QRI April highlights: internships, memeplexes, hackathons, unannounced projects

We had a rather intense April- the month started with a dinner with Scott Aaronson and some other QRI supporters in Austin. A few days later I (Mike) broke my arm during a friendly bout of arm-wrestling; in mid-month we started holding regular SF hackathons for an unannounced project, and most recently we’ve been getting ready for three(!) great interns joining QRI in mid-May.

AndrĂ©s unloads a massive fictionalized look at society’s memeplexes in Burning Man Theme-Camps of the Year 2029: From Replicator to Rainbow God (2/2). His core goal is to identify ‘full-stack’ philosophical narratives that are ‘alive’ — ways of seeing the world which present a clear and internally coherent picture of what the universe’s ‘grand plot’ (and what humanity’s purpose) is, and which are mimetically viable enough in today’s culture that they are actively being worked on.

Or more specifically- which philosophical grand narratives might be ‘hip enough’ that they might plausibly form the basis of a future Burning Man theme camp.

Meanwhile, Romeo attempts a fresh essentialization of one of the original full-stack philosophical narratives with Translating the Buddha:

The issue, as it seems to me, is that almost every text you read on Buddhism does not attempt to do the actual work of translation. It seems that the first transmission of Buddhism to the west reified a bunch of translations of terms, such as concentration, equanimity, tranquility, mindfulness, suffering, etc. Works since then have mostly stuck to rearranging these words in different combinations and referencing the same metaphors that have been in use since the time of the Buddha.

So, putting my money where my mouth is, I want to try to produce a translation of what I see as the core causal loop that causes progress on the Buddha’s path. I’m attempting this because I believe the core causal loop is actually quite small. The Buddha had a tougher task because he had to explain causation, locus of control, and other critical concepts to farmers from scratch.

You have physical sensations in the course of life. Your nervous system reacts to these sensations with high or low valence (positive, negative, neutral) and arousal (sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system activation), your mind reacts to these now-emotion-laden sensations with activity (mental image, mental talk) out of which you then build stories to make sense of your situation.

The key insight that drives everything is the knowledge that this system isn’t wired up efficiently. Importantly: I don’t mean this in a normative way. Like you should wire it the way I say just because, but in the ‘this type of circuit only needs 20 nand gates, why are there 60 and why is it shunting excess voltage into the anger circuits over there that have nothing to do with this computation?’ way. Regardless of possible arguments over an ultimately ‘correct’ way to wire everything, there are very low hanging fruit in terms of improvements that will help you effectively pursue *any* other goal you set your mind to.

The miswired central nervous system story gives us simple answers to things like trauma (extreme levels of miswiring of things into fear and freeze responses), why stuff like yoga and exercise help (general CNS health, probably capacitance/fuse breaker improvements), why psychotherapy sometimes but not always activates childhood memories and the significance of that, and why practitioners claim they have a much better life but can’t always explain why (they perform the same actions but with much less internal resistance).

So then why all the rest of this crap?

Well, besides my post on why practitioners make so many metaphysical claims, it’s also just that there’s a lot of idiosyncrasy in first unwiring a randomly wired CNS and then rewiring it in arbitrary order. Especially when you don’t really know that that’s what you’re doing as you’re doing it and your mindlessness teacher is a bit clueless as well (though may still have good pragmatic advice despite bad epistemics.)

I may have had a broken arm, but wasn’t going to miss the hackathon.