Category Archives: Thinkering

Link

From David Baker on Nautilus:

Even more remarkably, nature seems to have made use of only a tiny fraction of the potential protein structures available—and there are many. Therein lies an amazing set of opportunities to design novel proteins with unique structures: synthetic proteins that do not occur in nature, but are made from the same set of naturally-occurring amino acids. These synthetic proteins can be “manufactured” by harnessing the genetic machinery of living things, such as in bacteria given appropriate DNA that specify the desired amino acid sequence. The ability to create and explore such synthetic proteins with atomic level accuracy—which we have demonstrated—has the potential to unlock new areas of basic research and to create practical applications in a wide range of fields.

Alternatively: maybe nature only uses a fraction of the possible proteins for a reason — it has selected for the ones that work. Regardless, I believe research in fundamental biology is always a good idea.

Take protein logic systems, for example. The brain is a very energy-efficient logic system based entirely on proteins. Might it be possible to build a logic system—a computer—from synthetic proteins that would self-assemble and be both cheaper and more efficient than silicon logic systems? Naturally occurring protein switches are well studied, but building synthetic switches remains an unsolved challenge. Quite apart from bio-technology applications, understanding protein logic systems may have more fundamental results, such as clarifying how our brains make decisions or initiate processes.

De Landa Destratified on Techgnosis.

Some quotes I like:

I don’t believe there is such a thing as postmodernism. It’s exhausted. We truly need a complete new thing, and [Deleuze and Guattari’s] A Thousand Plateaus is the direction. Those guys are fifty or sixty years ahead of everyone else. You read it at first and you think you’re reading poetry: “Metals are the consciousness of the planet.” Get out of here, what the fuck is that? Then you read about metallic catalysts, how in a way they are like probing heads that unconsciously accelerate certain reactions and decelerate certain others. They allow the exploration of an abstract chemical space by probing and groping in the dark. And you realize those two are right.

Chris Langton at Los Alamos later set out to classify all possibly cellular automata – which basically means abstract spaces with many dimensions – depending on how many rules they have. He discovered that there’s a range, a magic region if you will, where your cellular automata game will develop all the unpredictable patterns that the Game of Life developed. If your rules are too rigid, nothing interesting will happen. If they are too loose, nothing interesting will happen. But if they are in the middle region – what they call the edge of chaos – all kinds of organizing processes will happen.

The metaphor they use is solid, liquid, gas. If the system is solid, too crystallized, its dynamics are completely uninteresting. If it’s gaseous, it’s also uninteresting – all you have to do is take averages of behavior and you know what’s going on. Liquids have a lot more potential, with all kinds of attractors and bifurcations. Now what they’re coming to believe is that the liquid state in nature – not just actual liquids, but liquidity in the abstract sense of being not too rigid or too loose – these liquid systems “poised on the edge of chaos” are natural computers.

One of the things that amazes me is that the Himalayas – which people think of as the paradigm of the stable – are still moving up one millimeter a year because India is still clashing with Central Asia. They’re a ripple in the surface of the Earth. We cannot conceive of a clash that would last millions of years – our time frame is too limited. Imagine an observer with a time-scale so large that he could see this clash. He wouldn’t even see us. Species to him would seem like vast amounts of bio-mass in constant change. He would see evolution. Everything that matters to evolution happens across millennia. That observer would see species mutating and flowing. He would probably worship flows – unlike us, who, because of our very, very tiny time-scale of observation, tend to worship rocks.

Psalm 78:35, “And they remembered that God was their rock, And the Most High God their Redeemer.” So yeah, I think DeLanda’s on to something.

I’m about half-way through DeLanda’s 1000 Years of Nonlinear History, I’ll post my notes when I’m done, but so far DeLanda’s thought is very interesting and very far ahead of most everyone else.

The bestselling novel of 1961 was Allen Drury’s Advise and Consent. Millions of people read this 690-page political novel. In 2016, the big sellers were coloring books.

Fifteen years ago, cable channels like TLC (the “L” stood for Learning), Bravo and the History Channel (the “History” stood for History) promised to add texture and information to the blighted TV landscape. Now these networks run shows about marrying people based on how well they kiss.

This is from Seth Godin, The Candy Diet.

Even if only a few people use precise words, employ thoughtful reasoning and ask difficult questions, it still forces those around them to catch up. It’s easy to imagine a slippery slope down, but there’s also the cultural ratchet, a positive function in which people race to learn more and understand more so they can keep up with those around them.

Turn the ratchet. We can lead our way back to curiosity, inquiry and discovery if we (just a few for now) measure the right things and refuse the easy option in favor of insisting on better.

Korzybski’s fundamental idea was that the structure of the language molds human thought process, often in a detrimental manner.

From an article on Cut the Knot

Marcus Aurelius Quotes

I’ve been working on a website that shows random sections from Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations: aurelius.co

So far I’ve only added my favorite passages, the ones I’ve read over and over again. As of tonight, you can submit your own passages using this Google Docs form and I’ll add them to the website. I appreciate your contributions 🙂

I just discovered this quote from one of Jordan Peterson’s videos:

He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if the does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion. —John Stuart Mill, 1859

My motto has always been: “You can’t argue against something until you can argue for it.”

Lacan, Seminar II chapter III, addressing his students:

In other words, the only criticism I have to make of you, if I may, is that you all want to appear too clever. Everybody knows you are. So why do you want to appear as such? And, in any case, what is so important, either about being or appearing to be so?

Link

Apart from their civic importance, hierarchies can be surprisingly benign in life more broadly. Hierarchy is oppressive when it is reduced to a simple power over others. But there are also forms of hierarchy that involve power with, not over. Daoism characterises this kind of power effectively in the image of riding a horse, when sometimes you have to pull, and sometimes let go. This is not domination but negotiation. In Daoism, power is a matter of energy and competence rather than domination and authority. In this sense, a hierarchy can be empowering, not disabling.

Take the examples of good relationships between parents and children, teachers and students, or employers and employees. These work best when the person higher in the hierarchy does not use that position to dominate those lower down but to enable them to grow in their own powers.

A common Confucian ideal is that a master ought to aim for the student to surpass him or her. Confucian hierarchies are marked by reciprocity and mutual concern. The correct response to the fact of differential ability is not to celebrate or condemn it, but to make good use of it for the common pursuit of the good life.

[..]

Because there is a trade-off between width and depth of expertise, the greater the expert, the narrower the area of competence. Hence the best role for experts is often not as decision-makers, but as external resources to be consulted by a panel of non-specialist generalists selected for general-purpose competences. These generalists should interrogate the experts and integrate their answers from a range of specialised aspects into a coherent decision. So, for example, parole boards cannot defer to one type of expert but must draw on the expertise of psychologists, social workers, prison guards, those who know the community into which a specific prisoner might be released, and so on. This is a kind of collective, democratic decision-making that makes use of hierarchies of expertise without slavishly deferring to them.

The entire article is very good.

Link

From Chris Olah, it’s called Distill:

As people rush out new discoveries without putting effort into communication, they produce research debt. The field becomes noisy and energy draining to follow. In such an environment, I think it’s extremely valuable for there to be people focused on human understanding, clarity, and communication — a kind of “research distiller” role.

Read more about it on Chris’ announcement post.