Notes on culture

Sad songs (Notes on Culture I)

A cursory examination of the landscape of sad songs suggest that they fall into a number of categories: break up songs, songs about missing someone, songs about falling apart — but the best ones probably mix all of these different categories and are about the sudden loss of meaning. Think of “Disintegration” by The Cure, and its despair: […]But I…

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Man / Machine, The man / machine series

Artificial selves and artificial moods (Man / Machine IX)

Philosopher Galen Strawson challenges the idea that we have a cohesive, narrative self that lives in a structurally robust setting, and suggests that for many, the self will be episodic at best and that there is no real experience of self at all. The discussion of the self – from a stream of moments to a story to deep identity…

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Man / Machine, The man / machine series

Consciousness as – mistake? (Man / Machine VII)

In the remarkable work A Conspiracy against Humanity, horror writer Thomas Ligotti argues that consciousness is a curse that captures mankind in eternal horror. This world, and our consciousness of it, is an unequivocal evil, and the only possible set of responses to this state of affairs is to snuff it out. Ligotti’s writings underpin a lot of the pessimism…

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The Structure of Human Knowledge

Games and knowledge (The Structure of Human Knowledge as Game II)

Why are games consisting of knowledge tests so popular? In 2004 it was calculated that Trivial Pursuit had sold around 88 million copies worldwide, and game shows like Jeopardy and the 64000 dollar question have become international hits. At their core, these games are surprisingly simple. They are about what you know, about if you can answer questions (or find…

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Philosophy, The Fake News Notes, Uncategorized

Real and unreal news (Notes on attention, fake news and noise #7)

What is the opposite of fake news? Is it real news? What, then, would that mean? It seems important to ask that question, since our fight against fake news also needs to be a fight _for_ something. But this quickly becomes an uncomfortable discussion, as evidenced by how people attack the question. When we discuss what the opposite of fake…

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The Structure of Human Knowledge

Towards a glass bead game (The Structure of Human Knowledge as Game I)

Herman Hesse’s glass bead game is an intriguing intellectual thought experiment. He describes it in detail in his eponymous last novel: “Under the shifting hegemony of now this, now that science or art, the Game of games had developed into a kind of universal language through which the players could express values and set these in relation to one another.…

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Commentary, Man / Machine, The man / machine series

Simone Weil’s principles for automation (Man / Machine VI)

Philosopher and writer Simone Weil laid out a few principles on automation in her fascinating and often difficult book Need for Roots. Her view as positive, and she noted that among workers in factories the happiest ones seemed to be the ones that worked with machines. She had strict views on the design of these machines however, and her views…

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Man / Machine, The man / machine series

Justice, markets, dance – on computational and biological time (Man / Machine V)

Are there social institutions that work better if they are biologically bounded? What would this even mean? Here is what I am thinking about: what if, say, a market is a great way of discovering knowledge, coordinating prices and solving complex problems – but only if it consists solely of human beings and is conducted at biological speeds? What if,…

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Man / Machine, The man / machine series

A note on the ethics of entropy (Man / Machine IV)

In a comment on Luciano Floridi’s The Ethics of Information Martin Falment Fultot writes (Philosophy and Computers Spring 2016 Vol 15 no 2): “Another difficulty for Floridi’s theory of information as constituting the fundamental value comes from the sheer existence of the unilateral arrow of thermodynamic processes. The second law of thermodynamics implies that when there is a potential gradient…

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Artificial Intelligence, Philosophy of Questions, The man / machine series

On not knowing (Man / Machine III)

Humans are not great at answering questions with “I don’t know”. They often seek to provide answers even where they know that they do not know. Yet still, one of the hallmarks of careful thinking is to acknowledge when we do not know something – and when we cannot say anything meaningful about an issue. This socratic wisdom – knowing…

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Fake news, Reading Notes, The Fake News Notes

Hannah Arendt on politics and truth – and fake news? (Notes on attention, fake news and noise #6)

Any analysis of fake news would be incomplete without a reading of Hannah Arendts magnificent essay Truth and Politics from 1967. Arendt, in this essay, examines carefully the relationship between truth and politics, and makes a few observations that remind us of why the issue of “fake news” is neither new nor uniquely digital. It is but an aspect of…

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