David Blaine is an illusionist who as of now seems to have made sticking needles through himself his signature move. I recently saw “David Blaine – Real or magic”, a one hour show that originally was aired on ABC, in which David basically goes around with a deck of cards and an icepick and impresses a-list celebrities with his feats. If you’re interested, the show, in its entirety, can be seen below.
Now, I think that all scientists, philosophers, and thinkers in general should watch illusionists from time to time. The reason is that it’s inherently useful for these type of people to get used to the idea that just because something at first seems impossible, it’s not necessarily so. Apparently, there’s a way to get these tricks to work.
The point is that the same thing can and should be applied to academic thinking. Do you believe that you have an argument that is waterproof? By all means, continue to pursue it, but also understand that at least sometimes, you could be dead wrong.
As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the hard drive cable of my Macbook Pro gave up once again, forcing me to get yet another spare part. Fortunately, I received another cable for free from the firm I bought it from. However, I’m starting to get nervous that this is a problem that will reappear yet again in the future (and they made it very clear that they wouldn’t send me yet another cable if that ever happen, which seems totally fair).
I don’t know if this has something to do with these Macbook Pro models not being built for SSDs, but I can imagine that the crazy amount of data that is being sent through this cable somehow, after a certain amount of time, pushes it over its breaking point. We’ll just have to see how long my repair holds up this time.
Transhumanists can usually be recognized by their almost excessive enthusiasm for current and future technology and how it will inherently change the way of life for us humans (I’d now; I define myself as a transhumanist). One of the most prominent transhumanistic centers today is the Future of Humanity Institute which houses at Oxford University. Here, research is being made on “the risk and oppurtunities that will arise from technological change”.
Now, something that has always bothered me with many transhumanistic organizations and centers is how badly they use the technology that is available today despite their zealous attitudes toward technologies that haven’t even been invented yet. It’s like hearing a person who won’t stop talking about the next soccer world championship, yet never ends up watching it.
For example, take a look at the Future of Humanity Institute’s YouTube channel. Here, they constantly post talks given by different prominent figures in the field. However, all these videos look and sound like crap.
Take for example this lecture given by Eliezer Yudkowsky. First of all, only one camera is being used. It’s placed at a terrible angle, and the lighting conditions in the room are not appropriate for filming at all. Further, the sound that is picked up from the audience is barely audible, so hearing what questions that are being asked is a real challenge. However, a lavalier microphone has been placed on Eliezer himself, which at least makes his voice come though nice and clear. That is, up to the 38 minute mark when the microphone dies (you can tell that it does since its small LED indicator light goes out). After a couple of minutes of silence, the sound source is switched to what sounds like the camera’s onboard microphone. From there on, it’s impossible to hear anything.
Now, I realize that things can and does go wrong from time to time. When I recorded a talk with Anders Sandberg (who incidentally works at the Future of Humanity Institute) a couple of months ago, I had placed a lavalier microphone on him, but I forgot to tell my field recorder to record in the MP3 format rather than WAV, meaning that I ran out of space after just ten minutes, something that I didn’t realise until afterwards since I don’t have a wireless setup (for this occasion, I also used two cameras to record the talk, but since the audio failed, I didn’t feel that it was worth the time that goes into creating a multi-angle video).
So, sure. Things can fail. However, the difference here is that I’m a one-man-amateur-show, doing things like this on my spare time, and I’d still go out on a limb and say that my video is better than the one with Eliezer posted above. The Future of Humanity Institue is a part of one of the greatest and most resourceful universities in the world, and unfortunately the quality of their videos is always on this level (at the time of writing, they have 45 of them).
I mean, look at this shit (which I randomly selected from their video feed):
To put out really great videos would only require equipment worth a couple of thousand dollars and the recruitment of one or two decent film students (alternatively, only use internal staff, but to put down a little bit of time into learning the basics of the craft). So come on, people! This isn’t hard, and transhumanistic organizations should take pride in taking the lead in areas like this! Right now, judging from their presence on Youtube alone, the Future of Humanity Institute come off more like the Institute of Not Embracing New Technologies (or at least like the Institute of Not Using New Technologies Appropriately).
 And this isn’t some kind of upliftment of myself. Both videos look and sound like crap.
One thing I’ve learned during this year of one blog post every day is that it’s hard to be stay creative under time pressure, at least for me. When I’ve been given ample time to write these posts, that is, when I already have had a lot of material cued up, I’ve found that I’ve also been the most creative. On the other hand, when I’ve been forced to output something in a very short time, I’ve usually just resolved to link blogging or something equally convenient, for example just writing a short, quite bad and uninspiring piece, such as this very blog post.
Conclusion: Giving myself temporal space to create makes me output more and higher quality material, even though the total time spent is the same as when waiting until the last minute every day.
Has this ever happened to you? Somehow, you’re get to be an observer of a conflict between two or more people (you might for example overhear one of their arguments, talk with one of the involved parties about the conflict, et cetera). Inadvertently, you take sides. Then, after a certain amount of time, you hear that the conflict has been resolved somehow, and everybody is happy. Everybody except you, that is.
The thing is, the parties involved in the conflict might have had a really constructive discussion about it, where new facts were brought to light, or where maybe one of the involved persons gave a really heartfelt apology to the others. However, it’s often easy for the ones directly involved in the conflict to forget that there might be other persons — persons that are indirectly involved — who also are in need of a resolution in able to let the conflict go.
The result can then be that even though the ones originally involved in the strife are on good terms with each other again, others might still hold a grudge against some of them.
So, if you’re going to air your dirty laundry in public, make sure to not hide the cleaning process.
I’ve tried a lot of to-do apps over the years (no, I mean a lot of them) and I therefore feel quite confident when it comes to recommending one. And the one that I want to recommend is Taskpaper, a program that I bought several years ago but that I, out of some reason that I can’t remember anymore, gave up for a while. Anyhow, I recently started to use this program again, and I can’t for the life of me remember why I ever switched to something else.
Taskpaper is basically a simple text editor (and, indeed, your to-do lists are saved as regular txt files) with some extra features built-in. You can create headings, tasks, and comments, just as easy as you can tag them, mark them as done, and move them to an archive containing all your finished tasks.
Taskpaper is available for OS X and iOS, and if you haven’t already found a task manager that you’re happy with, I highly recommend you checking it out!