The Desk

the-desk

Seen in an old mill nearby.

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Seeing Faces

seeing-faces

I was recently reminded of thispersondoesnotexist.com which is a site that displays a new computer-generated face every time you reload it. There are still some artefacts that give away the artificial origin (I chose two examples with few glitches for the picture above) but I think it is fair to say that these faces look convincingly real.

This means that they trigger the same reactions in our minds that pictures of real people do. I found myself reloading the page for at least ten minutes, becoming more and more mesmerized, reacting to facial expressions, sometimes falsely recognizing someone I know, and generally unable to convince the automatic parts of the brain that these are not people.

Do I have a point? Should we become even more sceptical of media than we already are? I don't know. But being a somewhat aware of the way we cannot help but react to faces, real or not, cannot be such a bad thing, a kind of meta awareness that hopefully contributes to resilience against manipulation.

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Fibysjön

fibysjon

I took the drone our for a spin this chilly early spring morning. The picture shows the nearby lake, Fibysjön, just a few hundred meters through the forest from our place.

Around it you can see some areas where the trees have recently been taken down. In fact, I see several huge trucks passing by every day, loaded to the brim with logs. The harvesters that do the logging are impressive machines and so efficient that they can process up to a hundred trees per hour.

There is an ongoing debate, heated at times, between the environmental movement, forest owners and industry, about how to strike the balance between logging and preservation. The more I read about it, the less of a strong opinion I find myself to maintain in that regard. I intend to write up the arguments soon, but as a teaser, if you can read Swedish, here is a twitter thread with some basic stats about forests and forestry.

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The Call of the Worlds

I finally read The Call of Cthulhu the other week. Considering it's impact on culture, this was certainly overdue. I had read a collection of Lovecraft's short stories some year ago, but this one was not among them for some reason. Needless to say it was a fun read and the quickly building atmosphere still works today.

And while at the topic of century-old monster stories, I also read H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds not long ago, with mixed feelings. It certainly has its moments and is propbably rightfully regarded as one of the most important works in science-fiction. But I found it tedious at times and too long for its own good, which is mostly due to its age, I guess.

Oh, one more monster: The Thing, the 1982 movie by John Carpenter, was quite entertaining! The gory practical effects hold up well enough and the atmosphere is intense. I think I never had seen this to the end before; if I don't misremember I started watching it in my late teens, but when it got to the scene in the dog cage I said "Nope! Not for me!" and turned it off before the monster reveal.

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Virtue Signalling

See what I just did there? I was telling you (and myself) what a good boy I am to not participate in consumerism! In other words, I was "signalling my virtue".

This is one of those concepts that, once you learn about it, it pops up everywhere. It is deeply intertwined with prestige and how much we care about what others think of us. And with mating behaviour, for example when males (of any species, including us) try to convince females that they would make a good mate, by whatever criterion that is relevant in the situation.

This podcast with Geoffrey Miller, who literally wrote the book called Virtue Signalling, is quite good as an overview, if I remember correctly - it has been a while since I listened to it. One of the points he stresses is that virtue signalling is generally a good thing! It is a way to build trust and allow for cooperation.

Recently however, the term has mostly been used in a derogatory sense, like accusing accusing someone to be "just virtue signalling" instead of being sincere in their proclamation. For example, a male calling himself "feminist" can be suspect to ulteriour motives, that is saying anything that "gets the girl"; he might even be a sneaky fucker.

Similarly, social justice activists' opinions, while certainly being convinced of their own noble motives, can easily appear repulsive to outsiders when attitudes get polarized within the group from everyone's trying to gain prestige by having the "purest" opinions on the subject matter at hand.

All this, just to say: I bought a new coffe machine after all, thereby negating the virtue I was signalling before. virtue-signalling

It works well, makes good coffee and I hope it lasts for as may years as the old one.

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You Are Dreaming

While chopping wood earlier today, I listened to this FLI podcast with Joscha Bach in which he says:

We obviously live in a dream universe. And the dream is dreamed by a mind on a higher plane of existence and that is implemented in the skull of a primate. In the brain of some primate that is walking around in a physical universe. This is our best hypothesis that we have. And so we can explain all the magic that you’re experiencing by the fact that indeed we live in a dream generated in that skull.

And now the question is, how does consciousness come about? How is it possible that the physical system can be experiencing things? And the answer is no, it can’t. A physical system cannot experience anything. Experience is only possible in a dream. It’s a virtual property. Our existence as experiencing beings is entirely virtual, it’s not physical. Which means we are only experiencing things inside of the model. It’s part of the model that we experience something.

For the neurons, it doesn’t feel like anything to do this. For the brain, it doesn’t feel like anything. But it would be very useful for the brain [to know], what it would be like to be a person. So it generates a story about that person. About the feelings of that person, the relationship that this person has with the environment, and it acts on that model. And the model gets updated, as part of that behavior.

This is quite dense and almost incomprehensible without a lot of prior knowledge that is not yet obvious to "normies" like myself. I had to turn down the listening speed to 1x, which I rarely need to, but I think I got the gist of it.

It reminds me of Anil Seth's TED talk where he argues that coscious awareness is a hallucination contrained by reality, whereas a dream has no such contraints.

Mind-blowing stuff to think about, maybe literally so.

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Crocus

crocus

Spring is late at 60°N, compared to central Europe where I grew up. March and April feel like a waiting period every year and can be quite grey and ugly. While lush greens are still some weeks away, the first dots of colour have now appeared in our garden.

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Geoengineering

I listened to this podcast the other day and want to highly recommend it! There is a transcript at that same link, if you prefer text over audio. It has lots of information that was new to me, and a nuanced discussion on a topic that triggers a negative gut reaction from most people: intervening in the climate, for example by increasing cloud cover over the oceans, or by putting reflective particles high into the atmosphere.

The argument is of course not that we should stop other efforts to decrease and mitigate climate change, even though it looks like this is what everbody reacts to. Instead the point is to at least do the research needed to know what does or does not work, before an intervention gets done in the future without such knowledge, in a state of emergency. Nevertheless, as soon as it became public that some US researchers wanted to do this kind of research in northern Sweden, there was an outcry and it just got cancelled. Sad.

In the podcast I especially enjoyed their discussion of moral hazards. Like with COVID, there are often strong warnings that the public will receive certain information in a way that makes things worse, while the opposite reaction is just as plausible.

I find geoengineering to be quite enticing and if I ever were to switch careers, this would be on my list of things to check out. It is not discussed much in the interview but that humanity in the long run takes charge of the climate makes perfect sense to me, it is probably inevitable. For example, we do not want to be subject to the mercy of nature, like a supervolcano erupting, or to the whims of rogue states that do a climate intervention that only suits local needs. Solving the problem of world-wide agreement on what the right temperature is, will certainly be difficult, but might well become a catalyst for stronger global institutions, which we need for other problems as well.

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Wiki Loves Monuments

wiki-loves-monuments (Photo by Farzin Izaddoust Dar, CC BY-SA 4.0)

This is the winner of this year's photo contest Wiki Loves Monuments , and deservedly so! A great picture well worth clicking to enlarge. The other contestants are worth checking out, too, but the official link above shows them only in small format. This one is better.

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