log (2002/08/02 to 2002/08/08)

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Thursday, August 8, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

So I dunno, am I just hypercritical lately, or did that "Lord of the Rings" movie (what's the word I'm looking for here?) suck? Maybe it was just that I was watching it on the small screen instead of the big, or that I got interrupted by various domestic distractions, but still.

So many scenes that should have been terrible and noble (the battle where Isuldur defeats Sauron, the fight between wizards, Galadriel's refusal of the One Ring) were made funny by overdone special effects. Sauron forging the ring looks like a guy wearing a plastic costume (or like an action figure; of course one might suspect that there's an explanation for that), and the interior of Isengard looks like a plastic movie set of a wizard's tower. And Lothlórien...

Well, maybe it's just that my own picture of an ancient elfwood is green and brown and mysterious; but is anyone's picture bright blue, with actinic white lighting?

A doom shall come to Humanhome
When over the sea the green ships sail,
And piping in the dark alone
Ancient chaos shall prevail.

"Oh, that is an old one. You're better read than I thought."

"It is a prophecy, and a baneful one."

"What is a prophecy?"

"When the Gods give to men a glimpse of the future."

"And why would they do that?"

"What do you mean?"

"Which is more likely; that the Gods gave some prophet a glimpse of a future involving green ships and chaos, or that some man or other creature in the past, perhaps owning a green ship or two, thought it worth his while to arrange the spreading of a rumor?"

Signs of the Apocalypse #1742228: a SlashDot thread about FORTRAN (link from Mike Gunderloy).

From Utopia with Cheese: the very funny index of cruftidity. This here laptop is at about Force 4 (knock wood).

Thanks to momma geegaw, this here log is now on the . If there should happen to be anyone reading this who might have a blog that was in some sense inspired by this one, they might want to take a few minutes to record the fact.

(More signs that blogging is no longer Cutting Edge: blogtree says "Currently there are 1995 authors and 3323 blogs registered.")

open to criticism

Speaking of little images (been a long time since we had one over there in the left border, hasn't it?), I too consider myself open to criticism. Which isn't to say that I don't ever get all snippy and defensive or anything...   *8)   But please feel free to fire away with whatever ammunition and style strikes your fancy.

Wednesday, August 7, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

So we're watching this here "Lord of the Rings" movie on the VCR here. Kinda strange. So far engaged entirely in frantic context-building (since they didn't make a movie of "The Hobbit" for it to be a sequel to). Who's the lady narrating the opening sequence, and why don't they mention that Gollum was originally a Hobbit? Will they eventually? And why did the Big Battle Defeating Sauron look so much like a Monty Python sketch?

Ah, well, everyone else saw this and commented on it at great length months and months ago; late as usual!

A reader writes:

Does it feel a little bit of a let down to have now decided that Searle's view of minds is indeed as bad as you had feared ? Or is it reassuring to know that someone who is seen to be a thinker on this problem also avoids the larger problem of other minds?

Disappointing, mostly. I was dreaming, as I said the other day, of finding an interpretation of his theory that would reconcile it with good sense. I actually am somewhat pleased to understand the intent of the Chinese Room argument better than I did, but I do wish there was more interesting substance in his positive theory. But the tapes aren't done yet.

What the heck is a 'Major Philosopher', anyway?

Well, good question. I dunno how major he is as far as the Ages are concerned, but he gets paid by UC Berkeley to think deep thoughts, and he's in various Dictionaries of Philosophy and stuff. You'd think he'd be more careful...

Another reader (likely Neale) writes:

If you're up for a more amusing read than Wolfram, try David Lodge's "Thinks" for a pretty interesting fictional novel about a congnitive scientist and the novelist he runs after... theories abound ...

Thanks for the recommendation. I finished "The Memory of Whiteness", and continued to be not that impressed by it. It was kind of fun, or had kind of fun aspects, but the hard-SF setting and the sort of transcendant theme(s) didn't meld together very well. And it just didn't feel like a thousand years into the future; I think Robinson needed that in order to have nice rich cultures in the outer Solar System, but aside from "altered light" and the usual sorts of spaceflight stuff, there wasn't much high technology or social oddness at all. Think how much has changed in the last thousand years, and wonder if so little will change in the next.

But for whatever reason I don't feel like doing detailed book reviews tonight (Amazon still doesn't seem to have posted my review of Archangel Protocol for some reason; are they backlogged, or do they not like me?)

So now I'm reading "Tipping the Velvet", at M's recommendation. It's very nice so far; strong sense of history, sweet falling-in-love feeling.

And now (for some value of "now") Gandalf is bonking his head on the ceiling of the Hobbit-hole, and the little daughter is saying, "Why are they doing this? This is stupid!"

Roman mosaic in Bradford-on-Avon.

A spammer with an odd notion of "Smart" writes:

Our "Smart Spiders" have recommended that your page or posting be included in the Oddzz/Casinozz search engine, the world's largest search resource for information on both the resort and the online gambling spaces.

I'm not sure why I'm posting that; must be the Mind Control Laserzz.

Giant Bugs:

iris chacon


Oh!... this isn't a search box


iris chacon

You sunk my battleship!

I'm going on vacation for the next ten days. Try and keep the place neat while I'm gone.

There are no giant bugs in Dicebox yet, but there is a cool comicbook.

Available for viewing for free on the web.

The question before the committee now being: what do you call hand-crafted spam entered into message boxes on other people's websites? Something to do with giant bugs...


Which I think you will enjoy.

But what do I know? I'm her husband.

And now your Taw, I cried innocently

Ah. You're referring to Microsoft.

yes, assed = messed-up, so half-assed = half-fubar

Look. There's nothing special about giant bugs. Except for their size. They're just bigger. That doesn't make them special, does it? What about normal bugs, huh? Don't normal bugs deserve respect? Even tiny bugs, hair lice, for instance, or even dust mites, deserve attention. We are all God's creatures. Especially the dust mites. He made them first. We are all made in their image. Pretty much.

I think it's all half-giant-bugged.

Windows XP in its entirety

That other guy, the really popular one with the famous journal - he's been bugging me in a giant way lately. But I still keep reading it for some reason. Then I come here and read your log to scrub out my brain.

[link] and especially [link].

The Leaf Pile cannot move of its own accord onto an ichorous square, nor onto a square containing a statue, nor onto a square containing a mummy. However, it can move onto a square which contains multiple pieces, but only if none of them are statues or mummies and there is no ichor on the square.

What more can I say?

Tuesday, August 6, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

Plus I would be more famous if I had a house!

When I'm at work and things are piling up all over the place and my task stack is threatening to overflow and my mind is generally a mess, I sometimes think, "ah, I can leave some of this to do at home, when I can think more clearly and have more leisure."

And for some reason I always believe myself.

Of course the reason that I can think more clearly and have more leisure at home is that I sit around breathing the air and playing the Sims and smiling at my family. This is not a kind of clear thinking that's really conducive to cleaning out the ol' e-mail box.

Which isn't to say that I don't now and then buckle down and spend an hour or three at home (usually after everyone else is asleep), doing some of that clear-minded work-related stuff. But not nearly as often as I tell myself I'm going to.

In Sims news, Merram Hilox-Petunia has impetuously given up her lucrative career as CEO of a major software firm to persue her lifelong ambition in the entertainment biz. She's risen rapidly through the ranks, and is currently a stunt double for Halle Berry.

And in philosophy news, John Searle's solution to the Problem of Other Minds is indeed, "don't worry about it". I was going to rant about it in detail, but at the moment I don't think it's worth it. How'd this guy get to be a Major Philosopher, anyway?

To give him credit, he does admit that his own theory of the mind ("Minds are a feature of brains", "Brains cause minds") has nothing especially useful to say about Free Will. On the other hand, he claims to know that his dog is conscious because he observes that it has ears and a nose and eyes, or something like that (oops, I said I wasn't going to rant).

Monday, August 5, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

It's sort of depressing, reading Wolfram and listening to Searle in the same month, as both of them seem pretty clueless in important ways, and simultaneously very impressed with themselves. I need to find someone smart and modest to read.

Very briefly, Searle has now "solved" two of the six questions that he identified within the Mind-Body Problem by essentially saying "don't worry about it". And Wolfram finally showed a relatively neat little result about mollusc shells, only to reveal in the notes that it's work done by someone else decades ago, and then spun off into semi-coherent babbling about the relationship between (an undefined notion of) complexity and (a superficial understanding of) the theory of evolution, with great effort spent on how much smarter Wolfram is than various unnamed straw men.

A "phht" on both their houses. More details when I've read / heard their arguments more completely, but I'm not holding out much hope.

Kim Stanley Robinson's "The Memory of Whiteness" also isn't impressing me much (especially compared to "A Short, Sharp, Shock"), but maybe I'm just in a bad mood.

Speaking of bad moods...

There is probably very little overlap between Salon's readership and the audience for apocalyptic Christian fiction, but these books and their massive success deserve attention if only for what they tell us about the core beliefs of a great many people in this country, people whose views shape the way America behaves in the world.

And to end on a slight up beat (or not, according to your inclination), the story of that lady burned by hot coffee who sued McDonald's, and why it's not a story about litigiousness run amok. Urban legend fans probably know about this already (it's a very old story), but I felt like recording the pointer here, in case I ever feel the need to chase it down later.

Still to come: a ghost story, lots of reader input, lots of other stuff. And maybe a chance to sit and think for a few minutes...

Sunday, August 4, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

Searle promises that in the next lecture he'll stop attacking the various computational and "cognitivist" theories of mind, and tell us about his own theories.

He spent the last lecture arguing against a particular theory of mind that he calls "cognitivism". This theory (as he tells it) says that, although there is more to consciousness (and/or the objective mental; Searle seems to be making no distinction between these anymore) than implementing the right computation, still anything (or any "digital computer") that implements the right computation gets consciousness (gets the mental) more or less automatically, as a sort of "froth on the wave".

Searle's objection to this is that whether or not something implements a computation isn't an intrinsic fact about the thing, but is an "observer relative" fact, and since consciousness isn't an "observer relative" fact, cognitivism can't be right.

I have two problems with this argument. First off, I don't really buy the distinction between "intrinsic" and "observer relative" facts, at least not in the place where Searle draws it. I mean, I might accept a line between the Universal Wave Function and everything else, but that's about it. If "being a knife" (Searle's favorite example) is "observer relative", then so is "being an object with a mass of one hundred grams": nature doesn't know knives, but then nature doesn't know objects at all. We're the ones who draw all the lines.

But even granting Searle's distinction for the moment, I don't think it's fatal for cognitivism. Searle points out that not everything can be a knife; to be useable as a knife, something has to have certain (intrinsic) properties. So there must be a predicate "usable as a knife" that's intrinsic in Searle's sense.

In the same way, there's a predicate "interpretable as a computation" that's intrinsic. Searle says that this predicate is no good, because it applies to everything; you can interpret a coin lying on table as "computing" the constant zero, for instance. And that's fine.

But cognitivism doesn't say that a system gets semantics whenever it implements any computation; it has to implement the right computation. So there's an intrinsic predicate "interpretable as implementing a computation satisfying [complex conditions of some kind]", and the cognitivist can claim that anything satisfying that predicate gets semantics as froth on the wave. (I'm not sure what would count as evidence for this, but at least it seems to me that Searle's argument doesn't work against it.)

Now there are remaining hard questions here. It's common to argue that any complex process can be interpreted as implementing any computation you like. Lanier, for instance, casually assumes in his essay on Zombies that if you look at enough data about meteor trajectories, you'll be able to interpret it as a process (or perhaps only a program; this is one of the problems with that essay) implementing someone's brain. But I think this is wrong; clearly most of the hard work being done in that case is in the interpretation, not in the meteor data itself.

Hofstadter talks about this somewhere in GEB, about where to draw the line between the system and the interpretation of the system. But I think it's entirely plausible that there's some sufficiently "objective", or "intrinsic", or "not observer relative" measure of complexity or information content or something like that, that would let us construct an intrinsic predicate something like "non-cheatingly interpretable as implementing a computation satisfying [complex conditions of some kind]", and so cognitivism is saved from Searle's objection.

But frankly I don't find cognitivism as such all that interesting, so I'm just taking apart Searle's objection to it to keep in practice. I'm more interested in seeing Searle's actual candidate theory of mind. It's intrinsic (heh heh) to the Mind-Body problem(s) in general that it's much easier to attack someone else's proposed solution than to make a strong one of your own (unless you're willing to entertain solipsism, in which case you're pretty much immune to disproof, but likely to be lonely).

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and sometime later in the alphabetized list:

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But my favorite item in the list of search terms that recently found us is:

Add some whipped cream and cherries and I shall be quite content.

I hope they eventually found Roxy.

It's nice, sitting in a stall in the men's room, when there's a little gap in the door, so if you suddenly wonder if you've accidentally gone into the ladies' room you can peer out through the gap and see the urinals on the opposite wall, and be reassured.

I wonder if they do that on purpose?

There's one men's room up in the Yorktown lab that has no urinals. I walked in there the other day, thinking about something else, and had the distinct feeling that something was Very Wrong. Once I realized there were no urinals I went back out into the hall and looked at the sign on the door. Definitely "Men".

Very odd.


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