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 of the first season of True Detective, and the idea that consciousness is a horrible mistake comes back a number of times in dialogues in the episodes as the season unfolds. At one point one of the protagonists suggests that the only possible response is to refuse to reproduce and consciously decide to end humanity. It is intriguing to consider that this is a choice we have as a humanity, every generation. If we collectively refuse to have kids, humanity ends. Since that is a possible individual, and collective, choice we could argue that it should be open to debate. Would it be better if we disappeared or is the universe better with us around? Answering such a question seems to require that we assign a value to the existence of human beings and humanity as a whole. Or does it? Here we could also argue that the values we discuss only apply to humanity as such and in a world where we do not exist, these values or the idea of values become meaningless — they only exists in a certain form of life. If what it means for…

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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 questions for answers in the case of Jeopardy). So why are they so engaging? Why are they so popular? Why do we find knowing something so satisfying? When we study human knowledge as a game, it is worthwhile also to explore why we enjoy playing games that build on knowledge so much. There is a subtle dominance built into these games – the one who knows more wins – and to win is oddly satisfying, even though there likely is a significant element of randomness in what questions come up. (It is easy to construct paths through the questions in TP that you can answer effortlessly, and equally easy to construct the opposite – an impossible path for you to get through – the design conundrum here becomes one of what the ideal difficulty is. One way to think about this would be to think about how long the average path to win should be for someone playing the game on their own). So, maybe it is that simple: we enjoy the feeling of superiority that comes with knowing more than others. We revere the expert who has spent a…

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