Free will

Eisenstein g_3 modular form

As a physicist, I get to think about free will just like the rest of ’em.  I was recently prompted to set my thoughts to writing on the talk page of the Wikipedia article free will theorem. I think I can string together a few more pieces, and clarify how it actually “all works”. Caution: the rest of this article is about physics and math. So good luck with that, if you are not widely read.

The free will theorem starts with three postulates: an upper bound to the speed of information; the importance of spinors, and quantum entanglement. Not a bad foundation. Lets see how it plays out.

In some theories of entanglement, the resolution of wave function collapse happens via propagation of the phases of the wave-function into the past, see, for example, the two-state vector formalism. Here, it is not information that is travelling backwards in time, but rather the geometric phase (aka the holonomy). There is a U(1)-connection relating the phase of the quantum-mechanical particle (taken to be the phase of the spinor on a spin manifold); that phase has to be consistent across time (and not just space, as it is in the Aharonov–Bohm effect); to describe this consistency, one has to use the holonomy of the connection. If the phase in the future, after wave function collapse, is going to be consistent with the past, then you have to propagate it “all the way around”, “into the past” as well as “into the future” — to close the loop — the holonomic loop (aka the Wilson loop). That’s what makes the two state-vector formalism work. Roughly speaking, it is not “information” in the sense of “classical bits”, that propagates into the past, its the qubits. Anyway, that’s the general idea, as I understand it. The article on Aharonov–Bohm effect has a tortured, painful explanation of the space-like only version of this; I’ve seen far more elegant explanations elsewhere. Aim your search-engine at “U(1) holonomy” for details. Maybe throw in “Dirac string” into the search.

Anyway, that is my understanding of wave-function collapse. There’s no speed-limit in this. Basically, you can think of the past as being “not yet fully frozen” or “not yet fully determined” until the future forces those holonomic loops to close; when they finally freeze up, that wave-front of “freezing up” is what necessarily propagates at the speed of light. (I suppose if you are bold, you can claim that the U(1) of the quantum mechanical phase its exactly the U(1) of electromagnetism; this would explain why its the “speed of light” and not some other speed that is involved. I don’t know if one can be that bold, or not, but it sure seems reasonable.) The loops are what is carrying the “classical bits” of information, the classical bit corresponding to the question “is this loop closed yet, or not?” which has a clear yes/no answer.

The elegance of this is that it replaces a fairly nebulous concept of “causality” with something very concrete and algebraic: the holonomy, and Wilson loops, more generally, with which one can do explicit calculations: it is the cornerstone of algebraic topology. You can do calculations with loops, things like spectral sequences or more generally the Postnikov tower. You cannot do comparable calculations with “causality”. You can’t stick “causality” and “determinism” into some equation and turn the crank. It doesn’t work.

The other problem with the naive concept of the “speed of information” is with what happens at the event horizon at a black hole. My (faulty and naive) understanding is that, again, this is where the holonomy plays a key role; the holonomy in a certain sense “escapes” the black-hole information paradox. The holonomic loops are free to thread through the event horizon; that is because they are not “physical particles” and have no “speed” and thus no “speed limit”. Whatever is entangled inside the horizon must still be phase coherent across the horizon with whatever is going on outside. The evaporation is what “tunnels” the phase from the inside to the outside. Thus, it is not “information” that is being radiated away during during evaporation, it is the end-points of the holonomic loops; when these finally close, the “information” that they are closed is now outside of the BH. For evaporation (Hawking radiation), the end-points happen to be entangled spinors. They carry no information by themselves, the information is “created” when the wave-functions that embody them are a part of collapse. That is where “information” comes from. It is also “why” it looks like information “lives on” the event horizon; the information is a count of the not-yet-closed loops that are waiting for closure. This is consistent with the replica trick (from spin glasses) that is used to resolve the ER=EPR suggestion. The ER’s are the places through which the Wilson loops thread through.

In more abstract terms, information is a cobordism, or rather, the content of what is required to specify a specific cobordant arrangement. From what I can tell,  its got something to do with spectral triples, but I don’t entirely get it. The spectral triples describe the operators needed for the operator product expansion across  the event horizon boundary. Or something like that. I dunno.

So, the above is a sketch that offers up the mathematical details for why “causality” and “determinism” are faulty concepts. John Baez explained one aspect of this elegantly  where he argued for getting rid of category “Set” and replacing it by category “nBord” and category “Hilb”. (See “Quantum Quandaries: A Category-Theoretic Perspective” in “The Structural
Foundations of Quantum Gravity” (2006)) It gets rid of the stupidities with set theory and functions, which are the same stupidities of “causality” and “determinism”, that everyone gets so hung up about, and replaces them with e.g. the infinity category (or the infinity groupoid as that’s more appropriate.)

So where does “free will” come from? Roger Penrose suggests a path. Let me suggest a revised model. Modern physics uses the Standard Model to describe particle interactions.  For this discussion, let’s fall back to a simpler description, which can be used in generic settings (including in curved space-time): this is the resonant interaction. In this case, the conservation of energy becomes a Diophantine equation. Now, Hilbert’s tenth problem asks for the enumeration of such solutions, and it is now known that this is algorithmically impossible — there is no computer program that can achieve this. What does this mean? Well, “determinism” or “causality” is that thing which results when you use digital algorithms; such systems have no “free will”.

Put it this way: whatever free will is, it is certainly not a deterministic coupling. When you say “1+1=2”, it is what it is and there can be no other way. Any set of equations that couple together a bunch of different things “determine” those things. For example, mathematical proofs are “determined” by their premises; they proceed in a purely mechanical way unto their inevitable conclusion. When a certain path is not Turing computable, one gains a certain freedom, as it were; one is not forced to march down that path. So, for example,   when pondering the conservation of energy in the resonant interaction, the resonance condition is “fixed”: one must have a balance of energy. Re-interpreting this as Diophantine equations, we equally see that they are “fixed”, determinate. Balancing these against Hilbert’s tenth problem, we’ve got a rub: A certain set of deterministic, unbreakable equations have solutions that are not recursively enumerable. It is, as it were, that these equations can “make a choice”: they can say “I choose to be solved like so, or like so.”  There is no algorithm forcing their hand.  From the point of view of the Conway-Kochen free will theorem, an electron can choose to do this, or to do that. I’m being crazier here: a Diophantine equation can “choose” to express itself this way or that way.

This is how one builds the bridge from undecidability (Turing incompleteness) to “free will” in physics. To be crystal clear: the outcome of the interaction between physical (quantum mechanical) particles (in a curved space-time background) requires a decision problem to be solved, that cannot be solved using algorithms/Turing machines. Ergo “free will”.

(Footnote: It is not clear whether or not geometric finite automata (GFA), for example, the quantum finite automata (QFA) can evade these non-computability results. That is, can a QFA or GFA ever be an oracle? That is an interesting question in itself.)

Chemicals – Footnotes

Supporting articles/footnotes for the other blog posts here.

  • The medications that change who we are. By Zaria Gorvett, 8th January 2020 BBC Future. A single dose of LSD makes one person hallucinate. A single dose of speed gives a single person superpowers for a day. A single dose of anti-depressants makes one person slightly happier for a day. An entire society high on pervetin…
  • Speaking of an entire society high on Pervetin, there’s “The Very Drugged Nazi’s“,  by Antony Beevor, The New York Review of Books.  We’re talking Pervetin (trade name for methamphetamine), Eukodal (trade name for Oxycodone), Benzedrine, and Heroin (everyone knows that: trademarked name for diactyl morphine).
  • How to use chemicals responsibly: “Wireheading Done Right: Stay Positive Without Going Insane“,  by algekalipso, Qualia Computing. August 20, 2016.

A few words about what chemicals do:

Meta Reading List

Notable stuff I’ve stumbled across, worth checking out.

  • The  Dark Forest Theory of the Internet by Bogna Konior. If you just search for the title, you’ll get lots of hits to … something else. The one you want to read is this one: because Bogna is a far superior author.  What’s it about? Well, clearly inspired by the Liu Cixin books.  Written as a companion piece to a sculpture:  Black Market : Zero Hedge (2019) by Andrej Škufca.  Wait, what’s it about? Oh, right. Its about the kinds of things I sometimes write about. In my other posts here.  Except Bogna writes better than I do.  So there. It’s about that.

Addicted to reality

If you are imprisoned by reality, is it wrong to suffer from the Stockholm syndrome?  I read this quote: “People who are addicted to Twitter,” Lanier said, “are like all addicts—on the one hand miserable, and on the other hand very defensive about it and unwilling to blame Twitter.” Another word for this is doomscrolling — you keep scrolling down, looking for one more post…


Wait, how is this different than, I dunno, club-hopping (or bar-hopping?) Sure, the idea is to dance/get drunk, but along the way, you hope to find one more really great club/bar.  At the end you’re exhausted or drunk or both.  Is this addictive behavior?

Before there were clubs, before there were cities or towns, there were villages and hikes in the forest, and if you wanted to get so far out that you could never return, you could hike clear across some continent. Were such hikes pleasant, or did they end in misery? Both. Hiking is (physically) healthy: it triggers anabolic growth of muscles and assorted other positive physical changes. You feel pleasantly tired at the end of the day, because assorted endorphins are released, as well.   This is reality. This is the physical world the human animal  was born into, evolved into.

World’s first nightclub

We’ve taken aspects of that physical world, and concentrated it, distilled it, enhanced it, and tried to make it even better. Clubbing is like … hiking in a forest … with friends …  finding a visually, spatially, architecturally stunning clearing … taking a rest, but then getting excited enough to dance.  Such clearings are rare.. but we can build them. Perhaps Stonehenge was the first nightclub ever. (OK, so the dolmen in Gaudalperal, Spain are maybe 2,000 years older… but you get the idea.)

Unlike a hike in the forest, clubbing is easier to get to. It’s safer: without wild animals to attack you, or poison ivy to roll around in, you can enjoy some intoxicants.  Sure, dancing can make you sweat, but you don’t even have to dance, if you don’t feel like it. And then there is the sexual tension… and, for some reason, its always hot, and the air is always bad. Why is that?  This is where things skew sideways. We’ve distilled the awesomeness of a hike, made it even better, but in some ways worse.

Hang on, let me change my outfit

Every human activity began as wild animals living in nature. We’ve taken everything to an extreme: The hike in the forest has become the life-threatening hike across the Arctic, or the top of Mt. Everest. The clubbing scene can turn into living for (the Brazilian) Carnival (so, cosplay, before cosplay was invented). Quiet moments reflecting becomes published mathematics. Cracking a joke has become a vast entertainment industry. All small things can be, are plumbed to their most extreme depths.   Is this reality, or is this hyper-reality?

Walt Disney knew a thing or two about paperclip maximization

What’s the driver for extreme behavior? What pushes? Addictive neural circuitry pushes.  Sometimes the results are flawed: nicotine addiction, gambling addiction. The utility of any action is always in question: are the right-wingers correct in decrying this or that activity, or are the liberals correct in saying its harmless? Clearly, planting crops (or any overtly economic activity) is beneficial: it provides you with the food, the energy, the money to pursue extreme behaviors.  This is the basic premise of “capitalism”: it creates wealth, and without wealth, once cannot pursue extreme activities. We applaud STEM because it lies along an indirect path to wealth. Not so clear about music and Hollywood, even thought there’s much money there. But drug dealers also have a lot of money, so being profitable is not a clear-cut signal of social good.  Addiction feels good, at least for a while, at least in certain ways, but it’s a kind of sophisticated paper-clip maximizer:  we’re maximizing the utility function for … something, but was it really “good for you”?

If I’m weird, is it because I’ve developed Stockholm syndrome from reality?

Our neural circuitry enables the relentless exploration of extreme situations.  Sometimes it fails, and we paper-clip-maximize useless addictive behavior. Sometimes it works, when we’ve harnessed  it the achieve great new feats.  Ever notice how some (many?) of the driven over-achievers,  the burning hot, live-wires have a crazed look in their eye? They need to go farther, push harder, do more, be more, and there’s an obsessive quality to it.  Doom-scrolling for greatness. Stellar star-dom or bust.  What  exactly, is going on here, and why must I compulsively write about it?

You, too, can be a winner by exploring the truth


Capitalism Reading List

A list of stories I’ve read, that I found notable, pertaining to economics and capitalism (and so, ultimately, deeply political). I might update it occasionally. Reverse chronological order (roughly).

  • How Suffering Farmers May Determine Trump’s Fate – As rural Wisconsin’s fortunes have declined, its political importance has grown. By Dan Kaufman– New Yorker Magazine – August 10, 2020.
    A story of the demise of the small farm, the deterioration of rural living conditions. A closer look at the specifics of the larger theme that shows in other articles listed here:  the damage caused by capitalism, free markets, free trade and the destruction of cooperatives and social services.  The wanton destruction caused by Republicans, the willful neglect by Hillary-ite Democrats.
  • Flailing States -Pankaj Mishra on Anglo-America – London Review of Books – Vol. 42 No. 14 · 16 July 2020.
    An examination of how 150 years of  social policy in Germany has kept it strong, even as  the US and  Britain flail and fail. An examination of how we got here: capitalist and neoliberal policy, free trade, globalization, Reagan and Thatcher, and also a look at India, China and South Korea.  There have been many social experiments, many alternatives to naked capitalism, that have been tried around the world, and have been found to work.  These offer more than a few alternative realities to the broken dysfunction here in the US. It’s high time we tried a few of these ourselves.
  • Everything You Know About Global Order Is Wrong – If Western elites understood how the postwar liberal system was created, they’d think twice about asking for its renewal. – by Adam Tooze – Foreign Policy – 30 January 2019 (above links the getpocket version, the original is here.)
    Adam  Tooze writes prolifically about the “Global Order” – the globalized neo-liberal capitalistic corporate order under which we live. Envisioned and sold as a way of fighting off the Soviets,  it has out-lived its purpose and is now central for causing wide-spread harm throughout the US. I think he’s right – if the self-styled defenders of free markets understood what they were actually advocating, they might not be such boosters. This is in Foreign Policy magazine, because the wrong-footednes of free trade is actively damaging US interests globally. It’s damaging not just to farmers in Wisconsin, its damaging to our international power.
  • The West Has a Resentment Epidemic – Across the West, the main trigger of populism has been the growing inequality—and hostility—between urban and rural regions. – by Roberto Stefan Foa and Jonathan Wilmot – Foreign Policy – 18 September 2019 – (above links the getpocket version, the original version is here.)
    There’s lots of good reading in Foreign Policy. This looks at the correlation between wealth inequality and political populism, here in the US, and world-wide. Perhaps no surprise, if you follow this stuff, but this provides good ammo. Populism is damaging – its a pseudo-cure, a crackpot cure that is as bad as the disease. The cure is to deal with the causes of populism, rather than trying to fend off the damage it creates.
  • How the American Worker Got Fleeced – Over the years, bosses have held down wages, cut benefits, and stomped on employees’ rights. Covid-19 may change that. – July 2, 2020 Story by Josh Eidelson Data analysis and graphics by Christopher Cannon.
    Who isn’t getting paid, and why. Social safety nets aren’t just Social Security and Universal Healthcare – it also the relation between the employee and the employer. Labor rights have been gutted in the US, which is one reason Americans are loosing their jobs under covid-19 (but not the Germans, as explained in the Mishra article, above).  This article fails to mention co-operatives, which just might offer one of the best ways out of this mess.
  • To Unreality and Beyond – An examination of the “propaganda of unreality” and why age-old principles of resistance to manipulation don’t work against today’s style of unreality. – by Peter Pomerantsev 23 October 2019 Journal of Design and Science
    This article might not belong in in this blog listing, but it serves to link to the other things I blog about — unreality, mental processes, delusion, disinformation, mass hysteria, propaganda, brainwashing, and the difficulty of perceiving reality. This article examines Russian disinformacya, and how it has been used to delude Russian voters over the last few decades, and how the same methods are now being deployed against Americans. That is to say, American workers were not just fleeced of their salaries, America farmers were not just dispossessed of their family farms, but they went along willingly – even worked themselves into this mess, willingly voting for those GOP Republicans who cared not one bit for their health, wealth,  jobs or livelihoods.  (My cousin Tommy voted for Trump!) They vote this way because they are literally being deluded, they are literally being pushed into delusional states of mind by GOP operatives.
  • Yale psychiatrist: Trump’s psychosis has infected his followers. Here’s how to get them better. Without rallies, it’s harder to pass his contagious mental disease to his MAGAites. By Bandy X. Lee – Salon – 22 July 2020.
    Well, since we wandered off into unreality land, this offers a different take on the social process of mental disturbance.
  • Trade-Off. Financial System Supply-Chain Cross-Contagion: a study in global systemic collapse. By David Korowicz – 30 June 2012 – Metis Risk Consulting & Feasta.
    This pertains to another one of my interests: network science. In molecular biology, we have DNA and proteins, signalling molecules and cell membranes all interacting with one-another to up/down-regulate genetic expression and generally alter cell metabolism and communicate with the world via ionic channels and other membrane processes. So also, it seems, in economics.  There are two notable processes at work. First, biological death is the result of the accumulation of many small, tiny injuries and breakages to functional systems. Second, systemic collapse is similar to sand-pile collapse, when the network of places where sand-grains touch each other suddenly shifts, as the slope of the sand-pile approaches criticality. So also in economics. This paper looks specifically at the supply chain.
  • The Real Class War – November 2019 – America Affairs Journal
    Here, Julius Krein argues that the real class war is not between labor and capital – labor lost that one half-a-century ago, but rather, between the professional elites and the capitalists (the 0.1%). This is because the capitalists – the 0.1% of the population that controls almost all the wealth in America, need the remaining top 10% to actually make things work: the professionals – the lawyers, the accountants, the managers, the functionaries, the engineers, the software programmers – the college-trained elite who actually know how to run organizations, who actually know how to make computers work, who actually know how to go about making laws and winning legal cases, how to market products and run supply-chains. Without these people, nothing works. This class, the professional class, shifted to the GOP in the 1980’s. They are now shifting away from it, as they too are starting to feel the pinch of income and wealth inequality. In case you haven’t noticed, stockbrokers are loosing their jobs, and they’re none-too-happy about it.
  • Explaining the Trump Movement Through the Lens of the Social Organism – by Fergus Thomas – Irban Group – 19 Dec 2016
    Marvelous article reviewing the basics of memes and network theory. Recall how I talked about the collapse of sand piles, cellular death, and supply-chain contagion as explainable by network theory? Well, the same applies to the spread of memes on social media, and the incredibly invasive power of memes into the thought-patterns of humans.  The article on “Trump Psychosis” makes it sound like its all about psychology – what individuals think (in a group setting). The article on “Russian Disinformacya” makes it sound like its just social, informational manipulation.  This article  bridges over into the network theory — its the network that matters! The things that are bouncing around between brains — the messages and the memes — are one thing, but the network toppology — which brains are talking to which ones, is really the key.
  • The Wisdom and/or Madness of Crowds – Nicky Case. So in case you’re not following what I mean by “network theory”, and how that applies to politics, economics and psychology, the above is a simple, fun game that explores the mathematics (gasp!) of network theory. Its a game. you can play it in your web browser. Its short – maybe 20 minutes – its fun! Do it now!

OK,  I’m running out of steam here. Some other notable things to read and ponder:

  • Smart, Young and Broke – by Melinda Yiu and Marije Vlaskamp – 19 June 2010 – Newsweek – Chinese universities creating more graduates than the economy can absorb. – link-rotted.
  • The Federal Budget is not Like a Houshold Budget: Here’s Why by L. Randall Wray – 12 April 2010- Roosevelt Institute  – Seven balanced budgets lead to seven depressions: – link-rotted. – Explained MMT in simplified terms.
  • When Droids take your job. 28 November 2011 LA Times Opinion – A duo from MIT argue that rapid computer advances may be vaporizing careers faster than workers can train for new ones.
  • Douglas Adams on electing lizards: – link-rotted
  • The Roving Cavaliers of Credit – Steve Keen’s Debtwatch 31 February 2009 –  This is a “classic” article, written at the height of the 2009 economic collapse, outlining the basic idea of “endogenous money” – It seems to be contradicted by the next one below:
  • Understanding the Modern Monetary Theory – this URL has link-rotted and now redirects to  My View on MMT – by Cullen Roche 16 May 2011 – maybe the links there are still OK.
  • The fundamental difference between MMT’ers and Austrians – by Cullen Roche – 28 December 2011 – Pragmatic Capitalism.
  • Maximizing shareholder value is the dumbest idea in the world.  – by Steve Denning – 28 November 2011 – Forbes Magazine
  • Nobody Understands Dept – Paul Krugman Opinion piece – 1 January 2012 – NYTimes.  Trivialization of MMT theory for the masses.
  • How Republicans Made Congress Stupid – Th0rn – 10 June 2014 – Daily KOS. Congressional staffs were gutted during Regan era, leaving the various staffs and committees quite literally stupid!

Oh and in case all of the above is still too intellectual for you, here’s how Cracked Magazine explains it all: How Half Of America Lost Its F**king Mind – by David Wong October 12, 2016. I’ve got nothing against MAD Magazine, but David Wong is educational at a whole new level.



David Chapman offers a critique of rationality at his site.  Interesting reading. To define the word “ontology”, he offers up a rather striking list, a categorization of animals,  from Jorge Luis Borges, from the Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge. The list is at first absurd, and humorous:

  1. those that belong to the Emperor,
  2. embalmed ones,
  3. those that are trained,
  4. suckling pigs,
  5. mermaids,
  6. fabulous ones,
  7. stray dogs,
  8. those included in the present classification,
  9. those that tremble as if they were mad,
  10. innumerable ones,
  11. those drawn with a very fine camelhair brush,
  12. others,
  13. those that have just broken a flower vase,
  14. those that from a long way off look like flies.

Chapman goes on to note: “This is a bad ontology, for any imaginable purpose, but it is not false.

I’m not so sure. It has a purpose, and the purpose is to portray the inner workings of the mind.  Which Borges does so well. There is a marvelous consistency to the list.

It documents the workings of the inner mind of a country peasant – the earnest thinker, the one you might encounter at the end of a long pleasant summer’s day, after all work has been done, and one has rested a bit. The question is a reasonable one to pop into thought, as there were animals seen throughout the day: chickens in the yard, wild beasts at the fringes of field and forest. The mind wanders: What is an animal?

Of course, all the King’s beasts are the King’s, and there will be unbearable trouble if the warden catches you hunting them. So of course, 1. The warden doesn’t know about the stuffed muskrat in the shed, but that was already found dead, so can’t be blamed for that. So, of course, 2. the embalmed ones. Oh gosh, there are so many animals! How could one list them all? There are dogs, they’re good at hunting. Let’s say, 3. those that are trained. (….)

Summer’s feast is coming up. Just a few weeks away. Much work left to be done, to prepare for it. There will be a roast. Pigs. 4. suckling pigs. Roast suckling pigs. Mmmm. There will be many guests. You must come! Much work left to be done.

I can’t think of anything else. That’s pretty much it. What else could there be? (……) 5. Mermaids. Do you think dragons count as animals? There are so many, gryphons and things. Surely they’re animals. 6. Fabulous ones.

Argh! There’s that damned dog again. Go dammit. How am I gonna deal with it? Thief. 7. stray dogs. Stray dogs are animals. Everything included in the present categorization is an animal, so 8. Of course. That stray dog reminds me of the fox I saw yesterday. I must have surprised it, it was hunched over something, trembling. But strangely salivating, teeth bare. Maybe rabid. 9. those that tremble as if they were mad. I guess anything is an animal, there are so many. 10. innumerable ones. I once saw a book, and it had pictures in it, very fine. If I could show it to you. Pages and pages, you would just open it, and there would be a picture of an animal. A drawing. A painting. That’s not what its called. An engraving? I don’t remember what they called it. Here: 11. those drawn with a very fine camelhair brush. There were so many. 12. others.

Wife steps to the door. Says I’ll have to mend the vase before summer feast. Cat broke it. 13. those that have just broken a flower vase. Evening is upon us, time to go inside. Standing up, straightening one’s legs. One last glance towards the distant edge of the woods, a hint of movement. A shimmering, maybe a breeze in the aspens. 14. those that from a long way off look like flies.

This is my pastoral classification of animals. It’s very natural. It’s complete. It lists them all. We’ve thought about everything in the entire universe. Mermaids! My man! Think it! All of them! It’s a good listing. Proper work for an evening.

Algorithmic Cancel Culture

A social media acquaintance on scuttlebutt recently posted:

“I have a friend that has gone full #QAnon on #facebook. I haven’t visited my account in over a year but now find myself visiting daily for about a week to see what they have posted. I guess this is why Facebook doesn’t want to limit stuff like this. It gets clicks!

Truthfully I don’t even know what I am getting out of visiting it, but I continue to do it. Am I getting a laugh out of the absurdity? Am I enjoying getting angry at some of the ridiculousness? I don’t even know. It likely somehow is making my life worse.”

I could not let that one just sit there. I replied:

Before #social-media, most folks got opinions from TV news, books, papers, etc. and stuff like QAnon would be dropped like a hot potato by TV/News editors. So #mainstream-media filtered out (most of) the crap and insanity. (There were always fringe publishers, but they were fringe… that’s why the TV shows like X-Files and Fringe were so much fun.)

Not like that any more … bad memes can circulate like bad bacteria, and anyone can catch it. Social media allows direct person-to-person, brain-to-brain contact, allowing crazy thoughts to become highly infectious. I mean this in the literal sense, not the poetic sense … this is very much like a #neuroscience network #disease process, and needs to be treated as such.

A QAnon meme. Note the McDonalds Happy Meal™ in front of him, and Pence(?) as the Red Baron in the background.

I should mention that the “Great Firewall of China” is at least partly about this (to be very charitable …) – by controlling who can post what on social media, they control the infection rate of assorted memes. They can suppress both bad and good memes, so not only scams and frauds but also valid criticisms of the government. I’m told that the best way of criticizing the government is to quote #confucius – that’s so patriotic, the censors don’t dare suppress it. See: American Affairs  – Missionaries of Humanity: Popular Confucianism in China.

No, really, he was wise. You can quote me on that.

So, yeah, basically I’m saying that censorship might not be entirely a bad thing.


He asked “I don’t even know what I am getting out of visiting it.” Well, I must explain:

  1. What you are getting out of it is a perverse pleasure of watching a train-wreck. Kind-of like surfing #covid statistics and hoping the numbers go up. It’s a certain set of neural feedback loops in the brain that trigger a pleasure response.
  2. facebook hires psychologists and #neuroscience people who know exactly how this works, and use them to perform research on increasing the addictiveness of facebook. You are literally being manipulated.
  3. facebook is not the only one. There are help-wanted job ads from assorted political-marketing manipulation outfits which explicitly ask for neuroscience/psychology experience, so that they can tweak their #algorithmic-propaganda algorithms. Somewhere I have a browser tab open with one of these ads in it. I meant to study it in greater detail, it was … interesting.
  4. So #phillip-morris the #cigarette company is aware of this, and they are looking to diversify out of nicotine. I was supposed to sign an NDA at the door but they screwed up and forgot (I wasn’t told about the NDA till weeks later, so not my fault) so I can tell you: they are keenly aware that they service an addiction mechanism in the brain, and they are dimly aware that there are other addiction circuits, including addiction to gambling, gaming, and addiction to facebook, and addiction to #qanon. They were there to brainstorm new neuro-products for the market. Both chemical-based and non-chemical-based. I talked about wireheading. So, yes, basically, I helped an evil company try to come up with new addictive products.

Addiction is such an ugly word. I try to explain this in another blog post: Endorphin Supply Chains. A better slogan might be “Better living through chemistry”, or “Enhancing your mood throughout the day”, or even “Tastes great, less filling!” – no one runs around accusing Starbucks of selling psychoactive drugs, but that is exactly what they do.

The tobacco industry will grow to 1 trillion dollars annually by 2027.

FWIW, the Scientific Revolution might be due to coffee. In the Middle Ages, there was a problem with water purity, and beer was clean and safe to drink. Unfortunately, it puts you in a stupor. When coffee arrived (the first coffee shops in London in the early 1600’s (?)) you could drink, and get smarter, not dumber.

Algorithmic Cancel Culture

So my buddy Rumblestilskin makes the brilliant observation:

“I doubt we will see the level of censorship in the West like we see in China anytime soon. I still think there will be some response (natural, grassroots?) that can combat these extreme memes in society.

I think Cancel Culture is in someways a response to these extreme memes and also a response to remove old ideas from society that are no longer useful. Cancel Culture may go too far sometimes, but I see it as an overactive immune response that can eventually be regulated to the correct level.”

Its hard to see how to improve on that comment. This will require deeper thought. Yes, censorship is a very blunt tool. Kind of like chemotherapy for cancer: its just a poison, and you hope the cancer gets more poisoned than the rest of the body. Of course, chemotherapy is administered by MD’s with some sense of ethics. Censorship … not so much. Overwhelmingly powerful state actors administer censorship. And here in the West, we sense the danger of this, we know this innately and call it “free speech”.

A primitive, imperfect and hateful regulator of mental disease.

Facebook has kicked me off of facebook. Why? They won’t say: maybe because I called out more than a few racists (aka “violated terms of service”).  Maybe because they cannot tolerate inflammatory, rabid posts like this one – they are more interested in giving QAnon and assorted deranged right-wingers a protected safe space to be nurtured and grow. A walled garden for trumptards and snowflakes and malevolent, twisted souls.  This makes facebook into an evil corporation: they intentionally breed toxic memes.  And they have state-actor type powers to kill and suppress ideas such as the ones that I spread.  And, to re-iterate: toxic, racist memes are literally harmful, they are very much like a bad disease, a mental disease, and it is literally communicable, catching.

If it were only as easy as it was for John Snow, when he broke cholera by putting a padlock on a water-well in London in 1854. We can’t remove racism from the brains of the infected, and we cannot depend on corporate censorship to “do the right thing”. But maybe we can do something useful with Cancel Culture.  This is an idea worth exploring.

Endorphin Supply Chains

Before neurotransmitters, there was bacterial signalling, for example, quorum sensing in bacteria. Signalling with small polypeptides can solve certain kinds of decision problems, for example, the exploit vs explore problem in slime molds (basically, the trade-off of effort searching for new food sources, vs. “exploiting” (eating) the current food source). It can be shown that the slime mold solves the two-armed bandit problem quite well, but not as well as the best possible algorithm (explore vs exploit is a mathematically known as the “two-armed bandit problem“). There are two problems: speed of processing is limited by the rate of diffusion of the signalling molecules, and there is a huge amount of cross-talk, because the signalling molecules spread everywhere.

Jellyfish solve this problem by inventing the neuron. Its really the neuron that is the star-gate for neuro-transmitters: neurons provide point-to-point connections, so little or no cross-talk, and extremely fast — milliseconds for a neuron spike (a soliton) to travel a meter, which is tens of thousands of times faster than diffusion for the same distance. The result really is a star-trek like increase in the information-processing ability of structural arrangements of biomolecules.

Jellyfish have a circular ring of neurons running along the perimeter, able to detect and paralyze food as it swims by.

The problem with jellyfish, though, is that they have trouble deciding when to eat, and when to flee predators. So they don’t … they do both at the same time. Which maybe is not so good for survival. Deciding “what to do” is called “action selection”. Here’s a nice article explaining how brains are smarter than neural nets (and no, they are not the same thing). Tony J. Prescott (2007) “Forced moves or good tricks in design space? Landmarks in the evolution of neural mechanisms for action selection“.

The point of the story about the global brain is that things don’t just stop with the brain: we have all of sociology and civilization in front of us. A reasonable place to start is with the idea of a “psychotechnology”: for example, that a 24-letter phonetic alphabet, spread by Ancient Phonecian sailors, really is better than Egyptian Hieroglyphics. John Vervaeke has a 50-part lecture series on this: “Awakening from the Meaning Crisis“. Some more advanced conceptions of meaning are explored in the books by David Chapman on There is a vast amount of material there, so maybe starting in the middle is a good place.

The tobacco industry will grow to 1 trillion dollars annually by 2027.

Beyond the concept of a meme is the “teme” – roughly, a “technological meme”. The tobacco industry is a great example. It co-exists with a set of neural feedback loops, that reinforce nicotine craving with time-scales varying from milliseconds to minutes, with distinct feedback loops operating at 15-minute, multi-hour, week-long and multi-month-long scales. Each of these feedback loops is distinct from the others, but inter-coupled, which is why quitting smoking is so hard. Even if, through sheer will-power, you’ve gone without a cigarette for a week, there is one more feedback loop that is still running that is still saying “nicotine feels good.”

But scientists don’t know everything… it was politicians who figured out that there was yet one more feedback loop, this one involving advertising and marketing. To break addiction, you have to break the advertising/marketing feedback loop. This is a formidable loop, because a trillion dollars a year is very powerful.

Well, maybe it is not actually scale-free, but it is a complex network.

This is not my idea: apparently, Nicolas M. Kirchberger talks about this in a book which I have not read: “The Evolving Self”, which someone else described as so:

“Most manufactured goods enter in this category, like cigarettes being a kind of replicator that uses smokers to replicate; once they start replicating, they can’t be stopped so easily and tend to grow as much as they can to fill the market regardless of ‘people’s intentions’. Seen like that, those kind of problems appear much more complex to manage…”

To rephrase more accurately, all temes are of this form: they consist of global manufacturing lines and supply chains interacting with small peptide molecules, up- and down-regulated DNA and RNA, ribosomes and protein expression, neural feedback loops, individual humans, fiber-optic trans-oceanic networks and cloud computers, corporations, laws that restrict marketing and promote product safety, all operating at or near the edge of a phase transition. I say”phase transition” because this is where mathematics meets systems theory. Don’t let high-school physics fool you: our mathematical understanding of phase transitions exploded during the 1980’s and 1990’s, and has become quite sophisticated, with tentacles into analytic combinatorics, number theory and even string theory. If you want to understand complex systems, you have to understand this theory.

What does this long footnote have to do with AGI? Well, AGI slots into this system of global supply chains and manufacturing systems. Existing AI algorithms are used to not only inform/misinform voters on political issues, but also improve manufacturing and shipping. The AGI algorithms will be deployed into this infrastructure, as a particularly powerful controlling feedback loop. The boundaries of AGI are fuzzier than you think, and the future is closer than it appears.

The above blog post used to be a footnote to my earlier post, AGI Career Advice. But that footnote wanted to be free, so here it is. This post also appears in

AGI Career Advice

A younger student, Ben Schultzer,  emailed me yesterday, to ask about AGI.  Since I like writing, I wrote a long answer. I’m reproducing some of it below.

Can robots be smarter than people?
1. Evidently (because of OpenCog), you have at least some belief that symbolic/classic techniques are valuable towards the development of AGI.


Do you think that a hybrid approach is the best way of getting there (compared to, for examples, purely deep learning, purely symbolic, or even simply simulating all 100 billion neurons of the human brain)?

Yes, but … symbolic vs. neural is the wrong perspective. Sparse representations vs. dense representations is the correct distinction to make. Both involve numbers and vectors and probabilities; the difference is the density of the interconnections between “things”.  I will expand on this answer in a new blog post on the OpenCog Brainwave blog later today (tomorrow?)

2. What is …

3. Could you give a rough estimate for the minimum amount of computing resources required to establish and run an AGI?

The next problem is the term  “AGI”. It’s not what you think it is. Most people seem to think of it as a nice chap you can invite over for dinner, and have a good chatbot with it. It’s not like that. Let me explain.

If you were the only human in the world, your brain would be all there is. But no, there are others, and your brain uses words to communicate with other brains, the network forming a giant global brain.  For example, I stub my toe; there’s a chemical reaction that releases assorted signalling molecules in my toe, that tweaks some neurons, that pulse some solitons up my spine to my brain, and I yell out “ouch” which makes air vibrate which makes neurons in your brain know that I stubbed my toe. Natural language is a Star Trek teleporter for acetylcholine and dopamine.

Dopamine walks into the synapse and emerges at the other end.

What is the global brain doing? Well, on facebook, its is a quivering blob of jello getting delusional about flat-earth, global warming, BLM and #defund.  More stable structures in the global brain are universities and rule-of-law, both having been stable configurations for about 800 years now, and corporations and nation-states, which have been around for about 400+ years. (Sure, Rome is older, but Rome was agrarian.)

Starting in the 1980’s, a significant portion of the computing performed by the global brain has been done in silicon, first by spreadsheets in corporations, but also desktop-publishing in local communities. Then, in the 2000’s, social media completely rewired the global brain. Before 2000, individuals used sound-waves to communicate with neighbors, friends, bosses, and radio waves and television to communicate with mass audiences. After 2000, with facebook and other systems, individual brains are now connected electronically with fiber optics, directly, point-to-point, without intermediaries, without having newspapers in the middle, filtering out who can say what to who.  The network topology of the global brain is radically different now.  (This is one reason why everything is so “crazy” now — without the filtering of newspaper editors suppressing crackpot stories, the global brain has started to amplify the insanity – flat-earth, chem-trails, magenta-people, trump derangement syndrome… its all because the network topology is different. The Great Firewall of China is an attempt to tamp down and modulate the crazy-making of social media. At least, that’s the benevolent description of it.)

Besides communications, silicon electronics also provides RAM storage for the global brain. For example, Wikipedia, but also blogs and PDF’s.  The long-term memory ability of the human brain has dramatically improved — in the 1980’s, it took the typical human a minute or two to recall one fact out of a small number of facts. Now it takes only seconds, thanks to google and duck-duck-go. And you can remember much much more: you can remember all of Wikipedia, for example, which was impossible in the 1980’s,  unless you walked to the library to read a book. Which the global brain usually didn’t do, preferring to drink and party.

So, anyway, I estimate that currently, silicon electronics makes up about 0.01% to maybe 0.2% of the processing power of the global brain. It’s still  poorly integrated. Cell-phones are OK, augumented reality would be better, and a neural lace: wires directly implanted in the brain would provide the highest bandwidth.  But do you really want a permanent facebook party wired to your brain? Hmm. Anyway, by Moore’s law, if we are at 0.01% to 0.2% today, then…

Well, the point of this long story is that you are already a participant in AGI: its just called “corporations” and “communities” and “courts of law” and “police stations”, and that AGI that you are already a part of is just 0.01% in silicon, although that fraction is increasing exponentially.

The point is: AGI is not going to be like this super-smart robot, individual and distinct, the nice chap we can invite over for dinner. It will be part of “us”.  It will be intimately connected to us, literally fucking with our brains.  If you thought algorithmic propaganda was problematic, well, that’s just the first baby-step on the path to AGI. True AGI is a kind of atom bomb going off, and instead of splitting uranium atoms, it’s splitting memes. You know — those memes that show a picture of the Corona-beer guy, and the caption says “I don’t always vote for Trump, but when I do, I prep for the end of the world.”

The problem with memes, explained in one meme.
5. Do you have any advice for a younger person who hasn’t established their career yet?

If we actually have an algorithmic-propaganda bomb go off, do you think “careers” will still matter?

And you thought Cambridge Analytica was bad…

In the short term, having reliable access to a monetary income is important. Capitalism may take more than a few decades to implode, so having money is still very useful.  Also, having a high IQ is also useful for survival. So, high IQ is partly determined by genetics, and partly determined by social milieu — so I recommend Ivy League Universities, and hanging out with the very smartest people possible, the smartest ones who will admit you to their social circle. In the old days, this was called “social climbing”, and there’s a nasty way to do it, and a nice way, where you don’t have to leave wreckage behind you.

Exactly how this will help you when the algorithmic propaganda bomb goes off, I dunno.  How much time do we have? I dunno. Will it end wonderfully? I dunno. It will be different, though.

Perhaps you are a figment of AGI’s imagination.


I need to find a footnote plugin for wordpress. Because the above text deserves footnotes. So, instead, a backgrounder post here: called “Endorphin Supply Chains.

What does that long footnote-post have to do with AGI? Well, AGI slots into this system of global supply chains and manufacturing systems.  Existing AI algorithms are used to not only inform/misinform voters on political issues, but also   improve manufacturing and shipping. The AGI algorithms will be deployed into this infrastructure, as a particularly powerful controlling feedback loop.  The boundaries of AGI are fuzzier than you think, and the future is closer than it appears.

srfi-194, Zipf, git, blockchain, AtomSpace

So I recently implemented the Zipfian random distribution for the scheme request-for-implementation 194. The code is available on git.  Discussions turned to the merits of using git and github, and so I had the opportunity to opine about the meaning of life in a long email.  Without further ado, the meaning of life:

Both bitcoin and git showed up at the same time, and both were built on the same idea of append-only logs. git explicitly allowed multiple forks; bitcoin explicitly forbade them. Both made design mistakes, as they were early adopters. Git wasn’t sufficiently file-system-like-ish, (which is plan9’s strong point). A shame, since file-backup, restore, corruption-protection from viruses, accidental deletion, etc. are a “thing”. For example, keeping the unix  /etc in git is a life-saver for system admins.  No matter; seems that guix and nix might have a superior solution, anyway, from what I can tell.

Bitcoin made two mistakes: not being file-system-ish enough, and not defining a sufficiently generic compute platform (solved by ethereum. Basically, bitcoin knows how to add and subtract; that’s all that’s needed for accounting. Ethereum knows how to multiply and divide and branch and tail-recurse). The not-being-a-filesystem choice is forced by anti-forking properties of bitcoin/ethereum, since the blockchain grows rapidly and so all commits must be tiny. By contrast, git allows not only large commits, but any kind of code, c++, scheme, whatever. But never defines an execution context for that code. In git, it’s up to the user to download, compile, install. It’s not automated like in ethereum.

Git fails to provide a fully-automated network filesystem. You have to manually git-push, git-pull to get network updates. There’s no peer-discovery protocol (which is what started this email chain), and resolving file conflicts is problematic during `git merge`. Also, git fails to provide a directory search mechanism: if you don’t know where the content is, you can’t search for it (as also complained about in this email chain).  Github sort-of-ish solves this, but its proprietary. Compare this to IPFS, which is full-network-automated, and does provide content search. Unfortunately, IPFS doesn’t have the append-only log structure of git. It also uses DHT’s, which are problematic, as they completely fail to deal with locality. Enter scuttlebutt .. which provides a “true” decentralized append-only log. The scuttlebutt core is fully generic (which is why git-on-scuttlebutt is possible). However, 90% of scuttlebutt development focus is on social media, not filesystems. Think of it as a kind-of git-for-social-media posts. Or maybe a web-browser-displaying-git-content-in-a-pretty-way. (BTW, the scuttlebutt people are really nice people. You should go hang out with them.)

The lack of proper indexes in git is severe, as is the lack of content-based search. Once you get into search, you wander down the rabbit-hole of query languages, pattern matching and pattern-mining. So scheme (and most functional programming languages) have pattern-matchers. For example, case-lambda but also define-syntax and syntax-case, or racket’s racket/match … but in a certain sense, these are pathetically weak and limited in ability and performance. Compare to, for example SQL — it blows the doors off syntax-case in usability and power. Never mind pattern-mining. And then we have the issue of term-rewriting. So, for example, schemes’ hygienic macros do term re-writing, but they do it only once, when you start your scheme code up for the first time. There is no ability to perform runtime expansion of hygienic macros.  Macro languages are not run-time – again, compare/contrast to SQL select/update.

Well, but SQL is obviously deficient — its record-based, and if you compare it to syntax-case, define-syntax, you will note that trees aka s-expressions are what we really wanted. Pulling on that thread gives you graph query languages, e.g. GraphQL for javascript… which is nice cause json is kind-of-ish like typed s-expressions. Yes, scheme is explicitly untyped, but don’t knock types, they’re really nice. The racket people are onto something, something that ain’t javascript or CamL or haskell.

So, although graph query languages are vast improvements over plain-jane pattern matchers, one can do better still… which brings me to what I work on… the AtomSpace and Atomese (sorry, I hate camel-case, but that’s history now.) It’s a graph database — you can store arbitrary typed s-expressions. It’s a pattern matcher, but far more sophisticated than GraphQL. It’s a programming language, but is more like assembly or byte-code, or an intermediate-language: low-level, not for humans, but for other algos. It could’ve/should’ve been more javascript-like, but that’s a historical mistake. Maybe still fixable. It’s vaguely prolog-like, and so you could say minikanren-like, but it has a stronger runtime, and generalizes truth values beyond true/false, so e.g. for Bayesian probability or neural-nets. It’s .. well, it’s a graph database, it’s weakly distributed; there’s some ongoing work, there, but the as mentioned, DHT’s are terrible in ensuring data locality. So if I have to e.g. (case-lambda (foo)(..) (bar baz) (...)) I would rather that (foo) and (bar baz) be on the same network node, rather than opposite sides of the planet. But Kademlia puts them on opposite sides of the planet (because their hashes are completely different), and I haven’t been able to crack that nut.

What does this have to do with zipf? Well, all patterns have a grammar. This is Chomsky’s theorem from the 1960’s or something. If you know the grammar, you can parse text to see if it validly obeys the grammar. Alternately, you can generate syntactically-valid random text from the grammar.  But what if you don’t know the grammar? Well, that’s what machine-learning and deep-learning is supposed to be for, except that machine-learning could only learn very simple grammars (e.g. decision-tree-forests) until it hit the wall. So deep-learning overcame that wall, but it bypasses syntax by claiming its not important, or that it is a black box, or whatever the pundits claim these days.  So I’m trying to do pattern mining correctly.

But to do that, I need to validate that the syntax that is learned matches the syntax used to generate the sample corpus. So I have to generate a random syntax, generate a random text corpus from it, pattern match it, deduce the syntax, and check precision/recall accuracy. Most networks in nature (natural language, genomics, proteomics) seem to be Zipf-distributed. And so I need a Zipf random generator.  So here we are…

FWIW genomes seem to be zipfian with exponent of 1/2 .. I have been unable to find any explanation why it’s 1/2 and not 1. Its not just genomes, its also text.  (Although I was banned from Wikipedia for pointing that out. Hash-tag time: #defund-wikipedia-admins) Anyone have a clue, here? Anyone help me out? I mean, with the exponent=1/2 part?

Or help me out with Atomese, or with the syntax-learning project? Or anything at all? A lifeline? Donate some bitcoin? 1MjcVE8A4sKDqbbxSf8rej9uVPZfuJQHnz