Monthly Archives: March 2017

Consciousness is a scale, not a binary

When my son Max was born, my sense of who I am blossomed to include this tiny wet lump screaming flesh. He is me, more important than the part that goes to work in Manhattan.

But he didn’t do a whole lot. Even when he grabbed my finger, it was a reflex operating. There wasn’t much internal life or reflection. Like all of us he was on a journey to develop into a person. He’s on the acceleration part of that trip now, so every week he develops something new, connecting concepts and creating abstractions. Now I can hear him babbling stories to himself where he used to just experiment with the noises his mouth could make. The curve of his growth has a near vertical slope as he becomes aware of who he is and who his parents are. He knows he has a baby sister coming in May and is dimly aware she will be boring at first.

He will watch her grow into her own consciousness and expand his self to his family. If we’re lucky, they will both grow to include something bigger than themselves in their consciousness.

I’m still growing in wisdom and experience, but I’m no longer accelerating. My growth happens in smaller chunks and less often. I have to push myself to learn and escape comfort to grow. My epiphanies are shallower and less frequent. The slope of my growth curve is flattening before it peaks and descends. Then I will be more like my father.

The smartest man I’ve ever met is learning fewer things and his stories repeat and loop and meander. He tells me “You might not be aware of this, but…” and then he tells me something again. He might be forgetting things like what it is to be poor or disregarded faster than he learns his latest passions. Someday I’ll be telling stories to my kids that they already know and I hope they will love me enough to listen closely for what I’m saying underneath my words.

So I see intimately a scale of consciousness, introspection, reflection that flows through my past and future. I was a flat sheet, then the world made impressions on me until I’ve become crinkly enough make new interfering patterns in myself. Some day I will lose my flexibility and start to flatten again.

If consciousness is a scale in people, how conscious is a dog. Sorta? They seem to think and plan. They hide and deceive and love and grieve. How conscious is a kitten vs a cat? How much of a soul does a mouse or parrot or gorilla have? They have some consciousness, as does a mosquito. Consciousness becomes a lot easier to talk about when you can say “sort of” conscious instead of talking about a binary, as Daniel Dennett proposes.

So I’m a self reflecting system, my son is self organizing into a more crinkly experience of the world, my father is smoothing out and my soon to be daughter is barely there. Surely she sits in Sam’s belly as more of a possible mind than the concrete though simple plans and dreams of my neighbor’s dog.

If you’ve stuck through this far, sorry this is how I’m announcing that we’re having a baby daughter in May.  I couldn’t figure out a saner way. So let’s also talk about something crazy but probably true: Pan-psychism. Once you let go of consciousness as a binary, you can realize that everything sorta thinks to some degree.

Most of the pan-psychic folks come at it from a place of duality, thinking that if the meat that types these words has a soul, why couldn’t a calmer version of that soul inhabit a rock or a tree or a table? I come from a different perspective. Any system that reacts to stimulus and then modifies itself or reacts to changes within itself is practicing some sort of consciousness or soulness. That perspective is useful when you think about corporations or economies or earthquake resistant buildings or networks of trees and fungus communicating and sharing resources in forests.

Two weeks with the Kobo Aura One

My nook finally died, so I upgraded to a Kobo Aura One

I wanted to treat myself to a really good e-reader.

Why not another nook? Meh. I heard that this one was pretty amazing. I don’t really like being locked into one store. Why not a kindle? Amazon already knows a hell of a lot about me and my family, we don’t really need to give them anymore info.

Besides, I heard a group of loyal and passionate readers contributed to the design of this reader. That’s a good sign that they made product testing part of the campaign.

What I like about it:

  • It’s waterproof. I can read in the tub or the rain. Which I do.
  • The integration with Pocket works great. Instead of falling down a twitter hole into an article in the morning, I can just send it to Pocket and set up a bunch of great reading on the subway.
  • You can check out books from the library right from it! This is a big deal – I can’t stand having to hook the thing up to a computer to transfer library books in.
  • I like the auto-warm light for nighttime.
  • Little stats all through it warm my nerd heart! Lots of little measures of how fast you’re reading or how many minutes of book you’ve got left sprinkled throughout the interface.
  • Easy to load on e-pub files!

Could be better:

It’s too big. Only fits in one jacket I own! My nook used to even fit in my back jeans pocket.

Wishlist:

I wish I could buy an e-reader that could integrate with my Calibre library of drm-free epub files. If I’m on a wi-fi network with a Calibre library, why can’t I have some sort of UPNP browsing through the books I’ve got? I’d chip in on development if this were a thing someone was making.

 

Another way to give

This week I dropped off 13 phones at the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund. I saw Executive Director Peter Goldberg speak at the NYC Tech Solidarity meeting in February and he went over the story of Kalief Browder.

Peter talked about the amazing effects that bail has on guilt. If you can post bail, you are magically less likely to plead guilty to charges and to go to jail. Heck, if I can help people magically not commit crimes by helping them get bail, that seems like a great way to reduce crime!

Peter said they ( and all non-profits) have surprising needs that nerds with good jobs wouldn’t expect. They need laptops, desktops, phones.

In the BCBF’s case, loaning someone a phone means they have a vastly higher chance of not missing their court date. It allows the bail fund to communicate with their clients and make sure everything works out.

I went to my help desk and CTO, and talked with them about old phones available for donations – we cycle through new equipment and have lots of “loaners” or used phones – more than we reasonably need. Just by asking and working with the help desk team to wipe old phones we managed to get phones that we’d just pay someone to recycle for us into the hands of folks who can fight for a fair trial.

Not bad, and not much work to do a hell of a lot of good. If you want to give them a few bucks to do this good work, you can also donate to the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund online. Let me know if you do!

Taking a break from Orbital

My hack-night project for a long time was Orbital Feed Reader. I’ve been slacking on it a lot recently. Especially after the election, I feel like I need to find things to work on that have a more direct impact on people that I can help.

I worked on a project called Donate the Difference  – it wasn’t as successful as I wanted it to be, though it did raise $25K for some charities. I learned a lot, and I’ll write some of that up here later. But it made it clear to me that I need to work on projects that make a bigger difference than a feed reader plugin.

I’m not certain what that is yet, but if you were hankering for updates to Orbital, that’s why they haven’t been coming. It’s open source, and I’m happy to take pull requests or turn it over if someone wants to do more with it. I just don’t want to lead folks on.

Review: The Left Hand of Darkness

The Left Hand of Darkness
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve read so much ABOUT this book that I thought I read it. Everyone talks about the gender fluid sex, but it isn’t that big of a deal in the story.

Duality and oneness are the themes – the most upfront example is how gender works on Winter, but there’s also the differences in how the main societies and governments function with openness/decentralized/feudal vs closed/centralized/communal.

The political intrigues that drive our protagonist across societies and from civilization into wilderness are gripping – and then it turns into an endurance adventure. I didn’t see that coming! Also, I’m not that into endurance adventures.

I’m probably going to reread this in a few years to see if I notice more.

View all my reviews