100th post anniversary
This is the 100th in an unbroken sequence of daily posts since tis.so’s inception! To celebrate, a rough quorum of authors answers: what was your favorite post of yours, what was your favorite post from someone else, and what post do you want to see expanded into a part two?
My favorite post of my own was “On formless empiricism”, because it really helped me to carve out what exactly I’m doing here. I’ve never liked the idea of saying “I’m a philosopher”, but neither do I want to just say “I’m not doing philosophy” and leave it at that, lest I come off as having the same obsession with form that I’m constantly rallying against. “Formless empiricism” is me digging out my own scrape and living in it, and I sure do find it cozy.
My favorite post from someone else has to be Possible Modernist’s “Danny at the Grand Canyon”. I had a specific example about specific examples second-hand; he had access to the primary source and was able to dive more precisely into what actually happened. The story ended with the poetic “Danny at the Grand Canyon had some more specific details bound up with it, but it got Danny at the Grand Canyon’d into just being ‘Danny at the Grand Canyon’”; it’s an absolutely perfect parable of conceptualization.
I want to see more of Suspended Reason’s “The worlds answering machine”. I think that’s exactly the correct way to think about the interplay of frontier work and looking at what’s been done before: an acceptance that you might end up doing a lot of work that was done already and just calling the answer machine, balanced with an understanding that only those who are seeking can be expected to find. But how does that middle way play out in our lives? What trail-sign do you look for to determine if you’re on one side or the other?
My favorite post of my own was “Cat couplings are a way to construct and reinforce types”. Despite it including no ideas that I hadn’t already seen or written about elsewhere, it was a quintessential piece of “information logistics”, a set of dots I was excited to connect, a moment of realizing someone else in the extended blogosphere had perfectly filled in the gaps of something I’d been working on.
My favorite post from someone else is “Boing! Or; utility is not a function” by Collin. It’s a great critique of thinking thru the lens of utility functions, and follows a deliciously first-person path to make its point. What was actually going on in your head when you made a claim you thought was legit about how some external mathematical form adequately represents what’s ? What’s all of the implicit under the hood correspondence work one does implicitly for the formalism to feel sensible? And what sort of fuckery comes from when said correspondence doesn’t actually make it into the formalism or explicit conversations about the formalism?
I want to see more from Suspended and Crispy’s “Pragmatic truth-seeking leads to correspondences”. I’m not so secretly hoping that we’ll converge on this and similar points, but I don’t want to taint the line of inquiry by running my mouth too much :)
Feast of Assumption
My favorite post I made was “Monograph or aether” because it was an organic upwelling in my own life, of some of the concepts on the nature of communication and knowledge transmission that we focus on around here. In a room full of philosophers, I stick out like a sore green thumb. This made the opportunity to share a communication crystallization all the sweeter.
My favorite co-tissoer’s post was “Clever chunking” —the attention particularly on the fact that “You need chess experience to come up with “knight development” as a useful way to describe a series of chess moves, but you don’t need chess experience to recognize “knight development” as a chunk derived from experience.” I’ve been keeping my ears pricked for ‘chunks’ from expert practitioners since reading it.
(Are we a collective? Can somebody replace that word with a better one?)
My favorite post — well, the only post — I’ve contributed so far is “Incentives & degenerate play”. It introduced a handful of my interests: institutions & their structural failings, the inevitable disjunction between the spirit & the letter, and the important, often unstated, role of practical logic and associations in our decision-making processes. I’m excited to expand on the closing paragraphs of that piece — namely, how the decisions made by institutions in the past not only affect the decisions they’ll make in the future, but also shape their field of possible perceptions and actions — even if it took me nearly the whole thing to get there.
Hard to choose a favorite post — there are so many good ones — so I’ll ride with my recency bias here and say it’s Collin’s “Memories are environmental indices”. It opened my eyes to a new way of seeing the extent to which we’re cognitively enmeshed in our environments; what it means that we exist despite the environment; how building our memories and sending them through time creates, in a single gesture, meaning and resistance to the universe’s intractable drive to pulverize everything into sameness. It also peaks behind language’s curtain, giving us a conceptual frame within which to understand meaning, one that isn’t tied up (or down?) with unnecessary philosophizing.
I’d love to see Suspended Reason build on his post “Categories as heuristics”. Language as a heuristic? Sign me up! It could be a satisfyingly formal & fibrous way of finally proving that ‘meaning is use’.
It’s been fun going back through the archives here, and realizing the range of ideas that we’ve touched on. Most posts were familiar, but there were some that I’d forgotten about (including some of the ones that I wrote!)
In choosing a favorite post from among those I wrote, the one that stood out to me is “Eating dirt”. This was one of my earliest posts, when I was still getting a sense of what I was trying to do here. Writing this one (starting with just a feeling that it was worth saying something about this) was helpful in figuring that out. It was an excuse to write about a topic I find amusing (how AI researchers think about ethics), to adopt a somewhat irreverent tone (which is one of my favorite registers), and to realize that I was free to include an excessive amount of detail (which I think is important to convey the texture, even if the details themselves are not so important).
My favorite post by someone else is a bit of an outlier: “Getting real”. In this post, Neil uses the book The Age of Innocence to dig into the feeling of things not being real. We don’t do a whole lot here that focuses on specific works of fiction, (part of the point of tis.so is to be a place to sketch out ideas, so many posts are more like stones dropped into water), and so I think one was helpful for me in seeing the space of possibilities. I liked that Neil was able, in a short post, to both convey the essence of a particular text, while connecting it to deeper questions. This post also helped me appreciate a work of fiction that had never really made sense to me (although I’ve only seen the film, without having read the book), while simultaneously giving me cause to reflect on my own life.
The post that I’d like to see all of us build on is Incentives & degenerate play by Rip Dcb. This post connects to one of the strongest themes being collectively built out here, which is the nexus of games, incentives, and surrogation. Building on the idea of degenerate play, as previously discussed by a number of us, it zooms out to the level of institutions, pointing out that while the same traps of flawed incentives and cargoculting apply, institutions are also designed in a way that people are not. Obviously the designs are subject to constraints, and will always be imperfect (thus also connecting to the notion of generalized hacking), but this means that the ways in which they fail could be informative about their history, and the contexts in which they exist. I think there is much more to be explored here, and I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next!
Damn, I need to write more.
I don’t really have “favorites” as a category unless they really spring out at me, so I’m going to say I liked “[[220610|The bull case for AI music]]” the best of my own pieces. It’s short, it’s concrete, and it encourages discourse (even though as far as I know no one liked it). I think we’re developing a lot of cool conceptual tech, but I want to see more skin in the game, so I tried to do just that.
My favorite post by someone else is probably “Kingmakers” by Possible Modernist. Such a clean explanation of a dynamic that occurs in so many games: a losing player that will decide the winner. It lends meaning to the surrounding discussion of degenerate play that Modernist mentions above (RIP DCB’s linked post is really quite excellent, and takes you through these dynamics more elegantly than most of our writing on this subject). Special shoutout to “Torque policy” by Suspended Reason, which lives up to our example-focused aims and grounds itself in the mundane, showing that there is a game underlying what we let our eyes brush past quickly.
The post that draws out what I’d like to see more of most is Collin Lysford’s Formless empiricism. Every time I read it, it feels like a call to action: we’re figuring out what kind of epistemology we need right now by actively doing it, but still making sure we describe what we think we’re doing as we go. It’s also an example of itself, that tells you what it’s trying to expose. I’m not gonna say anything object-level about it, so you might as well take ten minutes and read it right now.
I think the best thing I’ve done here is Bad dancing and bad writing. What I most like about writing for TIS is the practice in keeping things short and sweet. I think this piece gets in, accomplishes something, and gets out; it’s grounded in some of my more unique personal experiences; it’s about literature, but it’s of general interest.
My favorite not-by-me post is Feast’s “Monograph or aether”. It’s always tempting to produce more analysis and meta-analysis instead of collecting stamps, so I appreciate a post that’s just grounded in chickens. Plus, who isn’t charmed by a good crawl through the archives of human knowledge? “Clever chunking” is a close second.
I’d like to see more in the “degenerate play” sequence (a term I just made up to describe these four linked posts). We’ve established that perverse incentives can exist and wreak havoc, but both of the last two, in my mind, are flirting with an interesting question: given that things sometimes do work, what can we say about that?
My primary angle here has been literature, so I think I’m frequently coming at things a bit differently! But I’m optimistic that we’ll dovetail again down the road. I recently re-read The Crying of Lot 49, and I was struck by Pynchon’s description of America’s “continental solemnities—storm-systems of group suffering and need, prevailing winds of affluence.” Pynchon was an engineer, and it’s not an accident that he refers to meteorology—an inexact science, if there ever was one. If literature is a science of these storm-systems, as I think it often is, then maybe it’s not as distant as it seems.