Peripatesis: Chess after Deep Blue; Tarot and Randomness; The Sequences in Lojban; Sovereign Startups

Max Gladstone, author of The Craft Sequence, says:

“to what extent is a computer capable of placing the correct moves in a Go game, or a chess game, actually performing the activity humans reflexively describe as “playing go”? A professional chess player develops patience, mental endurance, and profound mental habits required to bend her omnivore-scavenger brain to the profoundly non-omnivore-scavenger activity of staring at a game board for several hours at a time, oblivious to any potential predators creeping up behind. These are additional “rules” to the game as played by humans—or at least, they’re constraints to which human players are subjected. “Learning to play chess,” for a human, is really “learning how to navigate human embodied cognition in such a way as to win a chess game.” Is a hydraulic car-moving robot stronger than a champion weightlifter? On paper it can move more weight. But I suspect we use the word “strong” to mean different things in different contexts.”

Of course it’s a moot point whether or not machines are using processes comparable to the ones humans use if the humans are consistently losing. But it does lead to another insight:

Though it’s probably safe to say that a human will never again be the best chess player on Earth, that doesn’t mean learning to play chess is pointless, anymore than exercise became pointless after we invented cranes. Likewise, learning a foreign language will still be an edifying experience long after some machine learning startup solves the problem of automated translation.

In truth, as machines take over progressively greater segments of the economy it’ll probably become more important for people to keep playing chess, learning languages, and lifting weights, because we’ll be less and less able to look to our jobs to stimulate our minds and our bodies.

***

An enterprising writer by the name of Vivian Caethe has launched a kickstarter for her “writer’s block Tarot” deck. As she tells it, doing a reading of a Tarot deck whenever she came to a sticky point in a story did a lot to help her move the plot and the characters in the story along.  Eventually it occurred to her that she could reshape the entire Tarot deck with the writer’s craft in mind, and thus did “The Fool” in the traditional deck become “The Protagonist” in the writer’s deck.

Tarot decks are usually divided into the Major Arcana, which deals with large scale concepts and themes, and the Minor Arcana, which handles smaller ones. This division is mimicked in the writer’s block Tarot deck as well; cards in the Major Arcana focus on sweeping aspect of a hero’s quest, while the Minor Arcana are concerned with details of a hero’s life

This reminded me of a Slate Star Codex post on the value of random noise. While a lot of people accept that shaking up your usual routine might be a good way of having more creative insights, Scott also posits that it might also help one be more correct. It’s easy, when you’re stuck in a cognitive rut, to simply fail to think of strong arguments against a position you hold. Or, upon hearing genuinely good arguments, to round them off to their nearest cartoon version without realizing you’re doing so. By surrounding yourself with extremely bright contrarians, having Markov chains randomly rearrange sentences, or doing Tarot readings for a story you’re writing, you leverage “noise” to increase the chances that you’ll successfully break out of the rut you’re in.

***

There’s an anecdote in Cal Newport’s “Deep Work” wherein a bright Ivy-leaguing Jewish man named Adam Marlin starts taking his faith seriously, rising at dawn every day to decipher as many pages as possible from the Talmud. He notices that not only does his ability to focus improve dramatically, but that he is soundly beaten in contests of intellect by those who began this training earlier in life, even when they aren’t particularly well educated.

Since I don’t have any particular interest in taking my study of ancient religious texts this far, I thought it’d be interesting to replicate this exercise with secular materials. An ideal source would be something voluminous but which still imparted valuable lessons. How about using a condensed version of Yudkowsky’s The Sequences?

But that still leaves the problem of translating the materials into a language which has native speakers. As the point is to develop profound skill in the art of concentration, anyone who speaks the language into which we translate The Sequences will be at a linguistic advantage and thus won’t reap as much reward from the exercise.

This means we need a language that has no native speakers, a consistent, logical grammar, and ideally some following in the rationalist community.

The obvious choice would be Lojban, of course!

Hopefully you’ll one day be able to join me at sunrise in a daily ritual of reading The Sequences in Lojban as we both develop superfocus.

***

The Montreal-based company Sui Generis is trying to make it possible to open a new country like you might open a new company.  While the vision of the founder Guillaume Dumas comes across as a little breathless and naive — “we’re going to build corporate socialist states based on FUN!” — I think the underlying idea is interesting and potentially fruitful.

There are many examples of highly successful microstates like Singapore and Hong Kong, and I’ve long thought that someone should try and design a mechanism whereby interested parties can carve out small amounts of territory in which to found their own nation states.

This is at once a nifty metapolitical solution to the problem of good governance and a means of applying the innovation-generating powers of the market to those problems. Instead of multiple sides presenting interminable arguments for and against communism, libertarianism, monarchism, monetarism, Austrianism, etc., we can just let entrepreneurs configure their states however they want and then compete with each other for a tax base.

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