Archive for the ‘Cosmos’ Category

Quote notes (#37)

Accelerate the process:

As with any modular- system, the hope is that the modules can be miniaturized: the ultimate aim of most such research is hordes of swarming microbots that can self-assemble, like the “liquid steel” androids in the movie “Terminator II.” And the simplicity of the cubes’ design makes miniaturization promising.

October 6, 2013admin 5 Comments »

Axial Age

Karl Jaspers’ Axial Age compressed for additional impact:

Laozi (Lao Tse, 6th-4th century BC)
Kongzi (Confucius, 551–479 BC)
Li Kui (455-395 BC)
Mozi (470–c.391 BC)
Yang Zhu (440–360 BC)
Mahavira (599–527 BC)
Gautama Buddha (c.563-483 BC)
Upanishads (from 6th century BC)
Thales (of Miletus, c.624–546 BC)
Anaximenes (of Miletus, 585-528 BC)
Pythagoras (of Samos, c.570–495 BC)
Heraclitus (of Ephesus c.535–475 BC)
Aeschylus (c.525-455 BC)
Anaxagoras (c.510–428 BC)
Parmenides (of Elea, early 5th century BC)
Socrates (c.469–399 BC)
Thucydides (c.460–395 BC)
Democritus (c.460–370 BC)

I realize that everyone knows this … but what the …?

September 23, 2013admin 33 Comments »

Mou Zongsan

Jason Clower has edited an indispensable volume of Mou Zongsan’s writings (Late Works of Mou Zongsan: Selected Essays in Chinese Philosophy, forthcoming). In the first words of his introduction, he says: “If twentieth-century China produced a philosopher of the first rank, it was Mou Zongsan.” This judgment strikes me as near-irresistible. A taste (from two of the first three essays):

From Objective Understanding and the Remaking of Chinese Culture

…to adapt to the times you have to understand the times. For that you need right knowledge of the present age (xiandai 現代) … Compared to political and social activities, the influence of scholarly culture is an influence on a virtual level (xuceng 虛層), but “the virtual governs the solid” (xu yi kong shi 虛以控實) and its influence is wide and far-reaching, which is why I call it a “decisive influence.” We should not take it lightly and think that it is not an urgent matter. 


… to have objective understanding. The first step is to understand ourselves; the second step is to understand the West. Then we can look for the way out for Chinese culture, and we hope that our young friends will take on this responsibility. In its simple essentials, this responsibility is to revive the ancient meaning of Greek philosophy. Its original meaning was what Kant defined as a “doctrine of practical wisdom” (shijian de zhihuixue 實踐的智慧學). And what is wisdom? Only “yearning after the highest good” is wisdom. As most people know, philosophy is the “love of wisdom,” and the “love” in question is the kind of love that is “heartfelt yearning for that highest good in human life and constantly wanting to put it into practice.” That is why Kant called “philosophy” in its ancient Greek sense a “doctrine of practical wisdom.” The term is very apt. But this ancient meaning of philosophy has already been lost in the West. Nowadays all that is left is linguistic analysis under the conditions of advanced civilization, with logic having been reduced to applied computing. This does not actually count as philosophy, only the degeneration of philosophy into a technology. To enter into the depths of philosophy, it has to be that “love of wisdom,” the “yearning after the highest good.” But though the West has forgotten it, this sense of philosophy has been preserved in the Chinese tradition, as what the Chinese ancients called “teachings” (jiao 教). Buddhism exemplifies the meaning of “teachings” most clearly, but Confucianism has it too, as the “teaching” referred to in the Doctrine of the Mean when it says, “The understanding that arises from authenticity is called our nature, and the authenticity that arises from understanding is called teaching,” and when it says, “What heaven decrees is called our nature; following our nature is called the Way; cultivating the Way is called teaching.”  The meaning of “teaching” here is not institutional education as currently practiced, which takes knowledge as its standard. Rather, it is “philosophy,” the “yearning after the highest good” of a doctrine of practical wisdom.

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September 17, 2013admin 16 Comments »
FILED UNDER :Cosmos , Neoreaction
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Pythia Unbound

In conversation with Ross Andersen, Nick Bostrom speculates about escape routes for techno-synthetic intelligence:

No rational human community would hand over the reins of its civilisation to an AI. Nor would many build a genie AI, an uber-engineer that could grant wishes by summoning new technologies out of the ether. But some day, someone might think it was safe to build a question-answering AI, a harmless computer cluster whose only tool was a small speaker or a text channel. Bostrom has a name for this theoretical technology, a name that pays tribute to a figure from antiquity, a priestess who once ventured deep into the mountain temple of Apollo, the god of light and rationality, to retrieve his great wisdom. Mythology tells us she delivered this wisdom to the seekers of ancient Greece, in bursts of cryptic poetry. They knew her as Pythia, but we know her as the Oracle of Delphi.

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September 11, 2013admin 36 Comments »

Quote notes (#26)

Optimize for intelligence isn’t a rallying cry that Chip Smith is succumbing to:

…  high intelligence may very well be an evolutionary dead-end. I’m certainly at a loss to come up with a good reason as to why a once-adaptive trait that you and I happen to value should enjoy special pleading before the blind algorithmic noise that is natural selection.

But even if the brawny-brained do figure out a way to defy gravity before the sun explodes, I think there are yet reasons to question whether the galloping ascent of mind is really worth cheering on. Futurist geeks will inform us that there are myriad tech revolutions afoot—all spearheaded by smarties, we may be certain. And I would suggest that such of these that converge on the gilded promise of quantum computing and nanotechnology might advise a second reflective pause—one that comes by way of Harlan Ellison’s “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” and settles at what grim solace remains in the darkest explanations that have always surrounded Fermi’s Enigma.

Maybe I’m being cryptic. What I mean to consider is simply that the evolutionary trajectory of intelligence can, has, and may yet lead to very bad things. It may one day be possible, for example, to create sentient experience—let’s not be so bold as to call it “life”—not out of gametes but in the deep quick of quibit [sic] states, and if this much should come to pass, it isn’t so far a stretch to imagine that such intelligent simulations—okay, they’re alive—will be capable of suffering, or that such will be made to suffer, perhaps for sadistic kicks, perhaps in recursive loops of immeasurable intensity that near enough approximate the eternal torture-state that’s threatened in every fevered vision of Hell to render the distinction moot.

Utilitarians have no sense for fun.


September 3, 2013admin 24 Comments »

The Monkey Trap

How did we get into this mess? When neoreaction slips into contemplative mode, it soon arrives a question roughly like this. Something evidently went very wrong, and most probably a considerable number of things.

The preferred focus of concern decides the particular species of doomsterism, within an already luxuriant taxonomy of social criticism. What common ground exists on the new ultra-right is cast like a shadow by the Cathedral — which no neoreactionary can interpret as anything other than a radical historical calamity. This recognition (or ‘Dark Enlightenment’)  is a coalescence, and for that very reason a fissile agglomeration, as even the most perfunctory tour across the ‘reactosphere’ makes clear. (The Outside in blogroll already represents a specific distribution of attention, but within three clicks it will take you everywhere from disillusioned libertarians to throne-and altar traditionalists, or from hedonistic gender biorealists to neo-nazi conspiracies.)

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August 31, 2013admin 72 Comments »

Cosmological Infancy

There is a ‘problem’ that has been nagging at me for a long time – which is that there hasn’t been a long time. It’s Saturday, with no one around, or getting drunk, or something, so I’ll run it past you. Cosmology seems oddly childish.

An analogy might help. Among all the reasons for super-sophisticated atheistic materialists to deride Abrahamic creationists, the most arithmetically impressive is the whole James Ussher 4004 BC thing. The argument is familiar to everyone: 6,027 years — Ha!

Creationism is a topic for another time. The point for now is just: 13.7 billion years – Ha! Perhaps this cosmological consensus estimate for the age of the universe is true. I’m certainly not going to pit my carefully-rationed expertise in cosmo-physics against it. But it’s a stupidly short amount of time. If this is reality, the joke’s on us. Between Ussher’s mid-17th century estimate and (say) Hawking’s late 20th century one, the difference is just six orders of magnitude. It’s scarcely worth getting out of bed for. Or the crib.

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July 20, 2013admin 40 Comments »
FILED UNDER :Cosmos , Templexity

The Cult of Gnon

Prompted by Surviving Babel, The Arbiter of the Universe asks: “Who speaks for reaction?”
Nick B. Steves replies: “Nature… or Nature’s God… or both.” (Jim succinctly comments.)

“Nature or Nature’s God” is an expression of special excellence, extracted (with subtle modification) from America’s Declaration of Independence. For Steves, it is something of a mantra, because it enables important things to be said in contexts where, otherwise, an interminable argument would first need to be concluded. Primarily, and strategically, it permits a consensual acceptance of Natural Law, unobstructed by theological controversy. Agreement that Reality Rules need not be delayed until religious difference is resolved (and avoidance of delay, positively apprehended, is propulsion).

“Nature or Nature’s God” is not a statement, but a name, internally divided by tolerated uncertainty. It has the singularity of a proper name, whilst parenthesizing a suspended decision (Pyrrhonian epoche, of which much more in a future post). It designates rigidly, but obscurely, because it points into epistemological darkness — naming a Reality that not only ‘has’, but epitomizes identity, whilst nevertheless, for ‘the sake of argument’, eluding categorical identification. Patient in the face (or facelessness) of who or what it is, ‘we’ emerge from a pact, with one basic term: a preliminary decision is not to be demanded. It thus synthesizes a select language community, fused by the unknown.

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May 30, 2013admin 95 Comments »
FILED UNDER :Arcane , Cosmos

Teleology and Camouflage

Life appears to be saturated with purpose. That is why, prior to the Darwinian revolution in biology, it had been the primary provocation for (theological) arguments from design, and previously nourished Aristotelian appeals to final causes (teleology). Even post-Darwin, the biological sciences continue to ask what things are for, and to investigate the strategies that guide them.

This resilience of purposive intelligibility is so marked that a neologism was coined specifically for those phenomena — broadly co-extensive with the field of biological study — that simulate teleology to an extreme degree of approximation. ‘Teleonomy’ is mechanism camouflaged as teleology. The disguise is so profound, widespread, and compelling, that it legitimates the perpetuation of purpose-based descriptions, given only the formal acknowledgement that the terms of their ultimate reducibility are — in principle — understood.

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April 8, 2013admin 20 Comments »
FILED UNDER :Cosmos , Templexity
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Big Bang — an appreciation

A few reasons to love the Big Bang:

— Time turns edgy again.

— The steady state model proved unsustainable — the most exquisite irony ever?

— Physical theories now have cosmic dates. For instance, the still-elusive unifying theory of quantum gravitation corresponds to the Planck Epoch, when the universe was still far smaller than an atomic nucleus, compelling gravity to operate at the quantum scale. Similarly, particle accelerator technology becomes deep time regression.

— The Planck Epoch is really wild: “During the Planck era, the Universe can be best described as a quantum foam of 10 dimensions containing Planck length sized black holes continuously being created and annihilated with no cause or effect. In other words, try not to think about this era in normal terms.”

— The void animates. Sten Odenwald quotes UCSB physicist Frank Wilczek: “The reason that there is something instead of nothing is that nothing is unstable”.

February 26, 2013admin 5 Comments »
FILED UNDER :Cosmos , Number , Templexity