Weekly Reading Suggestions (#3)

Another week has withered away.

With all the movies and clickbait articles, it’s surely a new peak time to be interested in AI. The problem is that some breakthroughs are profound and surely the term and field won’t go away any soon like it did in the 70s. It’s an important task to map the propaganda and talk as clearly as possible. The linked post is the first part of an upcoming series of posts.

I was always interested in conlangs and especially lojban as it’s a very good example to show how far a logical language could go. This article seems to claim how the original goal of lojban has been successfully accomplished just by the mere fact that you are able to make up unknown categories prior to these lojban words. The only question that matters here is that if these categories are invented or discovered. (That should remind you of a very famous debate.)

This article produced after a talk is slightly related to the book mentioned in one of my earlier posts, it’s a computational perspective of analogies and metaphors. Cognitive science is very well aware of the fact that all of thinking is a way to categorize relations, to produce analogies but a deeper understanding of the involved concepts would be difficult. This particular talk is interested in how metaphors shape the way we understand computing and its related problems.

If anyone would be still not familiar with the famous self-referential paradoxes, then this is a kind of good introductory text to start reading the introductory texts about these issues of logical consistency within recursive systems. The article itself is very shallow but I like these topics so after all I decided to include it here.

Recently I found this publisher and they have countless books freely and publicly available to read and download. That is great in itself but the fact that their material is superb I had to mention them if someone would be not aware of their work yet. Not even sure how could I miss out on them until nowadays.

Weekly Reading Suggestions (#2)

A week passed, so I’ll post what I’m reading nowadays.

I’m mostly digesting this book these days, it was more successful in making me believe for a few days that there is only mathematics in reality than S. Wolfram did so with his book of physics introducing his idea of an universal computation. The author seems to be successful at reducing such notions as analogies or meaning into patterns and ideas found in abstract algebra, that is probably extremely fruitful in cognitive sciences and designing artificial systems mimicking our understanding of the world. Highly recommended, even though I’m not finished yet.

This article from 2013 has surprising information about the inner working of recent hard disks, and one of the reasons I’m highly disillusioned with technology for years. The usage of universal tools should be a controversial matter on their own (see early cybernetics or papers authored by Neumann himself) but the practical issues are only felt nowadays. The fact that there is an entire, more than capable computer in your hard disk should raise awareness to the privacy, security and resource management problems involved.

The era that could be the golden age of philosophy (with so many theoretical debate and crisis going on) is actually naturalizing it, we are seeing philosophy absolving into different interdisciplinary fields. Not a surprise that as philosophy is getting reduced into metaphilosophy, we may wonder how is it even possible, when such a field should include it’s own meta-field being unique in that way. There is a volume I found accidentally at a second hand bookstore about this exact issue, containing the material of a conference held in 2015 in my country.

There’s two nautilus articles that may not be recent enough but very well worth reading, they are both a good way to destroy our paradigms for a few mere moments.

A lot of theories are “bounded” by expectations, they are not more than made up and fine-tuned axioms to explain already existing phenomena. That is very much the case with physics, and it’s a fundamental question to ask how much of physics should be driven by our own experience and our own expectations of reality itself.

Related are the series of posts by M. Pigliucci on his blog that actually made me follow him two years ago.

It sounds like some sci-fi plot but whenever “alien” intelligence is being questioned we must be aware of how alien structures we are talking about. Clearly swarm intelligence is a thing, algae and ants solve problems that would be impossible in every single way concevied individually. Their “algorithms” lie elsewhere than in the insect body itself, so it’s an interesting thought experiment to ask if alien life may be physics itself. (Something that is even mentioned in my novel idea I will never finish.)

Pali Primer (magyar fordítás)

3 years ago I started translating De Silva’s Pali Primer, but never finished it. Slowly I’m working on it again, the original blog where I was working on it can be found here.

Currently I’m at the 12th lesson, so roughly 1/4 of the book is done so far, that is not much for 3 years for sure but I hardly worked on it as the years passed. It’s a quite concise introductory to the pali language, sometimes way too concise that makes the translation kind of difficult for me.

Just as an example it feels like that the book introduces possessive forms in the exercises before even teaching them properly (their dogs, his field, etc) besides the genitive case. I finally also found a key with answers so I can help myself and the translation by being sure of the right answers.

No excuses though, I’m working on it again. Please don’t mind the design or rather the lack of thereof, I will make a proper and consisent look once I’m at least half-way done.

Last update: 2017.03.18.
Current version can be accessed here.

Weekly Reading Suggestions (#1)

Originally I wanted to make a comment on another blog but it didn’t get approved so I may start writing suggestions. There are several ones I want to suggest but as a rule I will try to use contents not older than a year.

The presupposed idea that evolution favors accurate representation of the world seems uncontroversial to a lot of people but an experimental simulated population research shows it’s a complex topic that shows that the accurateness of a given perception method may be not as important for survival as supposed by a lot of us.

Although being almost a year old, this paper shows that something is deeply wrong with the tools and framework of modern neuroscience because the field is not even capable of mapping such a well-documented processing unit as the MOS6502.

SEP summaries are concise and useful a lot of the times but for the history of the so called “free will” debate and ideas, I haven’t seen a better summary as of yet. The rest of the website is just as interesting with a lot of analytic philosophy related articles and opinions.

One of my favorite suttas about the futile attempt to theorize everything, neglecting our actual life and the practical approach to everyday experiences.

Last year there was another Adam Curtis movie released.

There is a growing number of articles describing the controversial act of preserving artistic works in a digital context, something that has been famously debated in the 1972 television series Ways of Seeing.

Five main arguments against veganism

I encountered yet another book that claims to be the critique of a plant-based diet[1], but yet again perceived the same old arguments against it, I couldn’t help but give my two cents on the debate. There are five main, legitimate but not just reasons to refute a plant based diet:

  • Domesticated species of livestock are not suitable to live in the wild any more.
  • Plants have biochemical reactions to harmful stimuli.
  • There is a viable way to grow in vitro meat.
  • A fully vegan human culture would cause more death of animals.
  • It privileges the living beings that resemble us.

These are the semi-valid arguments only, as I don’t want to consider the “meat is needed to stay healthy” and the “ancient humans needed to hunt because that challenge made our brains bigger” or the infamous “what about B12” kind of non-sense. There are plenty of resources on the Internet to answer two of them, while for the middle one you could have the ability to just solve a Sudoku puzzle but you certainly don’t need ancient ways to challenge yourself.

Before we start to analyze these serious arguments, let’s settle something down. The attitude to suffering should be qualitative, not quantitative. It’s not a race of corpse numbers, but a kind of applied empathy. If you consider it a problem from an economical perspective only, then you will never get the full picture. Given our current environment eating meat is simply theft, because your body doesn’t need it to function properly. Why would you take something you don’t need? For pleasure? That could be right, as countless people admit it that the whole debate is covered in arguments but after all they just want to enjoy their food.

It’s an ecological and economical problem that we shouldn’t be selfish all the time even if certain systems tell us otherwise, like how societies following the thoughts of Adam Smith consider infinite grow possible, suggesting we shall act accordingly. Our planet is inhabited by myriad forms of living beings, and we use each other as resources either we like it or not. There is a conceptual thought experiment, called the tragedy of the commons that is perfectly applicable to the Earth ecology itself.  If everyone wants to use everything as much as they can, then common resources are depleted or ruined completely, driving the whole community into a losing situation. Nobody wins in the end.

Even veganism (the stricter, no-animal-product-at-all diet) is not usually an all inclusive practice, because it’s impossible to live entirely cruelty free and you can’t really choose the usage of your money either in our present communities. Let’s face it, whether you buy that ham in the store or not doesn’t change the fact that a pig already was slaughtered to present that current product. The act of eating it has no significance any more, you mainly vote and voice opinion by your money these days. But what if you may just send a postcard to someone? The postman that gets paid by the company who received your money may spend his salary at the local Burger King to grab a whopper. Does this make you responsible?

Let’s just say that there is a practical limit to our actions as vegetarians or vegans, because it’s not a way to eliminate suffering but a way to reduce it. This is a very misrepresented point, and need to be emphasized to those who listen. Eliminating suffering would lead one to realize the Four Noble Truths[*] (in my opinion), but it’s not possible through diet only.

In a summary, I think you can’t justify killing animals for their meat because the very same arguments will lead you to justify killing humans for whatever reason you may have. Even though this is probably a pretty harsh judgment for a lot of people, I still think that these four issues usually raised to refule a plant-based diet are worth considering and mentioned for very good reasons.

You may complain very rightly that I mix up or confuse veganism and vegetarianism, but it’s because in my own opinion they are almost identical in motivation. The main difference is the belief of ethical animal products, that vegans mostly deny to exist while vegetarians claim them to be possible to obtain. It is true that all animal products cause animal suffering in our modern industrialized setting and if you don’t eat meat but still wear leather or eat cheese then you support the same industry that you may claim to oppose but I view veganism as mostly a modern movement because personally I claim ethical animal products to exist like eggs or milk even though in the current era it is close to impossible to obtain such products. While both are concerned with the same ideals, I prefer to use them interchangeably in the following arguments.

The future of our livestock

Some mistakes are irreversible, and either you view human culture as a mistake or not, it certainly introduced irreversible changes to our planet. Homo Sapiens turned out not to be just yet another apex predator but something we don’t know any similar siblings of in the entire universe. Our actions still shape the future of the whole globe – now more than ever.  The balance between plant species is shaped by our activity so much that Noah Harari even wrote[2] that we may even think of agriculture as crops like wheat domesticating humans, not the other way around.

With the era of genetical engineering, the modification of our gene pool will be just as much irreversible of a change. Yet the whole situation that one day everyone stops eating meat and our livestock goes to live free seems more like a scene of a Disney movie than reality. It’s highly improbable and surely a very significant amount of them would die, probably all of them. This means reading from 2017 Janury figures 12.1 million cattles and 13.7 million hogs in Canada only.[3]

The questions is that why would it concern either us or them if their whole fate is already decided anyway? If it’s a choice between death and death, then it seems to utilitarian people that the only logical solution is eating them all, but this view is really just the view of maintaining the status quo. There is no revolution without casualities because an economical change is always a change against something, in this case against the livestock system itself.

On a more serious note, it could be decided on case by case, but let’s face the facts early that most of the animals raised for food are in such a pathetic condition that they are barely self-sustainable, even. An ideal solution would be degradation of the livestock, this would probably cause the least amount of suffering – while to this problem there exists no solution without any deaths at all, we need to understand that for these animals this is an already lost battle, if we view them from an evolutionary perspective. We can patch up the wounds but can’t raise the dead.

Plant neurobiology

Ever since we have amazing capabilities of computing power and thousands of technological tools it became fashionable again to talk about plant neurobiology, plant consciousness and how they are supposed to “feel” pain. Using these scientific theories in a debate about diet has a very clear propaganda though, basically equaling plant experience with animal experience.

Let’s be clear from the very beginning for those who still haven’t let it fully sink in: humans are animals. We are just confused monkeys trying to understand what the hell is happening to all of us. Apart from very significant changes in the neocortal region we are almost entirely identical to primates, and we have very good empirical evidence to support the view they have similar experience of the world as we do so. If you want to step onto a stricter path you can always deny the possibility of human consciousness even, but let’s leave these ideas to the philosophers of the mind and face our neighbours on earth.

If you are satisfied only with very well documented research, then it’s not extraordinary to claim that we need a functioning central nervous system for emotions, the experience of pain, and all the inner workings of our “souls” to “emerge” or at least to get experienced by us. The altered states like epilepsy, sleeping or fainting provide a very factual basis to assume the need for such a system to have similar experiences. In short: to feel something.

Point is that this central nervous system is the very thing that all plant life lack and what most probably makes a qualitative difference between reacting and feeling something. Even though there are very recent researches challenging our very notion of intelligence through using slime mold or algae for pathfinding and such[4], it’s more of a sign that we need to be more open minded abour our categories we use. If you get too open for possibilities though, your definitions will be useless – if you consider anything capable of reacting to the environment as conscious for example, then given wide enough interpretation of a reaction, literally everything could count conscious. What about viruses for example?

Having a biochemical reaction is no way proof that one would have a conscious experience such as pain. Proving such things are very very difficult though so you can never really be sure of others’ experiences but saying that both animals and plants feel pain so it’s ok to kill them both sounds unreasonable, especially considering that maintaining the livestock just to kill still means a higher need for plant resource.

As an addition, I read in the mentioned book that a cyclical view of your diet would be more appropiate, but there is a huge difference between killing something consciously and for example stepping on roaches accidentally or drinking larvae with water and such. A cyclical view of diet suggest that you can’t be fully vegetarian as your plant food “eats” the soil that contains the nutrition in the form of decomposing animal carcasses – so other than carnivorous plants it means already dead beings. Even though I asked a very similar question about the usage of your financial funds in the introductory section, I mention this idea here because it’s an oversimplification of both the decomposition process that involves already dead beings and the notion of “eating” something. It’s a common bias of humans to anthropomorphize a process or an object, because explaining how a plant feeds itself as eating is misleading at the very least, the missing volition is a crucial link in the chain to call something “eating” as in “human-like eating”. A plant eats just like a bacteria moves – both are fascinatingly complex on their own but calling a bacteria walking would be nonsense.

In vitro meat

Cultured, synthetic or in vitro meat is not science fiction but one of the main projects of a medicinal scientific field called cellular agriculture where you are capable of growing meat tissue out of cells in an artificial growing environment instead of a body.

While there is no suffering and death involved here, the environmental factor is still very questionable as meat itself is still an addition to our diets but not a fundamental part, as we are fully capable of producing our cells utilizing plant protein. Instead of livestock you could have the very precious space of our planet occupied by meat factories instead of slaughterhouses with their ranches.

There are so many other catastrophic global risks today[5] should be taken seriously, that I view this option as mainly allocating resources in a wasteful way. Maybe I view it in the wrong way again, but this is yet another uneeded project of luxury instead of focusing on real issues, because I emphasize it again: you don’t need the flesh of other beings to surive, so why would you take it?

As we are actually at the start of a race to escape this planet before we completely destroy ourselves by overpopulation only, ecology and sustainable technology should be two immanently important aspects of our researches and a plant based diet provides a more feasible alternative than researching and founding yet another solution.

Vegetarian/Vegan Earth would cause more deaths

The last point on the list says that if you would want to have enough fields to grow crops and such, that would result in significantly more animal suffering than simply feeding them to people. The argument goes like this: if you increase the amount of fields you grow on, you need to defend more land against pests such as mice and bugs as they would feed on them as well. This is mainly a confusion or misinterpretation of the qualitative and quantitative difference as well, but also lacks a wider perspective of the problem. They deliberately ignore the fact that you need to feed your livestock, because it’s mainly an argument about how humans would consume more plant based foods than livestock does, essentially arguing that using animals is a more cost effective method to feed us. Such argument always points out to global trends[6], or in simpler terms they are about a hypothetical scenario where the whole planet and human industry turned vegan miraculously overnight.

The thing is that our livestock is not a stock of alpha predators either, just we don’t really count foxes or lions into the equation usually but if we would consider all kinds of competition with us such as flies and forest wolves then it worths considering how the list of endangered animals consist a significant ratio of predators such as bigger felines, big reptiles, canines and so on. We consciously hunted down the competition for our food and still do so up to present day, so projecting this problem onto a completely vegan or vegetarian culture is very misleading, suggesting that maintaining our vast livestock of animals has no such a cost. I don’t know exact numbers but it would be hard for me to imagine how both producing the crop for your livestock versus producing the crop only to feed us would lead to worse effects and more deaths.

Even if it would be somehow proved that keeping livestock provides a more sustainable environment (that is not the case[7]), you would still miss out the empathy part of the whole story. If all is permittable for the greater good (that is usually considered to be the sustainability and survival of the human race but not the planet’s ecosystem), then it becomes self evident how the boundary between animals and humans are artificial and morally you are not very far away from euthanizing the weak or utilizing eugenics and such. It worths considering how space for contemporary science fiction is the water of adventure novels in the 19th century, and how vast our planet seemed to be up until the rapid transport methods possible by steam and then electricity. Most of our environmental problems are because of overpopulation, that is mainly a social problem that (you probably agree) should be solved in a humane way.

Presupposing a vertical hierarchy between different life forms.

A main advocate of this argument is Daniel Quinn, who maintains this perspective from a collectively ecological view, stating that it’s ethnocentrism to value some life forms over others based on their resemblence to human beings in sentience or experience.[8]


Let’s also emphasize it again that you can’t be “fully” vegan or vegetarian in such an all-involving definition (eg. eliminating animal suffering) but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t reduce it by a large portion via extracting a significant dietary choice we are culturally accustomed with. A plant based diet certainly can’t reverse a lot of environmental damage we have already done, as the first and last arguments clearly show but if we act at the very last moment on risks we have foreseen for centuries or thousands of years then it will be one hundred percent surely too late aready.

[1] https://newsblog.drexel.edu/2016/02/24/thinking-of-becoming-a-vegetarian-well-you-cant/

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/sep/11/sapiens-brief-history-humankind-yuval-noah-harari-review

[3] https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:k24HZ0EUxBMJ:www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/160303/dq160303b-eng.htm+&cd=2&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=hu

[4] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/brainless-slime-molds/

[5] https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2017

[6] http://www.sciencealert.com/vegetarian-and-healthy-diets-may-actually-be-worse-for-the-environment-study-finds

[7] http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/78/3/660S.full

[8] http://www.ishmael.org/Interaction/QandA/Detail.CFM?Record=58

[*] http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/study/truths.html

Update: I may expand this article over D. Quinn’s concerns about vegetarianism. The notion that “It suggests that creatures that resemble us are more precious than creatures that don’t.” worth discussing too, in my opinion.

Tides of Numenera

Numenera starts a bit overwhelming, maybe because I didn’t follow the kickstarter itself and I’m not familiar with the Monte Cook world of Numenera. The first hours were pretty much smelling a flower and having a hard time deciding if it’s an aromatic odor or just something rotten to the core, assaulting your nose.

After a while it certainly matures into something great with very common literary devices (since Pillars of Eternity so I definitely recommend not playing that before Torment) and a story that is kind of difficult not to tell spoilers of when writing about it. I’ll try to keep it to events and parts you would find out at the very start anyway, because you have plenty of information right away.

The main story revolves around you being a human body, a mere vessel of someone called the Changing God. This character mostly starts out as an archetype of the idea of a monotheistic God, sometimes described as cruel or all-merciful but overall it’s very difficult to form an encompassing view of them. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that this mythical figure is more human than anyone else, a Homo Deus excellence – the man-made god itself.

The main point of the story will be to make up your mind about the idea of their godhood, their self-made immortality and how to judge their (and also your own) actions. This is why the story works so well – even though you have limited options, and they force views on you it still doesn’t feel like that. While wandering the world talking to the non-player characters you have a lot of time to form your own opinion even if the game itself limits them into strict categories a lot of the times. Still feels like that you are free to make up your own mind, even if it’s just an illusion.

Let’s face it though, a video game can’t really do it much better, this is pretty much the best such a medium can go these times. While at tabletop sessions you have the storyteller (or dungeon master in some systems) to form the story for your decisions, a software should become creative to have a qualitative step over the current roleplaying games – something that softwares won’t be capable of for a long time, even though it’s just my own opinion and up for debate.

Another serious aspect of the game is that you can solve almost every single encounter without using force and violence, that seems like a good idea but given the world and realistic problems in Numenera, easily becomes silly a lot of the time. A common solution is to frighten and intimidate others, persuading them that you are tougher than you look – something you can be succesful at even against like 8-10 fanatic cultists and such enemies.

As I mostly had the Gold/Blue tides dominant on my character it certainly wasn’t an issue for me that besides “boss fights” you can always talk your way out, as it made a lot of sense to my character’s approach but in some situations it really led to awkward dialogues and silly situations that broke the illusion of the story for me. On another note, it worths mentioning: leaving certain main areas result in instantly failing any uncompleted quests, you can’t go back after leaving certain points.

The world is very strange because it doesn’t really feel like sci-fi but it’s not fantasy either, the thing is that the devices you encounter are never really explained well – I mean their inner workings and such. Just as a common example, every mention of consciousness could be just as easily replaced with the term soul. This kills the science vibe as every technology and machine is reduced into magic, while their presence is so dominant that some scenes are closer to a Shadowrun world than Middle-Earth. If I would need to summarize the world of Numenera then it would be a strange alloy of Mage The Awakening and Planescape, like in the ratio of 30-70 or so.

To be fair, considering how alien the structures and devices are in the world it would be very challenging to “harden” it from soft science-fiction to something more plausible, because we have all the technology here that are the rage these days like mind uploading, matrix-like simulations, time travel, artificial intelligence and large size quantum effects. These are all made into literary devices and other than their effects and how do they feel to use, they are never explained or described as potential scientific breakthroughs. Then again, this could be a conscious choice of the world builders, because for example the numenera cyphers are supposed to be mysterious, and detailing their workings would kill some of the vibe.

I completed most of the game with Rhin only , because the other characters didn’t seem memorable enough. This was pretty much a problem for me all the time with lot of characters in the game, that their stories and problems are interesting and fascinating as they have real moral problems and disputes but the characters themselves are not really interesting. I couldn’t even recall too much of them I’ve met in the game, that could be some problem with my memory for sure. Though if you consider how do they talk to you, like how the psychics don’t even take themselves seriously while discussing the nature of perception – it just becomes a mess of stories and you dont really grow attached to most of them, at least I couldn’t.

Sometimes even the merecaster characters were more memorable than the met companions or main story ones, that could be the problem of inconsistent writing process – I mean check the development information and see for yourself that there were more than 10 writers involved that surely makes a very wide variety of quality and moods involved. Trust me I wasn’t rushing the game through yet it took 21 hours to complete that is decent for someone like me who doesn’t have that much time to play any more, but still counts as kind of short compared to the 30-40 hours average of a Baldur’s Gate game.

Even the mere notion of writing this post means that the game is really good and I don’t think that I’ve played a rpg in the last decade that was this interesting, even with all the bitter taste involved that some parts left in my mind.

Though I encountered game breaking bugs while playing (one time the game was stuck at a certain point after finishing a dialogue so I had to kill it from the task manager, and another time I did something in the wrong order so failed to complete a pretty much important quest with no chance to redo it) I didn’t mention those, because I got the 1.0.1 version and they may have fixed these already.

Introduction to a computational worldview


Update: The youtube account that uploaded the video was terminated so I included a link to the original website even with an option to download the video itself.

The 33th Chaos Computer Conference has ended and one of the talks was a really nice introduction to the computational worldview that is gaining more and more support since Putnam formalized the foundations in the 60s. It is extraordinary as it touches all the crucial points where you can either agree or disagree, mentioning the specific theories being used to support the presented views.

The presentation itself is called “Dreaming Machines” and while being utterly interesting it fails to make the connection between computationalism and phenomena, actually even at 37:45 the presenter (Joscha) admits the lack of answers.