Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Martial arts training is my main form of exercise. I find it a fun way to get a good workout, and there is a good club on campus. Our style, Cuong Nhu, studies a lot of different things, which makes it a more comprehensive workout and, hopefully, more useful in life.

Last weekend I went to the Training Camp. All of the masters of the style, most of the black belts, and a lot of the students gather for three days of classes and practice. I had a lot of fun, learned a lot, and got a lot of good exercise. Most people in Cuong Nhu agree that Training Camp is one of the best things about the style. People fly from the other end of the country, and even other countries, to participate.

There was also a lot of partying at the camp. I did not participate in this, choosing instead to rest or sleep.

At lunch one day, we were chatting about warrior cultures throughout history. The subject of Vikings and the afterlife came up. I said, "The Viking view of heaven was not like most cultures. They believed that warriors would go to a place called Valhalla, where they would fight each other all during the day. Then, each night after the battle was over, all of the fallen warriors would be returned to life, and have a massive drunken party."

Then I paused, and said, "Kind of like Training Camp." The table roared with laughter.

The idea had just popped into my head, and I meant it as a passing joke. But the more I think about it, the more sense it makes. The appeal of Valhalla is strong. A life of measuring your skills against worthy opponents, and constantly improving those skills, is a good life. Many things in our society can be seen as an attempt to capture the spirit of Valhalla. Online video games are the obvious example, but you can make the case that all sports are a kind of endless, ritualized combat.

But these are mere substitutes compared to actual, real-life combat, even a safe controlled combat. Training Camp is a weekend sojourn to Valhalla. The swords may be bamboo, and the knives may be sidewalk chalk, but we are still fighting. And when the fight is over, we pick ourselves up, laugh at our mistakes, congratulate the winners, and then go off to celebrate another glorious day.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Battle of Central

Last weekend they held a Civil War re-enactment at a farm a couple miles from my apartment. It was a good show, and they did a decent job with the historical accuracy. Even the snack vendors wore period clothing and sold traditional food.

There were also people selling books with titles like "Why the South was Right". I never actually heard the phrase 'The War of Northern Aggression' but the sentiment was clearly there.

This attitude is not as ridiculous as it might appear. Fighting a war to guarantee human rights for a large number of people is clearly justified, but fighting a war to preserve a political entity is not. The historical evidence on Lincoln's actual motivations is mixed.

Saturday, May 17, 2008


This is another old thing I wrote. It is an interesting thought, but
I neglected at the time that coordinating information and putting it
into context requires processing power, and that the amount of
processing power required grows exponentially as the amount of
information increases. In other words, the more you know, the longer
you think about new facts. Any hypothetical intelligent computer
would be contrained by this limitation.


Intelligence is the ability to put things in context. Extrapolating
and predicting are but one facet of this. Extrapolation is the art of
putting the unknown in the context of the known.

The difference between an intelligent agent and a dumb recorder is the
ability to put new information in the context of existing knowledge.

It is in the nature of information that the more you have, the better
you are able to absorb new information. The information in a
technical paper or trade journal means nothing to a layman, but a
professional already has the knowledge needed to absorb it.

If you know more, then you require less packaging in the information
you recieve. A mathematician can see worlds in a simple equation, but
a normal person needs to read a whole book in order to understand the
information in that one equation.

In other words, the smarter a being is, the faster that being can
absorb new information. Thus, assuming a constant rate of data input,
the intelligence and information that a being posesses can grow
exponentially over time.

However, humans have inherent physical limits to the amount of
information that can be stored and retrieved. This works against the
pattern of exponential intelligence growth, with the exception of a
few unusual individuals.

However, computers do not have these limitations. Once computers gain
the ability to put information into context, there will be no stopping
their rate if intelligence growth.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Original Sources

For the past couple days, the news of a Vatican astronomer discussing
the possibility of extraterrestrial life has been circulating through
the Internet. I was interested in reading exactly what the guy said.
I was able to find the original interview in Italian, but not in
English. I was hoping that the English version of the Vatican
newspaper would have the translated full text of the interview, but it
came out today and has no mention of the interview. And now, the
original Italian interview has been replaced by the next issue, and I
cannot find it in the archives.

I have been unable to find a translation of the original interview.
My searches reveal endless third- and fourth-hand accounts of the
interview. This is useless to me. I don't want someone's analysis of
someone's analysis of a newspaper article; I want the real thing.

This is yet another example of how our society is not using the
Internet properly. With every passing year, the place seems less like
a library and more like a gaggle of gossips around a water cooler.

And yes, I am fully aware that this blog does nothing at all to solve
the problem. I, like most people, will naturally do what I want to do
and what is convenient, not what some expert believes to be proper.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Sociopath Next Door

I grabbed this book off the shelf of the library while I was waiting for a computer. It was disturbing not because of what the author talks about, but how she talks about it. The main message of the book is:

1) There are people who are not like you and me.
2) These people are born evil and cannot be cured.
3) Almost all of the problems in the world are caused by these people.
4) Psychologists know how to identify these people and protect you from them.

I exaggerate somewhat. I do not really believe that the author has some kind of dark plot to gain power by scapegoating a class of people. She admits information that works against her main point. This is nothing like a well-crafted propaganda piece; it is a logically flawed account of a real and confusing problem.

Let me list some contradictions in the book:

The author complains about how Western societies embrace individualism, because this encourages the antisocial actions of sociopaths. However, she also insists that we all need to teach our children to question authority and listen to their own conscience.

The author repeatedly insinuates that almost all of the evil in the world is directly or indirectly caused by sociopaths. She claims that everyone else has a conscience that makes them basically good. However, she admits to many ways that this conscience repeatedly and systematically fails to prevent people from doing evil.

The author celebrates 'postconventional morality' as the highest form of moral development. This ethical system basically says that you can break the rules if you think you have an important reason. This is exactly the thought process of the sociopath. They feel that they can break the rules because their needs are more important.

Overall, the book seems to be a desperate attempt to preserve a myth that most people are basically good. The author looks at all the evil in the world and tries to convince us that a small minority are responsible. She says that if only we can identify them and remove them from society, then everything will automatically improve.

The irony is that the author specifically identifies scapegoating as the favored tool of sociopathic tyrants throughout history. In fact, this book contains all of the facts and tools you need to see how wrong it is. She is intellectually honest; this is an academic discussion and not a political screed.

The fact is that evil can be found in anybody. Bad things usually happen not because of some evil plot by a soulless demon, but because normal people react hastily and emotionally to a complicated world.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


I don't have an original thought today worth publishing, so I will
copy something I wrote several years ago:


Jealousy stems from association and identity.

People are only jealous of other people when they feel that the
situation is similar: "I could be like that." If there is no
connection, if the other person's situation is completely foreign,
then there is no jealosy because there is no opportunity to imagine
oneself in the other's position.

Therefore, it is in the interests of the ruling class to mentally
distance themselves from the lower classes as much as possible.
Proles are only jealous when they start to think that they could be
like the rulers.

The true danger is when people start to think, "I am like him, but
somehow he is in a better position than me."


I don't have much to add to this; I still agree with it and still
think it is well-written. (This happens less than you might think; I
have grown a lot in the past three years.) But it can be expanded.

This effect is common to many emotions. People have very strongly
felt beliefs about other human beings, but it is frighteningly easy to
make them consider someone 'non-human' and therefore outside all moral
thoughts and comparisons.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Quote: Civilization

Civilization is the process of turning ideas into experiments,
experiments into prototypes, prototypes into luxuries, luxuries into
commodities, and commodities into necessities.

Saturnalia and the City

Frederick Douglass had many intelligent things to say about slavery and liberty. One theme that he repeatedly stressed was that temperance was necessary for true liberty.

"That nation no matter how much it boasts of its freedom, no matter how free it may be from monarchical, aristocratical, or autocratical government, while its people drink deep of the inebriating bowl, they are slaves..."

He further comments that drunkenness was a primary weapon that slaveholders used to keep their slaves under control. In particular, the masters made sure that the slaves were drunk on holidays, when they had free time and were not working.

"At the time when they would be apt to think—at a time when they would be apt to devise means for their freedom—their masters give them of the stupefying draught which paralyzes their intellect, and in this way prevents their seeking emancipation."

This tool of social control had an even more insidious purpose. It trained the slaves to associate liberty with debauchery. It taught them that, when they were not working for a master, they would inevitably destroy themselves. In this way, the slaves would become disgusted with freedom. They would think that they only way for them to live a clean and sober life was to submit to the will of the masters, to spend their lives working under the control of somebody else.

Why am I thinking of this now?

I read this morning on the BBC news feed that a feature film version of 'Sex and the City' is premiering in London. As evidenced by the comments section of the linked article, there is a vigorous disagreement about the lifestyle depicted on the show. Some people celebrate the freedom of the women, some people complain about their debauchery, and others note that the women are not nearly as free as they think they are.

The connection is obvious. Anyone with an interest in keeping women down would teach them to use their new social liberty to pursue a shallow, self-destructive lifestyle of drinking and debauchery.