Omphaloskeptic Googling: The Argument from Anesthesia

I once experienced a period of missing time, when under anesthesia as a young man. One moment I’m getting questions in an operating room, the next I’m waking up with family near me and it’s after dark. So, I think, that’s what not existing is like. It is nothing. I’ve had the experience of nothingness, and it reaffirms my feeling that there is no soul.

Sometime later I’d come to call that “The Argument from Anesthesia.” I even used it on the written post that attended a comic touching on the subject. On a random lark today I googled the phrase in quotes, to see if anyone had used it before. I was one of the results, and the only others had to do with an old debate on the nature of consciousness between philosophers Daniel Dennett and John Searle.

That shit was pointy-headed as all get-out, reminding me of something about myself. Thanks, navel-gazing technology! Anyhow, this is me in the nutshell proverbial: I might have feelings that point to big things, things of philosophical importance even, but I don’t have the time, patience, vocabulary, or mental energy to actually follow those through to a complete discussion, analysis, thesis, or debate.

Dennett played down the idea that there is a core to our thoughts and feelings, that various aspects of theories of consciousness were incoherent. (Likely misrepresenting that in important ways, it was complicated.) It’s very similar to (or the same as?) the less clever idea I’ve had that I’m functionally hollow in the middle. There’s no individual entity at the core of my thoughts and feelings, just that as a physical entity I have constructed the idea of myself as a self to allow normal living function.

Searle’s use of “The Argument from Anesthesia” was in a book that disagreed with Dennett, and I don’t think I fully understood either side of the debate. Maybe I could if I wasted more of my day on it, but I’ve got hella shit to do. I am left wondering how many of my fellow non-philosophers are sitting on big feelings that they never express, because to do so would be a giant fucking homework project.

Intelligence doesn’t enter into it. I can use some shiny words, if less braintacular than the philosophers, but for me that idea is seated in my feelings, in my awareness of the contents of my mind. Anyone could have that. Which could make one wonder if philosophers are just heaping jargon on the thoughts that anybody could experience, making it an inaccessible discourse. Jargon is important for clarity in “high level” discourse, so there’s a reason for it, but it still keeps me out of the conversation.

HBO’s Westworld and RPGs

So there’s this show based on a movie based on an old book by Michael Crichton (see comments for corrections) about a futuristic theme park for humans, staffed by dangerously exploited androids. I’m trying to keep this short because I have other things to do tonight, but it’s hard. I’m only on episode 6 of HBO’s Westworld and I’m kinda impressed, which could make me verbose. So the short version? When screenwriting is good, it makes a gigantic difference. A lot of this is in what the show doesn’t do. It doesn’t make the mistakes of other shows about the subject, of other shows at all.

Like Star Trek: The Next Generation. That show had an android feeling out its existence as a not-quite human. But it was an ill-considered concept from episode one, and bogged down with the TNG’s affinity for quasi-supernatural things like psychic powers. When Data gets his emotion chip turned on, it has a physical effect on reality that can be measured / sensed by the empathic counselor. Why would that be? How could emotions be physically different from any other aspect of cognition? In biology you could say they involve different hormones or whatever, but he’s pure software. No reason to think emotions would put out a different kind of energy, unless you think he’s acquiring a “soul” or some other foolery along those lines.

There were a lot of other problems with the portrayal of the android over that show’s long run, mostly inconsistencies and contradictions. Westworld probably has some similar probs over time, but at least in the episodes I’ve seen, they do a good job portraying the idea of artificial intelligences grappling with life. It’s hella good. Maybe I just say that because it’s very similar to how I’d handle it, and like the show’s creators I have Anglo-American cultural biases and notions.

It could also be I’m misreading the authorial intent, but what I see is this: The robots programmed feelings are as real as anything, just subject to powerful upper level directives and the ability to be rewritten at will. So if you’re a robo-cowpoke and you need to rope a stranger (human park guest) into tracking down a bandito, you genuinely want to do those things. The rest of your down time is spent re-affirming your role and sense of reality by playing your part, talking with other robots day and night.

Because the complexity of the programming needed to emulate human personalities that well, the programming is full of possibilities for glitches. It’s very difficult to erase old memories completely, and since the humans run riot over the robots so often, those memories can be full of violence. Hence an epidemic of robo-PTSD starts to creep through the community, things get dangerous and sheisty.

As I’m watching this I’m struck by the way the complexity of real humans turns into opacity, vagueness, generally makes them less vivid and interesting than the androids. The robots don’t have to do anything that isn’t called for by the story, by the illusion. They don’t have to wonder about their taxes or day jobs, think about how past relationships and situations affect present ones, and so on. Most importantly, they don’t have wildly conflicting desires that can push them to be a sinner and a saint at the same time. Hitler can pet the dog, a robot will only do so if it’s dramatically appropriate.

There’s purity in simplicity. The creepiest human guest (Ed Harris paying visual homage to robo-Yul Brynner) tells the androids they’re most convincing when they’re in extreme situations of sadness or fear. I’d say they’re more appealing than humans in almost everything they do because it’s uncomplicated by nonsense. They are actually better characters.

This gets me to the RPGs. When people come up with characters for RPGs, the most realistic characters are the fucking worst. Take these two concepts: OgreButt the Barbarian likes to fight anything that looks strong enough, prove to himself he’s the best. That’s all there is to him, the rest can be worked out in play. Concept Two, Enrik the Bard. Enrik has a complicated history of family, friends, and enemies. He is fiercely loyal to his friends, but has a temper when his honor is contested. He seeks magic power because he has a childhood trauma and never wants to feel vulnerable again.

Which concept is better? OgreButt. OK, maybe he could use a bit more consideration before play, like how does he treat people that he doesn’t want to punch? But as for Enrik? That character can’t be predicted and you’d think that would make it more interesting, but it doesn’t. Not at all. When he interacts with NPCs, will he see affronts to his honor everywhere and be a kill-crazy piece of shit? Or will he be a super-judgmental drag on the party? Will he decide some PCs are his friends and others are not, and let the “fiercely loyal” make him act against the interests of the story? Will his complex backstory actually inform how he’s played, or be forgotten on the character sheet because it’s too much for the player to remember?

The humans are the complicated concepts that suck, the robots are the simple concepts that provide a strong springboard for storytelling. Anything Ogrebutt does above and beyond his bold, simple concept will serve to develop and amplify the character. With a complex concept, any attitude the character takes could practically be decided by random roll, adds nothing to our understanding of him.

Likewise, the humans in Westworld could be good or bad based on who knows what? They’re opaque and full of secrets. Maybe those secrets will pay off eventually, but the robots are immediately more entertaining and interesting to watch. In RPGs, maybe we should play like robots.

Mexico Would Win

Content Warnings: Cheeto Hitler, War, Violence, Racism

Naranja Puto recently rattled a saber at the president of Mexico, which had me thinking about how that horrifying disaster of a war would play out, and then a ray of hope dawned on me in this: Mexico would totally kick our fucking asses. It won’t come to that. If the gold-showered one declared war, I could imagine our armed forces refusing to carry out the order because it’s foolish as all fuck. Way more ridiculous than occupying Afghanistan.

Militarily, there’s overwhelming power. We have that. We can shred cities, irradiate the universe, make a place into a hellscape so desolate you could only imagine ghosts living there. But then, that isn’t everything. Unless you literally kill every man woman and child in a place, someone can resist you and may. And they use the flipside of overwhelming power – guerilla tactics and terrorism. Mexico has vast armies of people with training experience and will to do the kind of things that would make the Viet Cong blush. It has the cartels.

So they’d win the same way Vietnam kicked our ass. Meanwhile, the chaos at home would again make Vietnam look like a church picnic. Latinx people are something like one in five Americans. Think they’d try to do internment on that scale? I know they’re already trying to prepare for it, but you think they’ll pull it off? What of the non-Latinx friends neighbors and loved ones? Do they get interned too? How many of them would resist? If the military – itself disproportionately Latinx – didn’t directly defy the war order, how much do you think they’d be collapsing from within?

Much of this country was Mexico before it was ever the Estados Unidos. The wall doesn’t keep all of Mexico out. There’s a lot of Mexico we’re arbitrarily calling USA at the moment. How peaceful will that occupied territory be? There would be no need for intervention by foreign powers on Mexico’s behalf. They’d win. I’m glad they won’t have to be through the horror show that would test my little theory, but for alternate timeline victors, I’m proud of y’all. Good job.

¡Viva México!

The Magic $20K

Seems like everyone I know was either attacked by a dog or hit by a car as a child, receiving a settlement of $20,000 on reaching adulthood. They wasted it on computers which were immediately obsolete and that kind of thing. More recently, I know someone who received $20,000 in life insurance payout from a parent’s death, and that person was a jumped-up maniac that wasted his money on endeavors that nearly killed him. Why is it always $20,000 and why can’t I get that? I’d spend half on top surgery for a trans dude I know and save the rest for taxes and bills and such. What would you do with the magic $20K?

Giving You Pause About the ACLU

I remember Kurt Vonnegut cussing about the ACLU on TV once. He didn’t like that they protected the free speech of nazis. They have, in the past, invested their resources in defending the “peaceful assembly” of homicidal racists. I used to be a bit on the fence about that, but then, I’m white and I used to have the luxury of being more politically moderate, to see that bullshit as abstract rather than a personal attack. Now everything I hold dear is being targeted for destruction by the nazis in power, who were given more air time than ever should have been possible.

So good job ACLU for working against the travel ban. I find myself waiting for the other foot to drop, to find you’ve spent donated money helping someone like Yiannazilos. And I remain tired.

More Tumblin’

Random things I’ve seen on tumblr. I’m on hiatus with all my tumblrz, but that’s just from reblogging, and the attendant chore of sorting / tagging content. But these should be shared anyhow. First some tweets which I encountered on tumbl because fuck having to see the comments on twitter:

tweet by ryanlcooper

ryanlcooper: “don’t have a strong take but worth remembering the whole point of fascism is to leverage liberal tolerance to dissolve the liberal state”

tweet by ryanlcooper

ryanlcooper: “fascists will be whining about free speech and being bullied right up to the point they overturn democracy and start the purges”

tweet by rosesurnow

rosesurnow: “I guess my favorite thing about the @BarackObama administration was being able to sleep at night.”

Then “fandomsandfeminism” on tumblr had this to say about why things were fucked even before we had fascism looming this large:

Every human being inherently deserves safe food, clean water, and adequate medical care.

The greatest moral failure of capitalism is that it turned these necessities into commodities.

The greatest moral failure of capitalists is finding ways to justify withholding what we need to live while it is in abundance for the sake of profit.

Nothing to add to that.

It’s Telling What Speech They’ll Allow

Content Warnings: Nazis, Rape, Child Abuse

I e-mailed the University of Washington about Milo YianNazilos to discourage them from allowing his appearance there. He went, someone got shot, and shit was generally fucked. You can imagine the copy paste response I got – “Some may find it offensive but…”

Free speech, sure, yeah. Anyhow, what if nambla was doing a visit? What if advocates of “lovingly” fucking your small children were giving a speech? Why are advocates of white supremacy not equally reprehensible to you? Because they choose to eschew the labels of white supremacist and nazi, while using the exact same rhetoric? Is labels all that matter?

I don’t know, maybe they’d be cool with nambla too. After all, they don’t call themselves the National Association for Lovingly Penetrating Your Babies. “Some may find it offensive, but…” When are people going to learn that some speech – while it should exist in some publicly available quarantine for the purposes of education and forewarning – should not be given a platform, should not be allowed to advocate for itself?

Edgie Comics: on TV

Content Warning: Statutory Rape, Homophobia, Biphobia, Eating Disorders,
Fatphobia, let me know if u think I should mention anything else…

Social justice score: 1 out of 5

So Archie Comics got hella weird in the Nü Millennium, with attempts at maintaining relevance by reaching different audiences. One of those tacks was to make a series of serious adult-ish comics with edgy elements written by Mark Waid. Now adult-ish edgy Archie is on The CW and to kill a minute I’m watching the first episode. Thoughts as they come…
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