already on the verge of figuring it out by themselves anyway. That makes this whole heap of text mostly useless except for some generally applicable concepts you might learn from it. Again, I mostly wrote this to order my own thoughts as a kind of therapy.

I repeat: you will most likely not want to read this text anyway, because it will either attack your entire way of life, or explain things you already know or were about to find out anyway. This is not the kind of feel-good text full of politically correct ideas made up by people who believe that bad things can be made to go away by consistently ignoring them. This text lifts up all your carpets and shows how much dirt you have wiped under them in the hopes of never having to clean it up. It is like a party pooper who replies to all questions of other partygoers with dry logical answers that spoil all the fun. Reading it might produce for some the same sensation as taking a brick and bashing it into their own face. Continuing to read it all the way through the end, may feel like picking up that brick again and bashing it in their face over and over again. Do not tell me I did not warn you.

Hint for the adventurous readers

If you see anything like “[LINK:TOPIC]” in the text, it means there must somewhere be a section marked with “[REF:TOPIC]” that the link should point to. I intend to replace this with actual hyperlinks when the text would ever reach any degree of finishing. Until then, you will need to use the ‘find’ functionality of whatever device you are using to read this page. This will probably cause you to jump around uncontrollably in the text, but that will not matter because it has a serious lack of structure anyway. If you see an asterisk (*) between paragraphs, it often indicates a complete change in subject without titles or introductions.

A short note for Dutch-speaking readers / Een opmerking voor Nederlandstalige lezers

Er was een Nederlandstalige versie van de oude versie van deze tekst, maar aangezien ik nog niet eens de tijd heb om deze Engelse versie deftig af te werken, heb ik zeker geen tijd om een vertaling te maken. U kan proberen het door een automatische vertaler te draaien, maar hou er rekening mee dat het resultaat op niet veel zal trekken. Ik raad u sowieso aan om Engels te leren en indien mogelijk nog een paar andere niet-Germaanse talen, er zal een hele wereld voor u open gaan.



Why Do We Live? What Is the Purpose of Life?

Possible subtitles: “A Text Nobody Wants to Read,” or “Sorry, the Handbrake on My Brain Is Broken”.

Why do we live? This is a question that most people will ask themselves at some point in their lives. And many of them will fail to find a concluding answer. That is not so surprising given the answer itself. It is in fact so simple that most do not even consider it a possible answer. I am not claiming here that I am absolutely certain of knowing the real answer but I believe I am pretty close.

Now, the major problem is that it is rather pointless to give the answer. According to the ‘Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy’, the “meaning of life, the universe and everything” is “42”. That does not make sense but it is likely that to many readers of this page, neither will the real answer. As will be explained below, really understanding a specific concept is only possible for someone who either has the right context or comes close enough. In other words, either you already know what this text is about or you were about to realise it yourself anyway; in all other cases you will most likely not comprehend what I am going to say. So this whole text is actually useless. You'd better stop reading, I mean it. I have only written it as a kind of self-therapy to vent off steam. If you decide to read on anyway, well, it is your own time you're wasting.

To the Point

I will not take any roundabouts and just summarise The True Meaning of Life™ in the next paragraph. The entire rest of this text is just an illustration of what this means, why other explanations are less likely to be correct, and what consequences it has for the things people do every day.

Here goes: there is no goal to life, at least not any goal that clearly dictates a certain optimal way of life. We live because billions of years ago, by a conjunction of circumstances, life has originated on Earth. Life is nothing more than a combination of chemical and physical processes that are able to maintain themselves thanks to addition of energy, the most important of which is solar radiation. This life has mutated and the mutations that were unfit for continued existence have died out. The others have mutated in their turn, and this process has repeated itself countless times. This has led to what we are now. In short, we only live because it is possible for us to live. If we jeopardise this possibility to live, we jeopardise our own existence.

So, there you have it. The above paragraph is clear and unambiguous, and everyone who can read English should understand it. Yet, there is a vast difference between understanding what I am trying to tell, and fully realising what it means. The difference between both is the same as between one the one hand just assuming that a certain mathematical proof is correct because you know some smart person has proven it, and on the other hand making the proof yourself and understanding every single step of it, as well as every single step in every other proof that this particular proof uses to prove its own statement. Mind that I do not claim here that I can prove what I have written above, or every intermediate step to reach that conclusion. I can however fill quite a few of the gaps in the reasoning that leads to the above conclusion, instead of just assuming that it is correct. I believe the resulting explanation, despite the fact that it is still uncertain, is a lot more plausible than the various things many other people blindly believe in.

Some things I learnt from the previous iteration of this text

An older version of this webpage was written in a way that made it seem as if I was the only person who realised the above. This was because I wrote that version only shortly after coming to that insight myself. The next section will explain why this gave me an illusion of knowing more than most other people. Other sections of this text will explain why this made me arrogant [LINK:ARROGANCE]. In the meantime I have realised that all those things I figured out through logical thinking, and which I painstakingly wrote down over the course of many years, have already been written down by others, probably long ago. My goal for this new iteration of the text has therefore merely become the bundling of all that long-known but sometimes mothballed knowledge into one lump of text. And especially, to write that text in plain language with as little jargon as possible, and keep it structured such that anyone with a basic level of education could pick it up from the start, and not be bogged down by implicitly assumed prior knowledge. I did not stuff the text with mathematical equations to express things I could also say in words. Some have mailed me about the old text, stating that it was a revelation, others said it only confirmed their thoughts, and others claimed it told nothing new and they were certain the majority of people understands its message. And of course there were also some predictable mails from persons who attacked certain parts of the text in an attempt to funnel their raging emotions.

Even though it is obvious to me now that there is a substantial number of people for whom this text cannot bring anything new, I am certain it is wrong to assume that most know it. Maybe those who mailed me, only really meant: “most people I know,” because on a very, very regular basis I encounter people who act in ways that demonstrate that they obviously have no clue about the core message of this text. Let me remind you: I do not want to receive mails about this text. I do not want to be reminded of it. I do not even want to know if this text changed your life for the better or something. That is the very reason why I tucked this lump of prose away in a corner of my site without any visible links to it. I should not have put this online at all, but part of me could not resist doing it anyway. If you do want to show your appreciation, then live like it so I can see the world change for the better.

The main problem with the realisation above, is that at first sight it is utterly useless. It is generally very difficult to tell from someone's behaviour whether they act according to that idea, let alone whether they are aware of it at all. In most everyday situations, its knowledge will not influence decisions. It is only for certain core decisions with far-reaching consequences that it can make a huge difference. For anyone who has only recently fully grasped the gravity of the realisation, it may be tempting to feel superior if it appears they are the only one with the insight. This was the case with my very self when I wrote the old text long ago. It is also tempting to keep on ignoring all the evidence that a considerable part of the rest of the world has already gone through this phase long ago and moved on towards a life where on a superficial level they appear to be unaware of this realisation. Admitting to that, would mean letting go of yet another ego-booster [LINK:ARROGANCE]. This scenario does not only apply to this True Meaning of Life™ idea, but also to more mundane things, but don't worry: in the rest of this text I will most likely bore you to death with numerous other references to people locking up themselves into a small frame-of-reference to protect themselves from the risk of feeling insecure.

An interesting fact: the previous version of this webpage existed in both an English and Dutch version. During the years that the previous versions had been online, I kept statistics of the visitors. Even though the number of Dutch-speaking people globally is negligible compared to English-speaking people, the Dutch page had accumulated three times the number of visitors over the same period. Moreover, within this Dutch-speaking group of visitors, the Belgian ones accounted for more than twice the number of visitors from the Netherlands, despite the fact that the Dutch-speaking Belgian population is far smaller than the population of the Netherlands. I am not sure what kind of conclusion to draw from this, but it seems to indicate that the willingness to philosophise about life is strongly geographically dependent. This is not surprising as such, but the discrepancy between the tiny Dutch-speaking community and the massive English-speaking community is striking.

I wrote this text directly in English. I will probably never translate it to Dutch because of the insane amount of work it will require. The fact that I did not write this text in my mother tongue proved interesting later on, when I discovered a certain scientific article (“The Foreign-Language Effect: Thinking in a Foreign Tongue Reduces Decision Biases”, Boaz Keysar et al., Psychological Science June 2012, vol. 23 no. 6 661-668). Apparently it is much easier to reason logically in a foreign language. It was also often exactly while I was writing things down here, that I figured out new conclusions.

What to expect

I will start out in the next section by explaining why reading this text is mostly pointless if you did not yet come close to understanding its core message yourself (in which case it obviously is also pretty pointless).

By the way, if you wonder why there are only very scarce references in this text in the sense of citations of scientific articles, it is because I have not directly read any scientific articles about most of what I am talking about here. Most of it is deduced from basic facts that I explored elsewhere in this same text. Some of it is inspired by things I remember from too long ago to find back the actual reference. This text is not intended to be rigorously scientific, it is more of a bird's-eye view on reality. The main idea is that it should stand on its own. As will be discussed further on, I am starting to have my doubts about the current trend of science being treated as a huge dumb database of piled-up keyhole-view observations with little to no attempt to find relations between them or search for the root cause behind the observations.

I believe that once a scientific study based on measurements (as most studies are) leads to a logical conclusion that stands on its own, then there is little use in keeping to refer to the measurements themselves (although they should always be kept and occasionally re-verified). Moreover, I believe that if a fact can be proven through a watertight string of reasoning, then an experimental validation of this fact is not only redundant but also risks making the proven fact appear invalid through observer bias or overseen (maybe intentional) errors in the validation procedure.

If you want to verify anything yourself, go ahead and do some research. Do not readily believe what is written here or anywhere else. It can be wrong and some things are in all likelihood wrong. Who knows, maybe I intentionally added some wrong stuff here and there to test anyone who reads this. Or maybe I did not. You must learn to think for yourself. Do not be an ape that only copies things.

If you are the kind of person who approaches reality like a mathematical proof, stubbornly rejecting everything that has not been proven with 100% certainty, believing that at some point you will be able to grasp the entire complexity of the universe without admitting there are things you will never understand, or resorting to approximations like statistical models, then you might as well stop reading here: this text is not for you. Its purpose is not so much to give readymade answers, as it is to raise questions and take a wrecking ball to all the assumptions that humanity has been collecting since its inception — and even way before that. Again, if you are the kind of person who does not even allow raising questions over things assumed to be proven, this text is not for you. Or maybe it is after all…

Perceptual Aliasing and Learning

There is a fundamental problem when it comes to explaining people — or any intelligent being for that matter — any concept that requires even the slightest bit of background knowledge. Which is, pretty much everything. It can be the core message of this text, it can be the reason why someone is wrong about something, something artistic, something technical like for instance why a modern stick shift petrol car will consume more energy if you bring it to a halt by pushing the clutch and then braking, than if you only depress the clutch pedal when the engine risks stalling, and so on.

The phenomenon is simple, obvious, and has been known for ages. Yet, few seem to be truly aware of it. There is not even a general name for it as far as I know, or maybe I missed it. Just to be able to refer to it further on, I call the problem ‘perceptual aliasing’. The phenomenon is obviously long known in literature. As I figured out only very recently, it is closely related to the Dunning-Kruger effect [LINK:HUBRIS]. What I want to explain is more general though, and I will therefore refer to it using the ‘aliasing’ term, for reasons I will soon explain.

In this text I define perceptual aliasing as: the phenomenon where the larger an observer's inability to comprehend a certain subject, the more unaware this observer becomes of its own inability to make correct judgments about this subject. This may sound blatantly obvious because in a certain sense, it is. Yet, it is easy to overlook the important nuance in this definition. It does not merely state that increasing lack of ability to comprehend something increases the lack of understanding — which is plain obvious. Instead, it states that at a certain point, the observer will not even be able anymore to understand why it is unable to make correct judgments. It has a risk of misperceiving its inability as an ability. There is some regularity in how the judgment is distorted. In general, a certain relation exists between the degree of incompetence and the perception of understanding, and this relation has some surprising consequences.

Aliasing

Suppose two persons, A and B, have vastly differing intellectual capacities with A being the most intelligent. If A tries to explain something which is far above B's level, B will not just be unable to understand the explanation. The key problem that lies at the base of perceptual aliasing is that B is also likely to be unable to realise his inability. The farther B's upper limit is removed from the required level to understand the matter at hand, the larger this likelihood becomes. It is possible that B ends up thinking A is dumber than him and is telling nonsense, or even that he thinks he does understand the explanation even though he does not.

The term ‘aliasing’ means that B's judgement about the correctness of A's explanation will be an incorrect projection of the right judgement inside B's limited frame-of-reference. The judgment that B will finally rely on, will be some alias of the true correct observation, but B will be unable to be aware of this. When observing either the alias or the actual observation, B sees no difference.

This may all seem a bit abstract, so I will explain the physical phenomenon from which I borrowed the term aliasing. The concept comes from the field of signal theory, and is important whenever one wants to represent a continuous signal like a sound wave or a moving image with a limited number of data points, so-called ‘samples’ or ‘frames’ in case of a video. Aliasing can be easily understood, and is best known from the phenomenon in video recordings where spinning wheels appear to start rotating backwards as they spin faster and faster. This starts happening when the wheel makes more than half a turn in between two video frames, in other words when the number of revolutions per second is more than half the video frame-rate. Within the ‘universe’ of classic cinema where the frame-rate is 24 frames-per-second, wheels that spin faster than 12 rotations per second cannot exist. They are all aliased to wheels spinning at apparent speeds between zero and twelve rotations per second in either direction. There is no way of knowing if a wheel that appears to spin backward is not actually spinning forward fast. Heck, even a wheel that appears not to be moving at all could be spinning at any multiple of 24 rotations per second.

Aliasing
Illustration of aliasing for a clockwise spinning wheel. The top row (marked with 1) shows a sampling of the wheel at eight samples per revolution. The following rows show what happens when either speeding up the wheel, or reducing the sampling rate. At a certain point, the sampled representation of the wheel is seen to be spinning counter-clockwise (easiest to see in the lower half of the image where the samples have been arranged next to each other).

This has been formalised in the Nyquist-Shannon sampling theorem: if a signal is sampled at a certain rate, any frequencies higher than half this rate (the Nyquist frequency FN) cannot be represented, and will ‘fold back’. The frequency of their sampled counterpart will be below FN, by the same amount as the actual signal is above FN. The seemingly lower frequencies in the sampled signal are said to be ‘aliased’. They are incorrect projections of the real thing, but there is regularity in where the projections end up. A signal of twice FN will appear as a frequency of zero, and from that point on the aliased frequency will rise again. It constantly bounces back and forth between zero and FN (strictly spoken, between -FN and +FN).

The Nyquist frequency for classic cinema is 12 Hz. A wheel spinning at 16 cycles per second will appear to spin at 8 cycles per second in the other direction. A wheel spinning at 24 cycles will appear to be stationary, and at 25 cycles it will seem to spin at 1 cycle per second. The above figure illustrates this for the case where the frame rate is initially eight frames per revolution of the wheel. The subsequent rows show what frames are obtained when either keeping the frame rate constant while speeding up the wheel by an integer factor, or keeping the rotation of the wheel constant while reducing the frame rate.

Wheels that have a radially symmetric pattern will exhibit aliasing in classic film at much lower speeds than 12 revolutions per second, because for a pattern that repeats say two times, the wheel will appear identical each half revolution. The Nyquist frequency for such wheels is divided by the number of times the pattern repeats. For instance, around 32 minutes into the film ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’, there is a nice example of aliasing to be seen on carriage wheels that appear to turn backwards, because those wheels have 16 spokes and will therefore exhibit aliasing when they make a complete turn in 1.33 seconds or less.

Recognising Intelligence Requires Intelligence

Why the above diversion about signal theory? Well, I believe a similar phenomenon applies to humans when they judge a situation, problem, or subject. Of course, those things do not involve anything like sampling a signal at regular time intervals, even though arguably they are still based on a limited discrete ‘sampling’ of a continuous truth. Intelligence is one example but it also applies to other subjects like a certain field in science or the appreciation of a certain art form; anything that requires knowledge, a context or frame-of-reference, to be understood or appreciated. The ‘frequency’ would then correspond to an intelligence level, knowledge about works of art of that kind, etc. Someone's ‘sampling frequency’ would correspond to that person's own level or capabilities. The main reason why I find the term ‘aliasing’ appropriate, is that it refers to multiple different realities being mapped to one single observation that may or may not be the correct one, which is exactly what happens in this human context.

The root cause of perceptual aliasing is that humans lack a robust mechanism to detect their inability to understand concepts. Instead, they tend to be overconfident and desperately yet unconsciously try to re-map anything they do not understand to something they do know. One can see why this can make it useless or even risky to explain someone's mistakes. If that person is vastly unable to understand the cause of the mistakes, they may think the other person is telling nonsense or worse, is insane. To put it bluntly, it is pointless to explain to an idiot why they are an idiot, because only those who have already raised themselves far above the level of idiocy can understand why someone is an idiot.

Luckily, the parallel between perceptual aliasing and the sampling theorem is not to be taken too strictly or it would imply that learning is impossible. It is hard if not impossible to map for instance an intelligence level to a single number like a frequency (although some believe they can, e.g. with IQ scores). Most of all however, while aliasing in the frequency domain is strict, in the case of perception there is a certain ‘fuzziness’ at the edges. Someone who is only slightly below the level of another person will actually learn from this and boost their own level. This is why the best way to learn for instance a game like chess is to play against opponents who are slightly better than you. You will not learn from someone who does nothing that you do not know yet, but on the other hand the moves of an opponent whose level is way beyond yours will just seem random to you and you will not learn either, or learn the wrong things. Of course you can learn from someone with a much higher level, if that person can gauge your level and restrict themselves to play the game at a level only slightly higher. This is a skill on its own and is what sets a successful teacher apart from a mere professional. This is why it makes sense to speak of a ‘learning curve’: one can only learn something properly by following a smoothly rising curve, not by trying to take sudden huge leaps.

As with the sampling theorem (think of the spinning wheels) it is possible to ‘fold back’ between zero and the maximum frequency indefinitely. It is perfectly possible that someone thinks they understand something while they do not, because their perception may have folded back exactly to a point of apparent understanding. In other words, people will in many situations be unable to realise that they do not understand something.

Let's go back to our persons A and B from the first paragraphs. Remember, A is significantly more intelligent than B. Suppose they face a complex problem. B might come up with a solution that seems perfect because he does not see any obstacles. However, A may detect hidden flaws in this solution that will cause more problems later on, or subparts with an unacceptably high probability of failing. However, person B may ignore those obstacles because he cannot even understand they exist. A's explanation may seem like nonsense or may fold back in B's perception to something that appears solvable after all. If B is lucky while executing his solution, the highly risky action(s) may work by chance, and the hidden flaws may not be immediately apparent. Because person A had concluded there was no acceptable solution, person B may then appear more suited for the task of problem solving and be assigned to solve other problems in the future, with disastrous consequences. I believe this scenario occurs often in reality. Generally, if someone is very enthusiastic about something but cannot tell what its weak points are or why exactly it is so great, be very wary. Some however are pretty good at instantly making up a bullshit explanation and make it seem plausible, therefore always be wary.

IQ

Coming back to the idea of an IQ test, what I wonder is how an entity with a given intelligence level could construct a test that could accurately measure beyond that entity's own intelligence level. It would require insights in problems that are far beyond that level. If the person constructing the test had those insights, it would lead to the contradictory conclusion that their level would be higher than it is. An IQ test would not be able to measure beyond the level of the most intelligent person who constructs it. It is possible that the problems constructed in the test can be solved in a smarter manner than the composer of the test intended, giving different and therefore apparently incorrect results. One might be tempted to rely on tests that one cannot solve oneself, and consider the ability of someone else to solve those problems a proof of higher intelligence. Of course this strategy is extremely flaky: the proposed solution may be wrong and neither the constructor of the test nor the purported more intelligent solver might be able to detect this flaw. In other words, such tests risk being subject to aliasing as much as the reasoning of real persons. Therefore I have very little confidence in any formal test that tries to measure intelligence, and I also wonder what is the whole point of it, aside from ego-tripping.

Even for those who get lost in all the signal theory behind this explanation, there is a clear-cut conclusion to be remembered from of all this. It is fundamentally wrong to assume that someone will be able to reconstruct the entire string of low-level reasoning that has lead to a high-level concept, by giving this person only that high-level conclusion. They may appear to be able to and they will often believe they understand, but what they derive has a high risk of being wrong or incomplete. Their understanding of the high-level concept itself will be flawed in those cases. There may be a few who happen to have the right background to fill the gaps or have a higher capacity of ‘connecting the ends’, but that does not mean everyone has that same background or capacity. Yet, letting people derive a higher-level conclusion by themselves is a much better learning method than simply spoon-feeding the entire string of reasoning to them. Therefore the right way to do it is by giving them the right number of intermediate steps and letting them connect the dots themselves, while constantly monitoring them to ensure they are not going astray.

Likewise, testing someone's knowledge about a topic by only asking very advanced questions, does not guarantee that someone who gives the right answers really has a correct understanding of the entire topic. This person might just have studied all the advanced details about unusual situations by heart, while lacking the ability to correctly operate at the everyday lower level.

While using the ‘aliasing’ analog, I only considered one-dimensional signals that can be represented by a single frequency (e.g. the rotational speed of the wheel in my cinema example). This is of course another major difference with human thinking: the ‘signal’ at hand is not one-dimensional, nor two- or three-dimensional, but of a staggeringly high dimensionality. The limited sampling interval then becomes a ‘box’ or hyper-rectangle in this multi-dimensional space.

Magic, Craziness, and Mathematics

For a general example of perceptual aliasing, consider the concept of magic, as for instance associated with witchcraft and sorcery. Suppose I am a modern female doctor and I am able to travel back in time. I teleport myself to a village in the Middle Ages, carrying current medications with me. I will end up in no time being burned at the stake as a witch, because people from that time period do not have any background to understand state-of-the-art medicine. It would take way too long to teach them about how the medication actually works. They'd rather kill me instead of going through that steep learning curve. A similar story holds if I would be a male scientist carrying current technology like lasers. I would be judged as being a sorcerer, because the people from that time period have no clue at all about electricity, let alone quantum physics. Or as Arthur C. Clarke worded it: “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”.

On the other hand, consider the concept of ‘craziness’. Whenever someone exhibits behaviour that is not understood by others, there is always a strong tendency to instantly label that behaviour as ‘crazy’ or ‘insane’. This concept seems similar to magic, only it is just subtly different as I will explain below. The concept of ‘crazy’ is actually much more dangerous than ‘magical’.

The built-in instincts for the very concepts of both ‘magical’ and ‘crazy’ seem to have evolved for the sole purpose of allowing humans to somewhat cope with things they do not understand. In a certain sense they are similar to the concept of imaginary numbers in mathematics. The imaginary unit i (or j for engineers) is defined as the square root of −1, in other words i multiplied by itself equals −1. The definition of the square root s of a number x is that s multiplied by itself produces x, or s2 = x. This has as a consequence that for any real number s, its square x can only be positive because multiplying two negative numbers always yields a positive number. Therefore, when students are first taught the concept of square roots, the teacher will most often stress that it is impossible to take the square root of negative numbers. That is true only if one remains limited to the use of real numbers. By treating i as something special, something imaginary outside the field of real numbers, taking the square root of negative numbers becomes possible. The square root of any negative number s then becomes i times the square root of −s.

Although it is possible to understand what the square root of a negative number actually means, it often is unnecessary, hence even when students are later on introduced to imaginary numbers, they keep on being treated as something magical. The mere definition of imaginary numbers allows people to use them in quite a lot of computations without requiring this knowledge. Only for more advanced operations where the imaginary numbers cannot be factored out, it becomes necessary to delve deeper. Much deeper in fact, the step between making abstraction of the incomprehensible and actually comprehending it is often staggeringly steep. Magic is actually a very good analog for the imaginary number i, craziness not so much. The difference between both is that there really is no such thing as magic while insanity does exist. This implies that the act of mapping incomprehensible things to magic is actually much safer than mapping them to insanity, because in the latter case there is a large risk of throwing away perfectly correct information just because of an inability to understand it. It is better to file that information under a label ‘magic’ and define this label as: “to be investigated when more capable and the need arises”. Calling something or someone ‘insane’ on the other hand is a cheap and quick way of giving up on trying to understand it, and taking a hostile stance instead.

Zero Point: Floating Reasoning

[TODO: NOTE TO SELF: I think this part sounds like Chinese 中文 to someone who is not familiar with signal processing, TODO: try to clarify with figures.] Another difference between perceptual aliasing and signal aliasing concerns the ‘zero point’, i.e. a frequency of zero, the bias or so-called ‘DC’ value. DC stands for ‘direct current,’ which would correspond to the average current flow if the signal being analysed is a variable electrical current. In classic signal theory, the zero point is always present regardless of the sampling frequency. It represents the overall average signal value. Not knowing this value means it becomes impossible to reliably compare signals because regardless of how good the knowledge about higher frequencies is, not knowing the bias means the absolute signal value is unknown.

Even a sampling frequency of zero (one single sample) could reliably represent the bias value depending on how it was obtained. In human thinking however, the ‘zero point’ may be higher than zero. In this sense, it may be more appropriate to compare human thinking with polyphase sampling or modulation, but the parallel with regular sampling on its own is dodgy enough already that I will not even try to go beyond it. What I mean with this variable zero point, is that the level at which people can manipulate concepts in their minds does not only have an upper limit, but also a lower limit that does not necessarily need to be zero.

The fact that the mere concept of ‘zero’ was mostly unknown throughout a large part of human history, including advanced civilisations like the Roman empire, is one telling example of this. I believe that even today there is a considerable number of people who do not have a complete understanding of the concept. Those will also have problems with negative numbers: understanding them correctly requires correct knowledge about the true concept of zero. The greatest example however may be the very core idea of this whole text: realising that life does not really have a point, requires being able to go all the way to zero. Grasping the concept of zero and negative numbers, is akin to using the apparently depressing fact of the zero point of life to derive that there is meaning to it after all.

Even within a ‘biased’ frame of reference that hovers above zero, the aliasing principle still holds, with only a minor twist. Concepts that are below a person's minimum level will be projected into some incorrect higher level. Inside this frame, what is perceived as zero, or the lowest possible level in whatever aspect, will actually not be zero. It will be impossible to reliably compare anything that does not by chance fall within the range of the frame of reference, because there is no correct reference point. [TODO: ADD SOME PICTURES TO ILLUSTRATE]

The consequence of this is that it is perfectly possible, and in my opinion extremely common, to have ideas that could be considered ‘floating’. The ideas seem to make sense within their frame of reference, but they have no basis that allows to either compare them to other ideas in any meaningful way, or determine whether they make any sense from a global point-of-view. Comparing the ideas is like trying to prove that one person is taller than another by comparing the vertical position of the top of their heads — with either or both of them beheaded. Even if only person B would be decapitated, his disembodied head alone cannot be used to determine whether he was taller than A or not. It can be held at any altitude to ‘prove’ whatever desired point.

Cargo Cults

One of the most striking practical examples of trains of thought that have become entirely floating are so-called cargo cults. Certain indigenous cultures that were exposed to Western culture especially during World War II, witnessed events like military air drops and cargo deliveries. These people were used to obtaining goods only through hard work, and could not grasp how wealth could be produced in such quantities. They did not know about factories and workers, they only observed the end result: boxes filled with goods. They mapped their observations onto their own frame-of-reference and considered them magical and the acts of gods. When the war was over and the armies abandoned the bases, the tribes kept alive many of the practices they had witnessed: they built mock airstrips and aeroplanes, and created rituals that mimicked military drills and air traffic control schemes. They hoped that by doing this, they would be able to summon the same cargo deliveries they had previously witnessed. The acts of building airstrips and doing military drills had become entirely detached from their roots, but still those people performed them because within their frame of reference, there was a connection between those acts and the goal of obtaining goods.

This is an extreme example. Although cargo cults may be in the process of fading away, their legacy still lives on. In software development, the term ‘cargo cult programming’ describes the practice of always including certain dependencies or copy-pasting source code without knowing what it really does, in the hopes that it will automagically make the program work. There is many a more subtle way in which certain thought patterns can become detached from their origins yet kept alive through incorrect mental constructs, and it is not always as obvious as in this example of cargo cults. I am certain the capacity of the human mind to grasp concepts is limited, and people will forget essential core concepts if they keep on learning things at ever increasing levels. At some point they will start juggling with those high-level concepts without realising that they are violating boundary conditions imposed by one of the tiny low-level details they forgot. Maybe you believe you are not subject to this phenomenon, but how could you be so certain of that? While reading the rest of this text, you may notice that a whole lot, if not pretty much all of it, is an attempt to expose many of those floating ideas in present-day human reasoning. My hope is that mankind will learn to anchor those ideas back to the ground before they crash spontaneously, dragging along many people in the process.

A common scenario that spawns floating reasoning is when a single person, or only a very tiny group of persons, fixes some very complicated problem. Even if the general public is being explained how the problem was fixed in all the tiny details, they tend to very quickly forget not only all those details, but also in general how difficult it was to fix the problem. It quickly becomes treated as trivial and for granted. For instance, a large part of the population drives and flies around in very complicated solutions for the problem of transportation. Yet the number of persons who would be able to build a functional car, let alone a usable and safe aeroplane from scratch, is probably quite small, I do not even dare to make a guess at a percentage. The general public only observes the final step required to solve the problem, and therefore never learns anything about the problem-solving process that would help to fix similar problems. That process is simply perceived as magic.

Floating reasoning often reveals itself through excessive use of expensive high-level words, jargon, and acronyms, while lacking the ability to reformulate what is being said into simpler wordings. Needless to say, politicians are quite prone to this kind of behaviour, but it is also common for typical professions that shield their practitioners from the ‘common plebs’ through a barrier of jargon. The persons throwing around all that bloated vocabulary have some vague, often emotional, association for each of those words, and glue them together in a way that seems to make sense within the narrow frame-of-reference of those associations. They do not realise and generally do not care that those high-level concepts are built upon a pyramid of important low-level concepts. If there are fundamental holes in the base of that pyramid that compromise its structure, then there is no point in trying to reason with the high-level concepts only. That would be not any different from trying to cast some magic spells in the hopes of making things better. One of my goals for this very text was to write as much as possible from the ground up. Ideally, if the reader doesn't understand something, it should be sufficiently explained elsewhere in the text. I am not sure how successful I have been in this. Knowing about the pitfalls of aliasing is one thing, avoiding them is something entirely different.

The Cave

The phenomenon of what I dubbed ‘perceptual aliasing’ has been known for ages. Only recently after writing all this, I discovered the following quote by Thomas Sowell that perfectly nails it: “it takes considerable knowledge just to realize the extent of your own ignorance.” It goes way further back in history however, as evidenced by the Greek philosopher Plato's allegory of the cave. In short, it tells a hypothetical story of people who have since birth been chained inside a cave, lit only from behind by an eternally burning torch that casts their shadows on a wall before them. Abstraction is made of who has set up this experiment and why, how the people are being fed, and other practicalities about being chained in a cave, because that is not the point of the story at all. Assume there is some supervising entity that controls this set-up and ensures the ‘well-being’ of the persons in the cave despite their strange situation.

Now consider what happens once they grow up and develop consciousness. Because their heads are limited in movement, the shadows on the wall are all they can see. They will eventually identify themselves with their shadows because they will notice that only their own shadow reacts consistently with their movements. Those shadows will be their self-image and their only idea of reality. Some day, one of them is freed and allowed to view and interact with the outside world. When he goes back into the cave, the people who remained inside cannot understand what he is talking about because their frame of reference is limited to seeing shadows on a wall. They will rather assume that he has gone insane than believe him. The person who got a taste of freedom will most likely go insane if he is again chained inside the cave of course, because now he realises what a messed up situation it is. The others do not mind being chained because they have never known what it means to be free. A more modern version of this story is featured in movies like ‘The Matrix’, although there the situation is actually reversed and humans are raised in a fake world that seems a lot more appealing than reality. I already used the word ‘projection’ and you may have heard this term in a context related to psychology. Indeed, the mechanism of projecting one's own situation and expectations onto others, is very strongly related to what I refer to as ‘perceptual aliasing’, and this will be explained in more detail further on.

The funny thing is, knowing about perceptual aliasing does not make things easier because it works in both directions. If someone explains something that does not seem to make sense, it might be because it is indeed flawed reasoning or because of inability to understand it. There is a saying: “if you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.” This is true, you can knock even the most brilliant people off their socks — at least temporarily — by flooding them with stuff that makes no sense. The trick is to make it seem as if it does make sense. The only way to get around this when it happens to you, is studying the explanation in detail and looking for things that may be beyond your level. If you cannot find any, you can analyse the explanation and prove its (in)correctness. Otherwise, you cannot and must not judge the correctness. Perceptual aliasing, especially in combination with arrogance [LINK:ARROGANCE], can make one feel smarter than others because they say and do things that do not seem to make sense to the observer, while in reality it may be the other way round. If you often feel as if you are the only person who knows what something is about, you are either a genius and really are smarter or more intelligent than the rest, or you really know so much less are so much less intelligent than all the rest that you are under the delusion of being much more capable. It is pretty obvious which of these two options is the most plausible.

Most importantly, knowing and understanding the concept of perceptual aliasing does not imply no longer being subject to it. I have heard people referring to it and still obviously falling prey to it every few minutes. I myself am also still subject to it, even despite thinking about and writing down all this stuff. Any reader of this text must be aware of that. Anyone who gets a feeling of: “this guy sounds like he knows much more than me, I should blindly believe everything he writes,” should re-think that for a while and be a little more critical.

Evolution has provided humans with some hardcoded mechanisms that exploit aliasing from a low to a high level. The most obvious one is probably arrogance [LINK:ARROGANCE]. Even if someone is completely inept, being arrogant enough may create a temporary impression of being actually suitable for a certain task. It is very important to stress that this impression not only manifests itself in the eyes of outside observers. It also — and especially — applies to the arrogant person itself: they will actually believe to be up to the task and not realise that this belief is based on nothing but an assumption. This is one of the causes of the Dunning-Kruger effect [LINK:HUBRIS]. I will elaborate on this further on in this text, in this chapter I mostly focus on what happens with regard to outside observers.

The aliasing concept also indicates how dangerous it can be to use ironical remarks in the sense of saying the inverse of what one really means. It is OK to do this with interlocutors of whom it is known they will have the right context to detect the irony. When doing this with unknown people however there is a high risk that they will interpret it completely differently, perhaps even in a way that was not even anticipated by the person who uttered the ironical remark. But wait, it gets worse. If it was assumed that the other party understands the irony, any reaction (within certain limits) will be interpreted as a confirmation of this understanding. Even if the reaction seems to hint at misunderstanding, it may be perfectly explained as another ironical reply to the original irony. This can spiral out of control quickly, therefore anyone who wants to be certain to be understood and does not want to clean up the mess of such convoluted conversations afterwards, should be smart enough to stay clear of irony and sarcasm. Even if there may occasionally be something like ‘a lie for someone's own good,’ just sticking to the truth will always work best in the long run. If you ever wondered why many languages and cultures have proverbs in the vein of: “honesty is the best policy” and none like: “lying and sarcasm work awesomely great,” this may be one of the reasons. Apparently, evolution did not work out so well for the civilisations that adopted the latter proverb as a way of life.

Perception Corruption: Catch Me If You Can

People generally only look at a subset, a sampling of characteristics to judge someone's abilities in a certain field. This makes sense because it is obviously too costly to perform a complete evaluation. Yet, the subset may be taken way too small to reach even a reasonable level of confidence. If the person under scrutiny can replicate exactly that small subset of characteristics, they will appear capable even if unable to do anything else outside the subset. Arrogance works in this aspect because in a perfect and honest world, people only boast their purported abilities when they truly have them. Most likely, humans initially lived in such simple world, hence evolved the simple initial positive reaction to boasting that we still experience. Only when this reflex had become standard human behaviour, it became profitable to abuse it, and arrogance was born. The next step would be to develop a reaction against arrogance, but it should be obvious that this whole chain of reactions is becoming increasingly long and increasingly inefficient. One could simply reject any boasting, but this incurs a risk of rejecting true abilities. Only when given enough time to get a better ‘sampling’ of a boasting person, it will become apparent whether it was justified or the purported abilities were exaggerated or plain nonexistent.

Put otherwise, within the frame-of-reference of a naïve person who only recognises bragging as evidence of true abilities, any kind of bragging is believed to be proof of competence. People with a larger FOR that includes knowledge about the concept of arrogance will know that bragging can map to more than just a single thing. Either it is evidence of true abilities, or only of imaginary abilities put forward either out of ignorance of the subject themselves, or out of intent to deceive. How evolution ‘copes’ with this is obvious: the naïve who stick to their simplistic subset of observable properties to fathom the abilities of others, will be disadvantaged to such a degree that eventually they will disappear. Others may develop mechanisms to detect arrogant behaviour. In the best case, maybe someday people will evolve to quicker realise that appearances can be deceiving.

This could be generalised towards a concept of ‘perception corruption’ that is a risk to every entity that observes certain parameters to measure the underlying quality of a subject. The estimate of the quality can be corrupted by manipulating either the observable property itself, or at a deeper level, the mechanisms that convert the observation into a true quality estimate. For the entity that is being fooled, there is almost never any advantage in this, unless it becomes aware of the corruption and can somehow exploit the ‘parasite’ in its turn. For the corrupting individual themselves, the initial positive pay-off is likely to turn very negative as well in the long term.

Applied to people, a person could pretend to have certain skills or qualities by mimicking traits that are generally considered evidence for possessing those skills or qualities. All it takes, is to figure out exactly what features are being used as criteria, and mimic those features. An excellent example is the true story of Frank William Abagnale, Jr., illustrated in the book and 2002 film titled ‘Catch Me If You Can’. Abagnale had been able to keep up the appearances of being a pilot, doctor, legal prosecutor, and other professions, while in reality being nothing but a brilliant con artist. The film shows how he pulled this off merely by mimicking typical superficial traits of those professions.

A simple present-day example: electronic devices with batteries often have two ways to give the user an idea of how long the battery will last. First, the total capacity is printed as a milliampere-hour (mAh) value on the battery itself. It is trivial to corrupt this: just print a larger value (fortunately, the relation between this value and battery life is not obvious and the average consumer barely cares about it). Second, the device will have some active indicator of how much capacity the battery has left. This can also be corrupted by manipulating the algorithm that converts the observable battery parameters (voltage, current) into a percentage or remaining time. For instance, a rudimentary indicator for a Li-Ion battery inside a low-power device that operates at a constant temperature, could use the quite predictable relation between voltage and charge level. This indicator would rely on a lookup-table of voltage versus charge level. It is easy to manipulate this table such that the battery seems to drain slower than it really does. When the battery is really almost empty, the charge indicator suddenly plummets, leaving the owner of the device utterly confused. Obviously, once this kind of fraud is exposed with the general public, the reputation of the manufacturer risks being damaged, annihilating any tiny profit they might initially have obtained by exaggerating their battery capacities. Does this kind of stuff happen in reality? You bet. I have bought a few cheap Chinese gadgets and I have found occurrences of both exaggerated ratings printed on batteries, and a misconfigured battery level indicator.

A more complex example is counterfeit money: anyone who can make a piece of paper that looks exactly like a real bank note, has corrupted the monetary system. A bank note on itself has nearly no value, the value lies only in the convention that it represents a certain amount of debt (see also [LINK:WHATISMONEY]). The note can in theory be traced back to the moment where people agreed that it was a valid representation of true debt. A fake bank note however not only has no value on itself, neither does it represent any agreed upon true value. When tracing back its transaction history, it will prove to have originated out of nothing, and any chain of debt that was constructed trough the use of the note cannot be resolved. The fake bank note is a false observation of an assumed underlying value. If the monetary system would be swamped with counterfeit money (which can exist under many more forms than just fake bank notes), the system will eventually collapse and everyone loses, including the counterfeiter who will be unable to buy anything with their counterfeit money and worse, not even with real money.

A nice example in nature are breeding parasites like the common cuckoo, that lay their eggs in the nests of other birds. The parasite chick has a reflex to throw the other eggs or chicks out of the nest. It exploits the parental instinct of the abused parent bird, which originally only looked at egg-shaped objects. As a natural defence, some birds have learnt to recognise the ‘alien’ eggs and remove them. In their turn, some breeding parasite bird species have evolved to produce eggs that look very similar to those of the species they abuse [TODO: FIND ARTICLE]. Again, if this process would continue to the extreme, the bird species that is being abused would become extinct because its offspring is systematically being replaced by the parasite. With this species gone however, the parasite that has specialised itself to profit from that specific species, will also have lost its means of procreation because it relied entirely on the extinct species, and disappear as well. This makes this kind of process long-term stable only when used in moderation on a population that is large enough for the abuse to remain either undetectable or too expensive to combat — one could say, on a population that has outgrown its optimal size and that has become so large that it is more efficient to ignore decay than to fight it.

Few will like to acknowledge that many things that have become acceptable behaviour in modern cultures are nothing more than a similar parasitic corruption of mechanisms that might be crucial for long-term survival in periods of crisis. In the end, if any individuals emerge from this, they must be the ones who can recognise parasitic processes in general, and exterminate them in a more deep-rooted manner than simply trying to continue the kind of futile arms race that is only a slow spiral towards probable death. In a certain sense, the concept of advertising is an example of perception corruption in human society, at least the kind of advertising that aims to make people buy stuff they do not need. I believe this will eventually disappear through straightforward evolution, and only truly informative advertising will survive. Every kind of abusive advertising effectively destroys itself in the long term.

Animal Farm

No matter how good their intentions are, teachers at schools often fail because they try to teach concepts at a level way above the pupils' current level. What the students actually learn then — if anything at all — is often not what was intended. The right way to teach something complex or something that requires a certain background, is to estimate the level of the pupils, making sure they have the right frame of reference, and then teach something that is only slightly above that level. Once that has been mastered, complexity can again be increased incrementally. There is no point in starting at a level way beyond what the students can handle. They will either learn nothing at all or something completely wrong. They may end up with a hatred towards the subject because it does not seem to make any sense, to such a degree that they may not even want to learn about it when they have grown up and reached the correct level.

This is also why I believe it is ridiculous and counter-productive to force pupils in high-school to read literary works in the likes of ‘1984’ or ‘Animal Farm’, or to try to force them to appreciate other ‘adult’ works of art like classical pieces of music or paintings. Although there may be some pupils who will at that age be able to understand what those works actually are about, I believe most of them will not learn anything useful. They will study everything by heart the teacher expects them to know about the works and regurgitate it at the exam. All that will remain in their memories will be the sour aftertaste of having to read through a seemingly boring book that was full of incomprehensible gibberish, and memorising spoon-fed conclusions just to pass the exam.

I can remember as a teenager having read a book in Dutch from the early twentieth century that might have had pretty much the same goal as this very text. I cannot remember which book it was and what its message was exactly, because I did not understand it. It tried to go from a low to a high level by starting out as a children's fantasy story but it obviously failed: after a few chapters I lost track because it took a huge leap and the rest of the book was above my level. If you are way past high-school by the time you are reading this, try picking up one of those books again, or watching those old ‘uncool’ movies they forced you to watch. You might be surprised at how much you missed back then. If you are still in high-school, just try to learn the minimum you need to pass the exam and set a reminder in your agenda to revisit the work in ten to fifteen years. Do not point your teacher towards this text. If you plan to do it anyway, don't tell me I did not warn you, and first ask yourself whether you truly understood the whole point of this entire chapter.

The Box

If this all sounds new to you, keep in mind that it probably is not. You probably have heard the phrase: “you should think outside of the box”. It is the same thing. The box represents the frame of reference. The saying means one should try to break out of their current frame of reference and think in a way they never did before. This is possible but very hard, and most will not do it spontaneously, only when forced to (which may be when it is already too late). And the ‘distance’ one can leap outside their current ‘box’ at one time is limited. Most people probably believe they can think outside their box but are actually only looking at things from another corner within the same box. [could link to XKCD 915].

The problem is, I am certain the size of this ‘box’ is inherently limited. It depends on the computational abilities of whatever entity is trying to model its surroundings. Considering humans, those computational abilities vary wildly between individuals, but there is a strict upper limit. When trying to model a topic at a very high level, for instance some specific specialisation in biology, the only feasible way is to make the box ‘float’, centred around that high level, such as to be able to grasp all the tiny details of the topic. This means the person will need to reduce its modelling accuracy of everything outside that specialised field, possibly to the degree that nothing else is modelled at all. Such persons would become professional idiots. My definition of an idiot is tightly tied to my idea of perceptual aliasing: I consider an idiot a person who has strong ideas that are based on only a narrow frame-of-reference, and who will not deviate from these ideas even in the presence of obvious evidence that proves the ideas incomplete or incorrect. This definition is different from the average person's, which is more something like: a person who has different ideas than mine [LINK:EVERYONEISLIKEME]. The only way to model a wider span of topics is to reduce the amount of detail per topic. In other words, it is futile to try to know everything. Those who try it anyway, tend to over-specialise in only a narrow field such that they can keep up the illusion of being omniscient, because they always know more from that narrow field than pretty much everyone else. They simply ignore every indication that they know almost nothing outside those few fields. The only tractable strategy not to become either insane or an idiot, is to try to keep an overview at all times and temporarily drill down on details when necessary.

The core idea of what I am trying to explain with this entire text is very susceptible to perceptual aliasing. It is pretty much a binary thing: you either get it or you do not, and the opportunities for aliasing are huge, in all directions. The idea itself is very simple but to truly understand it, one needs an enormous amount of knowledge from various domains. It is very possible that some parts of this text are a load of hogwash because I am making mistakes that are too high above my level for me to detect. Some will probably think the entirety of this text is hogwash because they are unable to understand it. Do not feel too comfortable if you think you can understand or rebuke everything, because it could be an illusion. Do not just believe what you read here and anywhere else, verify it if you can. It is not because something is written in print or in an official-looking and tidy lay-out with a big name on it, that it is true. And realise that next to ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, there is always the possibility of: “I don't know”. In many cases, that is the most useful judgement one can make about something. If you cannot verify something, always keep remembering that you have not verified it, until you can. Do not pick a random or convenient decision and consider it true.

The Bad Touch

Coming back to The True Meaning of Life™ I kicked off this entire lengthy rant with: it is present in many locations outside this text, some expected and some unexpected. People are exposed countless times to all these ‘hints’ without recognising them, due to lack of the right frame of reference. Remember the song ‘The bad touch’, by ‘The Bloodhound Gang’? Yes, it is silly and few will ever consider paying any attention to the seemingly inane lyrics, given TBG's reputation. Yet, the refrain: “You & me baby ain't nothing but mammals, so let's do it like they do on the Discovery channel” summarises the longer ‘meaning of life’ explanation I have given above. A less obvious example is ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon. Unlike TBG, Lennon probably better understood how pointless and potentially dangerous it is to throw such a difficult message into people's faces, so he wrapped it in a formulation that seems harmless to anyone who is not ready for it. (Eventually though, the formulation proved not harmless enough for him to not get killed.) There are countless other examples, in books, movies, art. The best examples are often the ones that are the least noticed. For instance, it was only when I watched ‘Ghost in the Shell’ for the second time, that I noticed how much overlap it has with topics I had touched upon in this text before even seeing the film for the first time. It is not an easy film to grasp, which explains why I was overwhelmed during the first viewing. Luckily it is so visually stunning that it lured me into a second viewing, which gave me more than I bargained for. Keep this in mind if you have never watched it and intend to: it has way more depth than the common contemporary Hollywood production, and it does not spell out things for you. But once you can get through that depth, the reward will be great.

I somehow learnt enough stuff over the duration of my life to come to the conclusion I started this text with, and be confident about it. Theoretically, I could start from a reasonable level of knowledge that most readers should have attained and then try to gradually build upon that, to finally explain why I believe my explanation is likely correct. However, that is pretty much impossible. It is hard to guess what this ‘reasonable level’ should be, and if I would estimate it conservatively low I would have way too much to explain and the text would be full of redundant fluff for many readers. Therefore I will only explain some important key concepts and I will leave it up to the reader to learn more if they think they're missing something. You are reading this text from the Internet, which means you should have access to pretty much all the knowledge required, if you can manage to dig it up amidst the gigantic amounts of garbage amongst which it is hidden. Even if you are somehow reading this after humanity has completely fucked up and you have to dig up books from the ruins of a library or school, then by all means do it.

Occam's Razor

You might be wondering how I can be so confident that “zero” is the most likely outcome of “the equation of life”. Some might accuse me of picking a degenerate solution (in the same sense that zero is always a solution for x in A⋅x = B⋅x2), but I don't think so. There was this monk at the turn of the fourteenth century who came up with a great idea. His name was Occam, or Ockham or however you like to spell it. If there is anything you should learn from what I am trying to tell here, it is that it does not matter much who thought up an idea, when they lived and how their name is spelled, it is the idea itself that counts. And the idea at hand boils down to this: the simplest explanation that fully explains a phenomenon is also the most likely to be the correct explanation. Or likewise, the simplest effective solution to a problem is also the most likely to be the truly correct solution. You may be inclined not to trust something thought up by a medieval monk but it makes perfect sense. There may be multiple definitions of ‘simple’ in this formulation. A popular one is: “having as few assumptions as possible,” but in practice, pretty much any interpretation of ‘simple’ will do.

Rote Learning

A typical way in which people try to explain a phenomenon is to just record the conditions of the phenomenon and its outcome and store this as a fact that can be played back later. “If A, then B”. And if that proves not to be accurate enough: “if A and B, then C”. Facts keep on being piled up and add to the rule. At a certain point the rule may become something like: “if A and B but not D when A is E and B is F and if C is somewhat like G and B seems to be a bit like H, then C”. And anything that does not fit within this model is an exception and should be ignored, because it is just too much hassle to further extend the model. The fact that the model might be rubbish is not to be questioned because hey, it took a damn lot of effort to make it.

This is kind of the whole idea behind rote learning that is the (in my opinion deeply flawed) basis of a lot of education nowadays. It is not the correct way to explain something. Remember ‘thinking outside the box’. Someone whose box consists of a fixed pile of facts will only be able to interpolate between facts inside that box. Extrapolating [LINK:EXTRAPOLATION] is possible but utterly unreliable because it relies on the dodgy assumption that the situation outside the box is the same as inside(1). Worst of all, studying stuff by heart has become increasingly pointless ever since the invention of script and print, and this has completely skyrocketed with digital communication. Especially with access to stored information becoming so easy nowadays, being able to retrieve and manipulate that information is becoming much more important than storing it in one's own brain, which I find a huge waste of time and effort. I am not saying everybody should stop learning anything by heart, only that the emphasis on studying inane details is pointless. Everyone should still learn enough to maintain a good overview, and learn how to drill down from there. In fact, offloading all the inane details allows to build a better overview by avoiding the high risk of “not seeing the forest through the trees” associated with rote learning.

[(1) NOTE TO SELF: this actually makes a lot of sense and explains why the aliasing theory is plausible. IMPORTANT! Extrapolating by assuming that the situation outside one's frame-of-reference is the same as inside it, is actually the same as ‘bouncing back’ any observation such that it remains inside the box, just as a sampled signal with a frequency beyond the Nyquist frequency will bounce back such that it stays within the range that can be represented. TODO: try to add this to the aliasing chapter because it still lacks an actual justification of the theory.]

Suppose I give you the series of numbers: “1, 2, 3, 4, 5”. The most obvious model in this case is that the next number is the previous plus one, and the next number will be 6. That is a very simple model as everyone who has learnt to count can understand. Another prediction could be that the next number is again 1 and then 2 and so on. This is still based on a pretty simple model but it is more complex, because it needs to specify that there are five numbers that repeat. There are actual ways to represent facts like these in standardised ways and to calculate their complexity. Look up Kolmogorov complexity if you want to know more.

Now suppose I give you the series of numbers: “0, 0.5, 0.87, 1, 0.87”. You may guess that the next number will be 0.5 and probably also the number after that will be 0. That is correct. However, it may be tempting to say that the number after that is again 0.5 and so on. This is possible but not likely. The eighth number I wanted to see is actually −0.5. This may seem strange unless you know the sine function. Then the model simply becomes sin(i⋅30°) or sin(i⋅π/6), with i the index of the number starting at zero and the dot operator “⋅” representing multiplication. This is a very simple model, much simpler than: “There are four numbers: 0, 0.5, 0.87 and 1, and they first count up and then down and this repeats indefinitely and please do not ask why it are those specific strange numbers.” In some situations that might actually be the right explanation, but on average if there is a simpler explanation that fits, it will beat the more complex one.

The catch is, it takes a frame of reference to understand why the simpler explanation is actually correct, because without this frame of reference a sine function is just like magic. And then we are back to perceptual aliasing. If you are still not convinced about sin(i⋅30°) being a better model, try to explain why if I would ask for the numbers in between the given series, the correct answers would be 0.26, 0.71, 0.97, and so on.

I will not explain the motivations behind the principle of Occam's razor down to the deepest details, I leave it up to the reader to do some research about this. Intuitively, it makes sense that if one observes a phenomenon that only implies rules A and B, then adding a rule C that is not certain to be proven by the evidence, will incur a risk of making the explanation too restrictive. A new observation may contradict rule C and require a different and incompatible rule D to be added. A model that contains more rules than necessary is bogged down by extra ballast that does not contribute to the correctness and increases the risk of errors.

Darwin

This does not just work for numbers of course, it works for everything. Suppose we go back to our ABC-type explanation from the earlier paragraph, and C happens to be the fact that a certain animal or plant species exists. Some weird nineteenth-century guy came up with the idea that C happens because of Y and Z”, and Y and Z were nothing like the A to H anyone had previously seen, for the simple fact that Y and Z are not immediately observable. Our weirdo is called Charles Darwin and Y is the fact that entities that are more likely to survive in a certain environment will eventually beat the entities that are less likely to survive (which is pretty damn obvious) and Z is random mutations between generations (which is also obvious but very hard for many to grasp). This is an elegantly simple model and it makes a whole lot of sense. It explains an awful lot, much more so than a pile-up of inane rules like: “the giraffe's neck stretched by sheer willpower such that they could reach the leaves in high trees and somehow the instruction to grow longer necks got stored in the giraffe's DNA”. If you think that is a simple explanation, mind that the unexplained and inevitable “somehow” contained within it basically blows up its complexity to infinity. In science there is no “somehow”. Now take Darwin's theory. Giraffes thrive on leaves in high trees. The giraffes whose neck was too short were more likely to die of starvation hence unable to pass their genes. Genes mutate during procreation, which made it possible that even from two giraffes with short necks, mutant offspring with longer necks can be created. End of story. No “somehows” in this explanation, unless it would be analysed down to unexplored levels where the other explanation has long been proven utterly ridiculous and pretty much everything is unsure.

A considerable number of people will now come up with the explanation: “but what if a god saw the poor giraffes with short necks and reprogrammed their DNA to make them longer?” Or: “what if a god designed giraffes to have long necks from the start?” That sounds like a simple explanation, doesn't it? Yes — if the huge gaping holes in it are ignored. Who is this god and why does he act this way? Where does he come from? How did he create giraffes and why? What is his motivation to improve the living conditions of giraffes? Where did he learn about nucleic acids and how does he manipulate them remotely? I can keep on asking. Any question about the existence of giraffes themselves will also apply to the existence of a god that creates giraffes. The introduction of this whimsical god only complicates manners greatly. I will come back to this later on but I think you will already know where it is going unless you are a religious fanatic who ignored the red text at the start of this page. If you are, and this text is already enraging you at this point, please stop reading and go do something else, because it will only get worse. The fact that this very section of text was inspired by a monk's ideas and monks are probably pretty fanatic about religion, will probably not seep through to you. If you do feel attacked at this point, keep in mind that you will not gain anything from continuing to read and I will instantly trash any hate mail you might want to send. Only continue reading if you feel comfortable.

This principle is not restricted to theoretical models. It applies to any solution to any problem. The simplest correct solution to the problem is also the optimal solution. A ‘solution’ in this case can be anything, like an explanation for a problem, a piece of engineering, a building, a piece of infrastructure, software, … If a more complicated solution proves better, then plainly the original problem formulation must have been incomplete. Any solution that is unnecessarily complicated will only have unnecessary additional risks of failure with no additional benefits, except in some very rare cases where the designer of the solution had the luck of their wild unfounded speculations being correct.

If one looks at history or even just the present, it is obvious that the principle of Occam's razor is not embedded in the brain of every human. In the brains of some maybe, but they appear to me either a minority, or not part of the small group of people who are in charge. What I mostly see are attempts to build horribly overly complicated models for everything. The people who do this revel in drowning themselves in stupid little details that obscure the obvious big picture. There is little to no attempt at obtaining a bird's eye view, only an endless piling-up of facts. Even if someone comes up with an elegant model like Darwin's, it takes ages and ages before it is accepted. And even then, at the slightest impression that it is not a good model, they will drop it and replace it again with some inane contrived kludge that is mostly inspired by a bunch of primitive instincts. They seem to prefer a complicated model full of holes and dubious assumptions, to a simple elegant model that only has a few easily explained exceptions. There appears to be a built-in repulsive force inside those people that instills a strong rejection towards the elegant explanation. They arm themselves with those few exceptions that make it less than 100% mathematically correct. Yet they see no problems in a the alternative, being a patchwork theory constructed from a pile-up of raw observations, riddled with unexplained holes and many more exceptions than the simpler theory. The fact that this kind of approach is much further away from the kind of perfect mathematical proof they tried to employ in order to debunk the other theory, is conveniently ignored [LINK:HUMANTHOUGHT]. The idea of approaching reality as a perfect mathematical proof is fundamentally flawed, but it does make sense to approximate it. It does not make sense to only apply rigour when it suits best.

Religion

[REF:RELIGION] This may be a delicate subject but hey, I kicked off this entire text by basically throwing every fable about human existence into the dumpster anyway. It should not come as a surprise that I will now deconstruct the whole concept of religion down to its tiny and not always pretty bits. Don't forget the red text by the way.

Occam's Razor can be, and should be, applied to religion. Saying that a ‘God’ created everything and controls everything, may seem like a simple explanation for reality, but actually it is not, not even by a far stretch. From an information theory point-of-view [LINK:INFORMATIONTHEORY], attributing everything not understood to a ‘god’ is like storing every observation as a fact, and completely overfitting the model to the data. This makes it a very complicated explanation. By attributing everything to a deity, the problem of explanation is merely shifted to the problem of explaining why that deity exists and why it created us. A compact set of independent rules or formulae on the other hand that explain a large part of all observations, is a much better model.
Likewise, the idea that humans are apes that mostly act according to a set of simple principles like ‘monkey see, monkey do’ and only use their intelligence in emergencies, explains an awful lot of human behaviour. The much more complicated idea that humanity somehow evolved from dumb apes to emotionless meaty robots in only a few thousand years, is a total fable in comparison.

There is a large and varied set of religions across all human cultures. Yet, many of them are quite alike. They share common elements, common stories, and most of all, they share a common feel. There is a perfectly reasonable explanation for the existence of ‘standardised religion’ and its associated scriptures. There are multiple possible explanations, but there is one which I particularly like.

Imagine that thousands of years ago someone already had insights similar to the ones explained in this text, and perhaps more. Consider the realisation that it is hopeless to expect everyone to understand everything required to fully understand reality. For instance, why typical instinct-driven human behaviour has a high risk of causing self-destruction, and why it can take excruciatingly long to teach everyone everything required to act intelligently in every circumstance. Some people simply lack the mental capabilities to ever reach that level altogether. Others are so locked up in a limited frame-of-reference that it is too time-consuming and expensive to break them out of it.

Given that realisation, instead of actually bringing everyone to that higher level, a viable alternative is to bring them to a level that may be not as high, but is good enough. Instead of taking everyone through a slow and tedious education that teaches every aspect of reality, invent a bunch of fixed rules that map well onto typical human instincts, first and foremost our built-in desire to attribute the reason for our existence to some larger-than-life entity. Most humans still drag along their tribal instincts from the time when our ancestors worshipped things larger than life. It is merely a matter of guiding those instincts. Wrap the rules inside nice compelling stories to make them memorable. If this has roughly the same effect as going through the slow but rewarding procedure of teaching everyone everything from the ground up, then these rules can act as short-cuts for the ‘real thing’. Certain religions like Christianity really did an effort to map existing human behaviour into a new religious framework. Habits and folklore from previous cultures were not destroyed, instead they were were assimilated into the religion, which raises the question to what degree the religion truly is something fundamentally new compared to what came before.

If this all sounds like the concept of ‘floating reasoning’ explained elsewhere, that is because it is exactly the same process. It does not really matter whether it is all intentionally designed or merely originated organically and accidentally: religion is a prime example of floating reasoning. And as any kind of floating reasoning, it has a risk of crashing down hard. If my hypothesis of ‘designed religions’ is correct, it is the only thing that sets apart those religions from cargo cults. Instead of a spontaneous mapping of certain observations to certain actions out of some limited belief, the designed religion is very consciously crafted by one or more very intelligent persons to create a mapping between low-level behaviour every human is expected to have, and high-level behaviour that is derived out of a difficult chain of thoughts that cannot be expected from every person.

Scientific research has proven that it is possible to synthetically trigger or amplify a ‘god feeling’ in humans [TODO: find articles]. This is yet another one of the many instinctive traits that preceded our ability to reason logically. It existed in our predecessor species, and might also be found in some current ape species. This built-in instinctive emotion is an excellent anchor point for attaching a religion, whether it be consciously designed or grown accidentally.

God Is Everywhere and Turn the Other Cheek

I have been raised in a Christian culture, so I will give two pretty nice examples of what I believe to be difficult logical reasoning mapped to ready-to-use guidelines inside that religion. The first is the “God is everywhere” idea [TODO: it basically tries to map the concept of God to the universe and intends to incite respect for everything including the environment. Unfortunately this is way too abstract a concept for the average person, so it kind of failed.] The second is “turn the other cheek,” which intends to prevent vicious circles of destructive self-fulfilling prophecies [TODO ELABORATE].

The fact that religion is floating reasoning, also indicates its pitfalls and dangers. No matter how good the intentions were of the person(s) who ‘designed’ the religion, eventually they had to convert all their ideas into words that were conveyed either through oral or written tradition. As explained before, explaining anything to anybody incurs a risk of misinterpretation. It is nearly impossible to write a text that cannot be misinterpreted. There are bound to be people who will interpret the scriptures from within a frame-of-reference that is incompatible with the true intentions of the authors. The more extremist a reader of the scriptures, the higher the risk that they will only seek justifications inside the texts for continuing the extremist tendencies they already had. Worse, the texts might amplify those tendencies in ways the authors never thought of.

My belief, as far as it is wise to use that word in a paragraph about this topic, is that religion actually works for many. They would barely benefit from going all the way and deriving the same high-level concepts as the religion taught them. For others however, religion fails and it sometimes fails badly. Religion failed badly for those who think it is justified to shoot, blow up, decapitate, burn innocent people in the name of ideas cherry-picked out of an old text. My message to those people is to re-read their books and re-read them entirely and carefully, because they probably overlooked quite a few things.

My bottom line about religion is the following: I do not mind that it exists at this time and I will not try to actively convince people that they would be better off without it, unless in very rare situations where I believe that to be the case. Many people are actually better off with religion. However, I will get angry at anyone's attempt to convert me to some religion. I do not know where the following saying comes from, but it pretty much sums up my sentiments: “religion should be treated like your genitalia: you can be proud of it, but you should keep it private. Nobody in their right mind shows it off in public or shoves it down other people's throats”.

In the very long term however, humanity will need to let go of religion if it wants to get anywhere. It will probably fade away by itself, because something that incites to wage endless wars and make oneself hated by the rest of the world, does not really give any long-term advantage in the course of evolution.

Less Is More

Occam's razor should not only be considered when modelling existing entities. It must also be applied when designing something new. Certain people tend to completely over-design and add loads of completely useless bloat (Microsoft, anyone?) Of course all this bloat increases the risk of bugs that can break the important features people really need, as well as the risk of additional vulnerabilities through which the product can be attacked, and it makes expanding upon the design terribly difficult. This is basically the idea behind the ‘KISS’ principle that originated in the U.S. Navy in 1960, which stands for: “Keep It Simple, Stupid”.

In a certain way, Occam's razor is the inspiration behind the ‘less is more’ idea. The problem with this idea is that people generally have no clue what it really means. They will try to drive it way beyond the optimal point where ‘less’ really becomes ‘less’. They may remove essential components and leave redundant but incomplete ones. Slightly oversimplifying is worse than slightly overcomplicating. If parts of a model are simply missing then the model may fail drastically. If it has a few redundant components they may only be extra baggage. It may not work optimally, but at least it will still work. Of course which of these two is truly worse, will depend entirely on the specific situation. I for one would rather have redundancy than shortage. Eventually however, one will always want to strive for a solution with no missing parts and no useless extras.

If there is one thing you should remember from this chapter, it is to keep things simple. Do not burden yourself with unnecessary clutter. Do not speculate on additional complexity that might perhaps be useful in the future. If uncertainty is inevitable, model it and be prepared for it. If you expect additional complexity, design or model the concept at hand such that it is easy to add that complexity when it emerges, instead of adding it immediately and having to drag it along all the time. Also, re-evaluate everything regularly and try to shave off the things that have become redundant or incorrect.

Entropy

There is a very important concept that stems from the field of thermodynamics. The study of thermodynamics was mostly fuelled by the need to understand steam machines in ye olde days, but it proved to be applicable to much more than that. I believe it is such an important field of study that at least a basic course in thermodynamics should be part of any education, even for those who will never be involved in anything technical — mind how in the present-day world it is becoming pretty much impossible to never get involved with anything technical. If this seems crazy to you, read on. The concept at hand is called ‘entropy’ and although it is pretty difficult to fully understand, one can get a rough idea of what it is from everyday examples. It has some very important consequences for everyday life. As usual I refer anyone wants to know more about thermodynamics and entropy to literature and I will summarise the most important things.

The First Law

The theory of thermodynamics is organised into a set of laws, which can be considered specific laws of physics. The difference between the prototypical laws of physics many people are familiar with (like F = ma for the relation between force, mass, and acceleration), is that some of the laws of thermodynamics have a statistical aspect. They cannot be applied to single entities, but only to a sufficiently large system as a whole, across a sufficient time span. The most important law as far as this chapter is concerned, is the second one. It would be a bit silly to move on to the second law without first explaining the first, so here goes (fun fact: I am actually skipping the ‘zeroth law’ which exists as well).

The first law of thermodynamics is nothing but a variation on the well-known law of conservation of energy, which states that energy cannot be created or destroyed. In a perfectly isolated system, the total amount of energy must remain constant no matter what happens inside it. The only catch is that ‘energy’ in this definition must be understood as the sum of typical energy as we know it (heat, electricity, …) plus mass. It is possible to convert mass to energy, and arguably even the other way round, with the famous relation E = mc2 between both, but for all practical purposes we can ignore this in this discussion.

The law of conservation of energy is for instance the reason why a bouncing ball that is released from a stationary position at a certain altitude, can at best bounce back to the same altitude, never higher. The altitude has a one-to-one relationship with potential energy from the ball's position within earth's gravity field. In practice it will always bounce back to a lower altitude, and eventually stop bouncing altogether. The reason for this is exactly in what will be explained next. As a teaser, I can tell that the ball and/or its environment will be slightly warmer when it has reached its standstill.

The Second Law: Entropy

Within the scope of this text, there is not much point in explaining the second law in detail, it are actually the concepts it introduces as well as its corollaries that are most interesting. Entropy, often denoted by the symbol S, is defined by the second law of thermodynamics and is strictly spoken a measure of energy not available to perform useful work in a thermodynamic process. In more down-to-earth wordings, entropy is a measure of disorder or chaos. Entropy is the inverse of usefulness. It can be best understood through a few examples.

If one takes a box of pencils and carefully puts them all upright on a table, the whole of the table and the pencils will form a system with a certain amount of entropy. If the table is then bumped such that all pencils fall down, the entropy of the system will have increased. Or if you have just carefully washed your car it will have a lower entropy than when you pour a few buckets of mud over it afterwards. Your car is less useful with mud poured over it, because it is for instance more difficult to drive with the dirty windshield, windows, and mirrors. The final states in both these examples are somehow more chaotic than their previous states. Their entropy has increased. It is possible to bring them back to their initial states (reorder the pencils or wash your car), but there is a catch.

dS ≥ 0

From the second law of thermodynamics follows a very important corollary concerning entropy. It states that in an isolated system, the entropy can only increase. Or: dS ≥ 0. What this means in practice, is that if you are going to take that heap of fallen pencils and put them back upright, or if you are going to wash the mud off your car, then only in the most ideal case you will have reverted the entropy of those ‘systems’. Your table-with-pencils, or your car and buckets of mud, will be back to their initial low-entropy state, and there will be no consequences elsewhere in this ideal situation. In practice, this most ideal case is unattainable and in any real isolated system the entropy will always increase unless the system stays at rest. As long as the system stays isolated, the entropy cannot decrease, ever — except perhaps in ridiculously short time spans only relevant to theoretical physicists.

In the case of the pencils, you moving your arms and hands to put the pencils back upright requires chemical processes in your muscles, and some heat and waste products will be released in the process. Maybe some of the pencils got damaged by falling as well. To bring the car and mud back to their original state, you would need to remove all mud from your car and put it — only the mud — back in the buckets. That is possible but insanely hard and it will require a huge amount of work. Any real and practical method to clean the car will produce mud that is much more polluted than the original mud, as well as other waste and heat. It is possible to filter the mud and detergents etcetera to bring all products back to their original configuration, but doing this will require a massive input of external energy that will end up as heat. And a fact easily forgotten: merely building the infrastructure to perform that task will already produce an enormous amount of waste. Plus, cleaning the car will probably introduce some wear and scratches on the bodywork, which again is an increase of entropy. The best thing you could have done to avoid the increase in entropy, is not pour the mud over the car in the first place.

In general, when returning a system from a high-entropy to a low-entropy state, the inevitable by-product is less useful by-products, heat, or both. If it is possible to convert all physical by-products to useful products, there will always be an amount of waste heat left. This makes sense because heat is in a certain way a measure of disorder at molecular and atomic level. If you would put your table with pencils in a thermally perfectly isolated enclosure together with a robot that continuously bumps the table and then rearranges the pencils, the temperature inside that enclosure would rise steadily with every cycle of bumping-and-rearranging. Moreover, the pencils as well as your robot would eventually wear out and break down. Their own entropy levels will increase as well. There will never be any technological advance that that will change the outcome of this experiment, only the speed at which it happens can be influenced. If there is any event that can decrease the entropy, it will either be only momentary and be nullified immediately, or it must be something that will pretty much obliterate everything we consider our ‘universe’. There is no point in pursuing it unless for those who are really suicidal and can convince everyone else to join in their insanity.

Another way to look at this is statistical. A system will be much more inclined to transition from a state of low to high entropy than the inverse, even though it is not entirely impossible to go in the other direction. For instance if you again slam your fist onto your table with disordered pencils, they might jump up and as by incredible coincidence all land back upright and perfectly ordered. This is not impossible yet humongously improbable. On average everything is always much more likely to go from low to high entropy than the other way round. The extent to which this is true even allows to use it as an alternative definition of entropy.

If the system is not perfectly isolated, things become more complicated because one needs to consider interactions with the environment outside the system. But as long as the ‘leak’ in the isolation is only small enough, it is still OK to assume the system is isolated. If the rate at which entropy increases is much larger than the rate at which it can leak away, the leak is of no importance except over very long time spans. If for instance there would be an indestructible room that is perfectly isolated except for a tiny hole drilled in a wall, you would still not want to be inside that room if someone would detonate a hand grenade inside it.

Maxwell's Demon

A classic thought experiment that appears to offer a way around the second law of thermodynamics is Maxwell's demon. The experiment assumes a box with two compartments A and B, separated by a tiny door that can open and close very easily and quickly. Suppose the door is closed and only compartment A of the box is filled with a gas, the other compartment B is perfectly empty, a vacuum (figure MD1, top left). As in any gas at room temperature, the molecules inside the full compartment bounce around incessantly. The pressure difference between the gas and the vacuum can be used to do some useful things — remember the definition of entropy. For instance, it could be used to move a piston in an engine.

As soon as the door is opened, the molecules will flow through and eventually there will be about as many molecules in each of the two compartments, equalising the pressure (figure MD1, top right). The situation where the gas is trapped in only one compartment, has a lower entropy than the one with the gas distributed over the entire box. The latter situation offers less useful possibilities than the one before, hence has a higher entropy. Due to their random motion however, gas molecules will keep on travelling between the two compartments via the door. Now imagine that a tiny ‘demon’ monitors the molecules coming towards the door, and only opens the door whenever a molecule is heading from compartment B to compartment A, and closes the door whenever a molecule tries to go from compartment A to B (figure MD1, bottom). Eventually, this would lead to all molecules again being trapped in compartment A, the same low-entropy situation as in the beginning.

Maxwell's Demon
Figure MD1: Maxwell's Demon: the spontaneous uniform distribution of gas molecules across two compartments appears to be reversible at no cost, but it is not.

This might appear proof that the second law of thermodynamics is flawed, because the molecules seemingly move back to compartment A through their own motion. Whoever thinks this is valid proof however, forgets that the demon itself needs energy to operate. It needs energy to monitor the molecules and energy to move the door. Worse, observing the molecules will be impossible without somehow influencing their behaviour. Detecting an approaching molecule may require imparting enough energy onto it to push it away from the door, making it impossible to get all molecules in one compartment. Whatever practical implementation one would try to make of this experiment, the demon will always end up producing more extra entropy than it removes from the rest of the system.

It is actually possible to classify types of energy according to their ‘quality’ from a thermodynamical point-of-view. For instance, both electricity and heat are types of energy, but they are very different. It is extremely easy to convert electricity into heat at an efficiency of 100% by just ‘burning’ it up in a resistor. The inverse however is not just extremely difficult, it is impossible. In any real-world situation, one cannot take a certain amount of Joules of heat and convert them all to the same amount of Joules of electricity. There is a hard upper limit on the efficiency at which it can be done. Heat is kind of like a ‘dirty’ type of energy while electricity and certain other types of energy are ‘clean’ types of energy. All types of ‘clean’ energy are actually variations on impulse or impulse moment, in other words a motion in a well-defined direction. Heat on the other hand is chaotic movement in all directions. Bringing this chaotic movement back to movement in a single direction is somewhat similar to realigning the pencils on our table: it cannot be done without bringing in some extra energy that will end up as a waste product.

Fire, Boats, and Aeroplanes

A nice example of entropy increasing spontaneously is fire. Combustion is in fact one of the nicest examples of the second law of thermodynamics. Building a house from raw materials requires a lot of time and energy. The end result, the house, will have a low entropy. (Keep in mind, taken together with all the waste products generated, the overall entropy of the house and its environment will be higher than initially.) Now, unless this house is built in a very fire-proof way, all it takes to destroy it is the virtually effortless action of lighting a match and dropping it in the right place. The entropy of the house will increase drastically and fully automatically. The state of the house being a cloud of gases, a pile of charred materials, and a large amount of heat, is a more favourable state from an entropy point-of-view than the constructed house. Restoring the house from this destroyed state without introducing new materials is practically impossible. If there would be any sci-fi way, it would require enormous amounts of energy.

There are a gazillion other examples in real life. Take the Costa Concordia for example, a large cruise ship that capsized in the Italian port of Gigli early 2012. Building that ship and making it float took years of work and massive amounts of energy. The floating ship with all the accommodation inside it working as intended, was a situation of very low entropy. Keeping it in this state required constant effort and attention. At the slightest mishap, which happened to be a collision with an underwater rock, the ship automatically returned to a state of higher entropy by capsizing. Removing the ship from the Gigli harbour means again lowering its entropy, a very costly operation. Returning it to its former glory would mean patching up the damage in the hull and repairing all the damage caused by months of exposure to salt water, for instance replacing most of the furniture, electrical systems and engine parts. Simply demolishing and recycling it is a more sensible solution than attempting to repair it, which would be more costly both economically and ecologically than building a new ship. And in the end, there would still be no way to bring back the dozens of people who perished in the accident.

After an example on land and an example on the water, it is only reasonable to complete the list with an example in the air. A flying aeroplane is in a state of extremely low entropy. The prevalence of commercial flight has made us oblivious to the difficulty of lifting and keeping an aeroplane in the air. Developing and building something like a commercial airliner requires a staggering amount of resources and effort that builds upon ages of know-how. The only reason why commercial flight is so safe, is the combination of design and maintenance effort that went and goes into it to make and keep it safe. This effort comes at a price, which is why commercial flight is expensive. If some of this effort is skipped in an attempt to save costs, the risk increases that the plane will go from low to high entropy, often very quickly and drastically (the popular term for this is ‘crash’). When I first saw a photo of a crash site as a kid, I wondered: “where is the plane?” I could not relate the spray of scattered parts to what I believed to be a rigid and safe structure. This same naïve sentiment is also the reason why conspiracy theorists refuse to believe that a plane had crashed into the Pentagon during the 9/11 attacks: the plane was completely obliterated. The safety of an aeroplane lies more in how it is treated than in its inherent structure, which is for the most part an incredibly fragile balloon. Of course nothing recognisable is left if one smashes a fragile balloon filled with kerosene into a building at more than 800 kilometres per hour! This is not much different from hurling a raw egg into a wall. The only reason why commercial flight is tractable for the average person, is the fact that each airliner is shared by many passengers. Next time you pay for an airline ticket, multiply the regular non-discounted ticket price with the number of passengers that fit in the plane, deduct some (small) percentage to compensate for profits, and you'll get a rough idea of what a commercial flight costs.

Just as with the incredibly rare occurrence of the pencils jumping up again, it may be possible to find counter-examples in the real world where entropy appears to have decreased ‘automatically’. For each such example however, even if it does not conveniently ignore important energy flows and is a true valid example, there will be maybe hundreds, more likely thousands, and most likely millions of examples that confirm the second law of thermodynamics. Clinging on to that single counter-example would only be an evidence of extreme denial and a total lack of statistical insight [LINK:SUCK_AT_STATS].

Global Warming

If one thinks twice about all this, it seems to have a pretty gloomy consequence. If we are living in an isolated system, whatever we do will steadily increase the entropy, hence temperature. Eventually the heat will kill us. The saving grace is that even if we consider the entire universe and assume it is an isolated system — which is nothing but an assumption — the universe is still pretty damn huge. Unless we do something really stupid, it will take an awfully long time to heat it up to the so-called thermal death. Nevertheless, if the assumption holds, this will happen eventually. I cannot say how valid the assumption of an isolated system is but I tend to believe that for the human situation it does hold for all practical purposes.

For our planet, the second law of thermodynamics is very important even though Earth obviously is not an isolated system. There is a constant inward and outward flow of both energy and matter (which are actually the same, which is what Einstein's famous formula E=m⋅c2 says). It all boils down to the equilibrium between those inward and outward flows of energy. The inward flow is pretty large: about half of the earth's surface is constantly being bombarded with electromagnetic energy from the Sun. The only reason why this does not make our planet burn to a crisp is that most of this incoming energy is radiated back into space. This is thanks to both the albedo of our planet (which causes direct reflection), and its black-body radiation (which re-emits absorbed energy). There may also be a fraction of this incoming energy being converted into matter through processes like life, but this fraction is completely negligible for all practical purposes (our planet is in fact even losing more mass than it gains, cf. scientific report [TODO: LINK]).

Everything taken together there is no way around it: whatever we do increases the entropy on this planet. If you blow something up with explosives, wash your car, clean your house, take your dog for a walk, or even just breathe, you increase entropy. These activities only differ in the amount of entropy generated. If you clean something that did not need cleaning, you are actually for no good reason making your environment dirtier overall than if you would have done nothing at all. Your act of unnecessary cleaning will make your situation worse even though it may not be immediately obvious.

The only way to decrease the entropy again is to convert it to heat and somehow get rid of this heat. The mere fact that we exist implies that we must already be at an equilibrium situation where our planet is just at the brink of not heating up. To avoid that our waste heat will build up and kill us, we must get rid of it and/or ensure that the production of heat stays within bounds. If we cannot get rid of the waste heat quickly enough, there will be little practical difference with the hypothetical situation that our planet would be an isolated system. It will only be a little harder to calculate exactly. This is actually what the whole discussion of ‘global warming’ boils down to.

Perpetuum Mobile

Thermodynamics proves that there is no way to use all of our waste (heat) to do useful things. Yes, we can recycle some of the heat and use it to perform useful actions, but this very recycling process will also produce its own waste heat, making it impossible to ever recuperate all the heat into useful products. Importing external energy in an attempt to get rid of all the waste heat, will only result in a net addition of heat. A simple and nice example of this, is running a refrigerator with its door open inside a thermally isolated chamber. Needless to say (see Maxwell's Demon), a cold room has a lower entropy than the same room heated up. Even though cold air will flow out of the refrigerator at one side, its cooling system at the other side will produce heat, more heat than is extracted from the cooled air. It can be proven (see Carnot's theorem) that for any refrigerator design, it is not even possible to reach break-even, the efficiency is always smaller than 100% except perhaps in unattainable ideal cases where enough constraints are dropped. The net result will therefore be that the temperature in the chamber increases. There is no way to build any machine that will be able to cool down the chamber in this scenario and keep on running indefinitely without eventually failing. One could isolate the hot part of the machine with the same idealised isolation material as the chamber, but the machine will become unable to pump heat into this hot reservoir when it reaches a certain temperature. Even if that limitation is ignored, the steady accumulation of heat would eventually destroy the machine. The only way out is to break the constraint of the system being isolated, and release the excess heat to the outside world — which in a certain sense only moves the problem elsewhere. It is actually the same story as with Maxwell's demon.

The latter, namely breaking the isolation constraint, is exactly what an air-conditioning does: it pumps heat to the outside environment. Like the demon, it requires a substantial amount of additional energy to perform its task. Air-conditioning is much more expensive than many would like to believe and there are many situations where having it running continuously on non-renewable energy is a scandalous waste of resources just so people can feel chilly for the few minutes they need to be in that space (and risk catching a cold to boot). It is also obvious why it is a huge waste to run air-conditioning with windows open: this is identical to the ‘open refrigerator’ story. (I have seen even worse: rooms with independent floor heating and air-conditioning systems, both set to maintain a certain temperature. In winter, the airco would constantly kick in to expel excess heat from the floor heating which due to its huge latency, always exceeded the set temperature of the airco.) The most sensible way to run air-conditioning is to power it through solar energy: the more solar radiation there is, the larger the need for cooling and the more power available to do it. Yet, the environment will overall still heat up more when doing this than if the radiation were reflected back into space, and there would be more pollution to build and maintain the machines than if they would not be present. Therefore covering the entire planet with solar-powered air-conditioning would still be a bad idea.

Even though it may not be immediately obvious to those unfamiliar with thermodynamics, this is also the very reason why a perpetuum mobile cannot exist. There are two variations on the idea of the perpetuum mobile, which is Latin for ‘eternally moving’ or ‘perpetual motion’. The first is a machine that keeps running eternally on its own without any addition of external energy (and given E=m⋅c2, this also means no addition of external matter). The second variation is even stronger and if often called a ‘free energy device’: not only would it run eternally on its own, it would also produce a net outgoing flow of energy that can be extracted. This is generally the idea that people have about a perpetuum mobile, because it would have a practical use while the first one would be nothing but a novelty.

The first variation is impossible already, although it can be approximated very closely. The second one, the free energy device, is utterly impossible. One can never extract energy from a machine without reducing its own energy and eventually bringing it to a halt. As the first law dictates, the machine will need to get the energy from somewhere. It cannot create it from nothing. People who do believe in the perpetuum mobile either know nothing about thermodynamics or try to apply physics models that somehow assume one or more idealised boundary conditions. The very pursuit for the perpetuum mobile on itself is already a waste of energy. That does not mean you should never try to invent one. It is actually a good exercise: it will give you a better insight in the whole concept of thermodynamics. If your invention is simple enough such that it will not cost a scandalous amount of your precious time and resources and will not be a threat to others, you can actually try to build it so you can feel that hard wall of inevitable failure hitting you.

Another corollary of the laws of thermodynamics is that it is impossible to reach the absolute zero temperature (i.e. zero Kelvin). We can come arbitrarily close to it, but we can never reach it. You can already get a feel of why this is the case by considering that an environment at zero Kelvin would have zero entropy, and applying what is explained above. Read more about this if you want to know the details.

Life

I already gave fire as a nice example of why systems are much more likely to go from low to high entropy than the other way round. As a matter of fact there is an even nicer example and it is the very process of life. Life is a state of low entropy. As scientific progress has shown, creating life from nothing is incredibly difficult. And as everyone knows, killing something is much, much easier than bringing something to life or even merely keeping it alive. On the other hand, life is abundant on our planet. Scoop up a spoonful of soil and it will contain more life than you can ever imagine. Put an unsealed bucket of water in any natural environment and within a reasonable time span it will be inhabited by living organisms. There is life in some of the most extreme environments on our planet. This seems counterintuitive. If life is a state of low entropy, then why do so many things on this planet seem more likely to go from a state of ‘dead’ to ‘alive’?

If this seems puzzling to you then it is because you are not seeing the big picture. You need to consider the whole of our planet and the sun. In fact you would need to consider the entire solar system or even the universe, but the sun plus earth alone are a sufficient approximation. The only reason why there is so much life on our planet is because it happens to be in quite a rare sweet spot of optimal conditions where the constant influx of solar energy enables chemical processes that constitute carbon-based life. Within the combination of this giant fusion reactor in space plus our little piece of rock which happens to contain the right ingredients, the creation of life is in fact a faster transition towards higher entropy than the mere heating up of the ingredients without them reacting in any way. Therefore it is likely that any other planet in the universe that has similar conditions as earth, will develop some form of life. It is also likely that other planets with vastly different parameters will also develop a very different kind of life, if those parameters allow the right kind of sustained reactions.

Death

One may again wonder, if it is so likely that life is created on our planet, then why does every living thing die at some point? This is also only a matter of entropy steadily increasing within each life form. Each living being is, compared to all its constituents just scattered in some primordial soup, a quite isolated entity with a much lower entropy inside it than outside. The amount of exchange of matter and energy with the environment is limited, just as it is the case with planet earth. Each life form needs to work continuously to keep the entropy within itself low. It expels the removed disorder through heat and waste products. At some point, wear and tear and outside contamination start to compromise the mechanisms that keep entropy within bounds. Life itself is in fact only a transitional state. At some point the entropy becomes so high that for the life form, it is a more likely state of affairs to die than to keep on living. The only true way for the organism to somehow persist, is to procreate: spawn one or more new individuals built from scratch, equipped with fresh low-entropy organs. From the perspective of the rest of the world, this is also more desirable because keeping the ‘worn-out’ life form intact would require so much consumption of additional resources that it would compromise the living conditions of other life forms in the same environment.

Our fight against certain pests and diseases can be seen in the light of thermodynamics, and it does not cast it in a terribly good light. Naïve people will like to believe that throwing around more pesticides, medicine, and technology, will always kill the pests and diseases. Those with a better insight in biology will know that there is a high risk of creating resistant strains by aggressively combating these ‘evils’. Diseases can be seen as a transition from low to high entropy: it is easier to become ill and die than going from ill to healthy through conquering the disease. In this aspect, the disease becomes a symptom of the existence of an unstable situation. The larger the risk of the disease spreading, the more unstable the situation must be. By combating only the symptom, i.e. the disease itself, one tries to build a barrier against this transition from low to high entropy. The mere creation of this barrier risks acting like a dam, accumulating behind it a driving force towards higher entropy. At some point that dam will burst with a force that would never have existed if the barrier had not been there. The emergence of resistant strains of diseases is just one way in which the situation tries to equalise itself. By increasing the threshold for the disease or pest to have its way, we actually encourage it to evolve towards a more aggressive variant that we may never be able to conquer. If instead we would reduce the incentive for the disease or pest to exist, it would have a much slimmer chance to become more aggressive. Becoming more aggressive is expensive, therefore if there is no need for it, the cost will never outweigh the investment. As always, it is a matter of careful balancing.

Likewise, this means that any striving for immortality is quite likely to have an adverse effect in the long stretch. Extending people's lives would in the end become so expensive that it will also degrade or threaten the life of younger people who have not reached the point where they would die of natural causes. In current scientific research there seems to be a belief that our bodies have built-in mechanisms for self-destruction and it could be possible to disable those mechanisms. This may be true, and it would mean we could live longer by reaching the aforementioned point where our bodies are truly worn out. Anyone however who thinks disabling those built-in self-destruction mechanisms would be smart, should perhaps first wonder why such quite non-trivial mechanisms would have evolved in a species in the first place. There are probably very good reasons. I wonder however if certain people are not simply mistaking straightforward processes of wear for ‘intentionally programmed’ mechanisms.

The Bottom Line

Entropy will increase no matter what we do. In principle this is not really a problem if we keep the increase in check with the inherent ability of our planet to release waste heat and offload the extra entropy to the universe. The funny thing about it is that the harder we try to fight the increase of entropy, the faster it will increase. This does not happen as if by some magical process: the increase is directly related to the attempted decrease, it is an inevitable by-product of it. There will always be some causal connection between the decrease and increase. By trying to keep everything sterile and clean and trying to build stuff that lasts forever (and worst of all, then not even using it anywhere near its potential lifetime), one will actually decrease the lifetime of pretty much everything else in the same environment. The bottom line is that no matter how counter-intuitive it may seem, trying to create order where it is not needed, is worse than leaving it disordered. Now, given this knowledge, take a look at what humanity is doing right now. Are we doing well?

I suppose many people will now be yelling: “but you cannot apply a theory invented for steam machines to life and the entire universe!” I have read this in some places and at some point in time I have even found something that hinted at it on the Wikipedia article about entropy. But I have never seen any explanation of why it would not be applicable. That does not surprise me at all. An explanation for this lack of explanation will be given further on in this text [LINK:HUMANTHOUGHT]. It can also be understood from perceptual aliasing: the era of steam machines has long passed and anything related to steam machines has shifted out of the frame-of-reference of the average person and is regarded as historical. Because the field of study of thermodynamics is so strongly associated with steam machines, people could have an incorrect reflex to file it as ‘obsolete’.

Some consider the conclusions from this chapter a valid excuse to just be wasteful and not care about the environment and the future because: “hey, science says that it will all go to hell anyway”. I will say it outright: they are idiots. If everyone before us had thought in this manner, we probably would not even be alive, or our situation would be a lot shittier than it is now. The science here tells us that the more we care, the longer everything will last, and the more time we will have to enjoy things. Enjoying things does not imply being wasteful. There are many ways to have fun without causing irreversible damage.

Maybe not everyone understands the thermodynamical background behind the concept of entropy, or not everyone believes that a theory that sprouted from the need to understand steam engines can extend to everyday life and the entire world. Yet it remains obvious that when picking any situation outside the tiny subset of exceptions, any transition from an ordered to a disordered state is more likely to happen than the inverse. It is also obvious that effort is always required to bring (back) order into a disordered state. Whoever ignores these facts and believes in magical things like order appearing out of nowhere, will at some point be presented the bill for all the ignored energy costs anyhow.

Optimisation: Greedy Algorithms versus Less Dumb Approaches

SECTION UNDER CONSTRUCTION. TODO: Add proper intro, sections. Link to HUMANTHOUGHT, which actually should become a subsection of this chapter.

[REF:GREEDY] Optimisation. Steepest slope vs. highest peak. [Ah, as usual I have dived into writing about this without first writing the essential intro. TODO: EXPLAIN WITH SIMPLE 1D FUNCTION IN FIXED INTERVAL. Add 2D image. Add 3D image. Explain that the world itself is N-D, with N larger than anyone could ever imagine or visualise in any way. Show that the idiotic strategy of making linear extrapolations for everything is a prime example of greedy behaviour and that it does not make any sense.]

What is problem solving? It is the process of finding a path between a problematic situation and a less problematic one, perhaps one where the problem is completely gone. Key to problem solving is to set a goal and striving to reach that goal. When viewing this in a scientific or mathematical context, the process of problem solving is called optimisation. Every living being has certain algorithms for optimisation built-in. The more primitive the organism, the simpler the strategies, and the more often they are hard-wired directly in neurological circuits.

Steepest Hill

Optimisation 1
Figure OP1: steepest hill ascent as a way to optimise the altitude in a landscape. Here, the steepest hill ascent works fine because there is only one global maximum (if this image would depict a mountain, the ‘summit’) with no local maxima.

Consider the simple figure OP1. It depicts some kind of curve, let's assume it is the cross-section of a landscape. Suppose our goal is to find the highest peak in this landscape, and we start out somewhere at a random point. How do we proceed? The dumbest thing to do is to simply stay put at our current location. We might be lucky enough that our starting point happens to be the optimum. This is the cheapest possible strategy but obviously also the one with the worst possible results. A much better strategy is to observe the landscape around our current position, and take a step in the direction where the slope goes upward the most. Then repeat this process, until we no longer find any upwards slope anymore. We may then assume to be at the highest point. This straightforward strategy appears effective, at least for this specific example. It is a typical ‘steepest hill ascent’ strategy. It is a greedy approach, because it only looks around its current situation and chooses the path with the greatest immediate reward starting from there.

Optimisation 2
Figure OP2: the same steepest hill ascent applied to a different situation. It fails because there is a local maximum

Now consider figure OP2. We apply the same strategy to a different situation. As the figure shows, now there are two peaks, one of which much higher than the other, and that is obviously where we want to end up. However, our strategy that seemed so smart in our previous situation, fails in this one, it gets stuck at the lower peak. If it is not immediately obvious why this happens, look at figure OP3, which shows the situation from the algorithm's own perspective. As far as it is concerned, the end result is perfect because it complies with our rules. Because the algorithm only looks in the immediate vicinity of where it currently is, it is unable to see that we are not at the goal we should have reached.

Optimisation 3
Figure OP3: what the algorithm sees while trying to optimise the situation from figure OP2. Because it only considers the slope around its current working point, it has no way of detecting that its end point is not the global optimum.

It is easy to extend this algorithm beyond one-dimensional curves, for instance in a real landscape one can start from a certain point given by x, y coordinates, and walk in the direction of the steepest slope around that point. The only difference is that the simple choice between left and right from figure OP1 has been extended to the choice of any direction in a 360 degree range. Of course, this opens up even more possibilities for the algorithm to fail in interesting ways. Figure OP4 shows a practical example from the natural world. Consider a simple organism, maybe indeed just a single cell, which is equipped with some kind of propulsion system like flagella (tiny whip-like structures that can vibrate and provide thrust in water). If we also equip the organism with two sensors that are sensitive to light, and we connect them in a cross-wise manner to two flagella at the other end of the body, then one can see that this provides a rudimentary way of automatically swimming towards a bright light source. When the left eye sees more light than the right, then it will cause the right ‘engine’ to work harder, and therefore make the creature turn to the left. When the light is straight ahead, both sensors will cause both engines to run at the same power, and the creature will head straight for its goal. To make this work in three dimensions, one could add a third eye and engine, and arrange them in a triangular configuration. This is a simple but pretty effective design, and many insects still rely on it. Of course, the light can be replaced by any other stimulus, like the delicious smell of something putrid for a housefly, or CO2 concentration for a mosquito.

Optimisation 4
Figure OP4: a single-celled organism with two photo-sensitive ‘eyes’ and two ‘motors’. By using the left eye to activate the right motor and vice versa, the organism will automatically steer towards a bright light source it can observe from its current position.

Greedy Optimisation

The steepest hill strategy discussed above belongs to the category of greedy optimisation algorithms: it only considers its current state to decide what next step to take, and makes a decision that only maximises the immediate profit. There is neither any foresight into the future, nor a re-evaluation when it has reached its supposed optimal point. As already illustrated in figures OP2 and OP3, this incurs a severe risk of getting stuck in local optima, places that seem optimal but are not by any stretch. Coming back to our simple single-celled organisms or insects with their naïve optical navigation system, this means that when the organism is near a rather dim light source, it would swim towards it and never discover a much brighter light source that appears more dim because it is much further away. This tendency to get stuck in a local optimum can be exploited to build effective traps. For instance, figure OP5 shows a classic design for an insect trap. It is easy to build this by cutting a plastic bottle in two and inserting the top end upside-down. Then place at the bottom of the bottle some substance which is likely to attract insects, e.g. a sugary substance to attract wasps, or something rotting for flies.

Flytrap
Figure OP5: a basic insect trap design. Left: the insect is attracted by the odour of some attractive substance inside the trap. Right: when the insect tries to leave the trap by aiming for a light source, it is very likely to miss the narrow opening and get stuck in a corner, because it will keep on aiming for the light and not the actual exit.

The reason why this simple design works, is that the chance of the insect finding the way back to the outside, is exceedingly small. Whenever the attraction of the substance at the bottom is overwhelming, the insect will fly away from the exit. Whenever the outside light is overwhelming, the insect will fly upwards, but only if the light source is on a direct line between the insect's current position and the exit, does it have any chance of flying through that exit. Otherwise, it will fly past it and get stuck in the upper side of the trap. This situation is similar to the one shown in figure OP6, which should be familiar to many: a fly is on the inside of a window, and you open a door next to the window, but the fly does not follow the obvious path to the outside. It will seemingly stubbornly keep on aiming for the direction in which there is the most light, and keep on hugging the glass pane.

Dumb fly
Figure OP6: a fly will generally not follow the obvious path to the outside, not even if the ridge shown in this picture is the window's own bezel with a thickness of a mere few centimetres. The greedy navigation system will not even consider flying a few centimetres away from the seemingly optimal direction to get out of its local optimum.

Non-greedy Optimisation

The only reason why we can laugh at the dumb fly in the above situations, is because we have the ability to think beyond the insect's simplistic greedy navigation system. As far as the fly itself is concerned, it is doing the smartest thing it can, because it does not have the ability to survey the situation and notice the stupidity of it. Within the frame-of-reference of the algorithm that aims towards the brightest light source or the most smelly odour, flying in an opposite direction even for the shortest of time spans, seems dumb. Indeed, this again boils down to perceptual aliasing. For the fly in this example, flying in the opposite direction of what its instincts tell it to, it downright crazy.

Generally spoken, greedy algorithms only work inside a problem space that is ‘convex’. For our insect for instance, its navigation algorithm will work fine as long as the insect and its goal are inside a geometric shape that is convex, which means a line segment between any two points inside the boundaries of the space, will never cross the boundary, i.e. lies entirely inside the space. You can see that this constraint is violated in the situations of figures OP5 and OP6, which is why the insect has problems with such spaces. Such spaces are called concave. When extending this idea to the problem of optimisation in general, the design of a successful and efficient optimisation algorithm often boils down to finding some way of guaranteeing that the problem space is always convex, or applying some transformation that transforms a concave space into a convex one, such that a greedy algorithm can be applied.

Convex vs. concave
Figure OP7: left, a convex geometric shape: any line segment between two points inside it lies entirely inside the shape. Right, a concave shape: there are line segments that start and end within the shape, but partially lie outside it.

When there simply is no way to make the search space convex, then the only way to avoid the pitfalls of greedy algorithms is to take radically different approaches. This is where it gets tricky. We could say that greedy approaches are one step up from absolute stupid approaches like picking the starting point as the solution, or always heading in the same direction until we hit a wall. Greedy strategies allow to extend the search space from a degenerate space that consists of a single point only which is also the optimum, towards any convex search space. However, there is no general strategy to take another step up towards always finding the solution in any concave search space within a predictable time span.

There is one method that will always find the optimal solution in any space, but there is a pretty annoying catch. The method is relatively simple: find a way to generate perfectly random points across the entire space, and a way to evaluate the optimality for every point. Then keep on generating new random points and remember the last best one as the current global optimum. These methods are called Monte Carlo methods, due to the obvious connotation with the gambling resort of the same name. The annoying catch is that due to the randomness, one can never predict how long the method will take to find the true optimum, in fact one can never be certain that the currently found optimum is the global one, unless the search space consists of a finite number of points. Due to the fact that this strategy needs an infinite amount of time, it may seem dumb and is not usable in its pure form, but it is a very good basis to implement strategies that neither suffer from the pitfalls of a purely greedy algorithm, nor take an infinite amount of time to find a solution that has a very good chance of being optimal. One of the most difficult things about random algorithms is the generation of perfect randomness itself.

Tractable non-greedy optimisation approaches will therefore often combine randomness with a greedy search to refine candidates proposed by an initial random picking. The randomness is crucial: when omitting it and re-running the same purely greedy algorithm from the same starting point, it will always yield the same result. If it was wrong the first time, then it will keep on ending up at that same wrong result all the next times. Throwing in some randomness avoids this. Our insect for instance, would have a much better chance of getting out of the flytrap or finding the open door, by halting its greedy search every minute, flying in a totally random direction for a few seconds, and then resuming the greedy navigation. My guess is that most insects actually do something similar to a limited degree, otherwise every windowsill would be littered with starved insects.

Even when picking different starting points but restricting oneself to a predictable formula for choosing them, someone may be able to exploit the formula and construct a concave search space — a trap — that exploits the regularity in the formula to cause every search to end up in a local optimum anyway. Only true unpredictability can prevent this. Remember the concept of ‘crazy’ I discussed before? It should now start to become clear why the most brilliant of geniuses often seem crazy to others (again, feel free to imagine the photo of Einstein sticking out his tongue here).

However interesting the mathematical or computational repercussions of greedy versus non-greedy algorithms may be, my goal is not to discuss these, I refer those interested to specialised literature. As usual, my goal is to apply this kind of theory to human behaviour, to expose how often things go wrong. My point is that there is a direct analogy between the ‘greediness’ in abstract optimisation processes as illustrated above, and ‘greediness’ in human behaviour. After all, no matter how it is approached, life can always be considered as some kind of optimisation process. The word ‘greedy’ in everyday speech is typically associated with financial greed, but as I have shown above and as I will show in many other parts of this text, greed is much more universal than that, and causes similar problems in many more contexts than the financial market.

[FIXME: extrapolation may be better placed here]

Life as an Optimisation Process

Life could be considered an optimisation algorithm, a metaphor for trying to find the highest peak while walking around in a foggy landscape, similar to the figures OP1 and OP2, and especially OP3. The fog represents the fact that one cannot look into the future (“where we are going”) except for a very limited range. The altitude in the landscape represents some kind of overall state of optimality of life. Some use the most braindead approach possible — no approach at all: they do nothing and are content wherever they sit. Arguably just as stupid a strategy is to keep walking in the same direction no matter what. Others use a strategy that is a little more advanced, but in the end still simplistic. With every step they take, they look around and walk up the steepest slope visible within their immediate limited view, assuming that it will lead to the highest peak. That is a reasonable assumption when not knowing anything more, but it is a typical ‘greedy’ algorithm. There is no guarantee that the steepest slope will lead to the highest hill, hence a local optimum will be reached most of the time, as in figure OP2. The big problem is that once people have reached a ‘summit’, many of them are completely unwilling to consider the possibility that it is only a local optimum, and refuse to go down the hill again [LINK:PRECEDENT] to look for a higher hill, especially if all other hills visible in the neighbourhood have less steep slopes (see figure OP3). Yet, going up and down the hills and sometimes passing through very deep valleys is the only way to arrive at truly high peaks. Sticking with the first best optimum is like being caught in the insect trap of figure OP5 or behind the window pane of figure OP6.

Many feel smug when they act in a greedy way while other people do not [LINK:ARROGANCE]. They think they are smarter because they have no clue why the others do not give in to the dumb greedy action they regard as optimal and ingenious. It takes additional insight to realise that it is more optimal to act otherwise or even do nothing at all in that situation. There is no other way to put it: from an algorithmic point of view, greedy behaviour is only one step up from absolute stupidity. It is only one degree of complexity above the strategies with no complexity at all, like always picking the same answer to any question, always acting in the same manner as a response to any problem. If greedy strategies are all someone knows, all other kinds of behaviours — including the more advanced ones — will be aliased as apparent stupidity into their narrow frame of reference.

Those who are locked up inside a simplistic convex world view where greedy behaviour is the best solution to everything, will not merely scoff at others who do not exhibit unconditional greed. They will even try to convince them to follow the same kind of behaviour because obviously, everyone must either be the same or be a total idiot who needs re-education [LINK:EVERYONEISLIKEME]. Of course such people have no idea how embarrassingly much of a fool they make out of themselves by trying to teach a primitive idea to someone who has evolved way beyond that level. Again, it requires considerable knowledge to realise to what extent someone is an idiot.

From an evolutionary point-of-view, there must be a transition from zeroth-order behaviour (just always doing the same) towards first-order optimisation (greedy behaviour, see figure OP4), and then towards more intelligent approaches. It seems to me there are actually people who believe in the opposite. They believe greedy behaviour is the smartest thing ever and is the next logical step in evolution. They seem to assume that living beings like humans previously acted in more complex ways and then ‘evolved’ to become greedy. I do not know how they would explain how a species would first reach a state of advanced intelligence and then backtrack to near total stupidity. Obviously, it must be the other way round unless the species has actually stopped evolving and is degrading towards a state of collective dementia as a precursor to extinction.

Practical Examples of Greedy Human Behaviour

It may be hard to recognise greedy behaviour in everyday situations aside from the obvious cases of financial greed, so let's start with whatever I can find at the very moment I am writing this paragraph. If I just look at today's news, here is a nice example. A farmer with only a record of not too severe offences decides to do a little monster truck rally on a set of police cars, in response to facing a minor drugs charge. This act is only good at fulfilling some very basic instincts like revenge, and maybe there was a hint of logical albeit dumb thinking in the idea of disabling the police cars. If it would have been a pure act of protest, then why did he try to flee the scene? It is not like there was any chance he would not get arrested. Now, by performing this act of boundless stupidity, he has amplified his minor offences to an enormous collection of major offences. Any bit of sound reasoning would have led to the conclusion that this act would only greatly aggravate the performer's situation.

Another example involving cars. It is a common practice, at least in my country at this time, for a company to offer a car as part of an employee's reward package in exchange for a slightly lower net wage. Some people have a tendency to abuse these leased cars and drive inefficiently, because they have the feeling they do not have to pay for the costs. Of course this is a greedy and simplistic reasoning that only looks at the immediate gain of arriving marginally faster at their destination, or simply giving in to the childish desire of driving like an idiot. The wasted fuel and damage to the car must still be paid for. By whom? The company. Yes, the same company that pays those employees. Even if the cars are leased from another company through a string of roundabout financial constructions, eventually the costs will always find their way back to the company itself. If it has to spend money on fuel and prematurely worn-out cars, then it will have less money to spend on wages. Of course, this loss is beyond the horizon of someone who draws a straight line between their current state and the next best thing they see, and assumes the line will keep on going upward indefinitely [LINK:EXTRAPOLATION].

Hey look, yet another car-related example: the so-called ‘dieselgate’ scandal from 2015. At some point it seemed a good idea for Volkswagen executives to make cars pretend to meet certain emission norms, by making the engine detect when it was placed on a test bench and then operate in a special mode that ensured the norms were met. On the road, the engine would not care about the norms just so it could provide more punch. This was a greedy decision because it is a cheap instant short-sighted win. There was no foresight into the future, and boy that future proved to be bad. It was obvious that someone would at some point notice this fraud. Maybe VW never considered the enormous repercussions for the company's reputation. I cannot imagine that implementing this lie in the engine's software was so profitable. My guess is that the extra cost of going the extra mile and continuing to research until that engine really met the norms, would only have been a tiny fraction of the losses caused by the scandal.

Another example: taking doping for a major sports contest. If it works, there is an initial obvious gain of winning. The risk that the fraud will be exposed is huge however, look at the Lance Armstrong case where it did not help to keep on denying it. Once exposed, a lot or even all of the profit from winning melts away and worse: there will be massive damage to the athlete's reputation, almost impossible to repair. Even if (s)he wins a subsequent contest without doping, there will still be many who assume tampering to be involved. I am not even considering the potential damage caused by pushing one's body over the limit through stimulating substances. The damage may be such that the athlete will be unable to perform anywhere near the level (s)he could reach before starting to take doping. Then, there is also secondary damage to the entire event. It loses its credibility and eventually risks being scrapped. Anyone who made profit from helping to organise the event loses their job. Everyone loses.
For me, someone who in a fair way barely wins only one single contest in an entire career, deserves much more respect than someone who is basically a vessel for a contest-winning drug. Anyone who would want to stop the downward spiral of lack of credibility in events like the Tour de France, would vote to greatly reduce the ridiculous monetary prizes down to a level where the reward becomes comparable to the cost of doping. Fair play will automatically return and the event will revert to what it truly should be, a celebration of sports instead of a big circus orchestrated by high-level thieves.

Another example, which I hope is fiction although it would not surprise me if there would be actual real-world examples of it. Given the current advances in biotechnology and medicine, it has (or will) become possible to cure certain diseases through figuring out how they work on a very low biological level (e.g. DNA) and then designing something that counteracts it. If that is possible, then it must also be possible and perhaps easier to actually design diseases themselves. It is the staple of many a poorly written science fiction Hollywood movie where some evil company has designed both a disease and a cure, and intentionally spreads the disease such as to boost sales of the cure. This may look clever at first sight, but it is on second thought one of the dumbest things technology could be abused for. Such scheme will only work if everything works out perfectly, and it will go horribly wrong in all other cases. Those other cases outnumber the cases where it goes perfectly by a multitude. Refer back to the discussion about entropy. In the movies, of course the plan goes wrong to make the story interesting, and then the hero saves the world through a string of ridiculously implausible events that could never happen in reality. As a company, there is no possible justification for intentionally making your customers ill or exposing them to a threat. Killing your own customers is the worst possible business strategy ever. It does not need to be as extreme as this, merely making customers ill in any way will also eventually get back at the company that reaped short-term profits from selling unhealthy crap, even if they managed to avoid the instant bankruptcy that would result from the general public becoming aware of the situation. Producing food with cheap substances that have long-term detrimental effects will eventually nullify any profit obtained through the lower prime costs [LINK:DEPRIFOOD]. The hidden costs may take a very lengthy roundabout and a long time that may even span multiple generations, but they will eventually get back to the people who ignored them (cf. the 2008 film “Food, Inc.”). In the long stretch, the ‘invisible hand’ theory will always get (pun intended) the upper hand. Unfortunately this stretch is generally way too long to rely on it as the only means of regulation.

You see, I can keep going on like this. Here's another elaborate ‘true story’ example of true classic greediness in the sense that most people associate with the word. I ordered a somewhat expensive gadget on eBay and it does not meet my expectations. I send it back to the seller. I have two options: pay for more expensive shipping with tracking, or just send the package by cheap regular mail. I pick the greedy solution with minimal immediate cost: regular mail without tracking. For weeks I wait for my money to be refunded, but it never happens. I contact the seller but he never answers. There is no point anyway, he could simply claim the package never arrived and I would have no way to prove him wrong. It is becoming clear that minimising my immediate cost has lead to maximising my risk. My only option to get my money back would be a lawsuit, costing much more than the price of that gadget, and still no guarantee that I will win, therefore utterly pointless. There, saving me a few Euros on shipping has led to a total net cost of the price of the expensive gizmo + regular mail shipping, with no rewards at all. If I would have paid the small extra for tracking, I would have been able to force the seller to refund my money or have sufficient proof to get a refund through eBay, and the net cost of this whole story for me would only have been the price of a tracked mail package.

But hey, the story does not end here! There is a double whammy and you'll see that in the end, nobody wins in this situation. Most surprisingly, it is I who has the best chances of ending up the least disadvantaged. Obviously, the seller's act of pretending to never having received the return shipment was greedy: he can keep my money and sell the same piece of crap a second time. Before you think: “how clever,” let's think further. This is the 21st century. There are many, many channels where I can tell everyone how I never received my refund from that specific seller. And again, I have a choice here. Easy and greedy would be to spam his name everywhere: again a bad idea, because as one says: “there is no such thing as bad publicity”. Optimal is to keep it simple and leave a negative feedback on the eBay feedback system that is specifically designed for situations like these. Or, I can give a description of the seller elsewhere that only allows to recognise him, not to find him. Every potential customer who thinks of buying something from that seller will have a reasonable chance to see this negative feedback and find out that the seller is a crook. Even if this causes just one single person to toggle his/her decision of buying that gadget towards not buying it, the net reward for the seller caused by his greedy action of not refunding my money is already zero. That single person could even be myself: obviously I will now avoid the seller like the plague. If instead I would not have been ripped off, I could have returned to buy more stuff. Very likely, there will be more than one customer who will refrain from buying. The total gain of stealing my money is nullified by the loss of not selling another unit. The eventual net profit for the seller may be pretty negative. Of course it will not be obvious, because it will be all hidden costs. An immediate small gain is much easier to see than slow starvation.

Those were all examples were the greed is clearly visible, and is the kind of ‘evil’ greed that generally pops up in people's minds when hearing the word, the prototypical greed as displayed for instance in the 1987 film ‘Wall Street’. Here is a much less obvious example. Suppose I work at a company in an office with many coworkers. Some day I catch a contagious disease, but it is not bad enough to make me unable to work, although it does impact my productivity. The simplest kind of reasoning here is: “I am ill therefore I should not go to work.” This is a zero-order kind of reasoning: actually there is barely any reasoning at all, it is just a dogma. It may seem smarter to move to a first-order reasoning: “if I go to work anyway, I will be more productive to the company than if I would stay in bed at home, because I am not totally impaired and can do some work.” Yes, this is a greedy kind of reasoning. It may not seem as such because there is no immediate selfish profit to be gained, but from a computational perspective this is a greedy approach: I consider the company's profit a goal, and I look around only in the immediate vicinity of my current situation for the best first step that will maximally increase the score in the short term. And I completely ignore what happens beyond that first step.
Let's see what happens if we do not ignore the next steps. I go to work and annoy my coworkers with my incessant coughing, and remember: this disease is contagious, hence I spread around my virus. Many colleagues around me catch the disease. Total productivity in the company plummets. Some employees may react more severely to the disease and become unable to work at all for many days. Plus, even though I am working and am theoretically doing more than nothing at all, my reduced mental state might cause me to make errors that will require a multitude of my spent man-hours to fix afterwards. In the end, my seemingly noble idea to do my best for the company has completely backfired because I failed to think beyond the first positive step, hence ignored all the negative consequences that nullify it. You see, this is a nice example of common sense [LINK:COMMONSENSE] as well. In this specific case, breaking off the string of reasoning before actually starting to reason, and just accepting the general dogmatic idea of not going to work when diseased, worked just as well as going all the way.

Even less obvious is a related example of extreme workaholics who feel it is better to keep on overriding themselves and work over time, than to take regular breaks and vacations (they will generally also be the same people as in the previous example). They measure their productivity purely by time spent on work. Any reasoning that could lead to working less, is cut off [LINK:HUMANTHOUGHT] by the dogma that working more is better than working less. Obviously, there is no risk of contagion here and little risk of immediate nuisance. Yet, they do not realise nor want to realise that by depriving their mind and body from the necessary time to recuperate, they will go down a steady spiral of making an increasing number of mistakes due to increasing fatigue. With every mistake, more work is required to fix it, and mistakes in this fix spawn even more work. At some point, all this inefficiency spills over to colleagues, other departments, and eventually the entire company. I know people like this, I have seen this happen, I have had to clean up the mess they made, and at times I wondered in what kind of numbed-down and burnt-up state one had to be to make such trivial mistakes. Sleep is not a waste of time. It is essential to allow one's brain to rearrange things. Without it, stuff keeps on being piled up and it becomes increasingly difficult to function properly. These people became noticeably slower as they wedged themselves further into their state of burn-out, they neglected to eat properly (because eating obviously is also considered a waste of time), and it became gradually more difficult to explain them even the simplest of things. I guess at some point it even became impossible for them to understand how deep they were getting stuck in their vicious circle, and how to get out of it.

Someone who believes time spent is a sufficient measure of efficiency and quality, should get an old-fashioned phone book and copy it by hand. I mean, either with a pencil or a keyboard. When done, this person will have done an impressive amount of work that required an immense time span. And it will have been utterly pointless and nobody will get any value from it. The amount of work spent is not a valid measure for the value created by that work. Worse, stubbornly keeping on working on something that is inherently valueless, is likely to cause more damage than simply doing nothing at all. [LINK:http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-18144319: countries that work the longest hours are not necessarily the most efficient.] I will say it outright: I live in a region of workaholics and I fucking hate it. Get a break, people. The world will not end because your arbitrary deadline was missed. It is more likely to end because of the incessant striving for useless deadlines.

I do not have any hope of turning the tide with rants like these though, because I am almost certain this kind of behaviour is deeply hard-coded, a relic from a past when acute problems were so frequent that there was barely any time to take a break. This is not just a hunch of mine, there are scientific reports which prove that the degree of ‘laziness’ of a population is dependent on the environment in which it evolved. I have heard these kinds of workaholics literally state how they are unable to simply relax. They will feel physically uncomfortable when taking an extended break. This discomfort will play a big role in the exit strategy of their trusty thought process [LINK:HUMANTHOUGHT] whenever they are engaged in a discussion that puts them at “grave risk” of having to relax for an extended period. Their mind and body incite them to be busy at all times, under the assumption that there is always some acute problem to be solved or bound to emerge. Of course, when being busy for no good reason and trying to fix what is not broken, problems are indeed likely to emerge, making it difficult to detect the counter-productivity of this kind of behaviour [LINK:SFP]. An ideal being would be able to anticipate every real problem and become busy solving it only when necessary, and when there is no problem in in prospect, idle around in some non-wasteful fashion. Unfortunately humans are far from ideal beings and have to make do with crude inbred mechanisms.

The whole concept of ‘trends’ is actually a natural implementation of a greedy approach and is tightly tied with the whole assimilation principle [LINK:ASSIMILATION] and social behaviour. Looked upon from a computational perspective, the mechanism of trends in human behaviour is not much more than a (sloppy) steepest hill ascent strategy, distributed over a large group of individuals. The only goal is to make all the individuals move in the same direction that appears to go upwards from their current state. This does not necessarily make them move in the right direction. There is no guarantee or even attempt to make them move in the right direction when looking beyond the apparent first best path to take. It is not because we happen to move in what appears a positive direction right now, that this will remain the case in the near or far future, or that this is the right direction altogether when looked at from a broader viewpoint than the narrow tunnel vision of trendiness.
The bottom line is that the whole mechanism of trends is actually extremely primitive, extremely prone to getting stuck in local optima, and as a result extremely inefficient. As with any greedy algorithm [REF:GREEDY], it only looks smart to someone who does not know anything more advanced, and can only compare it with ether inaction or the dumbest possible approaches. Anyone who is chasing trends, is by definition lagging behind and will never do anything ground-breaking. I'll put it bluntly: trends are an easy way out for those who are either too lazy or too dumb to figure out the best path to take from their current situation by themselves. We can do much, much better. To make things worse, it is a mechanism that can be manipulated relatively easily. I have quite a firm belief that in due time, humans will evolve to either ditch the whole concept of trends or severely constrain it.

Extrapolation

[REF:EXTRAPOLATION] [TODO: move this up, this belongs at the start of the optimisation section.]

When it comes to making predictions out of a limited set of observations, there are two main strategies. The first is interpolation, which involves making a prediction about an unobserved point that lies somewhere in between two observed points. The second is extrapolation, which involves making a prediction about something that lies outside the region of observed points. Figure EX1 illustrates this for an observation of the temperature of some object varying over time. Both practices are risky because conclusions are drawn about something that was never observed. How large the risk is, depends on how valid the assumptions are that were used to arrive at the prediction. Typically, the prediction will assume that all boundary conditions that were valid for the observed points, will also be valid for the unobserved points. Mind how this assumption in itself is already an extrapolation! The farther removed the unobserved predicted point is from the observed points, the larger the risk that this assumption is invalid. When interpolating between two or more points, the distance will typically remain limited, it can never be larger than the largest distance between any two observed points. With extrapolation however, all bets are off. There is no limit on the distance between the observed and predicted points. Making a prediction near the last observed point is sensible.

Interpolation vs. extrapolation
Figure EX1: illustration of interpolation versus extrapolation. In this case, a simple linear fit between two data points A and B was used. The points represent a varying temperature of a certain object across time.

Figure EX1 shows a very popular method for interpolating and extrapolating: it is called linear interpolation, respectively extrapolation. As the name says, a simple straight line is drawn between the data points, and any predicted points are assumed to lie on this line. If there are more than two observed points and they only roughly follow a line, a linear fit can be performed, which finds the line that scores best regarding some criterion, e.g. have the lowest average error when considering its distance to the observations. The problem with this approach is that again it relies on a big fat assumption. Interpolating in this manner is a sensible thing to do if it is obvious from the observations that they follow a linear pattern within the observed range. Extrapolating may not be as sensible, or could be downright dangerous.

Anyone knowing anything about physics should have objected against figure EX1 the moment they saw it. The linear fit would only be justified if this observation was known to be made from an object well-isolated from its environment while a steady amount of heat is added per time unit. This is actually a pretty unlikely situation. Figure EX2 shows the actual situation together with our previous predictions. The object is simply a thermometer that has just been brought from a colder room into a room that is not much warmer than TB. Any passive object in such situation will follow a curve that is much closer to an exponential curve than a linear curve, because the rate of heat transfer is approximately proportional to the temperature difference. The figure shows that despite our linear interpolation, the predicted temperature TI is not too far off. The extrapolated prediction for TE is very bad however, because our assumptions were completely wrong.

Interpolation vs. extrapolation, again
Figure EX2: the same figure as EX1, only this time the actual curve that produced the observations is plotted as well. The interpolated point I does not deviate a lot from the actual point. The extrapolated point E does.

If I would have told beforehand what kind of situation had produced the measurements A and B, then it should have been obvious that those two points alone were insufficient to make any reliable prediction. Either more points would need to be measured, or parameters of the observed object and environment would need to be obtained. This exactly is a common mistake: as soon as any kind of prediction can be made that looks vaguely scientific, people are tempted to grab on to that prediction and consider it final and valid, without asking questions. This is bad.

Still, even if the person making the prediction would have made a fancy and perfect thermodynamic model of the thermometer inside that room, the extrapolation could still completely fail. Suppose someone opened a window right after moment TB and it is freezing cold outside. Then the curve shown in figure EX2 would take a dive and the extrapolated prediction would again be wrong. In this case, the boundary conditions have changed, making any prediction beyond the moment of change useless unless the change itself can also be modelled exactly.

This example concerned time on the horizontal axis, and a one-dimensional observable signal. The principles of interpolation and extrapolation can of course be extended to any kind of observation across a domain of any dimensionality. Obviously the same pitfalls exist there as well.

The Future

The most obvious example of extrapolation is predicting the future, but there are many other situations, like extrapolating one's own experiences across the entire world [LINK:EVERYONEISLIKEME], etc. THIS IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT AND ANYONE WHO BELIEVES UNCONDITIONAL EXTRAPOLATION IS SMART, IS A FUCKING IDIOT. Extrapolating is only justified if the boundary conditions for the entire extrapolated time span (or region in the general sense of the word) remain exactly the same as they were during the observed time span (or region in the general sense of the word). Due to the innate tendency of people to be utterly overconfident when they have just learned a tiny bit of new knowledge (“hubris”) [LINK:ARROGANCE], they believe linear extrapolation is awesome and allows to predict everything. What really happens here is that they have learned this simplistic mathematical construct, and suddenly believe they know all about mathematics and statistics. There are a gazillion other ways to extrapolate observations, and not a single one of them is the one to rule them all. For many observations it is downright impossible to make any prediction into anything but the immediate future. It is much better to consider all possible outcomes, than to take a wild gamble at a single one.

Any prediction of the future is an extrapolation. This is why I tend to frown heavily upon anyone who puts blind trust in predictions of a future whose boundary conditions are entirely unknown. My frown obviously becomes the more severe the farther in the future the prediction goes. For instance, a popular way of justifying predictions of the future is by looking for a point in the past that has something in common with the present, and then taking a more recent point (typically, the present) and looking how something had changed. Then it is assumed that a similar change will occur between the present and some point in the future.

A simple example: an old book or science-fiction movie depicts a situation or technology that did not exist at all or only in a very embryonic stage at the time the work was written or filmed. Today the situation or technology does exist. Extrapolation: things depicted in present-day works of science-fiction will also exist at some point in the future. Quite often, the extrapolation is so crude that it even assumes that all things predicted today will become reality. What happens here is that people are taking a keyhole view on just one specific example where the past prediction came true, and they ignore the multitude of other examples where predictions proved complete nonsense. They will of course also gladly ignore the examples where a more scientific prediction of the future was made and it came true, if the prediction involved something uncomfortable like increasing environmental hazards. Remember my discussion about nuclear aeroplanes and flying cars [LINK:NUCPLANE]. Almost anyone today would heavily oppose any attempt to build a nuclear aeroplane, but I can guarantee you that back in the sixties, the general public found it an awesome idea, just as people today find certain predictions of the future awesome, while they will prove to be totally horrible. The problem is that everybody keeps blatantly ignoring the obvious indications of something being a bad idea, until it has actually killed or threatened enough people to create a feeling of disapproval in the general population, just as what happened with Chernobyl, Fukushima, Three Mile Island, …

Here is a more subtle example where the past is extrapolated into the present or near future. Elsewhere in this text I state that people seem to become ever more asocial due to increasing use of information technology. I am not alone in this observation, it is prevalent and so are the reactions against it. Those who feel attacked or insulted by this statement will point towards old photos and paintings of people reading newspapers instead of talking to each other. Is this extrapolation? You bet it is. The idea behind referring to those old pictures in an attempt to debunk the statement, is the following. Evolutions in information technology have occurred before, and they did not result in disaster. If we assume that the current evolution is completely similar to the previous ones, we can predict that nothing bad will happen in the future either. We extrapolate the current situation into the future, using boundary conditions from more than a 100 years ago. That seems dodgy to say the least. In the rest of this text one can also find my doubts about excessive use of information technology not being harmful.

You see, this is why I am very wary of any prediction of the future at all. Most of them are utter gambles disguised in pseudo-science that ignores all the counter-arguments. It is possible and useful to rely on history to make plausible predictions of the future, but only for relatively constrained situations, not for the state of the entire world.

Jumping Out of the Window

To conclude this section, let's consider a somewhat absurd hypothetical example that illustrates perceptual aliasing, cut-off reasoning [LINK:HUMANTHOUGHT], and extrapolation all at once. Suppose someone is in a building at an altitude of ten metres above ground level, and wants to reach the ground floor, with a minimum of effort and elapsed time. The person has only very limited knowledge about physics, but has just learnt linear equations in basic mathematics. The building only has windows and a stairwell. Option 1: walk down the stairs. Option 2: jump out of the window. This person has walked the stairs before and knows it is fatiguing and slow. He has never jumped out of a window at this altitude, so he decides to do a little test. He takes an object, a tape ruler, and a chronometer. He drops the object out of the window and measures how long it takes for it to travel a distance of half a meter, which is approximately 32 hundredths of a second. Dividing traveled distance by time, he gets an estimated speed of 1.6 metres per second, or about 5.6 kilometres per hour, or 3.5 MPH. This means it would only take about 6.4 seconds to get down the full distance of 10 m, and 5.6 KPH is a perfectly safe speed. So, he jumps out of the window and gets severely or possibly lethally injured hitting the ground at about 50 KPH (31 MPH).

What went wrong in this scenario? Several things. First, perceptual aliasing. The person only knew about linear equations, not quadratic equations nor the fact that gravity will cause objects to steadily accelerate until they reach terminal velocity. Therefore he applied his limited knowledge to everything, including situations where it must not be applied. Everything is mapped to linear equations. When all one has is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Second, cut-off reasoning. The desire to reach the ground quickly or maybe just the plain arrogance of believing that he could now predict everything with his mathematics knowledge, could have made him to ignore the observation that the test object did not merely move down at a steady pace but accelerated, and only took about 1.4 seconds to hit the ground. Third, extrapolation. He took an arbitrary observation of an observed parameter (distance), and extrapolated it without considering whether the extrapolation was valid. He assumed that the speed of a falling object is a constant v = 1.6 m/s and therefore its distance versus starting point is this number multiplied by time. The true speed of the object versus time (assuming the average Earth acceleration constant and ignoring drag, which is justified at such low speeds) is v = 9.81⋅t m/s, and the distance relative to its starting position is x = (9.81⋅t2)/2 m. The time to fall a given distance can therefore be calculated as t = √(x/4.9) s.

This was of course a slightly ridiculous example due to its simplicity, and nobody has ever made this kind of stupid mistake, at least not as far as I know. Replace the simplistic observations and calculations with more complicated ones however, and it becomes much less obvious where the potential flaws and invalid assumptions in the reasoning are, and which of the things that appear smart are actually disasters waiting to happen.

I kind of lied when I said the previous example would conclude this section. Today I found a real-world example that is just way too good not to mention. The 2016 paper “Seeing Red: Traffic Controls and the Economy” by M. Cassini and R. Wellings from the British Institute of Economic Affairs concludes that we could boost the economy by ripping out 80% of all traffic lights. This conclusion is made on the same kind of terribly crude and unfounded extrapolation that I have seen made by other economists as well: they took the average time an automobilist waits for a red light, and multiplied this by the number of traffic lights. This results in some time measure, which is then converted to some economic measure by again multiplying it with some other wet-finger figure. This kind of calculation would be OK as an exam question for basic maths in junior high school. As the basis for a scientific study, it is downright embarrassing, just as embarrassing as those RIAA claims that a number N of illegal music downloads result in a net loss of N⋅M, with M the average profit of a song being sold through official channels. One of the big problems, as usual, is that these researchers are from their youth on completely wedged into a frame-of-reference where ‘the economy’ is the only ultimate model of reality [LINK:NOECONOMY] and all the rest is subsidiary. For this traffic light example, what about the costs of all the accidents that will happen as a result of removing infrastructure that was created with the explicit goal of making traffic safer? What about reality?
Hey, if they can make such ridiculous guesses, so can I. My guess is that those researchers were frustrated by waiting for red lights to such a degree, that they wanted to physically remove them without even thinking twice about the consequences. If I am allowed to make another stupid wild guess, they are probably avid fans of Top Gear as well — their conclusion sounds like something Jeremy Clarkson would propose. I also hate red lights from the bottom from my heart and I love Top Gear, but that does not prevent me from maintaining common sense. On the one hand I am happy that these ‘researchers’ handed me such a nice example to illustrate this chapter, on the other hand I am deeply worried that such poor research can end up in a published state and get so much media attention. It is yet another indication that the world seems to be in a state of regression when it comes to overall maturity [LINK:INFANTILE].

Of course it is possible to make actual trustworthy predictions of the future, when knowing all the required parameters to make the prediction as good as 100% accurate. For instance, the trajectory of an asteroid can be predicted quite accurately. If this trajectory proves to cross the one of our planet, we can make a pretty damn accurate and trustworthy prediction that we will all die at the moment when that happens, unless we do something about it. Despite being quite difficult, this kind of predictive calculation is very manageable because it involves a single almost entirely inert object flying around in an almost entirely empty space with a limited set of celestial objects, which all obey well-known laws of physics. There is not even any point in trying to compare the complexity of this calculation, to the complexity of predicting the future of an entire planet with trillions of living organisms.

Human Thinking, or Lack Thereof

TODO 1: Add proper intro. TODO 2: split up this whole chapter in two parts: 1. early exit loop thinking (short term) and 2. goal- or panacea-driven thinking (long term): pick a goal and then try to reach that goal by any means necessary, ignoring all the rest (using a string of early-exit loops), until it becomes extremely obvious that the goal cannot be reached, then rinse, repeat. The default goal is obvious: try to convince oneself and others of the superiority of one's own ego, through any means necessary.

The exit-loop strategy

[REF:HUMANTHOUGHT] A common mistake is to assume that humans are perfectly rational beings. They are not. Even those who believe to always act logically, do not. Human reasoning is a flaky and easily sidetracked process that is deeply interwoven with instinctive behaviour. The catch is that there is never a clear signal when one of those instincts throws a wrench in the logical machine. They hook into the reasoning process at subtle moments. It seems that one of the chief instincts that has developed over the course of evolution, is to give people the impression that they are still reasoning logically while their train of thoughts has in fact been completely derailed by any kind of shortcut.

When simplifying reasoning down to its most basic form, one arrives at a basic feedback loop that consists of the following steps (see figure HT1, left part):

  1. Observe the problem.
  2. Propose a (different) solution.
  3. Verify the solution. If the solution is satisfactory then exit the loop and stop; if not then go back to step 1.

Any complicated reasoning process can somehow be broken down into one or more of these loops. Every step in the loop is a complicated process on its own, that may consist of multiple nested loops, and can be performed in many different ways, but I make abstraction of that here. In human thinking, an extra step has to be added to this loop (see the right part in figure HT1). This extra step can actually be added anywhere in the loop, but it best fits right before the ‘verify’ step. This results in the following simplified model of human thought:

  1. Observe the problem.
  2. Propose a (different) solution.
  3. Is this a convenient time to stop thinking? If yes, then exit the loop and ignore everything else about this problem.
  4. Verify the solution. If the solution is satisfactory then exit the loop and stop; if not then go back to step 1.
Human thought process
Figure HT1: perfectly logical reasoning (left) versus typical human reasoning (right).

This is actually not a bad mechanism in itself. It is in fact very good and even essential for any being that does not have infinite computational resources, because it can prevent getting stuck in useless thought patterns or wasting time and effort on striving for a solution that is way too costly to obtain. It even protects against paradoxes that would freeze a perfectly logical entity into an infinite loop. Its success crucially depends on how the decision to exit the loop is made. The funny thing is that a lot of people will cut off their reasoning way too early in situations where it really is necessary to go all the way, while they do keep on looping in the most useless of situations. There is no other way to put it, their decision mechanism for breaking the loop plain sucks.

I got a bad feeling about this

Obviously the model shown in figure HT1 is grossly oversimplified, but I have found it to map surprisingly well to reality. The biggest practical difficulty with this model, is to figure out what caused someone to take the early exit. This added ‘exit’ is what discerns a human from a perfectly logical thinking machine, and it should not come as a surprise that this extra step is almost entirely steered by instincts and emotions. Any time when an “I got a bad feeling about this” sensation pops up, it will try to push the train of thoughts off its track. Right now at this very moment when you are reading this, it may be happening. Perhaps you as a reader have a feeling like: “yeah, this is how humans act, but doing anything about this feels terribly difficult, therefore case closed!” Peeeooowww. There goes all brain activity, all the way down to zero. It seems this module was wired differently in my brain when it was being assembled. It keeps on going in situations where other people's thoughts grind to a halt. Not that I am unaffected by it, not at all. I do often have to clean up a mess I made myself, wondering: “why the hell did I pick this stupid and wrong solution back then, and considered it a sufficient reason not to continue thinking?” However, unlike some other people, I seem far more willing to push that train of thoughts back on its track and move it way beyond the point where it initially felt inconvenient.

Basically, what figure HT1 illustrates, is the concept of a taboo. Certain barriers, whether they be evolutionary (nature) or cultural (nurture), prevent the mind from continuing along certain paths. Obviously, these barriers stand in the way of being able to solve any given problem. Taken to the extreme, some may deliberately try to construct certain of those barriers in the minds of others, such that they can later on steer the way in which their victims will reason about certain topics.

It is extremely important to note that this mechanism mostly does not operate at a conscious level. Most of the time it happens at a lower level where it cannot even be detected by the person to whom it occurs. Most ironical is that when trying to make people aware of it, this very mechanism will protect itself. It will shut down the targeted person's reasoning while they, or someone else, try to expose their cognitive flaws. It takes a certain skill and experience to become aware of this mechanism and take control of it in your own conscious hands.

The emergency exits in this loop can be anything. Many of them will be instinctive, for instance a facial feature one detects in some person (cf. the scientific study referred to in the section about the self-fulfilling prophecy [LINK:SFP]). Who knows, maybe someone's ancestors were under threat sufficiently by people with that facial trait that it proved an evolutionary advantage to automatically hate people with that trait and avoid them. Therefore they will now try to turn every discussion they have with such persons into their disadvantage, even if the latter are perfectly in their right. Or maybe someone does not like the voice of a particular singer for a similar reason, for instance his voice contains certain harmonics that in some distant past were associated with a detrimental situation in some vague way that nobody nowadays could remotely guess what it was. Or maybe someone will avoid certain persons because they exhibit subtle features that historically used to be an indication of having a contagious disease (see also the uncanny edge [LINK:UNCANNY]).

The discussion about magic and craziness is also tightly related to this mechanism. Calling something magical or crazy is giving up on trying to understand it, and taking an early exit. As I said before, labelling it as ‘magical’ is generally safer than ‘crazy’ because the latter implies a hostile attitude while the former implies an attitude of respect or wonder that has a much better chance at eventually leading to understanding after all.

The exit trigger may also be something less deep-rooted, but still buried deep enough in someone's subconsciousness that they are unaware it is clouding their judgment. For instance, someone may have been irritated by sitting in traffic jams every day to such a degree that any short-sighted solution that appears to smooth out traffic seems brilliant, even if sound reasoning proves the solution to exacerbate the situation in the long run. There is often no use in presenting the hard argumentation to such persons, they will most likely block it out because it is not what they want to hear.

The exit trigger does not need to be negative by the way. Someone's mind might as well take the early exit because it has arrived at a situation it really likes, and it does not want to risk getting out of this state by continuing to think. This is often as simple as: “I had this problem before, I then applied a certain solution and it more or less solved the problem, so I apply the same solution now and do not think twice about it.” While in practice, thinking twice (or thrice, …) about it may lead to a solution that is better and could prevent the problem from ever reoccurring altogether. Even if a problem was never encountered before, it is often very tempting to just think: “there is something fishy here, but everything seems to work well enough, and I am too scared to figure it all out and possibly open up a can of worms, so I pretend there is no problem”. This is somewhat related to the concept of the ‘panacea’ [LINK:PANACEA] that people really like to believe in, the utterly utopian idea of a single solution to every known problem.

I repeat: this is a very simple model and its only merit lies in highlighting the problem, not in offering a solution for it. For a given person in a given situation, you will almost never be able to figure out the single trigger that breaks off their thinking. First of all, an actual reasoning process consists of multiple loops. Second, everyone has maybe a million triggers, some weak, some strong, and the set of triggers is different for every individual. The human brain is a big ball of instincts inside a very thin shell of reason that cracks very easily. I am convinced that deep-down, most humans, even the most intelligent ones, follow very simple rules. Most of their intelligence serves to find excuses to keep sticking to those simple dogmatic rules, not to re-evaluate them. It is sometimes baffling to see what kind of complicated cognitive roundabouts are taken just to be able to keep running in circles about a very simple and dumb belief.

It is important to note that there is generally no point in trying to re-start the cognitive loop in someone's mind, in the hopes that they will not take the early exit next time, unless considerable effort is done to put them in a situation that shows them wrong. Even then they will not be guaranteed to overcome their self-inflicted brainwashing. They will consistently keep on taking the same exit if the train of thoughts is similar. Even when managing to push them beyond the first exit, they will take the second one, the next first best that brings them back to their desired end point. This is why a lot of discussions are unfruitful: people only keep on figuring out new ways to maintain the stance they already had at the start of the discussion. This stance often boils down to something as simple as: “I am right, I must be right,” and the actual topic of the discussion is only a vehicle to prove this [LINK:ARROGANCE]. The discussion was pointless from the start because the persons involved only hoped to convince the others of their own stance and to confirm their own ego, and they consistently shut off their brains whenever this appears to be unsuccessful.

Bike-shedding

For any of the real pressing current problems, people tend to stop thinking exactly when they should continue. In most cases, this is when stuff becomes difficult, but also interesting. I know people who keep analysing completely pointless things like the puniest little details in works of entertainment and fiction. It is baffling to see how they are able to drill down to ridiculous arcane details of their favourite (or hated) movies, books, video-games, TV shows, or actors, while at the same time they exhibit a lack of insight in the real world. While they bicker about plot holes that are absolutely negligible and irrelevant for the sake of entertainment in a work of fiction, in the real world they waste energy and resources in ways that could be easily prevented by just thinking twice about them. It reeks of pure escapism. Of course it is easy, because in fiction everything is possible and making mistakes has no repercussions unless the story requires it. It seems to me that a considerable fraction of humanity is increasingly losing touch with reality. In reality, everything might also be possible, but many of those possibilities have fatal consequences that are blatantly ignored in fiction for the sake of entertainment. A general term for delving into the details of something of low importance in an attempt to escape a much more important but much more difficult task, is ‘bike-shedding’ or ‘Parkinson's law of triviality’. The inspiration for the term's name was a committee spending a disproportionate amount of time and effort on deciding how a bike-shed should be designed, while their actual task was to design the nuclear power plant the shed was only a tiny detail of.

One of the most favourite moments to shut down one's brain is when costs and disadvantages of something start becoming apparent. The quest for perpetuum mobiles is a prime example of this, whether it is an explicit striving for free energy devices or a more implicit striving for a human society with infinite growth and no decay [LINK:MAXPOP], which is nothing but a type 2 perpetuum mobile on a massive scale. Anyone who keeps on pursuing them keeps on ignoring their inevitable energy losses.

It all depends on whether the person at hand is an optimist or a pessimist. The optimist will first think of the benefits and cut off the analysis before the costs come into play. The pessimist will first think of the negative things and stop thinking before arriving at the positive aspects. A realist on the other hand will gather all the relevant positive and negative points and weigh them against each other. The latter is of course the optimal strategy — unless there are time constraints. It is of course more complicated and takes more time to evaluate. The other approaches are actually nothing but gambles.

Breaking off the problem solving loop too early is a bit like sticking your head in the sand like an ostrich: “there is no problem if I cannot see it”. Which, by the way, is a fable [LINK TO ARTICLE]: even ostriches with their tiny brains are not that dumb that they would simply try to avoid a pressing problem by pretending it is not there. That is a worthless strategy.
I also ‘suffer’ from this process but I try to apply it in a way that makes sense. I do not think about entertainment, I do not want to think about it. I do no want to know more about a certain character in a film or book than is required to understand and enjoy the story. Knowing every single background detail would suck all of the joy out of the work of fiction anyway. I want to keep some of the ‘magic’ in the work. I do not want to be able to predict everything in it. On the other hand I want to know how I should live in a way that won't get me or anyone else killed prematurely. I do not want magic in the real world unless I know it is just a shortcut for something too complicated to understand readily, but of which I know it actually works and I would understand it if I spend some more effort. Many however seem to want to suck all the magic out of their fictional worlds and keep reality wrapped in a kind of infantile magic that must not be desecrated.

Paradox

There is a very good reason why this kind of early cut-off mechanism exists: it is necessary. Well, maybe not in a strict sense because there are various other possible strategies to solve problems, but it is unavoidable for any reasoning strategy that does not require infinite memory and infinite processing time, in other words for any real-world strategy. The process of solving a problem can be represented by a tree of possible solutions that have been proposed and tested. Without a cut-off, this tree can grow arbitrarily wide and deep, and require infinite time to traverse.

This mechanism is also the reason why most humans are completely unaffected by paradoxical situations or statements. Suppose I would say to a being that reasons according to the ‘ideal’ first loop from figure HT1: “I always lie. Am I currently telling the truth?” This being would get forever stuck in its loop because there is no satisfactory solution to this problem. A human would maybe loop twice at best, and then say: “screw this,” and exit the loop. Similarly, even for someone who lacks the capabilities to reason perfectly logically, it is possible to approach perfectly logical thinking by exiting the loop whenever it becomes apparent that someone else is trying to bullshit them by feeding them false information.

It is plausible why a high level of intelligence may be an evolutionary disadvantage [LINK:IDIOCRACY]. I believe that when considering usefulness, there is an upper limit to intelligence. Above this limit, the ability to figure out how everything works has such a high risk of giving insights that lead to self-destruction that it becomes more of a hindrance than a quality. There have been many highly intelligent people in the past, there have been groups of such people, yet so far they have not managed to permanently overtake the less intelligent groups, which could be telling. Look at this very text: at many times I really wished I had never figured out many of the things I wrote down here, especially the core idea from the first section.

When looking at the big scheme of things and taking everything into consideration, there are many paths of thought that lead to depressing conclusions. There are a few however that do not, and these may even lead to a state of happiness that is more intense, stable, and longer-lasting than any state that can be achieved through the cheaper mechanism of cutting off reasoning early on, and surfing the wave of the first best emotion-driven instinct that passes by. The problem is that it is very difficult to find those very few rewarding paths. For those persons without the ability or patience to do so, the early cut-off mechanism is much cheaper and works reasonably well. If all this sounds like Zen Buddhism, well someone has once mailed me that even the previous crappy version of this text had hints of it, and it would not surprise me if the current one comes even closer, despite the fact that I have no real clue what Zen Buddhism is supposed to be about, I haven't bothered to look into it yet.

The true intelligence of any entity that follows this exit-loop strategy lies not in the degree to which it stubbornly follows the loop, it is for the most part contained in the exit strategy. The way in which new hypotheses are generated is important as well, but is only of secondary importance: it matters little when the loop is always cut off so early that no more than a few hypotheses are ever validated. When the exit strategy is overly eager, the entity will think fast but dumb; when the exit strategy is so complex that it becomes slow, or too conservative that it evaluates too many hypotheses, the entity may react too slowly to critical situations. There is a sweet spot between speed and complexity. For quite a few problems however, speed is mostly irrelevant and taking any early exit will always lead to poor solutions. Although there seems to be a built-in bias in humans to admire persons who always think fast, I tend to be wary of such people because the only way in which they can be consistently fast, is by consistently cutting corners in their reasoning. They often learn things in incredibly sloppy ways and then never update that knowledge unless something goes really awry.

[TODO: make a practical example that shows in detail a plausible train of thoughts for both a perfectly rational being, and a human with a certain instinctive repulsion against a person exhibiting a certain trait.]

Panacea-induced thinking

[FIXME: PART 2 STARTS HERE] [REF:PANACEA] The exit-loop strategy discussed above results in a corollary which is evident from everyday human behaviour: the phenomenon of the panacea, the tendency to only consider one solution or technology as the ultimate cure for everything. When some new fancy invention has recently been made or is expected soon to be made, for any problem that is vaguely related it becomes very tempting to take the early exit in the thought process while evaluating that invention as a possible solution. It is assumed that the invention will also fix that problem and there is no need to think further. This kind of flawed reasoning is applied for instance to:

Nuclear Aeroplanes and Flying Cars

[REF:NUCPLANE] In the attic of my parents' house I found an interesting book. It was a children's book from the 1960's with predictions of the future. Nuclear power was the panacea from that time, so the book was full of grand ideas like commercial airliners and cars powered by nuclear reactors. The aeroplanes were supposedly already being designed according to the book. They actually were, look up NB-36H. They never got around the problem of avoiding that the reactor would irradiate everyone sitting inside the plane, without adding so much shielding that the engines would not be able to lift much additional weight into the air beside the reactor, the shielding, and the pilots. Even if they would have solved that problem, just imagine airliners with nuclear reactors hanging in the sky everywhere. Properly designed reactors would not explode on impact, but they could still make one hell of a dirty bomb. It would be Al-Qaeda's wet dream. Or imagine your nuclear car being rear-ended by a truck, smashing up your trunk-mounted reactor. Whiplash would be the least of your problems.

The same book also predicted that everyone would have a flying car by now. The flying car panacea is a stubborn prediction that keeps on rearing its stupid head. It can be found in other material from the same era, like the ‘Jetsons’ animated series, as well as later productions like the ‘Back to the Future’ films. Every now and then, a newspaper article will present a new flying car model with headlines like: “everyone will soon be flying one of these,” despite two obvious facts. First, there has not been any truly practical design for a flying automobile since those 1960's predictions, that could become even half as widespread as regular automobiles today. Second, flying automobiles are the opposite of the practical solution they are believed to be. They are often touted as being the solution against traffic jams, but they will in fact only be practical in low-population regions that never suffer from traffic jams. If they would be used in densely-populated areas, they would introduce hazards much worse than traffic jams. Piloting a flying vehicle is an order of magnitude more difficult than driving a car on wheels, which already proves quite hazardous. When a vehicle is constrained to the ground, the consequences of any mishap are also constrained. When we allow vehicles to become airborne, we introduce many new ways in which any problem can lead to terrible consequences. A car that only rolls on wheels can in the worst case crash through a wall and kill a few people inside buildings built next to roads only. The speed of the car is inherently limited. A flying car on the other hand, can crash through any building at any location in any kind of way, and will likely do so at a much higher velocity because it is either falling from the sky, or it needs a high speed to sustain flight. There are no road bends nor speed bumps to limit an airplane's speed. If two ordinary cars smash into each other on the ground, damage and casualties mostly are restricted to those two cars. If two flying cars crash into each other, their falling debris can cause additional casualties on the ground or hit other flying cars and cause them to crash as well. The possibilities for death and destruction are much more numerous. But as usual, people consistently ignore all these negative aspects when they are struck by the warm fuzzy idea of having a personal airplane.

I'm not even considering the energy requirements and associated pollution to keep a vehicle airborne, especially at low velocities when wings cannot offer lift (consider the fuel consumption of e.g. a Harrier jet or F-35B during vertical hover). Of course, we could avoid burning up fossil fuels in flying cars by combining the two above things and arrive at nuclear flying cars! Let's not.

Other example: I have been struggling with vague health problems for many years, with symptoms so all over the place that I didn't even know what kind of doctor to go to, and the doctors I did visit had no clue. It gradually became unbearable, so I started investigating. I found a hypothesis that seemed plausible, and indeed my condition improved enormously when acting accordingly. I firmly believed this discovery solved all my problems, but it did not, I got worse again. I looked further and found another hypothesis that resulted in a new jump in my health. I was very inclined to reject the previous hypothesis and consider the new one the ultimate explanation for everything. Then I got worse again. This scenario repeated itself a few more times, with as only variation a few medical tests that were either positive or negative. Lactose intolerance proved an important factor and every doctor was extremely eager to consider it the ultimate explanation and attribute all my symptoms to it. Yet, even when avoiding lactose entirely, I still experienced many of the problems I had before.
I stumbled upon another hypothesis involving histamines which was actually backed by rigorous science. I gained the largest overall improvement in the quality of my life by avoiding excessive accumulation of histamines in my body — it is plausible that the years of undiagnosed lactose intolerance had made me extremely sensitive to the histamines produced by the bacterial overgrowth from rotting lactose in my bowels. Still, I did not drop all that I had figured out earlier on, because when I did, I still again got worse. During this whole bumpy ride it had become obvious that each and every one of those smaller changes in my lifestyle that I had tried before, from first to last, all had an effect to some degree. I had simply been doing many things that my body disliked, and I had to force myself to stop believing in a single solution for them all. Why pick just one solution if everything combined produces an even better result? I could write down all of those things here, but I will explicitly not do that because I am certain that many are specific to my situation, and people would be inclined to blindly try to apply them to theirs. The message I want to give away here is exactly to avoid doing that.

Smartphones

One of the most obvious panaceas at this time are smartphones, or more generally the family of tablet-like devices. They seem the solution for everything: one can browse the internet, make phone calls, take photos, use it as GPS, calculator, accelerometer, … The truth however is that although those things can perform many tasks, they often fail to excel at any of those. The screen is too small to do anything but the simplest tasks, and making the screen larger makes the device less portable and more awkward to use as a telephone. The photo quality has been improving, but the sensors are necessarily tiny, therefore inevitably noisy and slow. These things will never be able to trump a device whose every component was engineered to make good photos, as opposed to performing one out of a billion tasks. (Plus, most advances in the technology to improve photo quality for those tiny camera systems can also be applied to larger cameras to make them even better.) Some of those phones have quite a good GPS, but a built-in GPS in a car can ensure optimal signal reception, as well as rely on odometry when the GPS signal is lost. With a good calculator app, it is possible to do many things that are impossible with even the most advanced pocket calculators. Yet, some of those pocket calculators could run for ten years on a single battery charge, as opposed to at most one week, and the tactile feedback of physical buttons allows to enter numbers without even having to constantly look at the device. Typing on a smartphone sucks in general, even when ignoring the tactile feedback issue. Even though the keyboard eats away a lot of screen area, it is still too small to be very practical. When holding the phone, the only parts of your hands that have easy access to all keys are your thumbs: your thickest and least accurate digits. Etcetera.

These ‘smart’ devices are jacks-of-all-trades, they can do a bit of everything but they do not really excel at anything because the whole design is inevitably full of compromises. Yet again, people are constantly ignoring all their disadvantages and scoffing at everyone who uses a specialised tool for a task that could also in some way be performed with a smartphone, no matter how kludgy and poor the smartphone is for that task. Expecting these devices to be the only thing any human will ever need now or in the future, is naïve to say the least. Moreover, who would want to put their life in the hands of just a single device, which is probably manufactured by a single company to boot?

Etcetera

I could give innumerable other examples of panaceas. New ones pop up every day. Another prevalent one that currently exists and probably won't be tamed soon: wireless technology. It seems self-evident to many that everything will be wireless at some point. Whoever believes in this, obviously lacks the technical insight to understand why wires cannot be eliminated in every possible situation, and why it is often not even desirable to make something wireless even when technically possible. One word: power. So many people are going apeshit over the fact that a cell phone tower emits large amounts of electromagnetic power, yet they expect everything to run wirelessly without batteries. The only way to do that, is to transmit power electromagnetically through the air, at levels that make the emissions of a cell phone tower laughable. If one would want a wireless microwave oven, one would need to transmit at least the same amount of power as is being radiated into the food, quite a bit more to compensate for all the losses of the transmission and reception of the waves. Anything standing inside that beam of energy is likely to be cooked just as hard as the food in the oven. Heck, the oven is redundant: the energy transmitter itself becomes a huge oven. Even if the energy transmission works at a different wavelength than the typical 2.45 GHz, at those levels of power there will always be some substance in a human body or some circuit in electronic devices that will absorb enough of whatever frequency is being used, to cause severe problems. Even though a wireless microwave oven may seem ridiculous to many (at least I hope so), it does not need to be this extreme. Merely add up enough smaller devices that all need power, and your house would still be a constant bath of high-power EM waves that cannot be harmless.

Even at lower levels of transmitted power, it remains problematic. It is then that power over time, i.e. energy, becomes the biggest problem. Wireless transmission can only in an ideal case require the same amount of energy as doing the same over a wire. In all practical cases it requires more energy because of losses in the transmitter, the receiver, and the mere fact that the transmission is not point-to-point but at best point-to-area. Most of what is being transmitted, either goes nowhere due to the non-directionality of the antenna, or is absorbed by obstacles in between sender and transmitter. Around the middle of 2016, I heard the first concerns popping up in mainstream media about the power consumption of all this wireless technology. It will only get worse.

Even for things that require much smaller amounts of power, why do they all need to be wireless? I have a wired keyboard. It has not moved from its position in the last six years. Making it wireless would force me to move it alright, because I would need to replace the stupid batteries every few months. Its final move might be it being smashed against the wall when the batteries run out in the middle of a fantastic gaming session. Making my keyboard wireless, has no advantages whatsoever in my situation. It seems there is insufficient repulsion against batteries in the general population. Batteries suck. They are always empty at the wrong moments (because of the plain hard fact that there can be no right moment for them to run out), they are polluting, and take ages to charge. I consider it progress whenever batteries can be eliminated in favour of reliable continuous power delivery. It may sound surprising, but batteries are older technology than mains power. The introduction of a power grid was a technological advance. Everyone however seems to have forgotten about that, and now they consider going back to the more ancient technology an advance. Going in circles once more. The current trend to require batteries in every single component of a system, for instance ditching the 3.5 mm jack on a telephone and requiring everyone to have batteries in their earphones as well, is a regression.

Where does this craving for panaceas come from? I believe it is tightly tied with the early cut-off mechanism I discussed in the first section of this chapter. What is happening here must be something along the following lines: initially people start looking for some kind of solution to their problems. They find something, and the early-exit system kicks in: they stop thinking. Any problem encountered is considered solved whenever the previously found solution vaguely seems to solve this problem as well. Any problem that seems unsolvable with the newfound solution, is ignored. At this point, the solution is in panacea status. The relation with the technology in this stadium is in fact very similar to love [LINK:LOVE]. People keep on using this solution and will at best try to improve it within a frame-of-reference where it remains the one true solution for everything. A huge mental barrier that nobody will easily cross, had been erected at the moment when the solution gained panacea status. Hence they will never resume their original train of thoughts they aborted at the time when the solution looked amazingly attractive or when a major disadvantage was at the brink of becoming obvious. At some point however, that major disadvantage or another one hits them in the face like a hammer. Quite often, that problem could be overcome by resuming the original thought process, but does this happen? No of course. The experience of being hit in the face by the disadvantage was so goddamn painful that it creates a new mental barrier. This barrier now becomes the dominant way of exiting the thought process. The solution has now lost its panacea status and is dismissed pretty much forever. Something new is sought after, and the same scenario repeats itself, endlessly.

People do not realise they are running in circles this way, because the circle occurs at a level much higher than what is readily observable. It would make a lot more sense to keep on looking at all possible solutions and trying to improve each of them simultaneously and perhaps combine them, than to jump from solution to solution while discarding everything that seemed less than perfect at first sight. However, I am afraid the whole reason why humans only focus on a single solution at a time, is because they are frankly too simple to cope with more than one thing at a time. Unfortunately most of them are too arrogant [LINK:ARROGANCE] to admit their simplicity, and to take steps for improving their capability of coping with more complexity, or at least try to reduce the complexity to a manageable level. This arrogance leads to the usual scoffing at anything that is not considered ‘modern’ or ‘trendy’.

[TODO: I can give a very concrete example of the previous paragraph through the history of nuclear power.]

Assimilation and Clustering of Similar Individuals

[TODO: extremely messy. Needs proper intro, structure. There are two related but distinct things I want to explain here:]
A. A group of people has the best chance of achieving optimal performance if they all act in the same manner with respect to the aspects of the goal they want to achieve. Tit-for-tat: for two individuals, it is on average the best strategy if one mimics the behaviour of the other. A group of less capable individuals that are tuned into each other, can easily outperform a group of mixed and conflicting individuals, even when the latter group contains considerably more capable individuals. For instance, it may be more important when recruiting people in a company to ensure they are all compatible, than to find a few excellent employees while disregarding how they will interact with the rest. The most extreme example of this is an army: the whole purpose of drilling soldiers to act in identical manners, is to maximise efficiency and efficacy.
[TODO: the text does not convey this message in any clear manner, worse: it contains apparently conflicting parts. This is the core reason why tit-for-that works: if one party does something good and the other party mimics it, then obviously it is a win-win situation. If one party does something bad and the other party mimics it, then they have a higher chance for self-destruction, which actually is still optimal for other parties because they are better off if everyone with a tendency to exhibit the bad behaviour eliminates themselves. If one party treats another badly, then it is optimal for the other party to respond with the exact same behaviour. It will either again result in self-destruction (not the best solution but still best for others), or both parties realising and agreeing that if they both cease their bad behaviour, it will be a win-win. If one party simply submits to the abuse of another, the abuse will never end.]
B. Given that groups of similar beings are more optimal, species have a tendency to evolve towards a situation where all its individuals are identical to a certain degree, and are equipped with instinctive mechanisms to encourage striving for that situation. This tendency makes perfect sense within certain constraints. However, there is an upper limit to the advantage of assimilation, and it can become a severe liability if all individuals share the same weakness. This is why any healthy ecosystem will always contain a variety of different species. Diversity means robustness.

[REF:ASSIMILATION] [Explain, connect with group behaviour and evolution. Example: if you treat people as objects, you will be treated as an object. Self-fulfilling prophecy.]
Every evolving organism or species will converge towards a behaviour that encourages all individuals inside the species to act in the same way most of the time. It does not matter how this behaviour is implemented in practice, only that it has the desired effect. I will not give a hard proof of this, I assume it has already been given by others. Yet another thing for the interested reader to look up. However, it is easy to see intuitively why such behaviour is optimal given certain boundary conditions.
For instance, assume that whenever someone builds a train, they arbitrarily choose the distance between the left and right wheels, i.e. the wheelbase. If they are lucky, they have picked a wheelbase that someone has already used, and they can run their train on the tracks already laid out for that other train. Otherwise they will have to lay their own whole new network of tracks. That is inefficient and any interaction between the two rail networks will be complicated. Now if instead of arbitrarily choosing the wheelbase they would first look around and pick the most common wheelbase, there will be a large network of tracks already available for that particular wheelbase. In the end, everyone will want to converge towards the same wheelbase. Then every train can run on every track.
Now, one could also build a train with a variable wheelbase. That would make it work on any track, but it will be more complicated to build and more likely to break down because it has many more parts than a simple train wheel. It would be much simpler and reliable to just have to attach two wheels to a bar of a fixed size. There is nearly nothing about this that could break.

This is a very simple example but what it tries to illustrate, is that most often it is much more expensive overall to have multiple methods that serve the same goal, than to have a single method. Even when having two different methods of a rather high efficiency, the overall efficiency could be considerably lower than with a single method whose efficiency is lower than any of those two. That is what the tit-for-tat principle boils down to. If you do something in a certain way, I do it in the same way. It can be applied to much more complicated situations and behaviours than building railroads or even anything that maps well to the railroad metaphor.
If we stick to this metaphor just for a little while longer, assume that someone has performed some fancy calculations and/or experiments and determined the perfect wheelbase that happens to be different from any wheelbase currently in use. Even though this wheelbase is proven to be optimal, it is probably pointless to try to enforce it onto the rest of the world. Most likely all the wheelbases that deviate hard enough from the optimum have eliminated themselves anyway. All the ones still in use will at least be reasonably viable and most likely there will be at least one quite close to the optimum. If that single scientist stubbornly tries to introduce that optimum that will only give a 1% advantage, he is an idiot. There are many examples of products that tried in vain to displace a non-optimal standard with something that is only marginally better. It is perfectly OK to figure out how far a current standard is from the optimum, but it is stupid to try to replace the standard if the gain is insignificant.

It may not be immediately clear how a high-level principle like tit-for-tat can find its way into the behaviour of living beings through a process like evolution. Nevertheless, the mere fact that it is part of striving for optimality must mean that those beings must at least develop elements and approximations of the principle in some way. What I am saying here is that practically no human being has a single clear built-in vision of: “it is good if everyone acts in the same way,” but all humans do have a whole bunch of instincts that make them act more or less according to this principle in many situations. There will be instinctive behaviour that encourages humans to seek to live together with other humans that share many of their own characteristics.

Ego-driven Clustering Can Lead to Extremism

[REF:EXTREMISM] Here is one particular example of a prime driving force for people to cluster together into groups of similar individuals: the instinct to maintain one's ego [LINK:ARROGANCE]. This instinct has only one goal: constantly convincing oneself and others of being at least on par with the cream-of-the-crops, if possible being better than everyone else. Living inside a diverse group of individuals with varying skills, makes it difficult or impossible to upkeep this illusion, because many of the others will have certain skills that exceed one's own. The optimal way to minimise the risk of getting a dent in one's own ego, is therefore to group together with others who are similar in as many aspects as possible. This also explains why those who want to preserve a self-image of being intelligent, often like to watch inanely stupid TV shows featuring truly dumb people. This is also nothing else than an ego booster: pretending that the rest of the world is stupid, makes oneself look more clever. (The funny thing is that exposing oneself to such crap all the time might have a risk of eventually adopting some of the observed behaviour.)

This kind of ego-driven incentive for clustering together has severe risks. In a certain sense, arrogance is a nice breeding ground for extremism. This is especially true for the type of ‘deconstructive’ arrogance that tries to obtain its goal of making oneself appear awesome, through shielding oneself from others who appear superior — or worse, sabotaging them [TODO: LINK to where I explain the difference between ‘constructive’ and ‘deconstructive’ arrogance]. If people are allowed to cluster together in an unbounded fashion, the cycle of boosting one's ego by seeking like-minded people and rejecting anyone with deviating thoughts, will result in amplification of extremist ideas. Eventually the group will crystallise into a small set of people who agree on the same extreme ideas. The smaller someone's frame-of-reference becomes due to being locked inside a small narrow-minded group, the higher the risk that they will start developing crazy and dangerous ideas about anything that was kicked outside that frame-of-reference. The only true remedy against extremism is an open mind, a healthy dose of humility, and always being prepared to communicate without prejudices. An arrogant and aggressive ego that is too afraid of learning something new out of fear of failing, stands in the way of all those things. Of course, for all this to work, it is paramount that there is an opportunity for letting oneself be educated in the first place. If no education is available at all, then it becomes all the easier to go down the spiral of increasing narrow-mindedness.

As any historical example shows, as well as the horrible events at the very time of this writing (Paris 2015, Brussels 2016), extremism that has spiralled out of control never ends well. It only leads to destruction, with as final point the self-destruction of those who let themselves spiral out of control. There is a certain point beyond which it becomes impossible to bring extremists back on the right track, just as it becomes impossible to quench a fire that has reached a certain degree of energy and self-sustenance, or to halt the chemical reaction of a substance exploding. The only practical solutions in such cases, is to either isolate the extremists and wait until they have destroyed themselves, or if that is not an option, eradicate them. I am not a fan of the latter option, but sometimes it is the only one that remains.

Tit-for-tat

[TODO: explain tit-for-tat and how it fits in this chapter: the optimal situation for multiple parties is if they agree, i.e. if treat each other in the same manner. This does not necessarily mean they need to treat each other well: both parties treating each other like dirt is a better situation than one doing the other's bidding while getting nothing back. Link tit-for-tat with globalisation. Stress that acting the same everywhere is only optimal if the boundary conditions are also the same everywhere. The whole part about globalisation further on can probably be plugged in here.]

Coming back to human behaviour, it makes sense that humans who live in groups will evolve to become equipped with instinctive mechanisms that encourage assimilation. This works twofold: either an individual will try to enforce their own way of life onto others, or they will want to adopt the behaviour of others, or a bit of both. [TODO: insert EVERYONEISLIKEME here and the part about jealousy. Split off INFANTILE to other section.]

Does this kind of drive towards assimilation make sense? I know this is completely unfashionable to say at the moment of this writing, but you bet it does, but only within certain limits. There is no denying that we live in an era where the complexity of our living conditions is skyrocketing. One of the root causes of this increasing complexity is an endless fight against this drive towards clustering of likewise individuals: we try to mix everyone together. There is also no denying that there is currently a firm belief this is all logical and inevitable and it must and shall keep on going. I on the other hand predict that this will lead to a period of crap nobody even dares to think of at this moment, followed by a severe historical hangover in the not so distant future, and in history lessons this time period will be discussed as: “well, that was interesting but it could never work out because of X, Y, Z, …,” or maybe just: “what the hell went wrong there? What were they thinking? No idea.”

[TODO: the part about globalisation fits quite well here.] There is a general sentiment that “everything is possible”. Mind how I use the word ‘sentiment’. There is no proof at all that our current state of evolution has a bright future or that it makes sense to pursue it. There is only an enormous collection of hunches, inspired by fiction, science that is sometimes embarrassingly dodgy, and instinctive behaviour. Scattered across the rest of this text, I will swing my sledgehammer at many of the things that are likely to contribute to the collapse of this attempt at a hyper-globalised super-high-tech multicultural future [LINK:MAXPOP, INFANTILE, SMALLTOWN, DNA]. I can already give the low-down on all my ranting here. I believe it will be a double whammy: first, the majority of people are unable to cope with the degree of complexity that is being strived for. Second, the degree of complexity that is being strived for is entirely unnecessary yet extremely costly. The price tag simply does not add up. The main problem however is that an increasing amount of people are being sucked to such a degree into the allure of this utopian view of the future, that they are completely ignoring hard cold reality.

A real-world example to indicate at what complex level this principle can manifest itself: I am a rather silent person. One might not believe it from the verbosity of this very text, but verbally I am anything but a waterfall of speech. I only tend to say something when I find it useful or necessary. That is just the way I am, I am very introvert. Speaking is somehow difficult, writing comes much more natural to me. I see no point in making myself feel uncomfortable by forcing myself to blather about stupid things, just because others seem to expect me to. My brain is so geared towards written text anyway, that whenever I try to talk about totally unprepared topics for an extended time, it turns into a jumbled mess with lots of pauses. I hold the following saying in high regard: “it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and take away all doubt.” (This is often attributed to Lincoln or Mark Twain, but the true author is uncertain and a similar saying can be found in the Bible. As I have said before however: it is far more important what an idea expresses, than who expressed it.)

Now, it has taken me a long while to figure this out but I noticed that whenever I entered a new environment with new people, they would initially be quite talkative towards me but after a while (between a few weeks and half a year) they would seemingly inexplicably start acting ‘weird’ towards me. (This seemed to get even worse as I became even more silent due to my health slowly deteriorating thanks to an undiagnosed condition, see also below.) The weird behaviour entails them rather suddenly saying much less to me, and sometimes seemingly intentionally and ostentatiously asking things to others while they ought to know that I have a much better background for answering that question. Needless to say this kind of behaviour pisses me off. After seeing it occur for the umpteenth time however, it became obvious that my very own behaviour plays a key role in this. Those people simply start mimicking my own behaviour, saying little to me unless they really think it is relevant in some way. I am pretty certain they do not do this consciously, but it is just one of the gazillions of ways in which the tit-for-that principle has wormed itself into our behaviour. Only because they are not exactly like me, their copy of my behaviour often rubs me the wrong way [LINK:UNCANNY]. Maybe I wouldn't even appreciate seeing anyone else exhibit a perfect copy of my own behaviour anyway. Instinctively it sometimes makes me want to punch them in the face for it, but luckily I realise that they simply cannot help it.

Lactose

Another complicated example: consider the phenomenon of lactase deficiency. Lactase is an enzyme that allows to decompose the sugar molecule lactose, an essential component of milk, into two other sugars that can be readily digested. Long ago, humans only had the ability to synthesise lactase in their intestines during the first years of their life, when it is essential to digest mother's milk. After these first years the ability diminished and eventually vanished, because it was no longer needed, and it probably has a significant cost associated with it (why else would it not have been lifelong from the start?) When people started breeding and milking cows, milk became a relatively cheap and ubiquitous potential source of nutrition. It became advantageous enough to maintain the ability to digest lactose beyond the first years of one's life, that it outweighed the cost. Therefore a large part of the Western world has evolved to maintain their ability to produce the enzyme lactase in their intestines far beyond childhood.

What happens if a lactase deficient person consumes lactose anyway? The stuff cannot be decomposed into digestible parts, and stays in the intestines. It becomes an abundant source of nutrition for the various bacteria that are an essential part of the digestive system. The types of bacteria that are most apt in decomposing the lactose, will grow in numbers uncontrollably. They offset the other bacteria types and cause a severe imbalance in the fragile equilibrium required for a healthy digestive tract. Moreover, they turn the lactase into noxious waste products, for instance biogenic amines like histamine. In layman's terms, the food starts rotting inside the intestines. The result is not just uncomfortable, it can become downright dangerous in the long term. If someone does not realise they are lactose intolerant and this situation keeps on occurring over a long timespan, all bets are off. Perhaps the immune system will treat the incessant infections as a disease and develop reactions to pretty much anything that looks suspect, e.g. those bacteria that are essential for digestion — how could it know they are not the root cause? It simply cannot. It is not unthinkable that this might lead to certain systemic diseases that persist even when avoiding lactose consumption. The main problem is that the effects are never felt immediately and can vary wildly depending on timing and the combinations with other foodstuffs consumed. This, combined with the utmost belief that dairy products are unconditionally healthy, makes it entirely plausible that someone keeps on suffering from the effects of lactase deficiency without realising it.

Obviously, I speak from experience here, I am lactase deficient myself. Whenever I go to a store, I am obliged to scan the list of ingredients of every foodstuff I plan to buy. I estimate that if I would pick any random edible item in a typical Belgian supermarket, the chance that I have to reject it due to presence of lactose, is about 70% (extreme wet-finger guess). For some reason, lactose is incorporated in the most diverse and sometimes unexpected products. I have found lactose in Bolognese sauce. Why? The city of Bologna would sue the manufacturers for daring to call this Bolognese. The reason why it is so ubiquitous is probably because it is cheap and has some interesting property when cooking in industrial quantities. Or maybe it is just garbage that they shove into everything just to get rid of it? I have no idea. The entire candy section is off-limits except for stuff that consists of pure sugar only. All the rest is chock full of milk chocolate, which is one of the worst substances a lactase deficient person can eat, because not only does it contain one of the highest percentages of lactose in all foods, it also contains a lot of sugar that further feeds the happily multiplying fermenting bacteria. I avoid going to restaurants because I have grown tired of having to explain time and again to the waiter that the cook cannot use any substance that contains any significant amount of lactose, quite often they do not even have a clue what I am talking about.

Milk consumption has become so prevalent in the culture I live in, that anyone who refuses to eat it, is instinctively regarded as a pariah. I have noticed this first-hand even from close relatives. It can come in handy: if someone bothers me and I want to avoid contact with them, I merely need to make them aware of my condition. Works like a charm most of the times (those for whom it fails are generally not the kind of closed-minded persons I want to avoid anyway). I hear it in every single discussion about lactose intolerance, on TV, on the radio, in newspaper articles. The idea that milk is essential, and one will drop dead the moment one stops consuming it, is being brainwashed into every child. There are even slogans about it that everyone knows, like: “melk, de witte motor” (milk, the white engine). The mere existence of slogans about food must mean that certain interest groups paid quite a lot to use communist-like tactics to influence the entire population. Any journalist writing for anything less than a rigorously scientific journal, and attempting to write an objective article about lactose intolerance, will still use headlines or in-between-the-line connotations that treat lactase deficient people as idiots or lepers.

Lactose might actually not be that healthy for anyone, even for those who can digest it. After all, it is difficult to digest no matter what, and excessive amounts will overwhelm any intestine's ability to produce lactase and trigger the same problems as in case of lactase deficiency. Even when the lactase enzymes do their work fine, the lactose is still decomposed into pure sugars, which as we all know, are in large amounts also unhealthy. But I digress, so let's get back to the situation for lactase deficient people inside an environment where lactose has become commonplace.

One can see the pattern growing here: although it is perfectly possible for me to survive in this environment which is, from my point-of-view, ‘polluted’ with a poisonous substance, there is a substantial cost to being lactase deficient in this environment. The cost can be made explicit: I can buy lactase supplements, which give me a limited ability to consume lactose. These pills are not cheap and only work when consumed at the exact right moment. A good option actually is to migrate to a region where lactose is not widespread, e.g. East-Asia, where the majority of people are lactase deficient. You see, this whole situation has only two outcomes that are profitable in the long run, and both result in stronger clustering of both lactose-digesting people and lactase-deficient people in their separate regions. Either the lactase-deficient ones perish due to the health problems or extra costs of staying in the region where lactose is common, or they migrate to the other region.

Acting the same is no guarantee for acting sane

Now, the catch is that the assimilation or tit-for-that principle says absolutely nothing about how well a system scores in which all the individuals act the same, only that it has a good chance (not even a guarantee) of scoring better than other systems with multiple behaviours. Or in other words, it is not because we are all acting the same that it is per definition the best behaviour overall. It may be awful and much worse than an inefficient mix of two incompatible behaviours. In our simple railroad example, if we have picked a wheelbase of twenty centimetres, trains will constantly topple over when taking curves due to their poor balance. If we have picked a wheelbase of ten metres, trains will be unpractically wide and exhibit other problems.

Although the cost of replacing an inefficient ‘standard’ can be high, in the long term it can produce enormous savings and the replacement cost will eventually be compensated for, but only if the new standard lasts long enough. Constantly switching standards is just as inefficient as trying to let multiple incompatible standards coexist simultaneously. The best way of acting is thinking twice about the optimality of something before even starting to make a first version of it, and then ensuring that everyone sticks to it. It makes more sense to keep on using something that is far from perfect but that does the job, and in the meantime carefully and patiently design something that is better, than to hastily switch to something half-baked that only solves a few problems with the current system and introduces a dozen others. Take traffic rules for instance, a great example of something where it is paramount that everyone follows the same rules. Changing these rules every few years is pretty much equivalent to teaching half the population rules different from the other half. This both counts for the general rules as for the traffic situation (e.g. signage) at a specific location.

Despite what our warm fuzzy feelings related to group behaviour want to tell us, the principle does not imply that acting the same way will cause a steady improvement for all individuals involved. It is perfectly neutral in this regard. This means it may also cause a spiral of self-destruction, which of course can be considered still being globally optimal. If a group acts in a stupid and noisome way, from within the scope of all other groups it is better for it to destroy itself as quickly as possible. Two wrongs do not make a right and seven billion wrongs certainly do not make it any more right, on the contrary. In a certain sense the tit-for-tat mechanism works as an amplifier, which makes sense from a system theoretical view, because it is based on feedback. It does not only improve the situation for groups that act in the right way, it also speeds up the self-destructive process of groups that act in a bad way. If incapable individuals cluster together and are unable to improve upon themselves and are keen to clone their stupid behaviour, then they will hasten their self-destruction. For any entity outside their group this is better than if the damaging group would keep on existing at its current level and keep on causing damage. It is better for them to ‘explode’ than to continuously ‘burn down’ everything around them. Or as some like to quote a lyric by Neil Young without apparently understanding what it really means: “it is better to burn out than to fade away”. It is not better at all for the person who burns out, but it is better for the rest. [Apply to love, social behaviour.]

Coming back to the ‘social’ example above, here is a subtle way in which mimicking someone's behaviour is counter-productive. Maybe you also have experienced this example yourself, but most likely you have never realised it was happening. Suppose someone is grumpy by nature. When that person enters a store, acting in their usual grumpy manner, the shopkeeper will quite likely reflect their first impression, and also act in a grumpy manner. More generally, everyone will mirror that person's grumpy behaviour because this simply appears to be one of the gazillion instinctive implementations of the tit-for-tat principle, there is no reasoning behind this. Seeing the typical traits of grumpiness will trigger a bunch of mental reflexes that will also make the observer act grumpy. If one thinks about this, this is rather counter-productive behaviour. The grumpy person will never learn that the others act grumpily because he appeared grumpy towards them. He will never learn that by starting out with a positive attitude, the situation can greatly improve for everyone. From his point-of-view, it simply seems as if the entire world is inherently grumpy, and being grumpy oneself is justified. Whoever wrote books like the Bible [LINK:RELIGION] must also have had this realisation, which is why you will find some stories in there that encourage to break this kind of stupid vicious circles by assuming and maintaining a positive attitude from the start, no matter what (“turn the other cheek”). Of course, this does not always work. If the other people are grumpy due to an actual pressing problem, then pretending that everything is happy and joyful will not do anything about the real problem, it could even make it worse.

A kind of ‘reasoning’ I often hear is in the lines of: “if most people in [a group] are [doing something stupid, annoying, and/or damaging], then the best strategy is doing the same.” Of course there is no actual reasoning behind this. I have never heard anyone give a reason why such behaviour would be optimal, it is always posited in a dogmatic manner. The only explanation for the belief in such statements I can think of, is greedy behaviour [LINK:GREEDY] combined with utmost social commitment, to the degree that being social through acting stupid is instinctively still preferred over being asocial through acting intelligently.

Suppose I live in a town and everyone throws their garbage on the street instead of bringing it to the nearest dumpster. According to the idea described previously, it would be advantageous for me to also throw my trash on the street. Doing that yields me zero benefit however, any results I get from it beyond the immediate short-sighted future are negative. I would only be further polluting the street I live in and make it even more cumbersome for me to walk past all that junk. It is still better for me to properly dispose of my garbage to limit pollution of my own living quarters. If everyone reasons like this, the situation is perfectly fine for everybody. If everyone reasons in the way I described first, the situation is completely awful for everybody.
Other example: I live in an apartment building and everyone else plays their stereo too loud. Unless I would really be in the mood to play my music loud at that time, I will get no benefit at all from cranking up my own stereo as well. It will only annoy me, give me more hearing damage, and prompt the others to further increase their volume. The overall situation gets worse and nobody gains anything. The only way in which runaway bad situations like these become ‘good’ is if they escalate to a point that destroys the ability of everyone to further exhibit the stupid behaviour. One obvious way in which this can happen is if the escalation kills those people, if the situation allows it. Maybe that is why this kind of behaviour has survived evolution as a kind of meta-behaviour that serves to speed up self-destruction when individuals have degenerated to a hopeless state? Compare to my explanation of “better to burn out than to fade away” elsewhere.

A generalisation of this theme is people accessing a limited shared resource. Suppose three persons A, B, and C access some resource, like a limited food supply. If A starts consuming more of the resource than he really needs, B and C will be tempted to also start wasting the resource to the same degree because they believe they will otherwise be disadvantaged. There is no real reasoning behind this, it must be a stupid instinct that stems from the time when it was difficult to reach excess anyway and taking as much as possible was likely the best option. Nowadays however, reaching excess has become much easier, making this behaviour counter-productive. The key words here are: “more than he needs”. Person A gets no advantage from wasting the resource — otherwise it would not be wasting, right? If anything, he is more disadvantaged than B and C who use the resource efficiently, because dealing with the excess waste requires additional effort, or eating too much causes health problems. Now if B also starts wasting the resource, the only net effect is more disadvantage for everyone. The resource will be used up faster and this counts for everyone, not only for A and C, but B as well. He made everyone's situation, including his own, worse to the same degree. No matter how wasteful others are, in the long term it always remains optimal to keep on only using exactly what one needs. Wasting is never optimal, because again, it would otherwise not be wasteful. From B's own perspective, there is nothing to be gained by cloning A's stupid behaviour. Globally spoken however, wasteful individuals killing themselves sooner is a win of course. For C, who has no inclination to start wasting as well, the best option if possible is to isolate himself from A and B and find and manage his own resources. If that is not possible, in the long run he will still emerge as the winner even if he just continues living efficiently and ignoring the abuse of the others. In a certain sense, this could be an interpretation of the saying: “the meek shall inherit the earth”.

Obviously, this reasoning can be extended to the whole planet, which is a limited resource when considering any fixed time interval (and even infinity). There is only so much edible stuff, energy, and habitable space that can be used per time unit. There is no point in trying to get anywhere near that limit and there is absolutely no point in trying to exceed it.
To go back to a more concrete example, take for instance an endangered species that is hunted for a certain product, like elephants for ivory or tuna for meat. The mere fact that these resources are becoming increasingly rare, drives up their price thanks to the mechanism of supply and demand. However, if at some point the resource disappears, its price will become infinite, or rather irrelevant because there is zero supply. Anyone who still profited from the scarce supply will suddenly lose all source of revenue. Therefore those who keep on hunting these endangered species are killing their own source of revenue out of a short-sighted drive for immediate profit. It makes much more sense to ensure that the supply keeps on existing. It is better to have a lower but steady and certain income, than a one-time high with nothing ever after. Mind that some are actually trying to exploit this idea by storing bluefin tuna meat in so-called ‘tuna banks’, huge freezers at -60°C. They count on the species going extinct which would make the stored meat nearly priceless — until it runs out, the freezer fails, or someone does a heist on this tuna vault, and then it is game over forever.

Even when everyone around you is doing the same thing that is provably bad, it still is not optimal for you to join in this activity when looking beyond the short-term apparent benefit of acting the same as the rest of the group. If the behaviour is bad and damaging, the group will eventually destroy itself and you do not want to be part of that. Even if stepping away is not an option, persevering in not joining will pay off in the long term even if it may hurt in the short term.
Not many will like me for saying this, but if a group is acting in a hopelessly self-destructive way and there is no tractable way out, it is actually better to encourage them to keep on going while trying to ‘sandbox’ them. This means: avoiding that they harm the people that do not want to join them, such as to contain the damage they cause. There is no need to worry about them feeling bad about it, because they won't. They'll be much happier if they are allowed to keep on doing their thing than when they would be restricted. We all have nicely evolved to feel great while acting in group, even if the act is utterly stupid.
Mind that this is exactly the inverse from what many are currently trying to do. We keep on making new rules and restrictions to prohibit people from acting in ways they would really like. It. Does. Not. Work. Prohibitions on their own do not work. All I am seeing is that those people are anxiously waiting for the slightest opportunity to break those rules in ways more exaggerated than if the rules had never existed. Eventually such opportunities will emerge and the consequences will be dire. [REF:SANDBOX] My proposal, which many will without any doubt call insane, is to try the inverse instead. Create an environment where they can indulge their noisome desires without limitations but also without damaging other people. This kind of practice is sometimes called ‘sandboxing’, as if the individuals are confined to a sandbox that is isolated from the outside world such that it does not matter whether they mess it up or not.

The hardest part is this isolation aspect, it is in fact very difficult to come up with anything that does not conjure the term ‘ghetto’ and does not have the kinds of negative properties that are associated with that concept. But suppose there would be a way to do it, then it would cause poorly behaving persons to either learn from their mistakes or remove themselves from the gene pool without causing collateral damage — a win-win. What we are doing now is exactly the opposite. We thwart any opportunity for learning by prohibiting all actions that could possibly be enlightening, and we keep these people in the gene pool and in the vicinity of others. Hence we preserve the risk that they will not only cause damage to themselves, but to those others as well. Why are we doing this? Are there any other motivations aside from: “I have this primordial desire to force every individual on this planet to be identical” [LINK:EVERYONEISLIKEME] and: “I have this warm fuzzy feeling that life is sacred and we must do anything to prevent anyone from ever dying, even those who would instantly kill themselves when not being constantly supervised in a costly way”? Yes, I am ‘crazy’ that I dare write something like this. I already know. Please do not mail me to remind me of it. Go punch a wall or a dead cow if reading this makes you angry.
The main problem is of course that it is physically impossible to implement this isolation aspect. It would require a near infinite number of environments to cater for all tiny variations on stupid behaviour that other people need to be shielded from. In practice there is no other way around it: we may only be able to make a rough approximation of this ideal situation and we will have to put people with incompatible lifestyles together, and somehow find a way to make them compatible after all. A lot of trouble can be avoided with proper education. It is much easier to create mental barriers against stupid behaviour in children while they are in the process of learning fundamental concepts, than to show adults who grew up in a skewed environment the error of their ways.

The Uncanny Edge

[REF:UNCANNY] Living organisms, especially humans, are fine-tuned to detect members of their community who appear slightly off. Figure UE1 shows a sketch of a graph that plots on the horizontal axis the degree of similarity of an observed entity to oneself. The vertical axis represents the acceptance of the observed entity as a member of one's own group. As expected, the graph goes upward initially, but perhaps unexpected is the sudden dip in the curve when it approaches perfect similarity. This dip is called the ‘uncanny edge’. The phenomenon is for instance observed in video games, or computer graphics in general (e.g. CGI renderings of humans in films). People are generally not bothered by cartoon-like renderings of humans because they regard those as abstract representations. The cartoons are treated as proxies or avatars for real humans. Their exact appearance is not important. (True, a certain religion instills an aversion against cartoon representations, but that is an entirely different matter and not relevant here.)

Uncanny Edge
Figure UE1: sketch of the ‘Uncanny Edge’ effect: a rough simulation of a human is quite easily accepted as representing a real human, until it comes very close to being indistinguishable, when it becomes easily rejected.

On the other hand, very accurate but not entirely perfect renderings of human faces, bodies, or motions, are often discomforting to look at, or we are annoyed by these virtual humans not behaving according to expected human manners. These renderings are good enough to cause us to drop the proxy indirection and consider the depictions as real humans, and this engages all our fine-tuned mechanisms for identifying subtle flaws in humans. Regarding virtual representations, it is generally at least as hard to climb up that second slope as it has been to climb up the first one, if not much harder. A concrete example: I saw someone complaining about NPCs (Non-Player Characters) in the video game ‘Skyrim’ not reacting at all when placing buckets over their heads. Yet nobody had complained about the NPCs in much older games looking like a highly stylised representation of a person by means of a rough pixelated sprite or a few polygons. People simply accepted that those rough representations were avatars of humans.

The origin of this phenomenon is obvious: humans are highly sensitive to any indications that an individual might carry a disease or have bad intentions, and we exhibit an instinctive repulsion towards individuals exhibiting such indications. Therefore we regard the almost-but-not-quite perfect renderings as suspicious, because unlike the cartoons they do look very similar to real humans, but something is off about them. In the real physical world, when we see a human that is slightly off such as to end up in that valley of the uncanny edge, we will reject them as a member of our group. The decision to do so has often already been made in the first few hundred milliseconds when we saw the individual for the first time. This is all connected to instinctive behaviour [LINK:SMALLTOWN] that makes us avoid contracting diseases and stay away from individuals that might have a condition that makes them dangerous in any other way. Mind you, this instinctive behaviour makes perfect sense and it would be tremendously stupid to try to disable it, although it would make a lot more sense to apply extra verification to it. The instinctive repulsion must not be the final decision, but a first alarm that leads to further investigation.

Uncanny-Edge-based Clustering of Partners

[REF:SIMILARPARTNERS] It should by now be obvious that this is not necessarily a feel-good text. Whether it will make you feel good will depend entirely on how you approach it yourself. Therefore if you are still reading at this point, you probably will not mind getting another possibly depressing example of how things often work out in life, how this automatically leads to clustering of similar individuals, and why this means that the situation of disadvantaged individuals has a high risk of only getting worse unless they are aware of this risk and actively counteract it.

Suppose person A has a certain quite rare disease that is externally observable, in other words person A appears different from the rest. It will be problematic for this person to find a partner, because the disease will trigger the uncanny edge phenomenon in others. Their instincts cause them to avoid catching the disease if it is contagious, or having offspring with the same disease if it is genetic. Unless of course, there is some person B who has the same disease. Then this person has nothing to lose by joining individual A who shows the same symptoms. The genetic aspect still remains, but chances are that if persons A and B have learnt to live with the inconveniences of their mutual disease, they will assume to be able to educate their offspring to overcome them as well. The mutual disease makes those people similar enough that from within their perspective, they end up at the far end of the similarity curve in figure UE1 where it goes upward again.

There are even extra stimulants that will bring such potential partners together, for instance people with specific problems will often join self-help groups or join activities that are especially compatible with the shortcomings or help to reduce them. Therefore there is an increased likelihood that such people will meet. And last but not least, all our social instincts are geared towards finding people who are similar to us. A human who knows to be different will have a tendency to shy away from the ‘normal’ rest, further increasing the isolation aspect. If this person then discovers other individuals who are more similar, there will be a strong drive to cluster together with them. There are quite a few advantages to living with someone who has the same health issues. For instance in case of intolerance towards certain foods, buying quantities of harder-to-find foods for two persons is more efficient than for one, and there is a lower risk of being exposed to the non-tolerated foods.

In short, what I am saying here is that when living life the obvious way, there is a high risk that hereditary diseases or genetic conditions in individuals will be maintained or even amplified over multiple generations. Generally this means these individuals will disappear faster than if they would pick partners randomly, unless the condition proves to be an advantage. One could consciously try to find a way out of this, through awareness of these ‘clustering’ mechanisms. This requires the will to work against both these mechanisms and the overwhelming social instincts. Plus, one should consider the risk that genetically mixing with a partner who has very different traits, may lead to unpredictable results that may be much worse than going for the safe path of choosing a more similar partner with known issues. In the end, trying to fight this mechanism that to some may appear similar to the concept of ‘fate’, may only make one's overall situation worse. Accepting it may lead to a much happier, albeit perhaps shorter life. But then again, in the very long run nobody's life leads anywhere anyway.

If you do not believe in the phenomenon of the ‘uncanny edge,’ you could do a little experiment. Obviously, from a social standpoint this is a highly risky experiment and you would be doing it entirely at your own peril. Either go to an experienced make-up artist or learn how to apply make-up yourself. You goal is to make yourself look subtly ill in a realistic way, without actually being ill. Make your skin a little paler, add subtle dark circles to your eyes and some spots here and there. Do not overdo it. Do this for a few weeks non-stop: every morning, before you meet anybody, apply your layer of fake illness. If you combine this with other behaviour that is slightly off, like talking less, taking a bit longer to respond to questions, appearing confused, … then the effect will be maximal. You will notice that everyone around you will start acting strange towards you, total strangers as well as people close to you. The most sensible thing for the others to do in such case would be to notify you that you do not look healthy. Practically nobody will do that however, because nobody will even realise that certain instincts are triggered that detect your apparent illness. When it comes to instincts, the way in which they work exactly is irrelevant, only their end result is [LINK:EMOTIONS]. These persons will only receive subconscious triggers that you appear ill, and instinctively do all kinds of things to get away from you. They will become unfriendly, and you may start noticing that in some situations you keep on being treated like dirt even if you do the utmost correct things possible. There is no point in asking them why they act that way, because they do not know the reason themselves, it operates at way too low a level. What you will experience is their built-in collection of instincts that helped humanity get through epidemics like the plague, by avoiding individuals that show first symptoms. Those who did not have these built-in repulsions kept on hanging around the diseased, caught the disease themselves, and died. Simple evolution.

Windows

Now for something completely different, or maybe not. What happens when extreme clustering and assimilation occurs in a realm totally different from organic life, for instance the software world? Let's look at an example called Windows. Through aggressive and clever marketing, and probably also quite a bit of sheer luck, Microsoft managed to make their computer operating system a de facto standard. Yet, many an IT professional, especially if they have experience with more operating systems than Windows alone, will tell you that it is a product full of flaws and disadvantages, and for many tasks where Windows is currently deployed, there are technically much better suited alternatives. Even home users complain about how bad it is, but they don't dare to choose an alternative, often they are not even aware of the existence of alternatives.

How Windows can have gained and sustained its market dominance for so long, is the result of many factors. Most of them have nothing to do with software or inherent quality, but with human behaviour. For instance, the mere fact that Microsoft managed to be the first to make their product so widespread, gave them the typical massive advantage of first-to-market. Once they were in this position, there was no need to offer perfect products because consumers were locked in a frame-of-reference where the inferior product was the only known one. Through aggressive strategies, Microsoft destroyed any competitors that could show how much better a product could be. When some company announced a new product, Microsoft quickly hacked something together with similar functionality (and a plethora of bugs) to convince their existing customer base that they did not need to move to another company for that kind of product. Or they just bought the company and killed it. But I digress.

As far as the example I wanted to showcase is concerned, the most interesting fact about Windows is exactly its popularity and ubiquitousness — especially when combined with the observation that as an operating system, it has over the course of decades been plagued by a ridiculous number of viruses and exploits, some of which very severe. Its mere popularity has made it very lucrative to exploit its weaknesses in order to steal user data, install bot-nets, spam users with ads or try to install spy-ware, and whatnot. The result is that the current versions of Windows are necessarily bloated constructs with multiple layers of very annoying protection mechanisms that hamper productivity and performance, in order to keep the thing usable at all while still maintaining some compatibility with programs from the time before the fixes were applied. In some cases these mechanisms will even break Windows itself, a bit like an autoimmune disease. Only because finally some competition has emerged in the last few decades, security in Windows is currently taken much more seriously, as evidenced by the incessant flow of new ‘Windows Updates’ every few weeks.

Especially in the past, the less popular operating systems like Linux and Mac OS had much fewer exploits which are most often fixed preemptively, before a practical implementation emerges. One reason is that some effort has been spent in making these systems less easy to exploit by design, unlike Windows which has grown as a patchwork of legacy junk that kept on being piled up to keep existing customers happy (there is even a concept of ‘bug-compatible’ in Windows). But at least as important is the fact that these other systems have a much smaller market share, making it much less profitable to write an exploit. Even if it would have been the other way round and Windows would have been properly designed from the start to be secure while the other systems would be insecure kludges, then still Windows would be the prime target for all kinds of exploits thanks to its mere market share. Even if the system itself would be unbreakable, it would still be the prime development platform for ‘social engineering’ exploits. Those are the kind of exploits where the human user becomes the weakest link, and is tricked into revealing profitable information. If a crook has to choose between a system with 90% market share and two systems with 5% market share each, they will pick the first one even if it will require more effort to write an exploit for it. The return on investment will be much larger. This explains that even today, when Windows has a much better security track record, it still is the platform of choice for exploits, due to its still dominant market share.

In a nutshell, this story illustrates how there is a limit to the degree in which converging on a single standard brings benefits. At some point the assimilation starts to become a disadvantage, a vulnerability, and when taken to the extreme it becomes a downright threat. This is as true for biology and society, as it is for software.

Conclusion

Mind that even though this whole section could make it seem as if assimilation and clustering are the ultimate paths to follow for any entity, they are not, not by a far stretch. As I have mentioned already, this principle only holds if certain boundary conditions are met. The most important boundary condition is a meta-boundary condition: the conditions must be identical for all individuals involved. And even then the principle does not guarantee ultimate bliss. All the individuals who have converged to be completely identical will also exhibit the same flaws and weaknesses. A single external attack that targets such weakness or flaw has a high risk of wiping out the entire population. Take the honeybees for instance: at the time of this writing their numbers are dwindling and there are major concerns about possible extinction. The cause, although still uncertain at this point, will most likely prove to be a single environmental parameter that has changed (like the introduction of yet another pesticide that was poorly tested). That is the price to pay for evolving towards a species that is entirely based on extreme assimilation. Having diversity within a population makes it robust against threats like these. The individuals that are immune against some external attack can shield the vulnerable individuals, such that they can do the same if there is another attack that targets the others but not them. The optimal strategy is a fine line between striving for both assimilation and diversity.


TODO, NOTES TO MYSELF:
Try to structure the rest of the text such that it makes sense. Everything can be grouped under a limited set of topics. Or give up and just dump the junk below as-is with a big disclaimer.
I should start by explaining core stuff like Occam's razor, entropy, tit-for-tat, cellular automata, neural networks. Then use this to explain human behaviour, self-fulfilling prophecy, emotions etc.
Actually, there is a pretty good chance that I'll have to perform my usual routine of reversing pretty much the entire flow of the text. It is starting to look as I am constantly digging deeper into root causes of things I already wrote about without having a perfect explanation. For instance, the whole aliasing stuff could be better explained by starting from the few hard-coded mechanisms that are prevalent in human thinking.

It seems pretty hopeless to really turn this into a text that will not suffer from the PA phenomenon for every possible reader. To do that, I would need to bundle a few courses on physics, thermodynamics and maths into this. I should point people to ‘required reading’ instead.

Take care to avoid formulations with ‘you’. When the text ever gets finished, go through it again with the mindset of someone who has never read it, and look for anything that appears to attack the reader too directly and reformulate it with ‘(some)one’, ‘people’, etc. This should reduce the risk of stupid mails from people who feel personally attacked and ignore the red text.

Try to balance out the negative stuff with something positive. It is true that a lot of our primitive behaviour is prone to go horribly wrong, but it also works a lot of the time. Life is what you make it and if you expect it to suck, it is almost guaranteed to suck. If you expect it to be great, it will not automatically become great, but it is a very good starting point anyhow. To make it great you need to work to make and keep it great. The whole idea of this text is to make people stop fighting their own nature and stop blindly pursuing technology that is often useless, and try to make the right fusion of both.

Make sure each section ends with a clear conclusion.

Replace in-line hyperlinks to external pages with citations (link in citation).

Idea: port this to LaTeX instead. It is easy to generate HTML from it anyway. This thing has grown way beyond something that fits in a practical webpage.

Grammar blah: this text is written in British English just because I usually use it for writing. Apparently in BE it is allowed to place the comma both inside or outside the quotes in constructions like “quoted,” but in U.S.E. only inside, so do it inside, idem for periods & QMs.

HERE COMES THE UNSTRUCTURED STUFF:

Most of what follows is devoid of any decent formatting. There will be sudden topic changes without a title or introduction (generally marked with “*”). If you are a brave person who dares to read through this text in its embryonic stage, be aware that some of the most essential things I want to explain are still missing. I do have a bad tendency to write in a kind of reverse manner where I start with conclusions and work my way to the all-important intro. You may be better off just jumping around randomly in the text.

Old idea: Suggested structure:
1. Theory: Occam, entropy, tit-for-tat, optimisation, evolution, information theory. Also explain some very basic things like linear vs. exponential.
2. Practice: debunk common misconceptions or “dogmas”.
New idea: this will probably be inevitably messy. I think it is hopeless to fit it in a single neat structure, it will be more like a web of thoughts with many loose connections between them. Yet, every time I go over this heap of junk, I see more general concepts under which I can group a lot of the previously disjunct ideas, so maybe it will crystallise to something clean after all.

Debunk (reorder: try to put the most essential things first):

- “Look, I was right”: the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy. An awful lot of human behaviour can be explained through the SFP, most often people for instance mistake arrogance for intelligence. Taken to the extreme, consciousness is an SFP. “Je pense, donc je suis.” If anyone wants to make an artificial consciousness, what are you waiting for? The recipe has been known for at least 375 years. My prediction: someone, and it will not necessarily be a big powerful corporation but it may well be a hobbyist, will make an ‘artificial consciousness’ before the year 2020. This ‘AC’, even if dumb as a brick, will seem awkwardly human and will be confused with a true Artificial Intelligence. The core requirements to make the machine act human-like will be disappointingly simple even though the first working prototype may be much more complicated than strictly necessary (especially if the big corporation wins the race). It will be a good reality check but many will reject it in a similar way as when Darwin announced his theory of evolution, because it will break quite a bit of the magic that people associate with life and consciousness. Most of all, accepting the existence of this entity will only be possible when putting aside one's ego, which is something quite a lot of people simply will never be able to.
Stress that a SFP only maintains itself through continuous sustenance of its mechanism. As soon as the driving force behind it disappears, the artificial situation it has created will most likely also collapse unless it was feasible after all.
- “Humans generally act logically and intelligently.” The typical human thought process vs. real problem solving. [VERY IMPORTANT. PUT THIS IN FRONT.]
- It really matters if we are made by a ‘God,’ we should care about our potential creator. No we do not, we should care about ourselves in the first place instead of trying to pass the buck to some entity that may or may not exist.
- “Nature will punish us.” [NONATURE]
- “Technology will save us.”
- “Love is a mystery that cannot be explained.” Of course it can be explained. The real question is, does it need to be explained?
- “Everyone is like me or should be like me.” It even extends to other species, look at how people expect their pets to behave! Quite often, when people accuse others of having some negative property, it mostly means they have that property themselves (aliasing, projection). After all, they live in their own little world and they know that property so well because they have it themselves, and they assume that everyone else has it as well. Even if the others do not have the behaviour at all, they will still believe to recognise it because they project everything they observe into an assumed reality where everyone does have the behaviour.
- “I am ‘better’ than you.” [ARROGANCE] Pit against “everyone is the same”! Fight fight fight! And of course, couples with children will exhibit “arrogance by proxy”: they project this onto their offspring: “my child is better than yours.”
- “Emotions are useless and must be eliminated.” What are emotions really and why do they exist? People's emotional fight against emotions. Some emotions are damaging, some useless, some useful, and some essential.
- “Everything stays the same.” No, “Παντα Ρει”. Connect with rote learning and why a lot of current education is crap: giving children the impression that the world is a static pile of fixed facts puts them in a disadvantaged situation. On the other hand, artificially striving for change is utterly stupid as well.
- “Newer is always better.” This seems to be yet another hard-coded instinct, a relic from our tribal days where anything old was likely to be inedible, infected, or worn out, and seeking the newest was generally the best strategy. Illustrate with square wheels [LINK:SQUAREWHEELS] and how awesome it was when I watched that MythBusters episode that illustrated exactly what I had been thinking about for years.
- “Life is ever getting better.” Due to the way humans fathom their situation, it is perfectly possible that life is steadily deteriorating in certain essential aspects without the ‘mainstream’ noticing it, because if everyone starts doing the same bad stuff together, it will still seem normal and acceptable.
- “There is always more, and more is always better.”
- “Happiness is universal and the same things will make people happy across the entire world and across any time period.” Explain happiness from an evolutionary and physiological point of view, why it is relative, and why fanatically pursuing it will likely end you up in a very unhappy situation. Interesting to mention: Angela Palmer visiting towns with the most polluted and purest air in April 2007. Contrary to what a Westerner would expect, the people in the horribly polluted Chinese town were much happier than the inhabitants of the spiffy clean Tasmanian town. Why are the people in the former town much happier? What is the point of living longer if it is a dreadful life where you are not really living because your environment is near-sterile and you're being choked by all kinds of restrictions?
- “There is such thing as a free lunch.” [REF:FREELUNCH] Only idiots believe in the concept of “free” as in “gratis”. Concrete example [TODO: ELABORATE]: e-mail → spam etc. Discount cards in supermarkets: how do they work, what happens when you exploit the knowledge of how they work. The only reason why things like promotions and Groupon can keep on existing, is because the rest of the world is inefficient. If someone can get something for ‘free’, then someone else (or the same person at another time) must have paid too much, or will pay too much. Hidden costs: continuously checking promotions (time is money), driving farther to get cheaper gas or a marginally cheaper product: costs of extra mileage and time are ignored (there's an XKCD comic about this). Participating in a free contest: there may be some serious risks involved that are ignored by the organisers, the participants, or both. Generalised: people have a strong tendency to ignore hidden costs. This is wrong, everything has a cost. There is no such thing as “free” or “gratis”. Those who do believe so are idiots, and those who want to stimulate this idea in other people are either parasites or even bigger idiots. Other example: you get a 20% discount coupon on some product you do not need. If you buy the product, it may seem you have won 20% of the product's retail price. In reality however, you have lost 80% of its retail price by buying something you will never use. You would have been better off not buying it at all. Worse, getting rid of the product could incur additional costs. You could re-sell it, but there are many conditions that must be satisfied to make any profit from this, which will in general not be the case for the average consumer. Even if monetary profit can be gained, it would still need to compensate for time wasted, which is of course difficult to quantify. This can be generalised beyond plain consumption and towards humanity in general: if we as a species try to grab all the ‘freebies’ we can get our hands on without thinking about the repercussions, we may at some point need to pay the price for getting rid of all the useless junk we have collected over time. If I were a politician, I would downright outlaw the whole concept of ‘gratis’. No more stupid reduction coupons or customer cards. You fucking pay what something is worth, period. I am certain the economy would be a lot more stable this way.
- “An ultimate economical model exists that will always work perfectly.”
- Generalised: “An ultimate model of reality exists that explains everything.”
- “(Wo)men are ‘better’ than (wo)men” → recycle from old text, but reduce this! Way too much blahblah in old version.
- “Immortality is cool.” No, it sucks like hell.

3. Conclusion

[TEMPORARY]: Quick thought dump: stuff which I am still unsure of in what section it belongs best, or stuff I quickly jot down before my volatile memory is overwritten by merely opening this file and accidentally reading something.

* TODO: recycle the ‘overreacting’ part of the old text. Mention that the people who die due to others ignoring obvious impending problems, are in a certain way ‘martyrs’ for the stupidity of others.
* [Probably fits best with entropy] For dt→infinity, Παντα Ρει (Everything Changes). For dt→0, nothing changes. Or in words: when considering a sufficiently long time span, everything will change. When considering a sufficiently short time span, nothing changes. Many mistakenly assume that nothing will ever change. It was one of the most hard-coded assumptions I had as a child. Boy, was I wrong. You can avoid doing many useless things in life if you embrace Παντα Ρει. On the other hand, there is no point in enforcing it.
* [This could be a conclusion for the ARROGANCE section.] Emphasise that the behaviour of the vast majority of humans (if I would need to make a horribly inaccurate wet-finger guess, I would say: 90%) is not steered by logic or the desire to “do the right thing.” It is much simpler than that: the main drive is to reach whatever goal currently imposed by some basal instinct. The set of instincts is limited and the most common one is: “I must convince everyone, and especially myself, that I am the best in everything and I am always right.” Or to use Freud's terminology, an unstoppable drive to uphold one's own Ego. Many of Freud's ideas were dodgy but he was right about this one. When arguing with someone, the actual topic of the discussion is often of no real importance. During the average discussion, people will only use their intellect to derail the discussion towards: “I must be right and I must therefore have the last word in this discussion and I will bend reality if necessary.” If you notice this is happening, it is best to just play along or abort the conversation and let the person bask in their illusion of superiority. Eventually they will hit the hard wall of reality all by themselves, and learn more than anyone could teach them through a million words. This kind of arrogance is a primitive and stupid instinct, and is a massive roadblock for humanity to evolve to a higher level. Concise and clear summary to add to ARROGANCE section etc: people create an illusion (for both themselves and others) of being intelligent by constructing a small narrow-minded frame-of-reference that they are able to grasp with their limited capabilities, and then folding back everything they observe into this small FOR. Anything that cannot be mapped into it and that risks shattering the illusion, is ignored, or mapped to emotions like ‘crazy’ or ‘stupid’, and avoided like the plague.
* Link between aliasing and arrogance [LINK:ARROGANCE]: aliasing can make dumb ideas look smart, for instance the discovery of bacteria and other micro-organisms caused people to attack them indiscriminately, thinking that they only caused diseases. Obviously, getting rid of bacteria became essential as surgery evolved in the few past centuries: the whole point of our skin and other organs that form a barrier between the outside world and our internal organs, is to form a shield (see also the explanation about life vs. entropy). Surgery breaks this shield, therefore surgery can only be safe if it temporarily provides a sterile barrier against the contaminants that would be blocked by a healthy body's defence mechanisms. For some reason though, people started believing that it would be smart to apply the same kind of sterilisation protocols as for surgery, to their entire lives. However, after a while it became apparent that many micro-organisms are essential to the correct functioning of larger living organisms like humans. The additional insight that washing oneself multiple times per day and in the process using tons of chemical products is massively wasteful, has yet to dawn upon humanity it seems. Within the small FOR where micro-organisms are some unknown evil, attacking them seems smart. Within the larger FOR where their role in the process of life is known, attacking them indiscriminately is dumb, possibly dumber than the situation where people did not know about their existence and unknowingly only relied on natural mechanisms to deal with hostile micro-organisms. This is a general theme in human reasoning: it is often much better to know nothing and let existing mechanisms do their job, than to know just a little and take arrogant decisions based on naïve incomplete knowledge. Of course, knowing everything is better than either of these two situations, but it can take an awful lot of time to reach that state, or maybe it is unattainable. Ordered from least to most likely to do something awfully stupid and dangerous: 1. an all-knowing genius, 2. an animal with only instincts, 3. someone arrogant with incomplete or incorrect knowledge. And the gap between 2 and 3 is likely to be much wider than the one between 1 and 2.
* Aliasing: the most obvious problem is that even those who know this mechanism, are still subject to it. It takes a considerable change in mentality to reduce the risk of stepping into one of the many aliasing pitfalls. The risk can never be entirely eliminated because that would require infinite knowledge. The solution is to become aware of the inevitable limitations and to learn to model uncertainty, instead of always trying to map everything to something known.
* It is time that humanity sees for a second time that we are not the centre of the universe: this time not in a locational sense but in the sense of importance. Do we have the right to start tampering with our environment in possibly disastrous ways, mostly only in attempts to revel in exploiting some reward mechanism that was generated by evolution? Well, since there is nobody or nothing to whom we are accountable except ourselves, the question of ‘right’ is mostly irrelevant. But that does not mean it is not stupid to gamble with our own future. If one thinks about it, pouring enormous amounts of energy and time into researching ways to eat and enjoy food without actually getting nutrients from it is not only perverted, but also incredibly stupid and a sure way to get “our asses kicked by evolution”. Of course that is is just a figure of speech, as there is no such thing as an ‘ass-kicking evolution monster’, just as there is no such thing as a delineated entity ‘Nature’ [LINK:NONATURE]. In practice it means we are wasting resources on completely irrelevant things, resources that could prove necessary for survival in the future. Boy, I would be pissed if I'd find out that the single specific bridge to cross the lethal gap between total extinction and millions of years of further existence has been burnt long ago just by making some kind of snack or fruit taste and look better, or letting people fuck each other indefinitely without risking actual procreation.
* “Democracy doesn't work, but the alternatives are worse.” Why not update the system of democracy to force all political parties to always work together? In my opinion, a big problem with the current system is that most or all of the power is handed to a single group of one or only a few parties who won the elections, each with a narrow opinion of reality. This opens opportunities for them to do stupid and damaging things, that can only be repaired when the public punishes those parties by voting for others during the next elections. Then the other parties have to clean up the mess of their predecessors. This is an endless loop of wasting time and resources. In the updated system, all parties should always be part of the government, eliminating the whole ‘opposition’ concept. Voting would in the first place determine what persons inside each party are elected. It could affect the party's influence in government matters, but there must be a cap on this: even if nobody votes for a certain party, it should still be represented and be able to exert some influence. This might avoid that one single group of people with one single-minded idea causes damage that must be repaired by the next elected group. A single person, no matter how intelligent, cannot handle the complexity of running an entire country consisting of groups of people with very diverging needs. Unfortunately creating a party of like-minded people does almost nothing to remedy this. The people in that party cluster together exactly because they have similar mindsets, hence are likely to make the same mistakes too. Worse, by locking themselves in a group of persons with similar frames-of-reference, they will strengthen the impression that their own frame-of-reference is flawless, and they have even less of an incentive to break out of it. The only way around this is to force cooperation between people that would normally never do so. It will be harder to get things done and taking decisions will take longer, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Everyone will be forced to focus on the things that really matter, instead of chasing pipe dreams inspired by stupid ideals.
* [EXTREMELY IMPORTANT. TODO: where does this belong? Probably in ASSIMILATION] The instinct to maintain one's ego is one of the prime driving forces for people to cluster together into groups of similar individuals. Joining a diverse group of individuals with varying skills will make it difficult or impossible to upkeep the illusion of being the best in everything, because many of the others will have skills that exceed one's own. The optimal way to minimise the risk of getting a dent in one's own ego, is to group together with those who are similar in as many aspects as possible. This also explains why those who want to preserve their self-image of being intelligent, often like to watch inanely stupid TV shows featuring truly dumb people. This is also nothing else than an ego booster: pretending that the rest of the world is stupid, makes oneself look more clever. (The funny thing is that exposing oneself to such crap all the time might have a risk of eventually adopting some of the observed behaviour.) This implies that arrogance is a nice breeding ground for extremism. If people are allowed to cluster together in an unbounded fashion, the cycle of boosting one's ego by seeking like-minded people and rejecting anyone with deviating thoughts, will result in amplification of extremist ideas. Eventually the group will crystallise into a small set of people who agree on the same extreme ideas. The smaller someone's frame-of-reference becomes due to being locked inside a small narrow-minded group, the higher the risk that they will start developing crazy and dangerous ideas about anything that falls outside that frame-of-reference. The only true remedy against extremism is an open mind, a healthy dose of humility, and always being open to communication without prejudices. An arrogant and aggressive ego stands in the way of all those things.
* Related: comment on the tendency in people for what could be dubbed ‘temporalism,’ the time-related equivalent of nationalism, where everything that is recent or expected in the near future is considered good and everything older is indiscriminately scoffed at. Example: remastering old TV shows or movies and erasing or adding objects (e.g. the pistols in ‘E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial’), replacing original hand-made effects with CGI, and not even giving the option to see the original version, because the current version is supposedly ‘better’. Or remasters of music where the original dynamic range is irreversibly destroyed for the sake of making it sound louder without having to crank the volume control. What if I specifically want to watch that old show or listen to that old album to know exactly what it looked or sounded like when it was made? Then I am simply screwed. This is of course another phenomenon related to [ASSIMILATION], but then time-specific. The whole vapid concept of ‘modern’ is nothing more than a reflection of our ape-like nature. We are pre-programmed to only look at a narrow time span because we are frankly too stupid to consider a wider span, but at the same time we are too arrogant to admit this, therefore we turn reality inside-out and make it seem stupid to consider the wider scope by scoffing at anything old. The concept of ‘modern’, like many of our other high-level concepts [LINK:NONATURE,NOECONOMY], is meaningless when regarded in a broader light than the narrow frame of human experience. The whole idea of changing things because they are no longer ‘modern’ is in practice often nothing but a waste of energy. I am certain that given enough time, this kind of temporal Nazi behaviour will slowly fade away for the most part, because it is inefficient. [LINK:SQUAREWHEELS]
* Nature: other reason why nature seems to be ‘un-trendy’ nowadays: the general mechanism of people to alias their universe into the simplistic world they know. High-tech is the current trend (cf. sci-fi abundance) and therefore people are losing biological know-how. When they are confronted with it, the usual evasive manoeuvres of considering it uncool and obsolete are being engaged. Which, of course, makes no sense at all from a rational point-of-view, but this will only become obvious to the general public after the next big disaster, which will probably trigger another period of ecology hype as in the early 1970's. Then the hype will fade away and we will again start acting more stupid. Lather, rinse, repeat.
* Automation: the reason why people have a built-in urge to remain busy, is because remaining busy used to be essential to stay alive. The less forgiving an environment is where an ethnic group has evolved, the higher the innate urge in this group to stay busy — there are scientific studies that support this idea. Now that we have removed a large part of the threats mankind used to combat on a daily basis, and delegated many processes to machines instead of performing them ourselves, the need to remain busy has also been reduced. Yet, because a lot of this behaviour is hard-coded [LINK:DNA], not only do we still have the unconditional urge to remain busy, our bodies even demand the physical exercise to stay in shape. Therefore people spend hours on fitness and sports (which is not that bad), and keep on changing things just for the sake of change (which is bad). Either this kind of behaviour will need to go, or we need to cut down on the degree of automation, because the current situation is seriously inefficient. In the end, the situation where we have automated everything seems the most pointless because we will have removed the last modicum of purpose to our lives.
* Why do things like sports, arts, and entertainment (in general, ‘culture’) exist? Some seem to consider them a waste of time. I have a firm belief they are useful, but they should never get precedence. They are good for when there is nothing pressing to do, and if they do not incur unreasonable costs. An advanced civilisation performs cultural activities because it has solved its more basal needs to such a degree that there is time to spare. It is not the other way round: one will not make a civilisation more advanced by enforcing culture on its population — just look at how many colonisation attempts have failed. When there really is no more problem to be solved nor to be foreseen, it is better to idle around in a constructive fashion, than to pretend there is still a problem or dabble in baseless speculation about one out of a billion things that might go wrong. Playing a game, creating or looking at art, reading a book, watching a movie, … will only use a small amount of energy. These acts cause little pollution and have little risk of far-reaching consequences. They do provide training, inspiration, or education to maintain mental and physical fitness, that could help in better tackling actual problems when they arise. This is much better than pretending sports and arts are a waste of time, and dogmatically keeping on tearing down and rebuilding everything, or doing anything else that wastes resources, out of sheer boredom or the assumption or illusion that there is always some acute problem. Imagining that there is a problem and acting like it, risks spawning exactly that problem or other problems out of nothing [LINK:SFP], while they would never have originated when doing something else. If the problem would never have originated on its own, the attempt to ‘solve’ it only made things worse. Do not try to fix what is not broken. Of course, on the flip-side there is also a point where spending resources on non-essential activities becomes disadvantageous, for instance spending a considerable fraction of one's income on a sports car that can only be put to use in a very limited number of places and times, or spending a large share of a country's GDP on a prestigious sports event, may not be the most productive moves to make.
* Readers of this text might suggest that I hang out with the wrong kind of people, that I have such unflattering opinion of humanity, and that I get such an urge to spit endless amounts of bile in this text. They might suggest to drop my current circle of friends and acquaintances and look for people that do not stress me out. The point is, I have tried this, but eventually I always see the same characteristics resurface, no matter how promising the person seemed at first glance.
* Cool reference: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/04/language-and-bias/ → hey, I'm writing this very text in a language different from my mother-tongue! Another illustration why it would be disastrous if the whole world would degenerate to a single monoculture with a single language. Having multiple cultures with multiple languages provides a diversity that allows the whole to be more robust against unforeseen circumstances. If everyone would speak the same language, it would be much harder to reason in an unbiased way or for different groups to validate the others.
* [could fit with INFANTILE] I wonder why it has become commonplace in the Western world to let children grow up in a dream world where everything is happy and fake and perfect, and extremely polarised between good and evil. Children are completely shielded from anything that is believed to be bad. Anything remotely dirty is hidden behind a well-polished beautiful façade, both literally and figuratively. This is a very crappy model of reality, in fact it does not look anything like it. When those children grow up, they must either go through many painful phases where this dream world is shattered and crushed, or they will frantically cling on to this beautiful lie. In the first case they risk ending up as overly cynical people who will reject anything that looks beautiful, out of fear that it will also turn out a lie that becomes painfully shattered like their childhood dreams. In the latter case, they will not only be prone to many kinds of abuse by those who exploit their infantile belief, they are also likely to cause damage to their environment by attempting to transform it into their impossible utopian view of the world. If I would have kids, I am seriously inclined to cut the crap and make them grow up in reality from the start. I am certain this will make them happier in the long run. I seriously wonder what would have happened to me if I would be able to send this very text back in time to my 12-year old self, instead of having needed dozens of years to figure all its conclusions through countless disillusions and phases of trial-and-error. I am almost certain I would have ended up much happier at this age than I am now.
* ‘Bending reality’: e.g. if it snows, throw massive amounts of energy and chemicals against it to allow people to keep on executing their clockwork life that is justified by nothing else than the assumption that we must live a clockwork life. The most staggering example of this are proposals to use a single common time zone for an entire large continent (e.g. the Russian federation) or even the entire planet. This makes no sense unless we completely decouple our daily rhythms from our timekeeping, but that is not going to happen anytime soon (see also my time zone discussion). It makes us feel smart: “look how we can manipulate reality!” But it is exceedingly dumb. The correct reaction is to adjust and adapt to the situation, not to waste resources to stick to a way of working that stems from dogmatic assumptions that do not hold at all under the changed circumstances.
* The practice to destroy all food that might have a tiny remote chance of being contaminated with some bacteria is outrageous and unacceptable. Any analysis that is not skewed by a mysophobia-induced fear and an unconditional striving to keep every individual alive at any cost, will prove that destroying all this food is an economical travesty. It is also utterly contradictory and incompatible with the incessant craving for population growth. At some point we will not be able to afford destroying a single unit of food, unless we can keep the population limited.
* High heels flashback to the old text: at last, a good explanation. Another nice example of how something practical can turn into something useless and even bothersome when it becomes detached from its original context.
* All the ‘virtual’ concepts like nature, economy, social, career, mainstream, etc. belong to the same category, could group [NONATURE,NOECONOMY] etc. in one section that is tightly linked with #alias-float. All these concepts are ‘post-hoc’, they are models made after the facts of something we observed. It is fundamentally wrong to turn these post-hoc observations into pre-hoc goals. For instance, your career should be a logical consequence of how you act, instead of tuning your actions to construct some predefined speculated career.
* People who get angry at others that are supposedly dumber than themselves, may not be that intelligent themselves. If they would really be intelligent, they should have been able to figure out that maybe the other person is not truly dumb, but only appears so due to lack of reference. Or, if the person is truly dumber, getting angry and attacking will achieve nothing at all, in what way is it intelligent behaviour?
* More and easier means of communication will not necessarily connect more different groups of people together, as seems to be assumed by certain individuals (especially those who swear by concepts like political correctness). Instead, it has a high risk of strengthening groups that already existed and further widening the gap with other groups. People cluster into groups of similar individuals, and communication mostly serves to maintain and strengthen the similarity, not to reach out to different groups. Take for instance, Facebook. Everyone who uses Facebook a lot will get an impression that it is the ultimate means of communication. It will appear that the entire world is using FB, because in a similar fashion as in Plato's cave allegory, all they can see is what they see through Facebook. Eventually they cannot grasp how others refuse to join Facebook, and they will consider them pariahs, even though absolute numbers will show that only a fraction of the world's population uses FB. This can be generalised to any rigid means of communication, and any rigid set of dogmatic assumptions about the state of the world. Some people have their heads eternally stuck in their own arse and even though it stinks, they are too afraid to pull it out because it is the only place they know, and they got used to its comfort and simplicity, and they consider the smell as inevitable and forgot about the existence of fresh air.
* “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This pretty much sums up the old ‘overreact to disasters’ part of the old text.
* Short-sighted science: for instance, placebo effects: a study has shown that placebo effect works well in case of psychological problems. I have experienced the effect first-hand when I was looking for remedies to my vague health problems: every time I thought to have found the cause and the foodstuffs to avoid, I indeed felt better, but obviously this went away pretty soon after, because the real physical cause was still wreaking havoc and kept on getting worse. The latter seems to be ignored in all those studies. Only the first rush of apparent improvement is looked at, and it is irrelevant in the longer term and perhaps even backfires. I cannot imagine that someone would be able to conquer cancer, a severe infection, or a heart condition, through the mere imagining that it is being cured, although in combination with proper treatment, it certainly is better to have that kind of positive attitude than not.
* The soul: I am certain that consciousness, the ‘soul’ and anything related to it, are all virtual concepts. They exist as a consequence of processes that run on a certain physical medium. They cannot exist without that physical machinery that maintains their existence. The problem is that some believe otherwise, and therefore do not really care about that machinery. For humans, this machinery is our bodies, and our bodies require physical resources to survive. Destroy the physical resources and the body will die, and the ‘soul’ it supports dies with it. At some point in history, a machine will be made that will exhibit a ‘soul’, and it will probably not take too long before this happens. Maybe it has already happened, but nobody noticed it because of the unconditional belief that only humans can have a soul.
* I notice a steady degradation of social skills in younger generations. And it does not surprise me. The more we delegate social mechanisms to ‘social networks’ and ‘social media’, the less need there is for people to act socially by themselves. If computers all keep track of our ‘friends’ and take care of communication, why would there still be a need for skills outside that framework? Why strike up a conversation with someone, if things can be learnt more easily from the internet? Worse, people who try to act socially in the traditional meaning of the word, i.e. being friendly and readily interacting with unknown persons, have a larger risk of being exploited in some way. Even worse, they could be regarded as suspicious by people who delegated all their communication skills to machines, because the only spontaneous communication from strangers they are used to, is from spammers, scammers, and other humans or software with malicious intentions. Eventually, the naturally social persons have no other option than to raise the same kind of shield of indifference and apathy as the others. Is this a problem? Well, as long as the technology keeps on working, not really. But when it breaks down or becomes corrupted, oh boy. And at some point it probably will.
* The boundary conditions for a proof, whether it be mathematical or more general, are at least as important as the proof itself. One cannot apply a proof to a situation where the boundary conditions that were imposed for making the proof, do not hold. Yet, this is exactly what people do all the time, and then they wonder why things go wrong.
* The legal system in my country (Belgium ahoy!) is so diseased that it is pathetic. It heavily favours the side of the criminals. As a criminal, it is possible to avoid conviction by searching for any, just any flaw in the procedure of the case. For instance, if a phone tap had been used without following the correct procedure, the entire case can be dismissed even though there is other irrefutable evidence. This is complete nonsense. The correct course of action here would be to remove the dubious evidence from the case and continue. If certain evidence would be irrefutable but obtained in an illegal manner, then still it cannot be a reason to dismiss the case, or even to remove that evidence. The correct course of action here is for the convicted to start a separate lawsuit regarding the illegal activities performed to obtain the evidence, but this cannot influence the original lawsuit. On a related note, there is a story that a burglar was not convicted for a break-in, but did manage to win a lawsuit against the owners of the very house he broke into, for being wounded after slipping on a carpet or something. This makes no sense, if it is true. The burglar was trespassing at the moment he slipped, therefore every responsibility of anything happening during his trespassing was at his own peril. He cannot accuse anyone else for consequences of his own trespassing. Any legal system that decides otherwise, is defective.
* The ‘platform effect’: related to the sigmoid curve. Why is it that no matter to what level people have elevated their lives, they will keep on whining and complaining about their situation, even though when objectively comparing it to others, it is obvious that they have no reason to complain at all? It is as if those people are standing on a platform, and when the platform rises to a higher level, they only notice this improvement for a short time. Then they forget it, and only focus on the smaller differences they can observe within the platform itself. It does not seem to matter for humans in what absolute state of well-being they are. Worse, the better the situation, the larger the tendency to complain and be grumpy about things that are not supposedly perfect (cf. the Angela Palmer article about the most polluted vs. cleanest places on earth). Humans will always complain and keep on striving for improvement, even if there is nothing to improve at that time and any forced attempt at improvement will deteriorate their situation. Why is this? It is of course tied to everything else explained in this text, but mostly to the concept of ‘floating reasoning’. The problem is that our minds are too limited to have an overview of the entire universe and our absolute situation. Instead, we can only lift the ‘platform’ around which we can wrap our minds, and only observe what happens around that platform, neither below nor above it. Our ancestors have evolved inside an environment with continuous threats and a continuous need for maintenance to counteract natural decay. We are chock full of instincts that work well inside such an environment, and we have no drive nor built-in means to fathom our absolute situation, we only care about what happens in our immediate neighbourhood [LINK:SMALLTOWN]. Even though modern technology allows to see how other people live anywhere else on the entire planet, most do not care. To properly compare one's own living conditions to someone else's, one first needs to fully grasp how bad the other conditions really are, and therein exactly lies the problem. Those who have always lived in a spiffy-clean environment with few to no threats, are unable to fathom how bad the other conditions really are. When forced to look at much worse conditions, the general reaction is total ignoring and possibly disbelief, because those awful situations do not map to anything recognisable. This is just Plato's cave, only in reverse. For anyone having grown up in the rich and normal world outside the cave, it is also pretty much impossible to imagine what it must be to have grown up chained inside that cave. When people do seem to care and e.g. give money to charity, it is because they did see a few details that happened to look familiar, or by chance something aliased towards something recognisable. The instincts that previously served to function efficiently in the former demanding environment, may have been mapped to whatever irrelevant ‘first-world’ junk while growing up, therefore even those cannot provide a basis for comparison. It are those instincts though that keep on causing a drive for continuous improvement that makes no sense at all anymore in an environment that has been perfected to an unnecessarily high degree. Because the instincts cannot be fulfilled and there is no reward to be achieved by solving the unsolvable problems, people become sour and grumpy. Eventually, this boils down to the same conclusion as about perfection [LINK:PERFECTION]: the harder a living being strives to obtain perfection, the closer it comes to death.
* [There must be an appropriate paragraph to shove this in, but I cannot think of one at the moment. Probably an example of floating reasoning?] What does ‘terrorism’ really mean? A dictionary definition says: “using violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims”. However, that last part tends to be easily forgotten. The only thing news reports usually do, is to attribute a certain act of violence to “terrorism” and then show endless images of the terror itself, with barely any background of why the act was committed. Treating terrorism this way, as if its only goal is to incite terror in others, is strongly related to the concept of ‘crazy’ in that it implies giving up on trying to understand certain behaviour by merely pasting a negative label on it. Only a nut-case would want to incite terror without further motivation, and it is impossible that the world is scattered with that many nut-cases. There is a deeper motivation behind pretty much every act of terrorism. The act of inciting terror is meant to either discourage people from behaving in a certain way, or to draw attention to a certain plight. The worst motivations are a disdain for a certain way of life, and simply trying to destabilise or destroy it, but this is still a clearly defined goal. Fighting “terrorism” without looking at those motivations, is again the typical Western practice of combatting symptoms without trying to remove the cause. If instead some effort would be done to take away the root causes, the terrorist acts would stop automatically. News reports should not focus on the violence and damage, but instead try to answer the question why the act was committed, and what can be done to take away the motivations for further acts. Of course, the classic Western idea of taking away the motivations is to shoot or blow up the people with those motivations. This is symptom-fighting at its worst, it is like throwing massive amounts of antibiotics at infections, and breeding resistant strains of bacteria in the process. Take away instead the root cause of the infection, and it will go away all by itself. I think the world has until now been coping with terrorism in the worst possible manner. People are encouraging it without knowing it. The main goal of an act of terrorism is to draw attention. The more the terror is spread, the better it works. Unfortunately this works especially well in our present-day world with its abundant communication. Filming a terrorist act with a cell phone may be helpful for the authorities to pursue the assailants. Sending that movie across the world however, is actually what the terrorists expect and is in a certain sense contributing a little to the act of terrorism. Think twice before doing it. Also, think twice before watching movies that are intentionally distributed by terrorists, or even just movies made by bystanders. Watching that movie with its possibly gruesome acts, is completely giving in to what the terrorists want. It is almost like saying: “gee, what a pity I was not there when the bomb exploded and people got ripped to shreds before my eyes. Luckily I can get an impression of it through the wonders of technology!” Not watching those images, is for many people the only feasible way to fight back. Terrorism exists because people pay attention to it and let themselves be paralysed. Reduce the attention to the minimum, and the terrorism loses its effectiveness and reasons for existence.
* A classic: one can either “live to work”, or “work to live”. It should be pretty obvious from this text that I choose the latter and I have quite a strong repulsion against workaholics. Just ask yourself what makes the most sense: starting from the dogmatic assumption that you should work your ass off until you drop dead, or simply accepting the fact that no matter how hard you work, it will not make much difference anyway at the inevitable moment when you die, so why not just work sufficiently and take a break when things are good enough? Anyone who feels inclined to call people like me slackers, probably have no idea how complex it is to define things like “sufficient” and “good enough,” as opposed to the simplistic and lazy definition of “more is always better” which ultimately leads to self-destructive behaviour.
* Reality check: there's no way to put this in a subtle manner, so here goes: the mind, intelligence, and consciousness of a human being are not goals of evolution. They are a means. A means to more efficiently find a path towards goals imposed by instincts. There will always be some kind of instinct involved in the process of being alive, because in itself, life has no real goal. The goal must be contained within. Take away this instinctive goal, and the being will eventually either commit suicide or wither away.
* ‘Standing on the shoulders of giants’: anyone who gets the gist of this entire text should not find it surprising that I strongly believe in this idiom. We do live at a higher level than our predecessors, but this is not because we are so much better than those predecessors. It is mostly thanks to their efforts. Those efforts are easily forgotten, because our minds are not geared towards wrapping themselves around the entire scope of history starting from the moment where single-celled organisms originated up to now. And obviously, admitting this shortcoming would put a dent in our ego, therefore we prefer scoffing at past achievements over admiring them. It is only when something set up by those ‘giants’ suddenly fails because we completely neglected it, that it may become obvious how important it was. Quite often though, our ignorance, arrogance, or both, have reached such a level that we fail to recognise what really went wrong, and that the problem has already been solved long ago, and that we are reinventing the wheel again by making a new solution. This is obviously not a basis for successful evolution and it illustrates why this kind of unbounded arrogance needs to go. Even though political correctness wants to make us believe that everyone is equal and has the same capabilities, the reality is that humanity's progress is mostly carried by a very small group of individuals. The rest of the population outside that small group merely mimics the innovation produced by that minority. If all those innovating individuals would disappear, everything would collapse quite soon. Or to come back to the idiom, when standing on the shoulders of giants, take care not to lose your balance.
* TODO: As an illustration of al the blah-blah about how humans interact, make a plot of the timeline of two persons meeting each other and then interacting for a long time. Make a comparison between how people probably expect the timeline to look like, and what actually happens. What people probably expect, is that nothing really happens in the very first moments and that the persons will gradually in their minds build up a model of each other that becomes more correct over time. What really happens, is that most of this model is nailed down in the first few hundred milliseconds of the persons seeing each other, based on nothing but superficial traits and hard-coded assumptions (cf. the scientific study). Everything additional the persons believe to discover about each other afterwards, will be projected into this initial model. It is very difficult to rectify errors in this model because it doesn't even reside in the conscious mind, it lives deep down in the murky waters of the limbic system. The mere fact that the persons will treat each other in a way that is in line with this model, will increase the risk that both persons will eventually start exhibiting the assumed traits (see also the ‘Überfremdungseffekt’ example from the old text).

List of (largely) universal hard-coded instinct-based concepts I have so far identified in humans, that are never questioned although they really should be:

And then there are some things that work at an even lower level not easily formulated in words. For instance the drive for symbolism that serves as a catalyst for community-forming (a topic that Dan Brown likes to touch upon in his novels). This is a very nice illustration of our tribal past [LINK:SMALLTOWN].

REST OF THE RANDOM DUMP:
This is where it gets really unstructured, and again: mind that I have a bad tendency to first start writing about corollaries of something essential I want to explain, and only add the essence later. Therefore some essential parts are missing.


Arrogance and the Ego

[REF:ARROGANCE] [TODO: this is actually tied tightly to aliasing. Move and connect it.] After observing people during my entire life it has started to dawn upon me that most people's behaviour is not defined by what they are truly capable of. It is defined by what they believe to be capable of. The difference between these two things can be huge, and often there is no attempt to reduce this difference. Their course of actions is almost exclusively defined by a fixed set of what I would call ‘dogmas’. I assume some of these can be considered instincts that are truly hard-coded in our genes, others are part of education or so-called ‘second nature’. It is important to stress that these dogmas are rigid: people are not any more flexible in adjusting their dogmas than a porcelain cup is flexible against a hammer. Perhaps the most important dogma is their own self-image, or to use the classic term, their ‘ego’. Confirming this self-image receives absolute priority, regardless of whether it is dictated by instincts (very likely) or education (less likely). In the most inflexible of persons there is no hint of trying to readjust this self-image to better represent their true abilities: their porcelain cup will either bounce or break when struck with anything that contradicts the self-image. The discrepancy with their true abilities can sometimes be immense. Often, the self-image will be at the same time a gross overestimation and oversimplification.

It is hard to sufficiently stress how important this concept is. I rarely see any evidence of people realising this potentially huge discrepancy between their own or other person's true natures and apparent natures. Any attempt to make them aware of it is greeted with a storm of self-defence mechanisms. It is also hard to sufficiently stress that the ability to detect this discrepancy in an individual is not only absent in external observers but also, and especially, in the individual itself. The first rule of arrogance is: don't talk about arrogance. (This reference to ‘Fight Club’ is not just a pun. It is arguably the whole point of the book or movie.) The external observers are more likely to detect the discrepancy than the individual itself. This is again nothing but perceptual aliasing. The reason why external observers can more easily see the discrepancy between a person's believed and true abilities, is because unlike that person they are not imprisoned inside the very frame of reference they are observing, and their observations are not aliased into this frame. [TODO: Beach Boys stuff fits here]

The entire course of actions in the life of what I would call ‘the average person’ revolves around confirming and even enforcing this self-image, not on making sure it has any solid grounds and certainly not on adjusting it to better represent reality. Adjustment will only happen — if at all — after painful mistakes. If there is no adjustment, the painful mistakes keep on coming until perhaps one of them is lethal. These persons never evaluate whether their behaviour makes sense or has side-effects that will eventually nullify any positive results. I try not to work this way. I am willing to reconsider my self-image even if it is not as pretty as I believed it to be when I was a kid. I am certain this will get me a lot further in the long run than freezing myself in a romantic childish I-am-awesome self-image or a lazy boo-I-am-good-for-nothing cynical depressed self-image.

It may be tempting to only tie negative aspects to the concept of the ‘ego’, but it can have its upsides, sometimes. Even the actions of the most altruistic of persons still serve in some way to uphold their own ego. Being able to help others is just as big, or perhaps even bigger an ego boost as being able to trump others in some skill. Being able to bring someone else at one's own level is often much more difficult, and therefore much more rewarding, than bashing them down so their level stays lower than one's own. Even better, once everyone has been brought to the higher level, there is even more incentive to reach for even higher levels. Therefore we should not try to kill the phenomenon of the ego, but we must try to get rid of the kind of arrogant ego that resorts to any means necessary in its quest to prove itself better than the rest. Even altruism comes in many variations and some of them are equally bothersome as plain egoism. For instance the kind of person who will always insist on helping because they are certain that they are superior hence more capable to help than anyone else. Actually I am much less annoyed by someone not doing any effort to hide their blatant egoism, than someone who pretends to be a samaritan to mask their superiority complex, and who will in this process often sabotage the attempts of others to provide help to those who need it.

Unfortunately, for an apparent vast majority of people in the region where I live, their inflexible self-image is exactly rife of this kind of arrogance, bigotry, alleged superiority. I say apparent, because the problem with such persons is that they make a lot of noise and could therefore appear much more numerous than they really are. They think they know more than anyone else, are more intelligent, and pretty much better in any other way. They are not. Yet, in any conversation they will do the utmost effort to convince everyone else — and especially themselves — that they really know more and know better how to solve problems than others, until someone is able to confront them with the hard truth. When having a conversation with such people, the discussion is never really about the actual topic. It is not about finding the truth, neither is it about solving the problem in the best possible way. It is about enforcing what they believe is the truth, and solving the problem in some way that is familiar to them, disregarding anything else, preferably also in a way that upholds the impression that they are better than everyone else. They will often uproot perfect existing solutions to be able to enforce their own inferior solution. It is all about them being able to keep up the illusion that they know more, are better, smarter, more intelligent, etcetera, regardless of whether anything they are proclaiming is true in an absolute sense or not. If this happens in a commercial context, it can be extended from the individual level to company level. The result is a crappy product full of flaws because the goal was never to make a good product. The real goal was to keep up the appearance of that company being the only one capable of making a good product. Those two goals only look similar on the surface. In truth they are vastly different and will lead to different results.

Arrogant people tend to rely on a limited bag of tricks to uphold the illusion of being superior. A concrete example: someone demonstrates something interesting, and someone else says: “the person who did that obviously had too much time on their hands.” If Captain Subtext from the TV Series ‘Coupling’ would exist and put on his ‘Truth Helmet’, he would read: “that looks cool but I fear I am unable to do that. Hence my ego is under threat because if someone would ask me to do it, I would fail and be embarrassed. Therefore I must attack the maker of the cool thing and do my utmost best to make it seem uncool, preferably by trying to exploit basal instincts that cause a feeling of social disapproval. Mildly accusing someone of wasting time seems good enough.” This doesn't mean the person will actually go through this exact train of thoughts, certainly not consciously. The mapping between the observation and the reaction may well be purely emotional [LINK:EMOTIONS], but in the end it has the same underlying motivation and the same effect.

Another concrete example with possibly worse consequences: suppose someone has an uncommon (or perhaps common but un-trendy) disease with vague symptoms. This person goes to a doctor in the hopes of getting better directions. In an ideal world, the doctor would be all-knowing and recognise the disease. In a less ideal but still fair world, the doctor would recognise that the symptoms do not match anything known, admit this lack of knowledge, and direct the patient towards a doctor that might have a better chance at making a good diagnosis. Now let's go to the real world. I am not making this up, this is from first-hand experiences, from friends' experiences, and from reports I regularly bump into without even explicitly searching. If the doctor has a big ego to uphold, admitting not to know the disease is not an option. Neither is referring the patient to another doctor, because that again implies lack of knowledge and in a naïve way it also implies the other doctor is ‘better’. Some of the most common exit strategies are the following. Easiest is to dismiss the symptoms as hypochondria — and dismiss the patient as well. The Truth Helmet translates this into: “I really have no idea what is going on here, but if I blame the patient, nobody will notice my ignorance”. Another way out is to simply pick any known disease as diagnosis, even if it does not map well onto the symptoms, and then prescribe a treatment. This could translate to: “I must give an impression of confidence and therefore I pick something that seems plausible and treat it as if it is absolutely certain.” A slight variation is to cherry-pick those symptoms that do map to a known disease, and attribute the other symptoms to another disease (or again, hypochondria), or simply completely ignore them. This probably gives the best chance at upholding the ego, because it is plausible that the patient indeed has that disease, even if in itself it is a symptom of a worse underlying condition that remains untreated. Needless to say, neither of these scenarios are beneficial for the patient. Luckily not every doctor is like this, but finding the good ones can be a challenge.

The only reason why inept people can get away with arrogance to uphold the illusion of being superior, is that pretty much everyone else in their surroundings either is gullible, acts the same [LINK:ASSIMILATION] and is locked up inside the same frame-of-reference, or recognises this behaviour and ignores or ‘sandboxes’ [LINK:SANDBOX] them. The second stance is the most common: arrogance has become standard behaviour. Nobody knows shit but everyone pretends they do. Of course arrogant people always vehemently defend the very concept of arrogance, because it is often the only thing they can rely on. If it would break down, they would fall from their pedestal. Arrogance always has a severe risk of becoming a vicious circle that is very hard to break out of. When it becomes the only thing one relies on, eventually the only way to maintain it is to destroy anything else that might be evidence that it is a false illusion. I am convinced for instance that many kinds of terrorism are an indirect consequence of egos that have spiralled out of control and cannot stand certain population groups that seem to threaten their illusion of self-superiority.

I believe that arrogance will have to be severely curbed or maybe even vanish entirely, if humanity wants to evolve beyond its current level. It is yet another silly greedy strategy [LINK:GREEDY] that works in the short term but has large risks of crumbling down and backfiring in the long term. For instance, after a while others start noticing that these windbags keep on failing at things they were boasting to be good at, causing their entire credibility to go down the drain. Eventually everyone will hardly pay any attention to what the arrogant persons say, because experience has shown that it is likely to be bogus anyway. At that point, when those persons claim to be good at something, nobody will believe them anymore even if it is really true. Their only escape is to hop around and change environments when this point is nearing, and hope they will be able to keep on doing this without running out of gullible people. The latter of course becomes increasingly difficult in a world that becomes ever more connected. Perhaps the internet will kill arrogance. Good riddance.

“I am the Centre of the Universe!”

To put it bluntly, one of the core problems with humans is that they are quite often rather stupid, yet they are too proud to admit it. Most persons seem to be born with the instinctive idea that they are the centre of the universe and everything revolves around them. They want to live like kings, see every square inch of the entire planet before they die and perhaps even a part of outer space too, all things that are enormously costly. Think again: every human is only one in more than seven billion people, which means less than 0.0000000002 worth of the entire world population. That is pretty insignificant. It is stupid and arrogant for a single one of those seven billion persons to believe that all the rest will suit their lives to his, such that he can live his life the way he meticulously planned it, and that he has the right to destroy his environment just to cater for some stupid short-sighted ideas.

Sometimes this ‘centre of the universe’ idea is to be taken literally, not merely figuratively. Before Copernicus and Galileo, humanity as a whole projected this idea onto the planet it was living on, actually firmly believing that Earth was the centre of the universe and everything revolved around it. Even after Copernicus, it took a long time to get rid of this idea — or at least suppress it. Galileo was imprisoned in his own house for the rest of his life for trying to defend the heliocentric theory laid out earlier by Copernicus. Even though the Sun is not the centre of the universe either, from within observable reality at that time it was a far better model than a geocentric one. As far as I am concerned, there is no such thing as a centre of the universe [LINK:FRACTALUNIVERSE]. One might believe Galileo was persecuted because the heliocentric idea contradicted what was written in holy scriptures, but if one investigates the actual lines of text that would hint at geocentrism, they are pretty weak and open to interpretation. I am certain that the core problem was that Galileo was clashing with something simply hard-coded in the average human brain.

When viewing things in perspective, it is obvious that geocentrism is a load of hogwash. It is so very probable that we are not the only life in the universe. Really, (human) life is not such a big deal. There may be other species with much more advanced civilisations. We'd better hope they will not come looking for us, because the chance that they will be happy friendly E.T.'s is slim. Happy friendly intelligent aliens will take a big evasive manoeuvre around a planet infested with a parasitic self-destructing half-evolved species. It is far more likely that the kind of alien that will happily land here will do so after verifying that their weapons technology is far more advanced than ours (pretty likely if they have technology for interstellar space travel), and go all ‘Avatar’ on our asses — only with us in the role of the Na'vi. The 2010 film ‘Skyline’ pretty much sucked, but aside from the ridiculous ending it is in fact one of the more realistic scenarios of what would actually happen if aliens came to our planet. The same with ‘Independence Day’ if one would strip it of all the typical Hollywood nonsense and the parts that involve humans fighting aliens with anything that does any damage at all (and obviously, the preposterous hacking scene). A species that lives on a rich home-world with long-lasting potential and that has learnt how not to destroy that world, does not have any incentive to start a large, risky, and costly venture into deep space until the natural end-of-life of the planet is in sight. Sending probes and signals everywhere would only increase the risk of being discovered and their precious planet pillaged by a parasitic species.

Where does our built-in arrogance and self-importance come from? It actually makes sense that people are born arrogant. If a child would be aware of its inexperience and total lack of proper knowledge to deal with the complexity of reality, it would have a high risk of becoming utterly bogged down and demotivated, and do nothing (or worse, kill itself). Therefore we humans have evolved to be pre-programmed with the belief that we are awesome, more important than anything or anyone else, and can do anything. This illusion kind of works initially, because it encourages to do and try all kinds of stuff, even though it greatly increases the risk of doing something stupid that may be lethal. There is no doubt that there are better ways to cope with reality, but this just happens to be the one that pulled us through our primitive era and we are still stuck with it. It is a cheap mechanism, and evolution is a stingy miser, it loves cheap mechanisms. To put it bluntly, arrogance is a natural defence mechanism against the effects of people's own stupidity on themselves and others. I am not claiming that every arrogant person is dumb or inept, but there is a pretty strong correlation. Someone who really knows how everything in the universe fits together, no longer has an excuse to be arrogant. Am I sounding arrogant here? You bet. Do I know how the universe fits together? No fucking way. Make no mistake: it is not because I am bashing this stupid instinct I hate, that I do not suffer from it myself.

The risk of doing something lethally stupid is inherently limited in the immature, exactly because they are immature. They lack the skills and means to perform truly devastating actions. This lack of skills is compensated for by instinctive behaviour that both encourages them to do the right things most of the time, and discourages them from doing truly dangerous things. Practically all the individuals who lacked those controlling instincts, have been wiped from existence long ago. Mind how with all present-day technological advances, this inherent safety could become compromised because some find it necessary to sell potentially dangerous technology to everyone, including those immature persons. Nobody has instincts that protect against the dangers of this new technology, because it will take many generations for those to evolve. Plus, people are increasingly believing they must suppress everything instinctive, because they believe to know everything and can do everything; they can pick a recipe from the internet and execute it without having any idea what is truly behind every step in the process and what could go wrong.

Dunning-Kruger Effect or Hubris

[REF:HUBRIS] This built-in simple mechanism that encourages people to do more than they are actually capable of, is reflected in the Dunning-Kruger effect. It was already known in classic Greek civilisation, where it was referred to as hubris (ύβρις), although probably only in a more specific situation. Typical hubris in the classic sense is the feeling of being able to trump an adversary who is far more superior, out of the inability to recognise how much higher the adversary's level is (this is in fact a direct example of perceptual aliasing). Failure to recognise their hubris in time, obviously leads to disaster for the characters in the ancient Greek stories.

Figure AR1 is a sketch of what the mechanism has as result: the estimated own capabilities of an individual first rise unrealistically quickly, then comes a (generally painful) moment of realisation that the true own skill level is far lower than thought, which causes the estimate to drop back to a more realistic level and grow in a more correct way. If the topic at hand is a combination of multiple smaller topics, then the estimated confidence for the topic as a whole will probably contain multiple bumps, because each of its smaller subtopics will cause its own feeling of overconfidence at different moments. [TODO: MOVE THIS FORWARD. THIS IS ENORMOUSLY IMPORTANT.]

Hubris
Figure AR1: rough sketch of ‘hubris’, or the ‘Dunning-Kruger effect’. The curve plots the skill level an individual believes to have, versus their true skill level.

One doesn't need to look far to see evidence of this phenomenon. I just witnessed it moments ago before writing this: I showed a colleague something and he was quite confident why the piece of software showed a certain glitch. From his background I know he had no basis to make that assumption, and even though I didn't know the exact cause of the glitch myself, from my years of experience I knew his guess made no sense. Obviously, asking what he meant exactly and how it caused the glitch, lead to a dead end very quickly.

I repeat: the mechanism behind overconfidence is simplistic. It is cheap and works reasonably well, initially. It works well if there is nothing better. Eventually it does become much more efficient overall to develop skills and knowledge to correctly deal with reality without acting stupid. When succeeding in this, the instinctive behaviour becomes a fall-back, a life buoy. Part of those skills is learning when it is OK to give in to instinctive behaviour and when to curtail it. Most importantly, this means the instinctive arrogance becomes obsolete: nothing but a burden and a risk that should be eliminated. The period in someone's life between arrogant stupidity and wise humility is often the most hazardous, because of the combination of childish arrogance and ever growing but still incomplete or incorrect knowledge. That little bump at the left of figure AR1 is the very point at which many people have lost their lives. Knowing when to drop the arrogance is the whole point of becoming an adult, of education. And as I have explained elsewhere [LINK:INFANTILE], there seems to be an increasing lack of it these days, and people increasingly get stuck in their infantile phase of dumb arrogance. [TODO: connect this with the study that shows increasing overconfidence in US freshmen → an indication for the [INFANTILE] theory.]

Perhaps I am biased in this regard but it seems to me that this arrogance is a staple of the Western world. [NOTE TO SELF: this might be bullshit. I am starting to notice just as much arrogance in Asian people, although what I wrote down next is still true.] It exists everywhere, but the West seems to have the largest inclination to export it to the rest of the world, where it used to be much more subdued. Look at all the colonialism from the past, and the crusades before. Or the worst example of all, the 20th century World Wars. Most of us Westerners severely toned down this behaviour because we burnt our fingers on it, but we (and especially a certain country) still act as if we have the right to rule the world and impose our way of life on others, with no other justification for it than the belief that we are superior. We believe to know what people in other countries think and feel, and that they must be unhappy because they do not live like us. We consider some countries or regions as backwards because they do not have the same luxury as us. Now do they really need it? I thought the whole definition of luxury is that it is redundant. Somehow it seems to me that a population that has learnt how to live without wasting resources on redundant junk, is more advanced than one that goes as far as destroying essential resources just to be as cozy and as forcibly happy as possible 100% of the time. Yet we export this striving for unbounded waste and call it “development”. We invade what we believe to be primitive cultures and force them to adopt all our self-inflicted stress that spawns from self-fulfilling prophecies.

There have been scientific articles [TODO: FIND THEM] that explain why people living in warm environments are less active than in cold and demanding environments, because those environments simply do not require (or even support) a higher degree of activity. The most sensible corollary of this conclusion is to simply accept this fact, and stop trying to export behaviour towards other climates that is optimal for a certain environment only. This is not the kind of conclusion that I have heard from the mouths of anyone who mentioned that study however. Nobody said it explicitly, but there was always an undertone of racism being justified after all, and the expectation that people in those warm environments must unconditionally adopt our busy-bee culture suitable for colder climates. Instead of expecting people to adapt to their surroundings, we got the ingenious idea of transforming every environment to some arbitrary standard, for instance by installing air-conditioning everywhere to chill it down (which, as discussed in the section about entropy, will eventually further raise the overall temperature). We destroy perfectly stable natural environments and replace them with costly synthetic crap that has no long-term future. All just because this crap offers more instant short-term luxury, and we are absolutely certain this is incredibly smart because we shut down our brains [LINK:HUMANTHOUGHT] as soon as any disadvantage starts to loom at the distant horizon, or when it seems that we are less awesome than our egos want us to believe.

Overconfidence Is a Big Shiny Glittering Accident Waiting to Happen

I seem to remember a scientific study claiming that overconfidence in one's own abilities is good in some way. Even if I only imagined it [TODO: find it], still ever so often I hear people unconditionally praising others who exhibit confidence even though there is no basis for it. It is obvious that any hastily constructed study like that, has no other option than to end with this conclusion. The whole problem with such a study, and the entire concept of overconfidence for that matter, is that it is bound to prove itself, it is a self-contained self-fulfilling prophecy. It starts out from the assumption that ignoring negative things will only lead to positive outcomes, therefore the only allowed conclusion for the very study is an overly confident one. For someone believing in overconfidence, admitting that it has negative aspects is not an option because that would undermine the belief. It is not surprising that an attempt at a scientific study would also ignore any negative aspects disproving the desired outcome. If the study was started from a desire to prove that overconfidence is good, and it would not present its result with absolute confidence, it would disprove itself. It is an umpteenth example of a study that only looks at direct short-term benefits and ignores the longer term effects, a sorry excuse to dabble in naïve greedy behaviour [LINK:GREEDY].

That study might be right to a limited degree. There can be no doubt that when faced with a problem, the best starting point for trying to solve it is a positive attitude. When assuming beforehand that trying is futile, well then obviously one will not even try much if anything, and this obvious self-fulfilling prophecy [LINK:SFP] will indeed cause the problem never to be solved. Big fat however: if one is intelligent enough to prove that the problem really is unsolvable, then making no attempt truly is the best course of action. A problem that provably has no solution is not really a problem. Throwing resources and time against an inevitable failure offers no advantage whatsoever. In other words, overconfidence is a trick, a gimmick that often works in the absence of anything better. Anyone with the capabilities to analyse the problem and immediately find either a foolproof solution or proof that the problem cannot be solved and some evasive action must be taken, is always better off than someone who compulsively makes a happy-happy-joy wild gamble in the hopes of getting a winning hand in the end. Gambles are only good in the absence of something better. If there is a way without gambling, relying on a bet is simply irresponsible and unacceptable.

People who live inside a frame-of-reference of unconditional overconfidence are at risk of failing to learn from mistakes. They will refuse to acknowledge errors because that would mean a dent in their ego: their only option is to deny any wrongdoing. Taken to the extreme, proving that one has learnt from one's own mistake, means admitting to have made the mistake. In the most extreme of cases, someone excessively overconfident and arrogant would therefore not even try to learn from their own mistakes.

The average character in the average Hollywood film also radiates arrogance like a piece of uranium radiates gamma rays. Maybe this is one of the factors that contributes to the increasing arrogance of recent generations, who have been force-fed this kind of crap from their infancy on. Of course it is easy to be arrogant in a work of total fiction, where everything is possible and every character can be given whatever knowledge required to keep the implausible plot rolling. Children and gullible adults however, dazzled by the high production values, might happily assume it is all representative for reality. They may also have a firm belief that any car going down a ravine will explode in a huge ball of fire, and any bullet perforating a window of an airliner at cruising altitude will instantly punch a huge hole in the fuselage that produces a magical incessant outward flow of air that keeps on sucking things out of the plane until everything is gone. There are no rational arguments for both of these things to happen and they have been logically and experimentally demonstrated multiple times to be impossible, yet the belief persists because such images have been burnt into people's infant minds while they were building their mental model of the world.

The reason why people generally do not notice they overestimate their own intelligence and wisdom, can be explained by our behaviours that are geared towards converging the entire population to the same standard (see also trends, [LINK:ASSIMILATION, EXTREMISM, SMALLTOWN]). They result in everyone focusing on the same narrow frame-of-reference. Everyone aliases things into this standardised FOR in a similar fashion. In other words, nobody really notices the enormous limitations of this common FOR because there is nothing else to compare it with. Actually there is, but it is systematically ignored [LINK:HUMANTHOUGHT]. Everyone who is sufficiently connected, looks at the world through the same window. They only consider what they see through this window and ignore everything else. The window does move around, but everyone instantly forgets what just dropped out of visibility, and obviously nobody considers what is about to come into view either. When it comes to news, the time interval is often very narrow: any news topic about a single event will last a week at best, often just a few days. Mentioning the topic again after two weeks as if it is new, will often not be frowned upon, because the others will likely have forgotten most of it. However, they still vaguely remember it, which makes them feel comfortable because it gives them a feeling of: “I know this already, therefore I am not a total idiot.”

When considering longer time intervals of months to a few years, everything from that period and region is basically all the same. Just look at music, movies, literature, architecture, technology, design, etc. from any given time period and geographic region. It is all ‘standardised’. Even including people's general attitude, I dare even say personalities. Even the degree of arrogance is a standard. I notice that arrogant persons seem to expect everyone else to be as arrogant as themselves, and when they encounter someone less arrogant, they will react with the usual arsenal of ape instincts geared towards assimilation [LINK:ASSIMILATION] to encourage that person to become as arrogant as themselves. This irritates me to no end. I do not really mind if someone is arrogant, I know what it usually means regarding the person's true nature and I have learnt to ignore it. But if that person tries to export that arrogance to me, then I get angry. I do not like being brought down by idiots to their own level so they can beat me with experience.

This is also one of the biggest problems with excessive arrogance: it is very difficult to knock it down. It keeps itself alive through a vicious circle, if need be through temporarily letting itself be projected onto someone else until the moment is right to retake it. Suppose it is rigorously proven to a hopelessly arrogant person that they are not the hot-shot they believe to be. The reality is of course that the person's capability is equal to many others. There is no reason to feel inferior because the person is not worse than the rest, and is likely still more proficient in certain skills than many other persons. Now there is the problem exactly: the concept of ‘equal’ does not exist in the minds of such people. They only consider better and worse. If they are not the best, then someone else must necessarily be better and they will feel threatened. Quite often they will redirect their anger towards the person that told them the proof, which is why it is pointless to try to make such people aware of their skewed vision on reality by simply telling them. A better albeit more difficult way is to put them in a position where it becomes painfully obvious that they are not any better, but also not any worse than many others around them. It does not suffice to do this once, because the arrogance will recover over time. Even if they accept ‘defeat’, as long as they keep believing in arrogance as the only possible model of reality, then this only means handing over the “I am the best” trophy to another person, and then going on a quest to retake it. Their arrogance needs to be repeatedly punched in the face to keep it down.

Beach Boys

There are some nice historical examples of people defending the whole concept of the ‘ego’, especially the arrogant kind. This defence goes as far as not only repelling attacks against one's own ego, but also against that of others. People will momentarily drop their self-superiority complex if someone else's ego or the whole ego concept is sufficiently under threat. One such example is the song ‘I Know There Is an Answer’ by the Beach Boys. This song originally had different lyrics and was called: “Hang On to Your Ego”. Frank Black has done a cover with these original lyrics, which were written by Brian Wilsons under the influence of an acid trip (a drug notorious for breaking down the ego, as evidenced by experiments by Timothy Leary). The other band members objected to the title and lyrics once they learned what they meant, even though they had no exact idea of what an ‘ego’ really is — the mere feeling that attacking it could compromise someone's self-image was probably sufficient to trigger all kinds of instinct-driven alarm bells. The final version of the song still criticises one's self-centredness, but in a much less explicit manner.

Things like macho behaviour can be understood from combining an evolutionary point-of-view with the concept of the ego. It makes perfect sense why people like to encourage others to do things that are stupid, unhealthy or downright dangerous. If someone can convince others to do any such thing, and those actually get killed or otherwise disadvantaged in their chances of survival or procreation, then the person who incited them has an advantage to a certain degree. The catch is that the persons who encourage the macho behaviour have to either refrain from performing it themselves, or be certain that they can perform it themselves without an ill outcome. The latter is of course a good ego boost.
The inverse of macho behaviour is jealousy-induced discouraging of certain activities. If someone estimates themselves to be lacking in skill to perform a certain activity (for instance something requiring intelligence), their ego will feel threatened. A plethora of instinctive defensive responses will be triggered in an attempt to protect the ego. For instance, they will try to make the activity appear uncool, useless, or disadvantageous in any other way, even if their arguments are completely invalid. This will generally involve group tactics in order to pit the entire group against the few individuals who possess the skills. The point of this strategy is to appear smarter, by making the rest of the world dumber.

In both these cases it is important to note that there is often no reasoning involved, only a bunch of instinctive ways to probe the other individuals, and instinctive responses to their behaviour. All this stuff happens at a level below the conscious, or just at the edge between the conscious and subconscious. A sufficiently elaborate experiment (cf. the experiment that reveals jealousy in capuchin monkeys) will probably expose this kind of behaviour in certain ape species. People expressing such instincts generally have no clue as to why they are doing it, and will not even want to learn the clue. Nobody wants to know that the reason why they are inciting others to act stupid, might actually be an attempt to kill them. Nobody wants to be aware at all that they are scoffing others to hide their own shortcomings and protect their ego (because obviously, agreeing with this explanation is again an attack on the ego). At some point, people may even try to construct scientific studies that are crafted to disprove all this in an attempt to justify this kind of behaviour. Yet, the key to evolving beyond these primitive mechanisms that stifle innovation and evolution, is exactly to become aware of them and learn to mute them at the right moments or divert them towards positive actions that lead to a win-win situation for everyone, instead of a lose-lose situation [LINK:JEALOUSY]. This awareness must not only be targeted towards others, but especially towards oneself.

Coming back to the convergence of the state of the entire world to a single ‘standard’: despite the fact that the human population is steadily increasing, cultural diversity seems to be steadily degrading. In the past, even at a single moment in time one could still observe a rich and vast diversity across different regions across the globe, but this seems to be eroding in present times. Again, you will only really be able to notice this if you can free your own frame-of-reference from the current standard and stretch it to accommodate the differences over multiple time periods and cultures. Warning: if you do this, the present-day world may suddenly become annoyingly boring, and the increasing degree of arrogance of your fellow humans may become annoyingly irritating. There is a definite general sentiment that we are becoming smarter and that we know everything, but this is nothing but an illusion held up by our fragile technology and communication networks, an illusion that can be shattered at any moment. Most of all, this illusion is boosted by an increasingly small frame-of-reference. Of course someone will feel smart if most or all things they discuss with others, are also known by those other people because those happen to be the trendy subjects in mainstream and social media. Suppose I would try to strike up a conversation with a random person on the streets about the construction of zeppelins, steam machines, or vacuum cathode tubes. That person would feel very uncomfortable because that knowledge is completely out-of-fashion. If you have the feeling your ego is growing too large and you are a true genius that knows everything, walk into a library (or a digital equivalent), head to an obscure section where nobody has set foot in the last few days, and grab some totally random books about technology from various time periods. Then try to understand them in the same way you understand the current technology you interact with every day. Then realise that no matter how old, unfashionable, or alienating the technology in that book, it is not impossible that it will become relevant again in a near or distant future, and that it might even provide better solutions for some present-day problems than our current trendy technology.

For some reason I crave diversity, it is in my very nature. I would go insane if the entire world would be flattened to the same standard. It has become obvious to me that this is a rare trait. In school I was always the kind of ‘diplomat’, that one kid that never fitted in any of the obvious groups or ‘clans’ which had spontaneously formed between the various pupils. I always travelled between each group and I could never settle in any of them. I was neither rejected nor fully accepted in any of the groups, but I didn't care. I preferred to have the liberty to look for the best traits in all the groups and combine them, while ignoring the bad things. At times, this mobility between the groups allowed me to help in resolving conflicts between them. If this sounds ideal to the degree that one would prefer everyone to be like this, it is not. This could never have worked if the entire population would consist of this kind of ‘diplomats’, because there would basically be only one group that cannot learn from any other group. Again, this shows why diversity is important and why it is not bad to have groups that are for a large part isolated from the rest, as long as there are no insurmountable conflicts between them, and there are certain persons who remain outside of them to act as a kind of ‘glue’.

The idea from the previous paragraphs can be taken a step further. People's behaviour is not only defined by their self-image, but by their entire image of the world. Nobody has a perfectly accurate concept of the world around them, nobody can. Remember that only the universe itself is a perfect model of itself [LINK:UNIVERSE], and for human beings the model does not even come remotely close to a sloppy copy of the universe. Everyone has to do with a gross simplification. Nobody sees the world exactly as it is, because that would require infinite delay-free sensory perception, infinite memory, and infinite processing power. What humans ‘see’ is a model of the world that their brains make for themselves based on limited sensory input [LINK: stopped clock illusion article / blinking light appearing paused]. We do not perceive the world itself, we perceive our own model of it. Perception is in fact nothing but a model-forming process. This is also why dreams can sometimes seem extremely realistic: dreams stem from this same model that starts running by itself without sensory input. Some like to say that reality, or truth, does not exist because our perception of it is always subjective. This is nonsense. Reality and truth do exist, only it is impossible to perceive them with perfect accuracy.

A person's self-image is part of their simplified world model and it is necessarily very inaccurate because no entity could model itself entirely at perfect accuracy, let alone model itself plus the entire world around it. It is possible however to make this simplification such that it is still reasonable by trying to make unbiased approximations of everything and estimating their uncertainty. When necessary, any of these approximations can be refined to a deeper level, even if only temporary because it requires too much data to store in long-term memory.
That is how I try to live. Whenever any of my models prove to be biased, I adjust them. Given other people's utter incompatibility with statistics and inability to deal with uncertainty [LINK:SUCK_AT_STATS], it has become obvious to me that this is not how every other person tries to live. It took me a while to realise this and stop succumbing to the pitfalls of [EVERYONEISLIKEME]. It seems to me a considerable fraction of all people appears to have some very specific idea about a small part of the world, and ignores everything that falls outside of this part, or tries to project it into this small limited ‘keyhole’ view on the world. These people studied their model by heart when they were young and are very reluctant to adjust it. The way they live is entirely steered by this small world view and they will try to force everyone else to adopt the same view. They will automatically consider others who refuse to adopt their view as idiots, even though basic reasoning will prove themselves to be the idiots. Of course, whenever that conclusion is looming ahead in a string of reasoning, their minds will quickly take the next emergency exit [LINK:HUMANTHOUGHT]. They will not adjust their view unless it becomes truly blatantly and painfully obvious that it is bogus. They have already made up their mind about what the future will look like, and they will mould their every action in line with this speculation and educate their kids with it, no matter how silly it is when viewed in a broader light. The rest of this text is rife with examples of such childish predictions and explanations of why they are poor and dangerous.

Mind that I am in a sense doing exactly the same as others who try to impose their world view onto others. Why did I write this text and make it (somewhat) public? Why, in the hopes that others will adopt this world view of mine of course. However, I am not claiming that this view is The Only Possible Ultimate Certainly Correct View™. Although I placed a set of vague guidelines at the end of this text, I do not give a bunch of very concrete ways in which people should lead their lives — I believe any world view that forces people into a fixed set of specific behaviours has no long-term future [LINK:RELIGION]. I am merely suggesting a world view, or rather some guidelines for anyone to construct their own world view in a non-biased manner, and I attempt to give some justifications for it, based on what others have figured out during thousands of years. You are certainly free to reject all this and live your life any way you like, but I would suggest to at least consider the consequences of doing that.

*

Automation

I do not see the point in research that tries to automate creativity in entertainment. Why would someone want a machine that emulates ‘creativity’? For instance, what is the point of a machine that would compose music in the likes of a great human composer, or paint like Van Gogh? It would be an utterly pointless gimmick that devaluates the original works of art for no good reason. I can only see the appeal if I lock myself up in a very naïve frame-of-reference of instant greed without foresight. Mankind invented machines to solve everyday problems and relieve us of menial chores. It makes perfect sense to build a washing machine. It makes perfect sense to build a car or a calculator. All those devices can do their tasks better or more efficiently than a human. Moreover, most humans find the tasks of washing, hauling objects, or crunching numbers, uninteresting or even dreadful. There is however an acute need for them, therefore delegating them to an automaton is a winning situation. On the other hand, there is no acute need to compose beautiful music, there is no clearly defined way to do it because beauty is subjective, and those who do it mostly do because they like to do so. Anyone who is in a position where they are forced to write music and it is a burden and they wish they could delegate it to a machine, is either the wrong person for the job or the job is worthless on itself. In that situation there is no need to make the music sound creative and inspiring anyway: just throw together some clichés and it will be OK.

Having a clearly defined recipe for creativity would be a paradox. If it is known beforehand how it can be done, there is nothing creative about it, it would be ‘replicative’. A machine programmed with the recipe could churn out the supposedly creative stuff in endless amounts, quickly turning it into commonplace drivel that is the very opposite of creative [LINK:INFORMATIONTHEORY]. A large part of the appeal of works of art is exactly due to the fact that they are rare or unique. I can find no justifications to build a machine that pretends to mimic the process of a person channeling emotions into musical patterns. That machine would have nothing else to tell than: “buy me so my maker can become rich,” or: “I am a pointless machine made by apes who could have better spent the resources and would probably be happier if they did my task themselves.” Neither of those things interest me one bit.

It is not just creativity, there is no point in trying to automate everything. It is a tempting but naïve thought: if we make robots or clones or whatever, that can perform tasks we do not like, we expect to have more time to do the things we like. Or, we can move on to more advanced things. This is only true if it is executed correctly, and when ignoring the facts that everyone neither likes and dislikes the same things, nor has the same skills and capabilities as others. The idea may seem smart, but in the way it is currently executed it is a humongously stupid train of thoughts. It only seems great because people keep on breaking off their thinking [LINK:HUMANTHOUGHT] when they reach the fuzzy-warm-feeling of: “yay, more free time,” or: “now we finally can do the things we saw in that cool sci-fi movie!”

I can start out by saying: do not be afraid, this extreme automatisation will never happen. If it does anyway, there will either be such a gigantic revolt that it will be smashed to pieces very quickly, or the economy will collapse very soon. Just look at recent history. We have built computers and robots that were supposed to give us more free time. Now do they? No. We have in fact much less free time overall. By automating everything, we have merely lifted the level at which we live to a higher stratum. Because it is a higher level, it requires more maintenance: the machines allow to do everything faster and in greater amounts, therefore the net cost of keeping everything running has increased. We have shifted the work that needs to be done by humans from menial tasks to more complicated mental tasks. If we would manage to automate those tasks as well, other tasks of an even higher complexity will emerge. The consequences of a failure in a machine becomes more grave as the task performed by the machine becomes more complex and more interwoven with our daily lives. The stress level incurred by such failure also becomes much higher. The fraction of persons who can deal with that complexity and its associated stress levels, becomes increasingly small. We tend to ignore these hidden costs however. We have become slaves to the technology that was supposed to be our virtual slave. Well, some people do have infinite free time because the jobs they specialised themselves in were suddenly made obsolete by automated processes. I do not think they are that happy though. The others have to continuously repair, update, and reinvent the computers and robots, and get stressed out endlessly by this. Of course we then try to implement even more automation in an attempt to delegate the things that stress us out, but it becomes increasingly difficult to grasp the complexity of it all. It is an endless spiral, a vicious circle. Eventually we may arrive at robots building robots that were originally supposed to serve humans, but the humans may have removed themselves from the equation altogether. That is a situation that is absurd and pointless, and anyone who tries to strive for it is insane, plain stupid, or both.

Technological Suicide

Economically, automating everything does not make sense either. What about all those who lost their jobs to an automated process? Consider for instance that to run a web shop that can serve say 100000 people, it takes far fewer employees than to run a set of smaller local stores that serve the same 100000, especially if the web shop is implemented as a fully automated storage system. Yet, all those former employees of those stores are still supposed to be good consumers and buy stuff — at the large web store obviously — with the wages they no longer receive. It may seem to work now in the short term, and for the customers who can buy stuff at lower prices it may seem great [LINK:GREEDY], but it will not work in the long term. The potential for increased consumption is boosted enormously, but eventually there will be neither means nor need for the intended target group to consume products in the vast quantities that are enabled by shops automated to the extreme. The automation is of course costly. The shops could only get viable return on investment if the automated systems would be used near their intended maximum performance, which is utterly utopian in the long stretch. You see, this kind of system will collapse far before the point is reached where it becomes truly disastrous. So, don't be afraid, but keep in mind that preventing such collapse altogether will lead to a much less painful situation than waiting until it actually happens.

If we take this further, suppose we have automated our cars, medicine, and every possible job that involves manual work. Where do humans fit in such a world? The next step is to build some kind of AI that can automate the very process of automating [LINK:AI]. Humans would be nothing but meat-bags being aimlessly driven around in self-driving cars and spending their time playing games and watching films or philosophising about useless things, because all real work has been taken over by machines. That AI might at some point in time evaluate the situation, and decide that the meat-bags serve no purpose in this scheme and are only wasting resources, and it would be damn right. What do we learn from this? Simple: do not commit technological suicide by building the goddamn thing in the first place. Either that, or avoid the situation where humans become redundant. Actually the latter is the best solution by far.

When technology has eventually advanced sufficiently, it may become tempting to create entities that are very similar to humans (cf. ‘replicants’ in fiction literature or films like Blade Runner). This brings a whole string of nasty problems with it, some of which have been explored in fiction. In the end, those things may become so similar to humans that they will seek the same rights and treatment as humans. The question is, if one creates something that is indistinguishable from a human, shouldn't it also be treated like a human? I believe it should. Otherwise it will be the era of slavery all over again. I believe that if one creates a self-conscious entity and treats it as a slave, then that undermines the integrity of any self-conscious creature, including the creators.

I believe that someone will create, or at least know how to create, a provably self-conscious machine by the year 2020 (give or take, I am probably stepping in the same pitfall here as everyone else who made predictions like these and who suffered from the typical human tendency to overestimate technological progress in the short term.) This does not need to be a robot, it could be a mere computer program anyone could install on a PC or a smartphone, it could be an NPC in a video game. As a matter of fact the latter a very likely candidate for it to happen. The entity will not need to be particularly smart nor intelligent to be provably self-conscious, or to fool people into believing it is human for that matter. The question is, if this would happen and it would be possible to create sentient, self-conscious entities at will, what would that imply? Currently we have a strong tendency to consider anything that exhibits self-conscience as sacred because we equate it with life. According to strict definitions of life however, the self-conscious computer program will not be alive. It will become possible to spawn hundreds to millions of those entities in a split second and again destroy them instantly. It will be possible to create perfect copies. Will they all be sacred? Will it be mass murder if they are all erased again? Will it change the way we look at the conscience of biological beings?

In the end, if you ask me whether we should build replicants, then my answer is: only if we really, really know exactly what we are doing. In other words: not anytime soon.

Devaluation of the Human Being

[REF:VALUEPERSON] I have measure of how valuable a person is, that may appear strange to some. This value is roughly proportional with the difficulty of replacing the person with a machine. The higher the impact on other people if the person would be replaced by a robot or a bunch of computer programs, the higher I value that person. In this sense, the worst persons for me are total workaholics who spend most of their time on tasks that could be automated by algorithms that are feasible and sensible to implement, and disregard everything that is regarded as ‘human’ behaviour. Such people would hardly be missed when replaced by machines, because the machines would do everything the persons already did, probably in a better way.

This implies that this scale is dependent on the state of computing, and it also gives an idea why I see no use in trying to make machines mimic typical human abilities. Machines are tools and just as there is no point in humans trying to act machine-like, there is no use either in making a tool act human-like. If it would be necessary to make the tool identical to a human, then why did we build it in the first place and not simply let a human do the job? If we are going to make all human behaviour programmable, then to me all humans will become basically worthless. Of course, the machines that mimic the behaviour will not be any better in my opinion, on the contrary. It will be technological suicide.

Evolution and Natural Selection

Many still do not quite understand how evolution and natural selection really work. Their built-in instinct to search for a greater order and purpose in life [LINK:RELIGION] makes them believe there still is some intelligent mechanism behind it that somehow is designed to steer the direction in which things evolve. This is not the case. Evolution works because of a perfect marriage between chaos and order: randomness, noise and errors, and rules of logic. I dislike writing “rules” of logic because it implies the rules were invented or designed by someone or something. They were not, they just occur. We are in fact ‘failed’ copies of apes that lived long ago. Given perfect knowledge of everything that has ever happened, those apes themselves could be traced back to simpler mammals, and so on back to single-celled organisms. It just happens to be that at some point those first single-celled organisms reproduced and a glitch in the reproductive process caused its offspring to be not identical. Errors happen all the time and in the vast majority of cases they turn out fatal. But in a very tiny fraction of cases they turn out to give the ‘incorrect’ copy an advantage. All the failures die and the successes survive. If their ‘flaw’ allows them to live longer or procreate more efficiently in their environment, they will eventually displace their ancestor species. That's it. It is a simple model and it explains everything. And no, there is no goal this process will lead towards. It just happens because it can. End of story.

There is no such thing as cheating in evolution. If a scrawny little guy can build a gun and shoot someone physically much ‘fitter’ in the head (‘David vs. Goliath’), that just means the ability to build a gun makes him fitter overall. Being the strongest does not necessarily mean being the ‘fittest’ in the popular formulation of Darwin's theorem: “survival of the fittest,” because the word ‘fit’ means in the first place: “best fitting in its environment,” not: “being the physically strongest” [LINK:FIT]. Evolution cannot be ‘beaten’ or ‘cheated’. You know what I am going to say: there is no such thing as an entity ‘evolution’ that can be isolated and defeated [LINK:NONATURE, NOECONOMY]. Evolution is just a name we humans have slapped upon a virtual concept that models the result of random processes and simple laws of logic, a simplified model to allow our brains to cope with the infinite complexity of reality. If something mutates and one of those mutations has a better way to cope with challenges imposed by its environment, then that one has a higher chance to survive.

It is not because some creature is put in an inhospitable environment for long enough, that it will evolve to be more adapted to that environment. This can only happen if the creature has any chance to mutate from its current physiology towards one that is better suited to live in that environment. If this chance is zero, it becomes extinct. If it is not allowed to mutate, it becomes extinct. If it has insufficient time to produce the successful mutation, it becomes extinct. Most obviously, the environment must be able to support life of any kind at all. It is pretty obvious why birds did not evolve to venture out into space, because outer space is an extremely hostile environment for any life form (and moreover, getting there by merely flapping wings is impossible).

A considerable number of people seem to have a built-in disdain for the process of natural selection even though it has created our very selves, and they are so naïve and arrogant as to believe it can be ‘beaten’. They cling to the few scarce examples where the rule appears not to have been followed, and ignore the billions of other cases where it was followed [LINK:SUCK_AT_STATS]. This will not turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy [LINK:SFP]. If trying to ignore reality and fight basic laws of logic reduces the chances of survival (and any valid reasoning points in this direction), then trying to ‘beat’ evolution will in fact increase the risk of extinction. Saying that natural selection is a stupid process, implies acknowledging that it was designed by some entity that could have done a better job. Again: this is nonsense. Natural selection is a consequence of simple cold hard reality. Rejecting reality is obviously not a strategy that will improve upon bad situations.

When a child is born that would normally have no chances of survival, we spend extreme amounts of effort and energy to keep it alive, and let's face it, let it live a life that is quite likely to be miserable. It is a tough thing to say but in many cases everyone would be better off if we did not keep certain people artificially alive. In some cases ‘alive’ is hardly an appropriate term, but their bodies do keep consuming resources that could have served others, and they get little to no reward from it, nor do their relatives. Instead of the short pain of seeing the person die, we stretch that period of pain across months, years, sometimes decades. Eventually the person dies anyway. Some call this a ‘humane’ treatment, I would rather call it ‘torture’. Is this justified? Any sensible reasoning will produce the answer: “no”. The only true reason why we do keep on doing it, must be because of an instinctive feeling that life is unconditionally sacred, and perhaps the monetary benefit of a very small group of people who actually do not give a shit about where the money comes from. True, it is bad in general to end a life, but there are cases where it makes a lot more sense than causing prolonged suffering by postponing inevitable death. The person itself does not benefit from this because their suffering is prolonged or they are not even capable of being aware of it. The relatives do not benefit from this because their suffering is also prolonged. Even when the person has eventually died, the suffering continues due to all the accumulated memories of the artificially stretched death struggle. Sometimes it makes much more sense to let go and move on.

Every news article about some miraculous surgical feat always has a between-the-lines connotation of: “look, we have conquered this disease, now it is no longer a problem if someone ends up in this situation.” Obviously, this is the ubiquitous ‘precedent’ instinct rearing its head [LINK:PRECEDENT]. Unfortunately, it is not that simple, except for the rare cases where the cure proves of the trivial “why didn't we think of this earlier” kind. What is consistently omitted from such articles in mainstream media, are the costs and possible complications of the treatment (which arguably could also be considered costs). One of the best examples is artificial insemination. Compare the cost of causing pregnancy in the usual way (i.e. sex), which should be something like the cost of a snack and five minutes of time, versus the cost of this treatment, of which I know too little to give an actual number. I am pretty sure however that the cost of a truckload of snacks won't cover it by far. Even though it works — in the cases when it works — and is possible, people for whom it is the only way of procreating are still severely disadvantaged, because the cost of putting a human being on this world with the ‘classic method’ is so much lower in comparison by a factor so large I do not even dare to make a guess at it. The costs do not end there, because if the infertility is hereditary, the offspring also risks having it and will again be presented with the costs. It is fundamentally wrong to allow (or worse, expect) the world to evolve to a state where humans can only procreate through artificial means. If we somehow mess up things so badly that those costly methods become the only way of procreation, we're done for, especially if we want to keep up the present-day global population number. Consider multiplying seven billion by that very small cost of conceiving a baby in the usual manner, versus multiplying it by a cost that is say 100 times higher (which is an extremely optimistic estimate). Someone has to pay for that cost or it can never happen. I know this may all sound pessimistic and dark, but I believe that facing reality as it is, will go a much longer way than trying to bend it and later on being presented the unexpected exorbitant bill with interest on top.

Those who forget their history, are bound to live through it again

In the past, if someone did something stupid that got themselves killed, that was it. The person was dead and if the lethal act was incited by a tradition or a genetically coded instinct, over a sufficiently long timespan all individuals with that tradition or instinct would disappear. Nowadays however, there is so much communication that whenever someone kills themselves in some stupid way, it is all over the news and people will get a panic reaction: “OMG this could happen to everyone, we must prevent it.” All kinds of things are being implemented to prevent anyone from doing the same stupid thing in the future. What is happening here, is that the seemingly cruel mechanism of natural selection that operates at a physical level, is bypassed with a set of additional rules that only exist at a ‘virtual’ level: education, legal systems, or other man-made constructs. Problematic behaviour is not removed, it is only suppressed. It may seem a crazy thing to say, but I do not think this is a strategy that can be upheld for a long time. When the virtual restrictions fail in any way, the hard-coded dumb behaviour shows up again, and in the meantime it might have spread across a substantial part of the population.

[FIXME: this part is messy and seemingly contradictory. Which is, of course, because neither of these two viewpoints is wrong.] You see, this is also a bit the problem with an evolutionary mechanism that exclusively focuses on survival in single individuals. For the species to survive as a whole in the long term, the individuals must not only develop a drive for performing acts that benefit survival and procreation. They should also develop a repulsion against noxious behaviour in other individuals. This repulsion is only a secondary mechanism, as opposed to the primary mechanism of wanting to do those things that ensure no immediate death: not having the repulsion will work out fine as long as the damage from those other individuals with their noxious behaviour stays within bounds. Still, in the long stretch this repulsion mechanism can make the difference between survival and extinction. Suppressing the evolution of such mechanisms by imposing artificial restraints, could prove very costly.

If someone in the past had a tremendously stupid idea that eventually got them and/or their offspring killed, the evidence of both that lethal event and the ideas that caused it will likely vanish over the course of time. Only if someone had a good idea and managed to keep on living and pass this idea to their offspring, then this living offspring is persistent evidence of the quality of the idea. In other words, when frantically striving for ‘innovation’ and doing stuff that is supposedly entirely new just because of a disdain for established values, maybe one is simply about to do a variation on something stupid that is not new at all, but got people killed in the past. Ideally, truly universal good ideas would eventually become genetically embedded, such that there is no need for education and no risk of educational failures. In the very long stretch, an instinctive repulsion against certain noxious behavioural traits could emerge, but there is no guarantee for this. It only gives an entire population a better chance. It does illustrate though that fighting subtle deep-rooted behaviour embedded in most individuals, might not be a terribly smart thing to do. [TODO: could illustrate this with a timeline figure, although it will be difficult to make something that is both sufficiently elaborate, and comprehensible.] It also illustrates that there should never be an expiry date on memorials for certain horrible mistakes. For instance it is a good thing that every year, we are still remembering a world war from a hundred years ago. Those who forget their history, are bound to live through it again at some point.

It may seem smart to figure out how exactly our DNA fits together, and correct it ourselves so we can remove what we believe to be stupid behaviour without anyone having to die, or having to construct an unmaintainable library of rules. But is this really a smart idea? Every few weeks I hear or read a journalist or someone else claiming that “humans will certainly be genetically engineered in fifty years” or the like. Obviously, what those self-proclaimed clairvoyants do is the old routine of taking two points, drawing a straight line between them, and then extrapolating this line into infinity [LINK:EXTRAPOLATION]. The first point on the line is somewhere in the past where research in genetics was not as advanced as it is now. The second point is the current situation, which is slightly more advanced. The whole motivation behind this scientifically very questionable approach seems to be disdain for the random factor in evolution. Those Nostradamus-wannabes simply want the future to look like that. Maybe they saw something like it in a cool movie and badly want it to become true. Or perhaps they were born with some trait or defect they do not like, and hate the fact that it was not their choice, and therefore consider it a victory if they could conquer this randomness. Hmm, how could an entity that does not exist yet, choose what it wants to be?

I am convinced that any species that would manage to eliminate the random factor in its evolution, is signing its own death warrant. If we start messing with our own evolution, we will only do so from within the limited frame-of-reference we know. If the ‘evolution’ of a species is railroaded by any means, any chances will be lost of dealing with unexpected situations that were not foreseen by the entity laying the tracks. Mind you, I totally believe those journalists. At some point humanity will try to be their own designer, and it will seem to work great at first. Then after a while it will go horribly wrong. Only then might we realise the whole problem behind it, because we seem to be too lazy to go beyond merely learning from mistakes. The problem with learning from mistakes only, is that some mistakes are lethal, and for some mistakes the lethality can go far beyond the individual level.

[REF:SEAL] The random factor in evolution is a little bit like craziness. If anyone exhibits apparent random behaviour, we call them crazy. If anyone makes an invention or scientific discovery that is completely unheard of in the frame-of-reference of the people from that time period, that inventor or scientist is deemed crazy. (Feel free to imagine the famous photo of Einstein sticking out his tongue inserted here.) But exactly those people are the ones that push humanity forward, not the others who keep on bouncing around and making dumb extrapolations within their same frame-of-reference. Similarly, it are those individuals who are born a little different due to some random mutation, who push the species forward and allow it to cope with unexpected situations. As Seal aptly worded it: “we're never gonna survive unless we are a little crazy.”

Emotions, Liking and Disliking

[TODO: use liking/disliking as an intro for the more general concept of emotions/instincts. As it is now, the two parts are there, but overlap quite a bit.]

Liking, Disliking and Happiness

[TODO: include the stuff about the Angela Palmer article, and the platform effect, although the latter actually makes the link with habituation.]

[REF:LIKE] Why do living creatures such as humans like and dislike certain things? Why do certain things make them happy and other things make them sad or stressful? Why do some things cause pain — physical or mental — and others joy or a ‘good feeling’? It seems to me that most people think all these things are universal and fixed across all humans. Even though there is a common base across all humans, the general idea that everyone likes the same things is obviously wrong [LINK:EVERYONEISLIKEME]. I have no idea what kind of explanations the proponents of this idea would conjure up, to explain either or both the origin of the likings and the alleged uniformity across the globe. I suppose most of them never even bothered to search for an explanation. I believe however it is useful and important to do so, because it could cast a light on whether it is a good idea to try to maximise short-term enjoyment and happiness at all costs.

Some try to approach happiness from a purely abstract, philosophical point-of-view, which I believe is fundamentally wrong. One cannot explain it properly without considering the physical aspect. Regardless of the romantic ideas that some may have about what pain and joy really are, in the end they boil down to neural impulses that arrive at certain places in the brain and that trigger various reactions that we experience as pain and joy. There is nothing magical about it. Those mechanisms have only one goal: to make us do things that are supposed to be advantageous to us, and to keep us from doing things that will inflict damage. The whole catch is, the distinction between those could only have been ‘programmed’ into our DNA from past experience. [LINK:DNA] There is no guarantee at all that everything which is disliked by someone is really bad for that person in their current situation and in the future. Only the likes/dislikes that are common across practically everyone, can be pretty certain to be universal, but even then there is no guarantee.

There are quite a few things that are common across pretty much every human being, and related animal species even. Physical pain is the most obvious example: pretty much everything that lives will experience some kind of pain when subjected for instance to too high temperatures. Any organism that did not develop this reaction did not care that it was being burned or boiled and therefore had a much higher risk of getting killed and becoming extinct. Once we move away though from the obvious things that kill, and towards things that are more subtle, we arrive at examples like sweetness. Sweet substances are liked by a vast majority of living things, down to relatively simple organisms like fungi and bacteria. The reason is simple: in the natural world where everything evolved, most things that are sweet were as such due to a high sugar content, and sugar is rich in energy. The supply of such sweet foods was limited, making it difficult to consume unhealthy amounts of sugar anyway, therefore it was both important and not dangerous to gather it unconditionally. In a world where sugar was relatively scarce, any species that evolved to like sweet food was more likely to get enough nutrients to survive, than a species that had no preference.
An even more obvious example is sex. Why is sex fun in general? Because it is the key driving force behind procreation. Any living entity that does not in some way appreciate the act of procreation and avoids it as a consequence, will be much less likely to persist than an entity that has a desire for procreation. Obviously, something that does not procreate becomes extinct in no time. Therefore eventually only species that somehow enjoy the act of procreation will persist.
There will of course be many who will not want to believe such a simple and trivial explanation for the reasons behind liking and disliking, unless it would be corroborated by scientific studies performed by people with roaring names and an impressive track record. The problem is, how is one going to do an experiment on something that is either long gone or way too complex to simulate in a controlled environment?

It is often a bad strategy to fanatically strive to maximise enjoyment. It is steepest-hill greedy optimisation [LINK:GREEDY] in its worst form. Let us look at a few basic examples, starting with the ones from the previous paragraph: sweetness and sex. For some even less basal examples, we could look at things like cosmetics or purely cosmetic breast implants. [TODO: FIX THIS INTRO, NEEDS WORK] When these become goals on their own without considering their origins, they become a waste of resources and benefit nobody in the end except the people who can sell them, and even that is only in the short term. Our notions of like and dislike are entirely relative to our past environment. Any attempt at maximising our enjoyment by merely trying to provide the right stimuli, while bypassing the need to bring our environment in the kind of state that causes us to like it, is not only a waste of time and energy, it is dangerous.
Sweetness: diabetes, obesity, tooth decay, etc. Coming back to sugar, in the natural world the risk of eating too much sugar was small and it was therefore not profitable or even necessary at all to develop a mechanism to limit sugar intake. Availability of sugar was limited by the environment and there was hardly any risk for consuming sugar in too large amounts. Now however we have developed ways to produce purified sugar in near unlimited amounts. Etc. [TODO: ELABORATE, LINK TO PERCEPTION CORRUPTION, GREEDY, EXTRAPOLATION]

Unnecessary breast implants example (i.e. for non-reconstructive purposes): let's stack the pros versus the contras. Pros: 1. People who like to see big breasts are more pleased. 2. There is an improved chance of attracting partners who like big breasts. 3. Uhmm… that was about it. There is no third argument. So, on to the contras: 1. It is expensive. 2. It is a lie. Partners will eventually notice or discover the truth and be disappointed. 3. It will only increase the risk of health hazards, at best it will have no negative effects, but there is no way it can improve health. 4. The kind of partners that are attracted by the fake large breasts are more likely to be not the kind of partner that is really compatible with the person who had naturally small breasts. Therefore even if the partner never notices the enlargement, there is an increased risk of having a poor relationship. [LINK:SIMILARPARTNERS] 5. Having larger breasts gives almost no physiological advantages, only extra disadvantages (extra risk of sports injuries, and obviously, the things being in the way). Naturally large breasts may be able to produce more milk, but this obviously does not count for artificially enlarged ones.
The only reason why men like to see big breasts is because this is a primitive instinct that aims at choosing a partner who is more likely to be suitable to raise children. The main, and arguably only, function of breasts is to produce milk for feeding babies. Obviously, being able to feed babies is a rather essential element in procreation. Hence before the advent of artificial breast milk, the babies of women who were unable to sufficiently feed them died out, and their genes disappeared with them. The bottom line is that someone who undergoes a voluntary breast enhancement for purely cosmetic reasons, spends part of her livelihood on an expensive lie that is only justified by a short-sighted naïve idea that tries to circumvent a basal instinct that exists for very specific and fundamental reasons. The only way to believe that it is a good idea is to take the good old early cut-off in the human thought process [LINK:HUMANTHOUGHT]. Of course, there is the fact that the essentiality of breasts may appear to have been long undermined by artificial breast milk replacements. This ignores the possibility that at some point the ability to manufacture artificial milk may be compromised, or a flaw makes the product toxic for everyone at the same time (remember the 2008 Chinese baby milk powder scandal?) There is also quite a bit of evidence that real breast milk may be more healthy. Another big advantage is of course that in a certain sense it is free to produce. It is very unlikely that producing a true 100% identical individually-tailored synthetic substance will ever be more efficient than breast-feeding babies instead. Anyhow, artificial baby milk does reduce the negative impact of faking large breasts, but at the same time it also makes the whole drive for larger breasts even more ridiculous. It changes the formulation to: “… spends part of her livelihood on an expensive lie that … tries to circumvent a partially obsolete basal instinct.” In the end, there is mostly only one person who is fooled by purely cosmetic operations like these, and it is the person who undergoes the operation themselves. Of course I am not dissing cosmetic surgery in general here, it is very useful to repair accidental damage. But those who use it merely in the hopes of giving themselves an advantage over others, ignore the fact that it is likely to bring a negative reward in the long run.

If we continue our current research in genetics and neurology, it will most certainly at some point become possible to design people with built-in likes and dislikes for anything. It will become possible to create people who thoroughly enjoy killing others or who feel a permanent urge to stab themselves, drink gasoline, or jump into fires (or why not, first drink gasoline and then jump into fire!) It will become possible to disable the mechanisms that cause us to fear or dislike things that are highly likely to get ourselves killed. There is no theoretical barrier against this. It will be just like reprogramming a computer. There is nothing that will prevent this kind of manipulation, except common sense [LINK:COMMONSENSE]. In the end we are all biological machines that act according to programs built into our DNA. True, many of our actions are steered by what we would call ‘free will’ and by things that are nowhere to be found in our DNA, but as I made clear in many other sections of this text [LINK:HUMANTHOUGHT], the driving force behind a lot of our actions is hard-coded. What we mistake as free will in those cases, is the liberty to choose what kind of path to follow in order to arrive at the hard-coded goal imposed by some primitive instinct or something burnt into our memory during our early stages of life.

DNA and the way in which it works, is in principle not much different from a Turing machine, a computer. Suppose I have a robot that can execute programs in a simple natural language as follows:

take hammer
repeat until 1 equals 0:
    swing hammer at own head

If this program would be fed to the robot and it would have no built-in routines to stop itself from executing dangerous actions, it would grab the hammer and keep on hitting itself until it destroys something vital and breaks down. This may seem incredibly stupid, but from the robot's viewpoint there is neither stupid nor smart, there is only machinery that takes instructions as input and converts these instructions into actions. For the robot to understand that bashing its own head with a hammer is terribly stupid, an extra layer of software would need to be placed in between the command interpreter and the system that turns the commands into actions. This software would be many orders of magnitude more complex than the above program. DNA is chock full of such extra layers that prevent individuals from performing self-destructive actions. All the evolutionary branches that lacked an essential control layer, have wiped themselves out over the course of time.

Just as a regular computer will run any self-destructive program unless there is an additional layer of software around it that prevents this, there is no reason why DNA could not be reprogrammed through biological engineering to run the most insanely stupid and destructive programs — it sometimes already does this when accidentally damaged. There is no deity or other supervising entity that will prevent this. Only we ourselves can prevent it. And you can be pretty damn sure that at some point in time, someone with the required skills will find it cool to try it anyway. In the long term, we will only be able to avoid extinction by developing a protection mechanism against such people.

Emotions and Instincts

[REF:EMOTIONS] One could argue that liking and disliking are subsets of the more general concept of emotions. What exactly are emotions? In a computational sense, emotions are like vector operations: MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output). They take a whole set of observations as input, and through quite complex hard-wired circuitry, instantly produce a judgment from that input, in a split second. They provide fast shortcuts for complicated situations where thinking logically would either be too slow for survival, or has too high a risk of leading to a wrong conclusion, or is downright impossible due to lack of all the data required to lead to the right conclusion. Emotions are like life buoys. Instincts are strongly related to emotions, one could say that instincts manifest themselves through emotions, which is why you'll see me intermix both terms throughout this text. Emotions are often perceived as dumb, but they can actually make people perform in ways that are smarter than could be achieved by trying to think logically using only readily observable parameters. This may sound contradictory, because emotions are typically regarded as dumb. How can an emotion beat logical thinking? An emotion can make someone perform actions that would be judged to be unprofitable through any limited string of reasoning (see [LINK:HUMANTHOUGHT]). Even if the reasoning is sound given the known parameters, in general it cannot include every single historical parameter that led to the emotion developing to its current state.

How did emotions originate through evolution? It suffices that there is some way in which a permanent mapping can be created in the brain of a person and its offspring. This mapping links specific observations to specific sensations that produce a drive to perform a certain action or behave in a certain manner. The sensations will generally be associated with a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ feeling, but the whole range of possible feelings is much larger than this dichotomy. How this mechanism works exactly is irrelevant. Just imagine that whenever a child is born, it receives a random grab bag from its two parents' emotional mappings, plus it has a chance of receiving a small set of novel, totally random mappings. If the set of mappings that the child received, incite it to always perform actions that are great for survival, then it will have a good chance of porting those mappings to its offspring. If the mappings include utterly stupid things that lead to death, well, then the mappings die with that individual. The set of randomly generated mappings is where evolution happens: it allows to generate new emotions for previously unseen situations. The actual implementation of these emotional mappings is probably a mix of both genetic and cultural baggage: the genetic programming provides a way to map low-level observations to emotional drives. The cultural, educational, aspect ensures that individuals generally create the same links between those low-level genetically coded mechanisms, and actual resulting actions. For instance, I am sure that at this very moment, children have emotions for concepts in video games that did not exist at all thirty years ago.

Having such built-in inclination for certain actions can make the difference between survival and extinction. The whole key to emotions is that only two things are of importance: the input and the output. What comes in between, does not matter as long as the mapping between input and output has the right effect. Emotions can produce a false sensation of logical reasoning, which makes no sense at all when analysed in a truly logical way. Emotions can even be chained, and it is possible that certain steps in such a chain of actions is actually bad when viewed in isolation, but again: if the end result is good, this does not matter. In a certain sense, emotions are the ultimate example of floating reasoning because there is no trace of reasoning left at all, only the most essential drive to do the right thing. Skip the entire dodgy and error-prone thought process and steer the individual towards the only thing that counts: the goal. The very best example of this, will be discussed elsewhere: love. [LINK:LOVE]

Emotions are a kind of distributed smartness [LINK:SMART], a kind of implicit collective memory: for a single individual they may not provide an immediate benefit, but in the long term they should be advantageous for the entire group, at the condition that the boundary conditions under which the emotions evolved remain valid. The latter is a very important remark: the environment we live in has changed considerably, and this must mean that part of our instincts have become obsolete. It is unfortunately not easy to figure out which ones, especially because it is very often not easy in the first place to figure out whether someone is acting logically or emotionally.

The emotional fight against emotions

Those who pretend to live without emotions are fakers. Many (typically, but not exclusively men) take great pride in the claim that they ‘do not show emotions’, which is pure hypocrisy if one thinks twice about it. As far as emotions are concerned, pride is right up there with the strongest possible ones, and it really does not matter what the subject of the pride is. The way those people react to the display of emotions of others, can only be described as highly emotional. Someone who truly lives without emotions would ‘live’ like a robot and not care a bit about it. If there is nothing useful to do, they would go sit on a chair, stand in a corner or sleep, and do absolutely nothing, like a Roomba sitting in its docking station. Any sign of caring about that being boring, having a desire to listen to music or go do some sports, caring about the weather, the taste of food, is showing emotions. Constantly blathering to friends about anything except strict necessities is showing emotions. Blathering about emotions is showing emotions. The whole reason why I wrote this text is because of emotions.
Some, I dare even say many, seem to regard such robot-like state as the absolute summit of existence and attempt to live like that. I tried it as well, helped by health problems that numbed my nervous system and sucked all the energy out of my life. But there is just no point to it, no point at all. When I became aware of those health issues and managed them, it was like coming back to life. The emotions that had been suppressed by my state of illness, also came back when my body regained its previously lacking inflow of energy. From an evolutionary point of view, the emotions could have been intentionally disabled so I had less of a chance to procreate and risk spreading the condition if it would have been contagious or hereditary. Now I look back on that period of numbed senses and emotions as a dark nightmare and I could not fathom how anyone could intentionally strive to live like that. It would be like stabbing out one of your eyes because you can also live with one.

The reason why there is no point in trying to kill your emotions is exactly the same as why there is no possible state of perfection for a living being except death [LINK:PERFECTION]. There is no point to life, but there is even less point in eliminating the last parts that make life worthwhile. You might as well just be dead if you do not care about anything. If you want to be emotionless and act according to pure logic, suicide is basically the only plausible outcome of the equation. It is the logical thing to do, given the fact that our life is pointless and is only a way to speed up the destruction of the universe. You should not be afraid to die anyway if you are emotionless, because fear is an emotion. (This might be a good moment to put a reminder here for the red text in the introduction, by the way.) One cannot experience joy if there is no pain. Yin & Yang is not bullshit if one really comprehends what is behind it. Men who get pissed at women being emotional are just as emotional as those women, only with a different range of emotions. Do I need to remind you that being pissed is an emotional state? One cannot ‘live’ in the true sense without emotions. If you do not feel anything, you could as well be dead.

It seems to have become trendy to bash emotions. Which is of course ironic as hell, because the whole mechanism of slavishly following trends is entirely steered by emotions. I cannot tell whether this is indeed a purely sociological phenomenon or if there is some environmental trigger like a subtle but persistent type of pollution that influences our physiology and thought processes. If there is such thing as antidepressants that make people feel euphoric and experience intensive emotions, then the inverse must also exist. It sure as hell cannot be evolution because anyone who thinks such a large change can occur within just a few generations or even a single generation has no clue how evolution really works. Remember my story about the introduction of a depressing substance [LINK:DEPRIFOOD]. Maybe it is actually happening.
The popularity of certain TV shows like ‘House M.D.’ in which the characters show little emotion and tend to bash the emotions of others is pretty telling. There seems to be some kind of contest going on in finding the most universal emotions possible and ‘proving’ that we should always act in the very inverse way they try to push us. There seems to be a general sentiment that emotions are some kind of flaw in humanity. For some reason people have started to believe that emotions are some kind of trap laid out for us by whoever or whatever, and avoiding this trap is the ultimate victory over whatever it was that laid out that trap for us. Yeah, right. Nobody designed our emotions. Remember what emotions are [LINK:EMOTIONS]: they are shortcuts to do on average the right thing in the majority of situations without having to go through a slow and potentially flaky thought process. No, they are not always correct, but if they would cause individuals to act in a detrimental way most of the time, then they would have wiped out those individuals and their offspring over time. Therefore if a significant group of people has a certain emotion for certain situations, there is probably something to it after all and it may not be a good idea to combat that emotion. If you do believe that we can replace all emotions by logical thinking, you may want to re-read the perceptual aliasing section. We are in many cases unable to detect if we are wrong or missing essential information. We cannot wrap our simple brains around the complexity of the entire universe. Even those who are pretty certain they are acting logically, often are not because they only act logically within an overly simplistic framework. In the rare cases where the reasoning is correct, it is often way too slow to act in time.

Immortality

[REF:IMMORTALITY] People have always been obsessed with immortality in some way. For instance Lindbergh, the aviator who first flew over the Pacific, tried to construct machines that could extend the life of a human being. Immortality sounds like a cool concept if one does not think deeply about it. As a kid, I once drew comic strips and in the second story I made the main character immortal because it seemed cool. But it soon became apparent that it was not. It was so boring that I took away the immortality in one of the later stories. That is exactly the problem with the typical craving for immortality: it is a childish emotion few have ever thought of deeply.

There are many, many problems with immortality. First of all, it is impossible. As explained in the section about entropy, everything must die at some point in time. ‘Immortality’ would merely mean that one cannot die from getting older or from simple diseases. It would not mean that someone couldn't pulverise your ‘immortal’ head with a rifle or blow you to smithereens with explosives. It will not matter if the ‘you’ is a being of flesh and bones, a robot, or currents in an electric circuit. A sufficiently strong bomb, a high enough temperature, a massive EMP, or other destructive forces can wipe out all of those. In other words, you can still die, and that is a troubling thought for someone who has invested in probably extremely expensive, complicated and possibly painful methods to become ‘invulnerable’.

Most people enjoy their life especially because they know it will end some day. They do crazy things because they know tomorrow they may not be able to do them anymore. For an immortal in the biological sense, there is no incentive to do anything exciting at all, on the contrary. They may not want to risk a parachute jump because the parachute might not work and they will die after all. They should not risk a deep-sea dive because their respirator or whatever power source might fail. Even if they have turned themselves into a near-indestructible machine, they could still make a misstep and have to spend the rest of their eternal life at the bottom of the ocean where they cannot move and nobody will ever find them. That sounds worse to me than dying! They might not even want to step into a car because there is a considerable chance that they will get into a lethal accident.

Even if someone is not afraid of all that, they could do all possible exciting things over and over until they are utterly bored of them all and there is nothing left to try. It seems that the life of an immortal is doomed to become boring inevitably. The most exciting thing for an immortal will eventually end up being death itself. I don't know about you, but I would rather live a short interesting life than spending eternity in boredom.

“I Do Not Want to Believe You!”

I am pretty certain that in the heads of many readers, there will still be a little voice that screams: “do not believe it, immortality is cool!” So let's go even deeper. Even if we accept the fact that ‘immortality’ has to be toned down to the less exciting ‘living much longer than ±80 years,’ it is still very problematic. Suppose that all humans on this planet would become ‘immortal’. That would be an outright disaster in many ways. We would be stuck with all the same people who want to fight and kill each other for nothing, and who are equipped with instincts and emotions from bygone eras, most of which are geared to keep a population of mortal beings in existence. None of them should procreate, because otherwise this planet would become even more cramped than it already is, and natural resources would be destroyed even faster than they are now, up to the point where everyone does die because there is nothing left to eat.

The mere existence of the cycle of death and life, provides opportunities to get rid of flaws and mistakes in a population. Freezing the population to a certain state will also freeze all the existing flaws and hard-coded misconceptions and noxious behaviour. When reading the whole rest of this text, it should be obvious that I am highly convinced that humans in general have quite a limited ability to learn new things. A population as a whole can only learn new things if it keeps refreshing its individuals. If everyone would keep on living eternally, evolution would be completely halted and everyone would die anyway due to failure to adapt to a changing environment.

Even if we are able to sustain a planet full of immortals, the fact that everyone's life situation has pretty much been frozen would cause huge problems. Any profession related to birth, growth, ageing, death or diseases would become useless, and those are much more numerous than you think. What are all those people going to do? This is one of the key questions with immortality: what are you going to do with it? How are you going to spend ‘eternity’? The most likely answer may end up being: finding a way to die to escape boredom. Immortality would bring a halt to the most fundamental dynamics of life: birth and death. Any definition of life somehow includes those two elements, so if they are cancelled, life ends. We would effectively be dead already even though we won't be able to die.

Of course, the previous paragraph is very improbable. Becoming immortal would be a privilege for the happy few, not for everyone like the people in poor African countries. It will involve expensive procedures and must necessarily require continuous ‘maintenance’, making one's immortality last as long as their bank account. Moreover, when looking back in history at everyone who seriously considered immortality, we end up with a list of mostly freaks and lunatics, to give an idea who those ‘happy few’ will probably end up being. Even Lindbergh who is respected by many, believed his inventions should not be available to the ‘lesser’ people. He sympathised with the Nazis and their eugenics.

The most likely future in case immortality is achieved, is therefore one where almost everybody is still mortal, governed by some immortal deranged dictator who will make the mortals' life expectancy even shorter than it is now. No matter how you look at it, immortality is a far cry from the romantic thought that many have. The only thing it really is, is in the best case a guarantee for eternal boredom, and in the worst case a sure road to hell on earth. There is simply no point in trying to extend the lifespan of people indefinitely. Efforts should rather be spent in improving the quality of life at old ages. I want to live a pleasant life and then suddenly drop dead with no pain. I do not want to be kept alive like a vegetable for 20 years while having to swallow painkillers to keep it borderline bearable. Fuck that.

Why We Strive to Be Immortal

Where exactly does this instinctive conception of immortality as the ultimate state of existence come from? Staying alive is a core instinct of all living beings. As with all instincts, the exact way in which they work is irrelevant, only the end result is [LINK:EMOTIONS]. The emotions associated with the instinct do not necessarily need to give a correct insight in reality, as long as they steer the being in the right direction. The more primitive beings have a limited set of instincts that give them a good chance to stay alive within their environment. At some point however, it becomes too complicated to store an avoidance instinct in the being's brain for every possible lethal situation. A better, or at least cheaper, solution for a being intelligent enough to figure out new solutions by itself, is to give it one single instinctive goal instead. This instinctive goal is the striving to stay alive at all times, in other words immortality.

Therefore, although humans do have a bunch of fast instincts that avoid death in certain specific situations, they have also evolved the higher-level instinct for immortality. It is an approximation of reality, because as I already discussed in the section about entropy, immortality is a bit like a perpetuum mobile and is impossible. This inaccuracy and its hazards are compensated for by the lower cost of this simplified solution versus an overly large set of separate instincts. Yet, if a sufficiently large group of people would start striving for immortality at all costs, the cost of this simpler solution will become significant and it will cause many others to die in the long term. The fight against the inevitable increase in entropy can only be maintained by increasing the entropy of everything else.

Immortality Equals Death

There are many possible definitions of ‘being alive’. A simple one that is surprisingly accurate, is: “being able to die”. Therefore something that cannot die must already be dead. The only way to become truly immortal is to die. It is the only state that perfectly satisfies the requirement of ‘being unable to die’. This is yet again the same kind of discussion as the one about perfection [LINK:PERFECTION]. As a matter of fact, I am certain that any rigid analysis of the concept of immortality will reveal that it is entirely equivalent to death. Why is there no living thing that is anywhere near immortal despite billions of years of evolution? Why are we not observing anything in the universe that is evidence of an immortal conscious entity, why is everything changing constantly? Because immortality is nonsense, hooey, baloney, humbug! The only way for anything to prolong its existence is to exploit continuous cycles of decay and rebirth of its constituents, but even that will eventually have to come to an end. Ironically, the whole striving for immortality will become suicide when taken to the extreme. Any attempt to strive for immortality is in some way an approximation of suicide. There is no problem with this as long as immortality remains in the realm of romanticised fantasy where it belongs. The more the striving for immortality seeps through into reality however, the more life-threatening it becomes. If you do not want to kill yourself but you are too afraid to live, go to a hospital and ask to be intubated and be put in an artificial coma. Of course, in practice that makes as much sense as suicide.

My fellow Belgians can get a taste of how hard immortality sucks, by considering the recent evolutions in the official retirement age. I bet that until a few years ago, many thought: “yay, now we live longer on average, so we can get more out of our retirement.” Haha, busted! The government simply raised the retirement age accordingly. They had to, especially when considering Belgium's pathological population pyramid that will severely compromise the paying out of pensions in the near future, even despite this decision which obviously was made way too late. So, the fact that people live longer has almost no advantages, it rather has quite a few disadvantages.

Cuteness and Babies

Another nice example of a hard-coded liking mechanism is the concept of cuteness. The cuteness of babies is nothing more than a natural defence mechanism. It is a trivial consequence of evolution. The primitive humans who did not find babies cute just let them die, because the only other properties of babies are that they crap all over the place, require constant attention to protect them from injuries, and make the most annoying noises ever — another hardcoded mechanism to prompt us to solve their needs. It takes very long before the benefits of bringing children to this world start to show through, therefore there is a need for a short-term reward mechanism. Those baby-hating humans removed themselves from the gene pool, causing people (at least a large part of them, see further) to evolve to baby-loving creatures. Of course there is absolutely nothing wrong with these mechanisms, but there is definitely something wrong with wanting to create more than the average 2.1 to 2.3 children per couple required to maintain current population just because babies are oh so cute. Just to put this into perspective: Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin and Kim Jong-Il were once also cute babies, you would not recognise them from their baby photos. On the other hand, Gandhi, Einstein and Mother Teresa were also once cute babies.

Cuteness is actually something very interesting. We find many baby animals cute, even those of predators that will maim and kill us once they have grown up, and of some parasites. Why is this? It seems that natural selection has caused many species to evolve towards a generalised concept of ‘cute’. The defence mechanisms of baby creatures of various kinds have converged onto a general notion of ‘cute’. If we see a cute little animal that has some of the same cute traits as a human baby, we will be less inclined to kill it. Therefore species that managed to tune in on this general ‘standard’ of cuteness have an advantage over species with non-cute babies.

Babies are just small people. You were once a baby. These are statements so obvious that I find it embarrassing to write them down, but it baffles me how some seem to fail to realise this, and treat babies like objects or toys (or worse: who consider children some kind of pest and it is a triumph not to have children). There are two important facts to consider: first, babies grow up into adults who will be heavily influenced by how they were raised. I have said it elsewhere: humans are not general-purpose computers that can run any program and switch behaviour at the flip of a switch. Second, every baby placed on this planet will grow up to an adult who will require resources to survive.

Regarding the first fact: for instance, enormous efforts are sometimes poured into allowing certain persons to have children, to fulfil their basic instinct of ‘child wish’. What I always find seriously lacking in discussions about this, is the child's point-of-view. What kind of a life will a child have, raised in such situation which is sometimes very different from anything humans have lived in since the beginning of history? There is no way to predict what will happen except trying it and then possibly seeing it end up in disaster. How is one going to explain this kind of thing to a person in such situation? “Hey buddy, you were an experiment. Sorry that things did not work out for you. Bummer.” The way in which a child is raised is very determining in how it will behave as an adult. If one is going to raise children like a commodity, I do not even want to know how they will behave once grown up.

Regarding the second fact: the amount of resources is limited. Therefore we should ensure that the number of people stabilises, no matter how hard our instincts want us to feel that birth control is blasphemy and that we must put a baby on every square meter of this planet and then start stacking them once we have reached that point. I am not saying we must impose a fixed number of children per couple, that just does not work. What we need is first and foremost better education. Every human should know what the consequences are of overpopulation. If that does not suffice, we could try cost/reward schemes that try to encourage the population to keep their number stable. If that does not work, try something else dammit!

Creating a new ‘baby boom’ will in the long term not solve any of the problems caused by the previous baby boom, on the contrary. It would be like fighting a fire by pouring gasoline on it, or stopping a flood by adding more water. There should never have been a baby boom in the first place. If you now feel your brain squirming like: “but, babies are cute! Baby boom must be good,” that is perfectly normal. Normal but stupid.

The reason why the love for babies is not entirely unconditional in most people and why there are even quite a few who downright hate babies may seem surprising. The reason for this is that “baby-loving creatures will win in a race for survival” is too simplistic a model. If all individuals in a group evolve to baby-loving creatures to such a degree that they will start procreating like bunnies, they will eventually choke themselves due to a population that devours much more than the environment can provide for everyone's survival needs. If this happens very drastically it may even wipe out the entire population. The “survival of the fittest” idea [LINK:FIT] not only counts for individuals, it also (and especially) applies to entire species. One needs to consider that if a species gets enough time to evolve, it will converge towards a situation where all individuals are more or less the same [LINK:ASSIMILATION]. At that point, the entire species can be in fact be treated as a single entity and the laws of evolution can be applied to that entity. If this entity has converged towards a state of unfitness for survival, it will die. This mostly means that all individuals constituting that species will die.

Any entity that wants, or worse, needs to grow boundlessly is unfit for survival in any environment without infinite resources (i.e. in any realistic environment). This is why there is no future for any species that does not have some regulating mechanisms on its procreation, be it external or internal. ‘External’ would mean that an environmental limit on resources curbs the species' growth by killing off excess individuals through starvation. ‘Internal’ means the species has evolved to have its own regulation mechanism built-in, which is more efficient because it will limit the population to have no excess individuals at all. In certain animal species, such regulation is implemented through only being able to create offspring during certain periods. One of those internal mechanisms in humans is a reluctance in most individuals to create offspring, sufficiently offsetting the drive for sex. This is why it makes sense that there are even people who do not want any children at all. During their entire life there will be enough opportunities for a lapse in their stance and there is a pretty large chance that once or twice in their lives they will make children anyhow, be it in a drunken stupor or so. And that is sufficient for their genes to be carried on. Now, if we bypass all those regulating mechanisms for our own species through technology, we risk destroying ourselves in an unstoppable meltdown of procreation, which might sound cool, but it really is not.

Conclusion

The bottom line of this whole chapter is: stop trying to get quick wins when it comes to stuff you instinctively like or dislike — this means anything that gives you the feeling that it is the right thing to do although you have not even reasoned one second about it. The goal of those instincts is to make you do things that work well in the same kind of environment where the instincts were allowed to evolve. Applying the same primal urges to a totally different situation will have totally unpredictable results, and the opportunities for things to go wrong are much more numerous than the ones that work out well. You have the ability to reason, use it. If you decide to cling on to the natural way of following instincts anyway, either do the effort to stay in an environment where the instincts make sense, or do not be surprised when eventually you are dealt with in a similar natural way.

Habituation, Overexposure, and Perfection

[TODO: intro. Palmer article might be good glue to connect with the previous section. This follows nicely on the chapter about liking/emotions, because it is the next step in evolution: the liking mechanism must be curbed to prevent individuals from over-indulging themselves to a lethal point.]
[TODO] The sigmoid curve: [explain: neurones, saturation, AI research]. It is hard-coded into every neurone in our body. Not the subject of someone's ideas determines how much of an idiot they are, only the extremity of those ideas. This statement applies to itself. Or as Mark Twain said on a related note: “all generalisations are false, including this one.” With this I mean it may sometimes be necessary to use extremes. Or in other words, one should never be extreme, even in the not being extreme. Really becoming adult means becoming able to tame that sigmoid curve such as to have a more linear overall response, which seems something that fewer and fewer people nowadays are able to. Many seem to get stuck in their childhood, or in the best case in their teenage-hood. Again, they are unable to realise this due to PA. It is OK and necessary to live according to a limited set of sound principles. However, anyone who decides upon a fixed ideology and strictly abides by it, will become prone to some form of abuse based on flaws in that ideology. At some point in time, someone will find the loopholes in those rules and exploit them to rape you hard without you having any means to escape aside from breaking your own rules. There is no logical system that cannot be exploited in some way, not even pure logic itself. “This statement is false.” “I always lie.” The only way to get around this is to be prepared to bend your rules when it becomes necessary. Anyone who will claim that this is a sign of weakness is either an idiot or has bad intentions.

[REF:HABITUATION] [TODO: Explain habituation as the evolutionary step that follows after greedy behaviour. Overexposure can kill anything — one of the main reasons behind the red rules at the start of this text.] Habituation is an essential mechanism for living beings, but it only works under certain boundary conditions that are often violated in the kind of world we have created for ourselves. Eat your most favourite food for a whole week and you will never ever want to eat it again (especially if you ate so much that it caused you to puke, which will pretty much program your body to give you an instant feeling of repulsion every time you see that food). Many people nowadays live like this, constantly childishly overexposing themselves to whatever they currently like the most, until it makes them puke. Then they move to the next thing and rinse, repeat. Eventually there is nothing left to overexpose themselves to. They have bludgeoned themselves with everything that is enjoyable and beautiful, to the degree that they hate it all. Then they move on to ugly and unenjoyable crap and pick the few parts out of it that are still OK, again overexposing themselves until they get bored of it. Eventually, there is nothing left to try. The only option at this point is to become a numbed-down cynical drone, which happens all the sooner nowadays due to the abundance of technology and communication.

This overexposure is visible in ratings and reviews for e.g. movies or music that can be found on the internet. For certain reviewers, it has become impossible to ever write an unanimously positive review. They have burnt out their own perception to such a degree that everything is either flawed or looks too much like something they already know. See also the thought experiment about ‘the perfect movie’ in the section about perfection [LINK:PERFECTION]. Lately I see an increasing occurrence of reviews that boil down to: “there was this certain plot hole in the beginning of the TV episode, and this spoils the whole rest of it for me,” while older reviews unanimously praise the same story. For instance, I watched a certain Star Trek episode and I thought: “man, that is some poor security policy for a 24th century starship,” but still in the end I found it one of the best episodes of the entire series. Yes, that was a bit of a cheap shortcut in the story, but I couldn't care less because it was completely unimportant with respect to what the episode truly wanted to convey. But on IMDb I found a review (deservedly voted down as ‘not helpful’) where someone indeed dissed the entire episode just because of that shortcut in the story.

I have one message to such nitpickers who seem to expect everything to be like a perfect mathematical proof: if you ever want to go back to enjoying your life, stop seeking for perfection. Learn to enjoy a less than perfect movie by focusing on what it really wants to tell, instead of some stupid detail that was sloppily executed. You are not giving an impression of being smarter by pointing fingers at a plot hole that everyone saw and ignored out of suspension of disbelief. Learn to accept that sometimes a director will simply take a shortcut in an unimportant initial part of the story, to be able to propel the much more important main plot. You are not wasting time by watching something that is not exactly like that single particular model of a perfect movie you have in your mind. It does not matter that your life has a finite duration. Once you're dead, you will not give a shit about the purportedly wasted time anyway.

I believe some understand the phenomenon of habituation very well, and abuse it to cause people to ignore pressing issues. Whack someone around the head with the same information repeatedly and eventually they will get used to it. This is one of the reasons why I have no intent to widely publish this text: the more people will be bludgeoned with it repeatedly, the higher the risk they will get tired of all the warnings it contains. In a certain sense, it would be better for any given person to read this text at most thrice and then either destroy their copy or pass it to someone else. I say it again: if you're forcing yourself through this text because someone else made you, but you actually don't really want to read it, stop reading right now and throw it away.

Living a reasonably stoic life with the occasional excess is much more rewarding than trying to maximise everything all the time. One cannot live in constant excess because that is physically impossible. Excess is by definition deviating significantly from whatever you are normally doing. Therefore someone who constantly lives at the maximum is always doing the same which is not excess. Any excess beyond that point will be lethal because it will immediately exceed the maximum. Constantly living on the edge of not killing oneself is constantly living at the same level. That makes it very similar to living a perfectly stoic life (μηδεν αγαν), the only difference is the level of the ‘plateau’ at which one is living [TODO: this is the “platform effect” → it belongs somewhere in this chapter].

Music

If for instance one looks at the mastering quality of music albums, from a purely objective point of view it has on average been steadily deteriorating since 1990. Some aspects have still been improving, but the kind of irreversible distortion that was gradually eliminated after decades of technological advances, was now gradually being reintroduced to make the music sound louder and louder. For some styles of music this did not matter because they actually benefit from distortion. However, pretty much every style received the same treatment and even remasterings from those meticulously produced early-nineties albums have been maimed to make them sound louder.
As far as the music itself is concerned, pretty much anything that is made nowadays can be either mapped to a style from a bygone era or an awkward mix of styles, or it is the same formulaic polished stuff that has been made since the year 2000. There is hardly any novelty in music anymore. Songs from the fifties, sixties, seventies etc. are instantly recognisable as being from that era but there is barely such thing as a ‘nillies’ style. Only the overuse of ‘AutoTune’ may allow to identify some songs, although many a more recent song still suffers from it. The music from 2010 and beyond has even less identity. Yet, ask a random teenager if current music is better than music from any older era, and in many cases the answer will be a resounding ‘yes’ because they still believe in the myth of continuous progress.

If one looks at the kind of music that has topped the hit charts over the decades, it has varied wildly until about the turn of the millennium. After that, I got the impression that the hit charts consist mostly of ever the same songs with minor variations. Anything that somehow stands out, is mostly a reincarnation of a style that has already been done long ago. Not surprisingly, because with the introduction of advanced DSP gadgets like multi-band compressors and pitch shifters, pretty much everything has become possible, from re-creating the sound of old recording technology to creating a sound that is supposed to be perfect. After the technology to reproduce music had been perfected, now the technology to make music has become perfect, and again everyone is trying to go beyond what is already perfect. While multi-band compressors are actually only meant to be used for correcting bad recordings, all recordings nowadays are squeezed through them in their entirety, with the damn things configured to approximate the most perfect power spectrum at any point in the recording. Even the most un-talented person can now make something that on a superficial level sounds ‘perfect’ because people believe they have unraveled the secrets of creativity. All hit chart songs are a non-stop slurry of ‘perfection’, produced according to a recipe distilled from numerous scientific reports or anecdotical evidences that seek for The Ultimate Sound Wave. For certain ‘songs’ I wonder what fraction of them is produced by a bunch of algorithms and if there was any human intervention at all involved in making them. Barf.

It is not the first time this has happened. Do the effort to listen to the album ‘Wave’ by Antonio Carlos Jobim. Some may laugh at it and call it elevator background music (or ‘muzak’, or ‘massage parlour music’). Now try to imagine what it was like in 1967 at the time that album was released. There was no such thing as elevator music at that time. ‘Wave’ was groundbreaking and refreshing. It was so good that people got the initial impression that they could listen to it indefinitely without getting tired of it. Some idiots therefore thought music like that was ideal to play as background music everywhere. After a while everyone got completely over-exposed to it of course, and now this style of music is burned into the collective memory of mankind as the never-ending noise coming from tinny loudspeakers in small, often uncomfortable rooms and corridors. It is a good thing Jobim is no more.
Or for another example in music of an entirely different genre, consider ABBA. Although they were enormously popular in their heyday, practically nobody listens to ABBA anymore, except maybe hardcore fans or people who have managed to avoid being bludgeoned to death with it in the past. The problem with ABBA is again that the music is too perfect. It is polished perfected pop music, crafted by very proficient musicians. It is very easy to overexpose oneself to it, and this is why nobody wants to hear it anymore.

Breaking Boundaries Already Broken

I took music as an example because I am interested in it and I have a background in signal processing, so I know what I am talking about. But it is not just music. The same is happening in pretty much every type of entertainment. Films also go through a similar kind of ‘perfecting’ pipeline which is why pretty much every current blockbuster either has the same polished look and feel or tries to mimic a style from a bygone era. This even extends to the movie posters, which are made according to such fixed clichés that I often feel I have already seen a newly released film when looking at its poster. The sad thing is that if I then do watch the film, it often feels indeed like I have seen many parts of it before. Special effects have advanced to such a degree that it has become possible to show pretty much anything in a film. The only limitation has become the imagination of the directors, which for many of them proves quite limited indeed. I find many a current film quite boring despite the fact that it throws the most flashy and complicated things into my face that I have ever seen. In fact they try to show so much at once that there is simply nothing to see at all aside from a spastic jumbled mess of SFX overload. It is just visual noise [LINK:INFORMATIONTHEORY].

I know quite a few who are still waiting for a film to surpass the ‘wow’ factor they had when watching ‘The Matrix’ [LINK IMDB] for the first time. Here's a spoiler for them: it will never come. That film had a dose of great effects and a great atmosphere, complementing a solid compelling multi-layered story, and this combination was unprecedented in 1999. Although most of these subcomponents had already been used in films before it and most of the special effects had already been used, it was the first film that combined all these ingredients in such a well-crafted and perfectly dosed manner. The mere fact that it was the first of its kind is a very important part of its appeal and the reason why the experience cannot be duplicated. As another example, the 1941 film ‘Citizen Kane’ may look ordinary today. That mere fact in itself is very telling, because it means the film was so far ahead of its time that even today it just looks ‘normal’ and not outdated like its contemporaries. This goes for every film: if you want to know what makes a classic truly great, you must place yourself in the mindset of the period in which the film was released. Watching the film with a present-day mindset and expectations that are tailored to present-day films, is utterly pointless and a waste of time. Instead of in vain trying to find another film that provides exactly the same experience as their all-time favourite without feeling like a rip-off, those people should move on and watch some different films instead of wedging their brains into that single bygone narrow frame of reference.

It goes even further than just entertainment. Everyone in the western world today is trying to do better than perfect on pretty much every level. There is really no point in this at all. Worse, there are very good reasons not to do it. You can wait for the scientific studies that will prove this if someone ever dares to research such an un-trendy and at first sight depressing topic, but why wait if one can arrive at the same conclusion through reasoning? If there is one surefire way to become extremely frustrated and depressed, it is trying to push beyond a boundary that has already been crossed without realising it. Or a boundary that can never be crossed and that requires an exponentially increasing amount of effort the nearer one tries to approach it — a bit like the absolute zero temperature. Especially if one is allocating all their precious time in their short lives on it. As I will explain below [LINK:PERFECTION], striving for perfection is equivalent to striving to commit suicide. I prefer to pass on that.

I have given up on this pointless dogmatic quest and I try to focus on what really matters. Henceforth the only real source of stress for me has become the watching of people who are still stuck in that vicious circle, still threatening their future as well as mine in the process by compromising their and my living conditions by chasing a stupid dream. I intentionally do not overexpose myself to ‘perfection’. I can still appreciate ‘Brothers in Arms’, ‘Watermark’, and ‘Wave’ because I only listen to them once in a blue moon. There is so much other music available that I see no point in bludgeoning my senses with the same song or album ten times in a row. I have a good audio system yet I often listen to music on mediocre equipment — almost intentionally. And I have quite a bit of mediocre music in my collection, and even some truly crappy songs that I will occasionally listen to, merely to remind me how good the other songs really are. It is like good wine: if you drink too much of it, it will either make you sick or you will get so accustomed to its taste that it will start to taste bland, and everything of lesser quality will taste even worse than it already did. It will become impossible to appreciate anything. Why would anyone want to do that? Only an idiot would.

We could try to start mucking about with our very own physiology, and try to ‘upgrade’ our DNA so we can start to appreciate even more ‘perfect’ things. We could make our ears sensitive to a wider frequency range and more than 120dB(A) of loudness without damage. We could enhance our taste buds and olfactory system so we could appreciate an even more complex palate of wine. If you truly understand why we live and are what we are, you should find it obvious that all of that would be utterly and completely stupid. Even if we are so dumb as to try it, eventually we will again bump into some real fundamental limitations. Then we are not just back in the same boat, it will be much worse. Supporting all those ridiculous and redundant ‘extensions’ will have made us so much more complicated than necessary to survive in our environment that they will be a huge liability.

Perfection

[REF:PERFECTION] The catch with ‘perfection’ and the reason why I have been putting quotes around the word at many places in this text, is that perfection cannot exist for any living being. It is a paradox. The definition of perfection is that it has no negative properties at all. Now remember, life is a process, it is dynamic. Standstill is death. If this process ends and it becomes static, life ends. That is clearly a bad situation for a living being. Now suppose we have reached perfection in every aspect possible. Then there is nothing left to do. Even worse, doing anything risks breaking the state of perfection. That very state of perfection will be imperfect because it has the negative property that it will prevent us from doing anything. It will prevent us from living. In fact, there is only one such state of perfection for living beings and it is death, not something any sane person wants to strive for. Life is necessarily imperfect and there is no way around that. Any being that is unable to stop striving for perfection when the costs start outweighing the benefits, is bound to destroy itself. The only reason why mankind has until now been able to keep on existing, is because we have always been inherently limited in our pointless quest for perfection. The more technology we develop in an attempt to reach perfection, the closer we approach the possibility of global suicide.

No matter how contradictory it may sound, death is necessary for life. This is discussed in more detail in the section about immortality [LINK:IMMORTALITY]. If we would be immortal beings, we would have enough time to reach perfection at some point, and we would die anyway. The whole cycle of death and birth is the only thing that can keep on going. Anyone who believes an infinitely long straight line is the only true path to follow, is a complete idiot and a danger to everyone else. The biggest idiots of them all will determine the direction of their straight line by connecting only two dots: one dot representing their current situation, and another dot, either something from the past or a speculated future point they can see from within their viewpoint [LINK:GREEDY,EXTRAPOLATION].

As a short illustration of this whole idea, consider the incessant striving for industrial automation. Perfection in this case is a world where nobody needs to do anything because everything is completely automated. In any healthy economy, people work to fulfil needs and they get rewarded for this work. It is a closed circle of supply and demand, and every person is somehow both supplier and consumer, which is the only way in which the system can keep on working beyond merely the short term. Look at any stable natural environment: everything inside it is both consumer and producer, and produces and consumes exactly the required amount of resources to keep everything going. What we are doing now in our infantile [LINK:INFANTILE] striving for a garden of Eden, is trying to get rid of the producing part by delegating it to machines. By doing this, we are actually making ourselves increasingly useless and we risk eventually removing ourselves from the equation as well. We will be all consumer and no producer, a being with no raison d'être at all. Of course we will never get that far, the economic system will have degraded or collapsed in various ways before that point is reached.

On a macro scale, this whole idea could be a partial explanation why humanity has known several periods where a civilisation evolved to a high level and then collapsed. One can analyse the hell out of all those cases, for instance the fall of an advanced civilisation like the Roman empire, and easily get drowned in details. Or, one could consider it from a birds-eye view. As a civilisation grows to increasing levels of comfort with decreasing required effort, it starts to tear away at the justifications for its very own existence. The civilisation basically suicides by solving all its problems and approaching perfection. Eventually it becomes so easy for its citizens to live, that they lose the drive and skills required to prevent the civilisation from either being overrun by another, or slowly crumbling away into decay. The seemingly contrary conclusion from this, is that one should not work too hard to fix all problems, because eventually one risks also fixing the problem that the very process of life tries to solve, making this process itself redundant.

If this sounds like publicity for the concept of laziness, in a certain sense it is. Laziness is not as unequivocally bad as some consider it. The mere fact that laziness is such a universal concept that is present in pretty much every living thing, means it is essential. Laziness enforces efficiency, and efficiency offers a better chance at survival in the long term than defaulting to being busy even when there is no reason to. The next time you have nothing to do, maybe you should consider just relaxing instead of trying to whip up some potential problem and making it come true through a self-fulfilling prophecy [LINK:SFP].

If all this seems overwhelming, consider something more limited. Imagine the possibility that at a certain point, someone analyses your brain and figures out what would make the most perfect movie you could ever watch, that would give you the most intense feeling of joy ever. Suppose then they actually make this movie and you watch it. After this moment of the most intense joy you could ever experience from a film, everything goes downward. Every time you watch that movie again, it gets less thrilling because it gets old. Watching any other movie is disappointing because those are less perfect. No movie can ever surpass that one movie because it was the most perfect thing that could ever be made. The movie has effectively killed itself and dragged the rest of cinematography as a whole down with it. It was perfect, yet the consequences of its existence are anything but perfect. Only idiots strive for absolute perfection. The rest strives for something that is good enough.

Circles
Figure P1: two circles.

Consider the above image, it shows two representations of a circle. The left is the most perfect circle I can generate on this computer. It has a constant radius and a line thickness of four pixels. That is about everything I can say about it. The circle at the right was hand-drawn on a piece of 224g/m2 "C" A grain drawing paper, using a Medium Wash 4B pencil. I found that pencil long ago in a classroom where I used to have drawing lessons. Other pages in the same block of paper contain some sketches from the time when I used to draw comic books, and the drafts of a secret code script. Mind that this circle is barely a circle, it is not even a closed shape. It is almost egg-shaped, and the bottom left is a bit blurred because I photographed it with a low-quality camera from a Chinese watch phone. The line thickness is not constant, probably because I varied the pressure while drawing it, and because the tip of the pencil is a rather blunt affair. From the line thickness and variation in darkness you can see that I started drawing this circle at the top left and then went counter-clockwise, and I lifted the pencil a tad too early to make it a closed shape.

You see, I can tell a whole lot more about the circle on the right than the one on the left. There is also a lot more to see about the right circle, because the other is basically described by only one parameter, at most four when considering its position on the page and the line thickness. The left circle may be more beautiful than the right one, but it is a lot more boring. Moreover, there are gazillions of other circles like it. Whenever someone draws a circle with those four parameters in a drawing program, it will look exactly the same. When someone on the other hand would find that same paper type and pencil I used, it still would be almost impossible to draw a circle identical to the one on the right. The left circle is perfect, it is like an ABBA song. One cannot do anything creative with this circle, because that would break its perfection. The right circle is not perfect by any stretch, it is like a Tom Waits song, from his later period with his gritty sandpaper voice from all the alcohol abuse. Many people might not like that circle, just as those Tom Waits songs may sound awkward at a first listening, but they both are way more interesting than a piece of polished perfection. Anyone can try to improve upon that circle, or on that song they don't really like, by drawing another or making a cover. The imperfect entities offer opportunities. The perfect ones only offer boredom and death. Perfection is death.

We can make the same exercise with this circle as we have already done for the perfect movie above. Suppose you're an artist who refuses to use computers, yet wants to paint a perfect circle by hand. If you would some day succeed in this, you have only one way to go from there, and that way is down. You could keep on painting the same perfect circle over and over, but there would be no redemption in it because you already did it before, it would get boring and nobody cares about those extra copies because they are identical to your first perfect circle. Because you already painted the perfect circle, any deviation that you paint must be imperfect. Basically, if there would be such profession as a ‘painter of circles’ and it would be the basis of your career, then you would have destroyed your career. The mere act of achieving perfection is an act of self-destruction. The only way to prevent this, is to remain imperfect.

This might be the single most important section in this entire text. If there is any part in this entire lump of prose that answers the question in the title, this comes closest. I left it buried in between the rest however, because nobody would grasp the seriousness of it if I would have kicked off with it. I might be tempted to throw away the entire rest of this text and only keep this section. However, the rest of the text unfortunately remains essential to fully grasp what I am trying to explain here.

Devolution

The main risk of all the overexposure in present-day times in groups that are unable to resist it, is that it will cause what could be called ‘devolution,’ evolving away from an optimal state of being. In living beings, all the hard-coded mechanisms of liking and enjoyment serve a single purpose [LINK:LIKE]: to encourage them to do things that until now have given them on average the best chances of continued existence, which includes not destroying the components that constitute a good environment to live in. When we overexpose ourselves to the very stimuli that keep us on the right path, our habituation mechanisms will eventually get the upper hand and cause us to get tired of, and even hate the very things that are essential to our survival. We will start to believe that we should do the inverse of what we really like to do. Eventually we might even extrapolate this idea [LINK:EXTRAPOLATION], and assume that anything that gives us a basal feeling of enjoyment must be bad, even if we did not yet overexpose ourselves to it. We might believe that it is smart to be depressed and stupid to be happy. How messed up would that be? I may be missing something here, but in what way is striving for self-destruction smart? This striving for overexposure is not only unnecessary, it is potentially very damaging. Not being able to resist it is a severe evolutionary disadvantage. [LINK THIS TO PERFECTION].

I even get the impression that people's habituation mechanisms have become so skewed nowadays that they start to get over-habituated to really fundamental things like basic laws of physics. Remember the second law of thermodynamics? If people get too accustomed to it, the temptation to believe that it can be broken may re-surface, causing them to ignore the rigid proofs and go back to square one and try to make idiotic perpetuum mobiles and free energy devices again.

Square Wheels

[REF:SQUAREWHEELS] I am actually anxiously waiting for someone to believe there is any point in literally reinventing the wheel. The round wheel is so darned old! The thing has been circular for many thousands of years, therefore it must be outdated, right? For those who would doubt it: yes, I am being sarcastic here. I had originally planned to include a design in this very text to present a way to make square wheels actually work [TODO: if enough time, do it anyway]. To offset the effect of the non-circular shape of the wheel, a complicated suspension mechanism could be added that cancels out the vertical movement of the contact point of the wheel relative to the axle, producing a net smooth rolling motion.
The idea behind this ridiculous exercise would be to illustrate that even though it would work, it would be way overcomplicated for the problem at hand and would have many more points of failure and parts susceptible to wear than a simple round wheel. Then it occurred to me that despite the craziness of the idea, it might actually surpass round wheels in some very specific occasions like driving through very rough or loose terrain. I have never communicated this idea with anyone. Great was my surprise and amusement when I watched the April 2012 episode of ‘MythBusters’ that featured attempts to use actual square wheels. The episode even ended with an unsuccessful attempt to find a good use for the bolt-shearing contraptions — by driving through loose soil. Even though their implementation was crude and did not involve any attempt at actively counteracting the suspension-wrecking motion of the squares, the whole episode reminded me of the train of thought I had years before. All this was a confirmation of my suspicion that especially in current times, there will be many who will independently arrive at the same ideas even in the absence of direct communication.

I have seen other attempts at literally reinventing the wheel, like trying to replace the central axle with some contraption that suspends the wheel at its edge. Aside from looking cool, this design has no advantages except perhaps in very specialised circumstances. Otherwise it is more complicated and more prone to break down than the old-fashioned wheel. One area where a minor reinvention of the wheel has managed to persist, is in fancy and useless spoke patterns for bicycle wheels. The classic bicycle wheel with 36 spokes symmetrically arranged, is apparently becoming too boring to some, therefore they invented new and stupid designs with the spokes clustered in groups, which requires multiple different spoke lengths to build one wheel, and induces the risk of uneven tensioning. There is no advantage to this kind of design, aside from looking cool to the uninitiated, and stupid to the experts.

My whole point of the square wheels story is that there are many things that are simply right and that cannot become outdated. Although perfection is a paradox [LINK:PERFECTION], some things are truly in the best possible state that can ever be reached under the constraints of reality. Any deviation from this state can only be deterioration. For wheels it is quite obvious that they are the best solution for many applications. The more complicated a problem and its solution however, the easier it is for people to become distracted by details and reined in by their instincts that handle simplistic trends and concepts like ‘modern’ and ‘outdated’. For many technologies those concepts are irrelevant, and it is wrong to enforce them by putting something flawed in place of something that works perfectly, just because it appears to be more trendy or people believe that change is mandatory for everything.

The group of concepts like ‘new,’ ‘old,’ ‘outdated,’ and ‘modern,’ all share the same root. Almost every day I am confronted with someone who will diss anything like a movie, video-game, music, book, architecture, technology, and whatnot, for the sole reason that it is not the latest and newest. There is never any sound argument for this. It is obvious that the reaction to the age of the subject at hand is completely emotionally driven. It must be some kind of instinct. [TODO: ELABORATE, CONNECT]

How to Be Unhappy

Why on earth would I want to provide a ‘Guide to Unhappiness’ while some have written entire books about how to be happy? Simple: because explicitly stating ways to become unhappy, makes it way more recognisable when you would unknowingly be acting in such a way, perhaps under the delusion that it was supposed to make you happier. This guide is nothing but a straightforward application of what I discuss elsewhere in this text. The core idea of striving for unhappiness is the following: Have very strict, very specific, and very high expectations for everything. Unfortunately, simply reversing this and dropping such expectations, does not guarantee happiness at all, although it often is an essential first step. Moreover, sometimes you do need to have high expectations to end up in a happy state. A simple recipe for happiness I cannot give, but I do can give some things that stand in the way of it. All items in the following list are based on actual behaviour I have observed in persons I have known.

  • Before watching a film, make a model of it in your mind of what it will probably be like, and then watch it as if the makers of the film were complete idiots if they deviate in any way from your expectations. If you are out of inspiration, just pick your most favourite movie ever and expect every film to provide exactly the same wow factor as the first time you watched that one movie.
  • Before going on holiday someplace or doing sightseeing of any kind, have wild expectations about the place, even if you have nothing to base your expectations on — just invent things if necessary: the more outlandish, the better if you want to be maximally unhappy.
  • Frantically learn everything by heart, and every time you encounter something new, expect it to be truly new and not similar to what you already know. Scoff at everything that is not considerably different from everything you already know.
  • Accept only infinite progress and growth, and assume it is possible to live in a way that exhibits neither cyclical processes nor crises of any kind.
  • Grab every freebie you can get a hold of, and consider it an acquired right. When the freebie or the opportunity to grab similar ones is taken away, endlessly fret about this for the rest of your life, clinging on to the hope of reclaiming your acquired right.
  • Believe in the existence of a single perfect piece of music that is the best possible song in existence. Spend a large part of your free time searching for this song, by basically downloading whatever you can get hold of, and skipping through it without doing any attempt to enjoy even just one of all those songs.
  • When you find something that is exceedingly beautiful, like a fantastic song or film, expose yourself endlessly to it until you are completely sick of it. Then find the next most beautiful thing and repeat this cycle endlessly, until you hate everything because anything worthwhile has been repeated way too many times, and everything else was worthless to begin with.
  • Lock up yourself in a fantasy world where everything is exactly the way you like it.
  • Strive for perfection in everything, including things where it doesn't matter at all.
  • Stubbornly try to focus on happy things only, by ignoring everything that hints at unhappiness like things as simple even as a song in a minor key.
  • Stress yourself out over things you have absolutely no control of, like the weather, a disaster at the other side of the planet, or an architectural feature in some building.
  • Try to possess as much as possible, whether it be money or any other kind of wealth, without having any specific goal for what you will do with all that stuff.
  • Believe you are the centre of the universe and you are better than everyone else. Keep ignoring all evidence that proves otherwise.
  • Believe you are a worthless piece of shit incapable of achieving anything great.
  • Believe there is no point in trying to preserve your environment because it is supposedly all doomed to be destroyed anyway. Smash any glimmers of hope that it isn't doomed after all, by cherry-picking certain bits of science and news reports, and halting your train of thoughts whenever there are hints at improvement in those same science or news reports.
  • Believe that every problem will be solved through technology. For an added bonus, believe one single technology will solve all problems, and the most trendy thing currently existing must be that technology.
  • *

    The Fermi paradox

    Given that the universe is so huge and there must be other planets that support life similar to Earth, why do we not see any evidence of advanced civilisations that transmit signals into space or perform interstellar space travel? If a warp drive is theoretically possible, why don't we see evidence of it? The easy, convenient and cheap explanation is that we humans are unique, a chance of one in billions that a civilisation like ours can evolve. We are either ahead of any other civilisation that might exist, or not that far behind that the slowly propagating signals of other civilisations have already reached us. The less convenient explanation is that the stage where such technology can evolve is also the stage that is most likely to kill the civilisation. The civilisation is either starting to consume so many resources that it destroys its own means for survival, or it develops technology it cannot control and that first wipes out its creators and then breaks down because it is totally unfit for the environment it exists in. Or, it keeps on striving for perfection to such a degree that it achieves it, and as I explain elsewhere, this means it suicides [LINK:PERFECTION]. Some call this stage a ‘great filter’ because it would be a barrier that a civilisation would need to overcome to enter a ‘next stage’ of evolution.
    We could and should learn from this conclusion, and we could easily avoid the potential lethality of that great filter, and safely seep through it at a leisurely pace. We can do much better than we are doing now, and evolve in a less greedy way that is not likely to cause self-destruction. But as it is now, it seems we are not ready for that. We will go ahead anyway, like a kid that puts its hands on a glowing kitchen hotplate despite having been told a dozen times not to. Who knows, maybe we will actually not burn up entirely and become that one single civilisation that manages to get through this stage unscathed, but I do not get my hopes up high.

    Of course there is an even less convenient explanation, and that is that the stage of advanced space travel as we envisage it, is simply impossible or so uneconomical that it makes no sense to pursue it and any species that has attempted it, has failed. Maybe there are distant civilisations out there that thrive without it, perhaps in ways we cannot even imagine because we lack the frame-of-reference, just like the people chained inside Plato's cave could not even imagine what it would be like to see the real world. Let's face it: the largest basis we have for the assumption that we will be able to easily travel in giant fancy spaceships between planets, solar systems, and even galaxies, are works of science fiction. There may be actual science behind it, but it has huge gaping holes and ignored costs. Most importantly the fiction came first, and it is also the first thing almost everyone comes into contact with during their lives. The latter makes it very difficult to view the real science in an objective manner.

    There is a huge discrepancy between the perception of space travel by the general public, and actual space travel. Ask the average man-in-the-street how they would fly to the moon starting from a circular parking orbit around Earth, and most of them will probably say: “just wait until it comes in sight, aim for it, and keep burning your engines!” Like in the movie ‘Space Cowboys’. Well, that could work in theory, but it would consume a ridiculously larger amount of fuel than with a proper Hohmann transfer. In practice the ship would run out of fuel and risk ending up in a lethal return trajectory towards Earth. Yet, the same person would probably have the grandest ideas about space travel, instilled by their favourite sci-fi book or film where it all seemed easy, and flying towards a target did not involve something as boring as relying on conics to perform an optimally short prograde burn at the ejection point in orbit. Maybe now and then we should take a rest from our frantic attempts at turning all this fiction into reality, and see if we should not separate facts from fiction. We should as well consider the repercussions of blindly pursuing goals that can never be achieved, and that might lead to self-destruction if we try anyway.

    Dunk Junk Into the Sun

    Similarly, a popular idea that is often coined by people with limited knowledge about space travel, is to get rid of our most hazardous waste, e.g. nuclear waste, by shooting it into the Sun. Again, ask how this should be done and you might get an answer like ‘just shoot it in the direction of the Sun’. Those with slightly more knowledge about space flight may suggest to use slingshots which would make it an extremely cheap operation. Those answers are based on Hollywood physics and superficial knowledge. They also do not consider how utterly disastrous it could be to have a launch failure with a rocket full of highly radioactive material. Obviously, this operation would be tremendously expensive, therefore we wouldn't merely put a few kilograms of nuclear waste on that vehicle, we would stuff it with as many tonnes as possible. If that thing would explode on launch, or suffer a failure that would cause it to burn up in the atmosphere, it would be the largest dirty bomb ever conceived. This alone makes the whole idea completely unviable in my opinion, until we either have an extremely reliable launch vehicle, or ways to safely land the payload if the launch would fail.

    Nevertheless, just to show the discrepancy between this naïve idea about space flight and reality, let's ignore the hazards and see how feasible this idea of dunking junk into the Sun is anyway. How should it be executed, as opposed to ‘aim and fire’? Orbital mechanics 101: planets and other objects do not fall into the Sun because they have sufficient tangential velocity, i.e. velocity perpendicular to the direction in which the Sun's gravity is pulling. This tangential velocity makes them follow a generally elliptical trajectory, called an orbit. The orbit of many celestial bodies is sufficiently round that it is considered circular, which of course is just a special case of an ellipse. Our nuclear waste is positioned on Earth, hence it orbits the Sun together with it. In other words, to make the waste fall into the Sun, one needs to undo its tangential orbital velocity.

    The most straightforward way is a two-step approach. First, bring the junk into a low Earth orbit, which means an orbital velocity relative to Earth of about 8 km/s. Earth rotates counter-clockwise around the Sun at a velocity of about 30 km/s. The most efficient launch would bring the junk in a counter-clockwise equatorial orbit around Earth. This means that for the second step, when the junk crosses the line between Sun and Earth, it would ‘only’ need an additional 22 km/s push to lose all its orbital velocity relative to the Sun and plunge down into it. We can do with a little bit less because it is sufficient that the junk follows an elliptical orbit with a perihelion (nearest distance to the Sun) within the body of the Sun. In practice, to break free from the sphere-of-influence of Earth, it may require multiple burns instead of a single one, depending on how powerful the propulsion system is. The Earth orbit of our ‘space dumpster’ would become increasingly elliptical until it is no longer influenced by the Earth gravity field. From then on, it is on its own roughly circular orbit around the Sun, slightly farther than Earth. All it takes then is to keep on burning retrograde until its perihelion falls within the body of the Sun, and the garbage will plunge down and become part of the solar fusion reaction.

    That is the basic idea, not necessarily the most efficient. What about using slingshots to make it more efficient? Even those with sufficient knowledge to understand or come up with the explanation I made so far, still tend to step into the pitfall of believing it is possible to use a single slingshot around e.g. Venus to change the vehicle's direction such that it flies ‘straight towards the Sun’ which would save us all the fuel normally needed for the trip between Venus and Sun. This is again the same mistake as before, based on the belief that objects in space can be trivially made to fly along a straight line, ignoring all laws of orbital mechanics. More specifically, this mistake is due to confusing the vehicle's trajectories relative to Venus, respectively the Sun. There is no way that the slingshot could completely remove practically all tangential orbital velocity unless the incoming trajectory is such that there is not much left to remove. Such slingshot could indeed save us a bit of fuel, but only if it were the final step to bring the perihelion down to the final target value. Intuitively, it may seem beneficial to use slingshots to first bring the vehicle as close to the Sun as possible and then do ‘a small final burn’ to dunk it into the Sun, but that is actually the worst possible strategy. Basic rules of orbital mechanics dictate that bringing the ship closer to the Sun, i.e. changing the perihelion, must be done at the aphelion (farthest distance from the Sun), and the higher the aphelion, the less fuel is needed to achieve a certain change in perihelion. Surprisingly, first boosting the aphelion to a point much higher than the aphelion of Earth, and then shrinking the perihelion at that higher aphelion, will actually be significantly more efficient than my basic strategy and will likely beat any attempt at using slingshots. The only disadvantage is that the whole trip will take much longer, but for this particular scenario that is not really an issue.

    If you do not believe me and have many hours to spare, there is a great computer game called ‘Kerbal Space Program’ that allows to quite accurately simulate the strategies I discussed, albeit in a fictional solar system. The latter doesn't matter because first of all, the system is quite similar to the real thing and moreover, it demonstrates the principles accurately enough despite the limitations of patched conics approximation. You will notice that any attempt to bring the overall orbit of a space ship nearer to the Sun, will make it harder to bring it even nearer in subsequent manoeuvres. No matter how counter-intuitive it may seem, dumping the ship into the Sun becomes the easier, the farther it is away from the Sun.

    Conics

    By the way, have you ever wondered why there might have been such a large emphasis on conics in math lessons during highschool? This may depend on what country you had your education in, but every Belgian teenager is fed mathematical knowledge about conics like ellipses, parabola and the like, as if they are the most important thing ever. I never really wondered why, although when I moved on to real life, it gradually started to annoy me that I barely could put any of all that knowledge to good use. By the time I victoriously discovered that I needed to solve a quadratic equation as part of some task, I had to admit that I had almost forgotten the formula due to blatant disuse. When I started to play the aforementioned Kerbal Space Program game, things started to dawn upon me. The following may be one of my many guesses, but it sure does make a lot of sense.

    The curriculum I had been following, had in all likelihood been greatly influenced by the evolutions in space travel since the 1960s. The persons who had created the curricula, probably firmly believed that all children from then on should be educated to be great astronauts who could calculate a patched conics approximation for the trajectory of their spaceship with nothing but a pencil and a piece of paper. The funny thing is, I did not have to solve one single conics equation while playing the game, which was the closest thing to actually piloting a real space ship I have ever done in my life. Even when I meticulously planned a whole mission to send an armada of three ships to the game's equivalent of Venus, pick up something from the planet surface, and return, I still did not need more than basic arithmetic. The computer did all the fancy conics and delta-V calculations for me. I am not saying all that education was pointless, on the contrary. Knowing about the theory behind all that automation gave me much greater confidence in relying on it. My whole point though is that for me, the apparent goals of that education were only fulfilled while playing a freaking video game for the sake of pure entertainment. Most of my fellow students won't even ever play any game like this, let alone ever have to compute an orbital trajectory once in their entire lifetime.

    *

    One of the biggest problems with all our technological ‘progress’ is that most people are unfit for all the power the technology offers. Not only are they unfit for it, even if they would be able to use the technology responsibly, they still would not need it at all. We are way beyond the point where all of our technology solves real acute needs. Instead, marketing tries to convince everyone that they need the latest gizmos that solve some very specific problem that only truly affects a few. A lot of current inventions are only useful to a small number of people, some are useful to nobody at all. If someone tells you of a certain product: “you won't know you need it until you have it,” then you can be pretty certain that even when you have it, you still do not really need it. The apparent need will be nothing but an illusion, a self-fulfilling prophecy [LINK:SFP] that initially hides all the extra problems introduced by the product and your newfound addiction to it.

    In principle there is no problem with trying to improve luxury (with luxury by definition something that offers no improvement in necessities). If there is some surplus in both time and resources that allows to improve perceived quality, then there is nothing wrong with using this surplus. The problems arise when there is no surplus, yet essential resources are still being consumed just to increase luxury. It seems to me that this is happening quite a lot at the time of this writing. The surplus may seem to be available, but it is borrowed from the future where it will be badly needed. Wasting the surplus right now, creates a debt that may become impossible to repay.

    Giving average people access to mass-produced powerful machines, chemicals, communication technology, … is like giving straight razors to infants and hoping they will not cut up themselves or others. In fact, if my theory of society becoming ever more infantile [LINK:INFANTILE] has any solid ground, what we are currently doing is exactly that: putting dangerous things into the hands of persons with the mindset of a child because we either do not see their immaturity or do not care. It is obvious what kinds of results this will lead to. There are countless people who have grand ideas that seem awesome at first sight but that would utterly destroy everything that enables us to live when executed. The only reason why this has not yet happened is because they did not have the means to execute their apparently awesome but in reality utterly stupid ideas. With every technological ‘advance’ we make that brings us closer to the possible execution of such stupid idea, we increase the risk of unleashing an unintended but nevertheless idiotic disaster.

    The bottom line is that if you do not want someone to do stupid things, then in the first place do not give them the means to do those things, especially not if those means are good for nothing else. Giving them those means anyway and telling them not to abuse them, simply does not work. Believing in that prohibition will be just as infantile as the other's desire to break it. At some point they will ignore or forget your warning. What is the point of enabling the average car to go much faster than the highest speed limit? What is the point of making massively unhealthy food and allowing people to buy it in unlimited amounts? What is the point of giving people the freedom and means to turn their environment into dead space covered with waterproof materials that accumulate noxious fine dust particles and cause floods whenever rainfall exceeds average levels? What is the point of allowing everyone to buy antibiotics and use them at the slightest hunch that they might help, while the only thing they are really doing is breeding resistant bacteria? What is the point of putting largely untested chemicals and nano particles in everyday products (look up ‘Triclosan’), before it is certain they have no long-term toxic effects, and encouraging everyone to buy the stuff with unfounded claims (again, look up Triclosan) that the additives will bring nothing but benefits? It surprises me how some can on the one hand be so scared of natural things like bacteria we have coexisted with for thousands of years, while on the other hand they happily accept that manufacturers are ‘enriching’ everyday products with novel, unknown, untested, and potentially much more lethal substances. Those substances are designed to fix one single tiny inconvenience while ignoring all the possible long-term health effects that fall outside the scope of this inconvenience. It baffles me how easily this stuff is allowed to enter our environment. There is a general attitude that any product should be allowed unless there is explicit proof that it has horrible consequences. This attitude is unacceptable and should be the other way round: a product should only be allowed if it has been explicitly proven to not have any nasty effects.

    *

    [REF:SYMPTOMS] What we are mostly doing with our technology is tackling symptoms instead of causes. Western medicine is probably the greatest example. If something hurts, we develop a painkiller that targets exactly that pain and everything is deemed OK. The mere existence of that pain however has as purpose to signal that something is wrong. Masking it does not solve anything, on the contrary: it removes the drive to solve the problem, allowing it to grow further. It is like boozing up yourself to forget your problems. This parallel works great because just like too much alcohol, the symptom-masking medicine often has side effects and introduces other problems next to the one it tries to hide. Or as a non-medical analog, it is like taking the battery out of a smoke detector because it is signalling that your house is on fire. Luckily I am not the only one who thinks this way. I even found a doctor who addresses this issue in his blog, featuring even exactly the same fire alarm analog. Remember, I am not only targeting medicine here. We need to change our attitude towards every kind of problem. Otherwise we will ‘burn up’ before we know it, because we have disabled all our alarms.

    [TODO] Recycle the “overreacting upon disasters” and pendulum movement section from the old text, re-work, explain from [ASSIMILATION] principle etc. Within the perspective of society acting like a high-level living entity, such behaviour is similar to an autoimmune disease, an allergic reaction where the ‘body’ causes more harm than benefit to itself.

    *

    Ecology: There Is No Such Thing as ‘Nature’

    [REF:NONATURE] There is no such thing as an isolatable entity ‘Nature’ or ‘Mother Nature’. It is just an umbrella term for a series of phenomena that stem from ages and ages of evolution. What we call ‘Nature’ is a bunch of observable parameters of an equilibrium situation that has settled over billions of years between innumerable physical and chemical processes. The specific set of parameters that is included in this definition of ‘nature’, varies between different groups of persons, and between individuals inside those groups. This simplified definition allows our small minds to make abstraction of the vast complexity of reality. I am pretty certain that every human, deep inside, still associates the word ‘nature’ with the same type of primal instincts that made our ancestors worship the sun and the moon, and perform rituals to appease what they perceived as a conscious deity. A ‘hippie’-attitude is not any better or worse in this aspect than an attitude of ‘let's conquer nature and fight it’. They are equally stupid and only differ in how the imaginary concept of ‘nature’ is looked upon. There is in fact more truth to the hippie-attitude once it is stripped from all silly feel-goodness.

    Despite what some like to believe, we are a part of those processes and their equilibrium. The equilibrium is so complex that nobody as a single person could ever grasp it. Neither can I, but at least I can accept that it exists and that I will never be able to wrap my mind around all its details at the same time. This equilibrium has never been stable and never will be, but the rate of destabilisation has started to skyrocket in mankind's most recent history. The endless craving for technological advances coupled with endless population increase is a certain recipe for disaster. Some would say that “Nature will punish us,” which could be translated from ‘hippie-speak’ into plain English as: “we will eventually have wasted all the resources that are necessary to survive and have caused irreparable damage to essential ecosystems that support human life, hence we will all die because you know, destroying the necessities to survive is a pretty poor strategy for survival.”

    The equilibrium situation that we call ‘nature’ is only one out of a sheer infinite number of equilibria. In the vast majority of all those possible equilibria, there is no room for life, let alone human life. The fraction of equilibria in which sustained human life is possible, is very tiny. It does not take much to disturb our current equilibrium such that it shifts to one of the unfavourable ones.

    I notice that there is a considerable fraction of people who consider nature a completely isolated entity and find it no problem if it would ‘die’, because mankind is purportedly completely independent of it and will certainly be able to survive on technology alone. Even when ignoring the fact that the concept of ‘nature’ is utterly vague and fuzzy, how could one be so naïve to believe such a thing? Perhaps by being so lodged inside a tiny frame of reference where all the things that can go terribly wrong in this scenario are happily ignored. Especially by ignoring all the costs of replacing processes that have evolved over millions of years to be stable and maximally efficient, with comparatively crude and kludgy technology based on steepest-hill reasoning [LINK:GREEDY] and power-hungry machinery that can often only be built with resources that are bound to run out in the not so distant future. That technology is designed to do a few things better than the natural processes, but the fact that it does many other things much worse is not considered. Nobody likes to consider the possibility that entities that have tried to do those few things ‘better’ in the distant past, have become extinct because the long-term return is negative.

    It is tempting to accuse those who believe we should try to live more ‘naturally’ of being romantic (ah yes, yet another extremely vague concept). Most ironical is that whoever tends to constantly mention the concept of ‘nature’ as something we should fight against because it is “a terrorist” (I heard that one on the radio this morning) or whatever, probably has a more romantic idea of nature than someone who realises that it is just an abstract concept. Isn't it much more romantic to believe that ‘nature’ is some well-defined semi-conscious entity that wants us all dead for who knows what reasons, and that must be conquered through technology (which never has done us any wrong, right?)

    This personification of ‘nature’ is one of the things that stands in the way of truly improving upon our situation. As long as we keep on slapping names like ‘Mother Nature’ onto what is nothing but a grab bag of observations and models, henceforth treating it as a conscious entity that reasons and wants to fight us, humans will keep on trying to fight this phantom entity and inflicting damage to the very environment they need to survive. Personifying (or to use an expensive word: anthropomorphising) something and making it appear to have an ego of any kind, is a surefire way to make everyone raise their defences to protect their own little egos [REF:ARROGANCE] and short-circuit logical reasoning [REF:HUMANTHOUGHT]. ‘Nature’ is not a person and does not have an ego. Fighting it out of sheer arrogance is utterly idiotic and counterproductive.

    Let me make this perfectly clear: I am not defending the kind of hippie attitude here of blindly looking at how things used to be and going back to that way of living because it is all ‘natural’ and fuzzy and flower power and bunnies and trees and deer. I believe anyone who wants to go that route is a complete idiot. For instance, it is not because some product is ‘natural,’ that it is safer than a synthetic product. I can brew you a tea with all natural ingredients that will make you thoroughly ill. Heck, a tea made from dog poo is also 100% natural. If you would go to the rainforest, catch one of those golden poison frogs and and take a few good licks at it, you would probably die, 100% naturally. What I want to say, is that anyone who blindly wants to reject everything not entirely controlled and manufactured by mankind because it is part of something they can describe as ‘romantic’ at best, is just as big a complete idiot as anyone who rejects anything man-made. We must stop going down these narrow-sighted paths that are steered by unconditional belief in one single methodology, panaceas [LINK:PANACEA], simple dogmatic ideas, and dumb assumptions about high-level concepts with no attempt at verifying their low-level basis. We must take a much broader view that does not exclude anything out of emotional reasons, especially because people often do not know when their reasoning is emotionally steered [LINK:HUMANTHOUGHT]. Otherwise it will not matter what kind of route we take, each will lead to a pretty damn shitty situation I do not want to experience.

    Mosquitoes

    For instance, there are many proposals at the time of this writing to eradicate mosquitoes from this planet. The motivation for this is often quoted as being the ultimate way to fight diseases like malaria (and recently, Zika has joined the club), but I suspect the true motivation to be much simpler and much more mundane. Every time one of those stupid little buggers is humming around my ears with its horribly irritating sound, I get a desire to make the damn things become extinct too. I have quite a firm belief that this is the true general motivation. Nobody in the cozy Western world truly gives a shit about people in distant continents stricken by malaria. Even those who believe they do care, are probably being fooled by their own lazy and overly optimistic mind [LINK:HUMANTHOUGHT]. In the end it does not matter whether it is sincere or not: the concern for the health of distant and unknown groups of people is nothing but a politically correct excuse to mask the shamefully simple desire to get rid of the god awful buzzing at night. Therefore we make great plans to destroy an entire animal species just for the sake of luxury. We try to ignore any evidence that this might have a large impact on the rest of the world. Maybe it has not, or maybe we consciously or unconsciously ignore a small detail that will blow up to an enormous disaster.

    To get a better idea of what is wrong with many a modern approach to nature and technology, consider the difference between something that exists in nature, for instance a kind of plant or animal, and something that was designed and created by humans, for instance an office building or a car. Why does the first exist and why does the latter exist? The natural entity exists because it originated at some point and proved able to keep on existing across thousands or even millions of years. It exists “naturally” in every sense of the word: it does not try any less than necessary nor does it try any harder to exist than necessary, and therefore it has the best chance to keep on existing. The man-made entity on the other hand exists because it was forcefully constructed, spawned out of an idea that it could be useful, or out of a need to implement something else that was deemed useful. There was never an acute need to build automobiles, someone only invented them at the time when mankind had discovered electricity and fossil fuels, and they proved to come in handy. Automobiles spawned and promoted all kinds of activities due to their mere existence, as self-fulfilling prophecies [LINK:SFP]. Mankind could have perfectly survived without cars as it had done for the tens of thousands of years before. Who knows, perhaps in the long term mankind may prove to have had a better chance at survival without them.
    For anyone who is in doubt, replace the car in this example with smartphones or tablets, and consider how necessary those really are. The difference with the natural entity is enormous: the building, car, or tablet is made from materials that were costly to obtain, they will break down spontaneously even if unused instead of automatically recovering from damage, and have not even the slightest hint at a mechanism to ensure offspring (imagine that, a procreating car).

    The natural entity on the other hand, is a tiny cog inside a huge system that exists because it originated spontaneously and can maintain itself — otherwise it would not have survived for millions of years. It fulfils a certain task in the maintaining of a giant cyclical process and it has displaced all other entities that tried to do the same task less efficiently. The artificial entity is a resource sink inside a system with a total lack of foresight into anything but the very near future. It serves only one purpose that is sometimes not even based in physical reality, it fulfils an apparent acute need and ignores all the negative effects it has. Its path of existence is not cyclical, it is a straight line that is bound to hit a hard obstacle at some point.

    This is why the tendency of many to regard every new major technological invention as the ultimate panacea [LINK:PANACEA], annoys me to no end. The mere fact that all the previous inventions proved not to be The Ultimate Solution To Everything™ should give a hint that the new one will neither be the promised magic remedy to everything. I would expect that humanity would learn from previous mistakes and disappointments, but instead it keeps on being overly optimistic and remains stuck in the idea that ‘learning’ is the act of piling up ever more facts without trying to find an overview. Humanity keeps on bumping its head against the same stone over and over again. Only because the stone looks a little different every time, people do not notice it is the same goddamn stone. Eventually this will go away of course. One can only butt one's head against a stone so many times before getting an aneurysm or bleeding to death.

    Instead of putting inane and childish messages on packaging or in product manuals like: “please recycle this product to protect (mother) nature“, it would be better to write: “please recycle this product to avoid fucking up the environment you live in and henceforth slowly killing yourself.” This might help to make some more people act a little more intelligently. Of course, the really dumb people will believe to be smart by throwing their trash a little further away such that it is not in “the environment they live in”. It may be useful to append something like: “we live in the same world as you. If we find out you threatened our lives by polluting our environment, we will come kick your ass.”

    Quite a few like to scoff at efforts to reduce greenhouse gases and other pollution that may contribute to climate change. It is difficult to estimate how many of such people there really are because on general they tend make a lot of noise, hence attract a lot of attention. Their exact fraction in the population is not important though, their absolute number is. It suffices that there are a few of them to spoil everything for the rest. They tend to mention polar bears, baby seals and penguins, in an attempt to indicate how little they care and how they think that global warming is only about some extra ice melting and some poor endangered animals dying. They believe it will not affect them in any way and want to cling to their current way of life where getting from A to B at a speed of 120kph today is more important than the certainty of having something to eat and a place to live tomorrow.

    A naïve opinion about ‘global warming’ that I hear someone using as an excuse every few weeks, is that it will only have the positive benefit of warmer weather. This is nonsense because first of all, a large part of the human population lives in areas where warmer weather is the most undesirable of things. Next, it is entirely possible and even likely that a change in climate will cause temperatures to drop and weather conditions to worsen in specific places. Yes, it may get warmer on average, but that does not mean that it cannot become much colder in some places due to e.g. the gulf stream changing course. Moreover, what benefit would warmer weather have if it would be pouring rain all the time due to the introduction of a monsoon climate? Or if the place where it got warmer becomes entirely flooded? Maybe it is worth it to not stop thinking at the point: “warmer, yay!”
    Those who ignore the issue, seem to believe they are completely independent of their environment. They believe they are somehow immune against anything screwy that happens with ‘nature’ because it is only that fuzzy thing from Disney movies filled with bunnies and deer, and which is completely separated from humanity, and we will be able to fix any problems through technology. One would need to be extremely naïve to believe in that. I do not give a shit about those polar bears and penguins either, but I find their sudden decline one of many worrying signs. It means something is wrong. At some point, the problem that threatens those animals may come knocking at the door of those who believe there is no reason to care. Again, in principle I could not care less, but I live in the same world as those people and the problem can therefore come knocking at my door as well, and that is when I do start to care.

    Coming back to this ‘Mother Nature is a terrorist’ idea I mentioned before, just consider how dumb a statement it is when taken seriously. First of all, even human terrorists will almost never incite terror just for the sheer fun of it (aside from the very few total nut-cases). They almost always do it with a specific goal in mind, which is mostly to draw attention to a plight or to discourage people from acting in a manner they consider hostile. Even when making the childish assumption that nature is some conscious entity, what would be nature's goal for inciting terror in humans? Taking revenge for cut down trees and adorable baby seals clubbed to death? Why do I even bother trying to find an answer to this question, the question in itself is nonsense, it is like asking why a piece of rock wants to hurt you when you drop it on your own feet. I say it again: nature does not think, nature does not like nor hate, nature does not feel anything, certainly not a desire to act revenge, for the plain simple reason that ‘nature’ is just an abstract concept that only exists in our minds [LINK:NONATURE]. There is only reality, and in reality bad things do happen from time to time because nobody could ever control every aspect of reality such as to prevent every possible disaster. One can either be prepared for those bad things such that they have the least possible impact, or cry and be angry at them like a dumb little child, and make one's overall situation after a disaster even worse by starting to combat something that does not even exist.

    Stop brainwashing children with ecological propaganda, it backfires

    I do not know if it is still the case nowadays but when I was a kid at elementary school (especially) and high school, we kept on being bombarded with what some would call ‘green propaganda’. There is a historical explanation behind this, because the school curricula of the 1980's were mostly constructed by people who went through the birth of the ‘ecology’ concept that started around the early 1970's. Don't get me wrong: ecology is extremely important. But as usual, people exaggerated. Apparently those who made up the curricula believed they could create a more nature-conscious generation by basically brainwashing them with as much ecologic awareness as possible. I am afraid this plan backfired in quite a few of those persons who as kids underwent these curricula. I did not mind at the time and neither did most of the other kids. We all believed in it and there was absolutely nothing wrong with that, because most of it was actually based in valid science and reasoning. But the fact that it overshadowed other important material to be learnt, hence caused us to so strongly associate ecology with our childhood, may exactly be the problem. As those kids grew up, two things happened: first, they saw that many adults did not live at all according to the principles they had been taught at school. Big disillusion! “It was all lies.” Next, they considered themselves ‘grown up’ and probably wanted to dissociate themselves from their childhood. Hence everything that had united them as kids, they now treat as childish. All the eco-stuff is supposedly for little children, now they have the right to pollute and destroy at will, because that is all adult and mature. I may just be wildly guessing here (as I do so often in this text), but every time I hear someone who considers themselves ‘adult’ scoff at ecology, there is always this undertone of: “that stuff is for little children”.

    Long story short, I would suggest to severely tone down the patronising stuff at school, and everywhere else as well for that matter. Teach children a bit of everything. Do not wedge them into a certain thought pattern, no matter how well-intended it is. If you want to teach children about ecology, just take a nice excursion to a landfill or a polluted site. If protective clothing must be worn for their safety, that's actually a plus. Do not precede or follow it by some long speech, only a short introduction of what they will see and why it is shown, and what will happen if nothing is ever done about it. The mere experience will speak for itself. Maybe some children will never understand the point of it but they are probably hopeless anyway.

    One of the most ecologically scary things I have ever seen as a kid, was a display in a museum with a doll representing a person inside a jar, connected to the exhaust pipe of a model car. Pushing a button supposedly started the car, and the display shifted from the ‘before’ to the obvious ‘after’ situation. I couldn't yet read at that time, but words were pretty much unnecessary. It did not take long until I realised how little difference there is between the situation in that display, and the world we live in. The ‘jar’ may be a lot bigger, but the effect would still be the same if we would reduce its contents down to merely humans and polluting machines. If one teaches people enough of everything and show them all aspects of reality and not just the happy-joy-filtered aspects, they will eventually understand the big picture all by themselves. The insight not to destroy the very environment that keeps them alive, is part of that big picture.

    Plants vs. Carbon

    Here is a great example of what is wrong with how people think about ‘nature’ these days. Some think it could be a good idea to build ‘artificial trees’ that store carbon dioxide (CO2) or perhaps convert it to oxygen if possible. There may be an underlying idea here that once we have those things, we no longer need to bother with real plants. If that would be true, just think twice about how ridiculous it would be. Manufacturing and maintaining those things will cause pollution and waste products, no matter how we do it. Remember the whole section about entropy. Any hitch in the manufacturing or maintenance processes would be an instant hazard for the entire human population if we would have actually been that stupid to destroy the natural mechanisms that convert CO2 to O2 + carbon compounds. Now think about what is required to make ordinary trees decompose CO2 into carbon and oxygen. All we need to do is find some nutritious soil, plant some seeds and pour water on them, and have some patience. Those seeds will grow into self-replicating, self-maintaining machines that have evolved over billions of years to be a very efficient way to convert CO2 to oxygen. Those trees require no maintenance from our part and produce virtually no waste products that are not reusable. And with reusable I mean for the whole ecosystem, not just for a tiny subset.

    Trees and other plants are not just important for producing oxygen, they are also good at removing filth from the air. Assuming that it rains from time to time, even a dead tree can still do this to some extent, because it still has a considerable surface area due to its structure. A living tree with leaves or needles is obviously much more useful because it has a multiple of that surface area, part of which is renewed on a regular basis. Even if a fine dust particle would only have 1% chance of sticking to any part of the tree when colliding with it, the tree as a whole is still an excellent filter due to its enormous surface area. (In reality, that chance is probably significantly higher. The interested or skeptic reader may want to research actual values for both surface area and ability to retain dust.) Compare this to a synthetic environment that consists of simple box-like structures which do not only have a relatively small surface area, but are also typically constructed from materials especially chosen not to accumulate dust and instead leave it lingering around for everyone to inhale.

    Yeah, those artificial ‘trees’ would better fit in a naïve capitalist model, because natural trees do not really fit in a simplistic model of production and consumption by entities frantically collecting virtual reward units [LINK:WHATISMONEY]. If we would keep on improving our ‘artificial trees’ and get enough time before we all kill ourselves, it is not unlikely that we would eventually end up with the equivalent of a natural tree. We will however in the process of this null operation have wasted an irresponsible amount of resources that could have been spent on things that really matter. Other stupid ideas are storing CO2 in the seas or ground, which is yet another excellent example of tackling symptoms and not the underlying cause, and of short-sighted reasoning. How certain is it that this CO2 will never escape? Or building a gigantic solar screen in space. Whoever came up with that idea has probably not considered the cubic kilometres of CO2 that will be produced by launching that stuff into orbit, or the fact that we already have so much crap hanging in space that it will be a miracle if that shield will not contribute to an enormous ablation cascade. I'm not even considering the effects of reducing exposure to sunlight on the physical and mental health of humans. What about the following idea: we stop producing too much CO2 and other noxious substances in the first place, and ensure that their production and consumption stays in balance just as it has been for the past few million years. Or does that make too much sense?

    One could argue that in the above paragraph, I claim that trees are ‘for free’ while elsewhere [LINK:FREELUNCH], I claim the concept of ‘free’ not to exist and everything to have a cost. First of all, the word ‘free’ does not occur in the previous paragraph. Second, from the viewpoint of a life-form that requires oxygen like a human, carbon-consuming plants are not just ‘for free,’ they are better than free. Regarded from within the entire big picture however, the plants are not for free at all, they require resources to grow. But a considerable part of those resources happen to be waste products from the oxygen-breathing life-form, and waste products from the plants happen to be resources that the life-form can use. It is a closed cycle. We might replace part of that cycle with something we build ourselves, but why would we want to replace a proven and tested autonomous mechanism with a design that probably contains many flaws waiting to emerge, and which requires continuous maintenance to not break down and compromise the supply of resources? It would be a non-stop source of trouble and stress. It would just be stupid.

    A common misconception is that trees and other plants really transform CO2 into pure O2, and the C (carbon) magically disappears. It does not. The catch is that the carbon becomes stored in the plant as a building material, for instance cellulose. The oxygen is a waste product from the process of growing the plant. As studies have confirmed (and as logic dictates), this means that only young growing trees substantially contribute to reduction of CO2 in the atmosphere. It also means that when cutting down trees and burning them completely, the stored carbon again reacts with O2 from the atmosphere and the circle is round: we again get CO2. Important to note is that fossil fuels are basically nothing but remnants of prehistoric forests. The only reason why our planet's atmosphere has an abundance of O2, is because there has been an era when forests grew and absorbed most of the carbon in the atmosphere. The forests subsequently died, fossilised, and disappeared under the ground, allowing new forests to grow on the surface. Obviously, it is perfectly possible to completely reverse this process and glue all those stored carbon atoms back to two oxygen atoms each, by digging up the remains of those forests and burning them up. Which no sane being would do because it would be tremendously stupid of course, especially when also cutting down living forests without planting new ones. Hey, wait a minute…

    The above also casts a different light on all propaganda that claims it is better to get rid of paper as an information carrier entirely. Paper is considered not environmentally friendly because trees need to be cut down to make it. Is it? Electronic communication is far more efficient obviously for any type of short-lived information, like letters, tickets, short messages, … But for documents that need to persist across many years, or books that are meant to survive multiple generations, consider the fact that to maintain them in a purely electronic form, a continuous maintenance effort is required due to the inherent volatility of electronic data. Even when storing them on a physical medium like a DVD-ROM, every access requires energy, and quite likely considerable effort to interface the old storage format with current technology. Reading a sheet of paper merely requires turning one's eyeballs towards it. Now let's get back to the idea that making paper out of trees is environmentally unfriendly. Why would cutting down a tree to make paper be bad? It only is when not replacing the cut-down tree with a new one. Quite likely it is better to cut down a tree and convert it into long-lived products while also planting a new tree, than to do absolutely nothing and leave the tree as-is. The total amount of carbon removed from the atmosphere has a good chance of being lower in the first scenario. (Merely cutting down the tree and burning it, is of course a scenario much worse than either of the previous, see above.) The idea that cutting down a tree is a one-way process, seems to be somehow deeply embedded in the mind of certain populations. It might be another side effect of the city-idealism phenomenon I discuss elsewhere [LINK:CITYIDEAL]. Maybe humans have somehow developed the stupid instinctive idea that cutting down trees is definitive and any piece of soil where a tree had previously grown, must be paved with something ‘civilised’. This sounds like bullshit and I really hope it is, but it would not be the first time when reality proves more absurd than my wild ideas.

    Silent Running

    I do not know if it is a thing of the times or just of the country I live in (let's call it by name: Belgium, more specifically the Flemish region), but there seems to be some war against trees going on, an increasing drive to cut down every single tree in the entire country. Some talk of this as if it is some kind of progress. I do not know what kind of justification they have for it. There are a few suspicions of course, first of all contractors in Belgium have more power than politicians (remember UPlace: at the time of this writing nobody wants it, almost all politicians are against it, but still I won't be surprised if it will have been built in five years). Second, consider my discussion about ‘city-idealism’ [LINK:CITYIDEAL]. Another possibility is that people hope to reduce allergic reactions by cutting down trees (there have been actual suggestions to cut down all birch trees). Tell me, how much sense does it make that people would suddenly become allergic to an environment they have lived in and evolved in for thousands of years? None. Any sound reasoning will reveal that the trees cannot be the real cause of the problem. Cutting them down is tackling a symptom [LINK:SYMPTOMS], not a cause. Sooner or later the real cause, whatever it is but I bet it is something man-made (how about the smog from the filthy diesel engines the average Belgian is so in love with), will probably trigger allergic reactions to pretty much everything, including people's own bodies. Who knows, maybe the trees that have all disappeared would prove to have been the only economical means to get rid of the true pollutant.

    Every time trees in a public location are cut down or an area with natural vegetation is paved, a storm of protest ensues. Entire movies have been made that covertly or overtly boil down to a protest against the destruction of forests or nature in general. If you want to see a truly fucked up example of this, watch ‘Silent Running’ (1972) but do not complain that I did not warn you it is weird. The film depicts a future when earth has become so overpopulated and polluted, that the only forest-like environments remaining are inside giant domes attached to a giant spaceship orbiting the planet (how the people on the planet are supposed to survive in their hopeless situation, is never explained). At some point the costs of maintaining the domes is deemed too high, and the crew is given the task to destroy them. One of the crew members however starts to resist and eventually ends up murdering the entire rest of the crew, and if this already sounds messed up, I won't even give away how the film ends. If you're looking for a feel-good film, by all means do not watch this film.

    It may seem peculiar how there can be such a strong built-in aversion against deforestation in a large proportion of all humans, and a motivation to spend so much effort on a film that weird (‘Silent Running’ does have some impressive and expensive models and special effects for its time). The group is often large enough that even when none of them have any significant power on their own, they are still able to prevent the few high-level individuals from continuing. Contractors and city planners will of course attack this deep-rooted reflex with words like ‘romantic’ and ‘quaint’ in an attempt to make it seem uncool. Yes of course they will, because any tree that cannot be cut down is a patch of land that cannot be built upon, hence missed potential profit. Those words ‘romantic’ and ‘quaint’ do not mean anything. On the other hand, the existence of this ubiquitous innate desire to live in a green environment must mean something. Suppose that in the past, two groups of people clustered together and evolved away from each other: one that developed a built-in appreciation for trees and one with a desire to turn their environment into a dead barren wasteland. Which of the two groups was the most likely to survive in the long term?

    On March 15th 2014, I heard in a news report that CO2 levels in the atmosphere had reached a record high in hundreds of thousands of years. Of course the news report was presented as if this were a huge surprise. There is nothing surprising about it, aside from the fact that it took so long for this fact to be reported in mainstream news. Even though I had never looked at any curve of CO2 levels, I was certain it must be skyrocketing. The logic is simple: mankind is destroying mechanisms that synthesise O2 from CO2, and at the same time it is adding more mechanisms that produce CO2. We extract fossil fuels from the earth's crust: remnants of old forests that had decomposed CO2 into carbon and O2 and stored the carbon. Now we reverse that process and glue those stored carbon molecules back to oxygen molecules by burning up all those fuels. How can it be a surprise that CO2 levels are increasing? It is like making a campfire inside an airtight room and being surprised that people inside the room start to choke.
    Now I have looked at the actual curve, it is even worse than I thought. It is going up vertically. Here is a prediction without even looking at any studies: the levels will keep on rising, the rise in levels will cause humongous problems, many will die directly and indirectly as a result of those problems, and only then will the average public start to realise how bad the problem is, and it will be way too late. I think the havoc will be worse than the worst thing anyone dares to come up with today. Any economical profits that are currently being made by processes that make the curve go up in such a ridiculously steep way, will be annihilated and converted into massive losses. Nobody will even give a fuck about economy anyway, merely surviving will be difficult enough on its own. It is funny to hear John Kerry say that the technology to reverse the effects of climate change exists. Of course it exists, it has existed for millions of years. What seems to be severely lacking though, is the good will he mentioned.

    The general sentiment the majority of people in my surroundings seem to have, is that for some undefined reason all this crap is unavoidable. Coming back to Silent Running, one particular reviewer on IMDb wrote that the kind of future depicted in that film is ‘unavoidable’. I have no idea what kind of reasoning, if any, was behind that statement. Obviously, anyone who assumes beforehand that a bad future is inevitable and not worth fighting against, becomes imprisoned inside this stupid self-fulfilling prophecy [LINK:SFP]. Granted, tackling the problem in its current state will not be trivial. It will require extreme measures, it will require letting go of some of our luxuries, and the mere momentum of the damage that has already been done will keep on deteriorating the situation for a while, even if we pull all the stops and implement the best possible cure. We need to keep that in mind and not give up if things do not improve immediately. The only alternative is a situation much worse, and that is exactly what we will get if we just keep on being lazy and indifferent.

    The next news report I am waiting for is one that confirms a drop in oxygen levels in the atmosphere. Again, it is obvious that this will happen even without a scientific study. Although the increased CO2 levels allow plants to grow quicker and keep oxygen levels stable for the time being, there is an upper limit on that. If we keep on removing more and more plants and at the same time adding more processes that burn up oxygen, we will at some point reach that limit. Any sane being would want to stay away from that limit by a margin as large as possible.

    Electronic Communication

    It is not just ways to fix pollution, also many of our attempts to avoid pollution are deeply flawed and based on short-sighted naïve strategies that tend to backfire. Coming back to the ‘paper is evil’ idea, consider the repercussions of replacing all possible paper-based communication with electronics. Replacing paper books with e-readers would be an OK idea if everyone — including those who read few books — would not be forced to buy a new reader every year because it breaks or is “out of fashion”. Manufacturing one e-reader and keeping it in working condition is an order of magnitude more polluting than creating several paper books, which are easily recycled and will still ‘work’ in 500 years without ever requiring energy or maintenance. Not a single high-tech electronic consumer device made today will still work in 500 years without requiring expensive repairs, unless it is conserved with extreme care. Heck, by then it might even be difficult to find someone who still knows how to bring it back to life.

    More generally, electronic communication is often touted as being more environmentally friendly than paper-based communication. Is it? If someone is taking notes on a tablet that syncs data across the internet and that needs to be recharged every day just to be of any use at all, does this really have a smaller ecological footprint than someone jotting down the same things with a pencil in a paper booklet? Maybe that booklet is perfectly sufficient for the situation. There is no continuous cost associated with keeping the booklet in ‘working order’ because its mere physical existence is its working order. Accessing it requires no more energy than required to grab it and open one's eyes. The same effort is required for accessing the tablet, plus the easily overlooked cost of the electrical power to run the tablet, the even more easily overlooked electrical power to send the data over networks and wireless receivers, and of course the resources required to generate all that electricity and to manufacture the device and all that infrastructure. The situation is way more complicated than people like to assume. In certain cases the electronic communication will certainly be more efficient and have a lower impact than other means, in other cases it will be a huge resource drain.

    I seem to remember someone computing the cost of performing a simple calculation by typing it in Google. There is hardly any need to find that article, nor to compute the exact numbers for that matter, if we merely think about this for ourselves. I have a pocket calculator that can run on three LR44 button cells for more than 10 years under typical usage. The calculator is quite advanced, it can even be programmed. The button cells provide a total of 4.5V and can deliver 150mA for one hour. You won't get very far with that on a present-day mobile device. A small and efficient device might survive for a few hours on that amount of power. It might be able to handle some hundred calculations performed through the search engine, while the pocket calculator can probably do a million calculations. However, for the calculator the power usage is constrained to the device itself. The mobile device on the other hand, is just the start in a long chain of power-hungry machines that ends somewhere in a data centre that gobbles up enough power to heat a swimming pool. The 0.675 Wh contained within the calculator's button cells are probably by far insufficient to handle even a single request. Heck, I could probably even perform that same calculation in my brain, which might require something like the power contained in a grain of sugar.

    Next to the environmental aspect, practical aspects are also often brought forward to promote electronic communication. Again, which kind of technology is the most appropriate, depends on the situation. If I work in a company where everyone has a short scrum meeting every noon, and we need to be aware of each other's vacation plans, then we could either rely on the official planning software which generates an overview of everyone's registered vacation periods, or we could simply stick a printed blank time table to the wall where we hold our meeting, and put a pencil and eraser next to it. The first solution might seem optimal, until one realises that to view the online table, someone needs to open a web browser and log into the administration tool, and then click through to the overview. As for the piece of paper, we are all standing next to it anyway, so in the worst case one needs to take a few steps to come closer to it. Moreover, if anyone is not entirely sure yet of their exact vacation period, they will not yet have entered those days in the system because it only is meant to enter finalised data. On the paper it is easy to note a preliminary period and any associated comment. The eraser makes the paper sufficiently adjustable. There is an ecological aspect as well: the single piece of paper will be used for about four months which makes its cost insignificant. It requires no energy to hang on the wall, and the energy required to read and update it is negligible as well. Consulting the online tool daily during the same period on the other hand, will have a much larger ecological impact. If the practical aspect of the table not being readily available is mitigated by mounting a computer or tablet on the same wall, then consider the cost of running that computer for the same four-month period, and the relative cost of manufacturing an entire complex machine that will be used for this single purpose only. Of course, all these hidden costs are never touched upon in the mind of anyone who still rides the wave of the panacea [LINK:PANACEA] of electronic communication. They only look at the positive aspects and cut off their reasoning before any negative aspect is considered [LINK:HUMANTHOUGHT].

    When I have to design anything, or reason about an algorithm or whatever, I always start out with a sketch on a simple piece of paper. If accuracy is not a concern (it never is during the first design stage), then simply scribbling on paper is the most direct and practical means. There is no setup cost of launching apps and logging in, the only cost is in moving my arms (which I would also need to do for an electronic design). Often the sketch is sufficient for the final work, and in that case I will indeed convert it to electronic form by merely making a photograph or scan to store on a digital medium for easy archiving. I do not believe in a single solution for everything. I believe in the right tool for the right job.

    Electric Cars and Solar Cells

    Consider electric cars, often touted to be the solution against pollution caused by internal combustion engines. It seems perfectly ecological: no exhaust gases. Until one starts thinking where we will get the electricity. I will elaborate on this further on, but the simple fact is that an electric car is at best as eco-friendly as the means to produce the energy it is charged with. If we produce the electricity in coal and gas plants, we are probably doing worse than burning fuel inside the car itself, because the latter skips the conversion step between heat and electricity that is notoriously inefficient, as well as all the costs of getting the electricity from the production plant to the car. And then we haven't even looked yet at the batteries themselves. Batteries are buckets or packets of chemicals, they require other chemicals for manufacturing and eventually they will need to be disposed of when they are worn out. Even when totally ignoring all ecological aspects, these batteries are also the largest practical hurdle. It takes ages to charge the damn things and any attempt to charge them faster will also wear them out faster. Perhaps the internal combustion engine is not as polluting as it may seem. Who knows, if we provided sufficient green areas everywhere instead of destroying them, maybe these areas would be perfectly sufficient to filter out the pollution from modern combustion engines. But city planners seem to prefer to level and pave everything with asphalt and concrete surfaces that nicely accumulate all the soot and fine dust particles that might look similar enough to pathogens to make our immune systems go crazy. I guess these planners will advise people to simply hold their breath until the next rain shower. Or why not, to always travel by car equipped with air filters when going outside, which obviously only worsens the overall situation.

    Moreover, combustion engines have become so advanced that a considerable part of the pollution produced by a modern car does not come from the engine. It comes from brakes and tyres wearing off and releasing fine dust particles. Switching to electric cars does not remedy this, although the need for mechanical braking can be reduced by braking electrically which allows to recover part of the energy as well.

    Solar cells are another example. Yes, once one has a solar cell, one has basically ‘free energy’. To the uninitiated, they look like magic: put them in sunlight, connect some wires and ta-da, electricity for free. What those people tend to forget is that it costs energy to manufacture solar cells, and that the manufacturing process is complicated and polluting. I have made high-end solar cells in a lab myself. Some of the chemicals involved you really do not want to come into contact with. Of all silicon platters that enter a high-end manufacturing process, a considerable fraction will not survive up to the final product but will become waste. Solar cells do not last forever either, neither do the electronics required to condition their output into usable electrical power. Plus, to make solar power useful beyond the moments where there is daylight, storage is required — batteries again. This means more chemicals and more electronics. It does not make sense to put high-end cells on short-lived disposable products. On average, those cells will not even come near to generating a break-even for the resources that went into making them, unless care is taken to recover and re-use the cells from discarded devices until they have really worn out from usage. Then again, that refurbishing process will also be polluting and reduce the net positive effect of using the cells, compared to either using some other energy source or avoiding the need for a powered device altogether. I can go on like this, but there is little point because most people already cut off their reasoning at: “free energy, yay!”

    The whole drive towards ‘green energy’ is not flawed per se, but it offers many pitfalls that the naïve often forget or do not want to consider. Even windmills that may appear very clean, require components that may be very polluting to produce. They require continuous maintenance, and they also wear out and must eventually be replaced. Yes, nuclear power is a problematic technology and as it works now, it is not a long-term solution. However, hastily tearing down existing nuclear plants in response to events that were due more to poor management and planning than inherent unsafeness of the technology, will risk being much poorer a solution than to gradually phase out the technology or trying to evolve it towards a safer and more efficient state. If nuclear plants are closed prematurely before sufficient ‘green’ replacements are available, the resulting shortage in electrical power will need to be filled in by fast and readily available alternatives like coal and gas plants, or local gasoline-powered generators. Those are exactly the kind of sources of pollution we wanted to get rid of by switching to nuclear power initially and renewable sources later on. Replacing petrol engine cars with electrical vehicles is pointless if the electricity to charge those vehicles is produced in such CO2-spewing power plants. As usual, the story is not as simple as some want to believe, and trying to keep it simple by blatantly ignoring important facts only makes the whole situation more complex and worse.

    I am somewhat skeptical about nuclear fusion reactors ever becoming viable without introducing nasty side effects that are currently still beyond the horizon or blatantly ignored (as has been done in the heydays of nuclear fission), but I keep my hopes up and I believe research in this field is very useful. Keep in mind that even if it works out, it will not be the ultimate miracle solution that will make energy basically free and that will allow us to do anything. There will still be substantial costs, we will still (and much more easily) be able to turn our planet into an oven that kills us, and we will still be able to destroy everything that keeps us alive. But we will also have more means to avoid all those things. It will be entirely up to ourselves what we decide to do.

    Eco?o?y

    [REF:ECOEQUIVALENT] There is a simple fact that is severely violated in present times. The fact is that the concepts of ‘economy’ and ‘ecology’ become equivalent when considered over a sufficiently large scope and sufficiently long time span. [LINK:NONATURE,NOECONOMY] For the average consumer, this time span is very short: when buying something that is truly ‘eco,’ it should not matter whether that is the abbreviation of “ecological” or “economical” because the repercussions for the consumer are the same. The ‘ecological’ product will incur less usage costs, e.g. an ecological heating system will spill less energy into the environment, therefore consume less fuel, therefore have a lower running cost. Moreover, it can only be ecological by lasting long in order to reduce pollution due to disposal and replacement by a new installation. Again, savings for the customer, therefore the ecological product is also economical.
    For a company making these products however, the time span for the equivalence to become obvious is much longer. Initially the ‘best’ strategy seems exactly the opposite as the one for consumers: considering short-term profit the ultimate goal and disregarding all the rest, it is better to sell something incredibly wasteful that will break down quickly, like the average contemporary ink-jet printer (see also below [LINK:INKJET]). Yet, as the time span increases, this greedy [LINK:GREEDY] snatch-and-grab strategy will start to backfire and become very unprofitable eventually. Only the kind of company that keeps on delivering what the consumer really needs (mind how I do not write: “wants”), will persist.

    In any healthy system, something that is economically good must also be ecologically good. If it is only good in a short-term economical sense while being ecologically damaging, then after a while it will also become economically damaging. All the ecological damage will eventually need to be paid for, possibly with a high interest rate on top. The reason is simple: in the end, the economical system runs on the ‘hardware’ of the ecological system it destroyed. The damage will eventually find its way back into the economy and if it has been let to accumulate sufficiently, it can be devastating. At the point where the damage is lethal, it will not matter much whether the victims are the consumers who have been squeezed like lemons during all those years, or the CEOs of companies who have basically been stealing from those consumers. Perhaps the former are better off since they have less to lose.

    As I have been repeating countless times in this entire text, this is all a matter of scope. Economy and ecology both model equilibria. Ecology mostly looks at global equilibrium over a long time span, while economy tends to look at local short term equilibrium only. The word “sustainable” tends to be applied to the kind of economy that is in line with ecology, but I try to avoid that word because it has been overused so much that it has adverse effects on the average person [LINK:HABITUATION]. For someone who is too naïve to look any farther than the immediate future and the narrow cosy context of capitalism, this paragraph may sound like flowery hippie-speak. If that is the case then I wonder why you are still reading, because the whole rest of this text will only be more of the same.

    The previous paragraphs hint at the main problem with economy versus ecology: the scope of economical models is generally small both in time and location, while the scope of ecological models is generally extended in time, and global. In the end, the ultimate ecological model would model the entire universe, which of course is utopian [LINK:UNIVERSE], but a model limited to our planet alone is quite feasible and sufficient for avoiding the majority of problems. The fact that our economical models are overly simple would not be a problem as such, if it were not for all the problems with human thinking I elaborate on elsewhere in this text [LINK:HUMANTHOUGHT, ARROGANCE]: we like to lock up ourselves in a narrow frame-of-reference and either ignore or scoff at everything that falls outside of it, so we can uphold the illusion that we are all-knowing. Someone provided a nice illustration of this in the news of the day of this writing: he defended the cutting of a patch of forest to allow expanding his company with an argument that basically boils down to “economy is at least as important as ecology”. Unfortunately, it is not. A world with ecology alone can run perfectly on its own, as it has done for the past few million years. A world with all ecology destroyed and nothing but the kind of economy as we currently envisage it, will not last longer than a few decades.

    Another important difference is that ecology models something that was already present before humans even existed at all. Economy on the other hand models something that only exists because humans created and maintain it. This is why I frown every time I see economical predictions that try to go beyond more than a few years. Those predictions seem to assume that the economy is a rigid given, controlled by external factors, and our only option is to ride its waves. Wrong: we are the economy. If we give up beforehand and assume it will become shitty, then we have yet another dumb self-fulfilling prophecy on our hands. If scientific research on the other hand would show that the ecology would become worse in the next few decades due to fuck-ups made long ago, then we might have problem much, much worse.

    Ink-jet Printers Suck

    [REF:INKJET] At the time of this writing, there is a striking example of this discrepancy between economy and ecology: printers (especially ink-jet printers). A study [TODO:LINK], as well as experiences of my own, have shown that manufacturers are incorporating special circuits in their products that cause them to refuse to print long before the ink cartridge is really empty (in my own test with an Epson Stylus Color 680, the cartridge proved to contain 50% more ink than estimated). Worse, some printers are programmed to apparently break down after a specific period of use. The whole idea of loathsome practices like these is of course to sell more ink cartridges and keep the sales of the printers themselves flowing as well. Not a single consumer benefits from this. So much for the ‘invisible hand’ theory. The few who get profits from the printer sales get profits in the short term, but they make their printers so hated with their customer base that people will start to look for alternatives and try to eliminate the need for printing altogether. Now, where is the profit in a company that sells printers nobody wants to buy? Eventually the invisible hand works after all, but unfortunately it only applies to the long-term. During the time span while it settles, there are many opportunities to make peoples' lives miserable, and accumulate hidden costs that need to be repaid in the future.

    In principle, there is nothing wrong with trying to create an ‘ecosystem’ where everything needs to be replaced regularly. If one looks at nature, it consists almost exclusively of such processes. Things die and are replaced by new generations all the time. Within a certain time span, pretty much every cell in our bodies is regenerated. The whole difference between this and the forced replacing of products however, is exactly that forced aspect. In nature, the replacement happens exactly when it is required, because evolution has wiped out all entities that were too slow in replacing worn-out parts, and also the ones that wasted too many resources by prematurely replacing. Things generally last exactly as long as they can and when they are worn out, the replacement is readily available or built on demand. This is entirely different from making something that can last fifteen years, and programming it such that only a tiny essential subcomponent self-destructs after three years. All the other parts that are still perfectly good need to be discarded or forcibly recycled, which is nonsense. If we truly want to ensure that customers will need to buy a replacement in due time, then the product must be designed such that it will ‘naturally’ wear out within some expected time span. Not just one single component but the entire machine. This means the entire machine will need to be built from cheaper materials, and this necessarily means that economical equilibrium will force the price of the machine to go down compared to a version built out of expensive parts. What would be really cool, is if the machine could then just be thrown in a compost bin and it would simply decompose into useful substances like any other organic remains. This will require some vastly different approaches to manufacturing. But in the end it will become a necessity if we want to survive beyond anything but merely the near future.

    If the idea of slowly rotting printers and other commodities sounds too awkward, no problem. Both economically and ecologically, it is perfectly OK to strive for products that last for decades, at the condition that we get rid of the intentional self-destruct mechanisms and make the products repairable until they have reached a state where too many parts are worn out. At that point it must still be possible to decompose, recycle, or reuse every part of the machine in a non-polluting manner. There have been long periods in human history where things used to be like this, and to me these periods appear a lot more stable than the current. It makes sense that such kind of economy is stable, because it offers more varied work opportunities: next to the mere manufacturing and recycling like in the previous type of economy, it also offers repair and maintenance opportunities. Obviously, these two paradigms of short and long lifetime products can perfectly coexist, but only when separated at product boundary level. Once they are intermingled inside the same product, we are back at the dodgy situation of products that never reach the lifetime required to produce a holistic break-even on their investment cost.

    The same goes for packaging: why do we package foodstuffs that perish within two weeks, inside packaging that can last ten years? This is completely backwards. The whole package should start to decompose within reasonable time when exposed to water and bacteria from the outside. Of course we will still want to provide some barrier at the inside, because we wouldn't want the whole thing to instantly become a pile of putrescence when its contents start rotting. I know the idea of rotting packaging will trigger some obsolete instincts in many persons, but face it: those same instincts cause almost everybody to throw away food packaged in our current indestructible plastic armour when the outside has been exposed to dirt. This makes no sense because the packaging is designed to protect against that. Why design the packaging to last forever and be impenetrable, while we pretend it is perishable and permeable? This is a waste of resources.

    Tree-huggers

    The big problem with ecology is that a mere mentioning of the word tends to conjure up images of tree-hugging idiots who amongst other clichés drive hybrid cars, are vegetarians for no good reason, and women who do not shave their armpits. This image is so widespread in the region where I live, that it is also the first thing that pops into my mind, and I need to remind myself that it has no solid grounds. The sad thing though is that there is some truth to that image.

    After it emerged around the start of the 1970s, the word ‘ecology’ has been gradually losing its core meaning. It has lost its zero point and started to float. Now, some 40 years later, it has become one of the many vapid ready-made ‘lifestyles’ that offer a preset bunch of behaviours that somehow map onto a set of basic emotions, an easy shortcut for people to lead a life without having to think deeply. Most of those tree-huggers either adopted this lifestyle because certain aspects of it feel good, or they had it spoon-fed through their parents. I do not believe many of them will be able to drill down even only superficially on any of the scientific backgrounds that justify ecology. If asked, their argumentation may well end short at references to poor cute endangered animals and dogmas about peace and love. In practice they probably act quite often in ways that are actually ecologically damaging. In this regard, those people are in no way better than someone who picked a wasteful and destructive lifestyle that appeals to other primitive instincts that only made sense in a long gone period where quick growth was useful and feasible due to the small number of humans on this planet.
    I do not drive a hybrid car and do not intend to buy one until the technology has been thoroughly proven to be both ecologically and economically justified, I enjoy consuming probably the equivalent of an entire cow every year, and if I had been a woman, my decision to shave my armpits would be exclusively based on whether it has any practical benefits. Yet this text is full of motivations to live ecologically, and I do avoid any pointless behaviour that only wastes resources. The sole reason for this way of life is that it simply makes sense when considering everything together instead of going for the easy route of cloning some pre-digested behaviour like an ape.

    Some seem to have been so over-exposed [LINK:OVEREXPOSURE] to ecological propaganda in the past that they will overreact to anything reeking of ecology, in the most peculiar of ways. Merely mentioning the word or trying to incorporate an ecological message into a movie will cause such peoples' minds to prance like a horse that has been kicked in the face. It is not uncommon to see reactions like: “to compensate for this, I will burn a vat of gasoline in my garden” or: “I will buy a Hummer and use it to drive to the grocery one block away.” Such reactions apparently are some kind of attempt at… well, frankly I don't know. My best guess is displaying boundless idiocy or something. I believe it is pointless and counterproductive to shove ecology into people's faces, it will at best reach those who were already aware of it, at worst it will make the others become even more opposed to it, or even worse: it could annoy those with a neutral stance to such a degree that they become opposed. The frame of reference of the group that was already opposed is so tiny that it is almost impossible to fit any thought in it that requires a wider scope. The only real practical way is that they learn from their mistakes, if those do not kill them.

    Unconditional adaptation is potentially lethal

    Many people are amazed at the ability of humans to adapt to their environment and consider it one of the greatest strengths of our species. I do not see it in such an unconditionally positive way. Adapting to an environment that will eventually become lethal is not a strength, it is palliative care at best. Adaptation is only good if it is steered in the right direction. The problem is that the adaptation stage of humans appears to be almost entirely unrestricted and is by far the strongest during the first few decades of their lives. For some reason, bludgeoning humans with the same bad things over and over again will eventually make them accept it. This is a recurring theme in George Orwell's ‘Animal Farm,’ where repetition of the same ideas and exposure to the same bad situations leads to acceptance, regardless of how bad the ideas and situations are, within certain limits. This initial stage of unconditional adaptation gradually erodes away when humans get older: they tend to mostly freeze into whatever frame of reference they grew up in, treating it as the ultimate model of everything, and attempting to transform everything that does not fit within that frame such that it fits. If the frame is really small, this often means crushing and destroying stuff to make it fit — both literally and as a matter of speaking.

    It makes sense that this age-limited adaptation mechanism exists. The skyrocketing rate of change of the world is only a very recent phenomenon (and probably a short-lived one at that too). Mankind and its ancestors have evolved in a world that did not change appreciably during the lifespan of a single individual. There was only a need to learn how the world worked during childhood, after that it was simply playback. Therefore I believe that humans are programmed to consider the world as they see it during their childhood as a blueprint for the rest of their life (cf. Plato's cave allegory). When the world deviates from this blueprint, they will try to force it back into the plan they know. Even those who pretend to keep on following all the latest fads, will still project them into their rigid world view. Their idea of ‘keeping up with the times’ boils down to looking at the present from different corners of their rigid frame-of-reference until they get a view they like.

    [REF:CITYIDEAL] It seems to me for instance that there is a considerable group of people who think it is obvious that some day, every square meter of this planet that is not entirely inhospitable will be covered by some kind of densely populated city-like environment. This is not surprising given that a large part of mankind now dwells and has grown up in cities. They have rarely seen anything else, evidenced by anecdotes of teenagers who have never seen a live cow and have no real idea where milk, steaks, or other types of food come from. I did not believe these anecdotes until I met someone who really could not believe that milk comes from cow udders. Such people simply believe that the environment they grew up in is ‘normal’ in the sense of ‘the norm’. They never really wondered where the plastic bottles or cartons with milk in the stores come from, they took them for granted as being part of the city environment. They believe it is obvious that the world will evolve towards a transformation of everything into that kind of environment.

    This vision of a world-wide city is in reality a nightmare. Aside from problems discussed elsewhere that are inherent with covering the entire surface of the planet with inhabited space [LINK:MAXPOP], it becomes clear that this kind of situation has no future when looking at it from any holistic point-of-view, whether it be thermodynamical, ecological, or economical. A city is a low-entropy environment that requires a constant influx of resources to maintain itself. Obviously, I cannot prove this but if anyone would be crazy enough to do the extremely complicated maths, I am certain that any typical city as it exists now would be proven to die within a short time span if it were completely isolated from the rest of the world. The city can only survive through exchange of resources with the outside world (more specifically, through importing useful resources and exporting mostly waste, a considerable part of which will be waste heat). If that entire outside world would become city as well or become saturated with waste, the city would starve. Therefore if the entire world would become one huge city, the entire world would starve and choke in waste.
    If isolating an entire city seems too far-fetched an experiment, consider the first experiment that ran in the Biosphere 2 facility, a research project that attempted to create an isolated ecosystem. This first experiment was not a success due to various reasons like wildly fluctuating CO2 levels and the disappearance of certain important animal species. Now consider the fact that this was a direct attempt to build a functional ecosystem. If even that proves so difficult, then how viable could an environment be, that has grown merely from a drive to fulfil a limited set of naïve desires with no attempt at looking at the bigger picture?

    The more city-minded people are who read this, the harder they probably feel their brains squirm at this point, trying to find an emergency exit out of this hostile and uncomfortable string of thoughts [LINK:HUMANTHOUGHT]. They may be thinking of stuffing agriculture into buildings, arcologies, or downright insane ideas like trying to transform humanity into beings that no longer rely on biological resources. All solutions that introduce many more problems than the one single apparent problem they try to solve.
    The only way to avoid nonsense like this is proper education. People would not believe dense cities are the ultimate structure to pave the entire planet with, if they would have been shown the world outside them, including byproducts of the glorious city life like massive landfills that grow day by day with no prospect of ever shrinking, or island-sized heaps of plastic garbage floating around in the oceans. Those who have moronic ideas mostly have them because they have never known the bigger picture that shows the silliness of the ideas. They are not really to blame (cf. Plato's cave allegory). Those who educated them, or rather neglected to educate them, are. I picked this ‘city-idealism’ as an example because so many can relate to it. There are much worse, albeit fortunately less common ways in which people can grow up with a skewed vision of reality. There are children who grow up with access to machetes, grenades and automatic weapons, and the impression that it is OK to use those things to kill anyone who appears different from their own kind. [Note 2014-11-09: two words: Islamic State. It may be necessary to rewrite this paragraph because reality has surpassed absurdity.]

    Although I believe the ability for adaptation is by far the strongest during youth, it is not such that it suddenly grinds to a halt at a certain age, it only gradually fades. Otherwise not everyone would not be able to cope with the current pace of change (although anyone can easily see e.g. elder people struggling with it). Again, there is no reason to view this in an unconditionally positive light.
    [REF:DEPRIFOOD] For instance, suppose that some substance is introduced in the food chain that makes people ill in such a way that they start acting in a long-term self-destructive manner, for instance it makes them utterly depressed. If this would be very local, people outside that region would notice the unusual behaviour and notify or try to treat the affected persons. Conversely, the small group would notice that they are different from the outside region and start looking for the cause. Consider however the scenario where the substance is distributed gradually and evenly across the entire population. How will people notice that their situation is deteriorating? Basically, they will not. Everyone will obey their ape instincts and gauge their own situation by looking around them, and they will see the same behaviour everywhere because the substance wreaks havoc everywhere equally. If a few would avoid exposure to the substance, not only will the others consider them deviant, they may believe to be ‘abnormal’ themselves. This is why it is important to look further than only your immediate surroundings and time period to gauge whether your situation is OK. Perhaps “things used to be better” indeed and there is no justification to make them worse.

    *

    It seems that many if not most people nowadays consider technology a goal. That does not make any sense. Per definition, technology is a means to a solution. In other words, it is a means to reach goals, not a goal on itself. There is no point in blindly pursuing technology without having a clear vision of what one wants to achieve with it, otherwise it is wild speculation. It seems to me that the only kind of goal that quite a few have to justify our current technological efforts, is some utopian vision of a heaven-on-earth (or in space?) supported by advanced technology. To anyone who understands the whole rest of this text, it should be obvious that this sci-fi future has a very high probability of never happening. Worse, the harder we strive for it the more likely we will create a hell-on-earth instead. The whole problem is that even when technology is being developed to arrive at some goal, there is actually not always a clearly defined goal at all. Everyone believes we all know what we are doing and that everyone is striving for the same goal — because you know, “everyone must be the same as myself” [LINK:EVERYONEISLIKEME]. The reality is that everyone has a different idea of this goal, perhaps very different from what others think. Wherever there is a hint of a clearly defined goal, it is mostly something short-sighted, greedy, and unrealistic.

    This is actually the same problem as with money. Money is in fact a kind of technology [LINK:WHATISMONEY]. It is also only a means to achieve goals but I am really only stating the obvious if I say that for many, obtaining as much money as possible has become their ultimate goal of life. Someone who only pursues money on itself is aimlessly walking around like a decapitated chicken, wasting time and energy while going nowhere. That goal cannot be reached because no matter how much money one has, it will never be “as much as possible”, more is always theoretically possible. For any amount N of money, N+1 is always larger, and larger seems better. It is one heck of a way to get frustrated. The only pseudo-goals that some people invent to justify this meaningless pursuit for money are just as idiotic as the excuses for making cool but pointless gizmos.
    The whole pursuit for technological advances is increasingly starting to get a religious aspect. When I hear some people defend the reasons why they pursue something, there is often a lack of true fundamental motivations and it starts to remind me of religious speeches or excerpts from the bible in some way. This is not surprising. A large part of the western population has basically killed its ‘classic’ religions in the last few decades, but there is no way that they have suddenly lost their innate craving for a greater order, a craving that helped humanity get through its dark ages and that must be hard-coded in human genes. It will take at least a few thousand more years of evolution to get rid of that, not just one generation. Therefore this craving must now have been re-channeled into something else, and for many people this channel has become some technological, economical, and/or scientific pursuit. The result is that there is far less rigour in this scientific pursuit than many want to believe.

    *

    Group behaviour: [TODO: similar to other sections, try to merge] most peoples' lives revolve around nothing else than finding out how the majority around them lives, and then mimicking this behaviour no matter how stupid it is. For such people there is no absolute notion of ‘good’ and ‘bad’, aside from a few primitive hard-coded instincts. ‘Good’ is simply what the others mostly tend to do, and their monkey-see-monkey-do instinct automatically produces a warm fuzzy feeling when they do the same thing. ‘Bad’ is anything that seems unusual. There is no grand scheme of things, no central control. The only thing that steers them is this simple mechanism. In a certain way, humans are nothing but relatively simple cells in a massive cellular automaton. The only difference with a typical cellular automaton like Conway's Game of Life is that the cells are free to move and have the potential to act intelligently on their own, but they do that only very rarely. There are quite a few of those cells that have barely any problem-solving abilities at all, but they can still function through copying the behaviour of more intelligent cells [LINK:SMART]. Of course, if they copy the wrong behaviour or make errors in this copying process, things can go horribly wrong.
    This extremely basic social instinct is the reason why ‘social networking’ things like Facebook are so popular: now everyone can even mimic each other without even requiring any form of physical contact! Social networks are taking over the role of magazines which were filled with bullshit about current trends. Trends are ready-to-use guidelines to act in line with the almighty group. Once someone is reined in by the blissful feeling that they ‘belong’ and live like the rest of their group, they don't even want to consider if the way they're living is stupid or ‘wrong’. Their brains will instantly shut down [LINK:HUMANTHOUGHT] any line of thought that comes remotely close to questioning the group behaviour. Within their group, behaviour that fits with the group is ‘right’ and otherwise it is ‘wrong’, period. Those who act according to the group's rules are ‘sane’ and others are ‘crazy’. Religion is a great example. Most people proceed from the incorrect assumption that everyone else is just like them [LINK:EVERYONEISLIKEME], which is just one of the mechanisms through which group behaviour is implemented, and this mechanism is deeply hardcoded in human behaviour. If someone is not like the others, we slap a label on them, call it a disease or mental disorder, and then it is all right because it fits in our simplistic model of the world. When someone asks: “what is your problem?”, the unspoken answer is in most cases: “you do not live the same way as I”.

    The big problem with this is that given certain boundary conditions, there is such thing as an absolute good and bad. If we want everyone not to die prematurely and have a chance of a pleasant life, then doing anything that will either wilfully or involuntarily violate those conditions is bad, period. But the primal drives to make us all do the same stuff are so strong that we will happily violate as many conditions as necessary to keep that nice feeling of belonging.
    Many ‘know’ this fact, but very few fully realise and understand it and its implications. Really, it is the same thing as evolution being a better explanation of nature than religion. In this case, assuming that the average human is a basically a copying machine with just a dash of intelligence, is much simpler an explanation than assuming that every human is infinitely intelligent and always does what makes the most sense. There are so many exceptions to the first assumption that it must be a poor explanation. People do stupid things all the time and the stupidities are often only corrected once the entire group has converged to the correct behaviour. This is an excruciatingly slow, tedious, failure-prone and inefficient process. We can do better than that, but we do not want to.
    Really, the average person acts pretty dumb most of the time [TODO: recycle the pinball metaphor from the old text]. Most of us are capable of acting intelligently, but we only do it when things get critical (which in most cases is when it is already too late). Our default behaviour is dictated mostly by group dynamics, and many of mankind's achievements are more the result of emergent behaviour than from the efforts of separate persons. It is not a coincidence that many inventions or scientific and mathematical breakthroughs were obtained ‘independently’ by multiple persons at almost exactly the same time. It is not a coincidence that movies with similar themes are often released around the same time despite the fact that it often takes years between conceiving the movie and releasing it. I am pretty certain that at this very moment, many others are writing stupid texts exactly like this one, just because the knowledge and incentives to write something like this are ubiquitous. Given that I am generally slow, books and blogs are probably already filled with stuff like this, but first of all I am too busy and lazy to look for them. I do not have an urge to constantly scour all information sources because there is way too much information. Moreover, I like going through the exercise of independently doing all this from scratch. I am pretty certain that even the few things I wrote here of which I would like to believe that they are unique, can all be found elsewhere. Then again, if I had intended or hoped to become famous with this text I would not have done the effort to distance myself from it. One of the funniest things I have found so far is the 2012 album ‘The 2nd Law’ by Muse, which tries to bring the message from the ‘entropy’ section in musical format. My naïve and arrogant self wants me to believe that they have read the conclusion of the previous crappy incarnation of this text, but my realistic self tells me that there are ample other sources to get that information from. The same goes for many other parts of this text that have been sitting hidden on my hard drive and an unreachable webpage for years because I considered them unfinished and unfit for release. Now suddenly I see whole books being published about those subjects. Obviously I am not the only one who is being pissed off by certain stupid human behaviour to the degree that I wanted to spit my bile about it. Therefore I gave up the idea of polishing this heap of junk before publishing it, and dumped it more or less as-is on the web. Enjoy.

    In the same way that simple and dumb animals like ants can show apparent intelligent (so-called emergent) behaviour through a simple set of rules embedded in each individual ant, humans show apparent ‘intelligent’ behaviour through simple rules like mimicking our conspecifics. It suffices that one human invents something clever to make others appear clever or ‘smart’ [LINK:SMART] by mimicking it, even without having a clue as to how it was invented. This is both a strength and a weakness because as I said before, most people have no ‘quality control’ over the things they mimic. Even if they have, there are probably instincts based on long gone obsolete needs that will suppress or compromise it. Plus, the mimicking process introduces errors over time and the persons who invented the clever things die eventually, leaving humanity with a baseless set of mutating gimmicks. Eventually the knowledge of how to properly do the clever things dies completely, and anything based on them collapses into oblivion. This has happened before and it will happen again.
    Group behaviour has made us what we are, but it is time to improve upon this primitive mechanism. Simply copying behaviour is a greedy strategy with a high risk of getting stuck in a local optimum. Example: Conway's game of Life. It is actually a good thing that a disaster happens now and then, because it shakes up the ‘foggy landscape’ [LINK:GREEDY] and/or kicks us from the mole hill of sub-optimality we're standing on. Also the very existence of asocial and anti-social people helps to pull humanity out of the inevitable local optima it gets stuck in. When thinking logically about it, an entity that only copies behaviour of other entities without any evaluation, is disadvantaged towards an entity that can properly evaluate whether it makes sense to copy certain behaviour. Evolution will do the rest. Hence if there are any humans left in the far future, they are not unlikely to be mostly nerdy, ‘selectively social’ persons, whether you like it or not. Who knows, maybe everyone might evolve to have a built-in repulsion against unconditionally social persons.

    ☆ PRO TIP ☆ for aliens or robotic overlords bent on world domination!

    Do not waste your budget on heavy weaponry! Humanity can be defeated in much subtler and funny ways. All you need to do is build a small army of human replicants that are charming and charismatic, and program them to do stupid things that are not obviously fatal at first sight, but only in the long term. Then let them loose, just wait and enjoy the show. Hey wait a minute, isn't this already happening?

    Smart versus Intelligent

    [REF:SMART] There is a distinction between what I would call being smart and being intelligent,, two terms that might be considered equivalent by people who confuse pure memory with pure intelligence. I define ‘being smart’ as having the right knowledge to solve a specific problem. It is possible to have a ‘smart method’ to build a house, play chess, or solve a Rubik's cube for instance. It is not too difficult to be smart, all it takes to solve a specific problem with a known solution, is having memorised the right recipe for that solution and being able to play it back. Smartness is therefore mostly based on memory and rote learning.
    On the other hand, I define ‘being intelligent’ as being able to solve previously unseen problems. The more intelligent someone is, the more complicated the problems that can be solved. Smart and intelligent are two entirely different things. They can help each other but this is not necessary. It is possible to know a terribly smart solution to a very specific problem, yet being unable to solve a very minor variation on the same problem because of lack of intelligence.

    This distinction can also be seen from the ‘box’ idea. Those who try to be ‘smart’ try to build a huge mental box that contains all the knowledge in the universe, which is obviously an inherently flawed idea [LINK:UNIVERSE]. They are the kind of people who can quickly respond to any question of which they happened to have heard the answer before, but when presented with a small variation on the same problem, they will either panic and crash, or dumbly apply the same solution as for the nearest known problem, with potentially disastrous results.
    There can be no entity that is purely ‘intelligent’ because solving any problem requires at least a basic set of known facts — axioms if you wish. A certain basis of ‘smartness’ is always required. However, putting an emphasis on being intelligent offers a much better chance to break out of the confines of the box. There is always an aspect of randomness required for intelligence: solving a novel problem for which no known solution exists, will not be possible by relying on memory alone if the solution is not a combination of known methods. At some point a leap needs to be made that has never been made before. There cannot be a fixed recipe for making this leap because this fixed recipe would then become a rigid fact, again making it impossible to find a solution when this rigid strategy is insufficient.

    As I have said before, I have always had the impression that there is an enormous emphasis on ‘smart’ in the world, and very little effort to do actual intelligent things. The degree to which this is true may be region-specific. Judging from the number of quiz programs on my country's TV stations, striving for maximum ‘smartness’ must be a national sport. It is evident from our educational system, which at the time when I was a high-school student was entirely geared towards absorbing and regurgitating facts, and I believe not much has changed in the meantime. It all seems so obsolete. If today you are going to do something that requires knowledge, are you going to dig it up from the school books in your attic, or your memory, hoping you still remember it right? Or, are you going to use the abundance of digital communication to quickly search and verify the facts and perhaps find new and updated ones in the process?

    Being smart does not imply being intelligent. The inverse does hold, but only when ignoring the temporal aspect. Someone sufficiently intelligent can figure out all the smart stuff through mere thinking, but it may cost precious time. To be maximally successful, one needs to be have both memory and intelligence, otherwise time and energy is wasted on reinventing the solutions for the same problems over and over. An entity that relies on memory alone on the other hand will only function inside an environment that corresponds to the memorised boundary conditions, and will be completely helpless as soon as one or more of those conditions change.

    Over the years I have figured out that my memory is a huge train wreck and that I cannot rely on it to memorise any large sets of data in great detail. Some of the data really disappears, but most of it merely becomes impossible to retrieve actively or within a useful timespan, and will come back when either waiting an awfully long time or someone or something external reminds me of it. At times I am unable to remember obvious things that I have been using for years, then the next day it is back. If think I am exaggerating, consider the fact that it took me about half an hour to realise that someone in an audience I could not identify at first, was basically my best friend during my six years of highschool, whom I had not seen for some five years. That was terribly embarrassing. Something is definitely broken up there, I suspect something may have gone wrong due to a chronic lack of nutrients caused by undiagnosed lactose intolerance while my brain was supposed to develop.

    When looking at others who have excellent memory however, it has gradually become clear that my wonky memory is not so much a flaw as it is a quality in quite a few situations. Those others have spent their entire youth stuffing facts into their brains and now they have come to a point where the bucket appears to be full. They start to fail to memorise new facts, or start forgetting things due to ageing. Because they have never learned to deal with unreliability and missing data, the only thing they can do is consider their bucket of facts as the ultimate model of reality. They are stuck inside a fixed frame-of-reference that gradually starts to break down. Their only defence against this is arrogantly pretending it is not happening. My model of reality on the other hand has always been slowly eroding, and I have become ever more aware of this. Therefore I have learnt to reason in ways that are robust against corrupt information, to verify everything over and over, and to hang on to what is truly important. I constantly rebuild and repair my crumbling model of reality and in this process of repairing, I am able to correct the parts that were wrong. When reminded of facts that had dropped outside my ability of spontaneous retrieval, I often realise: “hey, that is something I used to believe, but I forgot about it and learned something more accurate in the meantime.” In the end, it seems that being able to forget is essential in not getting stuck in a flawed and obsolete train of thoughts. It also protects against getting habituated to important issues due to overexposure [LINK:HABITUATION] because I tend to even forget the state of being habituated.

    The Dutch language has a proverb saying: “those who aren't strong must be smart”. The English equivalent is: “necessity is the mother of invention”. Given my definitions of smart and intelligent, the English proverb is a sequel to the Dutch one. If one isn't strong, one can get away with being smart. If one isn't smart, one can get away with being intelligent (i.e. be able to invent new solutions). I tend to believe that sheer necessity has forced me to become more ‘intelligent’ than a person who is ‘smarter’ than me according to the above definitions. I would probably have long been dead if I had to rely on my worthless memory only. It has struck me for instance that whenever I play an online game with friends, and we try out a new level, I score best for a while, and then the others gradually beat my performance. This makes sense because initially, the others cannot rely on prior knowledge about the novel level, while I can rely on more advanced strategies that I can figure out on-the-fly. Eventually though, their stored knowledge about the level surpasses the abilities of my wonky memory, and it allows them to react faster instead of having to reinvent the same strategies over and over again or wait for the data to trickle out of my brain like molasses. Likewise, I tend to believe that people with an excellent memory are quite likely to be less intelligent, because they do not have a need for it. As long as they stay in an environment that matches well with what they have memorised, they will function efficiently. Even stronger, they will often do the utmost effort to keep their environment the same as they remember it, to avoid getting into trouble. Most of this does not work at a conscious level, but through crude subconscious mechanisms like the ego and arrogance [LINK:ARROGANCE].

    Intelligence versus Common Sense

    [REF:COMMONSENSE] Just as there is a distinction between being intelligent and being smart, there is a clear distinction as well between common sense and intelligence. Again, these are not equivalent even though many people seem to believe they are. I prefer the Dutch term for common sense, “gezond verstand,” which literally translates to: “healthy sense.” It does not contain the connotation of group consensus as the English expression, instead it hints at doing the right thing in the right situation. In a certain sense, ‘wisdom’ could be an adequate synonym for what I consider common sense. For me, this kind of ‘common sense’ is the ability to make the optimal decision with regard to one's own situation and the situation of others. ‘Intelligence’ on the other hand is, as stated before, the ability to solve previously unseen problems — the catch is that neither the kind of problem nor solution is specified in this definition. Having a high intelligence level is not a requirement for having a sound level of common sense. Moreover, having a high intelligence does not even imply having a lot of common sense.

    I often see people pour massive amounts of effort and time into solving some terribly complicated problem, and they actually succeed in it thanks to their intelligence. They lack the common sense however to see that it made more sense to simply leave the problem alone because ‘solving’ it only made the overall situation worse and it would have gone away by itself anyway. There are many who are doing stuff that has little potential benefit and a large risk of killing others and themselves in the long term. Those people have a serious lack of common sense. How this is possible, can be explained by the ‘typical human thought process’ [LINK:HUMANTHOUGHT]. The more complicated a string of reasoning is, the more possible convenient way-outs exist for instincts and dogmas imposing their will and forcing the thinker into some behaviour that satisfies certain hard-coded urges. Having common sense basically boils down to always picking the optimal point for breaking off the string of reasoning in the thought process.

    Put otherwise, I have encountered quite a few persons in my life who obviously have a high intelligence, but still they do tremendously stupid things sometimes. And if someone notifies them of those stupid things, they will often vehemently defend themselves and use every trick in their arsenal of intelligence to justify the act. I can only explain this through the fact that humans appear to be entirely driven by instincts and dogmas. Intelligence has only evolved as a means to help reaching the goal imposed by those instincts, not as a means to figure out the meaning of life and acting in a way that makes the most sense overall. From within this viewpoint, those examples of ‘stupid intelligent behaviour’ suddenly make sense because they always boil down to some dogmatic idea the person has, either a deep-rooted instinct or something taught when the person was still a gullible child in the process of building its mental model of the world. The typical human thought process [LINK:HUMANTHOUGHT] nicely models this: if the goal imposed by the dogma comes close enough at any point during the string of reasoning, it is broken off even if there are obvious problems visible ahead — often especially when those problems become visible.

    ★ PRO TIP ★ for archetypical villains who for some reason want to exact vengeance on humanity!

    Do not waste your budget on sharks with lasers and other thingamajigs! Mankind can be catapulted into an endless period of dread in a much more effective way. First, devise the very best strategies for humanity to act in order to have a stable and prosperous future, like living ecologically, in cultural harmony, with a stable economy. Next, gain power in not too aggressive a way. Start spreading the ideals you devised earlier, make sure you become a synonym for them. Next, start doing utterly atrocious things like holocaust, that will cause you to be remembered as a total lunatic across many generations. Defend your acts as if they are in line with your ideals. From then on, it will be all automatic. You will most certainly be killed, but you can be sure that mankind will compulsively keep making poor decisions for a long time, because the best decisions will be eschewed, they will keep on being associated with pure evil through the memory of your persona.

    Everyone Is Like Me

    [REF:EVERYONEISLIKEME. TODO: this is actually just an intro to the whole SMALLTOWN concept. Or is it? Actually it also belongs with the whole ASSIMILATION part… I think the whole structure of the text needs more clustering.]

    “Everyone is like me and anyone who isn't, is an idiot and should either be forced to become like me or die.” Few will want to admit it, but this is how pretty much everyone behaves. Some try to hide this, others execute it in a more explicit way, some even very explicitly. This basically is nothing else than the assimilation [LINK:ASSIMILATION] principle that has wormed its way into our whole way of interacting with others (look up the ‘limbic system’ if you want to know the gooey details about this). Few or no people will ever explicitly ‘think’ that idea, but they will feel it through a myriad of emotions that will often short-circuit any thoughts that try to counteract it. I see this happening every day, in conversations, in discussions on the internet, in news reports, everywhere.

    Next time you ask someone to explain to you something you know absolutely nothing about, pay attention at how many wrong assumptions that person makes about your own knowledge. You will actually learn more about that other person than about the kind of things you really wanted to learn, because that person will project their own situation onto you. Most likely they will use terminology you could never know and assume you already know many of the very things that you actually wanted to learn about. Of course you may be lucky and the person may know something about learning, but my experience tells me such people are a minority.

    There are always outcries of surprise when things go awry after people from vastly different cultures and religions have been thrown together. This can only be surprising when stubbornly clinging on to the assumption that every human being is the same, has the same background and motivations, and strives for the same goals. That assumption is completely wrong, but it is deeply hard-coded into almost every human, and in one of the next paragraphs [LINK:SMALLTOWN] I will have a guess at finding a root cause for this.

    Communication

    Over the years I have developed a firm belief that communication between humans is extremely flaky and flawed. The band ‘10cc’ has a song titled ‘The Things We Do for Love’, with the following phrase in its lyrics: “Communication is the problem to the answer”. I wholeheartedly agree. Human communication works through a massive pile-up of assumptions that do not make sense, first of all the assumption that the other participants in the conversation know the same things and think in the same manner. Wrong, wrong, wrong! If that would be true, then there would not be any need for communication in the first place. This stupid hardwired intuition worked reasonably in small communities where everyone was sufficiently similar [LINK:SMALLTOWN], but is becoming increasingly wrong with increasing complexity of the world and communication between vastly different populations. Most of the inane conflicts that originate through communication are rooted in dumb assumptions. The general consensus however still seems to be that communication works pretty well and everyone always understands each other.

    The reason why communication is so difficult is because of many reasons that are mentioned elsewhere in this text. In short, we all have a model of the world inside our brains, this is the frame-of-reference that is mentioned in the section about perceptual aliasing. Everyone's model is different, sometimes just a little, but often vastly. I also believe this model may change within a single individual across pretty short time spans. This model is a person's only criterion to measure reality, in fact for that person the model equals reality. It is impossible to detect changes in the model unless the person incorporates redundancy in its model, or the changes become obvious by noticing that the model no longer matches observations of actual reality. Yet we assume that we are all the same and have a perfect and rigid model of the world, and we communicate under this assumption. When we notice that someone else has just a few ideas that are the same as ours, we are immediately tempted to extrapolate this [LINK:EXTRAPOLATION], and assume that all their ideas are identical. When we transmit information to other individuals, they project, alias it into their frame of reference. In their turn, they again assume that their model of the world is the same as the one of the person they are communicating with. There are so many points where things can go wrong in this process that it is amazing it sometimes works at all.

    The key to successful communication is not merely stating the information you want to transfer to the other party. First and foremost it is ensuring that the other party has the same context as you. In many cases it will become redundant to transfer the actual piece of information once each conversant has been brought to the same wavelength, because the right context on its own likely makes it obvious what needed to be communicated. This may sound a lot easier than it actually is. One of the biggest problems for instance is the nearly immutable component in many a person's frame-of-reference, being their big fat ego that assumes that whatever the topic of the conversation, their own opinion about it must be the right one and the conversation only serves to convince other people of this fact [LINK:ARROGANCE]. This is obviously a very poor starting point for any attempt at information transfer, in fact it generally makes the transfer impossible.

    A scenario that often occurs is that on day X, I have or overhear a discussion with certain people. On day X+1, I hear the same persons discuss the same thing between each other, and for some reason many of the elements in the discussion have suddenly changed. Sometimes the same persons will suddenly tell the opposite of what they said the day before, or there is some extra information that was clearly unknown the day before but now it is treated as known and obvious to everyone, even though nobody has talked to each other after the discussion on day X. Things that were introduced the day before as pure conjectures are suddenly treated as near-certainties. The only possible explanations for things like these is that those people have picked up some information from a random place or simply dreamt up something similar during the night, and associated it with yesterday's discussion, often believing that these new elements had been discussed at that time. Or maybe their memories are simply unstable as hell, even worse than mine. If you are wondering why certain companies suddenly break down and go bankrupt or why certain countries wage wars concerning conflicts that originate out of nowhere and seem to make no sense, well I do not.

    Even in the case of written communication, things often go wrong in ways that make no sense from a logical point-of-view. Sometimes after I have written an article or mailed someone, a reader will ask questions that have already been answered in that very article or mail, even if I anticipated those questions and stressed and repeated the answers in the text. My best guess as to why this happens is that either the person did not really read the text, or they did read the answer in the text but did not want to believe it, therefore they ask it again in the hopes of getting a new answer that better fits their bias. It is also possible their ability to process information is so shaky that they did read the answer and understood it momentarily, but then it broke down and now they have this interesting unanswered fact floating around in their mind without a clue as to where it came from. In other words, in this case my act of trying to avoid the question, triggered the asking of it. What a mess!

    Next time you browse through an internet forum, look at how many discussions boil down to nothing else than: “the problem you report must be your own mistake because I do not have it,” or: “the problem you have is not a problem because I do things in a different way and you should too. The problem does not exist in my cozy little world. Join my world and you will be happy.“ When someone posts a negative review for a product that gets overwhelmingly positive reviews, the only replies to this review will be like: “you are an idiot,” “you must be getting old,” “you are a liar or a drone from a competitor,” and so on. No replies in the vein of: “you must have skipped a crucial step, let me help you,” or: “it seems you received a faulty unit, do the following to have it replaced.” There seem to be two main motivations for such typical derogatory replies: first, those people feel attacked in their warm fuzzy feeling of being part of a community that is bound by the common property of owning the same nice product. Second, they assume and expect everyone else to be the same as them and will reject anyone who deviates too much from this ideal. They want to assimilate everyone different into their own private universe. One of the most baffling examples I have ever encountered on the internet, was a discussion between someone who had lost their arms in an accident and had a huge problem with a change in a user interface that makes input with a foot mouse impossible. I cannot remember the exact replies, but it came down to again the same thing. Some apparently cannot imagine what it must be like to have to control a computer with only their feet. They will revolt against the introduction of a tiny little checkbox somewhere in a control panel that would greatly improve the situation for people with alternative input devices. That checkbox would have no impact at all on regular users, yet some react against it in amazingly emotional ways. I could paste a label onto such type of persons, but I leave it up to the reader to pick the most appropriate term or historical example.

    Tribes, Villages, and Small Towns

    [REF:SMALLTOWN] Where does this hard-coded belief in similarity come from? These kind of instincts that aim to equalise everyone, made sense in small communities or tribes that only occasionally traveled or communicated with distant communities. In such local communities, keeping everyone at the same wavelength was paramount [LINK:ASSIMILATION]. For a community that lived in a small bounded environment, it made sense to expect everyone to converge towards a way of living that is as compatible with that environment as possible. Actually, this makes quite a bit of sense no matter what. Eventually it made sense to assume everyone within that community to be nearly the same, because it was true in most cases. Not having to probe someone else's abilities saves time and boosts efficiency.

    Regarding people's ‘box’ or frame-of-reference, it does not make sense to expect anyone to be able to stretch this box such that it can contain all the knowledge in the world. The human brain has evolved to cope with small situations. It will alias anything bigger into this small FOR, simply to avoid going crazy. It was only very recently that mankind has developed communication networks that span the entire globe. There has not been to the least any sufficient time span to let humans evolve to adapt to this kind of situation. As a side note, I heavily doubt whether it is useful and desirable at all to adapt to it in the sense of becoming entirely dependent on it, which is obviously what is currently happening.

    Given that humans have been fine-tuned to operate in small cozy limited environments with well-defined boundary conditions, I strongly believe that people therefore apply small-community principles to the entire complex world, with all the obvious problematic consequences. Yet there seems to be a general belief that individuals exist who can wrap their mind around the complexity of the entire world down to the tiniest detail. Worse, some believe they are such people themselves.

    This innate assumption that a single person can grasp the complexity of the entire world manifests itself in the “everyone is like me” instinct [LINK:EVERYONEISLIKEME]. Our instincts want us to reject the possibility that there are hundreds, thousands of different groups of people and that there are good reasons for that diversity. It is so much easier to assume there is only one, or perhaps just a few, and cut off all reasoning [LINK:HUMANTHOUGHT] when the counter tries to be incremented. The excuses to justify this arbitrary cut-off result in all the typical vices we see every day, ranging from mostly innocent things like annoying subtle remarks of certain persons scoffing at the ideas of others, to worse things like pestering, sexism, racism, and eventually towards horrible things like murder, terrorism, genocide, and holocaust.

    The lack of confidence in many people (especially women when considering confidence about one's appearance) and the pointless and sickly striving for stupid unattainable beauty ideals can also be explained from this point-of-view. The depictions of one single exceedingly rare case of extreme beauty is extrapolated by many as if it is the norm [LINK:EXTRAPOLATION]. The fact that it is a one-off that is not representative at all, is completely ignored. People stress out themselves endlessly to bend their own reality to match this exotic tiny and utterly insignificant example. Nowadays this example is being copied everywhere in all kinds of media, making things much worse, because it creates an illusion of prevalence. There is a simple remedy against this for those who are unable to filter out this flood of useless information: turn off the information stream. If it is mostly garbage anyway, not much will be lost. The truly important information will seep through via other channels anyway.

    Another consequence of our bundle of small-community instincts is that terrorism, i.e. murdering innocent individuals of a certain large group in an attempt to change the ways of others in that same group, never ever works in the long term. The only thing achieved with it is triggering one of the most basic instincts of all living creatures that possess a modicum of self-preservation: avoiding self-destruction. In other words, the only thing those other members of the attacked group will want to do, is eliminate the killer and anything that is associated with the motivation behind the killing, no matter how sound the reasoning behind it may be. There will be no reasoning in the brains of the members of the attacked group. The instinctive motivation for hunting down and eliminating the killer will be extremely deep-rooted and divert each and every decision in the ‘decision loop’ [LINK:HUMANTHOUGHT] towards elimination of the threat. From an evolutionary point-of-view this is completely obvious. It is a basic requirement for any species to develop a hatred against anything or anyone that kills other individuals of their own group (unless those individuals proved to be an obvious direct threat themselves). Any group that did not develop this instinct has a high risk of letting themselves be eradicated at some point. In the long term this means survival only for groups that have this instinct. Therefore anyone who ever thinks it is a good idea to kill some random victims to draw attention to their cause or to discourage others from behaving the same as the victims, is plain wrong. Next to being a display of utter and disgusting cowardice and lack of respect for human life, that kind of behaviour is extremely counterproductive.

    Television

    We humans are extremely biased towards extrapolating a narrow-sighted observation across the entire world [LINK:EXTRAPOLATION]. Consider for instance what happens when someone watches television. TV is sometimes called: “a window to the world,” and that is how people indeed treat it. Whatever is shown on the small screen is instinctively assumed to be true for everything that falls outside the frame. If a news report shows some flooded houses, the spectator will immediately assume that the entire region around those houses is flooded. If the news shows people fighting and looting, the spectator will assume that the entire town or even country shown is in turmoil. Quite likely, the spectator's impression will even be that those problems are also occurring in the spectator's own neighbourhood — this impression will either be immediate or build up with repeated exposure to the imagery. If the news report speaks of a contagious disease, there is immediate fear with the spectator that the disease will be a threat, even though any rational analysis will reveal that there is zero risk of the disease spreading outside the region shown in the news report.

    There is no reasoning behind this drive for extrapolation, it is pure instinct. Again, this all makes sense when considering it from within our not-so-distant past where the tribe or village someone lived in was pretty much their entire world. If someone in such village looked out of an actual window and saw flooding, then it was likely that the entire village was flooded. If there was severe violence, it was likely to be more than just a quarrel. Anything that was observed or reported must have necessarily been from nearby, therefore any reported calamity was almost always an actual threat.

    This kind of instinct worked and used to be efficient because it made the entire small community react as a whole to the real threat. Now however, it backfires. It causes us to constantly react to ghost threats we should not react to. This is a constant drain of resources and it causes endless unnecessary stress. Both of those things will in the long term cause much more damage to the health of people relying on those old instincts, than any of those phantom threats in the news reports ever will. (By the way, anyone who thinks making TV screens larger will solve this problem, is really completely missing the point.)

    Obviously, this problem is not limited to TV. It already existed before electronic communication existed, but was never as severe as these types of faster and more widespread media have made it. Any kind of media, whether it be newspapers, radio, websites, social media, whatever… have a similar effect to varying degrees. Arguably, it gets worse in the order in which I summed them up due to the increasing speed and involvement. We project any incoming news onto our own situation, no matter how distant and irrelevant it is. We still react to the news as if it is being reported by the trustworthy neighbour next door from our small village, unless it really does not map at all to our situation.

    Now, given this knowledge, let us consider what kind of news reaches us through the media. Is it representative for the normal state of affairs in the world? Of course not! What is reported is mostly fringe stuff because normal events are not considered interesting [LINK:INFORMATIONTHEORY]. Uninteresting news about normal daily events does not sell subscriptions, nor does it make people watch commercials in between, nor does it warrant the steady resource drain to ensure clockwork news updates. Worse, in Western media there is an enormous bias towards reporting negative news (as opposed to e.g. Chinese newspapers which will be biased towards positive news) because apparently this is what the general Western public likes to read — or at least what the newsmakers believe to match the field of interest of their subscribers. Giving the public the impression that the world is in a state of non-stop disaster, is of course a cheap way to make them buy or watch your next news edition, because it is assumed that they will want to stay informed about how the disaster develops.

    Likewise, if there is some scientific discovery that triggers primordial emotional responses of disapproval (e.g. anything that seems to threaten the natural life cycle as we know it), it will be headlined for the simple reason that it is very likely to make people angry. It doesn't matter whether the discovery really has any merit to be reported to the entire world, which rarely is the case because it usually is more of a theoretical nature, or completely impractical to port from a typical experimental set-up with lab mice towards humans. The only thing that matters, is that the headline will anger people to the point that they will want to read the article. I have progressed to a level where I get angry at the newspaper for wasting my time and energy on irrelevant garbage, and I do not want to read the entire damn newspaper at all.

    Therefore if someone is going to take mainstream media as a criterion for reality, they will get a pretty fucked up view of the world, constructed of the few tiny percents of pathological stuff that news agencies have cherry-picked from the global scene. The extrapolated world view that e.g. a TV spectator gets, is completely distorted and makes the whole ‘small-town’ issue even worse. They will over-estimate the share minority groups have in society, because news reports will rather report something unusual that happened with those groups, than report how an average joe went to work at 9AM, ate a sandwich at noon, and went back home at 5PM. They will also over-estimate the severity of the impact on their own life of any disaster, because the news reports will thwack them around the head with non-stop updates about that disaster, even if it happened on the other side of the globe. The advent of ‘social media’ has changed little in this regard, perhaps it has only made it worse. It are again spectacular but often utterly exotic events that spread across social networks like wildfire, not the everyday happenings of 99% of the population. The surprising and ironical conclusion from this, is that in the majority of cases one should pay the least attention to the most spectacular news. In present times it has the lowest chance of being relevant to the person receiving the news.

    Oxygen Masks

    Anyone unable to suppress this small-community instinct of: “I must help everyone in need that I see, even if it is on a TV screen,” has a risk of suffering a similar fate as the kind of person who would suffocate inside a depressurised airplane because they did not first put on their own oxygen mask before helping others. The reason why every airplane instruction placard states that you must first help yourself before helping others in that situation, is that our instinctive behaviour does not map at all onto that situation. This is obvious because the situation is totally alien compared to anything humans have been exposed to in the course of their evolution. When following the instinct instead of the cold hard logic of first ensuring you won't pass out yourself, not only will you pass out and possibly die, so will the person(s) you could have helped if you had not passed out. A parallel can be drawn with emergency situations observed through the media: we have no instinctive mechanisms whatsoever relevant to watching others suffer through an electronic display. We react with an instinct that totally ignores the distance, the delayed observation, the keyhole view crafted to be as spectacular as possible, and the endless repetition of the imagery. When we apply the same response in this situation as when we would see someone suffer physically right before our eyes, all bets are off. If we start to move heaven and earth to help that person at the far end of that media pipeline, we might be compromising our own situation in unexpected ways.

    The practice of scheduling news updates, newspapers and magazines at regular intervals [LINK:CLOCKWORK] only exacerbates this issue, because this risks digging up dirt that nobody should care about anymore, and giving a false impression that the reported problems are topical again. The reality is that the crew behind the news service had nothing noteworthy to tell, hence they dug up some old news and polished it up. They cannot simply cancel an edition of their magazine or radio/TV show, otherwise the usefulness of their regular service might come under scrutiny, and it would cause a huge mess with paid subscriptions. Now, when the general public gets this old news rubbed in their faces, they might start reacting to it as if it is an actual threat, and act in ways that will actually revive the problem that had been solved before [LINK:SFP].
    [TODO: OVERREACTING STUFF FROM OLD TEXT FITS HERE!!!]

    We Are All Going to Die Because I Saw It on TV

    Coming back to typical Western news, if I skim through news reports that a news service sent to me last week, I do not see many articles about people doing some successful fundraiser or celebrating the first good year of a startup company. No, instead I see e.g. a report of two different cases of a random innocent pedestrian in a nearby city having been beaten unconscious for no good reason. This kind of report seems trendy, a few weeks ago there was a similar one that also mentioned that the perpetrators only had to spend one day in jail after beating someone almost to death just for fun. Dear editors: the impression that I get from your choice of news reports, is that I live in a country where coming out of my house will make me end up in a hospital being fed through tubes, and the persons responsible will never be punished because our legal system is a complete and utter joke. Even if that is true, I do not believe scaring people to the point where they become afraid to come out of their houses or even start thinking of emigrating, is the best way to tackle this problem.

    One of the motivations for producing an endless stream of what is supposed to be ‘news’ that gives a constant impression of endless disaster, is of course because this has a better chance of inciting the consumers of the news to get the next news update, and the ones after that. If only positive stuff would be reported, it could be perceived as “all problems have been solved, you can stop following the news now.” Obviously, that is not what someone who makes their living from making news reports, wants. This is why anyone who gets trapped in this stream of cherry-picked whipped-up disaster reports, will risk getting a horribly skewed and overly pessimistic view on reality, that can become depressing and damaging on multiple levels.

    My strategy regarding this matter is simple, and surprisingly effective. I mostly ignore all the clocked news sources unless I am accidentally exposed to them. I haven't watched any televised news in ten years, except very sporadically. I never read magazines, and newspapers only sporadically. Over those years, I have noticed that whenever something truly important happens, I will learn about it anyway within due time. People will either talk about very pressing issues spontaneously, or act in a way that makes me ask them what's going on. After a while I learnt that I can make a very good guess about less pressing issues as well, by simply listening to what everyone around me talks about, or the stuff they start buying suddenly and apparently inexplicably. If I am interested, only then will I skim through news sources to find out more about it. In a certain sense, I use the people around me as a filter that lets only the interesting items seep through.

    Some may consider this strategy a kind of escapism, but look at it this way. Learning about something spectacular that happened moments ago but very far away from me, and of which nobody really knows yet what is going on, is often utterly useless unless it directly affects me. In the latter case I will have learnt about it first-hand anyway. It makes more sense to simply wait until the dust has settled and efforts have been done to write a decent report. Otherwise I am just wasting time and stressing myself out over what is mostly speculation from both the newsmakers' and my part. You have no idea how hard my overall stress level has dropped since I stopped taking my regular dose of sensationalism. I can still feel the stress rising again every time I pick up a newspaper or magazine or its digital equivalent, or when I happen to pick up a fragment of televised news. Then again I see how little actual informational value most of the purported news has, and I look for something more useful to do.

    I discuss this in more detail in other sections of this text, but one of the biggest problems with “the media” is that they all work according to schedules and predefined formats. Every day there needs to be a newspaper with a certain minimum number of pages. Every week there must be a shiny magazine with a flashy cover page. Every month some production company must spit out a spectacular TV reportage that spans a given number of minutes. Etcetera. Each of these products must draw maximal attention. Every edition must give an impression of being relevant. Therefore the newspaper and magazine are stuffed with all the most spectacular stuff that could be gathered, whipped up with some exaggerations if necessary, and the reportage is presented in a way that will elicit maximal emotional response from the viewer from the first few seconds on. It doesn't matter whether this response is positive or negative, only that it is extreme. Like I said before, the negative news is prevalent because it gives the highest incentive to keep on receiving the next news updates. The only explanation I have for the state of angst in which some of my acquaintances live, is that they are being constantly brainwashed to believe that they live in a covert war zone and everyone is out to attack them. In the long term this will be very damaging and counterproductive.

    A practical example (freely adapted from an actual reportage): “in this reportage we will show you how technology is evolving so rapidly that machines could become a threat in the near future. We will need to make sure that machines will be our allies and not our enemies.” This kind of description immediately evokes visions of the Terminator films and the like. It makes it seem as if there is a looming threat that is pretty much inevitable. Now if we think twice about it, the only difference with Terminator is that for the latter it was obvious that it was science fiction made for the sole purpose of making spectators buy movie tickets. The reportage is almost just as much science fiction, only it is made to look as if utterly serious. The future it depicts is still unlikely and would only happen if humanity would be truly dumb. Elsewhere I discuss the fact that only through our very own effort we will be able to make machines that could pose a real threat to ourselves, and if we do this, it would be our own very dumb fault. There is nothing inevitable about being surpassed by our own technology, unless we all have the strange combination of high intelligence but a blatant lack of common sense [LINK:COMMONSENSE]. The only real purpose of that reportage is to be watched by as many spectators as possible, in the hopes of giving the makers the impression that they spent their allotted time slots and pay wages in a fruitful manner. To be a trustworthy prediction of the future is not a goal. Of course by far not everything shown on TV falls within this category and there is actual good stuff worth watching, but it is often difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff.

    Write-once Memory and DNA

    Coming back to the ‘small villages’ idea, an awful lot of instinctive behaviour can be understood by considering how humans have lived during the past few thousands of years. All our instincts are reflections of the past, not of the present, and certainly not of the future. Due to the way evolution works, as well as transfer of knowledge beyond hard-coded mechanisms, many of the instincts and traditions that had become embedded in human behaviour over all those years are still present. If you believe you are a perfectly instinct-free rational computer that happens to dwell inside a hunk of living meat, then it is because some of those very instincts you do not believe in, make you believe that lie. Even if an instinct has become utterly obsolete, it will only go away if all the people who express it, remove themselves from the gene pool. This explains why humans are still chock-full of dumb instinctive behaviour that is at the worst annoying. Those with truly dumb instinctive behaviour that has become self-destructive have already eradicated themselves, or are in the process of doing so.

    [REF:DNA] Consider the concept of ‘write-once memory,’ like a CD-ROM. It is only possible to append data to a WOM medium, not to overwrite or even erase existing data. There are ways to mimic rewritable data on such a medium however. For instance, new data can be appended at the end, together with instructions to override some of the previous data. The reading device would then need to read the entire disc sequentially to end up with the final version of the data. More efficient is to write a new index together with every chunk of new data, representing the most up-to-date state. The reading device then only needs to find this most recent index and ignore the older ones. Data can be ‘removed’ by dropping it from the index. The data itself is still on the medium, only it cannot be found when using only the latest index.

    Now consider DNA. As far as my limited biological knowledge goes, there is no obvious way to completely rewrite a grown-up living being's DNA or to readily reprogram the DNA that will end up in its reproductive system, and certainly no natural way. This means that from a short-to-medium timespan point-of-view, DNA is to be treated as write-once memory. Only in the very long term, when crossing many generations, it can be ‘rewritten,’ not in the true sense of the word but in a very roundabout kind of manner.

    Therefore there are only two automatic ways in which existing DNA corrects itself across the transition between a few generations: either the flaw must disappear by a chance mutation or it must be overridden by other DNA code. The first is optimal, because the flaw is completely gone. It is unlikely however, and even if DNA can be manipulated and the flaw would be known, it may be far from trivial to purposefully find which parts of DNA to modify without side-effects. The second is therefore what usually happens: mutations cause extra mechanisms to be introduced, suppressing the unwanted bits of existing behaviour. The old stuff keeps lingering around and is suppressed by extra controls that make a switch to the new behaviour. This is somewhat evident when looking at how a human grows up: every child that is growing up, actually exhibits a bit of a shadow of entire human evolution. Children start out with almost pure instinctive and reflexive behaviour, which is then gradually overridden by more advanced mechanisms that slowly develop. The role of hard-coded behaviour in DNA gradually decreases with the increasing complexity of these mechanisms. Eventually, the most complicated mechanisms, the social ones, require interaction with other humans to develop and maintain themselves, because they are volatile and mostly exist in memory alone. These mechanisms are more adaptable than truly hard-coded instinctive behaviour, although my general impression is that it is much easier for someone to learn something, than to ‘un-learn’ it or replace it with something else, so the WOM argument still holds there to a certain degree. This process of ‘personal evolution’ continues until dementia starts kicking in, then things go slowly in reverse.

    This system of overriding old data, like creating a new index on a WOM medium, implies two risks: first, the extra control may break down or be lost in the future due to a mutation, reintroducing the old flaw. Second, there is more ‘code’ in total that can become corrupted (this could be DNA code or something else). If the original code changes, the added control may have an adverse effect. The possibilities for things to go wrong, grow exponentially with the length of the program. The point where this outweighs the benefit of adding more code, is the point where the species or race gets into evolutional trouble.

    Skyrim and Rodents

    If you do not believe that humans drag along a lot of their ancient history, there are countless examples of structures in our bodies that are evidence of our distant past, even from the time when our ancestors were still fish swimming in an ocean. There is also a plethora of hard-coded behaviour that is not immediately observable. Here is a concrete example: I still have some kind of hunter instinct for: “chasing a small animal in a snowy landscape.” Really, it gives me a very unique emotion and drive that I have felt as a child when I traced bird footsteps in the snow, and much later while chasing a virtual rabbit in the video game Skyrim as an adult. This instinct must be ancient but it is still in my DNA. Not that this bothers me, who knows it may come in handy some day.

    I, and many others, also have obvious instinctive behaviour that causes instant discomfort when hearing sounds that are typically associated with rodents. The nails-on-chalkboard or cutlery-scratching-ceramic-dishes sound is one of the most obvious triggers, because those sounds share many characteristics with squeaking rodent sounds, and there are others. For instance, whenever someone mimics with their fingers on a table the sound of a rat scurrying over a wooden floor, I get an immediate discomforting feeling in my teeth, and an urge to get away. Worse, I have had colleagues who obviously have learnt to type on mechanical typewriters and still mash their flimsy laptop keyboards with the same technique and force, which also results in a noise that falls in the same category, as if rodents are nibbling and gnawing on some piece of whatever. This sound irritates me on a level so low that it is impossible for me to get used to it or mentally cancel it out, and because I can obviously not demand that those colleagues stop typing, I can only resort to playing loud music on noise-isolating headphones, which is less detrimental for my level of productivity. Mind that there is no conscious connection between these sounds and the realisation that they remind of rodents. The sounds never trigger a spontaneous thought of: “a rodent, I must avoid it,” they only trigger basal feelings of discomfort and urgency. It was only after I thought about this, that I made the link between these sounds and rodents. This is a true instinct that manifests itself through emotions: an instant shortcut from trigger to reaction with nothing in between. The only goal of these specific emotions is to get away from the sound, not to know all the tiny details why this should be the case.

    It should be pretty obvious where these rodent-avoiding triggers come from: rodents are typical carriers (so-called vectors) for certain diseases, and anyone who developed instincts to stay away from them had an advantage over people who did not care. Although its relevance has been reduced in developed countries, this instinct still makes sense today. There are probably many other instincts however that are truly obsolete and that I'd rather not have. And they will not all be as obvious as the chase-little-critters or avoid-rodents instinct. There is an obvious one however that has been proven: studies have demonstrated jealousy in other species, not only in monkeys but even in dogs, for instance, the experiment by Sarah Brosnan and Frans de Waal where a capuchin monkey was given a slice of cucumber while another received a grape. Do I consider jealousy an obsolete instinct? If it concerns the kind of unconditional negative jealousy [LINK:JEALOUSY] that incites people to sabotage the abilities and achievements of others just so they can protect their own ego, then by all means yes. That kind of crap has to go if we ever want to get somewhere as a species.

    Myxomatosis

    Humans are probably also equipped with all kinds of instincts that encourage people with certain health problems to act in manners that protect other individuals in their society. Most obvious would be an instinct to get away from the group when having a potentially contagious disease. Such instincts can be observed in other species that live in social groups. For instance, rabbits will generally leave their group when they feel diseased, and find a lonely place to die. Wild rabbits suffering from the highly contagious myxomatosis disease that raged through Europe in the 1950's, would often be found sitting far away from their burrows, not fleeing from humans as they normally do. I have experienced something similar with a pet rabbit. Even though it lived alone inside a cage in the house, one day it had left its cage and was sitting under a cupboard in another room, although it did not appear ill. I put it back and closed the cage. The next day, it had died — from cancer as an autopsy revealed. Of course cancer is not contagious, but still it would be very bad for a rabbit to die and start decomposing deep inside a burrow where other rabbits live.

    It may not be obvious how an instinct that removes individuals from the gene pool can persist in the surviving individuals, but it makes sense. The instinct does not need to express itself during the lifetime of healthy individuals for it to persist. It suffices that the dormant instinct is present and only activated when a person would become a liability, and less of a risk to others if they would go away. A group of individuals in whom this instinct exists, has an overall better chance of survival than one where diseased individuals keep spreading their disease before dying.
    A variation on this can be more subtle: it is not unimaginable that there are also instincts that discourage persons from procreating when they detect that they have some kind of condition that could affect their offspring. It is even less obvious how such instincts can originate through evolution, but again: a group in which this kind of instinct has developed, has a better prospect for the future than one where it has not.

    Why have I picked these specific instincts as an example? Well, consider the population pyramids of certain ‘developed’ countries, and why not pick the country I live in: Belgium [ADD GRAPH]. The reason why it is called a population ‘pyramid’ is that under normal circumstances, it looks like a pyramid with a wide bottom and a narrow top. Belgium's pyramid however looks pretty diseased, more like a mushroom cloud. At the time I was in school, teachers explained this to be a consequence of the post-war baby boom. Now however we are 20 years later and the thing still looks just as bad as it did before, the base has hardly widened. Apparently there are many who do not want to procreate, and I actually know quite a few of them. Even worse is that I also know quite a few who do want to have children, but are unable to. Both these observations worry me badly and seem to hint towards a general state of unhealthiness of the population — physically and mentally. If feeling diseased does indeed trigger an instinct not to procreate, it could explain the worryingly large fraction of people who do not want offspring even if they are lucky enough not to belong to the other worryingly large group with fertility issues. The simpler ‘myxomatosis-like reflex’ might also be a factor in the apparent trend of people in my surroundings becoming ever more asocial. Unlike the diseased rabbits, they have no place to go because everything is pretty much overpopulated, so the only option left is to avoid social contact. Belgium scored pretty well in certain studies from around 2008 that measured specific well-fare parameters, but if one would ask me whether I would recommend anyone to come live here, you can guess my answer. If anyone hands me an opportunity to leave this country and go live in a place that is not overpopulated or full of sour and cynical people, you can guess what I will do.

    Mankind has lived in small communities for ages, even long before we were able to build settlements. This allowed — or stronger: required — all the instincts that work well in small communities to become deeply embedded in our innate behaviour through evolution. In the present however, we have connected together everyone with completely different backgrounds, living in environments with vastly different conditions and requirements. It actually makes no sense at all to try to make all those people identical to the same degree as was necessary in local tribal communities, but we still try it. As an electrical analog, we have short-circuited the entire planet while everyone is trying to bring it to a different voltage. The only way this will go away is either by the collapse of this attempt at ‘globalisation’, or by an adjustment of the assimilation mechanisms such that they only work at the very limited set of levels that make sense to be equalised at a global scale, and tolerate differences at any other level.

    At the very time of this writing, a popular study in mainstream media shows that populations in central African countries are generally more lazy because they can basically pick fruit from trees and do not need anything more than a shack to live in, thanks to their climate. When someone discusses this study, there is always a general undertone of: “those people should change their way of living and live more like in Western countries.” Why? Why on earth? If they have everything they need, why should they destroy it and start living like in a country with a variable climate? This makes no sense at all. Please stop projecting stupid primitive instincts onto people in far-away countries. Nobody benefits from it.

    Numbers and Sockets

    As far as the adopting of sensible world-wide standards versus conserving local habits is concerned, it is funny to see how we are currently not really heading in the right direction. While many are keen to try to impose their own cultural idiosyncrasies onto other countries, each country still has differing standards for electrical connections for power and communication, and there are many different measuring systems in use. When going on a vacation, any electronic device that requires mains power must be accompanied by a cumbersome adaptor to cater for the proliferation of incompatible power sockets. The device must be able to work with anything between 100V and 250V and between 50Hz to 60Hz, which complicates the design (remember the train with variable wheelbase example [LINK:ASSIMILATION]). Next to this, there are differing standards for weights, lengths, speeds, and ways to write dates even from the same calendar system. People seem willing to introduce food habits and corporate culture from other countries, eroding away their rich local culture. At the same time however, they seem to cling with emotional vigour to their power sockets and numerical systems, even though things like month-day-year ordering make no sense at all and are only good for confusion and messing up sorting procedures. Tell me, what date is this: 10-8-15? October 8th, 2015? August 10th, 2015? August 15th, 2010? Unless a format is imposed, I always write dates in YYYY-MM-DD format. There is almost no way to misinterpret something like 2015-08-10. For starters, the entirety of China wouldn't misinterpret it because this coarse-to-fine ordering is embedded into their entire language.

    I find it strange how some can have such an emotional attachment to boring things such as bare numbers, size and weight units, and the shape of electrical contacts. I have even seen evidence of emotional attachment to the 1024-based size indicators for digital file sizes (kilobytes versus kibibytes), for instance in the manual page for the Linux ‘resize2fs’ program — you should be ashamed, Theodore, for such display of lack of professionalism. The concept that is represented by those numbers will not change one bit (pun intended) if they are rescaled or written in a different order. The electrons and the numbers themselves will not care. The practicality of measuring information sizes in powers of two has been reduced to a small number of cases while for all other cases it causes confusion.
    It makes a much larger difference if people suddenly start eating things that are not readily cultivable in their neighbourhood or compatible with their physiology, or destroying age-old and valuable ecosystems to mimic some kind of industry or urban environment that appears to work well in a far-off country that is vastly different from the local one. It makes much more sense to cling to those cultural differences than to try to conserve some electrical interface, date format, or measurement unit based on the body part of a distant ancestor.

    As a side note, if we would finally be willing to converge on a single power socket standard, there are basically three options. The first one is to kludge and try to design a socket that accepts every possible plug design in use today. There have been attempts at this, but it is a design and security nightmare that would cause Occam to turn in his grave. It would port the inefficiency of flexibility for multiple voltages and frequencies towards mechanical design as well. The second option is to pick a standard currently in use by some country, based on how well it is designed (not on how widespread it is). This will of course raise protest from pretty much every other country's combined egos. Therefore if we cannot overcome this childish debate e.g. by letting the ‘advantaged’ country cover some of the costs of adaptation in other countries, a third option may be the most fair. It would be to design an all new plug that does not match any in use today. This may also be the best option because to be honest, practically every plug type in use today either looks unnecessarily bulky to me, obligates a ground pin that is redundant for quite a few types of devices, or has security and reliability problems. The next step is to settle on a single voltage and frequency.

    *

    [TODO: this probably belongs in the ASSIMILATION section.] There are two major ways in which humans obey their basic instinct of “everyone is like me” [LINK:EVERYONEISLIKEME]. Either they have a tendency to be dominant and will try to impose their way of living on others, or they will adjust their own way of living to match the ‘norm’. Of course, the dominant way only works if the others are actually capable of adjusting. If the dominant way requires something that is simply absent in the others, there are only two ways out. The first one is to eliminate the incapable persons. If this is too difficult due to physical or social reasons, the second option is the only one left: to bow to the lower norm and adjust. Stubbornly sticking to that own way of life, even if it is certainly better, will cause detachment from the group and the loss of that warm fuzzy feeling of belonging.
    In other words, the more social contact there is in a society that prioritises treating everyone equally, the larger the ‘risk’ that everyone will tend to adjust to the lowest common denominator. Everyone can only be the same if everyone adjusts to the least capable individuals, because they would be excluded if the norm would be above their level, and that would violate the number one priority of equality. Of course there is a lower limit to this willingness to adjust, but this limit is not strict. It is surprising to what degree some are prepared to lower their standards just so they can belong to a group. The social instinct is perfectly able to completely disable all logical reasoning in a person [LINK:HUMANTHOUGHT], or to distort it to make the most illogical things seem obvious. Cf. the famous experiment where a test subject is placed inside a room, together with a bunch of actors who were instructed to ignore the simulated indications that the building had caught fire. Most of the test subjects would mimic the actors and ignore the smoke and noises as well. This experiment was inspired by a true event where it was suspected that people had died in a burning restaurant because they did not dare leave their tables in time due to social pressure. There is no justification for making that decision in that situation, it would only be worthy of a Darwin Award. There are probably other similar experiments that are even more startling and unsettling, but I bet most people will not want to know about them because those cast the warm fuzzy social instinct in a bad light. The only gleam of hope from that experiment, is that there were some test subjects who did the logical thing and walked away, ignoring the actors altogether.

    [REF:JEALOUSY] [This actually links with ARROGANCE.] Something like jealousy is a prime example of a mechanism that implements this kind of higher-order equalisation. If an individual notices that another person is better at solving some problem, it will most likely trigger a jealous reaction. Jealousy has been demonstrated to exist in other species than humans (cf. experiments by Sarah Brosnan and Frans de Waal), it is a great example of a simple instinct that worked well to lift simple organisms to a higher level but at the same time risks severely hampering organisms to evolve towards an even higher level. Jealousy is pretty complicated and it is tightly tied with perceptual aliasing. There seem to be two kinds of jealousy, a positive and a negative kind, and they differ in how the other person's more advanced behaviour folds back into the more limited frame-of-reference of the observer.

    In the case of ‘positive jealousy’, the individual does recognise the behaviour as advantageous and will try to learn how the other person solved the problem (i.e. try to become smarter). In the very best case, they will try to improve their own skills to solve problems in general (i.e. try to become more intelligent). In the case of ‘negative jealousy’ however, the individual interprets the advanced ability as a threat or flaw and will through various means try to stop the other person from executing their ability. If either method succeeds, the two individuals will end up being at the same level. Obviously, in the first (positive) case that level will be high and everyone wins. In the second (negative) case the level will be low and everyone loses. The most degenerate way to ensure everyone is at the same (low) level, is to kill the more advanced individuals. To some this may seem like ‘winning’, but in practice the survivors lose big time because they destroyed any chance to learn the more advanced solution to the problem. This negative variation on jealousy sucks. Stay away from those who act like it. Let them choke in their own self-destructive behaviour.

    The above can work in subtler ways, for instance whenever I show to various persons something complicated that I created or repaired, some of them will invariably have an immediate reaction of disbelief. They will generally be those who are neither close friends nor total strangers, those who could be described as ‘just friends’. Truly close friends know me well enough to have a fine-grained estimate of my capabilities, whereas total strangers obviously know nothing about me. The interesting stuff happens with this in-between group: their model of ‘friendship’ is for the most part a simple one-size-fits-all model mostly based on instincts. One of those instincts tells them that anyone who exhibits sufficient similarity to themselves, must be entirely similar in almost every regard. When I present my surprisingly impressive task, and they cannot fathom how they could finish that task themselves, the only ‘logical’ conclusion within this framework of blunt assumptions is that I am lying. Otherwise there is a conflict between the assumed fact ‘this person is identical to me’, and the observed fact ‘he did something I cannot do’. The assumption of a lie is an easy and lazy solution to this conflict. They have this notion in their brains that the thing I just demonstrated can only be performed by specialists who have spent their entire lifetime studying and practising it. When I shatter that notion, they will be more inclined to reject what they observe, than to reject their instinctive assumptions. Again, never make the mistake of believing this is a conscious process: asking whether they aren't making any mistakes in their reasoning, is completely futile because these reactions work at an emotional and sub-conscious level, which is also why they occur so fast, in the order of just one second: nobody can make this kind of reasoning — in a correct way — so quickly. Only emotional responses can be that fast.

    Stupidity Meltdown

    [REF:INFANTILE] This whole discussion about this instinctive drive for equalising all humans may all seem like an unimportant side-note to human behaviour, but it is not. In fact I believe the drive for assimilation is the essence of human and perhaps even all animal behaviour, and pretty much everything else follows from it. A lot of our current technology serves practically one purpose, and that is to satisfy the average person's craving for unconditional social contact. People are expected to be online constantly and share their entire life with the world. Others try to use this to figure out what is the most common among all these reports and then clone that behaviour. Social control is ever getting faster and stronger, and many feel an urge to adjust themselves to other people whom they don't know anything about. Everyone wants to belong and be the same as everyone else, whatever the definition of “everyone else” may be. Now consider the fact that the internet is increasingly populated by teenagers and younger children — because sitting behind a computer or mashing a smartphone is so much cooler than playing the old-fashioned way. Moreover, who has the most spare time to spend online? Adults with a daily job and a family? Of course not. The kind of people with the most time available to be active on the internet are teenagers and children. And in a healthy society with a normal population pyramid, they are the most numerous.

    All this has a nicely unsettling consequence. Yes, I am implying that there is a risk that the entire online community will have a tendency to become puerile or even infantile just to be all at the same wavelength. And since there seems to be a general assumption that the entire world must go online, this means that the entire human race might one day tend to adapt to the level of children who have just learnt how to get online. Add to this the fact that nobody will be inclined to learn anything aside from how to get online. All knowledge can be pulled from a machine, so why bother memorising it? Why bother developing skills if every problem that is remotely complicated is either delegated to a machine or can be solved by mimicking actions in a video like an ape? Hey, learning to read and write is not even necessary anymore if everything is stored in videos. I am not kidding, I have heard proposals to stop teaching the skill of writing to children, because now we have touch displays. Panacea ahoy! [LINK:PANACEA] The proponents of that idea are so deliriously taken in by the panacea of touch screens, that they do not mind bringing people to the same level as the chimpanzee in that certain movie clip, pushing numbers on a touch screen in a faster and better way than any human ever could. The ability to write is unique to mankind. The ability to punch and drag something on a flat surface is not. Some are surprised that infants can operate a touch display before they can even walk or talk. What is so surprising about that? It is a much more basic skill than those other two.

    Imagine that all electronics fail and nobody is able to write text on a simple piece of paper, or look up information without the help of a machine. How is anyone going to make notes that allow to repair the electronics? Purely from memory and spoken word? Or do you believe an event that causes a breakdown of electronic communication is impossible? A total collapse of civilisation does not seem entirely unlikely. Despite how handy children may seem with electronics and software, they do not have the background, experience, know-how, mindset, nor patience required to make reliable and sustainable technology, especially not if all the required knowledge to repair the broken-down technology is locked up inside that very technology. Just imagine that there is a large-scale power loss, and people were dumb enough to only store the instructions on how to recover from such power loss inside devices requiring electrical power. This is an obvious example but similar scenarios can manifest themselves in much more subtle ways. There is a real risk that humanity can catapult itself into a second Medieval age or worse. Just imagine that all your electronic devices stop working just for one day. If you can. If you dare. I believe there actually are persons who would go insane if they would be disconnected from the internet for longer than a few hours, because their brains have become wired to be entirely dependent on online access. This might sound a strange statement from someone who was one of the first kids in his class to have a website and who would rather build a computer from scratch than to buy a prefabricated one, but I believe this is a very bad evolution.

    Sometimes I have a feeling this downwards spiral to immaturity is already happening and the ‘western’ world in a pretty advanced stage. If one looks at the main driving forces behind a lot of scientific research nowadays, it is all stuff that is basically geared towards fulfilling childish desires like living eternally and having infinite pleasure without effort, or realising cool but ultimately unnecessary things from sci-fi films or books. Even the things that seem more serious, still often reek of a naïvety and a desire for a simpler world that could at best be described as childish. We think we can become bigger than life through all our knowledge and technology, even though there are basic laws of logic, physics, and thermodynamics that tell us we cannot. Just look at the workplace culture of a certain very big company, where offices are basically organised playgrounds. It worries me.

    As I explained at the start of this text, the younger and the more inexperienced someone is, the higher the risk that they cannot have a clue that something is wrong. When looking at everything from inside a childish limited frame of reference where everything seems easy and happy because all the obvious or subtle risks fall outside this mind-set, the potential to cause massive damage becomes huge. The fact that lack of skill is often masked by arrogance [LINK:ARROGANCE] does not help at all, obviously. Ever so often I see young persons who are highly convinced they can do things better just because they lack the frame-of-reference to see why they cannot. They are too inexperienced to see that what they are planning to do, is to tear down something that is already as good as it will ever be, only to replace it with either something that is exactly the same or maybe worse. Even if this leads to a break-even, the mere fact that this whole process of destroying and rebuilding wastes a lot of resources and time, will already make the outcome worse than when just sticking with what already existed.
    This used to be not a problem because there were simply no means to do the stupid things that sprouted from people's inexperienced minds. Now however we have an ever increasing arsenal of technology and we make it easy for anyone to use it. Keep in mind that the inexperienced cannot be blamed for doing stupid things due to their lack of reference. It is not like they chose to have those cheap aliasing mechanisms built into their brains, that worked OK for our ape ancestors. It is the task of those who do have the right frame of reference to impose limits on the use of potentially dangerous technology, show others the error of their ways, not give them tools until they are experienced enough to handle them, and prevent them from inflicting damage to themselves and others. As I explained elsewhere [LINK:FIT], physical or technological strength alone does not guarantee success for a species. If it is unable to control the strength or consider its costs, then the species will not survive.
    I am not saying that this ‘stupidity meltdown’ doomsday scenario is bound to happen, only that the risk exists, and from time to time I see indications pop up that it might actually be in the process of happening. On the other hand, similar advances in technology have occurred before, and mankind has managed to get through them (albeit not always unscathed). The breakdown is a worst-case scenario and many a less disastrous scenario is possible. Whether it will truly occur, will depend entirely on mankind's active efforts to prevent it.

    Minority Report

    Here is a practical illustration of how things seem to be shifting towards less maturity instead of more. For years, we have seen fancy but stupid and utterly unpractical user interfaces in Hollywood movies: dark screens with white or blue-greenish text, stacks of semi-transparent windows, 3D interfaces, circles, spinning and scrolling stuff, often accompanied by silly sound effects inspired by teletype machines. The only reason for this is that it looks cool, and most Hollywood movies are only concerned with looking cool and offering instant superficial gratification. Nobody cares about a fake user interface in a movie being unpractical, and nobody should, because it is only entertainment. Nothing wrong up until here. Here comes the big ‘however’. Look at many a contemporary smartphone app interface or desktop window manager. Yes indeed, it is starting to look like those Hollywood interfaces. Big, empty interfaces with circles and smoothly scrolling and/or spinning stuff. Nice to look at from afar, but often infuriatingly unpractical to use and bad for the eyes after prolonged exposure. When I press ‘enter’ in the Android calculator, the result doesn't pop on the display instantly. No, it scrolls. This leads to the calculator needing more time to display a result than a calculator from the 1960's. Semi-transparent window headers. Either dark backgrounds with light text, or a layout that suffers from extreme whiteout syndrome, where text and overly stylised icons float in a sea of white with nearly no visible edges. Real-time blur effects. Stupid animations everywhere. Sometimes, all that is missing in certain GUIs to make them identical to the ‘movie operating system’ interfaces, are the idiotic ‘blip’ sounds every time a button is pressed, and text that appears one character at a time with again a ‘blip’ at every character. I hope I am not giving anyone ideas here.

    Why is this happening, why are basic human interface guidelines being violated? Well, simply consider the people who are developing those interfaces right now, and consider the kind of movies they watched as a kid, while they were sculpting their mental model of the world. Everyone of course assumes that every human being is perfectly able to recognise the computer interfaces shown in movies to be unusable junk that is just for show. However, consider someone never having seen a real computer interface yet, who is exposed to all those fake movie interfaces. This person has no notion of what a decent interface should look like. In the absence of counter-evidence, the most sensible conclusion any being could make, is that the movie depicts a real computer interface. Remember Plato's cave allegory: the person has no examples to prove their assumption wrong. The latter was especially the case in the late eighties and nineties, when the only real interfaces the majority of kids were exposed to, was the god awful DOS prompt and the very ho-hum design of Windows 3.11, if their parents gave them access to the home PC at all. When later on being shown real interfaces that are practical yet ‘ugly’, the risk is real that such people will reject those interfaces and attempt to design something that looks like the movie interfaces they are so familiar with. Even when re-educating those people by means of solid arguments why such interfaces are unusable, their deep-rooted concept of what an interface should look like might keep on breaking through, and will eventually end up in finished products. From this point on, the situation only gets worse because now people not only see stupid unusable interfaces in movies, they see them in real products, and it becomes even harder to convince them that a less fancy interface might be much more productive to use.

    For a very concrete example: remember the 2002 movie ‘Minority Report’? Nowadays slipping this name into a research project proposition, seems to greatly increase the chance of obtaining funds. I have seen many attempts at reproducing the user interface depicted in the movie. It seems many are willing to sway their arms in front of huge screens. Because it looks cool. Whether it is really practical is irrelevant, because it looks cool. A lot of effort has already been poured into enabling the detection of swaying arms (e.g. the Kinect), and now the industry is adamant on giving us huge screens (ultra-HD or 4K and even 8K). It is not just this, the striving for self-driving cars is also often justified by referring to that movie. <IRONY>Maybe we should try to breed those ‘precogs,’ mutant people with psychic powers as well, so we can predict the future. Maybe we shouldn't: they might tell us that the future we're trying to create is a load of bullshit.</IRONY>

    I remember going through an introductory app when my dad had bought our first Macintosh computer in 1989. It was a kind of game that introduced the user to the graphical user interface and the way the computer worked. The key to the Mac interface from that time was that pretty much everything worked in exactly the same way. Every program used the same menu structures, the same window layouts, and the same workflow. The interface might have been primitive, but it was apparent that years of thought had gone into designing it, and it was exactly the uniformity that made the computer amazingly easy to operate overall, in spite of its laughably tiny screen to modern standards. It was often unnecessary to read any manuals at all for a new application, because the expected features could always be found in the same places. Now, 25 years later, we have a multitude of different interfaces, even within the same computing devices. Worse, developers find it necessary to completely overhaul interfaces almost every year. They cannot decide whether to use a single paradigm for both desktop and portable devices, therefore sometimes we get a horrible bastard mix of both (Gnome 3: ugh). It doesn't matter whether a new interface is better: there is too little time to adapt to it. By the time I have adapted, they overhaul it again. This constant instability makes everything difficult to use, especially for the older generations who lack the adaptability of youngsters. Maybe at some point the mix of interfaces will become so messy that it becomes a new virtual tower of Babel.

    Technology Is an Amplifier for Both Intelligence and Stupidity

    The above can be generalised. Technology, especially information technology, i.e. any technology related to communication and replication of data (in short: learning), acts as an amplifier in both directions. It makes smart/intelligent people smarter and dumb people dumber (mind the subtleties about smart vs. intelligent [LINK:SMART]). There has been a study long ago that proved this for television (exercise for the reader with a lot of spare time: find this study. Good luck!) It makes sense however that this applies to any kind of information technology, or technology in general. The catch is, the ‘zero point’ or bias at which this amplifier operates, in other words the level that divides between becoming dumber and becoming smarter, is variable. It shifts with the overall capabilities of the technology.

    How this works exactly, is as follows. Technology in general is a means to automate tasks that used to be performed by humans. The technology is intended to push the set of possibly useful tasks for a human to perform, to a higher level.

    If this higher level is below the highest level the human can handle, then the technology acts as a booster: it saves the human from spending time and effort on the lower-level tasks, and instead allows to spend more time at the high level where new things can be learnt. This gives a good chance to increase the highest level one can handle. When successful, the person can further ‘bootstrap’ their level by building new technology to automate tasks at their former highest level.

    If on the other hand the higher level imposed by the technology is above the highest level the human can handle, then the technology introduces a downward spiral: the technology will appear as magical to the human, and they will not learn anything from it. Worse, certain tasks the human is able to perform, are obsoleted by the technology. When delegating them to machinery, the human may eventually even forget how to perform those tasks, and their maximum level will drop instead of rising.

    Theoretically it is easy to speak of this ‘level’ which acts as the threshold or zero point in the amplifier, but in practice it is very difficult to define this threshold exactly. A conservative definition could be: if someone would be able to build a new exemplar of the technology from scratch without a step-by-step recipe, they are guaranteed to be above the threshold. This is a fuzzy definition of course. I do not think there is a single person who would for instance be able to build a smartphone from scratch, and I really mean starting from absolutely no pre-built component at all. For instance, they would need to be able to make an integrated circuit and all the required tools for this process, starting from nothing but bare sand and other raw materials. If in the definition however, we replace the single ‘someone’ with a group, then it works. In practice this does not change much because knowledge is becoming increasingly distributed anyway and it does not matter whether we consider individuals or groups.

    If technology would be allowed to evolve at an uncontrolled and inconsiderately quick rate, at some point this threshold may become so high that when the few people above the threshold die, all that is left are people below it. The devices that work as a dividing amplifier between stupidity and intelligence however, will not always immediately die together with the few smart persons that built them (consider the automated doctor machine in ‘Idiocracy’ [LINK:IDIOCRACY]). They will keep on doing their thing until they break down. In a certain sense, they could turn from their original intended function of protection mechanisms to becoming effective indirect killing machines.
    For instance, the combination of a person plus an advanced smartphone may be ‘smarter’ or perhaps even more intelligent [LINK:SMART] than a similar person without a smartphone. But after a while, if one takes away the smartphone and compares those two persons alone, the one that was bereft of the smartphone has a risk of severely falling behind the one who never had a smartphone. In other words, it is possible that a smartphone will actually make its user dumber. I already experience this phenomenon with simpler technology, like a basic notebook. Instead of memorising everything I wrote down in the notebook, I tend to only remember a kind of index of the book. The combination of me plus that notebook is smarter because I can store more information and retrieve it quite quickly, while reducing the risk of relying on degraded data in my brain. If I lose the notebook however, I am worse off than if I would have memorised the data myself, even if only in a rougher manner. The optimal way of working is therefore to both memorise a rough overview, and use technology for extra details that are not crucial. It should never matter much if the technology breaks down. Obviously, if my brain itself breaks down, I won't care anyway and the technology won't help me no matter how much information it contains.

    Consider for instance the current trend of people scoffing at professional photographers because everyone can now take pictures themselves with their smartphone. Everyone can pretend to be a professional photographer when ignoring the fact that taking photos with these things is like twenty times slower than with a decent camera, and that the tiny sensors in these phones are crap and produce noisy or blurry photos in every situation that is not extremely well-lit. And most importantly, being a good photographer has little to do with the quality or abilities of the camera. What is really happening here is of course twofold. First, the smartphones are stuffed with algorithms that are the result of decades worth of research, to ensure that the result is more or less decent even when the user is trying to do something utterly poor. Second, people are arrogant as hell and are only interested in one thing: proving that they are better than others [LINK:ARROGANCE,HUMANTHOUGHT]. Being able with a cheap device to trump someone who asks a fee of a few hundred Euros or Dollars for a photo session, is of course a big ego boost. Or is it? The only thing one can prove with this, is that they are able to push a button. An ape can do that too, heck, I have seen videos of birds intentionally pushing buttons. These people aren't good photographers by any stretch, their phones are. The average tourist from 1990 who occasionally took photos with one of those disposable cardboard cameras, was likely to be a much better photographer because they knew they had to get the most out of their limited film roll. I couldn't care less about the person who pushed the shutter button on the advanced smartphone, I'd rather admire all the scientists and engineers who built the machinery inside that device. They would probably be able to build a robot that walks around and takes beautiful photos without any human intervention at all. The only reason why they haven't done that yet, is because most of them know that such thing is just completely stupid and useless. See my discussion about how I value people [LINK:VALUEPERSON].

    Delegation: the Clippy-syndrome

    [REF:DELEGATION] This principle applies to any kind of technology. Any action that tries to remove a problem in a way that does not consider how the problem fits within the great scheme of everything, risks degrading the ability to deal with the same or similar problems in the future. The ability is delegated to something external, removing the need for the users to maintain the skill if their own ability is below the threshold imposed by the machine that performs the task in a better way. If the external entity fails, the risk that nobody can solve the problem, becomes real.
    Why do people below the threshold not notice they are at risk, and why do those above the threshold not notice that risk either? It can be explained from within the aliasing theory: the technology will allow people with a sufficiently large frame-of-reference to constantly surf on the wave of just-being-beyond-their-FOR that enables learning, while those with a smaller FOR will only alias everything back into that FOR. They will never be able to come near the edge of the learning curve and this edge will move further and further away as the technology advances. The group of people whose FOR degenerates to the bare minimum of skills required to operate the technology, keeps on growing. Those with the large FOR do not notice that the size of their group is shrinking, because they will remain inside the everyone-is-like-me [LINK:EVERYONEISLIKEME] illusion until the very end. The rest of the intelligence is locked up inside the technology. When it breaks down and there is nobody with a FOR large enough to understand the current state of technology such as to repair it, all that remains is stupidity. Or worse, the few who do understand the technology could abuse it to make the others do their bidding. When done right, the victims will never notice this, because they have no other option than to put all their trust in the technology. It is the price to pay for incorrectly considering technology a goal instead of a tool.

    Do you remember Clippy? Those who have known the ‘Office Assistant’ in the Microsoft Office software suite around the end of the twentieth century, will instantly know what I am talking about. For the others: Clippy was a small animated character that would pop up whenever the user tried to perform certain actions in the office applications. For instance, when creating a new document in the ‘Word’ text editor and starting to type certain words, it might say: “it looks like you're trying to write a letter. Would you like help?” Then it would offer all kinds of supposedly smart options. Clippy was perceived as annoying to such a degree that it was parodied and vilified in popular culture, leading to Microsoft eventually removing it in a subsequent release of their Office suite. My opinion is that it was not the animation nor the way in which it asked its questions that made it irritating. It was the fact that the software pretended to be smarter than the user, while this was the case not by any stretch of the imagination. In its process of bothering the user at regular moments, it decreased productivity instead of increasing it. The intentions of those who designed it were good: for the utterly inexperienced users Clippy probably was helpful, for a while. However, after having received the same kind of suggestions more than twice, even those users probably started damning the thing.

    Luckily, Clippy could be disabled. Has humanity learnt from this lesson? It seems not. Hold on to your socks, because here it comes: I will equate Google to Clippy. That's right: simply try to search for something in the Google search engine today, and it will exhibit quite a bit of Clippy-like behaviour, only not in an obvious way. In the early days of Google, the search engine behaved predictably. Looking for any set of words was almost guaranteed to return pages that contained all those words. Nowadays however, the search engine tries to be ‘smart’ and will return any kind of result that vaguely looks like it may have something to do with the search terms. It suffices that certain words occur on the result pages which in some contexts have been deemed to be related to the search terms. Some algorithm in the vein of latent semantic indexing must be behind this. Moreover, it heavily favours results with a high popularity. The consequence is that when something is really popular at a certain moment, result pages about it are likely to pop up when looking for basically anything. Searching for something specific has become increasingly difficult. Even when trying to disable all the bells and whistles by digging in the search options, I still notice a certain sloppiness that never existed in the early days of the search engine. Again, this kind of behaviour benefits the novice users who are unable to, or do not want to apply things like set theory when looking up something on the internet. They only care about finding those highly popular pages even when entering a sloppy query full of typos. However, it hampers the users who want to go beyond that level. Worse, it may prevent people from evolving beyond the level where the software is ‘smarter’ than them. The software locks them inside a frame-of-reference where all the smarter things are expected to be delegated to the machine. These people risk becoming even dumber. Only those who understand the ‘smart’ algorithms entirely, and know how to put them to good use, or why and when to disable them, will become smarter. The very smartest persons will not even bother with the mainstream algorithm, and instead implement their own. The more complicated the algorithms, the fewer people belong to those latter groups. Taken to the extreme, when keeping on ‘improving’ those algorithms, eventually everyone aside from the single very smartest person on earth who developed the smartest algorithm, will fall below the threshold. This is again the same scenario as the ‘stupidity meltdown’, only told in a different manner. The bottom line is twofold: first, whenever ‘smart’ or ‘intelligent’ behaviour is implemented in software, the option to easily disable this feature must always be offered, to cater for those users who possess skills and understanding that exceeds the automated behaviour. Second, we must never allow our situation to devolve to the one where almost everyone is dumber than machines built by a small minority, even if that minority has the best of intentions.

    This idea is not limited to mental development, it also applies to physiology. For instance, if we are going to make our environment ever more sterile, we remove the need for humans to have a strong immune system. We delegate this task to external technology that keeps our environment spiffy clean. In doing this, not only do we make our immune systems useless inside such environment, they become a potential danger because the risk remains or maybe even increases that they will attack our own tissue, causing autoimmune diseases. Eventually it would become safer and more efficient for our immune systems to become weaker inside those sterile environments. At some point however, our external technology that keeps everything sterile at great cost will either degrade [LINK:ENTROPY] and break, become too expensive to maintain, or is intentionally corrupted or destroyed by others. If this happens and our immune systems have been completely numbed down by that time, we will die — killed by trivial diseases that any child from the mid-twentieth century could conquer through staying in bed for a few days. I can only think of one word to describe this situation, and that word is: stupid.
    Somewhat to my own surprise, I have an innate repulsion against sterile-looking environments, and I am not alone in this. Could it be that the scenario I just described has already happened and produced people with a built-in aversion against it? You have no idea how hard it stresses me out to see entire neighbourhoods being built that are basically the equivalent of open-air hospitals. I have seen living quarters that looked more sterile than most hospitals I have visited. I experience those environments as hostile, both from an intuitive and rational point-of-view. It baffles me how people can live there and think it is a good idea. Well actually it doesn't really baffle me. It can be perfectly explained by how humans think [LINK:HUMANTHOUGHT]. The reasoning must be something like: “no germs! Yay! Let's not think any further and certainly not consider the bigger picture.” Let's not think about the fact that we are all living beings, yet ‘sterile’ in essence means: “devoid of life”.

    When applying the delegation principle to our instincts and emotions [LINK:EMOTIONS], any technology that reduces or eliminates a risk associated with an emotion is likely to neutralise that emotion in the population over a long span of generations. The mere existence of the emotion stems from the need to urge people to reduce the risk themselves. As such the ‘obsolescence’ of the emotion is not a problem, unless the technology is unreliable or unsustainable. If it breaks down, the lack of the emotional drive will have brought the people back to the same level as before they evolved the emotion. In extremis, if we solve all our problems through technology, we risk becoming emotionless and even though it may sound contradictory, we will be much more vulnerable than before. Well, the upside is that we won't even care about the fact that we have basically destroyed our best chances of survival.

    For instance, take the current ‘social media’ fad. It may help truly social people to become even more social, but it also removes the need for the less social ones to act in a social manner. Why bother with keeping track of friends and going through the process of communicating, if it has all been automated by some web application? Of course, as usual the truly social people hardly notice that the world around them is becoming more asocial, because exactly due to their reinforced social tools they get the impression that the world is becoming more social. They do not realise that they only look at the limited world they know, which may be steadily shrinking.

    Staying within the realm of computing, it has also become much easier to put together anything that could fall under the name ‘software’. There is no need to learn the dirty details of programming, because there are frameworks and libraries that can be used to achieve certain results by merely putting bits and pieces together. By looking up common problems and copying example code from websites like StackOverflow, one can create something working without actually knowing much about the programming language itself. The worst thing of this is that when someone does ask a question about a lower-level aspect of the programming language, they will be buried under answers that tell how to solve the problem by pasting together bits from the most popular library, e.g. when asking something about JavaScript, one will most certainly get answers that rely on JQuery even when explicitly asking for pure JavaScript solutions only. Any attempt to explain why one wants pure JavaScript, has a high risk of resulting in a flame war, because whoever has gotten used to implementing everything through JQuery, will never want to admit that they are unable to do anything else than putting prefabricated building bricks together, and they will create these horrible constructs that look like the bastard child of Perl and Lisp, while the same could be achieved in a few straightforward lines of plain JavaScript. I have the impression that this is a general tendency in programming: a holy fear to do anything new from the ground up, and instead relying on bloated overkill or cargo cult solutions that require a truckload of dependencies, most of which will never be used and are only sitting there as a ticking time bomb, waiting to cause problems in a future update.

    *

    “Globalisation”

    There is another way to see why globalisation will be horrible if executed in an extreme and unthoughtful manner. First of all, I believe there is not even any rigid definition of ‘globalisation’. The word has just dropped from the sky and everyone seems to assume some interpretation for it. And yes, of course everyone assumes that everyone else's assumption is the same [LINK:EVERYONEISLIKEME]. I think most who see globalisation as something positive, believe in something like: “it is obvious that we are evolving towards a state where the entire population of this planet becomes the same because this has enormous advantages.” Given the general evolution towards assimilation [LINK:ASSIMILATION] and our tendency to view everything from within the perspective of a small community [LINK:SMALLTOWN], the existence of this desire makes sense. The desire itself however does not. There appears to be an increasing fraction of people who take pride in disavowing their own cultural identity and believe they are ‘world citizens,’ whatever that is supposed to mean. They want people to be the same all across the world, but in some way they also want to accept all kinds of different cultures and let them coexist. That is a paradox. Everyone across the entire planet will only be able to be the same if the rich variety between all current cultures is practically entirely destroyed.

    The mere striving for a ‘multicultural world’ in the fashion as it is currently happening, will destroy that very world and turn it into exactly the kind of monocultural world the proponents of ‘multiculturality’ do not want, and which nobody will want if they would know the consequences. This ‘super-diverse’ society as some call it, will only exist for a short while. After that, it will either dissolve into itself, or explode in conflict.

    Given the capabilities of present-day human beings, it is impossible to both preserve the richness of cultural diversity and connect everyone together at the same time. The reasons behind this are explained in the section about clustering and assimilation [LINK:ASSIMILATION]. If one takes a look at any present-day situation where significantly differing cultures do coexist, it always involves an aspect of isolation and limited interaction. Take for instance ‘Chinatowns’ and similar clustered ethnic groups inside cities. The only reason why such communities have managed to maintain their identity, is because they have developed a certain degree of isolation with respect to their surroundings, and this is by far not as bad as it might sound. Those communities still interact with their surroundings, but at the same time are often isolated to such degree, that they act as little time capsules for the state of their originating country at the time they migrated. Inhabitants from a typical Chinatown would hardly be able to return to present-day China, because China has changed a lot more than the Chinatown itself. If you want to get an impression of typical China from the last century, do not go to China itself. Visit a typical Chinatown instead.

    Why would someone want to assimilate elements of cultures that evolved in an environment that is nothing like the one they live in? More importantly, why should they? Nobody can assimilate all cultures of the entire world and turn them into one super-diverse culture because that is a contradiction in itself. We have not evolved to be able to do that, and it will never happen because it makes no sense. If we do keep on forcibly smashing different cultures together, then at some point many elements of all those cultures will have to go, if we want everyone to be compatible. Some people will not be able to absorb as many elements as others, therefore if we badly want to keep everyone at the same level, we will have to stick to the lowest common denominator and throw out those elements as well. Eventually barely anything noteworthy will be left.

    That great global ‘super-culture’ would be a poor and utterly boring shadow of even the poorest example of a culture that one could find nowadays, and it will only be able to sustain itself through expensive, fragile communication technology prone to manipulation. Everyone would live according to only some bare elements that are common across all current cultures, and nobody will live in a way that really fits with the environment they live in. Unless of course we would take globalisation to the extreme and force all environments on the entire planet to be physically the same through technology. That would be like trying to bring an entire sheet of copper at the exact same temperature while it is permanently dipped in ice at one side and set on fire at the other side. It may be theoretically possible but it will be extremely expensive, the equilibrium will be so fragile that it is better to say it is not there at all, and most of all, it is utterly and completely unnecessary. There is no other motivation for it than innate hardcoded instincts which are a reflection of the past [LINK:SMALLTOWN], not a guarantee for the future, and which are only applicable to communities of a limited size, not the entire world.

    You know, around 1940 there was someone in Europe who tried to make everyone the same and we all know how that ended. He used some pretty explicit methods which is why others quickly stepped up and managed to stop the utter madness, but even then the devastation was already enormous and its effects are still felt to this day. It occurred to me that fanatical ‘politically correct’ people who are convinced this giant forced ‘milkshake’ of as many cultures as possible is the only possible way forward for humanity, are actually striving for the same goal. Of course they try to do it through means very different from Hitler's, and obviously they do not realise what they are really doing, and how it will end. I am not equating political correctness to Nazism here, it is the fanaticism that is the problem. Actually pretty much any fanatical way of thinking, regardless of what its core beliefs are and how well or ill-intended, will lead to the same terrible end result.

    What the heck is political correctness anyway?

    In my opinion, the concept of ‘political correctness’ belongs in the same bin as ‘globalisation’. (Feel free to use any interpretation of the word ‘bin’ here, all interpretations apply.) I am pretty sure that if one would pick random people from the streets and ask them what exactly is political correctness, and where it comes from, then one will obtain the most diverse and sometimes implausible and incompatible definitions. When looking at the Wikipedia article about the subject (which also lacks a clear definition), it is obvious that the term has been used throughout history in very different contexts and meanings, and the current association has only emerged since the 1990s. This current generally assumed meaning is the pejorative one of exaggerated care not to offend minority groups in any way, especially verbally. As a matter of fact it is nigh impossible to give any strict definition of political correctness at all. Any attempt to make one will be post-hoc. There simply is none and this is one of the biggest problems with its whole concept to start with, because there is no real concept and it is therefore stupid and unacceptable to try to impose this non-concept in the first place.

    If one would ask me my definition of political correctness, here goes. Obviously it is post-hoc as well, but I'll do my best to write down my impression of the concept as accurately as possible.

    Political correctness is a set of rules and prohibitions that originate from the rule-maker's naïve and arrogant assumption of knowing exactly what the emotional response of other persons is, especially minority groups, to certain actions or statements. More specifically, the rule-maker assumes that certain actions or statements will elicit negative emotional responses in the other groups, and those actions or statements are therefore prohibited. The only basis for the prohibition is a set of unfounded assumptions, the most obvious one being that all humans are identical enough to be entirely predictable from one's own experience.

    That is a whole mouthful so I will stress the most important elements. My biggest gripe with political correctness as I experience it every day, is that certain people seem to believe they are perfect empaths. They project their own reaction to certain situations onto everyone else, especially minority groups. For instance, if someone makes a joke about persons with a certain handicap, it is assumed that everyone with that handicap will be offended by that joke. Not only is this a display of arrogance, also the idea that the purportedly insulted person must be protected from the joke, is potentially much more insulting, because it assumes that this person cannot even think for themselves or react to the joke. It is exactly this arrogance that bothers me the most. The vehement criticisms inspired by political correctness almost never originates from within the group that is supposedly being offended, it always comes from a member of another group that believes they have the right to think in the place of the ‘victims’. Political correctness operates under the extremely naïve assumption that every human knows what everyone else, regardless of origin and culture, will feel as a response to anything. Read the rest of this text and you will understand that I am absolutely certain that such assumption is a big pile of hooey that will have very dangerous consequences when applied indiscriminately without attempts at validation.

    Just this very evening I have heard someone on a radio talk show state the same fact that nobody really can tell what political correctness is supposed to be. Yet they also mentioned that they found it an important concept. Does not compute! How the heck can one assign importance to a concept that is not even well-defined? I can only think of one explanation, and that is the fact that political correctness is yet another grab bag of built-in instincts or emotions that are present in a large group of persons, who have done a vague attempt at grouping those instincts and emotions by slapping a name onto them. This is an approach that is doomed to fail because like I said before, everyone's interpretation of this grab bag is different.

    The level of political correctness in my country has reached proportions that strongly remind me of the ‘newspeak’ concept from Orwell's novel ‘1984’. With this I mean there are situations where violating certain aspects of political correctness has actually become punishable by law (or rather by the ridiculous ‘GAS-boetes’ which dwell somewhere at the edge of the legal system). This is an extremely bad development that will lead to even worse situations if it is allowed to continue in the same vein. I know the majority of people is against it, but for some reason they do not revolt. I guess it is the typical Belgian inertia that has grown over our long history of being subjugated by various invaders. All the mainstream media are big proponents of the PC concept, therefore all news items are sent through a PC filter. Worrying events that involve obvious undesirable behaviour in a minority group, like the mass groping of women in Cologne by migrants during the 2016 New Year, are only reported when the public outrage has become to loud to further ignore it.

    Talking about ‘newspeak’, political correctness really tries to replace certain words by others. For instance, the word ‘handicap’ or any name for a mental or physical deviation, tends to be replaced by terms that end in the word ‘challenged’. This has a two-fold motivation: it attempts to both give a positive twist to the obviously disadvantageous situation, and consequently to make it less appealing to use this new term as an insult. Mark my words: the word ‘challenged’ will be used as an insult within due time. It probably already is at the time of this writing.

    To me, political correctness feels like a religion that lacks a god or holy scripture. It has the rules and prohibitions of a religion, but it lacks the backbone. Our Western culture is trying to detach itself from religion but it is obviously not capable of doing so, therefore the controlling elements of the religion it tried to get rid of, come bubbling up again in the form of vague rules. I believe this is a situation worse than having the same set of rules tied to something well-defined, even if that well-defined thing is basically nothing but a nice story [LINK:RELIGION].

    Beam Me Up, Scotty

    Where does this modern interpretation of political correctness come from? One could argue that one of the very first popular occurrences of political correctness in the modern sense, was the composition of the cast of the first ‘Star Trek’ TV series (1966-1969). The idea behind it made sense: it was assumed that mankind could not evolve towards the complexity of interstellar space travel without cooperation on a global level. An additional assumption was that every region or population group on Earth would be perfectly able to preserve its cultural identity as it was around 1970. Therefore the crew of the space ship Enterprise consisted of a grab bag of people from various present-day cultures, with some fictional extraterrestrials thrown in for good measure. Somehow the aforementioned two assumptions survived beyond the TV series, or they were merely reflections of an already brooding idea. Nowadays, anyone making a mainstream TV series, film, or video game, is pretty much obliged to forcibly make the cast include every kind of population group, minority or not, that is currently accepted as a member of the ‘PC Club’.

    There is no denying that political correctness is well-intended. However, no matter how well-intended a principle, when executed with sufficient extremism it always results in a bad situation. Even if those following the principle do not cause damage by taking roundabouts outside the established rules in order to fanatically adhere to said rules, other people with bad intentions will always be able to find ways to abuse the set of strict rules. Every system of strict rules can be exploited by turning the strictness against itself, and will be exploited until it eventually breaks down. This is not the fault of the people who exploit it, it is the fault of the people convulsively holding on to their rules. The only remedy against this is flexibility, and common sense. I treat extremism as follows: never be extreme, not even in the not being extreme. In other words, sometimes the only way out of a situation is to be extreme after all. The catch is in that ‘sometimes’. If extreme actions are one's way out of everything, then one is doing things in a very wrong manner.

    It probably is not a coincidence that political correctness was mostly inexistent until after World War II. I believe this is the true origin of the movement: a runaway reaction to a terrible event. Certain population groups were horribly persecuted during the war, and the images of trains and furnaces filled with corpses have been distributed across the world, repeated endlessly, and augmented with an ever increasing arsenal of fiction. Mankind is trying to make sure something similar could never happen again, and in itself this is a good reaction. However, for some reason this reaction has spiralled out of control and becomes increasingly extreme. At some point this pendulum will have swung to an opposite extreme, and something equally awful will happen.

    Globalisation Redux

    Assume that globalisation has succeeded and has been performed to an utopian extreme, such that every human is identical to the same degree as all drones within a certain beehive being pretty much identical. You go out on the street and meet someone. What will you say to that person? Nothing. There is nothing to discuss because they will have the same ideas, the same tastes, the same preferences. Any conversation will have no value. There is no point in asking anything except perhaps really basic stuff and you will never engage in an interesting conversation because each conversant already knows what the other is going to say. If this is not the case, the extreme globalisation has not yet been fully accomplished. You might perhaps want to ask something you forgot, which will likely trigger huge suspicion in everyone else because you do not know exactly the same things as them and they may even try to expel you from society for that, or worse.
    Now suppose a problem occurs that can only be solved through a specific action. If the ability to perform that action is not part of the global standard for human beings, or the standard contains some flaw that will cause an individual to react incorrectly to the problem, then everyone will react incorrectly to the problem because everyone is identical. If this reaction is really badly flawed then it may cause everyone to die. The very existence of diversity increases the chance that at least someone will have the ability to correctly solve the problem and either teach the others about it, or prevent them from making the mistake, or at least protect themselves and others from the damage caused by the ones making the mistake. Really, I cannot find any positive property of extreme globalisation that does not turn into a negative property when not taking the convenient first exit in the lazy thought process [LINK:HUMANTHOUGHT].

    It is not a coincidence that I picked a beehive as an illustration above. At the time of this writing, honeybee populations are dwindling. Even though the exact cause is not certain, it is obvious what is happening. Honeybees are an example of extreme assimilation: all individuals are the same and one would be hard pressed to find significant differences between bee colonies in nearby regions either. These insects have been optimised through assimilation to the max. And now, some parameter in their environment has changed, apparently a small one given that it is so hard to identify. There is no margin against this change due to the high degree of optimisation. The bees have very little means to adapt. Unless we can revert that parameter, they are doomed, possibly causing an avalanche of unforeseen problems due to their demise. I don't know about you, but I'd rather not go the same way.

    Just imagine that the entire world is an exact copy of the environment you are living in, and some day you get tired of that environment or you want to escape from it for any reason, for instance because it is obvious that everyone is acting in a provably self-destructive manner. There would be nowhere to go, because wherever you go, everything is the same. It would be a horrible nightmare. There is nothing more cruel than to place intelligent beings in a situation of which they can derive by themselves that there is no escape from imminent destruction.
    I believe the only proper way to proceed is to let all cultures exist and keep the amount of interaction between them limited. Stop pretending that everything is 100% compatible, because it is not. Stop short-circuiting the entire world: it will not work. There is some optimal degree of interaction, above which cultures will degrade and hamper each other. Below this threshold the cultures will not benefit from each other as much as they could, and will degenerate towards extremism because they are imprisoned inside their frame-of-reference. It is difficult to find that sweet spot between maximal and zero connectivity, but it must be possible, and it will be much more rewarding than trying to bludgeon everything with the dumb blunt hammer of unconditional assimilation.

    *

    Coming back to the ‘small communities’ idea touched upon in [SMALLTOWN], if one looks at human behaviour, there are other plausible consequences of living together in small tribes, villages, or towns, beyond the unconditional drive for ‘assimilation’. There are many other instinctive behaviours that also make sense from this historical background. For instance, the automatic repulsive feelings towards people that look ill or strange (cf. Überfremdungseffekt), instinctive repulsion against people that produce unpleasant odours [LINK:UNCANNY], … It goes much farther than these low-level instincts however. I believe most people are still under the delusion that they live in a small community. They communicate with people at the other side of the globe and treat them in a similar manner as someone would have done 500 years ago with someone from the other side of the village. For them this is all self-evident and they ignore what it took to enable this kind of communication and how fragile it is, and what would happen if it would break down for an extended period. We have no built-in mechanisms whatsoever to cope with long-distance communication, therefore we experience and treat it from within our framework that has evolved over millions of years to optimise communication over very short distances.

    One of the most commonly experienced effects of these ‘small-town’ instincts is what happens when a disaster of some kind occurs someplace. ELABORATE, INCORPORATE OLD TEXT: live TV enhances the small community feeling, the positive effect is immediate help, negative is more stress and inefficiency of the immediate help, and potential negative effects in the long term (cf. things like Live Aid). Things that are actually unimportant because they are way too remote to have any impact, are experienced as immediate threats due to lack of perspective, and this is worsened by the media looking for the most spectacular reports. TV and live reports make it seem as if it is happening next door. For instance, food poisoning reports, murders, natural/nuclear disasters. As A. J. Liebling phrased it: “people everywhere confuse what they read in newspapers with news.” My advice: reduce exposure to TV and introduce a (real or mental) distance-dependent delay on incoming news to smooth out the initial storm of unreliable and often unimportant details. It may seem selfish to shield oneself from news reports about disasters, but there is nothing selfish about not trying to go crazy for no good reason. [TODO: connect or incorporate with old ‘overreacting’ part.]

    A major problem with mainstream news is that for some reason it exudes authority. Anything that is presented in a tidy layout or that has the name of an official news agency stamped on it, is perceived as true, reliable, and important. I have no studies or data to back this up, but I am quite certain that any properly conducted study will confirm it. I do not know where this apparently hard-coded perception comes from, but it is plain wrong. Yet, even though I know it is wrong, still I instinctively perceive every news item I am exposed to as reliable, important, and urgent. I need to consciously override these feelings that I can only describe as basal instincts.

    A fact often overlooked, is that the goal of the average contemporary newspaper is not to provide reliable and relevant news. The only true main goal is to make money through the sale of newspapers or subscriptions, and through paid advertising. Of course, some news agencies may have additional goals like steering the opinion of the public (cf. Berlusconi's media empire). I believe there is a chance that humanity could evolve away from the use of language as we currently know it, because it is abused to such degree that the majority of the population who relies on it exclusively, has a risk of becoming evolutionary disadvantaged.

    The fear of minority groups like homosexuals, and more generally racism and similar behaviour, is also understandable from the small-town point-of-view where people assume that everyone is identical. Everyone who is not identical is regarded as an intruder to the small community. If this intruder's way of life is very different from what is regarded as normal, the intruder is seen as a threat. In this sense a homosexual could be considered a threat when following the naïve assumption that everyone must be the same. In this train of thought, integrating the gay person into the community could in some twisted way cause the whole community to become gay and nobody would procreate anymore, causing the entire community to disappear. Of course this train of thought is in reality a train wreck full of holes that does not make sense, but the human mind will most often have been paralysed by instincts long before there is any question of making sense through reasoning.

    The bottom line is that I believe our small-community-based instincts cause more damage than good in our current world where everything becomes ever more interconnected. Does this mean we need to either suppress those instincts or cut back on the degree of interconnectivity? I tend to believe we will need to do a bit of both. We will not want to cause everyone to have an urge to assimilate each other and rely on an artificial and complicated vulnerable communication grid, but neither will we want to isolate everyone and make it impossible to help each other.

    Equality

    Quite a few people simply do not seem to understand what is meant by principles like the ‘égalité’ from for instance the slogan of the French revolution: “égalité, liberté, fraternité” (equality, freedom, fraternity). They seem to believe that principles of ‘equality’ mean everyone should be made the same, i.e. globalisation or assimilation [LINK:ASSIMILATION] to the extreme. Wrong. The principle is good but the way in which it tends to become distorted is not. Equality means people should get equal opportunities, not that they should all be forced to become equal. Unfortunately the distinction between equal opportunities and unconditional assimilation is absent in the minds of quite a few, some of whom are in decision-making positions.

    Of course, turning everyone into identical clones would be a trivial and degenerate solution to enforce ‘equality’. It is a brain-dead shortcut solution that would be disastrous in many ways. Nobody must be forced to do things they are less suited for, just because others tend to be good at it. Neither must others be prohibited or discouraged from doing certain things they are good at, out of ‘solidarity’ with those who are inherently unable to do those things. What ‘equal opportunity’ really means is that nobody must be prohibited from exerting their abilities for reasons like prejudice.

    For instance it does not make sense to prevent women from striving to do a job that is regarded as typically male, like engineering. But it makes no sense either to force the number of for instance female engineers to be equal to the number of male engineers, or in general to strive for a 50/50 male/female distribution in any profession. If women are on average less suited to do this kind of job, then so be it. If the average settles at 80/20, then so be it. It is ridiculous to try to bend reality to make it seem otherwise and to satisfy some dogmatic assumption by blindly staring at raw numbers. And again: even if one could figure out the exact ideal global ratio of men vs. women for a certain profession, one must never try to enforce that ratio, because it could change at any time, and it will only be a global average that might be pointless to enforce in a specific situation or location. What people need to do instead, is take away all artificial barriers that prevent the ratio from reaching its natural equilibrium.

    It is disadvantageous for society to force people into positions they are not really suited for, thereby reducing the chance that suitable persons can take those positions, while increasing the risk that the unsuitable persons will cause problems. It is however equally ridiculous to prohibit certain individuals from deviating from the average (or worse, from some binary clipped exaggeration). I have no doubt there are women who can be much better engineers than the average male engineer. It would again be disadvantageous to society to prohibit those women from being good engineers. This is all a matter of statistics, which explains why so many have problems with it [LINK:SUCK_AT_STATS].

    [FIXME: this is an important paragraph but it is difficult to formulate. Rework it until it is crystal clear.]
    I realise it is hard to really understand what I am trying to say here. Humans are very eager to clip to extremes, and therefore they will in most cases only consider two possible situations when it comes to the topic of ‘equality’ I am discussing here. The first situation is the ‘old-school’ one, with its plethora of typical prejudices, clubs, rituals, and clichés, where people are bullied because they want to do things outside the standard clichés and prejudices of the club they ended up in. The second situation is the currently ‘trendy’ one that tries to steamroller everything and fuse all the little groups and clubs into one big group, where it is assumed that every single individual is completely equivalent to the others, and anyone who tries to prove otherwise is bullied. Fact is, when executed with the same degree of extremity, those two situations suck in almost exactly the same way. They only differ in the number of groups that force their members to be the same. The degree in which those situations suck, depends purely on the degree of extremity in which they are enforced.

    In the ‘traditional’ pigeonholed situation, there are many different groups that each have their own set of enforced rules. When a more capable individual in a specific group exhibits behaviour that is beyond the capabilities of the rest, those will feel threatened and bully the individual in an attempt to curtail its abilities. Likewise, a less capable individual will be scoffed at for its lack of capabilities that are expected in the group. This ‘deviant’ individual can only be happy if there happens to be a different group whose rules match its abilities and limitations, and it can manage to migrate to that group.

    In the forcibly ‘politically correct’ situation, there is only one group. Everyone is squeezed into this single super-group that must obey a set of common rules and where everyone is assumed to be the same. Unlike in the other system where everything is rigid, the rules are constantly adjusted to match some arbitrarily defined majority. It is however intractable to create a set of rules that match the diversity of all possible individuals, therefore there will always be minorities that fall outside the rules. Again, the rules will force them to curtail their abilities, or to do things above their capabilities, and only those who match the set of common rules can be happy.

    The bottom line is that in either of those cases, life sucks for anyone who deviates from the rules. The pigeonholed situation has many sets of rules, which allows to ‘shop’ for the best matching set of rules, but for some people no good match will exist. The one-size-fits-all situation has one set of rules that tries to match everyone, but again some will fall outside this. The only true difference between the two situations is the number of groups. Quite likely, the fraction of people falling outside the established rules will be the same in both situations. Enforcing this kind of degenerate ‘equality’ merely shifts problems around, it does not solve them. The idea of ‘equality’ that certain decision-makers seem to have, is in fact exactly the opposite of what it should be. They introduce laws that give unfair advantages to groups that were previously disadvantaged. Some call this “positive discrimination,” which is one of the biggest oxymorons possible: there can never be anything positive about discrimination. By giving privileges to one group based on some trait, the other groups become disadvantaged. Instead of producing equal opportunities, the situations wherein people are discriminated are only being shifted around. Someone took a bad situation and the only thing they did with it, is turn it upside-down or shake it a little. The result is equally bad, perhaps worse, because the total number of disadvantaged people may have increased, and the existing discriminating groups may be handed additional fuel to justify their behaviour. The correct approach is to drop the privileges that already existed, instead of creating additional ones.

    Feminism

    An obvious example of a flawed attempt at improving ‘equality’ is feminism. The mere fact that the word ends in -ism should already ring an alarm bell, because it implies an extreme striving for a single ideal. As I hope to explain in other parts of this text, such approach is always doomed to fail. Although generally perceived as a modern ideal and therefore perhaps associated with political correctness and the like, feminism actually belongs in the old-school pigeonholed category, even though it only really considers two pigeonholes. Feminism is a reaction to an obvious bad situation that indeed needs to be improved upon. However, creating a movement that puts focus onto a single population group only, is hardly a good way to fix the existing problem, which has also resulted from focus onto a single population group, albeit a different one. Even if it was not intended as such, giving something a name that can be interpreted as striving for dominance of a single group, is a very bad move. Quite a few men will have that kind of interpretation when they hear the word, and this first impression will immediately shut down any hopes of reasoning and will make them fight the idea even if it truly strives for the right goals. Conversely, quite a few women will also believe in that interpretation, and strive for a kind of dominance that is exactly the kind of thing we want to get rid of, they only want to turn the tables.

    To conclude, the problem with the concept of feminism is twofold. First, the name is poorly chosen, and second, the whole approach is flawed because it still focuses onto a single population group and only tries to define rights for that group, while ignoring the rest. If this extreme interpretation of feminism would succeed, then the logical consequence would be the emergence of a ‘masculism’ movement. This is running in circles without any foresight of ever exiting the circle. Only a system that defines rules for everyone without discriminating anyone based on any of their characteristics, has any chance to work in the long term.

    Another real-world example of a train-wreck-of-thoughts where people try to assimilate everyone in an attempt to avoid problems with cultural differences, are attempts to prohibit pupils in schools from exhibiting cultural symbols. Lawmakers hope to avoid friction between people of different religions by prohibiting any headwear including turbans and veils. How does this help people to respect each other? It does not. It merely hides the diversity between cultures and gives an illusion of everyone being identical drones. It is a lazy and truly degenerate solution to the problem, not a solution at all.

    The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

    [TODO: recycle good parts from the old text. I still lack the true core of how it works. Try to find some more examples and analyse them. Write two stories that start out from the exact same initial situation, and elaborate what happens when either proactively acting according to some assumption, or just observing an then taking action. The story from the old text was actually pretty good, but try to find another one that involves larger groups of people.]

    [REF:SFP] The self-fulfilling prophecy, abbreviated further on as ‘SFP’: how does it work? This is a terribly important concept and it is tied to practically the entire rest of this text. One of the driving forces behind it is group behaviour, or more generally, feed-back. There is always an element of feed-back involved, either within a single individual, but mostly between multiple groups of individuals. Hence there are two flavours: directed towards others and directed towards yourself. As for flavour one, if you are going to assume beforehand how people are inclined towards you then you will act (in all senses of the word) in a way that is in line with that assumption. Unless those people really are not remotely as you assumed, they will adjust their behaviour to be as compatible with your assumption as possible, because they want to belong. Eventually though this will wear off and everyone will return to their own nature. This is often when endless stupid conflicts ensue because everyone's assumptions are being shattered.
    The self-fulfilling prophecy can be best understood by looking at a few examples.

    Example 1A: [this is similar to the Überfremdungseffekt example from the old text, only a bit more generalised] a new individual approaches a group. The relation between the individual and the group is perfectly neutral at this point, neither knows anything about the other. Suppose one of the members of the group somehow assumes that the new individual has bad intentions, although there is no evidence for this at all, he only had a quick glance at the individual from a distance. Before the individual even had a chance to introduce itself to the group, the unfounded rumour about him being a bad person will already have spread. This will cause everyone in the group to act in a hostile manner. Because the individual had no previous information about the group at all, this hostile welcome will be his first impression, and it is a pretty bad one. The individual will almost certainly react negatively to this poor welcome, which will of course give an impression to the group of their hunch being correct. They will probably react again in an even less positive manner, and this kind of stupid loop maintains and amplifies itself. It is very difficult to reverse the way in which this is headed. Eventually the individual might end up so pissed off that he actually does something really bad, and this fulfils the prophecy of his bad intentions that originated out of nowhere.
    Example 1B: now take exactly the same group and exactly the same individual as from example 1A. As only difference, assume the first person who sees the individual approaching has a positive impression and believes the guy will be nice. When the individual addresses the group, they will quite likely all share the positive expectations and react accordingly. The initial impression the individual has of the group, is therefore also positive. It is noteworthy that in this case, it might not be that difficult to reverse the way in which this is headed. It seems easier for a negative self-fulfilling prophecy to come true, than a positive one.
    If this example seems far-fetched, scientific studies [e.g. “First Impressions - Making Up Your Mind After a 100 ms Exposure to a Face”, J. Willis and A. Todorov, 2005] have shown that humans have built-in mechanisms that will produce an initial impression of trustworthiness of an individual, based on nothing but a set of facial traits. This decision is made in the brain in a time span of a few hundred milliseconds at most, which indicates that no conscious reasoning can play any part in it at all. It hardly matters whether there is any validity in this instinctive judgment or if it is utterly obsolete. The SFP will make it come true in many cases, no matter what the set of criteria is.

    Example 2: it is assumed that a certain group of people are ‘stupid’ in the sense that they lack the ability to learn a given skill or intelligent concept. Therefore, no effort will ever be done to expose this group to anything that exceeds their presumed level, because the assumption implies that it would be effort wasted. This will prevent the group from ever learning anything, see the explanation about aliasing and learning. Initially, this may indeed keep them stupid, but it is very well possible that they evolve beyond the assumed level all by themselves. If this goes quickly enough, they may appear to have suddenly become much smarter as if by magic.
    In somewhat more detail, this may work as follows. Person A assumes that person B whom he knows nothing about is stupid, and therefore never exposes B to material that can be learnt from. He treats B as stupid and therefore only exposes him to a reference frame that is supposedly ‘safe’ for people of that expected level. Therefore B will initially be unable to learn due to lack of the proper stimuli and indeed, remain ‘stupid’. B may however be intelligent [LINK:SMART] enough to find the right materials by himself and boost his own level far beyond what A expects. It will take a while for A to realise this, because he will keep on viewing B from within the same expected frame-of-reference where B is dumb. Evidence that B has become smarter than A will be ignored or folded back into expected observations (e.g. attributed to sheer luck). The larger the discrepancy becomes between B's expected and actual level, the more difficult it will become for A to realise this discrepancy [LINK:ALIASING]. Eventually B may end up far smarter than A, and if something happens that finally proves this fact to A, it may be a pretty painful moment for A. In this whole story, ‘B’ may be an entire group or even an entire country.

    Example 3: an exceedingly important one, especially at the time of this writing. Presuming someone is a criminal, incurs a considerable risk of inciting them to perform actual criminal acts that they would not have done if not proactively accused. E.g. forcing consumers to watch non-skippable copyright infringement warnings before watching their legally bought DVDs, is likely to increase their inclination to obtain illegal copies that do not have these irritating warnings. Or, when indiscriminately treating a whole population group as terrorists, the members of that group who had a perfectly neutral stance, will be more likely to turn towards terrorism. After all, they have nothing to lose by doing so, because they were already considered a criminal to begin with. Confirming this prejudice is a path much easier to follow than to fight. If there isn't even any willingness from the other party to adjust the prejudiced stance, then confirming the prejudice is the most optimal (or better: the least bad) course of action possible. Need I say this is a scenario to be avoided at all costs? If I look at the news, it seems I cannot say it loud and often enough.

    Example 4: scientists have figured out that until now, our planet has gone through cycles of warm periods alternated with ice ages. Mankind has only been able to thrive after the last ice age made way for a warmer climate. According to certain predictions, the next ice age is on the brink of starting. Now, assuming that mankind could only thrive in a warmer climate, this would mean that no matter what we do, it will all go to hell anyway, so why not just keep on wasting and polluting everything? Consider two possibilities and two courses of action: possibility 1 is that this prediction is true, possibility 2 is that it is not: the ice age will not occur or be not severe enough to have an impact. Course of action A is to show restraint and not waste anything, especially not anything that could be required to get through a potential ice age. Course of action B is to be accept our ‘doom’ by being wasteful and trying to enjoy to the max what we think we have left. Combining the two possibilities with the two courses of action, there are four possible futures in total. Future 1+A: the ice age occurs and we might die, but we have a good chance to survive thanks to the resources we have saved plus the current state of the evolution of mankind. Future 1+B is easy: we have fun and then we die because in the process of having fun, we wasted any opportunities to survive. Future 2+A is also easy, because not only do we survive, we have plenty of resources to do interesting things in our unexpectedly bright future. Future 2+B is, well, stupid. Either we die even before we notice that the ice age does not occur, or we survive, but in a very bad state due to all the damage we inflicted by being wasteful.
    In this example, future 1+B is the prototypical self-fulfilled prophecy: we assumed that the ice age would kill us, therefore we gave up beforehand, and acted in a way that destroyed any chances of escaping the assumed fate. The mere fact that we expected the situation to end badly, made it end badly. In scenario 1+A there is no certainty that we survive, but the chance is much larger. 2+B is not really a pure self-fulfilling prophecy because the original assumption did not came true, however it is actually worse: the prophecy was not necessarily fulfilled but the negative aspects of assuming that it would, are still present. In this sense, it still is a self-fulfilled prophecy that came true by means of an unexpected way.

    Example 5: when it comes to ‘progress’, there is a general sentiment that ‘standstill is the same as going backwards’. Elsewhere in this text [LINK:PERFECTION] I explain that at a physiological level, this statement is true for living beings, because life is a dynamic process. However, merely sticking to always the same kind of cyclic and recurring processes associated with life, is also deemed ‘standstill’ in the general context of technology and civilisation. There is a striving for continuous improvement in about everything. This is a really nice example of an SFP, because this striving has spawned exactly out of the very thought that it is required. Let's make it concrete: consider two countries that observe each other. If these two countries are identical in all aspects, and they both are content with their situation and do not really care about their relative level w.r.t. the other country, then there is actually no problem at all if this situation stays the same. The alleged ‘standstill’ here does not mean going backwards if the countries have a nicely working closed loop of production and consumption etc. Now, to spawn the SFP of ‘standstill means regression’, we'll just inject this very idea into one or both of these countries. There can be multiple motivations behind this idea, an obvious one is jealousy. If the people in one country have the feeling that they must at all times be the best in everything, then their current situation is deemed bad, because instead of being better than the other country, they are ‘merely equal’. If they do some effort to advance their situation and the other country has the same degree of jealousy, then for that other country standstill would indeed be regression. Relatively, not improving their own level is the same as going backwards because the difference with the other country's level keeps on growing. In an absolute sense they are not going backwards, it is only because they pin their reference point to the highest level they can observe, that their own level is experienced to be dropping when someone else advances. The motivation for the other(s) to advance, is exactly this same. It is obvious that this statement ‘standstill equals regression’ is only valid if it is assumed to be true: it proves itself, an excellent example of the kind of self-fulfilling prophecy that chases its own tail. Take away this idea, and the need to grow indefinitely vanishes as well. This scenario works just as well for a single isolated entity as it does for multiple parties, e.g. an entire planet with no other planet to compare itself to. All it takes is replacing the observation of a higher level of another party, by some imaginary higher level that serves as a new reference point. That imaginary level may be for instance something out of a work of fiction, or who knows, maybe just any random thought that someone dreamt up without any solid ground for it to be achievable. To summarise, standstill is only regression if at least one part of a group believes that it is. Even then it is not necessarily true regression, it is only really perceived as such.

    You see, it is much easier to find examples where an SFP leads to deterioration than to improvement. The last example of ‘self-fulfilling progress’ can lead to actual improvement, but will eventually lead to deterioration if it keeps on amplifying itself indefinitely to the point where the parties involved keep on enforcing useless changes in an ‘arms race’ kind of way, just because it has become unacceptable to stop for a while, driven by their ideology and the mechanisms it spawned. Not only are detrimental SFPs more numerous, the likelihood for negative SFPs to come true is generally higher as well than for scenarios that end up in improvement. This makes sense because one could link the SFP to the Second Law of thermodynamics. In layman's terms, the Second Law implies that the number of opportunities to fuck things up is on average always larger than the number of opportunities to succeed. Preventing something from becoming worse, i.e. from its entropy to increase, requires effort. Assuming beforehand that one will fuck up, hence not spending the required effort, will automatically pave the way for one of the many bad outcomes. Does this mean it is warranted to simply give up? I say no, and I believe the people who attempt to use all this knowledge to justify their act of giving up, are lazy fucks and often a hidden danger to everyone else.

    The SFP directed towards oneself is probably even more prevalent. In fact I believe that the behaviour of many if not all people is based almost exclusively on SFPs. Or in other words, the entire world runs mostly on SFPs. [ELABORATE: consciousness is a SFP. Je pense, donc je suis.] People are born or raised with stupid assumptions that make no sense, but they will act according to them because they do not know any better. Instinctively they will be certain that the assumptions are right. They will act according to them and in this process create an environment where they are likely to hold, therefore the assumptions will appear to have been correct even if it is all virtual and the auto-generated environment may be terribly unstable. This is important to note: nobody is aware that they are living in this ‘dream’ full of assumptions until these are really obviously disproven.
    For instance in the area where I live, many who did not yet have a decent reality check believe they are smarter than everyone else (cf. perceptual aliasing). This will cause them to act in a way that will often cause others to believe they actually are smart [LINK:ARROGANCE]. Unfortunately this also wears off when the others get enough time to evaluate the purported smartness. When the assumptions of both the person who ‘seeded’ them and the ones who adopted them get shattered, the originator will not only be disillusioned but will also have lost his/her credibility with others, especially if those others repeatedly saw their initial impressions debunked.
    Other people seem to be born with the assumption that they are dumber than the rest. I believe there is some genetic drive behind this and the inclination towards feeling superior/inferior may therefore be geographically clustered. It is perfectly possible though that it is carried over through education as well. Unfortunately this ‘inferiority’ assumption is much more self-reinforcing than the inverse. When one never tries anything intelligent under the assumption of being unable to, one will never show any sign of intelligence and nobody will ever consider the possibility that the person making the assumption is not as stupid as (s)he seems.
    Of course people like to stay in this dream where everything still went well and they were walking up the sweet steep slope of local optimality. They will revel in reading short-sighted ‘scientific’ studies or books that want to make you believe that this kind of simplistic predictive behaviour really works beyond the short term, or they will publish such things themselves. A lot of people keep on avoiding the big heavy hammer of the reality check, until it has become so heavy that it utterly crushes their entire dream world or even kills them outright.
    Now if it is true that the SFP would really be the basis for many persons' behaviour, it is not too crazy to believe they will try to apply it to things for which it cannot remotely work, not even in the short term. The SFP does not work for many things that are not steered by social mechanisms, like physics or logic. One can expect spoons to bend by looking at them, but they won't. One can expect to be able to triumph over death and natural selection, but death and natural selection are not social creatures. They are not even entities, only constructs of our mind, hence they could never give a fuck about what we expect. They just happen. Someone who tries to bend the laws of physics will probably only end up bending and breaking themselves. We will die eventually and if it was because of stupidity, our genes will die with us [FIXME BAD PHRASING]. End of story. Get over it.
    It is amazing to see how many people hate themselves. Not directly, but they seem to hate being human. They are the kind who will waste scandalous amounts of resources to mask or eliminate aspects that are pretty much inevitably part of being an organic life form. There is no long-term future for people like that. If there is any SFP that will never come true, it is the assumption that humans can be ‘upgraded’ to some utopian fantasy being that relies on finite resources to live an eternal life. See ‘immortality’ [LINK:IMMORTALITY]. I know quite a few who believe we are certainly evolving towards a situation where we will create something technological that will ‘surpass us’ and make us ‘obsolete’. Now there's an SFP that has a reasonable chance of momentarily coming true, aside from the fact that the technology will not be as great and robust as they want to believe. If one is going to assume that for some reason we must make ever more complicated technology that has as only goal to wipe out humanity, then all kinds of possibilities are opened up to make this actually happen. What I wonder then is, why the fuck would someone want that kind of crap to happen? Do they really have this desire to commit suicide in such amazingly fancy and complicated manner? Well, I do not. I really do not care if those people want to get killed. But I do care if I have to share in the destruction and I will do whatever it takes to protect myself against it.
    Eventually it will all boil down to this: those who assume they must keep on living, have the highest chance of actually surviving, because they will do everything in their might to keep that assumption true. This is why the will to survive is probably the strongest built-in instinct in any living being, and all basic reflexes of every creature are geared towards taking the decisions that overall lead to the highest chance of survival. Those who assume they somehow need to destroy themselves, well at some point they will destroy themselves, duh. Whether the first group that does not have a drive to prematurely eliminate itself actually survives, will also depend on whether it can avoid being dragged down the same self-destructive path as the other group. Eventually it may even need to evolve instincts to eradicate people who exhibit signs of a desire for self-destruction.

    People often make assumptions that are based on nearly nothing, and immediately forget that it was an assumption, and then it becomes a de facto truth to them. And then shit hits the fan! It is OK to make assumptions, because otherwise it often is impossible to do anything. However, one should always remember that they are working under assumptions that could be wrong. They should try to verify those assumptions whenever possible, which is what science is all about. Everyone should be a bit of a scientist. Everyone should also be a bit of an engineer, a doctor, an economist and everything else. Alas, the norm nowadays is for everyone to become a specialist in an incredibly narrow field and know nothing from other fields. This means that according to my definition of an idiot, most people are striving to be idiots. This leads to them making stupid decisions that are only based on the simplified models they know. Unfortunately we do not live in ‘the Matrix’: we cannot bend spoons with our mind by just believing in it. The self-fulfilling prophecy only works under some very strict boundary conditions. It is much more important to know what you know and do not know, than to try to know as much as possible.

    *

    The Fractal Universe

    [REF:FRACTALUNIVERSE] The existence of a ‘god’ is a rather irrelevant question. If there really is anything that created us, it is likely to be an entity which has either destroyed itself in the process of creating our universe, or perhaps we are the consequence of an experiment of this entity. Given the size of the universe and how insignificantly small a part of it we are, it is exceedingly implausible that this potential ‘creator’ knows we exist, let alone care about what we do.
    I tend to believe we were not created on purpose by anything however. I believe the universe is fractal, and there are structures at each possible scale, perhaps with similar but not necessarily identical structures over large scale differences, like in a Mandelbrot set. The Mandelbrot set is one of the prototypical examples of a fractal: one can zoom in indefinitely on it, and keep on seeing variations on the same structures as were visible at other scales, see Figure U1. In a fractal universe, ‘time’ in the sense of a general measure of how quickly things change, is relative to scale. In a sense, the smaller the scale of a system, the faster ‘time goes’. This means that there could be an entire universe inside each atom, with something more or less equivalent to galaxies and planets inside it, or perhaps something entirely different. We might be subparts of an elemental particle that is part of another particle that is part of a ‘cell’ in the body of some entity so much larger than us that nobody can even imagine it. The lifespan of our solar system may only be just a picosecond in the time scale of this entity, so we will never be able to communicate with it even if it would happen to be looking at exactly the right place. We might be destroying and creating entire universes with each particle collision experiment. The search for a ‘God Particle’ is pointless because that God particle will consist of an infinite amount of universes within.

    Fractal
    Figure U1: example of a fractal: the Mandelbrot set at three different zoom levels. (Images created with the open-source program Fraqtive.)

    Understanding concepts of the universe at a scale much smaller or larger than what we can observe, becomes increasingly difficult with increasing scale difference, and the understanding can only be complete if every intermediate scale is well understood. It will get progressively more difficult to figure out what exists at both the scales that are much smaller than the scale at which our perceivable reality exists, and the scales much larger. If one looks at the resources that went into confirming the existence of the Higgs boson, you get an idea of what I mean. The discrepancy between what we need to do at our observable scale to detect effects at much smaller scales, becomes larger with increasing difference in scales. At some threshold of scale difference, experiments may simply become prohibitively expensive. Therefore I believe there is a fundamental limit to the range of scales that humanity can understand. Increasing our comprehension beyond our current range becomes exponentially more difficult, and trying to manipulate entities at increasingly different scales becomes increasingly more expensive.

    In this sense and taking Occam into account, I believe the fractal universe model makes much more sense than a model that claims everything is built out of basic elemental particles that cannot be further subdivided — a thought that was behind the name ‘atom’ for instance. The latter raises the question where those basic particles come from, what made them, how and why. Stating that everything is built out of something else ad infinitum eliminates this gap in the model. It is of course not an encouraging thought for some scientists, because it implies that it is impossible to ever know everything about the universe. I for one find it a much more exciting thought than the idea that someday there will be nothing left to investigate.
    TODO: Example of fractal structure: society can be considered a living being, each human in a certain sense acts a bit like a ‘cell’ etc. This is more or less the idea behind the ‘Gaia’ theory.

    *

    What Is Love?

    [REF:LOVE] Shortly before I started writing this very paragraph, there was a list of “top 10 unanswered questions” making furore in mainstream media, and it probably re-emerges from time to time. Aside from other questions that this text tries to answer and of which I think they are not as unanswerable as the general public believes, one of them was: “what is love?” I believe there is a perfectly sensible answer to that question, which is therefore not at all unanswerable. The point however is, in the end the question might better remain unanswered after all.

    Just as group behaviour, love is another one of those amazing instinct-driven emotions that have evolved over millions of years. It works in very complex ways but the basic premise is very simple. A rather abstract definition of love could be: “a complicated set of mechanisms that will produce an incredible feeling of positive reward in someone's brain whenever they are acting in a way that increases their chances of reproduction”. A more down-to-earth definition is: “love is a mechanism that distorts someone's perception of reality in order to encourage them to stay with a partner long enough to provide a good chance of procreation”. The ways in which this mechanism has evolved are pretty astounding, really. Most humans are able to act intelligently and make sane decisions. Love can sabotage these abilities in amazing ways: it will not just disable them but it will bend them to actually make it seem logical to be attracted to a certain person. The arsenal of problem-solving algorithms will be redirected to solve one single problem: “how can I keep convincing myself that this is the one true partner for me?” This makes perfect sense because at a certain point it becomes more important to just create offspring than to try to optimise that offspring to the maximum, and die without any offspring at all because the search process took too long [LINK:IDIOCRACY]. Love is pretty logical after all.

    In fact, love is by far the purest example of my simple model of human thinking [LINK:HUMANTHOUGHT]. Love has only one goal that has been perfected by millions of years of evolution, and that is to bring two people together long enough for them to procreate. Anything that stands in the way of this will be blatantly ignored in the “stop thinking here” step. Anyone who has fallen in love can probably remember how they almost consciously ignored every negative aspect about the person they were in love with, ranging from merely minor nuisances like bad odours or habits, down to perfectly sensible fundamental reasons not to engage with that other person. Some very strong instincts are at work here to basically shut down or corrupt the entire rational core of our brains, for the simple reason that it is essential for the species to survive.

    Love does not last: eventually it fades away and then the partners start paying attention to all those ignored shortcomings (for the interested, there have been actual scientific studies on how long this takes on average). Quite often the shortcomings prove bad enough for the partners to separate. From an evolutionary point-of-view this is not too bad because the expiry period on love is long enough to produce one or two children. The disadvantage of the partners separating and potentially compromising the raising of their children, is not large enough for love to be longer-lasting. Quite possibly, the opportunity to find another partner and produce more offspring might even offset this disadvantage, or at least it did in the past.

    If you got the gist of this text, you should understand that from a purely logical point of view, it is pointless to reproduce, because it is pointless to live in the first place. I believe someone has even made a scientific study that proves it is unprofitable to have children. Go look it up if you wish, but I believe you will be wasting time better spent, just as the person who did that research could have better spent their time than proving the futility of their own life in a roundabout way. Love, or the drive to live and procreate, is the only antidote against self-destruction. It is the only reason why we exist. This may all sound romantic, but it follows from a strictly logical point-of-view. If we would eliminate all forms of romance and emotion, we will become extinct in due time, because cold hard logic alone does not provide any reason to keep on living.

    Something has struck me over the years when looking at many couples that did not obviously marry for artificial reasons like monetary benefits or external pressure — one could say, couples that married in a ‘natural way‘. The partners often look awfully similar, sometimes to the degree that I assumed they were brother and sister before I knew they were married or engaged. If their physical traits are not similar, then at least their ideas, personalities and behaviour are. This makes perfect sense when considering the fact that when equalising boundary conditions everywhere, a species will most likely evolve to a situation where all of its members strive to be identical. Eventually the mechanism of love will evolve to encourage similar people to get together.

    If one thinks about it, love is not trivial at all. For instance, a blind attraction towards everyone similar would have a high risk of incest, which is bad from a genetic point of view. Therefore it has to strike the right balance between difference and similarity. [LINK:SIMILARPARTNERS, this is actually the same, should merge the two explanations]

    The whole catch is, there is no need to know what love really is and how it works. It just works. If it did not, we would not be here, you would not be reading this because you would not exist. You can analyse the hell out of it but you will not gain anything from doing so that cannot also be derived from a bit of sound reasoning. Over-analysis will only risk the pitfalls of apparent smart ways to circumvent or improve upon love, because our minds are too small to comprehend why our naïve tricks are something that has long ago been rejected by millions of years of evolution because it was detrimental in the long run. Over-analysis also incurs a risk of choking on the simple hard fact that life on its own has no real purpose, and we have to invent our own purpose. As I explain elsewhere [LINK:SEAL], we need to be a little bit crazy to survive, and love provides part of that craziness. Therefore the most meaningful answer to the question “what is love” is: “there is no need to know.”

    *

    Science

    ‘Science’ has become trendy nowadays. That should ring an big fat honking alarm bell in your head if you are getting the gist of what I want to explain in this text. The fact is that many think they are doing science, while what they are actually doing is fitting their instincts and emotions into something that feels like science. They will follow some aspects of the scientific method in the hopes that this will suffice to make it truly rigorous, but they will deviate as soon as they do not get the results they want. It is scarily similar to cargo cults.

    When people are truly bent on believing in some conclusion, they are really good at finding a path between a bunch of facts and this conclusion, no matter how implausible and scientifically dodgy that path is. In the worst cases, the path is almost entirely scientifically sound, save for one single massive mistake that is easily overlooked somehow. For an example outside the field of science, look at discussions on the internet about flaws in films for instance. Fanboys of the film in question will take great lengths to prove that their revered director did not make a mistake. They will come up with a long chain of apparently plausible events that would turn the obvious flaw into a plausible plot element. When chained together, the combined probabilities of all those events equate to a chance of zero in all practical measures. For an awful lot of people, life is a film directed by their favourite infallible director whether it be a god, physics models, mathematical proofs, or whatever. They will try to wrap their mind around anything that does not seem right by taking twists, turns and bends in order to evade the blatant glaring truth that their model of life is not entirely accurate. It is important to note that most of the time they do not do this consciously or with evil intent. They simply lack the reference to be aware of their inability.

    Many scientific studies nowadays either sprout from something trendy from the researcher's favourite comic book, TV series or film, or from some idea that is basically dictated by instincts or folklore, like the infamous multitasking study that reeks of an excuse for the few men who are poor at ‘multitasking’ to justify their shortcoming by making it appear cool and manly. And obviously, as an excuse to pass on more work to women. In the real world, I never see any clear evidence of the purported conclusion of this study (i.e. the one that was spread around by the media and is generally accepted by the public, which is not necessarily the actual conclusion of the study itself). On the contrary, I have long dismissed the theory as invalid or insignificant due to lack of clear evidence that there is a relevant difference between men and women. Even if it can be proven that there is a measurable difference, it cannot be large enough to have any useful implications in real life. For instance, the 2013 MythBusters re-enactment showed a difference, but the scores were not spectacularly different between the two sexes. Moreover, they had basically replicated the same test setup as in the study and as in other TV shows that preceded them. Really, I have seen the almost exact same experiment replicated in three different TV shows. My only explanation for this, is that any experiment that deviates from that specific set-up, will fail to provide the same conclusion. The only thing that is ‘proven’ by repeating the same experiment, is that women have an advantage in this particular test that is obviously constructed from the start with a cultural bias towards women.

    This is a general and serious flaw with many a scientific study: often the decision about what the researchers want to see proven has already been made before research has even started. The entire test setup is constructed with an obvious bias towards proving the objective. This does not necessarily need to happen with malicious intent: obviously, the single fact that is sought to be proven is known beforehand, but not the perhaps gazillion ways in which the proof can fail. Therefore people tend to focus solely on that single expected path, and ignore the unexpected — this phenomenon is called confirmation bias. At every point in the study where there is any uncertainty whether something is against or in favour of the fact to be proven, the decision will tend to be pushed in the latter direction, possibly with the help of convenient ignoring of negative evidence [LINK:HUMANTHOUGHT]. This is not how science is to be performed.

    Worse, what the common public eventually ‘learns’ from such studies is mostly a completely extremised conclusion in vague wordings that has gone through multiple layers of journalists who know practically nothing about the subject. The conclusion of the study is also generally extrapolated [LINK:EXTRAPOLATION] towards situations where the boundary conditions for the experiment do not hold at all, and where it is utterly meaningless to apply the same conclusion. This is bad, bad science. And people then actually dare make important decisions based on it. They put blind faith in this kind of popularised science without understanding anything about it. There is actually no practical difference between that and believing in a God [LINK:RELIGION]. The religious rituals have been replaced by the usual rituals of paper submissions and peer reviews. The act of publishing the paper and going to a conference to socialise and ‘network’ with fellow scientists has become more important than the content of the paper itself. Do I need to stress how wrong that is? [REF:INACT]

    To make things worse, a lot of research only focuses on short-sighted, steepest-hill [LINK:GREEDY] things with no hint of trying to see “the bigger picture”. This is cheap of course, because the narrower the subject of a study, the more likely a simplistic model will fit. And to add insult to injury, in the popularised version of the article (or worse, in the article itself) the grounds for comparison are often omitted from the conclusion. What is the point of concluding something like: “acting according to behaviour X is better to achieve goal Y,” if there is no mention of what behaviour X is compared to? Better than what? Compared to what?

    For instance at the time of this writing it seems fashionable to perform studies that try to prove things in the vein of: “having generally considered unfavourable trait A makes people more successful at succeeding in aspect of life B”. For instance, A could be being greedy and aggressive, and B getting a larger paycheque. There is hardly any science in that, one might as well prove that water will flow downhill. Of course someone who is more aggressive will initially move ‘up the ladder’ more quickly. But if one would do the effort of looking at what consequences it has in the long stretch, not just for that person but for everyone involved, it may not be that positive after all. I am in fact pretty damn certain it would prove to be a lose-lose situation for everyone. Of course this is much harder to research, and a proof of ‘common sense’ will appear more boring to the general public than an article that seems to contradict a piece of wisdom your grandma taught you when you were a kid [LINK:INFORMATIONTHEORY]. Therefore most of such publications always stop right at the moment where they appear the most interesting and the most rewarding [LINK:HUMANTHOUGHT], even though anyone with a bit of curiosity should find it far more interesting to find out why so many goddamn grandparents teach the same kinds of life lessons to their grandkids. Who would be a better judge for the quality of a certain way of life: a scientist who has looked for perhaps a year at a very limited controlled test, or someone who has watched and lived in the entire world for about sixty years?

    If one looks at it, most of the science that gets media attention is the kind of stuff that is directly in line with primitive instincts (sex, anyone?) My only hope is that it is the tip of the iceberg and the much larger part that is less visible is more useful. Otherwise it would be pretty sad.

    Science is damn cool but actually it shouldn't be.

    First priority when doing science is to drop all instincts and emotions. And that includes first and foremost our monkey-see-monkey-do instinct. One should not study or research something because it is a trendy subject, actually on the contrary. An awful lot of other people will already be studying it because it is so trendy. This is not bad as such, because if only one person would do the research then there would not be any cross-validation. However, at some point the replication becomes pointless. Unless you are certain you can make a difference, your contribution will probably be limited to an umpteenth reinvention of the wheel. Science should neither be cool nor boring, it should just be science. There is nothing wrong with investigating something because you think it is cool, but everything is wrong about trying to bend the rules to prove something ‘cool’ even though your results obviously disprove it. As the hosts of a certain TV show say: “failure is always an option,” and disproving something or even proving that there is not sufficient evidence to conclude anything, is just as important and useful as proving something.

    If it were up to me, I would attempt to add more balance to the current ‘overly positive’ science. The current method only tries to prove a point, not really disprove it. The ‘control’ aspect is often used in an attempt to detect an incorrect hypothesis, but is easily overlooked or shoddily executed. This leads to an enormous risk of false positives and correlations being mistaken for causality. How about performing every study together with a companion study that explicitly tries to disprove the same hypothesis? If the researchers really are adamant on proving the positive outcome, then it is only fair for the companion study to seek some other scientists who badly want to disprove it, especially scientists who do not have some bias or ties to the company paying for the study. If it so happens that eventually both the positive and negative study prove their point, then there is one thing to be certain about: neither conclusion is to be trusted, or maybe the whole subject under scrutiny is a load of nonsense anyway. I wonder how many a contemporary study would break if it would have been performed in this manner.

    One of the biggest problems with the current trend of considering the present-day scientific method to be the only source of absolute truth, is that there is a limit to what can be proven with this method. This kind of positive science is encaged inside the frame-of-reference of observable parameters. When executed in a perfectly strict manner, it can never break outside this frame-of-reference lest it is combined with methods that punch through the frame. Anything that falls outside the realm of directly or indirectly observable results, can never be proven or discovered with a method that strictly relies on observable parameters. Look at many important discoveries that have been made so far: many of them were accidents, flaws, or coincidences. Those were the events that punched through the frame-of-reference that existed at that time. Perfectly executed science is stifled science, there we have our perfection paradox again [LINK:PERFECTION]. Likewise, certain things, even though observable, can be proven so plain obviously through reasoning, that instead subjecting them to a scientific study involving human observation and interpretation, only incurs a risk of drawing the wrong conclusion through observer bias.

    There is no good or bad technology or science, if correctly executed. It all depends on what one does with it. A kitchen knife is technology. It allows to prepare food more easily than with bare hands. It also allows to stab someone to death. Cell phones are technology. They can be used to dial emergency services and by family members to keep in touch, or by hooligans and terrorists to organise themselves and cause more damage. Likewise, social media can be used to make friends, or by fanatics to amplify their extremism and organise a terrorist attack. The more powerful a technology and the more benefits it has, the larger the possibilities for abuse it has as well. Someone who creates something powerful, has to accept the fact that at some point it will most likely be abused regardless of any attempts to prevent abuse. If one cannot accept that fact, then one should not create the technology.

    *

    Life Is Not a Game

    Some seem to consider life a game or a contest. I consider the possibility of winning an essential part of any game. In life everybody eventually loses, there is nothing to win in the long stretch, therefore life cannot be a game.
    There is so much speculation about the future nowadays that it seems to me that people are playing poker on a global scale with their own life and the lives of others. Do not get me wrong, I like playing poker, but only for recreation. I do not like to gamble with my own life and I especially do not like it when others gamble with my life. I really do not, and at some point it could make me very angry. Now some may come up with the argument that it becomes impossible to achieve anything without taking at least some risks. That is entirely correct. If one doesn't try anything, one will never achieve anything except perhaps through the rare occurrence of pure luck. However, there is a huge difference between on the one hand trying something after doing at least a decent effort of evaluating its feasibility beyond the point where unpleasant negative aspects start showing up, and on the other hand just wildly thrashing around. The latter is of course very tempting, especially when it is steered by stuff that produces funny emotions and that looked so damn cool in a book, movie, or video game. If that is the case, the urge to avoid unpleasant thoughts [LINK:HUMANTHOUGHT] will shut off any path that leads to evidence or reasoning that proves the stuff should remain science fiction forever. Again, I have the impression that humanity is losing touch with reality fast [LINK:INFANTILE]. Reality can be manipulated to a certain degree, but the degree that some people are aiming for has soared way, way far into the realm of utter nonsense.

    I see an increasing tendency to introduce overcommitment in places where it used to be completely unacceptable not to have a guarantee that the allocated resources would be available at all times. For instance, it is possible to buy an airfare ticket and then be told at the check-in that your seat is unavailable due to overcommitment. An entirely different example from the field of computing: the Linux memory model assumes that programmers will always allocate more memory than they need in their software. The kernel will therefore happily pretend to have allocated any amount of memory a program asks for, up to certain limits. It will only truly allocate the memory when it is actually being used. If enough programs start using more memory than was anticipated, the kernel will start semi-randomly shooting processes in the face with the dreaded ‘OOM killer’. This is the same scenario as in an economy where exaggerated investments have been made that lead to a crisis. It is gambling, there is no other word for it. I sincerely hope that this kind of principle does not propagate to e.g. construction. I would not want to drive across a bridge that will collapse whenever a traffic jam occurs on it, because people skimped on the construction costs by assuming such traffic jam will never occur. An OOM killer equivalent would be a set of rocket launchers that blast cars off the bridge whenever a certain maximum of cars is exceeded. Or would you like to sit in an airliner that was assumed to never be exposed to more than a minor rain storm?

    Taking gambles incurs a risk of a crisis. Standing at the airport being unable to take the flight you relied on, is a crisis. The OOM killer destroying unsaved work in an app is a crisis. The economy crashing is obviously the prototypical crisis. If a crisis is unacceptable, then gambling is unacceptable. If a situation where gambling is unacceptable has grown to a state where not gambling has become impossibly expensive, then perhaps it is a better idea to bring the situation back to a level where guarantees can be made, than to resort to gambles anyway and whine that it was all inevitable.

    Striving for ‘innovation’ delivers no guarantee that truly useful inventions will be made. As a matter of fact, putting forward some kind of futuristic goal like building a space elevator, and assuming that some magical inventions will be made that overcome its fundamental implementation hurdles, is a big fat gamble. People who believe these hurdles will be overcome, tend to look at all the innovation from the past century, and then extrapolate this into the future [LINK:EXTRAPOLATION]. What they do not consider, is that a very large portion of that past innovation has either been inspired by warfare, or has been accidental. In the early twentieth century, nobody thought: “we will invent the transistor pretty soon” or: “everyone will have a personal computing device”. Heck, few people living in the year 1900 would understand what a transistor or computer is, even if someone would travel back in time and explain it to them in short. (I'll be blunt about this: even today there are many who still do not know how those things really work!) Like evolution, innovation is largely fuelled by opportunities, chance, and randomness, whether you like it or not [LINK:SUCK_AT_STATS]. Eliminate the randomness by trying to railroad and predict everything, and the innovation will stifle.

    Humans Suck at Statistics

    [TODO: needs intro]

    The Only Perfectly Accurate Model of the Universe Is the Universe Itself

    [REF:UNIVERSE] The Illusion of the Perfect Model (cf. Laplace's Demon). Because it is impossible to observe or measure anything without altering it (see also the Heisenberg principle and consequences), merely creating a model alters whatever is being modelled. Because the model itself becomes part of the universe, creating it alters the universe. The effects of adding this predictive model to the universe need to be considered, as well as the effects of considering those effects, and so on. It might be possible to consider these recursive effects but it will be far more complicated than any of the naïve ideas people have about a predictive model. It is an infinite feedback loop. For things like measuring the temperature of a tub of water, the effect of the measurement is absolutely nihil, but for things like the economy it becomes much more hairy. I believe that perfect prediction of everything is only possible for some pathologically simple cases. We will never be able to predict everything. It has been proven (cf. Laundauer's principle) that there is a lower limit on the energy required to do a single elementary computation, so the idea of building a computer that can model and predict the entire universe to arbitrary accuracy, is completely unattainable because it would require a power budget that exceeds the power available in a multitude of universes. Making a perfect prediction would only be possible if we somehow could copy the entire universe, halt the time in our current universe, and see how our cloned universe evolves. This is nonsense. It is more useful to accept this fact and act in ways that are robust against unpredictability, than to waste ridiculous amounts of effort on desperately trying to make one single perfect model and inevitably failing. There are better strategies to cope with an uncertain future than trying to force it into something certain. It makes more sense to stick to a model that is ‘good enough’ while knowing that it is not perfect and switching to other models that better suit specific situations when necessary, than putting all faith into the doomed vision of a Single All-Encompassing Ultimate Model of Everything.

    For instance, if you are going to buy a book that describes how to be more successful at something by somehow exploiting a system, chances are that you are way too late. To be certain enough to write a book about it, the author must have been applying the theories described within for a substantial time. Any dynamic environment, e.g. an economical system, will quite likely have adapted or be in an advancing stage of adaptation to counteract the ‘exploits’. If it has not, then it is inefficient. The adaptation rate will especially skyrocket when a whole lot of people buy that book and apply its tricks. This means the author would be an idiot to give away their secret while it is still heavily profitable: they would undermine their own source of profit. The smart thing to do is publish the book when the gains start obviously dropping and when it becomes clear how the market is hardening itself against the ‘exploits‘. Given this knowledge, the publishing of the book and the subsequent acceleration of change in the market may also be exploited if predictable. The bottom line is that any gains a reader of the book may be able to obtain, will be much smaller than expected or perhaps there will be no gain at all and only costs. Παντα ρει [LINK].

    The universe is stochastic by nature. There seems to be a tendency in humans to refuse to believe this because they are certain that statistics are just a simplification of a reality that could be perfectly measured and predicted given infinite computing power with infinite accuracy [LINK:SUCK_AT_STATS]. In theory they are completely right about this. In practice they are not. The key word in that idea is infinite, which is unattainable. To model reality, coming even anywhere near infinity is completely utopian — the definition of infinity is exactly that is is always larger than anything that can be considered. The only perfectly accurate model of the universe is the universe itself. [LINK:UNIVERSE] It will never be possible to simulate the entire universe because the mere cost of running that simulation will exceed the amount of energy available in the universe. Moreover, if I am right in my belief that the universe is fractal [LINK:FRACTALUNIVERSE], the complexity of the universe itself is also infinite and can therefore never be modelled with a finite model. The only way to model reality in a tractable way is to approximate it through statistics, and to accept the inevitable limitations of the model.

    The Human Brain Craves Determinism

    [REF:SUCK_AT_STATS] The funny thing is that humans are utterly and completely worthless at statistics. Most people's brains have no notion of probability distributions and confidence levels, and believe unpredictability is evil and must be eliminated. They draw conclusions from a single observation of a phenomenon that would require a few hundred observations to get any usable level of confidence. They consider every case where two similar events occur within a short time span as not possibly due to coincidence. They treat reality as a mathematical proof and dismiss a theory as soon as they find one single example that contradicts it, even if there are a billion positive examples. When they do apply a statistical model, they often believe it is some magic trick to convert uncertainty into absolute certainty, which it is not, never. Most people, even some who had courses in statistics, do not even seem to have any notion of confidences and probabilities in real life at all. Those who did learn about statistics will often abandon them as soon as they are dealing with something that does not readily map to something they have seen in their curriculum. In their world, uncertainty does not exist and everything is instantly mapped (or aliased) with absolute confidence to the nearest known concept, even if it is very different from what is really observed. They only know true and false, one and zero (cf. the sigmoid curve).

    The Monty Hall problem is a great illustration. It describes a situation where you are given a choice between three doors, one of which holds a prize behind it. The chance for the prize to be behind any door is equal, i.e. one third. When you have made your choice, the game host removes one door that is certain not to have the prize behind it. He then offers the opportunity to change your choice. The intuitive feeling is that changing your choice has no effect in this situation, because the chance of the prize being behind any door was 1/3, why would it change? When looking at figure SS1 however which sums up every possible scenario, it is clear that changing your choice doubles your chances of winning. This might be a nice illustration of early cut-off in human thinking [LINK:HUMANTHOUGHT]: the thought process stops at the first best solution it finds, maybe because quite a big leap in reasoning is required to understand the problem completely.

    The Monty Hall problem
    Figure SS1: the Monty Hall problem. The left side illustrates the setup, the right side shows all possible outcomes. When the game host offers an opportunity to change your choice after removing one of the doors that is certain not to have the prize behind it, the best strategy proves accepting the offer.

    The intuitive notion completely ignores the fact that the removal of the door by the game host is not random: always a losing door is removed. Initially you had a winning chance of one in three, in other words a losing risk of two in three. If you stick with your initial choice, you also stick with that initial risk. By removing a guaranteed losing door and offering to change your choice, the game host actually offers to exchange your 2/3 risk of initially having picked a losing door, for the 1/3 risk of changing your mind after having picked a winning door. This results in the 2/3 chance of winning you see in the figure.

    Even someone who has been explained the problem will most likely still violate its conclusion when being presented with a sufficiently disguised variation. Even though I myself have derived, drawn, and written down the reasoning and conclusion here, and I have seen experiments that demonstrate every step in how it works, it still does not feel right, and you can be pretty certain that I will also step into the pitfall of a sufficiently differing variation. Now consider the fact that this is only a pathologically simple problem compared to many real-world processes that involve statistics.

    Another example that has at the time of this writing become a popular demonstration of why humans suck at statistics is the question which of the following two sequences is the most probable when flipping an unbiased, perfectly fair coin: heads-heads-heads-heads or heads-tails-heads-tails. Our intuition says the latter is more likely because it seems ‘more random’, but they are both equally likely because both their chances are exactly 0.54 = 6.25%. The chance of any given sequence of four flips is equal in this case. Only if the coin were unfair and more likely to produce either heads or tails, then sequences with more heads would be more likely than with more tails or vice versa. See the famous ‘Randomness’ Dilbert comic 2001-10-25.

    Another example of statistical reality colliding with instinct is the ‘birthday paradox’. When taking a group of only 57 people out of a group of persons whose birthdays are uniformly distributed, there is a 99% chance that two of them will have the same birthday. With a group of a mere 23, the chance is already 50%. Our intuition however would estimate those chances much smaller based on the fact that there are 365 days in a year. For instance a naïve guess for the case with 23 people might be 23/365, less than 7%.

    These are just three examples out of an infinite grab bag of statistical problems. Three divided by infinity is zero. Therefore there is little point in trying to tackle this with rote learning and studying these examples by heart, you will be bitten in the ass by one of those innumerable other problems anyway. When someone keeps on mapping every observation to the nearest familiar anchor of certainty, then at some point that person will do very, very stupid things. The only way out is a radical change in attitude.

    A general consequence of lack of statistical insight is that most people are way too confident about everything. Go ahead and slap me in the face with your studies that prove this is good, I do not believe them when considering a time scale beyond short-sighted greedy gain [TODO: LINK to where I elaborate on this, or move it to here]. Confidence in one's own abilities is good if it is based on reality. Not so if it is based on nothing.

    Another way in which humans fail at statistics is their poor ability at averaging. As soon as people have heard about some majority statistic, they are very inclined to consider it as applying in 100% of all cases even though it has actually been proven to have only 2% more chance of occurring than its counterpart. This is not surprising, given the fact that our neural responses like to clip to extremes [LINK:SIGMOID]. Even if that 2% increase has been proven statistically significant, it will in the real world only be relevant for a very tiny small set of situations. For instance, suppose that a study would prove that women have a 76% chance of scoring a ‘pass’ on a given test for a certain skill, and men a 74% chance. Would that be a justification to always pick women to execute that task? Of course not. Even if the test had been executed on the entire world population and therefore have a 100% confidence as far as the current state of the world is concerned, the figures themselves are way too close to warrant any form of discrimination. The only situation in which discrimination would be warranted, is if either of both groups would be proven to have a near-zero chance of being good at the task while the other excels at it.

    Correlation versus Causality

    To top it off, people easily fail to discern between cause and consequence. Or, between correlation and causality. Many ‘scientific’ studies that get media attention are of the kind: “we observed that in a group of persons who [perform some action], a large fraction of them also have [some benefit/disadvantage].” Mind that this merely reports a correlation between the action and the benefit/disadvantage, i.e. if one thing is observed, the other one is likely to be observed as well. Of course, when a journalist writes a headline and article about this conclusion, it is extremely tempting to turn the correlation into causality, which distorts the study's conclusion to: “if people [perform some action], they will have [some benefit/disadvantage],” for instance extra exercise would reduce the risk of dementia [LINK BBC ARTICLE]. Is it not equally if not more plausible that people who are less demented will be more inclined to perform physical activities? Here's another one: people who have more sex would supposedly have a decreased risk of a heart attack. Well obviously, those who suffer from heart problems will have a poor physical condition and other physical difficulties, hence have a lower inclination to have sex. If they would follow the tempting skewed conclusion from this kind of study and force themselves to have more sex, they will probably only increase their risk of overloading their heart and dying.

    Likewise, one will not become more like some famous person like Leonardo Da Vinci or some successful CEO by finding out how they live(d) and then mimicking their habits. Those habits most likely followed from how they were as a person, not the other way round. And quite possibly, those had little or nothing to do with their success. Believing that following the same ‘rituals’ will lead to the same result, is acting like a Cargo cult.

    It is possible to find utterly meaningless correlations by grabbing any large set of observations (cf. http://www.tylervigen.com/ if it still works). If the set is large enough, there will always be data that by pure chance will correlate. This does not mean that there is any connection between the observations behind the correlating data. If event A causes event or observation B, then B will strongly correlate with A, but there is no guarantee at all for the inverse. The more data is considered, the higher the risk for irrelevant correlations. The tendency of humans for finding apparent meaningful patterns in meaningless random data, is called ‘apophenia’.

    There are two obvious problems with this widespread confusion of correlation and causality. First of all, lack of objectivity or professionalism in journalism, which leads to severe colouring of the original conclusion of the study. Second, the mere existence of such studies itself. I seriously wonder what the point is of many such studies that seek correlations between two observations. I cannot help having the feeling that the study was constructed exactly with the goal in mind to give people the impression that there is a causal connection between the two observations after all. Why else would one spend so much effort on picking exactly those two observations and studying them? I would consider it essential for every publication of a scientific result, to include the motivation behind the study, as well as who initiated the research, and last but not least, who paid for it. Believe me, merely reporting such list of facts will be at least as interesting as some popularised coloured version of a scientific result alone.

    There is a general sentiment that for every event, always an identifiable cause can be found. This is only theoretically true, not in practice, because the search space for the cause may be much larger than humans can handle, and the evidence may simply have been destroyed. Yet, this belief in the identifiable cause is often so strong that an observation is unconditionally associated with its purported cause. If the actual cause lies somewhere in the unreachable or unknown part of the search space, the first best thing in the reachable, known space is picked.

    Orthorexia Nervosa Torture

    But wait, it can get worse: even when a causality has been truly proven (e.g. smoking causes cancer), it becomes tempting to assume that the consequence certainly cannot occur if the cause is avoided. For instance, some may believe that never smoking will guarantee a zero risk of lung cancer, and if the cancer occurs anyway, there must be another obvious cause (example in fiction: episode 4 of the ‘Breaking Bad’ TV series). This is again an overly gross simplification which ignores all the less likely causes of the same consequence. In reality someone who lives in a perfectly safe environment still has a risk of lung cancer. The risk is much lower than for a smoker, but it is never zero. Every foodstuff is probably carcinogenic when the detection threshold is taken low enough, and even when being fed intravenously with pure nutrients, one would still risk getting cancer. The term for an excessive obsession with eating only healthy foods is ‘orthorexia nervosa’, which loosely translated from its Greek origins, means: “correct diet”.

    Taken to the extreme, the process of life itself, or of merely existing in this universe, is carcinogenic. Suppose that a high-energy particle had the luck of being able to travel from wherever in the universe to our planet without colliding with anything. And boom, you have the bad luck that this particle finally collides with a piece of your DNA, bringing it into a state that will make the cell it controls go haywire. Figuring out where that particle came from and trying to avoid that a similar thing would happen in the future, might be possible, but it could be more expensive than the cost required to let a million people lead a normal life. Maybe it is fundamentally impossible, aside from locking oneself up in a bunker, doing nothing at all because doing anything would incur a risk of contracting a disease. Yet some are inclined to live in a way that is similar to this kind of course of action, and believe it is smart. For some reason there is this god awful trend of the detection threshold continuously being lowered for all kinds of diseases, leading to increasingly suffocating measures to protect everyone from the slightest risk of mishap. The ironical thing is that these increasing attempts to let people live longer, increasingly prevent them from enjoying their life. In the end they will live a maximally long life with minimal enjoyment. I can only think of one word to describe this, and it is: torture.

    Superstition is one of the phenomena that have originated from all these issues. For instance, people have seen a black cat and then something bad happened. They correlated the black cat to unfortunate events. What really happened here, is that a black cat is somewhat remarkable on its own because the majority of all cats have other colours or mixed patterns [LINK:INFORMATIONTHEORY]. The black cat stands out, hence it will be remembered no matter what. If then some other unusual event occurs, it is tempting to connect these two unlikely events because they correlated. In reality there is no connection whatsoever, except in the case where being surprised by the sight of the black cat caused the observer to lose attention and step into a piece of dog poo or worse. This still does not mean that killing all black cats will eliminate the risk of stepping into dog poo, because there are infinitely many other ways in which someone could get distracted while walking.

    Superstition is an example of assigning too large a weight to a low-probability occurrence, but obviously the inverse is also possible. It is not because something has a low probability of occurring that it is unimportant and should be ignored. Ignoring exceedingly small risks is cheap and often warranted, if the consequences of the risk occurring are not too bad. For some things however, the probability can never be small enough to be ignored. For instance, the risk that our planet is hit by an asteroid is tiny, but the consequences would be utterly devastating. This makes the exact probability figure irrelevant. The only thing that matters, is the certainty that the risk is larger than absolute zero. Likewise, the risk that humanity will make its own environment inhospitable to human life may seem small as well, although it is quite a bit larger than the probability of an asteroid impact. Yet, a very considerable fraction of the human population still blatantly ignores this and just keeps on acting in noxious ways.

    We are not general purpose computers that can run any software program, no matter how hard we believe this to be the case. People who are going to force themselves into a lifestyle that is incompatible with their mental and physiological constitution based on one of those distorted scientific conclusions from a news article, only risk wasting their time or worse, inflicting damage to themselves. When it comes down to psychological and physiological processes, things are often absurdly non-linear. “A causes B” does not necessarily imply: “B causes A”. For instance, it is not because people listen to a certain type of music that they will be influenced in some way by that music. It is more likely that they seek to listen to that music due to the way they feel. Taking away the music will not do anything about their situation, it might even make it worse by denying them an outlet to vent frustration.

    I am also seeing many who try to adopt stupid schemes with fancy names to ‘maximise productivity’ and the like. They make lists and schedules according to well-defined recipes. I guess the naïve idea is that by doing this, they will have more spare time, but this is never the case. This is just cargo cults all over again. First of all, all this extra productivity — if any at all — will only spawn more tasks to be solved hence less spare time. Second, all those imposed schemes incur an overhead that is eagerly ignored while it risks eating up more time overall than when simply doing things your own way at the moment they emerge. Suppose you would do the following exercise during a whole week: every evening, write down all the things you did that day and how much time you spent on each of them. At the end of the week, look at what you wrote down. Most likely, you will have systematically forgotten one item: the time it took for you to remember and write down what you did that day. This is the ignored overhead. This overhead is not necessarily problematic: if the methodology it is part of improves overall efficiency, then it is beneficial. This is not always the case however, and there may be so much overhead that efficiency is worse than when working without that methodology.

    The lack of statistical insight gets especially problematic when combined with the abundance of communication that exists nowadays. People are bombarded with data and they are unable to process it in a correct way. The risk of finding meaningless correlations gets ever larger. Every scientific study that draws a conclusion about something biological or health-related has a confidence level attributed to its result (at least it should, otherwise the conclusion is not any more useful than a suggestion). It is impossible to get absolute certainty on the results because that would require testing each and every individual on this planet. Therefore scientists will settle for e.g. a 95% confidence level and collect data over a population that is just large enough to reach that level. This has an often overlooked but important consequence, even when setting aside the possibility that some studies might underestimate the population size or that the boundary conditions for picking that subset are not met.
    A 95% confidence means that if the same study would be performed an infinite amount of times, one in twenty of all those studies can produce a wrong result [can link to XKCD882]. In other words, there are bound to be scientific reports floating around that have an incorrect conclusion. This is inevitable, it is not the fault of the researchers, it is nobody's fault. It is just plain hard reality. Now consider that especially with health-related stuff, the same kind of topics tend to get tested multiple times. This means it makes sense that there are studies with conflicting results. For the more popular topics it is not too difficult to spot the studies that are likely to fall in the 5% of ‘junk’: if you can find many independent reports that prove a similar point and one that proves the opposite, the latter probably had the bad luck of falling outside the confidence interval (it is entirely possible, yet very unlikely, that the inverse is true). Yet people will often cling onto that single report and ignore [LINK:HUMANTHOUGHT] all the others because its conclusion appeals so much better to some primitive naïve instinct or their specific situation.

    It would not surprise me at all if there are some reports out there that directly or indirectly claim that smoking or eating bucketfuls of saturated fat improves life expectancy. Mind that my whole explanation assumes that all the science has been executed perfectly in an unbiased manner. As I said elsewhere I believe that is utopian as well, and the number of studies with incorrect results will be even larger than the small zone outside the theoretical confidence interval. I do not dare to make a guess at how much larger. I am afraid that if someone would be able to determine the exact figure, they would not dare to publish it.

    Next to the problem of confidence, there is also the common lack of reference. What is written about a study in popular media is often ripped out of its context. A study may be reported to say that a certain behaviour “is better” to achieve a certain goal. The point of comparison is often omitted however: better than what? This leads to the impression that the model behind that behaviour is the absolute best strategy ever. Of course applying a certain model, even if it is as poor and simplistic as for instance always being overly arrogant and optimistic, is better than no model at all and either wildly guessing or always picking the same solution. However, anyone with a more accurate model will beat the simplistic model. There is no way that someone with a more complete view on reality will on average perform poorer than someone who has a narrow keyhole view that does not allow to see all the impending problems caused by a simplistic approach.

    As an illustration, I have noticed that problems with modern hardware and software are becoming increasingly stochastic. This might amongst other things be explained by on the one hand, the increasing drive for miniaturisation that incurs a risk of corruption by noise due to reduced voltage difference between logic levels, and on the other hand the increasing drive for parallelism. Parallelism requires multiple threads running on the same machine, or distributed systems interconnected through asynchronous calls. These approaches introduce a risk of race conditions and deadlocks, or behaviour that changes depending on changes in timing, like the dreaded ‘Heisenbugs’ that disappear when trying to debug them because the debugger alters the timings that invoke the bug.
    I find it both funny and saddening to see the umpteenth internet forum discussion where someone describes a problem that is obviously stochastic, with various persons presenting a whole string of magic solutions that have nothing to do with the problem. They tried something and by chance the random bug did not occur after this. Therefore they associated this event with fixing the bug. This leads to solutions like unplugging devices, writing zeroes to unused space on a hard drive, “zapping the PRAM” in case of Macintosh computers (a true classic), rebooting (a Windows classic), or blowing one's nose, to fix a problem that is only due to poor programming or a poorly soldered, overheating, or damaged component.

    Especially when software is concerned, humans have a hard time believing that it can exhibit stochastic undesired behaviour, because they have this image in their minds of computers being perfectly predictable logical machines. They might have written a Hello World program sometime and saw that it did exactly what they expected, and therefore they have a firm belief that anything written in source code is perfectly predictable and running it twice will always produce the same outcome twice. Those people will then vehemently attack anyone who dares to give an impression that software might not be perfectly predictable at all times, because that possibility falls way outside their narrow keyhole view of computing. Yes, software is perfectly predictable, but the complexity of a larger-scale project can easily exceed the limit where interaction between all components can be perfectly modelled, let alone be grasped by a single person and trivially debugged. Maybe beginner's programming courses should start out with a multi-threaded distributed multi-client Hello World instead.

    I had to program a seemingly simple tool one day, all it had to do was read an XML file from a web server at certain moments. The XML file contained the time when the next refresh should occur. Looks simple, right? No. The moment I saw that XML file for the first time, I knew this would be hell, and it was. In the end I spent three days sculpting an algorithm that ensured that the tool would not get completely out-of-whack, or pound the server with redundant requests, due to many unknown factors like possible clock skew between the server and client, overload on the server causing extra delays or time-outs, and sometimes even errors in the XML file. The final algorithm worked because it explicitly modelled the uncertainty interval on the refresh times, and iteratively reduced this interval until it was below an acceptable threshold.

    The human brain's incompatibility with statistics also explains why so many have difficulty grasping how evolution works, because evolution is a prime example of a statistical process. In theory it would be possible to explain it exactly without having to rely on statistics, given the entire history of every event that occurred since the origin of life. That is however an impossibly large amount of data, most of which has forever been lost, and that could never fit in a single person's brain anyway. The only tractable approach is to look at it from a macroscopic scale. It is not because there are a few things that seem to contradict the general theory of evolution, that the millions of pieces of positive evidence should be ignored. It is not like in mathematics where a single counter-example disproves an entire theory. Reality is much more complicated than the most complicated mathematical proof ever conceived. Mathematics are nice and cool and useful for the very controlled circumstances where all the boundary conditions hold and everything can be calculated, but if one is going to try to enforce mathematical rigour to reality, the only attainable result is a high risk of going completely insane (cf. the 1998 film ‘Pi,’ very highly recommended). The only way to not go crazy is to make approximations, and statistics is one tool that tries to make those approximations as rigorous as possible.

    Nerds

    Since the first decade of the 21st century, there has been a rising popularity of the kind of ‘nerdy’ people who had until then been exiled to their proverbial typical mom's basement where they sat behind a computer all day. Nowadays, those people have trickled through into essential jobs for society to keep on operating, because society is increasingly relying on computers and software. Now there are widely acclaimed sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory, centred around prototypical nerdy characters who are no longer being bashed, vilified, or treated as weirdos, as they would have been in a 20th century TV series. To put it bluntly, it has become trendy to be nerdy. The typical nerd tends to lean towards an updated version of Laplace's demon, the idea that everything can be modelled to such degree that the universe becomes predictable. The difference with Laplace is that the specific idea of modelling atoms is replaced by a more general idea of writing a collection of sufficiently accurate models in software. It is a comforting and appealing thought but it is just as flawed as Laplace's demon. I used to be one of the nerdy people but I was never the kind of ‘hard-core’ nerd, I have always hovered on the edge between believing in a technocratic future and a reality where no single entity or group controls everything. The more insights I gathered, the more I leaned away from the simplistic idea of Laplace's demon, until I outright rejected it.

    At some point everyone will have to face the fact that building a model of reality always involves setting a cut-off on the degree of complexity that the model can handle — especially because I believe the complexity of the universe is infinite [LINK:UNIVERSE, FRACTALUNIVERSE]. The model is useless for predicting or preventing anything disastrous that happens in the region beyond this cut-off.

    I must be extremely weird because I always have associated facts with a confidence measure. It seems built-in. I find it equally important to know how reliable a fact is, as what the fact itself is. If something is completely unreliable, it does not interest me at all, why should it? If you ask me a question, you will often get an answer that is formulated with terms like: “likely,” “maybe,” “probably not”. I will only very rarely claim to be certain about something. People often get pissed when I do that. They want certainty, which is in most cases just an illusion. They call those measures of uncertainty ‘weasel words’ to defend their simplistic tendency to clip to extremes. Yes, this text is chock full of weasel words and you can be absolutely certain of one thing: I do not give a shit about it.

    Needs title

    [TODO: this stuff all seems to belong together but I have yet to find an appropriate title for it.]

    Capitalism, and most other -isms, are just models with certain strong assumptions that do not hold at all in some situations that will inevitably occur at some point (or that just never hold at all). All those -isms would work equally well if all their boundary conditions would be perfectly satisfied and everyone obeyed their rules, but that is never the case. Take capitalism for instance. It is not a bad model as such, but it is based on some pretty strong assumptions that are pretty utopian. E.g. capitalism assumes that there is always enough competition. Yeah, right! No wonder Bill Gates defends capitalism so vehemently, given that most of the money he gained was obtained by aggressively destroying all competition, and applying rules of free market capitalism to something that was basically a monopoly in (a pretty poor) disguise. The only reason I still respect him is that he is now using most of that money for good causes, although it is doubtful whether what he believes to be good causes, will truly prove beneficial in the long term. And don't get me started about “the invisible hand,” whoever came up with that must have been plucking the wrong mushrooms for dinner. [TODO: shortly explain the theory.] It is an awesome example though of a theory that blatantly ignores negative aspects of reality — perhaps it was applicable to the reality from the time when it was invented, but things have changed since. Even more utopian is the assumption that everyone will pay the right amount for everything. Sure. People often pay for nothing, or steal things without paying. This causes money to leak everywhere. Mind that the invisible hand theory is not incorrect, it does apply when considering a sufficiently long time span. It is in fact a kind of evolution theory applied to economics. The problem is that it can take so long for the effects of the theory to become applicable, that no consumer would or should care about it.

    Even when people try to stick to the rules of capitalism they will often ignore certain important costs in their calculations, either willingly, subconsciously [LINK:HUMANTHOUGHT], or due to ignorance (connect to entropy, for instance Maxwell's Demon). It is simply impossible to calculate the correct cost for everything. It is feasible to make a reasonable guess, but only if the entity to be modelled is reasonably simple. The classic kind of capitalism is actually becoming an increasingly unsuitable model as more things become digital. It just does not work in a digital world, it was created with physical quantities like mass and energy in mind, obeying rules of conservation. To make capitalism work in the digital world, artificial constructs must be implemented to mimic real-world mechanics. Anyone who can bypass those enforced restrictions can break the system, badly. The classic type of capitalism is a dinosaur that thrived during the industrial revolution and is now bound for extinction — assuming that the future of the world is entirely digital which is of course a highly dubious idea on its own [LINK:DIGITALDREAM].
    In a digital world, information that may have been very expensive to create can be copied indefinitely at practically zero cost. According to any rigorous economical model this should cause the price of that information to plummet quickly, but for some reason it is kept on being sold at the same high price as when it was first available. It is possible to fit this in our classic economical model, but it will cause the model to consist more of exceptions than general rules. The kind of money that is used to trade ‘digital goods’ is rather incompatible with the money used for physical goods. It is insane to let problems in the digital world affect the physical world.
    [REF:MUSICDOWNLOAD] If I pay one dollar or Euro for a song in an online store, what the hell am I paying for? It is often possible to get a physical CD with the same songs at a lower cost. That is uncompressed audio on a physical carrier together with a printed booklet, which is an overall much more interesting experience than simply having to click to get music flowing with perhaps the possibility to watch a single album cover image on the same screen as where I watch pretty much everything else, from boring and stressing work mails to lesbian porn. This makes me get somewhat of an impression that most of that dollar spent in the online store goes to people profiting from the gullibility and laziness of others — and it is not only in online music stores that I have that impression. Most of all, it gives me an increasing feel that the true value of money is becoming massively unstable or just plain worthless (cf. [LINK:INFLATION]), if we are going to keep on using the same measure of value for such completely incompatible assets. I do not care that someone has lost all their imaginary possessions in some game or a virtual world, but I do care if that causes me to become unable to buy any more real food or a real house. If that person bought those virtual commodities with money from within the same system as my bank account, the one could be influencing the other. That is fundamentally wrong.

    3D Printers

    Some believe that with the advent of 3D printers, the same unbounded replication of commodities as is possible in the virtual world will be ported to the physical world. I do not know where this idea originated from but my best guess is that it is yet another panacea-induced frenzy [LINK:PANACEA]. Wake up: the physical and digital worlds are very different and the one is not a substitute for the other [LINK:DIGITALDREAM].

    Remember ink-jet and laser printers? They are relatively cheap (especially ink-jets) and allow to print anything on paper. Now, would you even think of regularly printing a book thicker than a small product manual on an ink-jet? Of course not. First of all, it will be outrageously expensive. The reason why printed books one can buy in a store are cheap, is because they are produced in a very efficient process that is completely optimised to create exactly such books in massive quantities. The mere fact that your home printer can print on various formats and surfaces, must mean that it must be less efficient for any specific format. Moreover, your printer cannot bind the book, maybe it cannot even print double-sided. Second, it is horribly slow, no matter how ‘fast’ the sales leaflet made it appear to be. If you think your printer is fast, you probably have never seen an offset press in action. Printers that are anywhere near fast enough not to cause endless frustration, may exist but will be mightily expensive. And again, what comes out of the common affordable printer is a bunch of loose sheets. On the kind of printer that is affordable enough to fit the ‘digital communism’ idea, you will need to manually print the odd pages first and then the even ones to get double-sided print. I have done this for small booklets and believe me, you do not want anything to go wrong in this process (e.g. the printer grabs two sheets at once) or you can start all over again. Therefore the whole process will cost a lot of time, and time is money. And then I am not even talking about the cost of the paper and the ink, or how the result compares to a real printed book quality-wise.

    It will be exactly the same with 3D printers. They are very useful to create prototypes and specific one-off parts for which there is no highly automated process. For anything else, compared to a specialised manufacturing process, they will be much more expensive, frustratingly slow, and produce parts that may not be up to the required standards or tolerances. General-purpose 3D printers are unsuitable for mass-manufacturing parts. Consider the fact that a typical 3D printer, for instance the FlashForge Creator Pro which I own myself, needs about two hours to print an object the size of a golf ball, and consumes 300 Watts of electrical power. It is basically the same problem as with the desktop printer: although it can get the job done, the low efficiency is unacceptable if the job needs to be done fast or a large number of times.

    Moreover, parts are all these printers can churn out. Except for limited cases where something clever can be done with a dissolvable filler material or supports that can be cut away, if what you want to print consists of multiple disjoint parts, you will need to assemble them yourself. Have you ever considered buying a set of loose prefabricated car parts and assemble them to a car? Unlikely, unless you are a huge car enthusiast and a techie. Now add the extra requirement of having to wait a month, probably much longer, for your printer to squirt out all those parts at its leisurely pace, and then spending another month drilling, filing and sanding all the jaggies out of those parts before you are at the same situation as I just described above, and still have to put them together. Likeliness further plummets. I'm sorry if I am stomping on someone's dreams here, but I'd rather believe in a cold hard reality than a warm and fuzzy but utterly stupid dream. 3D printers are merely another tool, not the ultimate solution to everything.

    I have seen a journalist claiming in an article [TODO: find it] that the Rolex company would be in danger because counterfeiters or even perhaps home users would supposedly be able to print Rolex watches at the same quality as they are currently manufactured. Being someone who has a bit of a passion for mechanical watches and who has at least a basic idea of how a Rolex is constructed, and how insanely strict the tolerances on the parts are, I can assure you that if someone can build a printer that can manufacture those parts, it will be so expensive that only the Rolex company itself might afford it. The only reason why it seemed plausible to that journalist is because he lacked the technical background to understand why it is impossible. Yes, perceptual aliasing all over. The sad thing is that some of those who make predictions like these, are in decision-making positions. They can cause a lot of economical damage by taking these wild guesses that border on the edge of fantasy and science fiction, and by spending investment money that might some day be needed to do something boring and down-to-earth like making sure everyone has sufficient food, water, and habitable space to survive.

    There Is No Such Thing as ‘the Economy’

    [REF:NOECONOMY] Just as with ‘nature’ [LINK:NONATURE], there is also no such tangible thing as ‘the economy’. It is just a name we have slapped onto a bunch of observations that measure certain parameters of a model, such that we can somewhat manage the complexity under normal circumstances that obey the boundary conditions of the model. There are definitions, but only those people who have studied economics (from the same course material obviously) will use the same definition, and even within that group, everyone will add their own twist to it. The fact that economy can be considered very similar to ecology is not surprising of course. As I have stated elsewhere [LINK:ECOEQUIVALENT], both become equivalent over a sufficiently long time span because they both model equilibrium. Trying to “fix the economy” by performing all kinds of quick hacks that cause the model parameters to appear OK is nothing but a big joke. It is like a lot of western medicine that only tackles symptoms while the cause of the disease stays unsolved [LINK:SYMPTOMS]. If we fix the core of the problem, the symptoms will not keep on returning, they may even go away automatically. This is almost certain to require a larger instantaneous effort than patching up symptoms and it may take a bit longer for the symptoms to go away, but the pay-off in the long term is much larger if not infinite.

    One could compare the way we look at the economy with how we look at our health. We measure certain parameters like body temperature and weight, and consider those as accurate and complete representations of overall health. Likewise, we look at GDP, turnover, the stock market index, … as indicators for economic health. Trying to fix a broken economy by merely trying to force those numbers to be correct through superficial hacks, is akin to taking a corpse and heating it up to 37.0°C, or dismembering an overweight person to bring their BMI to an acceptable figure.

    I am also still waiting for someone who can give me a satisfying explanation of why ‘the economy’ must be in an ever-increasing state of growth with no decay anywhere. What good is it to have a continuously growing economy, if this growth erodes away all the resources, open space, and free time that we hoped to benefit from by using the products of that economy? Expecting unbounded growth in an economy, is a bit like expecting one's body metabolism to be ever increasing, which any doctor would say is a symptom of a life-threatening condition and impending death. Or otherwise: expecting one's organs to keep on growing indefinitely, which in medical terms would be called a ‘tumour’. Go ahead and try to find a positive aspect about cancer for a person who suffers from it. Even if you could find one, it would be outweighed by a multitude of negative aspects. The main reason why growth is necessary, is to counterbalance decay, and this only works if both are in equilibrium. More growth than decay over an unbounded timespan is just as bad as more decay than growth. If we somehow manage to reduce the decay, we must also curb our growth. If we like the growth so much that we want to keep it, we should not reduce the decay.

    Suppose someone decides to erect a service that consists of teams of people driving around in pick-up trucks filled with bricks. A computer picks out totally random houses and buildings for them to drive to and launch a brick through one of its windows. They do this every day during work hours, the whole year round. This would be great for the economy: it provides work opportunities for those people performing this job, as well as brick manufacturers, window makers, cleaning crews, and from time to time also doctors who need to treat wounds from whoever had the bad luck of being hit by a brick. Of course this idea is totally ridiculous and unacceptable, but from an economical viewpoint it is absolutely great and anyone blindly aiming for infinite economical growth while ignoring all the rest, should vote to elect a person incorporating this idea in their political agenda. For anyone looking at it from a broader viewpoint, it is obvious how stupid it is. This shows how things can go wrong when only focusing onto a single limited model of reality. It also shows that certain economical parameters being in a state of growth, does not necessarily mean that the overall situation is improving, it may well be worsening.

    Obsession With Fixed Numbers

    Humanity and especially the Western world has developed an infatuation with numbers. Preferably numbers that are either constant and fixed, or that are steadily increasing. Decreasing numbers are perceived as evil unless they are strongly associated with a negative concept. Examples of fixed numbers: nine-to-five work days, a fixed wage per time unit, ideal body weight, magazines with a fixed number of pages that appear at fixed intervals, newscasts at fixed times and with a fixed duration, a fixed bit-rate for MP3 files on your iPod or smartphone. None of those things make sense.

    Nine-to-Five

    There is no uniformly spread need for work except perhaps for a limited set of jobs. People are not able to produce the same value every hour, day, week or even year. Most often they do not need to either. Expecting them to churn out the same amount of results like clockwork every day, worth the same reward, is completely unrealistic. By pretending that it does happen anyway, we may actually be encouraging workers to do as little work as possible without risking to get fired. I believe the whole nine-to-five thing is just something that was invented around the start of the twentieth century by a company that happened to be successful because the scheme did fit their specific business model. Then, seeing that company's success, others considered the model their new panacea [LINK:PANACEA] and started copying it to pretty much every kind of business in the hopes that it would bring the same success in a Cargo Cult kind of manner. This caused it to become a de facto standard. There have without any doubt been studies that tried to prove that nine-to-five is optimal, but those studies will as usual have been expected to confirm the proposed conclusion and have been conducted under very specific boundary conditions that only hold for some specific kinds of jobs.

    When nine-to-five was invented, it was the era of mostly menial factory jobs where working N hours would on average yield M physical units of product. Everyone needed to be in the factory at the same time, because everyone was basically part of a huge machine that could only work if every one of its subcomponents was in working order. Even for those jobs that involved information instead of physical products, most of the time still went into processing that information on paper and typewriters. The number of people on the roads and trains was still small and only a fraction of them had cars, therefore there was little risk of traffic jams.

    Nowadays these two parameters have drastically changed. Many jobs have nothing in common anymore with producing similar product units all the time, because we have delegated most of that work to machines. Many modern jobs do not involve any physical product at all, and those that do, are often automated to such a degree that it doesn't matter whether all the operators start up their part of the machine at the exact same time — the machine often runs itself for the most part, and the operator only needs to intervene when something breaks down. Work has considerably shifted towards information processing, and the speed of processing has improved so much that it no longer is a major part of overall work time. Both the content of the work and the results have become extremely variable. We have communication networks that reduce the need for everyone to work at the same place. For many a contemporary job, the only true need for workers to be present at the same time and place, is to organise meetings. However, a company that has to organise meetings during the full eight hours of a work day, in which all employees must participate, is probably not doing anything productive anyway.

    Next, the population is a multitude of what it was back then, and a large fraction of all employees has their own car. Despite all these changes, we still believe everyone needs to be at the same place at the same time. The massive hidden costs of the resulting traffic jams are consistently being swept under the carpet. Not just the cost of all the fuel being burned in cars constantly revving up and braking, also the cost of all the wasted time and induced stress of sitting in a nearly stationary tin can with nowhere to go and little to do because any activity that takes away concentration would increase the risk of crashing into another car, causing the traffic jam to become much worse. Self-driving cars would only alleviate this problem shortly, until they have enabled so many people to be on the roads at the same time that the whole situation fundamentally chokes on hard physical limits instead of being merely limited by human factors.

    The fun doesn't stop there. In my country (Belgium ahoy!), people found it necessary to impose the nine-to-five crap on everything, including shops and municipal offices. That's right: I almost need to take a day off to obtain official documents or buy something aside from regular supermarket goods, because there is no way I can get to the town hall or the regular stores in time thanks to the traffic jams: many stores and services close around 18:00h. I would need to go on Saturday, together with the entire rest of the working mob, and again need to stand in queues — pedestrian traffic jams. The municipal services are even worse, they are not even open in the weekend and only on one day of the week they are open outside working hours. When I finally get home and hope to relax a bit, my neighbours, also being locked in the nine-to-five schedule, have no other option than to use their noisy gardening tools or do noisy work on their houses at the times when I thought to relax in relative silence. I could go on like this but I think you are getting the hang of how hard I loathe the whole nine-to-five concept, and I am getting the impression that more and more people of younger generations are sharing my sentiment. To those people I have one message: go on and keep fighting this crap, and do not stop until it has been buried. And after that, make sure it stays buried.

    Since I am talking about traffic jams anyway, let's think about their root causes. These are:

    1. Too many people
    2. coming from or going to the same place
    3. at the same time.

    Any attempt to reduce traffic jams that does not somehow tackle one of these three root causes, will not work in the long term and could even make things worse. Increase any of these three factors and the jams will get worse. There is an upper limit to the number of people living in a given area. There is an upper limit to the usefulness of making people work at the same location, and there is an upper limit to the efficiency of having everyone start and stop working at the same time. Exceed one or more of those limits, and problems get worse. Create a larger margin below those limits, and the problems will disappear. Obviously, there have been only marginal attempts at the latter. We are still procreating like rabbits, we find it obvious that all those people are living clustered together in huge apartment blocks clustered together as well, and we also find it obvious that company buildings are all clustered together. And of course, we still cling on to our nine-to-five as if it is the holiest of things.

    Body Weight

    Everyone in the Western world knows the continuous obsession with body weight. I need not say that this obsession is especially prevalent in the female population. And I have no clue as to where this nonsense comes from. My best guess is that it is to be categorised into the group of popular beliefs that stem from the earlier days of health sciences that spawned some health-related panaceas [LINK:PANACEA] out of studies that might not pass present-day scientific scrutiny, for instance the belief that salt is unconditionally bad, spinach is good due to its purported high iron content [LINK:SPINACH], one needs to drink enormous amounts of water every day, etc… It somehow makes sense that people like to focus on body weight only, and not on the countless other meaningful parameters: weight is easily observable and represented by a single number. It is simple, in all senses of the word. It is a fine panacea [LINK:PANACEA]. Some will do things that are downright unhealthy, to force this simple number into the range that is supposed to guarantee good health.

    Clockwork Publications

    [REF:CLOCKWORK] By expecting to have a 64-page magazine every week, it will often be mostly filled with crap because there is not enough news to fill all those pages, but sometimes the 64 pages will not be nearly enough to cover something important that did happen. Yet, many readers of the magazine will not be able to detect that lack of depth or to discern crap from important content. The 64 pages (or other multiple of some power of 2) of course stem from the fact that a magazine can be efficiently produced by printing it on one large sheet an then folding it say five times and cutting off the edges. A sheet folded N times produces a booklet of 2N+1 pages. Even if a process is used that can efficiently produce booklets with an arbitrary number of pages, then still the magazine is expected to always have a certain minimum thickness. Function follows form. Bad. The same goes for radio and TV shows where a specific daily or weekly time slot must be filled with a discussion. If there would really be nothing worthy to discuss, a forced discussion could only lead to the digging up of old sores that had better be left undisturbed. Worse, this could create the false impression that there is a problem where there is not, and henceforth open the floodgates for all kinds of self-fulfilling prophecies [LINK:SFP]. I know it is romantic and cozy to have a physical newspaper to read with your morning coffee, but this is one thing where I believe the world would be better off if we would get rid of clocked media like these, that create the illusion of something spectacularly newsworthy happening every single day, just so they can warrant their forced daily release scheme. I am not saying that journalism is doomed, not at all. It just needs to evolve.

    Fixed Bitrate Streams

    A fixed bit-rate in an MP3 file or video stream will cause some parts of the music or video to be represented inaccurately and other parts to be represented with unnecessarily high accuracy (e.g. a pause filled with pure silence, or a movie scene with very little movement). A fixed bit-rate makes sense for live streaming only, where a certain data bandwidth is reserved. Most people however consume such content in situations that are equivalent to offline use, even if the files are downloaded on-the-fly in a cloud-based service. When drawing a rough parallel with human speech, if a person who would be forced to always speak with a fixed bit-rate has nothing to say, they would be constantly saying: “I have nothing to say, I have nothing to say,” or produce incessant random gibberish, instead of just shutting up (mind how some have a tendency to actually do this). They would also be forced to speak a certain exact number of words per second and not be allowed to exceed that number.

    I am not saying we should move to a completely need-based system, but there should be much more flexibility. If one looks at nature [LINK:NONATURE], everything that is ‘clocked’ is so because of external influences or because there is a true need for a continuous cycle. Many other things work entirely in a need-response manner. On the other hand, a lot of what is clocked in human society is so because of mostly inane reasons, many of which have lost their origins long ago and only persist due to what could be called legacy, folklore, or tradition, kept alive by our instincts to mimic the people around us, and our unconditional belief in clockwork.

    Daylight Savings Kludge

    Regarding clockwork, let me tell you a story. It again involves trains, sorry for that. In the early nineteenth century every city lived in its own time zone. The time in that city was determined by the position of the sun. It all made perfect sense: people would wake up at a given time X, eat at a given time Y, and go to bed at a given time Z. There was hardly any need for clocks anyway, because the clocks were in sync with the natural rhythm of life. Then trains were invented and an obvious problem emerged: it was terribly awkward to create schedules for arrivals and departures of trains traveling between this plethora of time zones. An obvious solution was therefore to impose a uniform time zone across entire countries. This made perfect sense. Eventually the majority of time zones were aligned to offsets that are multiples of one hour. Some countries that span many degrees of longitude, like China, even settled for a single time zone.

    Up until here, it all makes sense. What makes no sense however, is that people stuck to the idea that their life should still be aligned to this synthetic timekeeping that has been decoupled from the natural rhythm. We still believed it is necessary to align ourselves to times X, Y, and Z even though those times had lost all their relevance with the rhythm of our lives. Basically, people woke up at time X because somewhere else, a train could be ensured to start rolling at a fixed offset from time X, even though it was very likely that this person would never have anything to do with that train. We thought we were smart by inventing artificial lighting so we could ignore the fact that it was still dark when we woke up, or already dark long before we went to sleep. Then we noticed that this lighting gobbles up a large amount of precious power, and we introduced daylight savings time to compensate. So, first we forced ourselves into an artificial rhythm and then we added a kludge to this artificial rhythm to make it slightly less artificial. What a mess. The result is the annoying ritual of changing clocks two times a year, many kludgy subroutines in software to handle the messy situation of either skipping an hour or repeating the same hour twice, and an entire population suffering a dash of subtle jet-lag twice every year, which comes on top of their forced biorhythms.

    Let us go back to the entire justification for this: trains (and now also aeroplanes). Because of a timekeeping framework that made scheduling trains and planes much easier, a large part of the population now wakes up, eats, and goes to bed too early or late, even if they will never travel by train in their entire life. And of course they will all jump into their cars and get on the road at the same time, clogging up traffic like a massive blood clot. Ironically, the fixed schedule for trains has caused the concept of a chain of wagons to be mirrored on highways — unfortunately it does not work there at all. For years I have found all this obvious until I actually started to reason about it. Then I noticed that this desire to be enslaved to the clock, is mostly if not entirely instinct-driven, which explains why I found it obvious before I ever even reasoned about it. Just do the exercise yourself: at this point you are probably considering me an idiot, a blasphemer, that I dare attack such a fundamental staple of modern society. You are angry. Then ask yourself what rational arguments you have against mine and why it is justified to be angry. Maybe none. You only hate my arguments because I am directly attacking something instinctive that you always took for granted, and any rational arguments you can come up with will be post-hoc attempts to find excuses for your torrent of primitive emotions.

    Am I claiming we should drop the time zones and go back to the romantic age of every village running its own clock? Of course not — not in a strict sense, that is. The time zone system works perfectly. There is a need for it. For all I care we could introduce a single global time zone and get rid of all the rest (especially daylight savings time, please). All it takes is to let go of the idea that time X is the only appropriate time to wake up, time Y is the only appropriate time to have lunch, etcetera. Give everyone a reasonable range of times between which they should arrive at work such that meetings can be scheduled, and demand that they work a certain number of hours. If people live more westward than others in the same time zone, is it so bad that they perform their daily rhythm slightly later relative to the same time zone? If it does not matter anyway whether sunset occurs at 18:00h or 22:00h, then why would it matter if sunset would occur at 03:00h? And while we're at it, get rid of the AM and PM nonsense because it will make even less sense than it does now already. AM and PM belongs in the same bin as imperial units based on body part sizes, and idiosyncratic power socket connectors. We could, and probably should, reintroduce the local clocks to make it easier for everyone to take timekeeping back in their own hands. These local clocks can be sloppy, because their purpose will only be to remind that it is about time for lunch, sleep, … They could use a totally different way of indicating time so it is easy to discern between ‘global time’ and local time.

    Yes, this all sounds terribly utopian and idealistic of course. There have been attempts at introducing a single time zone (e.g. ‘internet time’ in 1998) and they flopped badly. Humanity is not ready for it. Our idea of clockwork seems too simple and too deep-rooted to instantly introduce a timekeeping system that assigns totally different numbers to daily events depending on where on the globe someone is situated. Humans are frankly too simple either to cope with two time systems in parallel, which arguably is the root cause of this entire kludge. If all my rambling would only result in a tiny bit of less slavish following of imposed rhythms however, I would already be much happier.

    Obsession With Rising Numbers

    The infatuation with numbers that steadily increase is even worse: wages over time, megapixels on cameras, blades on razors (the first time I saw an advert for a five-blade razor, I could not stop laughing), the stock market, the number of ‘friends’ on your social networking profiles, the number of transistors in an IC, the world population. And in general, the speed of anything. Everyone takes it for granted that those numbers keep on rising. Unconditional progress has become one of the major dogmas of the western world. When the numbers do drop or even stagnate, it is as if it is the end of the world. OH MY GOD THE INFLATION HAS GONE NEGATIVE! WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE! No we won't. In fact, numbers that steadily keep on rising are what will lead to the end of the world, or at the least some very unpleasant situations. It can only be avoided by allowing the numbers to drop from time to time.

    As for the unlimited world population growth, this is discussed elsewhere. [LINK:MAXPOP]

    Moore's Law

    Take the number of transistors in chips for instance. Why does it need to keep on increasing? Will Gordon Moore come slap us around with a computer motherboard full of spiky components if we become unable to uphold the empirical law that bears his name? Will dogs and cats and dead bunnies come raining out of the sky? Will we feel hampered in our fundamentally flawed quest at building a machine that might unravel the mysteries of the universe, something that we might also derive by doing some thinking ourselves? Moore's Law is just an empirical guess. It was a linear approximation of the logarithm of the state of progress at the time it was made. The fact that it still holds at this time (if at all), only means that the logarithm of the curve of progress has remained linear enough until now. At some point that curve will have to bend. Those who assume that the linear approximation will hold indefinitely and who plan their future according to it, are naïve and are falling for the temptation of extrapolation [LINK:EXTRAPOLATION]. It is not a disaster if we would bump into the limits of integrated circuits. There is a lot of unused potential in the technology that we already have that can be exploited without further increasing one single number. And there is a lot of other technology that is way better suited to tackle many of the problems we hope to solve with an impossibly powerful digital computer.

    Construction

    I cannot tell if this is a global phenomenon but where I live, people seem to find it self-evident that there can be only two transitions for a given plot of land: from a natural patch of land to something with a building on it, or from something with a building on it to something with a bigger building on it. I have virtually never seen a case where a building was torn down and the patch of land was restored to something plain ‘natural’ with vegetation on it, certainly not vegetation that was not meticulously engineered. It simply does not happen, except in extremely rare circumstances. If you live in Belgium or more specifically Flanders, I challenge you to find one single example where it did happen in recent history. Not that it would matter, because for every such example you might be able to find, there will be many thousands of examples where it went the other way. The act of paving a plot of land seems to trigger a primordial instinct of victory that must never be given up [LINK:PRECEDENT]. If a building is demolished, it is to put something bigger and bolder in place, and nowadays often also something that looks like the architect was too lazy to finish it beyond the concrete skeleton, or that was easy to design in a CAD program like Google SketchUp that can only draw boxes and cylinders. Is it just me, or have people simply stopped improving the capabilities of CAD software or their skills in using it, and instead simplified the buildings themselves such that they look more like low-polygon-count untextured 3D shapes from a nineties video game?

    Some people from my surroundings who unfortunately are influential, expect infinite growth even in construction. They feel victorious when they have cut down some trees and poured concrete and asphalt over the place, even if the surroundings are already covered so copiously with the stuff that any severe rain-shower causes instant flash floods, and when it doesn't rain for a while, fine dust particles keep on being accumulated and make people ill in many subtle ways. Again, this smells like some primitive instinct from the not-so-distant past when conquering a piece of land actually mattered and was not counter-productive [LINK:SMALLTOWN]. Some are actually proud if they can cut down a tree in their garden without reporting it as regulations require. At some point in history, cutting down trees was an essential step in clearing land to construct a village. The ecological impact was negligible due to the number of humans being negligible compared to the size of the ecosystem they affected. Now, cutting down a tree for no better reason than being too lazy to clear the leaves off the lawn a few times per year, or to obey an instinct that gave people from a bygone era an advantage over tree-huggers, is quite ridiculous. It all goes slowly and gradually, which is why it is only really noticeable when comparing historical photographs. It is like a slow death by a thousand cuts. We will only notice how bad the situation has become when it is way too late, and even then there will be a great reluctance to take “a step back” due to our stupid acquired right instincts [LINK:PRECEDENT].

    It has come to a point where anything that looks like a construction site stresses me out — and my whole damn country is one big permanent construction site. This is one of the largest sources of stress for me, and I don't think I am alone in this. Building stuff is a national sport, there is a saying that Belgians “are born with a brick in their belly”. Every native Belgian expects to be able to buy a pristine plot of land and build a brand new house on it. Anyone can see that this is an obsolete idea from the time when open space was not yet as scarce as it is today. It is getting time that we start digesting this brick and crap it out, or also cultivate a wrecking ball next to it in our bellies, and make it unacceptable to build anything without first demolishing something old to make room. The early 21st century crisis caused an avalanche of bankruptcies in small construction companies, which can only mean that there are way too many of them.

    The fact that any construction work on public Belgian infrastructure takes ages, doesn't help at all to lower the public stress levels of course. In one particular example, it took longer to rebuild a single ordinary tiny public crossroads than to build nearby an entire private factory complex complete with sewage, roadworks, etc. Here are two locations where roadworks took excessively long: (50.869959, 4.684715) and (50.86459, 4.711298). The system of public invitations to tender is probably corrupted to the core, which could explain the absurdly long execution times and the flaws that sometimes require to break it all up again and rebuild it once more. In some aspects this feels like a third world country. It has even come this far that any stupid yellow placard with public announcements for construction applications, already stresses me out. Possibly even more than the sight of construction already in progress, because those placards are forebodes of months of traffic trouble, other hindrances, and knowing that a formerly beautiful piece of landscape will turn into the likely ugly run-of-the-mill work of a lazy architect. And to top it off, the thought of dozens of extra cars spewing out of this new apartment building, adding to the traffic jams in that neighbourhood. The only marginally comforting thought is that if any ‘developed’ site would be abandoned forever, it will eventually return to its original state, albeit only after a very, very long time. So if humanity fucks up sufficiently to destroy itself but not sufficiently to kill all life, everything will eventually re-stabilise eventually.

    Speed

    The obsession with speed is also apparent. I am not merely talking about the speed of cars or athletes, but especially the speed or rate of processes. It has become more important to quickly finish something than to finish it properly, and the quality of a process is often judged only by the speed at which it works. Again, computers are a nice example: it was only after it became really, really unpractical to further increase the clock speed of CPU cores that people started to look at other ways to do more calculations per second. Even then, is there really a need to keep on increasing computation speed? Maybe we should try to use our current computing power more efficiently instead of compensating for increasingly inefficient ways of programming.

    Also, look at movies and TV series over the years. For some reason it all needs to go faster and become more spastic. Shove more stuff on the screen at a higher rate. Some find this ‘evolution’ self-evident. I find it goddamn annoying. Many contemporary movies are nothing but a superficial stream of ADHD-induced visual barf, annoying to look at and leaving a definite aftertaste of: “what the hell was that all about?” Worst example I have seen so far, is the movie ‘Taken 3’. No camera shot lasts longer than about 3 seconds, there are fragments where there are three shot cuts per second. This film is downright annoying to watch. Again, I suspect this is partially due to the fact that ever younger audiences are being targeted, causing a general cultural shift towards increasing childishness [LINK:INFANTILE].

    The whole obsession with increasing numbers seems to be driven by an unconditional craving for ‘progress’. Many people believe it is essential to be in a state of perpetual progress. I beg to differ. I believe a lot of what they consider progress these days is actually regression in disguise, hiding behind a big piece of tempting bait that appeals to the naïve greedy soul. The initial phases of this supposed progress do indeed go upward, but often it all goes downhill from there quickly because the progress was mostly based on massive speculation and investments that do not add up at all. The progress is often not only unnecessary, but also impossible to maintain. Pursuing it anyway entails taking some kind of loan on the near future that can only be repaid through a crisis in the farther future. The more exaggerated the loan is, the worse the crisis. [LINK: example 5 of the SFP]

    I am all for progress if it is real, useful, and not occupational therapy — an illusion that hides the fact that we are about to slide down a slippery slope. It makes more sense to think twice before starting to work on what is assumed to be ‘progress’ and look if it won't be deterioration in the long term. I would rather stand still for a while, survey the situation and wait for a good opportunity, than frantically thrash around and waste everything just because someone assumed we must keep on moving ‘forward’ at all costs without understanding what it really means. Sometimes taking a few steps back allows to arrive in a position where one can go forward much further than when considering the current reached state as inevitable and forcefully keeping on climbing up the steepest slope from there on without even considering the possibility of first going back down a little [LINK:GREEDY,PRECEDENT].

    ‘Survival of the Fittest’ might not mean what you think it means

    [REF:FIT] I have long wondered where this drive for unconditional progress comes from. Perhaps some believe that we need to be in a state of eternal progress and eternal evolution towards more strength, speed, and complexity in order to survive, because they vaguely heard of Darwin's principle: “survival of the fittest”. Let me tell you something about this that might sound surprising. It appears that the word ‘fit’ in this proverb is almost always interpreted as: “physically or mentally strong”. And of course, ‘stronger’ is associated with higher numbers. In this vein, ‘faster’ is also regarded as ‘stronger’. Worse, in some languages (like Dutch), the principle has been literally mistranslated as: “survival of the strongest”. The problem is, it is very likely that this is not what Darwin meant. Look up the word ‘fit’ in an English dictionary: ‘strong’ is not the first meaning. Also consider that dictionaries can be considered part historical documents, because they always lag behind considerably on the current state of language. What Darwin therefore probably meant, was: “fitting in, or adapted to its environment”.

    Being stronger does not necessarily mean better adapted. There is a cost for any entity to physical or mental strength through complexity or speed. Humans are really eager to ignore these costs [LINK:HUMANTHOUGHT]. In reality however, if the costs exceed what the environment can provide, the entity becomes unfit. Take the dinosaurs for instance, like the famous mighty Tyrannosaurus Rex, or the fast and nimble Velociraptor. They were very ‘fit’ in the sense of being effective killing machines. All this strength came at a cost however, and at some point something changed in the environment these dinos lived in, that made it too costly for them to survive. Even if they survived whatever immediate event that caused mass extinction of most other dinosaurs, the mere fact that most of their food source had died would have made their strength irrelevant because those other dinosaurs were part of their environment that had become defunct. If we keep on going forward unconditionally while conveniently ignoring whatever negative consequences this has, we risk ending up like the dinosaurs.

    The idea of people actually reasoning about the apparent need for infinite progress may be too far-fetched however. When they react against proposals to take a step back, this reaction is always obviously driven by emotions, no matter how hard they try to wedge themselves into some contrived pseudo-rational pathway to justify it [LINK:PRECEDENT]. It appears to be more like a craving, fed by built-in instincts. As with any instinct, it must originate from our near or distant past. It makes sense indeed that in the time where people lived in small communities [LINK:SMALLTOWN], growing quickly was an advantage. Communities that remained small had a higher risk of being eliminated by any kind of adverse event. At a certain point this growth stops bringing advantages however, and worse: when it continues in an unbounded fashion with no well thought-out goal, it will become a threat on itself. If we cannot regulate our growth ourselves, it will regulate itself in a way that will most certainly be less advantageous than something we could come up with and anticipate ourselves.

    Coming back to the craving for speed and haste, where would that come from? What is the urgency? Look at situations where people are trying to get something done hastily, and you will notice there is often no valid reason for the haste. Ask for a reason, and the typical clumsy attempts to cover up some emotional instinctive drive will come bubbling up. Why does this inborn preference exist for a quick hack solution over a proper long-term stable solution that has a higher initial cost but a much lower maintenance cost? Why is everyone so fucking eager to bury any problem that has the slightest appearance of being solved, and never look back at it, until it completely explodes in their face? My best hypothesis so far is that it is yet another instinct from our primal past.

    It makes sense for a primitive being, living in a free-for-all natural environment, to solve problems as quickly as possible. Problems in such environment mostly boil down to being attacked by some predator or escaping an acute disaster. Being simple, the creature needs to treat problems in a simple manner, therefore go for the quickest fix and instantly forget anything that appears solved, so it can tackle the next urgency. Now, for an intelligent being in a terribly complicated environment however, the typical disasters can be predicted or at least anticipated, and all the simple predators have been eliminated. The threats have shifted towards complicated and often self-inflicted problems that only become apparent over long time spans. Sticking with urgent fire-and-forget strategies doesn't work at all in this situation. The Western world, and probably the East as well if it keeps on adopting the same ways of life, is becoming lodged in a vicious circle where people expect to be constantly bombarded with acute problems, and therefore keep on wasting time and energy by trying to fix phantom problems.

    I believe an advanced species needs to go through three phases in order to arrive at a level where it has a good chance of surviving in the long term. The first phase is obviously basic survival, where organisms somehow can gather enough resources to stay alive long enough to procreate. The second phase is growth, where organisms develop the typical greedy mechanisms that will try to gather more resources unconditionally. The third phase is equilibrium, where the greedy mechanisms are curbed or replaced by smarter behaviour (e.g. habituation, and eventually true intelligence) where only the strictly necessary resources are consumed. A species that remains stuck in the second phase will eventually devour all the resources required to survive in the long term. I believe humanity as a whole is still far from reaching the third phase, although some individuals are ready for it. Their only hope is that they will not be wiped away together with the rest when those have pushed their obsolete behaviour beyond the limit.

    Inflation

    [REF:INFLATION] Another way to look at the ever increasing speed of all kinds of processes is by considering the concept of ‘inflation’. This term is mostly applied in a financial context. A definition of inflation is that the actual value offered for a given sum of money decreases over time. As usual, this is where the average person's knowledge stops: file the fact and accept it. I want to know more however. Despite the fact that I have had a few courses about economics, including a basic course that was supposed to explain all core concepts, I have never heard any satisfactory explanation of the root causes behind inflation, or why it sometimes spirals completely out of control, or why it is considered an unequivocally good thing by some. The only explanations I have heard were horrible kludges spammed with high-level concepts without any attempt to get at the root of the phenomenon. Those explanations eventually boiled down to self-fulfilling prophecies, like worthless attempts at mathematical proofs that at some point sneakily slip the to-be-proven fact into the string of reasoning, like a dog chasing its own tail.

    In any realistic financial system, inflation is inevitable. On average, the value of any given thing must decrease over time. There may be rare objects or services whose value increases, but they are by far outnumbered by the ones whose value drops due to increasing availability, wear, decomposition, rotting, obsolescence, … It is actually possible to link this to the inevitable increase of entropy. Even when we are able to curb the increase of entropy in our environment by venting waste into outer space, we are also venting the former value of the wasted products into space and it is forever gone. Or consider the fact that ‘clean’ (higher value) energy types like electricity can at 100% efficiency be converted to ‘dirty’ (lower value) energy like heat, but not the other way round. The value of a given amount of generated energy can only decrease. The degree of inflation due to this inevitable aspect is pretty small however. Why is inflation much larger, why can it sometimes suddenly spiral totally out of control, and why can it be encountered in unexpected situations?

    I believe a root cause of additional inflation beyond the inevitable aspect, aside from the fact that money is an inherently fuzzy concept [LINK:WHATISMONEY], is to be sought in the complete unwillingness of humans to take a step back [LINK:PRECEDENT], and their craving for infinite progress. This leads to so-called ‘click systems’ where any increase is locked as if by some ratchet mechanism, making it impossible to go down again. Take wages: nobody likes it if their monthly wage would suddenly drop. Nevertheless, at some times the actual value that can be given to workers needs to be less than before, simply because there is not enough value to distribute or because the workers are starting to slack. The solution to keep things in balance without upsetting the workers is simple: keep on giving them the same sum or more, but decrease its actual value: inflation. Mind that this devaluation does not need to be implemented consciously: the entire financial system has become self-regulating enough that this kind of balance imposes itself. As a small variation on this scheme: if products are systematically being sold at an exaggerated price, eventually the value of money will self-adjust such that the ratio of value versus price becomes more correct. Those who are selling the product may believe they have obtained more value, but in fact they only received more money of a lower value: inflation. In this example the inflation was a self-fulfilling prophecy [LINK:SFP] because it was assumed beforehand that the price would be higher than it currently is, and indeed the price rose — at the cost of decreasing value per price unit.

    These ‘ratchet mechanisms’ in the human mind may not be the single cause of inflation but I believe they are one of the major factors and a simple change in attitude could significantly slow the rate of inflation. Not that this will happen readily, because there are many ways to profit from inflation and the few who do, will actually encourage it. Having a large positive inflation encourages creating more debt, because if person A has a certain debt with person B, and there is sufficient positive inflation, then person A simply has to postpone repaying their debt to make it shrink automatically. The monetary figure of the debt stays the same, but the value it represents shrinks. This is actually a subtle way of stealing money, or rather value, from person B. Anyone who does not stop thinking at the most convenient moment can see that this system is diseased and encourages the kind of overcommitment and boundless waste that is now commonplace in the Western world. It will lead to more economic crises and at some point humanity will need to thoroughly revise the whole financial system to get rid of this stupid loophole and the long-term risks it causes.

    Strangely enough, inflation seems to have seeped through far beyond the financial system. There appears to be inflation in nutrition, education, entertainment, real estate, … even in software.

    In nutrition, the food industry is trying to make ever more food that has an ever decreasing nutritional value. They call it ‘light’ or ‘diet’ and try to justify it through the whole religious battle against body weight. From any evolutionary point-of-view, striving for food that has a lower nutritional value makes no sense at all, none whatsoever. In education, we are trying to make it ever easier to do studies in a particular field. What this means in practice is lighten up the material to be studied, because there is no way that people can keep on studying more and more material at the same depth in the same time as before. Therefore even though students may now cover a larger range of subjects, they have a much larger risk of glossing over core material that is required to get a correct understanding of the subject they will eventually focus on later in their life.

    In entertainment, we get music and movies with ever more flashy and loud production and special effects, but there is an ever decreasing amount of variation and substance in all of it. It feels like those ‘diet’ meals: a lot of instant taste with no gratifying substance that lasts beyond the instant of the consumption, and even at that instant it is becoming old because it are the same things over and over again. One of the nicest illustrations are the so-called loudness wars: recorded music has been made to sound increasingly loud over the years, at the cost of sound quality and dynamic range. Every other measure has been degraded to allow a single measure to increase steadily.

    In real estate, some are trying to convince us that it is logical to live in ever more cramped environments that cost more than a roomy house used to cost. We are all supposed to live in a small box that is part of a larger ugly box. Fuck that! As for software, for some reason version numbers of certain popular programs, down to the Linux kernel, have recently started to increase much quicker. The programs do not evolve noticeably quicker than before, the developers simply inflated the versioning system. I do not see any advantages in this, only the disadvantage that it is no longer possible to see when something truly important changed about the software. An increase in the major version number that used to signal major changes or improvements, now often does not even mean any visible change to the user. The increase of value per numerical increase has shrunk: inflation.

    I find the whole fanatical striving for progress, and especially the ever increasing speed at which technology ‘evolves’, extremely demotivating. I am demotivated to invent something new because there are most likely many others who have more time on their hands such that they already invented it, albeit maybe in a more sloppy way that will eventually cause problems. Yet nobody cares about a better implementation because it is considered ‘solved’ [LINK:PANACEA] and the subject will no longer be ‘trendy’ by the time that better implementation is ready, or people will have forgotten about it all when the poor implementation explodes in their face. Why solve problems anyway if the solution is never deemed sufficient due to the dogmatic assumption of compulsory progress? I might as well leave the problem as-is if everyone is going to complain that the end result needs further work no matter what. Getting complaints for not doing anything is cheaper than getting similar complaints after working my ass off. I am demotivated to buy anything because everything is already outdated the moment it hits the stores, and may even be specifically designed to break down in the not so distant future [LINK:INKJET]. I am reluctant to develop any attachment to anything because it will most likely be destroyed in the near future. I am demotivated to learn anything because everything changes so quickly that any knowledge is already outdated the moment I learn it. I spent a lot of effort learning some programming languages only to find out that they became being scoffed at when I had fully mastered them, because there were some newfangled supposedly cooler languages. It has become pointless to memorise specific details about anything; being able to retrieve the relevant information on-the-fly from any source seems a much more useful skill now, albeit with a risk of obtaining corrupted information and no hope to get a decent overview. And, this is of course terribly inefficient. Whenever I dig up some really old software that I used a lot as a teenager, I notice how incredibly fluently I can still work with it, as opposed to all the new reworked interfaces that pop up every six months in present times. My brain is geared towards what I learnt in my youth, and now it is all useless and I have to work in a horribly inefficient state of eternal learning, and my ability to learn is not anywhere as good as it was when I was young. Every kid that uses smartphones and tablets nowadays probably believes those things are the interfaces of the future, but I will have the last laugh when they struggle with whatever stupid different interfaces have been invented and become mainstream within twenty years.

    If only all this information flow would be heading somewhere, but it is not. It is just aimlessly thrashing around. As a matter of fact, I believe it has become far more important to learn how to ignore information nowadays than how to pay attention to it, let alone memorise it. I cannot even give any vague estimate of what fraction I ignore of all information that could potentially reach me every day. All these disappointments are growing into a general sentiment of aversion and a desire to return back to basics and discard all the redundant, and I have a feeling I am not alone in this. I expect a minimum of stability from my environment, and the current state of the world falls short from this minimum by a very uncomfortable margin.

    Spinach

    [This section seems to be crystallising into something about the general idea of rote learning and precedents. Actually the whole precedent/acquired right concept seems to be the root cause of the ‘rising numbers’ phenomenon discussed above. This needs reworking.]
    Western society also has developed an infatuation with stating obvious problems and doing nothing about them aside from gawking at them or simply cataloguing and archiving them. It all has a serious air of ‘fatality’. For some reason there is a general belief that if one describes a problem, slaps a label on it, and blathers about it in a news article or with their friends, then it is perfectly OK that the problem exists and nothing needs to be done about it aside from cataloguing it. Having the problem become a ‘known issue’ seems to be deemed sufficient to not have to solve it. It fits with the emphasis on rote learning: apparently people hope that by cataloguing all known problems, they will somehow find a magical path in between, or something. Or maybe all the blathering has some therapeutic effect, but not for me. Anyone who does want to fix the problem will be frowned upon, unless of course tackling the problem has somehow become fashionable enough to become an acceptable behaviour in the group.
    We have semi-formalised this through the current way of doing science: someone comes up with an idea, writes a publication about it, we catalogue it and that's that. If the publication is a sufficiently trendy subject (or touches some basic instinct like sex), journalists spam it across the world. Most of the science involves mapping stuff that can be readily observed, without any attempt at finding the bigger picture that is not immediately observable. A century after Darwin, mankind still is more inclined to make infinite lists of properties of processes and organisms, than to find the common rule that lies at the basis of those properties.

    Apparently there is a general sentiment that if we keep on doing this, we will have an all-encompassing library of knowledge we can tap into and that can solve any problem. This kind of naïve reasoning of course ignores the blatant fact that reality changes constantly — especially due to the feedback effect of using the knowledge library [LINK:UNIVERSE]. This library will therefore become stuffed with obsolete data and will never be complete. It will only grow and the truly useful stuff will become swamped by outdated cruft. Eventually it will be unpractical to find anything in it, and what we do find may not even be valid anymore because the library constantly lags behind reality. And I am not even considering how biased all the data may be, and how much of it may be downright incorrect. A lot of it are studies that only look at a very narrow field with very specific boundary conditions that are easily ignored, but are in fact essential to the validity of the study. What makes all this even worse is that once something has been published in a scientific paper or written in an encyclopaedia, people have an extremely strong inclination to consider it final and definitely correct, and will never re-validate it, until it has lead to at least a minor disaster.

    [REF:SPINACH] Here's a nice example: spinach. This one is particularly nice, because it goes deep despite the fact that it concerns something rather trivial. The popular conception about spinach is that it has an extremely high iron content. When asking someone with no knowledge about nutrition how it compares to other leafy greens, they will be inclined to say it has by far the highest iron content. Those with more knowledge will say that the iron content is far lower than believed, because the scientist who made the original study misplaced a decimal point. Today we have The Internet, so let's see what gives. I find a common story about a German chemist called Von Wolff (or Wolf according to some websites) who in 1870 misplaced a decimal point while noting down the iron content of spinach. Supposedly 67 years later in 1937, the mistake was spotted. Nearly none of the sources that tell this story will give any citations at all. The ones that do, cite a 1981 article by Hamblin, and mention that the misconception was so stubborn that 44 years after the first ‘debunk’ article, Hamblin found it necessary to publish a new one stressing the incorrect iron figure. Ironically though, it seems that it was exactly Hamblin's article that spawned the Von Wolff story that may be or may not be pure folklore. The latter is very difficult to verify due to lacking references in Hamblin's article.

    This is not everything however. If I say: “Popeye,” quite likely you will think: “spinach,” and if I ask why Popeye eats spinach, you might believe it is because spinach contains a lot of iron. Or maybe now you will tell: “Popeye predates the 1937 study therefore it is based on the 10× exaggerated iron content figure.” Unfortunately this is all wrong. The original Popeye cartoons by Elzie Segar refer to the Vitamin A content in spinach as Popeye's source of power, not iron. When push comes to shove, spinach is not such a great source of iron, because even though correct measurements prove that it does contain a good amount of the mineral, only a fraction of it is in a form that can be used by the human body.

    Mind that someone else has done this same spinach research exercise before me and has done a much better job at it, so if you want to find all the fine details about what he calls ‘SPIDES’ (Spinach Popeye Iron Decimal Error Story) and get references for the true facts behind spinach, read Sutton's article (Sutton, M. 2010. “Spinach, Iron and Popeye: Ironic lessons from biochemistry and history on the importance of healthy eating, healthy scepticism and adequate citation.” Internet Journal of Criminology / Primary Research Paper series). Mind how this same article stresses the difficulty (and pain at times) of researching this subject. It is easy to get distracted by the massive amounts of crap filed everywhere in our present-day massive library of information. The bottom line is that if I would need to be absolutely sure of the iron content of spinach, I would go to a lab, get assistance from specialists, and do the damn experiments myself.

    This is just one single example of an unreliable fact that was assumed to be certain for many decades. Particularly nice is that it has spawned other incorrect beliefs regarding the reliability of the original belief. It is a beautiful mess. I would like to know how many other examples there are, and how many of them are facts we rely on every day. Mind that this spinach example concerned something rather trivial, it basically boiled down to one single number. Imagine all the things that could go wrong with more complicated research.

    Interestingly, the aforementioned article by Sutton mentions a certain philosopher Karl Popper, and if you read the article's description about Popper's work you may find various similarities with this text. I had never heard of Popper before reading that article early 2014, when most of this text had already been written. Of course, you are free to believe that I am lying and I am simply copying stuff I read elsewhere if that makes you feel better.

    Precedents and Acquired Rights

    [REF:PRECEDENT] What seems to be the root cause of practically everything I discussed above, is the concept of a ‘precedent’. When something has been decided to be valid somewhere in the past, any future situation that resembles the one from the precedent, is assumed to be solvable in the same manner, without question. This is of course a straight application of rote learning. The concept of precedents is especially popular in the legal system. What this means for instance, is that if someone ever manages to force a lawsuit to have a certain wrong outcome, they could use that outcome as a ‘precedent’ and skip the effort of bribing judges or jumping through the same hoops that were required to corrupt the first case. Or they managed to obtain access to information through an unusual and undesirable means for one specific case, and now they hope to get the same access for totally unrelated cases. It is obvious that this stinks and as far as I am concerned, the whole concept of unconditional precedents should be buried, and together with it, the refusal to take a one-time extreme but necessary measure out of fear that “it could lead to a precedent.”

    It is perfectly OK to reuse a past result, if everyone involved understands how that previous result was obtained and why it can be re-applied to the current situation. It is bad to mindlessly clone the result with as only argumentation: “someone did it before, so now we can do it again”. It is not because someone has made a stupid decision in the past that this warrants making the same stupid decision over and over again. It is not because a smart decision was made in the past in a very specific situation, that the same kind of decision may be applied unconditionally to any case that looks vaguely similar. Re-evaluate every case and then make the smartest decision based on the information available at that time, not on something from a distant past.

    Given the prevalence of the ‘precedence’ concept however, I fear that fighting it is very difficult as it must be yet another one of those deeply rooted basal instincts. Whenever it pops up, it is always surrounded by an air of self-evidence as if every person is born with the thing hard-coded in their brains. Anyone working in behavioural sciences, here's a tip if you cannot find a subject to research (and if it has not yet been done by now): try to prove the existence of the precedent concept in apes and other species, you might find something interesting.

    The ‘precedent’ concept is a subset of the more general ‘acquired right’ concept, which assumes that once an individual has obtained the right to something (an act or possession), this right is final and cannot be revoked, no matter how it was obtained. This concept too belongs to the limited set of hard-coded instincts in humans. Just look at children playing, and you will see it pop up every few minutes, even before the children have developed speech. As with all these instinctive concepts, it is a gross simplification of reality that has only proven to work well in the environment where our ancestors evolved. There is no guarantee at all that this concept is still efficient in the present-day, let alone future world.

    If there is one thing I have learnt through interaction with fellow humans over the course of my lifetime, it is that one should never give something for free to anyone if there is any risk that it will need to be retaken or revoked some day. Worse, there doesn't even need to be an explicit act of giving, it suffices that a situation is allowed to develop where something can be taken for free. Even though plain reasoning proves that there is no such thing as ‘free’ [LINK:FREELUNCH], this does not stop our ‘acquired right instinct’ at all. A concrete example: illegal music downloads. I have experienced the heydays of Napster (when it was an illegal download service) and the like, around the year 2000. Obtaining music was as simple as typing the name of a song and artist in an easy-to-use interface, clicking, and waiting a while, without having to give anything in return. This obviously was unacceptable from the point-of-view of the artists, hence services like these were shut down after a while. Alternatives popped up, but as the music industry gradually pulled its head out of its own arse and got more tech savvy, they became more experienced in shutting down those alternatives. This all makes sense, but even today I still have the feeling that it is unfair that they took away the “right” I had acquired to get music for free. There is no rational justification for this feeling, but it is so deep-rooted that it is near impossible to get rid of it. This obviously is also a source of stress, so the next time you see an opportunity to grab a freebie, you may want to think twice about the long-term consequences.

    Fate

    The human inclination for filing problems instead of solving them, often manifests itself as journalists writing in their articles that we should adapt to some road to hell that we have laid out for ourselves. Of course you will never literally read anything like that in a newspaper or magazine because the journalists do not realise how absurd their statements are. They have already assumed and accepted that their article is supposed to be a perfect prediction of the future. It will be worded like: “we should improve agriculture and city architecture so we can support the exponentially growing world population,” or: “we should adapt to our ever faster evolving technology,” or: “we should make it easier for self-learning robots to know everything about their human makers,” and: “the increasing information overload is not a problem because our brains will cope with it”. Some uncomfortable but pretty important facts are silently ignored here. For instance, exponential population growth is completely unsustainable in any world with limitations (i.e. in reality). Ever faster evolving unbounded technology will ever faster destroy vital resources. A flaw in a self-learning robot can cause it to start violating Asimov's first Law and use all its knowledge to more efficiently kill us, and some robot is bound to develop such a flaw at some point, either by accident or with the help of some nutcase who programs the robots. And I see many people struggling with the excess of information they are bombarded with nowadays. Only, they do not realise that they are throwing away more than 99% of all that information, and the less than 1% they keep is often not anywhere near the most useful nor correct part of that information stream.

    Another nice example is that study that reports that many incompetent individuals end up at key positions in companies merely through their arrogance and aggressiveness [LINK:INACT]. Even though the clear and obvious conclusion of such study should be that everyone (aside from those few individuals obviously) will be better off if we would remove them from those positions, nobody does it because it feels difficult and uncomfortable. Hence the mind of anyone who did briefly consider it, took the early exit of just leaving everything the way it is [LINK:HUMANTHOUGHT]. We read about that study in the news, we blather about it against our friends, we pretend it is not the case in our work environment, and we file it. Case closed. A few months later everyone forgot the study existed at all, and those individuals keep on being incompetent and causing damage at their important positions.

    It is somewhat understandable why this kind of attitude is so appealing. Not necessarily justifiable, but still understandable from the point-of-view of a lazy-ass indifferent kind of individual. Elsewhere in this text I mention that evolution tends to prefer laziness, which is often a good thing but sometimes it backfires. When faced with a difficult problem, there are two possible strategies: either fix the problem, or simply redefine one's model of reality into something where the problem is no longer a problem. The latter is what happens with precedent-like situations: we redefine reality as a whole until the former problem is considered normal, and therefore we believe it is no longer necessary to do something about it. As I said before, this is tied to the concept of ‘fate’: assimilating a bad situation into one's own reality as an excuse to no longer have to deal with it, is pretty much the same as saying the situation is just an occurrence of fate.

    There is no such thing as ‘fate’. That concept was only invented by people too lazy to take their lives in their own hands. Anyone who believes the future is inevitably crappy, should please stay away from any job or function that involves actual planning and that can affect other people. They should stay in their little dreary world, live their ‘inevitable’ life and do not get in the way of those who actually want to avoid what is assumed to be inevitable.

    This whole ‘fatality’ attitude gives me an impression as in the following hypothetical situation. Suppose a group of people are standing in the middle of a highway and see a truck accelerating towards them. One of them says: “there's a truck coming towards us.” The group then starts to discuss what model of truck it is, what it might be carrying, and what speed it is travelling at. Someone might suggest to brace for impact, and if our journalist I mentioned before is amongst them, he might suggest to run along the highway as fast as possible in an attempt to stay in front of the truck. But for some reason no-one dares to propose the obvious idea of simply stepping off the road and letting the truck run past them. The truck will inevitably smash the whole group to death in a mayhem of blood and body parts. In reality that truck is our exponentially evolving population growth and our technology that is for a large part useless while it exponentially evolves towards ever more polluting and energy-consuming levels, as well as requiring ever more stress to keep it running, without any prospect of it being future-proof. The only things in physics, chemistry, and biology, that evolve in a similar unbounded fashion are explosions, diseases, tumours, and pests, not quite the kind of processes I want to model my way of life on. As it is now, it seems the world is in a slow-motion explosion. Explosions are wicked cool to look at from a distance or in a high-speed recording, not cool at all however to be smack in the middle of.

    Completely focusing on an impending disaster and accepting that it will happen is a great way of increasing the risk that it will actually happen [LINK:SFP]. It is a bit like staring at an approaching obstacle while driving a car or skiing: keeping on staring at it will greatly increase the risk of eventually crashing into it. If you do not want something shitty to happen in the future, do something about it for fuck's sake. Or at least stop whining about it and do something else, instead of preparing for the so-called ‘inevitable’ and trying to convince others that there is no point in trying to improve our situation.

    Whenever the word ‘society’ pops up in a discussion, chances are it is another way of trying to shed off responsibility towards an unknown group. “We live in a society that demands an ever more stressful life,” “we live in a consumption society,” blah dee blah. By uttering statements like these, the speaker is doing what I explained before: attempting to redefine their reality into something where the shitty situation is deemed normal. Responsibility for the bad situation is attributed to a large unknown group with an abstract name, in the hopes of having the speaker's own bit of responsibility dissolve into the group like a drop in the ocean. Unfortunately the word ‘society’ still truly means: “a group of persons,” and whoever makes the statement is also a part of that group. By claiming the problem is caused by this ‘society’, the speaker is actually merely admitting they are part of the problem. Please stop using this stupid word in such contexts. I'd rather hear nothing than these sorry excuses. As I said before: just shut up and make a change. If you feel life is getting too stressful, simply stop overcommitting and dare to say “no”. If everyone does this, just a little bit, then the things to complain about will go away by themselves.

    One of the several reasons why I preceded this text with the red letters that insist on not contacting me, is that I do not want to get the predictable reactions like: “what you say may be true and things may be bad, but do you have an alternative?” The obvious undertone here is: “I know you do not have an alternative ready, and I believe our current situation is good enough and any effort to change it is futile.” I already hear this kind of crap on mainstream media ever so often, so please do not bother mailing it to me. The very first step in finding an alternative to a bad situation, is acknowledging that it is bad and must be changed. Assuming this ‘fatal’ attitude is giving up beforehand and not even trying.

    Yesterday a few terrorists blew themselves up in the main airport and a subway station of my country's capital. Today I read in newspapers that we will need to get used to this, because now it is “normal”. Seriously. Is this the usual Belgian attitude of adjusting towards any invader that comes knocking on our door? Just bend over and hand them the bottle of vaseline? This is not merely giving up, it is not even trying in the first place. Is it because part of my family tree is Spanish that I lack this built-in inclination? I have no idea, but I strongly disagree that we should simply accept what happened, and worse: that it could happen again. Expecting it to happen again by redefining our reality to a new “normal,” is the worst possible attitude. It is not because we do not see a way out of this situation at this very moment, that there is none. I'd rather die trying to find one, than simply give up beforehand.

    The worst aspect of all this, is that many of the shitty situations that we are gawking at, and which we assume to be inevitable out of sheer and utter laziness or stupidity, are entirely self-inflicted. Would you set your house on fire and then complain that it is burning yet it was all inevitable? Of course not, only an utter lunatic would do that. Then why the hell is humanity messing up its own living conditions and then complaining that everything is messed up and it is all inevitable?

    The funny thing about this is that western society has also developed a hatred towards the process of natural selection. We think we are better than ‘nature’ [LINK:NONATURE] and can ‘beat’ natural selection and perhaps even death [LINK:IMMORTALITY], and we are doing all kinds of stuff that is plain stupid from any evolutionary point of view. We only do it to cater for our simplistic short-sighted models of reality [LINK:NOECONOMY], or to fulfil childish desires like becoming immortal or building cool robots that will make ourselves obsolete so we can all happily let ourselves get killed by our own creations. Seriously, I have met quite a few who actually think the latter would be cool. It is as cool as drinking poisoned kool-aid or unloading a shotgun in one's own mouth. No, it is in fact much worse because at least the latter ‘activities‘ cause minimal collateral damage to anyone who does not want to join in them. This attitude of ‘everything is possible’ may seem like fighting natural selection, but in practice it is only turbocharging it. If one is as dumb as to try all kinds of pointless wasteful things in an unbounded way, then it is only fair to be removed from the gene pool. In the long term it will make more everyone's lives more miserable, including those who are intelligent enough not to act stupid, than if we had better adapted our way of life to reality. If everything is possible then horrible man-made disasters also become possible, and they are much more likely to happen than man-made miracles. One cannot circumvent natural selection because that would be like proving that true equals false.

    There is a simple remedy against all the problems caused by the endless piling-up of facts that eventually swamp out the important truth. The remedy is to let go of all the incorrect crap, instead of compulsively holding on to it. Dare to forget, but take care to forget the wrong things and remember the right things. Be willing to let go of what used to be considered an acquired right or a precedent. Often they stand in the way of true progress.

    The Singularity

    Next to people believing in building robots or cyborgs that will kill their makers, there are also those believing in “the singularity” [ADD REFERENCE]. This was popularised in the 2014 film ‘Transcendence’. The idea behind it is that the ever increasing evolution of technology will lead to everyone becoming so connected that all of humanity will turn into a single entity that is some kind of fusion between man and machine. To me this looks like yet another idealised model that sprouts from not just one, but a whole bunch of extrapolated curves taken to the extreme. Extrapolating a single curve is a highly dubious practice on its own [LINK:EXTRAPOLATION]. Extrapolating multiple curves and making a prediction based on their intersections is even worse. This whole singularity concept is riddled with heaps of potential problems that are subconsciously ignored by its proponents. If you would trace back those extrapolated curves to their root points, you would probably discover that some, if not many of them start somewhere in a Hollywood movie, the ‘Borg’ concept from Star Trek, or an anime book or film, instead of solid scientific ground. This whole singularity concept has so many holes and pitfalls that it has only a puny chance to ever come close to working at all, and if it ever works it will probably collapse very soon. I for one would likely go completely bonkers if someone would try to assimilate me into it. Resistance is futile, my ass.

    *

    A major problem with Western civilisation is that everyone is focusing on virtual junk, on speculation and models that grossly simplify complicated processes or conversely, grossly complicate simple processes. There is nothing wrong with making and using a model, but one should always be aware that it is only a model with inevitable limitations. Remember, the only perfectly accurate model of the universe is the universe itself [LINK:UNIVERSE]. However, people tend to accept those models as the new reality, forget all about where they came from and their limitations, and lose touch with actual reality. In the end there is only the model and the model has become reality. They get stuck within the cozy simple frame of reference of the model and alias everything they observe into it. The model is entirely floating with no solid base. Sooner or later, it will come crashing down.

    For instance in pretty much every school I have ever come into contact with, pupils strive to get high scores on exams, not to actually learn the knowledge that those exams try to verify. Either it is assumed that the scores will guarantee correct knowledge, or school is just seen as that annoying thing one needs to get through in the easiest possible manner, i.e. by focusing purely on the evaluation system. Worse, some teachers even ‘teach’ with the latter in mind. They should be fired and prohibited from ever teaching again. School serves to learn things, not to produce high scores. If you want to reach high scores, go play a video game. It is more fun. Maybe we should simply abandon score-based systems in schools altogether and only rate students ‘competent’ and ‘incompetent’ based on tests that cannot be cheated by mindlessly reproducing data.
    A nice illustration of this kind of attitude: I created a webpage with a concise overview of the dreaded verb conjugation rules in Dutch. It focuses on the so-called ‘dt-rule,’ something which is easily made mistakes against but which is not as hard as generally assumed. The page was a success, visitor statistics mirrored the rhythm of students going to school every week, and there was an obvious peak in the early evening when everyone made their homework. After a while I decided to add a second webpage with a simple ‘quiz’ that tested knowledge about the rules explained in the other page. This quiz is obviously not a substitute at all for the page with rules. It is only a rough sampling of the many possible verb forms. If someone can score 100% on that quiz, they might just have studied every answer by heart and be unable to conjugate any other verb than the ones questioned in the quiz. Yet after a while, the number of visitors for that silly quiz page overtook the other page by an order of magnitude. Instead of linking to the truly important page, people linked to the stupid quiz. Even though I added clearly visible links to the main page at the top and bottom of the quiz page, still most visitors never bothered to look at it, evidenced by the occasional mail of someone questioning the answers. For all I care I could have put that quiz full of the most exotic phrases that nobody will ever use, and someone scoring 100% would believe they have perfect knowledge of Dutch verb conjugation. Wrong.

    I see people adopting complicated methods to organise the workflow in companies or their own life. They focus so hard on this, that eventually they seem to find it more important to stick to that workflow than to consider what they are actually trying to achieve with it (cf. the Dilbert comics). I think some are spending nearly all of their time implementing a workflow without really doing anything. They have totally forgotten that the workflow is only a tool, not a goal. Things only get worse through the fact that the tool is often the wrong one. The workflow is applied to situations it does not correctly map to. The fact that the workflow itself costs precious time is easily forgotten. Sometimes a multitude of the time it would cost to solve a rather trivial problem, is wasted by discussing how it could be done or how it can fit in some ‘process’. If someone would simply shut up and start working, it would be fixed in no time.
    Economists are trying to raise stock prices without caring whether they are creating actual value while doing so, they don't give a shit about what is actually being sold if anything at all. And even if they try to create value they still forget that ‘value’ is also just part of a model. The economy [LINK:NOECONOMY] is just a model to measure how we are performing, not the other way round. Just as with body weight, we have summarised the state of the world to a single number that we plot on a curve, and we expect this number to have a certain value or steadily rise, even though it is an enormously crude measure and there are numerous noxious ways to bring the number to that expected value or make it rise.
    People are chasing trends and try to create new trends without considering if the subject of the trend is useful at all. We are trying to make food that tastes good and has no nutritional value. Food that does not feed! What a joke. We catalogue our ‘friends’ on websites without knowing what friendship really means. And last but not least, making as much money as possible has become a goal for many. I bet most of them do not even know what money really is. For them it is that kind of magical number on their bank account that allows to buy and do stuff, and they do not care what makes the number increase and whether that increase really means anything. I bet a lot of people also believe that money is still coupled to gold, or that the value of most commodities is a well-defined given. It is not.

    What Is Money?

    [REF:WHATISMONEY] A common mistake is to confuse money with value. They are related, but not the same. Money was invented as, and has always been, a means to formalise the process of making promises between people, to quantify debt. Money is nothing but a promise. Money is trust. If I give someone a sum of N monetary units, I promise that person that they will be able to obtain goods or services from either me or someone else, that are worth the generally assumed value of N monetary units. That other person trusts that they will be able to exchange the monetary sum for the expected measure of goods. Without trust, money cannot work.

    Mind how fuzzy all this is in reality. The promise can be broken and despite the illusion that everything has been formalised, the assumed value is entirely dependent on the goodwill of people. When either of those break down, the whole system can crash and things like hyperinflation can occur. This is in stark contrast with the idea about money that many people have. They think the value of one dollar for instance is a rigid given. They still believe that every dollar represents something physical, and those with really outdated ideas about money might even believe that every dollar is still linked to a piece of gold. It is not. Fort Knox is empty, or as good as, compared to the total amount of dollars in circulation. The value of money is extremely volatile and this volatility is an inevitable trade-off that was introduced when replacing the basic trading of raw goods with a monetary system. The concept of money allows much more flexibility than simply giving an apple for an egg, but it also requires extra discipline. Only in theory, in the utterly utopian case of everyone being perfectly honest and having a perfect memory, the monetary system would be a perfect abstraction of raw goods trading. It is obvious that reality is nowhere near this utopia.

    Relying on trust alone is of course extremely naïve, which is why money is always represented by something that is difficult to corrupt. In the olden days, money consisted of actual gold pieces (or another valuable metal), which obviously are as good as impossible to counterfeit, but very impractical. Moreover, it was only a small step up from trading raw goods. Gold pieces were still a commodity, only the size and shape of the tradable goods had been standardised and quantised. This is why bank notes were introduced. For the first time, this made the value of the traded object significantly lower than the value it represents. Even with modern metal coins this is the case. One might believe that the smallest Euro coins are worth as much as, or even more than the value they represent, because they appear to be made out of pure copper. They are not: hold them against a magnet and you'll see they are iron with a copper coating — copper is not ferromagnetic, iron is.

    When electronic communication and later on computers were introduced in the monetary system, the degree of abstraction between money and its actual value was further raised. Things could be bought and sold with no physical representation of the transaction at all. Of course this introduced huge risks, and we have already seen the consequences of those risks, in the form of financial crises. Recently, some attempts have been made at making even the digital representation of money more difficult to corrupt and less prone to unbounded speculation, by tying them to cryptographic algorithms (e.g. Bitcoin). This introduces both security, and a limit on the degree to which money can be generated at leisure. Moreover, it removes part of the human factor in managing integrity of the monetary system. It still does not avoid the risk associated with a breakdown in trust, however. Nothing can, aside from goodwill.

    The degree to which money has been decoupled from physical reality, varies per country. Some countries (e.g. Switzerland) still try to tie money to physical entities, to minimise the inevitable discrepancy between the virtual monetary units and the actual value they represent. Other countries (e.g. the USA) took the avenue of mostly virtual money. Sooner or later, the virtual money balloon will pop. If by then we have not moved to a system that is less easily corrupted, we will be forced to implement one anyway. It will be less painful to be prepared and gradually move away from our risk-ridden constructions, than to wait until they topple over and fall on our heads.

    There is of course a sensible reason why nobody bothers to properly educate the population about what money really is and how it is best treated. It is much easier to exploit and swindle those without the proper knowledge, who merely associate money with whatever primitive instincts they have at hand, like the ubiquitous acquired right and precedent-like instincts [LINK:PRECEDENT].

    *

    [REPEATED ELSEWHERE, CENTRALISE IT AND CONNECT.] [REF:FICTION] It seems a considerable number of people have trouble discerning fiction from reality. Often this is not problematic, for instance there is no harm at all in those who refuse to play a violent video game or watch a movie with murder scenes because they are unable to keep reality separated from the virtual world of fiction where nothing is really killed. Problems do arise when someone starts believing that something either cool or troubling they saw in a film or read in a book is an accurate depiction of reality or a trustworthy prediction of the future. [TODO: ELABORATE, HAS BEEN WRITTEN ELSEWHERE: movie physics, terrorism, increasing realism of video games, connect with small-town crap etc.] I am starting to believe that some religions may have been designed to reject fiction, exactly because of all these reasons [LINK:RELIGION]. Also, there are some truly good TV shows/films etc. that help to show horrible situations in a thoughtful manner. Such shows can be a good reminder why situations like war should be avoided, without stressing out the spectators and going down the cheap path of offering them the impression that reality is horrible, just because that is a cheap way to create controversy and attract viewers. Likewise, there are some truly educative video games, but they are few and far between.

    Over the years, or perhaps from the very first moment when my brain reached self-consciousness, I have developed a strong desire to keep fiction and reality strictly separated. Whenever I watch a film or a series of which I do not have a guarantee that effort went into it to make it an accurate scientific or historical depiction, I automatically spawn a new model in my brain for that specific work of fiction. I completely ‘sandbox’ the work inside that model. When the film ends, the model is archived (or even discarded if the film really sucked). Only when I discuss the film or watch it again, or a sequel, the model is re-loaded. I will never consciously try to port elements from that model into my model of reality unless I can figure out that they are plausible. There is obviously a limit on how many of those models I can store, which is why I tend to stick with a bunch of favourite fictional universes and ignore the rest. Here's the catch: I believe not everyone treats fiction like this, and some have a considerable overlap between their representation of the works of fiction and their representation of reality. Who knows, maybe certain people throw it all together into one single model. Even if they consciously try to keep the models separated, it is not unthinkable that the models are leaking into each other at a subconscious level. This probably also occurs in my case, which is why even despite my ‘sandboxing’ of fiction, I force myself at regular times to re-evaluate basically everything I believe to know.

    This might sound crazy to many, but I consider the possibility that due to this risk of persons being unable to separate fiction and reality, fiction will become constrained by legal or other means sometime in the future. As a matter of fact, in certain cultures it already is. Islam for instance has certain restrictions that could be considered early attempts at constraining fiction. It severely discourages drawings of any human being (especially prophets). It also restricts music heavily. Obviously, movies did not exist at the time the Qur'an was written, but if they had, I am pretty certain that they would be forbidden or restricted too.

    There is a clear example of people who obviously have trouble separating fiction from reality, and it are those who bash every movie that is not 100% sound according to the standards of science, history, or whatever field-of-study the reviewer happens to be most affiliated with. For instance: yes, the science in films like ‘The Martian’ is dodgy and treated superficially. But no, the film is not intended to be a scientific report. It is nothing but entertainment with a whiff of science thrown in for good measure, and it managed to entertain me pretty well for two hours despite the fact that I probably know more about space travel than the writers and the director taken together. Yet, one can find scathing reviews on websites claiming that the film is “a scam” because of all the violations against physics and biology. Whoever writes such reviews, seems unable to understand the whole purpose of entertainment in the first place. To me, such people come over as idiots, in the most strict sense of the word.

    Here's another simple indication that some might not be able to create much more than a single ‘sandbox’ for works of fiction they are exposed to: if it wasn't already obvious from the rest of this text, I am kind of a nerd. A prototypical divisive issue between nerds is whether they are ‘trekkies’ (fans of Star Trek) or fans of Star Wars. For some reason, there is always the assumption that only either of both works of fiction can be the one true science fiction. A fervent trekkie will often refuse to watch more than the single or few Star Wars films they have ever watched, and a Star Wars fan will almost certainly refuse to watch more than that single or maybe few Star Trek episodes they have ever watched (if they ever watched any at all). I on the other hand have watched all the Star Wars films and quite a few (albeit not all by far) Star Trek episodes. I can appreciate both. They are very different and any attempt to compare them is actually ridiculous, but this only becomes obvious when allowing oneself to become sufficiently immersed in both of their fictive worlds. I like them both in different ways.
    Albeit music may seem like a far stretch from fiction, the whole stupid ‘Beatles vs. Rolling Stones’ discussion or any other dichotomy between musical bands or styles is very similar and it also annoys me to no end. Either band has made some truly great songs, as well as some crappy songs. Why would I want to force myself to listen to the crappy songs of only a single band if I can replace them with the great songs of another band?

    The Digital Dream

    [REF:DIGITALDREAM] Regarding the whole ‘virtual’ world, some people, some of whom quite influential, seem to assume that the whole world is obviously evolving towards a purely digital existence. I do not find anything to be obvious about this and I tend to believe that within reasonable time, a significant counter-culture will emerge that rejects anything digital and virtual. The only reason why everyone currently sees things like the internet and anything associated with it as the ultimate future, is mainly because it is still a huge massive hype, an enormous panacea [LINK:PANACEA]. Insufficient time has passed for it to become obvious that it is not a substitute for the physical, analog world. I have already given digital music downloads as an example [LINK:MUSICDOWNLOAD]. Taken to the extreme, this leads to things like Second Life. The fact that it was a huge flop (quite likely, many readers of this text won't even know what it is) is telling and may be an indication of things to come. If you ask me, it is rather unwise to make long-term investments in any technology that is not somehow strongly rooted in physical reality.

    These may all seem strange and surprising words when considering that they are written by someone who as a teenager used to be one of the first scarce kids to embrace computer technology. While most other kids knew computers as those things they could play a game on once in a blue moon, I made crude video games myself where one could hunt down the less popular school teachers, and I made posters with vector drawings and fictitious magazine pages. I made an album of entirely digital music. At that time it was all very exciting, because doing many of those things was much easier than their physical or analog counterparts. Maybe that was also exactly the reason why eventually I got utterly and completely bored of it all: it was all too easy and in the long run unrewarding.

    That may be why this kind of technology has so much instant appeal, especially with the youngest of generations: it appears possible to do anything with little effort. This is of course only an illusion. The illusion of ease is due to two facts: first, any virtual model of something real is a gross simplification, and second, the invisible enormous efforts of the people who programmed the tools. That video game I made was created in HyperCard, a powerful but generally poorly understood hybrid between a database, presentation program, and scripting environment. It was in a certain sense a bit like a precursor to the Internet, only on a local machine without network. Not surprisingly, HyperCard ended up an inspiration to Tim Berners-Lee, who played a part in the birth of the actual internet as we know it. The drawings I made in Deneba Canvas, a semi-professional graphics program that my dad had bought. Massive amounts of effort had gone into this software to make it work and to make the user interface one of the best I have ever used in a vector drawing program even up until now, and all this effort was invisible to me. It was pure magic.

    It appeared that those software programs would work eternally, because you know, they were digital and digital stuff was perceived as eternal. They did not. At that time already, bugs inherent in HyperCard or a bad sector on the storage medium could cause projects to become corrupted to an unrecoverable state at random moments. Much worse however, now many years later, I can only run HyperCard and the countless projects I made with it, inside a cumbersome emulation environment with an uncertain outlook on future support. The same goes for Canvas. It still exists in a modern version but it has been raped by the company that bought the rights for it (and the interface has become a very poor shadow of what it once was). I cannot run this new version in my operating system and it is unable to open any of the old drawings. It bears little resemblance to the old version aside from the name. As for the music composition software, my only chance of running it is if I can revive an actual physical old computer of that era, because emulators are way too finicky for a program that heavily relies on accurate real-time performance.

    The older the data, the harder in general it becomes to merely access it without having to resort to intermediary legacy machines that still happen to be working, because the data carriers or their formatting are utterly and completely incompatible with modern computers. The same goes for extra multimedia tracks on music CDs. It is becoming impossible to play this extra content on a modern computer. It would take complicated emulation environments, which on their own would only run inside specific hardware and software environments. Nobody will pay outrageous sums for these CDs in the future, in the same way as someone today would do for e.g. an original copy of the Rolling Stones' ‘Sticky Fingers’ album that had a real functional zipper embedded in its cover. Such a physical gimmick is much simpler than some interactive program a team worked on for weeks, but contrary to the latter it still works today and still puts a smile on the face of the person who would get their hands on that album.

    If we would move entirely to high-tech digital storage and our civilisation would collapse, the most advanced thing future generations might be able to reconstruct may be what is stored on the factory-pressed CD-ROMs from the first decade of the millennium. That is, assuming humanity is not catapulted backwards to such a degree that nobody could even guess that those shiny discs contain information or are unable to figure out how a Reed-Solomon code works. Despite what many people believe thanks to the low quality of recordable CD-Rs which are a wholly different thing, a properly manufactured ‘stamped’ compact disk is probably at the sweet spot of being quite reliable and possible to reverse engineer by a new civilisation, or at least recognisable as an information carrier. When we're going to stuff data at an atomic level in objects that look like an ordinary chunk of glass, those could be destroyed long before anyone even considers the possibility that they could contain information.

    If you want to hold on to certain information, my advice is to replicate it onto many different media, not only online storage and specialised long-term physical storage like M-Disc, but also old-fashioned analog media. For instance if you have a photograph that you really like, make sure to have at least one hard copy developed on real photo paper, not a crummy print-out made with an ink-jet printer. Even if a massive EMP destroys everything electronic, at least that copy will not be affected in any way. Obviously, those physical media take up a lot more space, but if you need more than a small suitcase to store everything essential, you've probably made your life way too complicated for your own good anyway. The evolution towards digital media has not made all older physical media obsolete. It has only opened opportunities to process short-lived information more efficiently without having to waste time and resources on media that are more suited for long-term information storage. Spending that time and energy is still worthwhile if appropriate for the type of information. There is still a use for paper books, CDs, and even things like text etched in stone. Those uses may have become less common up to extremely rare, but not entirely inexistent.

    Planet Disneyland

    Suppose planet earth is about to explode and you are lucky enough that an alien lands in your back yard and offers to save you. The only catch is that it has very limited supplies on its ship to keep you alive and must therefore immediately transport you to one out of two possible destinations. These are the options the alien gives you that you must choose from:

    “One, I send you and as many friends as you want to a planet that is entirely covered with an amusement park like Disneyland. The planet is stocked with supplies of delicious food and candy and power to run the attractions. The catch is that there is only a finite supply of everything for about two weeks, and there will be no replenishing of anything whatsoever. The planet itself is just a huge piece of rock that does not contain anything that can produce food or clean water. I expressly warn you that there is no way to leave the planet, ever. If you choose this option, you will stay there forever. This obviously means — and you will be warned about this multiple times before your decision is considered final — that when everything is used up after those two weeks, you die no matter what. You could try to stretch it a little by killing some of your friends in a desperate attempt at cannibalism, which will make your inevitable death only more horrid of course.”

    “The second option is that I send you and your friends to a planet like Earth around the year 1000 BC. It has a fully functional ecosystem and all the raw resources required to survive, but you will need to work for it. Again, you are left on your own, there will be no further contact of any kind. If you do it right however, you can live for the rest of your expected lifespan, have children to care for you, treat the planet such that it will sustain your children, your grandchildren and so on. You can even build your own amusement park in your spare time.”

    So, either have unlimited fun for free on Planet Disneyland for two weeks and then die a slow and horrible death; or live a long and varied life that does require effort but will give you as much reward as you are willing to work for. This should really be a no-brainer. Yet, a very large part of humanity is exactly trying to accomplish the first option even though it is not obvious to them what the consequences are. We want to turn our entire planet at any cost into an amusement park that will kill us all in a horrible way. Worse, sometimes it seems to me there are people who do this willingly, while knowing the outcome. They seem to be stuck in the endless loop of the self-fulfilling prophecy of inevitability. I believe quite a few would actually choose the first option even if it would be explained to them very clearly that they cannot revoke their decision and what the consequences are. Actually it would be freaking awesome if we could build that amusement park suicide planet, if there would prove to be many who would choose to go there. We should even send them there for free if they badly want it. It would be evolution streamlined. Everyone would be better off in the end. Is this one of the craziest paragraphs in this text? Maybe. Maybe not.

    *

    Anti-social Networks

    [repeat of what has already been said elsewhere, merge and discard this] I have an aversion against ‘networking’ and similar trends to formalise all aspects of our lives. Many people nowadays seem to spend more time modelling their lives than actually living them. They get delirious with all the ‘social networking’ available, because now they can satisfy their built-in desire to monitor and mimic the people around them to degrees never possible before. They are leading an increasingly ‘virtual’ life. The problem with virtual stuff is that it is extremely volatile. In fact, it hardly even exists. It can be deleted in a microsecond, it can be copied, corrupted and manipulated with little effort. Someone who has delegated [LINK:DELEGATION] all their intelligence or worse, their social life to a machine, becomes entirely vulnerable to manipulation of that machine by someone else. When one's entire life is controlled by software, there is a high risk that in the end it will be controlled by those who control the software.

    People are turning their lives into a video game in which everyone will lose eventually. I cannot wait for the virtual hangover that is likely to come in the near future. Being a nerd, I've had a head start on the virtual hype and now I am pretty much completely sick of it. I notice that the average joe nowadays shows evidence of being at the same level as I was fifteen years ago, only then without the drive to really explore the technology by themselves. They are only driven by a desire to copy what everyone else does. Now suddenly everyone pretends to be interested in stuff that was unequivocally deemed nerdy, uncool, and ‘not done’ when I was young. The same ones who told me to get outside and play, are now sitting behind a screen all day. TV series about nerds are suddenly cool, while nerdy movies were unequivocally scoffed at when I was a kid. Despite being rather nerdy myself, I do not see this as a positive evolution because it all seems to be nothing but a trend that will soon pass.

    There are a few major aspects that bother me about things like Facebook, Twitter, and Google's products.

    First of all, they are all controlled by single entities. A large fraction of the entire world population has become dependent on the product of only a few companies. That worries me badly. Something being under the control of a single entity is no guarantee for disaster, but it does make the road towards it much shorter. Not only is it a single point of failure, there is also a single point of potential abuse. I for one do not believe that Google will “never become evil”. At some point in time, they probably will (and they probably already occasionally have in some regards). Power corrupts, no matter how well-intended the people in charge originally were.
    Even if those currently in charge can maintain their integrity, at some point they will have to retire, and leave the company to others who may not be as sincere. The only way to avoid corruption is diversity, distributing power across independent entities. I am convinced that any situation where a very limited group of people controls everything, will always go awry in the long term, hence must be avoided at all costs. In the entire rest of this text I explain how nobody as a single individual can have a complete and perfectly accurate model of anything much more complex than what is required to function in a village or tribe [LINK:SMALLTOWN]. The only reason why some believe otherwise, is because it is a cozy little thought that prevents them from going crazy [LINK:ARROGANCE]. The only way to run something much more complex, is to take multiple persons with different and complementary capabilities, and make them cooperate in a way such that they behave as a single entity with the combined capabilities of all those persons. Handing power to only a single or a few individuals who strive to assimilate each other's narrow vision, is certain to go awry at some point.
    If there would be something like an open ‘Facebook protocol’ and there would be many independent companies offering products that implement it, I would not be so hesitant to create an account, although I still cannot help having the impression that Facebook is just ‘internet for dummies’. It replicates online functionality that has been around for decades, with as only redeeming quality that it is all unified, but at the price of being a single point-of-failure, getting advertisements shoved up one's nose all the time, and losing control over personal data. It entirely contradicts the open nature that allowed the original internet to grow and become a technological revolution. Whenever I see a service that requires to log in through Facebook, it gives me a feeling of digital racism. One might say: “but it is all for free! Why complain?” Well, because ‘free’ is an inexistent concept. One always has to pay the cost in some way [LINK:FREELUNCH].
    Even if the companies offering these services will not do anything dodgy by themselves, the fact remains that a considerable fraction of the world communicates through a very limited number of channels. I do not get all the fuss about the NSA eavesdropping on social networks. It just comes as a package deal. Didn't it occur to the people who signed up for these things, that they were basically hooking up to the modern equivalent of an old-style telephone switchboard, and entrusting the security of their communications entirely to the operator?

    Second, these social networking tools seem to encourage poor communication. Obviously, they promote an increase in the amount and speed of communication, but this risks coming at the cost of quality. I still do not quite get why Twitter is so popular. It is one of the most trivial things invented since the dawn of the internet. Likewise, Facebook offers features most of which have been available for decades. The only reason why these two companies are the leaders in their market is that the people who invented them were the first to market their ideas. Anyone who can do some decent programming and has the funds for the required server infrastructure, could implement something like Twitter. It is just a service that distributes short messages, big deal. It could have been created 15 years earlier, but probably nobody at that time thought that such service would be of any use. Its quick rise in popularity has ‘hype’ written all over it. Maybe it is because ‘tweets’ are so similar to news headlines: way too short to give accurate information and very open to all kinds of different interpretations, especially wrong ones. Twitter is like a newspaper with only headlines and no articles. When people in the future look at arbitrary tweets from now, they will have a hard time understanding them due to lack of context. As a matter of fact, even today this lack of context is already a huge problem and a source of all kinds of pointless conflicts. Look at this very text and you will understand that I am not a fan of such piecewise information. I only care about the whole.

    The artist Brian Wilson has expressed a similar criticism about social media in an interview. Social media encourages people to hide their true identities behind a layer of editing. It is as if they are writing a newspaper about their own life, carefully filtering out and polishing the information to look as good as possible and be in line with their egos [LINK:ARROGANCE], probably twisting it and adding fiction whenever they see fit. This has been a problem of the Internet as a whole since its inception, but the popularity of these social media have greatly facilitated it and helped to spread this problem across a much larger population. These practices have literally gone viral because anyone who has become part of this group, will try to assimilate others into it. This makes sense because for an ego-driven entity, any tool that helps in maintaining the ego is considered holy and must be both protected and disseminated. (By the way, if you want to see a cool prediction of everyone hiding their true identities behind machines, watch the 1983 movie ‘Videodrome’. Keep in mind that the internet was merely in an experimental stage back then, and totally unknown to the general public.)

    I believe one of the main appeals of things like Twitter and Facebook, is that they mimic the type of mouth-to-mouth communication that mankind has grown up with over the course of history, only then spreading it across a global scale. This will of course sound like yet another bold statement as many others in this text, but I believe we took a step back here. We had worked for ages on infrastructure to centralise and consolidate important knowledge and then distribute it again in an orderly fashion, but instead we have reverted to scattering around gossip and utterly unimportant sensationalism, on a scale larger than ever before. [IRONY]You know, the red text above this text is redundant. Nobody will ever read this text anyway because the mere sight at its length will scare them off, unless someone would manage to chop it up in parts of 140 characters maybe.[/IRONY]

    Some like to say that these social networking things will cause the concept of ‘privacy’ to erode away and become a historical footnote in the near future. This obviously is yet again some crude extrapolation [LINK:EXTRAPOLATION] of a presently observed trend without thinking twice about how valid this extrapolation is. Just consider the following if you think there is no need for privacy. Assume we indeed end up in a world where everyone can know everything about everyone else. Now imagine that at some point in time, a group similar to Islamic State seizes power in your country and takes a look at your entire life spread out across the internet. You'd better hope they do not find anything that does not fit with whatever idiosyncratic idea of the world they have, or your head might be rolling across the floor pretty soon. It does not need to be as extreme as this. Even in a ‘normal’ society there are many, many persons who would be eager to know everything about you, just to know how to exploit you in the most efficient manners without you being aware of it. There are very valid reasons why privacy exists. Feel free to ignore them, but don't complain about the consequences if you do.

    Elsewhere I refer to the George Orwell book ‘1984’. If one thinks about it, we have come pretty close to the situation described in that book. We have already laid out all the infrastructure needed to implement it, and a large part of the population has voluntarily subscribed to that infrastructure, sometimes to a degree that they have become dependent on it. The number of steps required to toggle this infrastructure from being beneficial towards being oppressive, is amazingly small.

    The Ultimate Troll

    I believe there is a way to ‘destroy’ social media as we currently know them, that might perhaps push humanity back towards being more… human. It is not an easy one though. The core requirement is being able to construct an artificial intelligence with the following qualities:

    Basically, this strategy involves creating the ultimate virtual ‘troll’ that cannot be defeated. Once the above has been implemented, replicate it at leisure and let this army of replicas loose on the internet. Within due time, the egos of the average person on social networks will feel threatened to such a degree that their only way to preserve themselves, is to ditch the social network altogether. One the one hand it is not easy to implement this scenario due to the many unknowns when it comes to mimicking human behaviour. On the other hand, the task is much easier than creating true ‘replicants’, due to the very nature of these social networks. All mechanisms that have evolved in humans to recognise suspicious individuals through physical traits, are being bypassed when communication only occurs through digital means. These networks offer an opportunity to perform a kind of Turing test on a large scale.

    *

    Overpopulation: it sucks and there is not a single advantage to it. But just like our social nature, the desire to procreate is such a basic instinct that nobody dares to discuss it, let alone oppose it, even if it will obviously make everyone's life miserable in the long end. This is one of those instincts that must have a very large weight in the “is this a convenient moment to stop thinking” decision in the human thought process [LINK:HUMANTHOUGHT]. It is obvious that we want to hump each other like bunnies because that was necessary when we were still being hunted by various predators in ye olde times. Nowadays however we have killed practically all of those predators and other threats, but we are still humping like rabbits. The reason is obvious [LINK:DNA]: there has not yet been any major event that has caused a genetic filtering between humans who want to procreate unconditionally and those who can show restraint. Neither has there been any effort at regulating procreation in another way, except in one single country (luckily, it is a big one).
    Now think about this, if your brain has not yet ground to a halt: would you rather have the earth inhabited by the absolute maximum number of people it can support, meaning that each of them will live the most miserable life possible with massive casualties at the slightest disaster, or would you rather have a reasonable population number with a lot of leeway to cope with unexpected situations? That is a no-brainer to me. I believe we have already exceeded that reasonable number. We can either bite the bullet and start thinking about constraining population growth, or further ignore it and wait for shit to hit the fan. It is a problem that will solve itself, but that automatic solution will be much, much more awful than any solution we can invent and implement ourselves. I have said it before: if we do not regulate the growth ourselves, the only alternative is a “major event that will cause a genetic filtering between humans”. Or in layman's terms, a whole lot of people will die, most likely in a horrible way.

    Each time the realisation that there are too many people wakes us up, we try to justify our unsatisfiable urge for procreation and lullaby ourselves back to sleep with grand ideas like increasing the yield of agriculture, converting deserts into fertile land and building ever higher skyscrapers or stuffing people in ever deeper basements. We even try to dismiss the problem of overpopulation by claiming that people getting fatter is worse a problem [LINK BBC ARTICLE]. Seriously? Or, we jump through incredible technological hoops to grow artificial meat so we can get rid of wide open pastures filled with cows, and pave them with apartment blocks filled with people eating synthetic hamburgers instead. Yeah, let's ignore the absurdity of this whole scheme and its potentially horrible consequences, just so we can abide to that single primitive core desire to multiply indefinitely.

    When it comes to anything resembling birth control, the human thought process from figure HT1 [LINK:HUMANTHOUGHT] looks like a goddamn mutant octopus with arrows going to ‘exit’ at a gazillion places in the loop. We need to stop thinking like that, it will not keep working. All those ‘solutions’ to keep the population growing are hacks that require a disproportionate amount of resources and energy, draining ever more from the already scarce resources that are needed elsewhere. They allow a build-up of an even larger population that will worsen the severity of the eventual disaster. These hacks mortgage the future. We can either actively think about ways to reach and maintain equilibrium, or wait until ‘nature’ [LINK:NONATURE] imposes that equilibrium upon us. Needless to say that the latter option will be painful and due to all the resources wasted in the meantime, the automatically imposed equilibrium will be much worse than what it could have been if we had thought about it earlier and implemented something ourselves.

    Every time we invent something that reduces the impact of population on the environment, the population increases even faster and the net effect is zero at best, but most often it is negative due to the scale of the population increase. Improvements in technology are pointless if they are only used as an excuse to give in to an instinct instead of curbing it. We can invent what we want, we will hit a hard limit at some point if the population keeps growing. At some point there will be so many people that the mere fact that every one of them breathes will already damage everyone's living conditions. That includes my living conditions, your living conditions (i.e. whoever reads this stupid text), and the living conditions of everyone you love. People will be packed so tightly against each other that any disease that is slightly contagious will spread like wildfire. Performing terrorist attacks will become trivial because wherever something explodes or goes up in flames, dozens to hundreds of people are guaranteed to be killed. There will be no place to run to because all one can run into, is more people. That is not the world I want to live in. It is a nightmare. I do not look forward to a time where merely being able to wake up alive is both a blessing because I wasn't killed overnight by a disease or starved neighbours, and a curse because I am actually living in hell itself. Of course nobody wants that, but our animal instincts are hurtling us towards this kind of future and too few people realise this.

    I really see no point at all in trying to strive for the absolute maximum of people that this planet can support. Even if there would be nobody who explicitly strives for that specific goal, pretty much every current decision that is taken as a response to rising population appears to me as an implicit abiding to that goal. We see the steep line on the population graph and we consider it an inevitable given. Any newspaper article that somehow touches the subject of population growth seems to assume that it is an obvious given that it will keep on rising at its current explosive rate. Any invention that hints at cheaper or easier food production somehow mentions the fact that this is great for supporting the upcoming population increase, which is assumed to be inevitable with often even an undertone of being desirable. No it is not! There is not even a hint at questioning the validity of this assumption, let alone questioning whether we should do something about it if it is valid. If the population in a certain area is growing quickly, the only actions we consider is how we can stuff all those people and their predicted offspring into that area by packing them closer together. Nobody even thinks what the consequences will be of doing that, and there is never even a remote suggestion of trying to temper, let alone reverse the population growth, because anything reeking of population control makes everyone's instincts go bananas.

    [REF:MAXPOP] Suppose we have reached that point where the entire world population is at its absolute maximum. Basically anything that goes wrong from then on whether intentionally or accidentally, like an aeroplane crash, explosion, outbreak of a contagious disease, …, will have a maximal risk of being disastrous. That aeroplane crash or explosion will be almost guaranteed to kill many people on the ground wherever it occurs, because empty spaces will be pretty much non-existent: even if the pilot still has limited ability to steer the plane, it will be fundamentally impossible to divert it to a low-population area. A low-population area will be an inexistent concept. Any unexpected event will incur an immediate massive risk of many deaths because it is much more likely that this event will lower the absolute maximum of people than the other way round. For instance, an accident in a chemical plant (remember Enschede 2000, or Waco 2013) will incur risks to those who were forced to build their houses right next to the plant because there was no space anywhere else. Moving such plants to sparsely populated areas will be impossible, because again: sparsely populated areas will be inexistent. Even if all factories are clustered together, at some place this cluster will have to border on a populated area. A wide security zone at the border would be a waste of potential living space. Eventually people will be forced to live on top of active mining operations — or as with the shale gas ‘fracking’ operations, companies will simply start mining under existing inhabited areas in search of ever scarcer fossil fuels. Closing those factories and mines will not be possible. They, as well as the trains, planes, and automobiles filled with hazardous cargo, will be indispensable to support the population, because we will have destroyed and paved pretty much every natural environment that used to support life in a non-pathological manner. The number of hazardous factories and transports will rise proportionally with the total population, and together with these increasing numbers, the risk of catastrophic failures will rise as well.

    Even if nothing goes wrong, life for most or all of the population will still be miserable. It will be impossible to do anything that consumes more than the bare minimum of energy to survive, otherwise again the fragile equilibrium of production and consumption will be compromised. Basically, the only allowed actions would all need to be perfectly in line with keeping that ridiculously fragile equilibrium intact. Anyone with bad intentions can cause massive damage with minimal effort, because the opportunities to push the system into a dangerous state will be innumerable. The most infuriating thing of it all would be that the only justification for all that crap would be the assumption that it is necessary, and nothing else. There will be no fundamental reason for it, it will all be entirely self-inflicted.

    There are no good reasons to try to optimise everything to 100% efficiency, certainly not the population density. 100% efficiency would mean no margin of allowed error, because any margin would reduce efficiency. However, no margin of allowed error also means that if an error does occur, the consequences may well be disastrous. If the margins for really everything have been optimised away, then anything that goes wrong will have dire consequences. A very simple example that my fellow Belgians will be very, very familiar with: traffic. At the time of this writing, if any significant accident happens anywhere on the Belgian highways during rush hour, it causes a ripple wave of traffic jams everywhere in the broad neighbourhood. The highway itself becomes completely clogged, and all secondary routes become clogged as well, because there is practically no margin. Even in driving directions that lead away from the accident, jams can occur due to jams going towards the accident blocking crossroads and roundabouts. The entire traffic network in its current state is being used at its limit, which on the one hand is a good thing because this is efficient, but the bad thing is that anything that pushes it beyond the limit causes an instant traffic infarct. In theory we could ‘fix’ this by building more roads and introducing self-driving cars. In practice this will push us towards new limits that are fundamentally impossible to overcome and that have even worse consequences when exceeded. If this paragraph looks familiar and reminds of the ‘perfection paradox’ [LINK:PERFECTION], that is because it is in effect exactly the same kind of reasoning explained in different wordings. 100% efficiency is perfection, and perfection is death.

    The bottom line is, the fewer people there are on this planet, the less it matters what each of them does with regard to effects on others and the environment. In other words: the more freedom they have. Conversely, the more people there are on this planet, above some threshold it no longer matters what they try with regard to attempts to avert an ecological or economical disaster, because there will simply be more humans than the planet can possibly support. Teachers in high-school tried to foist a politically correct definition of freedom upon me, a relative concept that depends on what one can do while considering the consequences for those around them. Even that relative definition of freedom will approach zero when pushing the population towards the maximum. Of course we should not try to reverse this and try to push the population to the minimum, because the minimum is zero. We should aim for a sensible number, and most importantly, aim to stabilise that number. The big problem of course is that ‘sensible’ is a vague concept and everyone has a different opinion about it.

    Consider the industrial revolution from the end of the eighteenth century. Many things those people did were enormously polluting but the damage remained very limited, because the total number of humans was rather low with only a fraction of them involved in the polluting activities. Even though today we have vastly improved upon technology, the overall rate of pollution is worse, simply because there are way more people and everyone is encouraged to use as much technology as possible even if they do not really need it. We are constantly lagging behind the optimal way of living that does not compromise our living conditions. Our progress is in fact mostly motivated by counteracting the consequences of our basic desire to procreate like rabbits, and to expect infinite growth in everything else as well. At some point we will bump into fundamental limits on the ability to reduce pollution per human being. If the population is still increasing exponentially at that point as it is now, the mere momentum of that growth will cause the net amount of pollution to suddenly skyrocket, and the results will be horrible.

    Most humans, or at least those in the Western world, have a deep-rooted instinct that causes them to assign almost infinite value to every human life. We consider life, and especially human life, as sacred. The reason why we have that instinct is again to be sought in our distant or not too distant past. As long as we were grouped in small, relatively isolated communities [LINK:SMALLTOWN], every human life was unconditionally valuable because in a small community, the relative impact of one person dying was huge. If we keep on breeding like rabbits however, that impact will become negligible. The value of one human life will decrease and the infinite-value-instinct will have to go, because it will become a liability for the group as a whole. The cost of keeping a single individual alive in every possible situation will become prohibitive. At this moment most of us might be offended by scenes like living people being scooped up like rubble with a bulldozer in the 1973 movie ‘Soylent Green’. If we would actually live in the circumstances depicted in that film (i.e. extreme overpopulation), the people sending out those bulldozers would not give a damn, it would be a sensible decision.

    On the other hand, assigning a high value to life is a useful instinct because without it, there is basically no barrier against extinction. In other words, we should never ever let our situation evolve towards a state where this instinct becomes obsolete. However, I am certain that over the course of history, mankind has made — and in the future will make — quite a few dumb short-sighted decisions with very bad consequences and loss of many lives in the long term, merely in an attempt to save a much smaller number of lives in the short term.

    Mind how this seems to be geographically dependent: in African countries there is a different attitude towards birth planning than in the Western world. While Westerners will carefully plan their offspring and throw everything against any mishap that risks disrupting that planning, Africans in countries with poor child survivability tend to produce such a large number of offspring that the chance is pretty high that at least a few of them will survive beyond childhood. Both of these approaches work, otherwise one of either groups would have been extinct by now. Yet, once the offspring has grown beyond the risky stage of childhood, they will be treated with a similar unconditional caring as in the Western world.

    This seems to be typically Western by the way, or at least Northern-European: this tendency to make completely unreasonable plans far into an uncertain future. The core building blocks of plans are expectations. The problem seems to be a thorough laziness in validating expectations before giving in to them. For instance, when I recently went on a vacation with a group of random persons, at times I wondered why they had bothered to pay thousands of Euros to fly across the ocean, only to subject themselves to the same kind of self-inflicted stress I witness in my home country. When going on an excursion, beforehand they had already made some rigid assumption, an expectation about what they were about to experience, quite often without even having any reliable information to make those assumptions. If the actual trip did not match this exactly, they were incredibly disappointed. Combined with everything I discuss in the section about habituation and overexposure [LINK:HABITUATION], I am quite certain that some of those people are unable to be not disappointed, because their expectations about everything have been inflated to unreasonable levels. If on a vacation trip already they act in this manner, then I wonder what they must be like in their everyday lives. I bet this partially explains the diseased shape of Belgium's population pyramid: if most citizens have such impossible expectations from partners as well, then it is only fair that they will die alone. Evolution can be such a bitch.

    When I read online user-contributed reviews of movies, I notice the same pattern: either the review praises the film because it exactly matched the reviewer's expectations, or they bash it because expectations were not met. For the reviewer to completely pan the movie as a whole, it is quite often sufficient for one single expectation to be broken, even if the reviewer praises pretty much every other aspect. The sources of these unreasonable expectations for films is obvious, and the reviewers will often explicitly mention them: movie trailers. “The film was not anything like the trailer! Booo!” So? A movie trailer has only one purpose. This purpose is not to give an overview or even a rough idea of what the movie is about. No, a movie trailer's sole purpose is to trick as many consumers as possible into watching the film. Here's my simple and effective advice to start enjoying films again: ignore trailers whenever possible. If watching them is unavoidable, remind yourself that you are only watching fragments cherry-picked to make the movie seem as appealing as possible, even if those parts are the only thing you will like in the movie's entire runtime. I can generalise this to pretty much every kind of commercial: the only goal of a commercial is to make you buy the product, not to give you an idea of how worthwhile or necessary the product is for you. If a product disappoints severely due to unreasonable expectations built up by commercials, this does not necessarily mean the product is bad. It only means the critic is likely too gullible to fall for the commercial's traps. Anyhow, I have digressed enough about this problem with people's expectations.

    Growth is an inevitable road to death. Only something that never grows can get away with never dying, but if it never grows, it cannot be alive either. Death and life are inseparable. I already explained this in the all-important paragraph about perfection [LINK:PERFECTION] and of course immortality [LINK:IMMORTALITY]. Anything that tries to eliminate death and strives for infinite growth, will eventually die anyway, in a way that breaks the loop of birth and death. Then it will be definitively dead forever. Our current economical model is based on a dogmatic striving for infinite growth. The current capitalist system results in an exponential growth in many observable parameters, arguably also in population growth. “Sustainable economic growth” is a contradictio in terminis unless one lives in a fantasy world where perpetuum mobiles can exist. For something to last, it will necessarily need to either alternate between growth and decline, or compensate for continuous growth in one place by means of continuous decay elsewhere. The latter is obviously the better system. The first however is what we are currently experiencing in a forced manner. Every financial crisis is nothing but the entire system stabilising itself after a period of exaggerated growth with too little decay to compensate for it. Get rid of the exaggerated growth and we will no longer have to deal with these stupid avoidable crises that at some point might prove fatal. Anything that only grows is like a cancer, and will destroy whatever it is feeding on, hence eventually kill itself as well. The faster it grows, the quicker it will destroy itself. Everything needs to die at some point, if not then it must already be dead.

    I am a sucker for train analogs so here is another one. The human situation is a bit as if we are riding a train for which we still need to lay the tracks ahead of us even though the train is already running. For some reason, we want the train to speed up constantly, which means we also need to lay new tracks faster. At some point, we will become unable to lay the tracks quickly enough and the train will derail and crash horribly at an insane speed. There are two obvious ways to avoid this: first of all, slow down. Second, lay the tracks in a circle or any other closed loop. In this analog, the speed of the train is the global birth rate, or growth rate of any other parameter for that matter. The act of making the tracks a closed loop is stopping the pointless striving for infinite growth and linear progress that will consume all resources until they eventually run out. That circular track does not imply stagnation: first of all, we are still moving, which is the only thing that truly matters. Second, we can still lay new tracks outside the circle, and divert the train to that other circle when those tracks are ready and tested to be safe.

    Interstellar

    The only more or less realistic way to allow continued population growth would be to colonise other planets, which could be a real-world analog of laying new tracks outside our current circle. The problem is that making any environment outside our planet habitable is much more difficult and expensive than generally assumed. It will cost such an astonishingly large amount of resources that we might already be beyond the point where it is feasible. Perhaps we cannot afford putting those resources aside because they are already necessary to sustain the current world population plus its increase up to the time where the colonisation would become self-sustainable, which could be very, very far off if possible at all. We must first get our act together on our own planet before we start thinking about spreading to other planets. Otherwise the act of colonisation is of little use anyway except to delay the effects of our self-destructive behaviour. Moreover, if we cannot even maintain an equilibrium inside the very environment we evolved in, a huge planet with excellent conditions and ample resources, how could one expect us to do it on a cramped space ship with limited cargo space, or on a planet with much less favourable conditions? The two nearest options are already pure hell. Mars is cold, has no atmosphere to speak of, and no magnetic field to shield from radiation. Venus is hot and has a killer atmosphere that will crush and broil anything coming near the surface. Even the Russian Venera probes that were basically pressure cookers turned inside out, did not last longer than a few minutes after touch-down. It shows how lucky we are to be in a sweet spot where organic life can thrive. Why throw away that luck? It makes no sense to act like a pest that devours every resource it can get hold of as quickly as possible, until it has destroyed everything it requires to survive. We have the ability to do much better than that.

    Hollywood movies and sci-fi TV series may have given entire generations the illusion that interplanetary or even interstellar space travel is simple. The truth is that it is extremely non-trivial and costly. Any hastily constructed attempt is likely to fail, and at the same time cause enormous damage to our own planet. The idea that we must escape this planet because it is about to become inhospitable, risks becoming an enormous and stupid self-fulfilling prophecy [LINK:SFP]. Again, if we cannot even manage our conditions in an environment that is perfectly compatible with our physiology because it allowed us to involve inside it, then how are we going to do it in environments that range between inhospitable and downright hostile? And if we have destroyed our point of origin in this process, we will not even have anything to fall back to.

    Idiocracy

    [REF:IDIOCRACY] The most ironic thing about all this is that those who most understand the threat of overpopulation should really be the kind of people towards which humanity should evolve. In other words, they should get together and procreate. Yet, due to their insights they are the least inclined to procreate (cf. the 2006 film Idiocracy). It is a lose-lose situation. Bummer. Or is it?

    If you haven't seen Idiocracy, you should at least watch the intro, arguably the best part of the entire film. In a nutshell, it summarises the lives of two couples: one hillbilly-type couple that spawns offspring like rabbits without thinking even once about it, and one geeky couple who plan everything meticulously and eventually end up with no children at all. This intro illustrates what I already explained in the sections about human thinking and love [LINK:HUMANTHOUGHT, LINK:LOVE]: when trying to find the best possible partner, there is a certain threshold beyond which the pursuit for optimality becomes more expensive than simply picking any partner at all. All things considered, throwing all one's intellect at desperately trying to find some optimum that is completely unrealistic and way too expensive to reach, is hardly a display of intelligence. Instead it is a blatant display of lack of common sense [LINK:COMMONSENSE]. The childless couple in the intro of Idiocracy is a nice example of people with a lot of intelligence, but no common sense.

    ‘Idiocracy’ is not a guaranteed doomsday scenario. There is a way of escaping it. Even the most intelligent of people should never forget that there are only two requirements for continued existence: procreation and not wasting resources needed for survival. There is only a long-term future for those who strive to produce neither less nor more than the required number of offspring. The key to reaching that long-term future is to stick with this strategy no matter what happens. The others will vanish in due time anyway.

    Idiocracy is both funny and scary. The most scary thing about it, is that at times I really get the impression (see also [LINK:INFANTILE]) that the world is evolving (or as I would rather say, ‘devolving’) towards the kind of situations it depicts. The film seemed hyperbole at the time it was released (2006), but I am afraid that within reasonable time, reality will surpass some of the absurdities shown in the film. It is pretty telling that some current comedies are nothing more than a long chain of dick and fart jokes nobody would have dared to show to an audience a few decades earlier. And the proposal to rebrand Kentucky's tagline to “Kentucky kicks ass” seems to have been pulled directly from the universe depicted in the film.

    What is implausible about Idiocracy however, is how a society as shown in the film could maintain itself for a long period. Either the film shows the situation in between the moment when the last of the persons who kept everything running had recently perished and the moment where everything collapses, or there was still a hidden intelligent central authority that controls the rest. Without such control, a ‘civilisation’ like that would collapse pretty quickly and be overtaken by something else that has some kind of consistent central control that imposes sensible constraints. Religion, even in spite of all its shortcomings, is a pretty good candidate for such central control. At the moment, a quickly growing stable religion that has strong elements of control, is Islam. If this feels like an uncomfortable prospect and you want to avoid it, the wrong reaction is to attack Islam. The right reaction is to not let your own culture devolve into such a bleak corrupted mess that can be almost trivially steamrollered by something else that is less corrupted. Islam is not spreading so efficiently thanks to the few extremist nut-cases that have misinterpreted it. It is simply spreading because it offers sensible rules to lead a life that is not self-destructive, and quite importantly it inherently encourages people to procreate and teach the religion to one's children. That is a far stretch from a culture where children are considered a burden or even a disease that stands in the way of building a ‘career’ while greedily consuming all resources within reach and giving in to the first best primitive instincts. It is obvious which of these two paradigms will keep working in the long stretch. It is plain simple Darwinism. The only thing these people need to do, is keep on doing their thing and wait several generations, there is no need for any fight or conflict. Muhammad was pretty damn smart.

    Am I defending Islam here? Do I like a prospective future where Islamic extremists have taken over? Hell no. I am merely stating the facts. I would rather die than let myself be converted to Islam or any other religion for that matter, I wouldn't be able to learn any chunk of the Koran by heart anyway with my fuzzy memory. Also, take a look at the rest of this damn text: I have broken free from religion and it is impossible for me to go back. It would be like being chained into Plato's cave again after having been allowed to walk around in the real world. I am only stating these facts to wake up the rest of the world. Again, Islam on itself is no worse a threat than Christianity or any other religion ever has been. Only if one lets it be twisted and abused by extremists, it becomes a danger. Most religions were made with good intentions [LINK:RELIGION]. It is paramount to keep those good intentions intact.

    The main catch with civilisation is that it requires continuous maintenance. I am certain it is reasonable to draw a parallel between civilisation and entropy. Civilisation, by definition, is order amidst chaos, it has a low entropy. Continuous effort is required to maintain this order. If it is simply left freewheeling, it will degrade spontaneously. Any civilisation whose people become complacent and stop enforcing the rules that maintain order, is doomed. Any civilisation that starts to nibble away at restrictions that keep things in check and that starts allowing everything, opens the floodgates to let decay and chaos rush in. If one looks at certain key moments in history that signalled a fresh start for a civilisation, like the French revolution or the US declaration of independence, they all involved defining a set of rules. Those were good ideas and they worked well initially, but they have started to decay ever since their inception because people with dubious intentions try to bend the rules for their own benefit only. This decay can be managed, but it requires continuous effort. When simply being lazy and complacent, the decay will reach destructive proportions at some point, and the civilisation will collapse and be replaced by another.

    *

    Artificial Intelligence

    [REF:AI] Someone who wants to make an ‘AI’ that passes the Turing test or wins the Loebner prize as being indistinguishable from a real human, with just an ‘average’ human as the judge who has to compare the AI against a real human, should not waste their time on trying to make it actually intelligent! That is the kind of naïve assumption one tends to make when attempting to create anything AI-like that humans can relate to. Maybe I should change the title of this section to:

    Artificial Stupidity

    The problem with the classic Turing test is that it focuses entirely on the intelligence aspect, and it assumes that something very intelligent will automatically seem human. This is incorrect, a perfectly intelligent machine will in fact raise suspicion and make an unconvincing human analog. In the rest of this text I have tried to explain how humans tend to over-estimate their own intelligence and how they are equipped with mechanisms that prevent them from realising that this is happening. Trying to make an Artificial Stupidity may have more chances to lead to something that can fool a human. There is not even any need to make it use perfect language or lead a coherent discussion, just look at actual forums and chat channels populated by humans. To make something that can pass as human, most effort should be poured into modelling emotions and group behaviour. The machine must follow the kind of loops described in [LINK:HUMANTHOUGHT], jumping from goal to goal. The default goal, and the one that always gets priority even when aiming for other goals, is to uphold the machine's own ego, but this must never be entirely obvious. Don't waste effort on implementing optimal strategies to reach goals, from the rest of this text it should be obvious that the strategies employed by typical humans are incredibly simple and only the end result really matters, not how it was obtained. The machine must have a self-image and occasionally adjust that self-image based on communication with other people, but it will be very convincing already if it is just an arrogant prick, an Artificial Arrogance. It must have a strong desire to copy people's behaviour and then try to impose what seems to be the most dominant behaviour onto others.

    Most importantly, and probably the most difficult aspect to make it pass as human, is that the machine must believe it is human itself. Eventually one would need to build an android that is sufficiently similar to a human, but one could get pretty far already with software only. For a pure computer program, it will be necessary to give it access to a virtual world that simulates the real world to a sufficient degree, including sensory perceptions like temperature and smell, because at some point those putting the ‘AI’ to the test will have it perform physical actions or describe the environment. If it can discuss the latest events, trends, and hypes, and show only some basic traits of intelligence, many people will not be able to detect it being a machine. As long as only text-based communication is allowed, and not for instance sending pictures or sounds across the communication channel, such artificial construct could stand the test for quite a bit of time (and it will not take too long before artificial constructs will in fact also be able to recognise what is in an image or recording). Only some specialist in artificial intelligence might be able to ask the right questions to unmask the machine, but that should not really be the point of a test like the Loebner prize. I would consider the test successful if an average human (not a specialist) would not be able to unmask the machine within reasonable time.

    Artificial Suicide

    Unbounded Artificial Intelligence may kill us, or maybe not. We cannot be sure because we cannot predict what something much more intelligent than us will conclude from its reasoning, otherwise there would obviously be no point in building it in the first place. But given the fact that mankind is in many aspects just as bad as locusts, viruses or other parasites, an unrestricted AI that is asked to do the best thing in a global sense, is not unlikely to try to eradicate us. When this artificial construct observes that mankind is in a slow process of killing itself while consistently ignoring all warnings concerning this subject, it could conclude that it is more optimal to get it over with and prevent that we further turn this whole planet into an uninhabitable piece of space rock. If we would go the route of the previous paragraph and give the AI a big ego, the risk will be even higher because the AI may see humanity a threat to its own future, because it will rely on at least some of the same resources we are wasting.

    Somehow building an entity that could become smarter than its creator in some way, and also giving it a big ego, is pretty much the worst thing one could do. The unbounded intelligence and the big ego are not problematic on their own, but throwing them together is suicide. We could of course try to build all kinds of failsafes into our AI, but again, how can we be sure that the AI will not somehow decide that the failsafes are a flaw, and find a way to disable them? Or maybe the failsafes will contain bugs, or maybe some idiot or insane person deliberately disables them. It may be the recipe of many a clichéd sci-fi movie or video game (e.g. System Shock), but that does not make the risk less real. Even if the failsafes are not compromised, there is no way of telling how the entity will interpret them and work around them to achieve goals in which humanity does not fit. For instance, if we merely impose a rule: “never harm humans,” maybe it will just imprison us in a big zoo-like environment, or put everyone in an artificial coma.

    The question remains whether we are able to create something that is much more intelligent than us. If the perceptual aliasing theory is correct, then it should be impossible to intentionally design an entity that is significantly more intelligent than its creator. It is still possible however that a superior intelligence is created by accident, through an error that proves to be an advantage, or through emergent behaviour. If we keep throwing algorithms together in a sufficiently random fashion, then at some point, it might just spawn something unexpected. The fact remains that it is impossible for any entity with a limited level of comprehension (like humans), to predict what another entity with a much higher level of comprehension would conclude. We do not even need to create something that is actually more intelligent to get us into trouble. We won't even be able to determine whether what we have created is truly more intelligent, or is merely exhibiting utter madness. If we mistake this madness for superior intelligence and subject to it, then things are not any better than the situation where something truly intelligent wants to wipe us out because it has made that decision after a string of perfectly sound reasoning.

    I have to repeat this because it is of utmost importance: the worst idea ever is to implement arrogance, a big ego, into a machine that has the ability to control certain external systems that could pose a threat to mankind. The machine does not need to be truly intelligent to be dangerous this way, it suffices that it has adequate algorithms that can find a path between a proposed goal and its execution. The machine will be the more dangerous, the more its cognitive pathways become unpredictable, which could be either due to true randomness (flaws, or intentional noise in the algorithms), or sheer superior intelligence. A machine with superior intellect is not necessarily dangerous in itself, but when pouring a sauce of arrogance on top, it is. This is why Asimov proposed his first and second laws of robotics, but the problem with those laws is that a sufficiently intelligent machine would probably easily find loopholes around them, such as to satisfy a sense of self-superiority that gets the same priority treatment as it gets in certain human beings.

    If we would commit suicide as a species in a fancy manner by creating something more ‘advanced’ that kills all humans, it would be utterly pointless. This new ‘life form’ or artificial entity would have no no more meaning to its life than us, so why bother? It would in fact not just be pointless, it would be pointless squared. Utterly and completely stupid, a ‘Darwin Award’ at global scale. A pointless machine that kills the people who created it perhaps in an attempt to find The Ultimate Answer to Life and Everything™, because they refused to believe that the only real point to life is life itself? Really, I see all the effort that is being poured into trying to make machines that do exactly the same things as humans, as a massive waste of time and resources. Mankind originally built machines to do things that we cannot, cannot do efficiently, or hate to do, so we no longer need to do them ourselves. That made perfect sense. We made computers to perform accurate calculations. We made robots to build products quickly and accurately, or venture into environments that would be lethal to humans. We delegated boring tasks to machines so we have more time to do interesting things. What is the point in trying to make a computer more sloppy and human-like? It is like building a car and then replacing the wheels with legs. Or making a hammer with a head made out of living meat instead of steel.

    *

    I commonly see people pour massive amounts of energy and effort into analysing things that do not really matter, while essential problems are not even investigated. It looks like escapism, but of course it is probably due to the flawed kind of typical human reasoning [LINK:HUMANTHOUGHT]. It is like calculating the exact motion a certain part in a certain very complicated specialised construction will make when another part in the same construction moves in a certain way, while actually the roof above your head is on the verge of collapsing and crushing you together with your fancy construction before you can even verify if your stupid calculation was correct. Or it is like looking up to the stars while you are walking in the street, and falling down an open manhole, or getting run over by a car because you did not notice the red crossing light.

    Rolling ball experiment
    Figure RB1: a thought experiment with a rolling ball released from a stationary position at point A.

    Consider two locations A and B on a planet with a uniform gravity field, as depicted in figure RB1. B is at a higher elevation than A, with a bumpy landscape in between that has no spots that are at the same height or higher than B. If I hold a metal ball on the slope at A and release it, it will start rolling towards B. Assume the landscape is shaped such that from a bird's eye top-down view, the ball will roll in a straight line from A to B such that the image shows a perfect cross-section of the path the ball will follow. The question is, will it reach B?

    There are two ways to approach this problem. The first one is to start calculating the speed and trajectory of the ball starting from A and continue like this until it becomes clear that the ball will either reach or not reach B. This approach is terribly complicated and prone to errors. Yet, it is what many people with no education in physics or mechanics might attempt. The second way is to use the fact that B is at a higher position than A. This immediately dictates that the ball will never reach B. The explanation in short is the law of conservation of energy. In more detail, an object of a given mass will have a higher potential energy relative to the source of gravity, the higher it is elevated from that source. To reach a higher altitude, more energy must be imparted on the object. When the ball is released and starts rolling down, it starts exchanging its potential energy into kinetic energy (speed). Whenever it rolls uphill, it again exchanges kinetic energy back to potential energy. Because the ball had started from lower altitude position A with no other energy than its potential energy, it can never obtain the extra energy required to reach B. It can only convert its potential energy in kinetic energy and back again. If ignoring any energy losses, whenever it gets back at its original altitude, it will have zero kinetic energy (hence stand still) and roll down again. Only in the most ideal case it can end up at exactly the same height as A. This is related to entropy: in practice the ball could not even reach B if the latter had been at the same altitude as A, because some of the energy would get lost in friction and drag.

    Mind how this entire explanation almost completely bypasses the exact shape of the landscape or the ball's exact trajectory. That information is irrelevant for this answer to the question aside from the few boundary conditions that I imposed in the beginning. Yet, anyone who would endeavour into the calculation of how the ball will roll exactly, would waste countless hours on it and risk making mistakes that might lead to the incorrect conclusion that the ball can reach B.
    This is an abstract example, but in the real world there are many similar ways in which people dabble in irrelevant details, while a short look at the same problem from a bird's eye viewpoint would instantly prove that trying to solve the problem is a waste of time and resources.

    Most technological advances follow a cost/reward curve shaped somewhat like y=1-e−n⋅x, with n some positive real number [TODO: add image] and ‘1’ the point of absolute perfection. Above a certain cost, the curve comes extremely close to 1: the increase in reward for a fixed increment in effort becomes negligible. A lot of our research is way beyond that point. For instance, megapixels in cameras, digital audio, HD video. People have forgotten the meaning of the word “enough”. We are pouring so much energy in trying to push that curve just a fraction of a percent higher that we are actually making our overall situation worse by ignoring the costs and energy wasted that will sooner or later be needed for truly important things. Everything taken together, the curve will actually often start declining again above a certain cost.

    *

    [REF:INFORMATIONTHEORY] Ha, fooled you. This part, though pretty important, still needs to be written. Looking up “Shannon information” in a search engine should get you started although it may not be obvious how it all links to the rest of this text. Do not get confused by the fact that you will encounter the word “entropy” again, it is not exactly the same concept as in thermodynamics.
    TODO: stuff to discuss:
    * ‘Everything is possible’ is just as uninteresting as ‘nothing is possible’.
    * Corollary: why the digital world risks becoming boring fast: in software basically anything can be programmed, while the physical world imposes limitations that make things interesting.
    * Another corollary: connect to the perfection paradox, or ‘perfection is death’.
    * The more you remember, the less interesting everything becomes. For someone who would know everything in the universe, life becomes maximally boring and pointless.
    * When asking advice about a product, the worst possible source of information is probably anyone who benefits from the sale of the product.
    * …

    *

    Many are trying to create a world where “everything is possible” and believe it will be awesome. No. It will be horrible, the most boring world ever. [LINK:INFORMATIONTHEORY] The very reason why life is interesting is because reality has limitations, and limitations pose challenges. Taking away those challenges is like playing a video game with all cheats enabled, or a recreational poker game where everyone can see everyone's cards in advance, as well as the cards that will be laid on the table. Both these things may sound cool for a while — especially if you are a young kid that ignored the red text at the top of this page or if you are an adult who never grew out of childhood [LINK:INFANTILE] — but it will become extremely boring very fast. Just compare the experience of playing a video game where one needs to use wit and skill to sneak past guards and find a secret thingamajig in a labyrinth-like building, versus the amazing ‘experience’ of typing “killeveryone” and “noclip”, which causes all guards to drop dead and allows the player to walk and fly through all walls in a straight line towards their target. Or why not just type “wingame” and you outright win the game without having to even move your game character. That is lame beyond belief. Anyone who would act like this would be a bigger loser than anyone who has tried to play the game, even those who failed completely — at least they tried. It will prevent one from experiencing any joy experienced by actually playing the game. The game and the entertainment its gameplay offers have been completely bypassed.
    Now imagine that this video game is your very life and it is possible to bypass any challenge by means of some kind of incredibly advanced technology. Push a button like a chimpanzee in a lab and get instant reward. Add the fact that this technology will in all likelihood require insane amounts of energy just to perform such real-life cheats or ‘hacks’. Your life will both be boring and destroy the environment that keeps you alive. Is that really something we should all strive for?

    Some may be thinking it is worth it to try to bypass life through technology, in the same sense that winning that video game through hacks allows to obtain some reward without having to go through the ‘burden’ of playing the game itself. The whole catch is, there is no reward when bypassing life. That ‘burden’ is all there is about it and the art of making your life worthwhile is to turn that burden into success. Go back to the start of this text: life has no other goal than to exist on itself. Trying to “circumvent the process of life” is exactly what it sounds like: a fancy way of committing suicide. At best, those who go down this road would become like plants, watered and fed at the right time. Heck, most plants even do more clever things than simply trying to irreversibly consume all the resources they can gather. The ones that did the latter, have wiped out themselves through the process of evolution long ago.
    When assuming that a world where everything is possible can actually exist by ignoring its impossible price tag, it will be just as horrible as a world where nothing is possible. This can be explained from an information theory point-of-view [LINK:INFORMATIONTHEORY]. It can also be connected to the whole model of life seen from a thermodynamic point-of-view. And finally, it is another illustration of the “perfection paradox” [LINK:PERFECTION]. I believe this increasing drive towards a utopian perfect world is tied to the increasing lack of maturity of the western population [LINK:INFANTILE]. It will not end well.
    People who really want to live in a world with nearly no restrictions, must also accept the consequences. It seems that whoever strives for such a world, hopes that they will be able to get rid of the restrictions imposed by regulating or governing bodies while still maintaining the positive aspects. It will not happen: there is no such thing as a free lunch [LINK:FREELUNCH]. It will be a throw-back to dog-eat-dog evolution. For instance, if people get rid of a governing body and replace it with nothing but merely the hopes that people will organise themselves, then they should not be surprised if this self-organisation involves crime and violence that was previously curbed by that governing body. True, the governing body may occasionally abuse its power and exhibit dictatorial traits, it is the name of the game. One cannot have everything, and ignoring this fact will not turn it into a magical self-fulfilling prophecy. Ignoring reality will only make reality worse. This all boils down to the dichotomy between left-wing and right-wing politics. In the end, it does not matter which one is chosen: they both strive for a utopian situation. They are equally flawed in an absolute sense, only the ways in which they are flawed differ, in a complementary manner. Both history and reasoning show that neither of them work on their own, but why on earth would they be the only two exclusive options? The only system that can work is a clever and flexible mix of both left- and right-wing mechanisms that approximates the utopia of a perfectly centred system.

    *

    Could add a list with 'stages' in life, like animal → child/magic/wonder → teenager/confusion → understanding → disillusion → acceptance, but these stages are not well defined and there are multiple possible sequences. Many psychologists have probably already made lists with such stages anyway. More useful is to point out that most civilisations seem to follow the same path as individual humans: birth, growth, learning, maturity, dementia, and death. The ‘dementia’ and ‘death’ stages may seem surprising but make perfect sense. I believe it is currently happening in our western society, and the over-abundance of communication plays a role in it. [LINK:INFANTILE] Because we are all apes that want to mimic each other and we're connecting everyone, including immature kids, total idiots, and all the rest together, the only way in which all those apes can converge to their blissful situation of a unified group is if all of them adjust to the lowest common denominator. In other words, we will all become dumb to the point that we cannot support all the complexities that constitute our civilisation, and it will collapse. Good times are coming our way, boy am I looking forward to this! Not.
    [This does not really belong here, maybe better to give it as an example of “no, other people are not exactly like you”] The sensation of time (the ‘internal clock’ of the brain) slows down with age, in some kind of 1/ageγ fashion. For a small child, a day seems to take a multitude of the time span that an adult experiences. People often do not seem to realise this (because you know, “everyone is exactly like yourself” [LINK:EVERYONEISLIKEME]).

    *

    Epilogue

    I am fully aware that there will be many people below the age of 16 who will read this text despite the red warnings. In fact I am fully aware that adding the red text will only increase the incentive for them to read it. Actually I silently hope that especially those kids who do not let themselves be stopped by some stupid warnings, will read this text. They may be the only ones who are not yet wedged into some fixed pattern of thoughts to such degree that they will never be able to break out of it. Despite the fact that many things in the text may be above their level, at least they may get the gist of it and remember some of it when they are growing up. Nevertheless, the red text still holds. If anyone violates its conditions and something bad happens, it is their own responsibility. I do not take responsibility for anything that happens to anyone who reads this text no matter what. And let me remind you: I do no want to receive mails or any other messages related to this text. Anything I wrote about, is stuff that stresses me out and that I mentally buried by writing about it. I do not want someone to come digging up that crap and rub it in my face again. And I especially do not want to hear: “I agree with your text but I am a depressed lazy fuck and I have the feeling everything is inevitable so the best I could do was send you this message.” If you want to do me a favour, bury the crap itself that causes the stress. Make a change.

    Summary of this text for the pessimists:
    1. We are going nowhere.
    2. There are too many of us and we seem to be unable or unwilling to do something about that. This problem will therefore have to solve itself, and this automatic solution will be horrible.
    3. We seem too dumb to live in a way that will not get us all killed in a horrible way, but we are not. We are easily smart enough to do a lot better than we are doing now. Unfortunately even in most individuals who do have the required intellect, it is constantly being short-circuited by stupid obsolete instincts. These make us do stuff that was only relevant and useful long ago. We can either go back to the environment in which those instincts really worked, or try to learn to suppress those instincts. Neither is going to happen because those instincts will put up a hefty fight whenever anyone attempts either of those options. Therefore the only way out for humanity is that all the people with those damaging instincts die and the others survive. The chance that this succeeds is small, because the first kind of people will probably drag all the rest with them into their demise.
    4. You can try to ignore all this and go all “carpe diem”, but you'll only save up the inevitable misery and the harder you ignore it, the more it will accumulate and the worse it will be when shit hits the fan.

    Summary for the realists

    The single biggest problem with humanity is twofold. First, humans are simpler than they think they are. We cannot handle the complexity that we believe we can. Second, we are too arrogant to admit this, therefore we take all kinds of roundabouts and lie to ourselves and others to keep up the illusion that we are perfect. This always ends badly in the long term. At some point in time, humanity will have to learn to admit its limitations. Only then a path to true improvement will be opened up.

    As far as life is concerned, the journey is far more important than the destination. In fact, we are not going anywhere. There is no destination in life aside from death, not something most people look forward to. Death is unavoidable, everything must die at some point, be it an organic or silicon-based life form or an AI. We're on a road to nowhere, and for some reason many people are doing everything in their might to get there faster. That is just plain stupid. This whole text by itself is an example of what is wrong with humanity — I wasted way too much time pondering over things and writing this, instead of actually living my life. But hey, I told you not to read it. We are completely overanalysing ourselves and it will in the end bring us nothing. Except possibly some inventive ways of getting ourselves killed that some would find ‘cool’, but there is nothing cool about collective suicide. We are completely focusing on stupid unattainable goals, and sucking all the joy out of our actual lives while doing so. In the process of striving for those goals, we have created expensive constructs that require continuous maintenance, because we have become so dependent on them that everything would collapse if they would fail. We are wasting all our time on attempts to make our lives ‘better’ and by doing so we are not spending any time on actually living. We are forcing ourselves to work on technological advances that are likely to kill us, or if they don't directly kill us we will have wasted all kinds of resources on all this useless junk, resources that could otherwise have been used to let many more future people live a more pleasant life for a much longer time span.
    We are way better off just living our lives and not trying to make them perfect, because we will only get the more disappointed the more perfect we try to make it. Even if we would be able to reach ‘perfection’, it would soon bore us. The only way to get away from that boredom is to move away from the perfection, therefore we would need to give up the luxury of the perfection, and we would again be disappointed. Our best avenue is to never even try to reach perfection in the first place.

    Life is what you make it, so do not make your life a boring disappointment. The realisations from this text aren't completely useless however, because you should still keep them in a corner of your mind so you can keep yourself from doing humongously stupid things and making your and other people's lives miserable.

    For those who really, really expected this text to contain some recipe for living, here are some of the principles I try to strive for, they are basically a short summary of the entire text. Whether you want to adopt them is entirely up to you. Make sure to read the list all the way to the end.