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link roundup 27



Intersubjective truths can be classified into at least two major groups, transient (proximate, between contemporaries) and traditional (ultimate, or multi-generational). Hayek’s canonical example of a transient intersubjective truth is a market price. Most economists think of price in terms of value rather than “truth”. But prices incorporate both objective information unknown to other subjects and the values of those subjects. In intersubjective communications, value and truth are inseparably intertwined.

I argue that we should think of highly evolved tradition, what Gadamer calls “hermeneutical truths”, in the same way. In one sense, they constitute a kind of “truth”, since they can incorporate predictive models of the intersubjective world that are, in principle, achievable from rational thought, but in practice the rational computations and empirical observations would take longer than humans have available. In this sense it is accurate to call highly evolved tradition “truth”. But this truth inherently includes the value choices of the various people who have passed on and thus added to a tradition. Many things that are true about the intersubjective world may be lost because they are not valuable. Many trivially untrue things (such as superstitions and myths) may be included because they motivate valuable behavior that reflects deeper but less accessible truths. (Note that “depth” and “accessibility” are the same computational measure, the former across generations and the latter proximate). So it is even invalid to argue ad absurdum (by contradition), to try to falsify subjective traditions by objective standards. Here again, value and truth are inseparably intertwined. Only with purely objective phenomena can value be completely divorced from scientific truth.

Due both to the truth/value intertwining and evolutionary contingency, traditional forms cannot usually be easily reverse engineered. However, due to the depth of multi-generational traditions, we may expect reverse engineering to be somewhat easier than invention or replacement from scratch, if we can come up with the proper methodologies for deconstructing tradition: to tease out truth from value, to determine cultural niches in which traditions flourish and fade, are more valuable or less, are more true or less (three different but related measures), and so on.

nick szabo on the memetics of religion. see also…

For the first 199,500 years or so of human history, the vast majority of information passed from parent–or local elder–to child. (We can also call this “vertical” meme transfer.) Hardly anyone was literate, and books were extremely expensive and rare. In this environment, memes had to be mitochondrial. There was simply very little opportunity for horizontal meme transfer. Any memes that didn’t lead to reproductive success tended to be out-competed by memes that did.

The mitochondrial meme, therefore, cares about your reproductive success (and, keeping in mind the details of family genetics, the success of relatives who share copies of your genes.) It doesn’t care anything about people who don’t share your genes–indeed, any mitochondrial meme that cared about the fates of people who don’t share your genes more than your own would be quickly replaced by ones that don’t.

Of course, some memes did manage to spread virally during this period–the major world religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam come immediately to mind. But within the past 500 years, the amount of information being horizontally transmitted has exploded.

And in the past 15 years, it has exploded again:

In other words, we are in a completely novel evolutionary meme-environment. Never in human history have we had so much horizontal data transmission; indeed, if we have not had more data transmission since 2000 than in the entire prior history of the world, we will soon.

related to ‘why cultural evolution is real’ from the previous link post.

Until recently, the easiest and most common response to the commodity landscape was simply avoiding it. Purchasing locally-sourced goods or items that are ostensibly hand-crafted (or produced in a similar non-industrial fashion) are common ways to avoid commodities and preserve the idea of an authentic relationship to consumed items. This avoidance extends to intangible commodities like personal taste, such as deciding not to like a band anymore because other people now like it as much as you. Exceptions to this normative avoidance behavior have typically been granted on the conditions that a speaker publicly express their remorse for liking something generic or popular by invoking the idea of a “guilty pleasure.”

Of course, avoidance can only go so far. If you find commodities problematic but you live in a society of material abundance, you’re bound to run into problems. This is where irony comes in.

Some commentators have, inexplicably, treated the dual hipster obsessions of authenticity and irony as if they are irreconcilable. The distinction is false; irony is a natural stance to take when constantly making judgments between “real” and “fake,” authentic and inauthentic. It’s a coping mechanism for preserving one’s commitment to authenticity in the midst of a commodified and commoditized society. As Magill describes in his seminal work on irony, Chic Ironic Bitterness: distancing oneself from commodities through irony “helps ironists to view [commodity] places, items, and products as something not part of themselves.” This moral jiu-jitsu move is how hipsters were able to wear $5 shutter shades while maintaining that authenticity is real. Of course, irony cannot deal with any of the environmental or labor implications of a world organized around the production of commodities; the only thing that irony solves is salvaging people’s belief in authenticity.

new post in a continuing series about the philosophy of authenticity (previously). if this is up your alley, he also gave a presentation at ribbonfarm’s recent symposium about these subjects.

Recent research not only confirms the existence of substantial psychological variation around the globe but also highlights the peculiarity of populations that are Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic (WEIRD). We propose that much of this variation arose as people psychologically adapted to differing kin-based institutions—the set of social norms governing descent, marriage, residence and related domains. We further propose that part of the variation in these institutions arose historically from the Catholic Church’s marriage and family policies, which contributed to the dissolution of Europe’s traditional kin-based institutions, leading eventually to the predominance of nuclear families and impersonal institutions. By combining data on 20 psychological outcomes with historical measures of both kinship and Church exposure, we find support for these ideas in a comprehensive array of analyses across countries, among European regions and between individuals with different cultural backgrounds.

or, a synopsis/commentary by razib khan:

The pervasive power of the Western Church even in the face of the rise of social and political complexity in the late medieval period is illustrated by the impact of the Reformation. In Protestant areas of Europe religion became much more strictly subordinated to the ruler. Pastors became more like civil servants than independent sources of power. Two dynamics emerged rapidly with the adoption of Protestantism. First, the cousin marriage became more common among elite lineages again (e.g., Charles Darwin married his cousin). Second, young women were forced into marriages against their will more often than in Catholic Europe, where becoming a nun was often an option. To some extent Protestantism exacerbated the tendency to treat and see women bargaining chips in negotiations between elite lineages.

As the authors note in the preprint inbred lineage groups to come to the fore and operate as the atomic units of social organization in a society among agriculturalists. This is in contrast to hunter-gatherers, who seem to want to create kinship ties to distant people. There are clear differences between foragers and farmers in this model. Dense sedentary living fosters the emergence of endogamous kinship groups as natural cultural adaptations. The peculiarity about Western Europe is that this society broke out of this “default state,” and even after the Protestant Reformation it never went back. It may be that European society is now at a different equilibrium, or, that the economic lift-off of the last 500 years has allowed for individualism to persist even where the role of the Church in breaking up tight kinship groups has been blocked.

it’s been exciting to see this idea percolate into the mainstream.

Infrastructural lapses aside, Lagos uneasily embodies one of civilization’s fundamental divides: the split between the city and the provinces, between a flagging periphery and the center toward which that periphery gravitates. The numbers reflect an astounding imbalance. Lagos contributes more to Nigeria’s GDP than any other state, and twice as much as the second highest-ranked state. Only 214 Nigerians pay 20 million naira ($56,000) or more in taxes each year; all live in Lagos, which collects some 39 percent of Nigeria’s internally generated revenue. Lagos state governor Akinwunmi Ambode has claimed that 60 percent of the country’s industrial and commercial business takes place in his city.

Lagos’s growth is partly a function of a national-level failure to create opportunities or develop critical infrastructure elsewhere in Nigeria. “Coming to Lagos is sometimes the only alternative people have,” says Kelechi Anabaraonye, a historical-preservation activist and scholar of Lagos’s history. Some 2,000 people move to the city daily, and they arrive in a place that’s alarmingly unprepared for them.

nigeria is projected to have a population of ~800m by the end of the century.

In Chinese eyes, Mr Trump’s response is a form of “creative destruction”. He is systematically destroying the existing institutions — from the World Trade Organization and the North American Free Trade Agreement to Nato and the Iran nuclear deal — as a first step towards renegotiating the world order on terms more favourable to Washington.

Once the order is destroyed, the Chinese elite believes, Mr Trump will move to stage two: renegotiating America’s relationship with other powers. Because the US is still the most powerful country in the world, it will be able to negotiate with other countries from a position of strength if it deals with them one at a time rather than through multilateral institutions that empower the weak at the expense of the strong.

My interlocutors say that Mr Trump is the US first president for more than 40 years to bash China on three fronts simultaneously: trade, military and ideology. They describe him as a master tactician, focusing on one issue at a time, and extracting as many concessions as he can. They speak of the skilful way Mr Trump has treated President Xi Jinping. “Look at how he handled North Korea,” one says. “He got Xi Jinping to agree to UN sanctions [half a dozen] times, creating an economic stranglehold on the country. China almost turned North Korea into a sworn enemy of the country.” But they also see him as a strategist, willing to declare a truce in each area when there are no more concessions to be had, and then start again with a new front.

The former officials also said the real number of CIA assets and those in their orbit executed by China during the two-year period was around 30, though some sources spoke of higher figures. The New York Times, which first reported the story last year, put the number at “more than a dozen.” All the CIA assets detained by Chinese intelligence around this time were eventually killed, the former officials said.


Although they used some of the same coding, the interim system and the main covert communication platform used in China at this time were supposed to be clearly separated. In theory, if the interim system were discovered or turned over to Chinese intelligence, people using the main system would still be protected—and there would be no way to trace the communication back to the CIA. But the CIA’s interim system contained a technical error: It connected back architecturally to the CIA’s main covert communications platform. When the compromise was suspected, the FBI and NSA both ran “penetration tests” to determine the security of the interim system. They found that cyber experts with access to the interim system could also access the broader covert communications system the agency was using to interact with its vetted sources, according to the former officials.

In the words of one of the former officials, the CIA had “fucked up the firewall” between the two systems.

h/t gritcult; from what is described, my guess is a poorly/misconfigured tor hidden service (tor popped up a few times here).

For the Communist Party, that may not matter. Far from hiding their efforts, Chinese authorities regularly state, and overstate, their capabilities. In China, even the perception of surveillance can keep the public in line.

Some places are further along than others. Invasive mass-surveillance software has been set up in the west to track members of the Uighur Muslim minority and map their relations with friends and family, according to software viewed by The New York Times.

“This is potentially a totally new way for the government to manage the economy and society,” said Martin Chorzempa, a fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

“The goal is algorithmic governance,” he added.

The central prediction I want to make and defend in this post is that continued rapid progress in machine learning will drive the emergence of a new kind of geopolitics; I have been calling it AI Nationalism. Machine learning is an omni-use technology that will come to touch all sectors and parts of society. The transformation of both the economy and the military by machine learning will create instability at the national and international level forcing governments to act. AI policy will become the single most important area of government policy. An accelerated arms race will emerge between key countries and we will see increased protectionist state action to support national champions, block takeovers by foreign firms and attract talent. I use the example of Google, DeepMind and the UK as a specific example of this issue. This arms race will potentially speed up the pace of AI development and shorten the timescale for getting to AGI. Although there will be many common aspects to this techno-nationalist agenda, there will also be important state specific policies. There is a difference between predicting that something will happen and believing this is a good thing. Nationalism is a dangerous path, particular when the international order and international norms will be in flux as a result and in the concluding section I discuss how a period of AI Nationalism might transition to one of global cooperation where AI is treated as a global public good.

As Susan Sontag describes:

“[T]aste governs every free — as opposed to rote — human response. Nothing is more decisive. There is taste in people, visual taste, taste in emotion — and there is taste in acts, taste in morality. Intelligence, as well, is really a kind of taste: taste in ideas. […] Taste has no system and no proofs. But there is something like a logic of taste: the consistent sensibility which underlies and gives rise to a certain taste.”

Cyberpunk is a type of “taste in ideas” that weds aesthetics with politics. It is not a framework with a specific hypothesis or clearly defined rules. Rather, cyberpunk is an assemblage of loosely related themes, tropes, and aesthetics. Viewing the arc(s) of history through this cyberpunk lens helps highlight certain trends as being worth paying attention to. Noticing the moments of techno-dystopia in our world can jolt people awake, causing them to realize how computing — especially the internet — is impacting their lives on every scale.

The events or ideas that trigger the mental switch-flip are usually exotic, like crime-deterring robots, but the deeper level of using the cyberpunk mental model is looking at mundane things like commerce and subculture formation and seeing how computers and the internet change the dynamics that we used to be used to.

Can you trust the result of a computation performed by someone else on data that you have not seen?

This sounds intuitively impossible. It seems ridiculous for you to trust a self-reported credit score, since the borrower has a strong incentive to report a high score. You may like the answer, though.


Let’s recall our original motivation: we are interested in mathematically assuring a verifier that the result of a computation was 1) derived from legitimate inputs (solved by grounding data) and 2) computed correctly (solved by verifiable computing). By following the credit score example, we have seen the potential of these new approaches to achieve what was previously thought undoable: to trust a computation by someone else on data that we have not seen.

another tick towards autonomous capital/decentralized economic agents

In an excellent essay on the evolution of “minimum viable decentralization,” John Backus noted, “Decentralization helps to the extent that it exploits the letter of the law or evades the enforcement of the law.” His research on P2P file-sharing indicates that an exit technology’s ability to survive depends on a combination of clever design and true-believer activism. Ideologues are not enough, but they are necessary.

I suppose you can count me among them. Encryption is a tool of autonomy and consent; its application to money reduces the degree to which governments can arbitrarily compel economic obedience, or even detect the absence of compliance. I have no illusions that we’re on the brink of ancap paradise, nor that such a thing will ever be feasible. And I still pay my taxes. But I am happy to see this shift in the balance of power. Exit technologies improve a population’s BATNA. Members of the cypherpunk movement, after decades of collective effort, have made it possible to opt in to the monetary policy of your choice rather than bowing to whatever level of inflation the Fed prefers. Monetary policy was the libertarian issue as recently as 2012, but Bitcoin has made things peculiarly quiet on that front. I’m eager to see the results of a little competitive pressure.

There’s a drug called cabotegravir, for instance, which is a pre-exposure prophylactic that has been demonstrated to prevent the spread of HIV through shared needles in macaques. Unlike other pre-exposure prophylactics that need to be taken daily, cabotegravir may only need to be taken four times per year to protect the user from HIV. Although the initial clinical results with cabotegravir were extremely promising, Four Thieves grew impatient with waiting for it to become commercially available. (The drug is currently undergoing Phase III FDA trials, which means it’s being clinically tested on a large cohort of human subjects.) Moreover, based on other pre-exposure prophylaxis drugs, cabotegravir would almost certainly be sold at an exorbitant cost—Truvada, a comparable drug that needs to be taken daily, costs around $2,000 for a 30-day supply. So the group figured out how to make it themselves.

Cabotegravir is still in pre-clinical trials but that hasn’t stopped Four Thieves from trying to get pre-exposure prophylactics (PrEPs) into the hands of those who need it. As the group continues to experimenting with synthesizing its own cabotegravir, some Four Thieves affiliates have started purchasing a commercially available PrEP called tenofovir, compounding it with an inert buffer, and then providing it to heroin dealers who can choose to cut their product with the PrEP as a “service” for their customers. For those customers who decide to take the dealers up on their service, “their heroin has a new side effect,” Laufer said. “You don’t get HIV from it any more.”

Geodakyan Evolutionary Theory of Sex theory (ETS) was proposed by Vigen Geodakyan in 1960-80s. This theory has many components related to systemic effects in sex ratios, shapes of phenotypic distributions in male and female phenotypes, sex dimorphism, mutation rates in genotypes, sex differences in birth ratios, mortality rates, and in susceptibility to new diseases. Geodakyan started working on the theory in 1965. Two main hypotheses of this theory that complement each other are: the principle of conjugated subsystems and the theory of asynchronous evolution. These hypotheses relate to the paradox of sexual reproduction and suggest an explanation of why sexual reproduction became the most common way of reproduction among three types of reproduction known in biology: asexual, hermaphrodite reproduction and sexual reproduction. The paradox of sexual reproduction (discussed more on the page evolution of sexual reproduction) notes that Hermaphrodite reproduction gives the highest diversity of configurations and an easier mating process than bi-sexual reproduction (such as in humans, when half of the members (males) can’t reproduce and can only diversify the genes). Since in bi-sexual reproduction members of species can mate only with the opposite sex, there are fewer opportunities for mating and a lower diversity of outcome of their gene recombinations, in comparison to hermaphrodites. Meanwhile bisexual species still have to share food and other resources with members who don’t reproduce (males). In spite of these disadvantages of bi-sexual reproduction, paradoxically, most plants and animals shifted from hermaphroditism and gonochorism to sexual dimorphism. Why? (Figure 1). (for comparison of types of reproduction see the review: In 2001, Vladimir Iskrin began refining and expanding on Geodakyan’s theory.

The most striking thing about the explosion of modernity, in all of its dimensions, is it has this immensely mathematical character. When you’re saying, “Has modernity erupted yet?”, you’re looking at the natural sciences, you’re looking at the mathematicization of theories of nature, you’re looking at business, you’re looking at, obviously, the absolutely fabulous explosion of the systems of accountancy that were completely unprecedented in scale and complexity and sophistication.

Before technology, similarly, it’s to do with applied mathematics. And so, on one level, the arrival of zero in the culture is the arrival of a truly functional mathematics, just out of that arithmetical semiotic. And if you go back the other way, you can say, “Well, in the mirror, when we’re talking about modernity as the singularity, we’re actually engaged in a study of social control systems, dampening devices, inhibitors, a whole exotic flora and fauna of systems for the constraining of explosive dynamics. And it seems to me, clearly, in the Western case — what we can see retrospectively — one crucial inhibitor-mechanism was the radically defective nature of the arithmetical semiotic that was then dominant in the West. And so, again, we’re really talking about a sort of negative phenomenon that zero just liquidates — a certain system of semiotic shielding, that is dampening down certain potential processes.

audio version here.