Links: Persuasion, Computers, Meditation, and more!

  • More about mainframes.
  • On persuasion. Might give this one a read
  • Cloud based dev environments. Could be. After years working at a company which had a self hosted stack built predominantly in-house, I’m now at a company which uses a standard 2022 k8s/docker/helm + python/go/ts + grafana/influx + etc stack. It’s overwhelming how many layers of different open source projects are out there. I’m interested in understanding what the strengths versus weaknesses of a stack as complex as this are, and in paving over the annoying extraneous complexities. Making this all worse is a split between the x86 and ARM/M1 ecosystems, where things (especially older versions of things) aren’t mutually cross-compatible.
  • Chip scaling into the 2030s and beyond. It seems like tools (like this one, and this one) that make it easy to reason about concurrency and multithreading will be really important in an increasingly multiprocessor future. With the end of the Laws (Moore’s, Denard’s, Ahmdal’s…) a lot of the antiperformant stuff (what Emery Berger calls the Irrational Exuberance Languages) will have to be readdressed.
  • Focus means saying no to good ideas. In a software team I’ve found it’s really tempting to say yes to everything and to at least want to try to do everything in every direction.
  • Not Everyone Should Have A Say. I’m skeptical of those who find this essay controversial
  • Man in cave. Captivating youtube historical documentary about a man trapped in a cave
  • Polyphia – Ego Death ft Steve Vai. Polyphia is amazing
  • Airport runways are aligned with prevailing winds
  • Twitter thread about where copper comes from. We’ll need several times as much copper, nickel, aluminum, etc as we mine today in order to shift to solar+batteries. Not even considering rare earths and conflict metals. My hope is still in 4th gen nuclear reactors, but everything will depend on learning curves. Plus, as prices change markets should shift to pick up the slack
  • Jhana, jhana highlights, jhana lite , jhana insight, jhana response. Jhana book and another jhana book

Links for September: Fusion, Pollution, the Future, and more!

The private fusion industry has been heating up for a few years now, and people are saying that by the 2030s we might expect fusion power contributing to the grid. Commonwealth Fusion Systems and their SPARC reactor, exciting because of the new electromagnet materials which have already demonstrated being able to generate a 20 Tesla field (this is very large as far as high power magnets go). For an intro to fusion, I found this video really informative. Energy is the most fundamental input for civilization, and we’ll need to generate more of it to give the rest of the world the kind of reasonable quality of life that middle class europeans can expect. Experts remain skeptical, probably so should we.

For solar, tax-credit carrots instead of tariff sticks. The IRA could revitalize domestic solar panel production in the US. Hopeful.

Battery powered knife throwing machine. Hilarious project, and cool that the dad and 13-year-old son are working on it together.

Let’s build the car out of the batteries

On longevity as a professional programmer. A lot of this stuff has been said before, but this essay is a good example. Programming is a young field. Languages and frameworks come and go. Try different things. We as programmers can all stand to learn ways of doing things better. Being a programmer is like being a musician. Learn at least one functional programming language like you’d learn at least one Mozart piece if you were a lifelong pianist. Different tools teach us different skills, breadth and depth are both important.

Plankalkül , the first higher-than-assembly programming language. Predates COBOL and ALGOL and FORTRAN. I’d never heard of this.

A really optimistic write up about futuristic new biomaterials

Language is the new sex. The rise of garden empires. A simultaneously grim and hopeful humanistic look at the future of life on this planet. We’re growing to be masters of our gardens, and our gardens are growing to be the whole planet

It’s often said that the whole universe we can now observe was once compressed into a volume the size of a golf ball, but we should imagine that the golf ball is only a tiny piece of a universe that was infinite even then. The unending infinite universe is expanding into itself.

Russell conjugation.

Young people are choosing sobriety. One of the biggest cultural shifts that’s come with millennials has been the normalization of talking about mental health, seeing a therapist, and so on. I think this kind of awareness of why we take the drugs we take (alcohol is of course a drug) is a downstream effect of that, and a good one. The article’s not particularly substantial but points in the right direction.

Series of blog posts about the Unisys Dorado OS2200 mainframe. Having grown up in the era of personal computers, commodity hardware server racks, and cloud VMs, I don’t really understand mainframes. This is helping. Coda.

The California Central Valley is extremely impoverished and polluted too. This was a bit of an eye-opener for me. The central valley counties are in the same league as the poorest regions of Mississippi, and right in the backyard of extremely wealthy urban regions. Though, San Francisco’s salary boom has failed to translate into improved infrastructure and amenities in the city, so perhaps it’s not that surprising. Seems dire, especially as drought conditions will continue to worsen.

US import demand is dropping to prepandemic levels Bodes well for supply chain related inflation, but you’ll see people pearl clutching about how this portends the end of The West as well.

A bunch of predictions about the future of computing over the next century and the ripples of effects on all sorts of things. I found this futuristic, humanistic, hopeful, and intriguing in that it touches on a lot of things I haven’t heard anyone talk about elsewhere.

Interview with Masha Gessen

Links: Meaning, Climate Spending, Obesity, and more!

  • Rick Roderick (youtube). Late Texan philosophy professor. This video is start of a series about finding personal meaning in contemporary life. Interesting for many reasons, not the least of which is his thick texan drawl, which busts my stereotype of what a philosophy lecturer sounds like.
  • I’ve also been enjoying John Vervaeke’s massive youtube series Awakening From The Meaning Crisis. The first 25 episodes or so are a meaning-oriented tour through the history of philosophy, religion, and science, primarily in the West. Feels like Vervaeke’s doing important work, and he’s clearly well read and researched.
  • A Chemical Hunger. Huge blog series about the potential causes of obesity. Touches on many subjects, and drives hard towards a theory of environmental toxins explaining a huge amount of the modern obesity endemic. The series points to three likely contaminants: animal antibiotics, PFAS, and lithium. We don’t know what kinds of toxins we’re producing and consuming in a lot of cases. There’s a role for responsible government regulation of industry to protect all of us.
  • What Causes Chronic Disease. Taking a different stance and focusing on diseases other than obesity, this research points towards vegetable oils as a primary culprit.
  • Drapetomania. Samuel A. Cartwright (c. 1850s) believed slave life was so pleasant, that only the mentally ill would want to run away. Cartwright also vocally opposed germ theory. So, wrong on at least two counts.

I quite like Jake Seliger’s ‘links’ posts on his blog, and intend to attempt something similar. Here we go!

26. Was oral tradition better than we give it credit for?

We constantly argue over the interpretations of written tradition, whether it’s laws or religious texts. Was oral tradition better at this?

Oral tradition is the process of communicating cultural knowledge from one generation to the next, via speech. This was probably mostly a master teaching a student, telling the stories over and over until the student could themself tell the stories. It was probably in small groups, people sitting around a fire, an elder telling the stories of the tribe to the young generation. This is how things worked before the technology of writing was developed. It was the only way you could pass on the accumulated learnings of how to make the society keep functioning. All the lessons and traditions and stories about things going well and things going poorly.

My imagination up til now has been that oral tradition is primitive and prone to error. Thanks to the invention of hieroglyphics, cuneiform, the written alphabet and eventually the printing press, society shifted from an oral tradition to a written one. This is good! We can look back at how people used to write about things, and we can see the exact words that were written down at the time, without any loss. You know, offshoots of the whole idea that our new society is good and great and that old stuff was dumb and bad.

Written communication is good because it can act as a freeze frame of the words people used to represent their ideas at a given point in time. Compare oral tradition, which has no freeze frame: it’s a lossy game of telephone. We’ve all played telephone, we know that a message hopping between friends in a room will get totally corrupted within 3 hops.

But, written tradition doesn’t include any component of interpretation, or making sure the reader/student is getting it. What if oral tradition isn’t (wasn’t) just a game of telephone. If it’s as I described above, oral tradition should involve making sure the student is getting it. Maybe this would convey meaning more effectively than trying to read between the lines of text written by people who’re long dead, who spoke different language. Even if it wasn’t a different language altogether at the very least the dead folks we’re using the language in a different way.

The Torah and other written Hebrew tradition was probably pieced together over the course of few centuries around 100BC, and the New Testament was similarly cobbled together over the course of several centuries after christ’s death. Before this, the tradition was oral! Judaeo-Christian tradition dates back to god-knows-when, and shares parts of its roots in proto-indo-european religion. I’m spitballing, but I place Proto-Judaism in the “ten thousand years old or more” category, at least in terms of the fuzzy combined origins of what over thousands of years became different religious traditions. Hinduism goes there too, and Sumerian mythology, and the rest of it. The old stuff. I can somewhat easily imagine that these traditions split apart as groups of people migrated away from each-other in pursuit of food or living space, and the traditions slowly morphed and evolved over time. The languages they were speaking literally changed and diverged, and with it the things being communicated. This has elements of telephone in it, but has a substantially slower, plodding feel to it. This stuff changed over thousands of years.

Even though Christianity has had a written Bible for ages, but this was used as a backbone around which wrapped the Catholic Church. The catholic church for 1500 years was the hybrid oral-and-written tradition of communicating the teachings of Christianity. Teachings, and structures of control, too. I’m not really trying to weigh in on whether the church was good or bad per-se, in this line of thinking. What it did do was keep a degree of consistency in the tradition of Catholicism.

After the bible was written down and left to be interpreted by each person on their own, we immediately got an infinite fractal fragmentation of interpretations of the bible. Each pastor is unto themself a new sect of protestantism. Whether you think structure is inherently bad or not, there isn’t any, anymore, in protestant christianity. We’re not talking about stuff changing over thousands of years, we’re talking about whole new religions (sects?) appearing over the course of a few decades

We can get into the valence of this phenomenon, or what the other knock-on effects have been. But we’ll avoid that for right now. I bring up all this Christianity Protestantism stuff just as a real example of the kind of fragmentation that written tradition leads to, specifically because as a medium it doesn’t necessitate a thread of getting it being passed through the decades. You can look at the text, and to some degree see what you want in it.

We’re missing something when we rely too heavily on the words as they’re written.

25. Coffee

Boy do I love drinking some coffee in the morning. Especially when I can sit peacefully for a time and enjoy it. I like it black, about a 2-1 ratio of water to espresso. Less dilute than a standard americano, but still enough water to give the drink some longevity. I’ve heard it called an Italiano, but that seems pretentious to actually order, and at any rate my favorite times are when I make it at home and get to sit peacefully on the couch in silence for a bit.

It feels warm in the hand, but I’m usually not looking for it to necessarily warm my hands. I’d prefer if the drink stays hotter longer instead of being robbed of its heat. Simply taking a sniff carries bit of the enlivening power.

The first sips are the purest and most delicious, when it’s fresh in the mouth. I like to make sure I get the foam from around the edge of the waterline, almost like apportioning the salt from around the rim of a margarita.

There’s a bit of a zing it leaves on the tongue after taking a sip, as if the caffeine is directly stimulating the nerves on the surface of my tongue. It’s feels slightly sassy in the stomach, black coffee is just like that. But the addiction prevails, my body and mind both want it anyways.

I often find a smile on my face by a few sips in, just enjoying the quickening feeling and sense of peace with myself and my surroundings. The coffee is a reminder of that. The stimulant effect is enough to keep odd fraying thoughts away, helps to keep me present for a moment. It’s always nicer to enjoy the coffee while doing nothing. I find it easier to do nothing when the nothingness is time-bounded. The number of sips in a cup act as a meditation timer.

It feels smooth, like ice skating. Agile, more than fast.

The socially permitted drugs are Alcohol, Caffeine, Tobacco, White Sugar, and Cannabis. Tobacco less and less, and replaced by the more abstract Nicotine. White Sugar morphed to include corn syrup. Maybe we can begrudgingly add Amphetamines to the list. Coffee is definitely a kind of dependency for me. It’s something I want, and I seek out daily. I’ve had time periods where I drink too much coffee such that when I don’t I get headaches. These days I keep it to one, or at most two per day, always in the morning (before 10am). I think it’s a healthy balance.

Sometimes I find myself excited to get to bed so that I can wake up and have my morning coffee.

24. Biology is Technology

Imagine a spaceship touches down on earth and from it emerges the most advanced technology known by anyone. Tens if not hundreds of millennia advanced compared to our own mastery. A packed cadre of atomic machinery, fitting as much complexity as the the laws of physics will support into as tiny a space as possible. Imagine this technology exists, and we can study it. Imagine it’s biology.

Biology is the most advanced technology around.

Imagine building a robot that does what a dragonfly does. Insecta are the miniature robotic drones of Animalia, and the dragonfly is the helicopter of the insects. It can hover and pitch, yaw and translate. It can track and catch tiny zippy insects using two large composite image sensors. We don’t have the materials to make its wings, or batteries or motors light enough or capable enough to get within an order of magnitude of body mass. Let alone the fact that dragonflies get their energy from the insects they eat. Let alone that pairs of dragonflies can self replicate. We can’t make anything that fly and also self replicate.

Does human technology get anywhere near this? Can we make any biology? We can make a lot of stuff that isn’t an imitation of biology. Bridges, glass skyscrapers, computer chips. Plants in particular are chemical factories, and industrial chemistry can keep up with a whole menagerie of small molecules. The store carries the human-manufactured synthetic almond extract alongside the plant manufactured natural stuff. We can perform minutiae of alchemy, bombarding a nucleus to transform one atom into another, a feat accomplished at scale by nature in the hearts of stars.

Eventually the path of technological progress curves towards biology. Designers talk about biomimicry. Engineers wielding supercomputers and 3d-printers are beginning to explore topological optimization, a way of letting physics sculpt a part to be lighter and stronger that results in in it looking simultaneously more organic and more alien. Like the bones of a flying creature from a different solar system.

Computer chips can be thought of as large crystalline molecules, attempting a silicon-based biology which parallels the carbon based one. Computer chips are the largest projects humanity attempts, the machines and materials and knowledge we use to make these chips beg for scarce chemicals and advanced manufacturing projects, supply chains which link and branch and thread many times around and deep into the planet. All this has such gravity that competitive international politics bends into a game of delicate courtship towards sustaining chip manufacturing.

Computer chips and cutting edge microelectromechanical machines exist at the same scales as biology. Individual atoms in a chip make use of every bit of their own physics to carry the message. But of course even these most magic of human-made devices remain confined to a flat plane, using materials whose dynamics we understand and whose atoms like to stay in one place, thank you very much. Metals lie flat. Chips are sheets of cut-out paper of different properties, laminated together at the atomic level. Pesky carbon and its friends take on shapes in three dimensions, and they all love to jiggle about in ways that leave our x-ray photolithography machines sorely outmatched.

We build computers, and computers help us build biomimetic systems. The synthesis is advanced carbosilicate biocomputers, a computational silicon layer atop and infused into the biological strata. These are fancy words for our existing modern society, with global communications networks connecting organic meat-sacks. We’re at the beginning. Change is always uncomfortable and must be navigated gently and wisely.

Biology is our distant past and our distant future.

To me, dear Reader, this is a useful frame to consider biology. I know more about technology than biology, humanity as a whole knows more about technology than biology. Connecting them together on a long arc puts them in scale, reminds me that a lot of it can be understood, and reminds me how little we know now. It reminds me that what we call biology is an extension of the universe, and what we call artificial is an extension of biology, wrapping around to help the universe come to understand ourself.

23. Hindi Youtube discusses Elon Musk

Yesterday I watched this video about Elon Musk’s Twitter acquisition. The major difference between this video and the droves of similar-seeming content is that this is in Hindi. It’s part of Hindi youtube, discussing Indian politics and topics of particular relevance to the subcontinent, as well as more world-news topics such as Elon’s latest.

I found the video remarkably entertaining, and it has some good insights. I wanted to share some of my experience with this and try to distill some of the reflections I’ve had from encountering this part of youtube.

I mostly only have the sample of this one guy’s channel. I’ve seen a few of his videos so far. I’m quite confident there’s an entire mess of hindi language ‘youtube news’ style channels to be found here.

The channel is called The Deshbhakt, which translates to The Patriot, or the ‘devotee of the country’. The host is a guy named Akash Banerjee. The channel pitches itself as “India’s first and largest political satire channel”, and Akash states clearly that this satire section is missing from the Indian news and Bollywood media complex. It seems pretty close to Some More News or even John Oliver or a whole series of other similar pop news content creators. At time of writing, the channel has 2.44M subscribers on youtube and states that it’s primarily funded by its Patreon. This particular video has 500k views and came out late last month.

I don’t regularly watch or subscribe to a lot of satire-news, but structurally as a youtube channel this is pretty similar to creators I follow: probably-mostly-independent content creators using a combination of Patreon supporters and youtube ad revenue to crank out reasonably engaging videos where the host talks to the camera, interspersed by news video clips, text snippets, video memes, stock footage… you get the picture.

I can mostly understand hindi. When watching this guy’s video I’d say I got about 75% of it without subtitles, and having subtitles on boosted that to 100% comprehension. The interesting thing is that the subtitles often diverge from anything close to a word-for-word translation of what the guy’s saying. The topics and major points are preserved, but most of the colloquialisms and ‘tone’ is lost. The colloquialisms and tone are what I found both entertaining and interesting for different reasons.

For one early example, there’s a line where the subtitle says “CEO Parag Agarwal and board weren’t that interested in the beginning”. But what our host is saying is more animated, and translates closer to something like:

Twitter’s board and Mr Agarwal’s son Parag were saying “oh jeez oh god what are you doing Mr Musk”


I don’t want to get too in the weeds with translating colloquialisms, but this at least partially illustrates the point that you’re not getting the full picture with just the subs.

Deshbhakt makes several points quickly, including:

  • Twitter really caught Elon’s eye, he’s gotten obsessed
  • It’s pretty common for billionaire moguls to own media companies: Mukesh Ambani and Network 18, Jack Ma and South China Morning Post, Jeff Bezos and Washington Post, Mark Benioff and Time Magazine… and now Elon Musk and twitter.
  • Tesla basically gets the credit for making electric cars cool
  • SpaceX is the most successful rocket company in the world
  • Twitter might distract Musk from these more exciting companies

He says: “How can a social media platform disturb a genius billionaire businessman in his work?”. Akash’s focus on this point starts to give a good cultural read of his audience. There’s a degree of reverence for “good businessman who knows best because otherwise he wouldn’t’ve become a good businessman”. The comments really reflect this too:

Some generally pro-Elon comments

This is already good insight! This reverence for the business magnate, the admiration for the bootstrapped businessman. These are cultural factors that I am familiar with, and also fairly skeptical of.

Akash continues:

  • Jack Dorsey has stated that twitter’s the closest thing we’ve got to a global consciousness
  • But… twitter’s user base is pretty small. It’s smaller than facebook, youtube, but also smaller than snapchat and pinterest.
  • On the other hand it’s true that news travels first and faster on twitter. It really is some kind of high-speed information hub, despite having a relatively small userbase

Musk’s proposed changes:

  • Make twitter’s algorithm open source to increase transparency and trust.
  • Defeat the spam bots, which everyone including twitter knows about but hasn’t acted on.
  • Edit button
  • Verified badge to all humans.

Another translation to show what’s missing in the subs:
Subtitle: “So how many real users does twitter have?”
More direct translation: “After these bot accounts are gotten rid of, twitter reality will become front and center. Meaning: we’ll learn how many real users there are! Because that’ll be even fewer than the current user count, and will show even more clearly how stagnant twitter is.

All real humans getting a verified badge is a pretty cool idea, and I hadn’t heard it before.

From here, Akash gets into free speech absolutism.

Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated. – Musk

The question of course is where does free speech reach its limits?

Along with the fate of Trump’s ban, there’s an Indian actress named Kangana Ranaut who’s account was also banned for violating Twitter’s terms.

In the absolutist version of free speech, where nobody is going to stop any speech, in this situation you can have a ‘no holds barred’ conversation, nobody’s going to police or silence you. This is all good and well. And sure, let’s say you can do personal attacks, ‘below the belt’ punches. But… Doxing? Misogyny? Homophobia? Racist comments? Are these also coming in under the free speech banner? Where are you gonna draw the line, Elon brother?


He goes on to point out very clearly that having no clear line will only increase the fighting on twitter, and some kind of community guidelines and moderation are the norm on all social media platforms and indeed in all communities. That’s how we get civilized conversation.

This is a great point! It stands out to me in particular that it’s framed outside the kind of culture war language I’m usually used to in American newsmedia.

Even Zuckerberg originally had more absolutist stances towards free speech on facebook, on which he’s since changed tack when faced with the reality of what a truly absolutist view implies.

One of Akash’s big points in this video is that it seems like Musk thinks twitter is a problem to be solved… because it is… but that this problem will be solved with math, science, engineering. Similarly to how he’s successfully approached problems in engineering electric cars and building rockets. But Twitter’s not an engineering problem, primarily. It’s a human problem. Engineering has gone on for years to target CSAM and violent activity, and so on. But the magic solution isn’t in the engineering.

Another big point is that Musk really isn’t as much of a free speech absolutist as he makes out to be. Famously Musk spoke out against the COVID mask mandates in the US, even purposefully ignoring them within tesla factories. He spoke out against the vaccine before it had come out. But… what does musk say in china?

When it comes to China, Musk is such a free speech absolutist, he is such a free speech absolutist… that he says absolutely nothing. Totally silent.

When the Chinese government says ‘shut up, wear masks’, Musk doffs his hat and says “yes sir, thank you sir, right away sir”. Workers will sleep in the factory? Sure. They’ll eat there and live there too, for $63 a day? Sure!

The free speech concerns have a way of evaporating when it comes to getting a slice of that sweet sweet Chinese automobile market.

Twitter too is a global platform, which has deals in various regulatory regimes, including India. Will Musk address the issue of twitter in these countries, whether millions of people get speech at all?

All in all, these aren’t engineering problems! These are social and political and human problems.

Oh, also: Twitter isn’t profitable. Mr Businessman Musk is well aware that this is a $44 billion deal for a company that loses money. The financing he’s received could cost $1 billion/year in debt service alone. Way less than Twitter’s EBITDA. Seems like a bad deal.

When’s he going to make the rockets? When’re we getting to Mars? All this is going to take time and energy. Why not invest that $44B in improving global hunger and thirst, helping with climate change, or anything that might grant him some good will. The video ends on this note, that Musk’s gonna get snared in this web of annoying twitter politics, and that it’s just a big waste of his resources.

Anyways, that’s the video summarized. I thought getting a glimpse of this style of content in Hindi medium was pretty interesting, and the specifically India-specific cultural context and phrasing gives insights to what people are thinking in India.

I watched another couple of his videos that I also thought were interesting and will plan to write up why I found those interesting too, and maybe glean some more insights about what Indian politics are like.

22. Video Notes – Nonlinear wave computing, Vibes, Gestalts and Realms with Andrés Gómez Emilsson

This video is wild. What exactly is Andrés talking about? Let’s get into it a bit. This write-up is meant mostly for my own purposes to try to tack down some of the interesting bits I came across while watching the video. I’ll put some of my meta level thoughts at the end too.


video of nonlinear waves

Normally in physics or in daily reality when we think of waves, we think of linear waves. Waves such as sound or ocean waves which can progress through a medium and can overlap additively or subtractively. Linear waves don’t really interact other than this kind of simple constructive/destructive interference. This property is called the superposition principle, which means we can account for all the interactions of the waves in a system by treating them as independent waves which can ‘go through each other’. Fourier transforms operate on linear waves.

In the context of consciousness research, non-linear wave computing falls under the umbrella of qualia computing (i.e. using qualia for information processing). The core idea is that our nervous system uses mediums with specialized wave-propagation dynamics in order to instantiate self-organizing principles that will “solve the problem on their own” in a massively parallel and holistic fashion. In this talk I delve deeply into the way non-linear waves seem to appear in a wide range of phenomenological domains and thus provide a lot of explanatory power.

Lots of waves in nature are nonlinear which means rather than going through each other, the waves interact and can ‘bounce off each other’ or lead to more complex interference patterns. Examples of nonlinear waves include beach waves (which often ‘bounce off’ each-other, solitons, phase conjugate mirrors, and optical self-focusing effects. Mathematical approaches for decomposing and analyzing nonlinear waves are discussed here.

One interesting thing he touched on is that waves with energy characteristics well within the bounds of a given ‘energy regime’ operate as linear waves but as we push the waves to higher and higher energy levels they start to behave nonlinearly towards the edges of the regime. This paper at least also discusses linearity and nonlinearity in wave propagation and uses the term energy regime to express boundary conditions for a given linear process.

An example of a linear wave giving rise to nonlinearities are the experiments with sand being vibrated by a speaker. In these Chladni patterns, the sound waves are linear but give rise to nonlinear sand patterns.

Our experience is made of these waves coming into our sensory organs and being compressed filtered and interpreted by our brains. The simplest example is listening to music, literally linear waves entering the eardrum. The attack/decay/sustain/release properties of these waves manifest as different phenomenological forms and have different moods or feelings attached with them. The fact that the ADSR happens over time indicates that our mental representation in our auditory cortex integrates the incoming wave over time, storing and operating on this incorporated representation.

Emilsson uses the term ‘nonlinearities’ to refer to really any kind of phenomenological form, each has a certain vibe signature: a way in which it appears to you and how it makes you feel.


Emilsson calls all of this experience of linear and nonlinear waves ‘vibes’

The thesis of this video is that our world-simulation is constructed with vibes interacting with one another forming gestalts, which in turn form large-scale enduring self-reinforcing attractors aka. “realms”. With an analogy to the construction of a building: vibes are tools, gestalts are raw materials, and realms are the complete resulting buildings.

Vibes have precise valence characteristics (ADSR envelop, dissonance, etc.) – for instance, metta has a soft attack. When vibes are above a certain level of energy they become non-linear and thus they “bounce off each other” to form gestalt (which are the energy minima of vibes interacting with one another). These gestalts function as non-linearities that our brain stores as building blocks, which are then stacked with each other to form complex scenes, and ultimately entire realms of experience.

Importantly, the valence characteristics of vibes and those of the gestalts they give rise to are mutually reinforcing. The valence of our inner representations are thus the CDNS (consonance, dissonance, noise signature) of the vibes making up the gestalts. This allows us to understand how moods work. For example, adrenergic vibes are harsh and thus over time they anneal into gestalts that have unpleasant valence characteristics – the realms embody the vibes of the gestalts that constructed them. So… be wise about your vibes!


Gestalts are integrated collections of sensory waves and nonlinearities, all of which fit to form a mood or a full picture of a scene. Stories are made of series of gestalts strung together like a movie. When crafted skillfully, these gestalts weave together and interact to create nonlinearities across the story as a whole. The story or movie makes sense as a whole. When we imagine a gestalt it’s usually not ‘a subject’ but ‘a subject doing some action’ or interacting in some way.


Realms are anti-fragile attractors in gestalt space. These are stories woven together which defend themselves and create a lens or worldview from which to make sense of our perceptions. People occupy one or many realms, and we often move between realms in our lives. The core of a realm is how you conceptualize your sense of self and how you interpret reality within the structures constituting that realm.

Emilsson expresses several different realms of perception

  • Hell realm – self-worsening loops of feeling like “it’s all my fault” or “it’s the world’s fault”, or that the world is terrible. If you approach the world with this kind of vibe you self-reinforce that paradigm and can enter deeper into and continue to create a hell world for yourself. When doing any intervention we should always consider that for a given nervous system it can be 10 or 100 or 1000 times worse than it currently is. With a hell realm things can seem all-consuming and often an individual needs a little respite or getting to step back from the realm in order to nucleate and build a sense of identity outside the hell realm. Having a spark of loving kindness in a tiny part of your body… don’t focus on the things that are tense, focus on the things that are calm and relaxed and allow that feeling to expand larger and larger.
  • Titan realm, or the world of the asuras. Feeling like everything is an attack. Very kinetic. Vibes are very sharp, short attack (in the ADSR sense). Trying to strike representations with these attacks. When you’re inside the titan realm, the core or your experience of self is that of being in a weapons depot. All around are tools and arguments and weapons at your disposal to try to destroy or dispel some enemy idea or concept. All are nonlinear gestalts that are powerful that you can point at things to emit a harsh vibe in that direction. There’s some degree of controllability of these tools, but the controllability is driven by these emotions that are themselves hard to control.
  • Animal realm – ignorance, vegging out, being cosy, simple pleasures and immediate gratification. Has a sticky slidey quality to it. You want to just find a cozy comfy part of your existence and just veg out in it. It’s low energy, kinda sleepy, dumb, soporiforous. Lacks the activation energy to get out of it. Core in this realm is a collection of petty likes and dislikes. I like this, i don’t like that… probably similar to the experience of simple animals.
  • Human realm – realm with very complex representations and high resolution accurate information tracking. Kind of like using / conjuring various gestalts and then stacking them together in order to form computing apparatuses or rube-goldberg style causal machines. Generally these structures are largely anhedonic. Internal core attitude is something more calculating and tends towards complexity.
  • God realm – soft and pleasure boosting. Just like in the hell realm the harsh negative vibes stack together and become worse and worse, in the god realm the soothing smooth vibes stack and form increasingly pleasant and pleasure enhancing constructs
  • Equanimity – Perhaps the goal of buddhism or of self-formation is to increase equanimity, to be able to remain unswayed by anything happening around you. Obviously this is not a way to cure all the external problems in the world, but seems critical for having a positive experience in the world despite all its problems. Equanimous vibes are destructive in the sense that they can erase any harsh incoming vibes, and allow you to not be swept up in the negative emotion being thrown at you.
  • Defabrication. Seems to be a kind of unclenching of association between the world and any kind of ownership relation between the point of experience and the world. Buddhism has language about breaking the cycle of re-incarnation. Another way of framing this might be that we can unclench our emotional cognitive bundles and allow them to dissipate rather than try to hold themselves together. An enlightened buddha will be fully equanimous and can defabricate and leave the world peacefully at the end of their life. Boddhisatvas kind of have a foot in both the defabricated realm and other normal realms, allowing themselves a kind of homeostatic vibe controlled environment so they can both participate in the world and also remain unswayed by the vibes or gestalt being given.
  • Dark night of the soul. This is something interesting that I didn’t fully understand from the video but seems to refer to serious existential crises within the self and in the perception of the realms one occupies. Perhaps accompanied by a sense of despair, lack of sense-making, and a feeling of backsliding into an infinitely dark abyss.

Realms in this context might be called ‘narratives’. Memetic tribes might be meta-entities existing as nonlinear interactions across multiple realms. For example, a given political ideology has both titan-realm-style attack/defense weaponry, as well as ideal state empathetic conditions which the proponents of the ideology admire and want to drive towards.


This video was fun to watch and to allow myself to get swept along with. A lot of the phraseology Andrés uses, and my resulting interest in phenomenology is that it invokes the kind of vague profound insights one gets on psychedelics or in moments of deep contemplation. It feels like ‘figuring things out’. I’ve had friends who poo-poo the sense of figuring things out which comes with these kinds of altered states, and for good reason. The difficulty of finding the right words for a given insight allows the insight to roam free and large in one’s mind within the moment, seemingly affecting everything and yielding huge ultimate world-shifting truth, but then just as quickly collapsing into vague nonverbal nothingness. Overpromising and underdelivering.

But if we consider specifically the space of phenomenology, and given the language Andrés and others are developing, we’re starting to get somewhere. There is a kind of phenomenological truth within these kinds of insights, and that the nonverbality is while not quite an anti-feature, at least a well-known property of transcendent insights. At any rate it’s nice to get some words for what’s going on, right?

Phenomenology seems to train one in how to verbalize one’s experience as it appears, and treating that experience as real and expressable rather than needing to prove consensus before expressing one’s perceptions.

21. What is phenomenology?

Imagine I hold up some object to show to you: a hammer. You can see the hammer with your eyes, but you’re never actually seeing the whole hammer at the same time. If I rotate the hammer around, your brain infers and combines the different views of the hammer into a single integrated object in your perception. Not only do you recognize the hammer as a single 3d object integrated over time, but also you recognize the hammer as “a hammer”; an object which has a handle that you could grip with your hand, and a head that’s used for banging things. You inherently experience the object as not only what it looks like, but also what it’s for, what the object is about. Phenomenologists call this about-ness ‘intentionality‘.

On top of all this, recognizing all this when seeing the hammer isn’t a rational experience. You’re not thinking about it as a series of logical inductive steps, such as “ok there is a wooden component which looks like it could be smooth to the touch, which my hand may be able to grasp, as well as a metal component…” and so on. You might, if you’d never seen a hammer before. But if you know what a hammer is, recognizing it is a kind of gestalt all-at-once experience. You see it as what it’s for and what it can do, as a tool in the world.

Let’s expand on this further. When you are using a hammer, you stop noticing the hammer. The hammer ceases to exist as an independent object in your perception. Your consciousness extends around the hammer as an extension of your arm and suited for solving a particular problem at hand. The hammer recedes from your experience, and thus you can focus on the nail and not the hammer itself. Heidegger refers to this experience of the hammer as being ‘ready-to-hand

Similarly when you drive a car: after learning to drive and getting comfortable with the car, you have the experience of knowing how much space the car roughly takes up, what it’s capable of, and how to make it move where you intend. You cease to notice the steering wheel even while continuing to knowledgeably use it. You drive the car as if it were an extension of your body. All this is an object acting as ready-to-hand.

When the car breaks down, it somewhat ceases to be a car. Your perception shifts to the car as an object rather than as an extension of the self. You see the car as a collection of parts to be fiddled with and reconfigured or repaired. Heidegger says in this experience the object becomes ‘present-to-hand‘. It no longer appears as a tool for doing something, but as something to rationally examine.

Similarly, when I’m typing on this keyboard the keyboard fades out of my perception. The entire computer fades out of my perception. I just focus on the text I’m typing out and the thought I’m thinking through. And the second the computer stops working well, the keyboard lags or the program crashes there’s an experience of the lights flicking on and my consciousness expands to consider the computer as an object to be debugged–maybe by restarting the program, or by clicking around to see if the lag clears up, or whatever. I shift from using the tool to trying to fix the tool.

All this explores how our perception of tools fades out as we become comfortable with the tools. It points to how we don’t notice that our body and and appendages are also a tool of sorts, which can fade out of our direct perception while in use, but it all comes rushing back (present-to-hand) when something hurts or breaks.

This is just the beginning of phenomenology, explained through some examples that are the simplest to grasp for our tool-using minds. Expanding from here, phenomenology considers the shape and quality of any part of our experience, including our experience of ourselves as entities which exist over time. Similar to the hammer, we never see all parts of our selves, the self fades out of perception when it’s in use (or until something goes wrong). This inability to recognize the self outside of individual events is both touched on by western philosophers such as Hume and Heidegger, but is also exactly the buddhist idea of anattā. It’s likely that Heidegger was directly influenced by zen and daoist texts.

The self is also only considered in relation to the experience it’s having, there’s no moment of experiencing the self as such, instead there’s moments of experiencing the self in relation to or in reaction to other various experiences. For Heidegger, the self is not only inherently considered in relation to its experiences, but also in relation to others. I understand myself in relation to the world and in relation to other people. My existence necessarily refers to the existence of others.

We’re just scratching the surface of this exploration. I haven’t touched on (or understood yet) concepts like Dasein and exactly what Heidegger is talking about with his focus on Being.

Phenomenology also includes entire swaths of our language when we’re using it to describe our experience or link experience to other past experiences–when describing the flavor notes of a glass of wine or a perfume, for instance. The phenomenology of qualia. Phenomena often appear to us not only with about-ness but also with valence; whether we think they’re good or bad, how they make us feel.

There’s gold in these hills, maybe we can find it.


Phenomenology in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Heidegger’s Ways of Being

20. What do I mean by Religion

People famously used to argue that when it comes down to the line, if you’re a soldier taking artillery fire in the bottom of a foxhole, you’ll pray to some higher power to save you. The argument claims that there are no atheists in foxholes.

The implication is that atheism is a kind of fairweather philosophical belief which crumbles when faced with cold hard reality. This is a general form of argument that could be applied to a lot of things, eg “there are no libertarians in hospitals”.

Ultimately there are stated atheists in foxholes. I don’t know if they shout “oh jesus, oh f@k, oh god” when they’re taking fire like I imagine I would, and I don’t know if that implies they’re lying about their (lack of) faith and are actually believers. I think it comes down to a surface level disagreement , and a transcendent-level inherent unapproachable jargon-unsynchronized vagueness. The former is something like: I’m not christian because I don’t go to church and don’t care about the sunday-school children’s version of Christianity. I haven’t studied the theology of the saints enough to know how my internal conceptualization of transcendence meshes with that of the officially stated position of the church, or even if my position aligns more with stated christians that aren’t part of the church, like the Gnostics or Hermeticists or Buddhists)

It’s really hard to tell what even the church means by god, or what a different church might mean, or whether that aligns with my internal ineffable and possibly under-explored conception of the transcendent. I’d call myself atheistic when faced by some kind of academic literalism about the wine literally becoming blood, or about the specifics of isn’t/isn’t/isn’t/is relationship and the conclusions made at Nicaea. I don’t care about how many angels fit on the head of a pin, or how exactly Jesus moved the literal boulder blocking the tomb when he literally stood up exactly how many ever days after dying. Hell as the sunday-school conceptualization was invented by Dante in the 1300s and is no more related to the bible than the Lord of the Rings novels are. The list goes on.

A lot of the christian story really speaks to me, and especially so in terms of really powerful metaphor and conceptualization of the ideal, the importance of the logos, the heroic sacrifice… but evangelical literalism is a huge turn-off, and makes the whole thing seem kooky and exploitative.

But even putting religion-as-such aside: I still have ideals and virtues that I don’t always empirically know to be true but still hold dear and hold above all else in my heart and mind.

Belief in science, and the knowability of the universe is like this. There’s an element of faith in much that we do. Even if I claim that I could go and verify the research done by the physicists, ultimately I do not (and due to lack of mathematical knowledge, cannot), and so I trust what they tell me in a way similar to the trust people place in the priests and monks who’ve studied theology and meditated longer. There are differences, but there are similarities too. Political ideology is like this too. Plenty of people hold the free market as their god (whether or not their idea of it even exists), but wouldn’t call it god.

There’s the ‘common conception’ of what it means to be in a religion, which focuses on dogma, community gatherings, and woo-woo talk about the afterlife. It feels cheap and leaves an unsatisfying taste in the mouth. This is what I’ve been calling the sunday-school version.

There’s a ‘historically accurate’ version of what it meant to be in a religion, which is that it was a way of life, a piece of the community operating system that helped people know what was good and what to do and how the world is. There was no question of “what religion are you?” there was just the way things are, the way we do things here.

And there’s a ‘theosophical’ version, which is trying to get to the bottom of How Things Actually Are, by study and reason. The religion of Meister Eckhart involves questioning and exploration and active pursuit of what’s true and is closer to a kind of metaphysical philosophy than the other versions of religion. It takes a degree of curiosity but I think more people would appreciate some of the transcendental philosophy without the crufty propagandistic trappings of the common conception.