Sunday, January 27, 2008

Capitalism and Perceptual Spam

This picture brings to mind an idea over which I was musing when contemplating heads-up displays on upper-echelon cars. As Wikipedia notes,
Head-up displays are becoming increasingly available in production cars, and usually offer speedometer, tachometer, and navigation system displays. BMW, Nissan, Lexus, Citroën and GM currently offer some form of HUD system. Motorcycle helmet HUDs are also commercially available.
I can only imagine that the technology will mature along the lines as have computer monitors. First you get green-screen like numerical information projected onto a windshield, but eventually colors will follow, and something akin to a transparent monitor will allow full color-depth, photo-quality displays. (Such "media windsheilds" are already under development.)

My idea is that what can be shown on a transparent windshield can be blocked on a transparent windshield. This would have two advantages. First, how many times am I driving home at the end of the day with the setting sun blasting my retinas to a crisp, even when protected by snappy sunglasses. By selectively polarizing or even blacking out a disk on the media windshield of equivalent size to the sun (as viewed from the driver's perspective), safer and easier driving conditions would immediately ensue.

Second, although the sun would be fairly easy to track, locate, and censor on a media windshield, I wouldn't want to stop there. I suppose an algorithm could be programed into media wind shields that detects large rectangles on the side of the road. If such rectangles could likewise be blocked, then I would have a very special class of rectangles blocked: roadside signs.

I consider such signs real-world spam - messages I didn't ask for, forced upon me by advertising I don't want to see. After all, billboards are either trivia gone hyper-sized, or highly uninvited spam on my perception. People are already committed to limiting spam in other electronic media contexts, but for some reason advertising in non-virtual space is tolerated. I don't see why this need be so, and when media wind shields come online, perhaps billboards will finally begin to disappear -- at least when we're in our cars.


[image] Sepultura "Ain't it the truth?" Flickr Uploaded Jan. 22, 2008. (Accessed 1/23/2008)


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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Existential Rachel at the Art Show

"My God Rachel, whatever is wrong with you?" I asked, concerned.


"You're grimacing right now."

"It's not a grimace, David," she replied, eerily calm.

"It most certainly was. Here, I'll show you," I insisted, as I began
fumbling with my digital camera.

Rachel extended her arm, gently placing two fingers to my lips,
bringing me to a dead halt.

"David, I know I wasn't grimacing," she continued, in the same eerily
calm voice as before "I just had an epiphany. I've just glimpsed into
the void of Pure Being."

"Void of Pure what?" I asked, feeling incredibly uncomfortable because
she hadn't yet removed her fingers from my lips, and people were
beginning to stare.

"The void of Pure Being, my sweet and lovely David, the void Pure
Being. You see, in the moment you captured with your camera, reality
opened itself up to me, revealing the true emptiness and meaningless
that under girds our existence. I realized just now, standing here in
the middle of this art opening -this veritable cathedral to human
creativity- existence stands there, mocking us in our vanity; life is
nothing but a fable, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
signifying nothing."

"Wait, have you been talking to my brother? What the hell is wrong
with you people tonight? You freebase a little Camus, maybe a little
Sartre and suddenly everything is meaningless?" I declared, all the
while trying, unsuccessfully, to wrench my lips away from her two
fingers, which had come to form a kind of vice grip around my mouth.

"Don't fight it David; accept it, it's beautiful," Rachel replied, her
tone oddly sweet considering she now had me firmly in a headlock and
was ramming my head mercilessly into the wall. The last thing I heard
before I became unconscious was "David, all appearance, all
diversity has melted away and I see the true nature of unified
existence. It stands before me, bloated and disordered; naked, oh,
the frightful nakedness..."

I came to about four hours later, sprawled out on the sidewalk in
front of the building; my head throbbing. Everyone had left, the show
was over and the lights were turned off. Struggling to get to my
feet, I realized that someone had in fact peed all over my blue suede


[Image and article] Special guest writer, David "The Beatnik" Spindle.


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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Existential Tim at the Cafe

The smoke and dim light of the cafe performed a gentle pirouette around his closely shorn head. Responding to my query, Jean-Paul Timmy turned to me, his voice barley above a whisper, eyes aflame with sadness, and said, "God is absence. God is the solitude of man."

"What?" I asked.

He cracked a sly smile,"Life has no meaning the moment you loose the illusion of being eternal; life begins on the other side of despair."

"Tim, I just wanted to know if you liked your beer; I'm not sure what your saying has to do with...."

"Every existing thing is born without reason, prolongs itself out of weakness, and dies by chance." he said, interrupting.

"Whatever," I sighed, abandoning the whole conversation entirely.

"Artistic symbols and myths speak out of the primordial, preconscious realm of the mind which is powerful and chaotic. Both symbol and myth are ways of bringing order and form into this chaos and therefore..." His voice trailed off as I walked away from the table.

"Jeez," I muttered to myself, making a mental note never to invite Tim anywhere ever again.


[image and article] Special guest writer, David "The Beatnik" Spindle


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Monday, January 14, 2008

Transhumanism and the so-called "future good" of humanity.

{ Podcast this essay } I hear lots of college age people (generally earlier in their college careers) claim that moral values are relative, and that people in different cultures have the varying moral values they do because they were raised in different ways. This can be treated as a hypothesis, and if correct, we would not expect to find a core of moral values shared across cultures. However, and contra to naive opinion, we do, in fact, find a core of moral values shared across cultures. Thus, people in different cultures do not have significantly varying moral values because of being raised in different ways.

Donald E. Brown is an anthropologist and has identified many emotions and moral concepts which are universally noted among humans:

"a distinction between right and wrong; empathy; fairness; admiration of generosity; rights and obligations; proscription of murder, rape and other forms of violence; redress of wrongs; sanctions for wrongs against the community; shame; and taboos."[1]

Other anthropologists have cataloged similar universals. I think such studies are indeed enough to show that human morality isn't relative, but I don't think its enough to show that the values themselves are not relative. If human values are formed by the successful reproduction and survival calculi of evolution-- that people have the values they do because such values contributed to their success as biological beings -- then its possible that in the future a different set of core, shared values could arise.

It might be that, as humans move out into space and radically modify their form by bio-engeenering and technology, those next generation humans will have likewise next generation shared values. I'm not sure what those values would be, and perhaps the state of my brain, formed by the biological past that it has, actually cannot imagine those values. If it is true that current humans cannot image the values systems of what future humans or human-originated creatures might be, this would be bad news for transhumanists (sometimes called "post-humanists"). Transhumanists seem to say that rational modification and enhancement of human capabilities is a good project. But good in what sense? It seems odd to say that what we perceive as good now, would indeed be good later. At least this is what Transhumanists seem to be committed to when they say such modification is a good project.

Consider an investment analogy: Putting money into some stock now is good, since it has been going up recently. (Where 'good' is defined as 'profitable'.) But that does not mean putting money into the stock now will be good -- i.e. profitable -- later. Circumstances of a company and of the company's environment can change radically. Typically, one would counter, "When the company no longer is good, do not keep putting money in it." But here is where the analogy can point out the problem with transhumanism: In the stock case, there is but one investor making the decision, but suppose there were several in a historical line, a string of investors, stretching into the future, but each with a slightly different investment strategy. Mr. A is a bit like Mr. B in his strategy, and B a bit like C, and C to D, and etc. on to the far future of Mr. R. But each strategy is only a family resemblance to the precursors. In fact, given enough tiny changes over time, Mr. R. could actually have a contradictory strategy to Mr. A, the initial investor!

To apply the analogy, then, the values of the present core of humanity (situation A) could be radically different, even completely contradictory, to future humanity (situation R). Therefore, it seems quite naive to agree with Transhumanists that rational modification and enhancement of human capabilities is a 'good' project for humanity's future. There might be other bases to advocate for modification and enhancement of human capabilities, but some future 'good' to the next human (or human-like) situation likely isn't one of them.


[image] "Terminator: Sara Conner Chronicles" (Accessed 1/14/2008)

[1] Stephen Pinker "The Moral Instinct" New York Times Jan. 13, 2008 (Accessed 1/14/2008)


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